Amanda was walking down the street, her coat tightly wrapped around her like a shield. In her hand she clutched a small, leatherbound notebook. It was the most important thing in her life right now, more important than her apartment, or her car, or anything else for that matter. She’d spent years preparing for this day and it was finally here, in front of her, no longer just a dot on the horizon.
Tall buildings towered over her on both sides. The city was almost completely dead. Further up a man walked back and forth waiting for the tram, but other than that she couldn’t see anyone, not even a bird. Next to a hot dog stand she looked around, then took a sharp, premeditated turn and entered a dark alley. The wind was squeezing through it, creating a force that momentarily made her turn her head away to catch her breath. Two dumpsters stood in front of a big brick wall. For anyone else it would have been a dead end, but Amanda knew better.
With her back to the street behind her she opened the notebook and turned to page thirteen. She quickly read something and closed it again. Then she carefully put it away in her inside pocket. The weight of it was comforting. Knowing it was there made her heart slow down just enough to focus.
With both hands she grabbed one of the dumpsters and started pulling it to the side, every couple of seconds looking behind her to make sure no one followed. The wheels creaked loudly as she dragged it, and she grimaced, worried someone would come investigate.
Behind the dumpster was nothing but brick wall, as expected. She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. Getting this right was important, very important. She closed her eyes and prayed to whatever gods were present, then walked up to the wall and traced a complicated pattern on the stones, took a step back and waited. Nothing happened. Did she do it wrong after all? She put a hand on her breast where the notebook was and shook her head. All this, only for it to be a lie? Two years of preparation all down the dr-
Something flickered. A brick fell on the ground in front of her. Then another. And another. She smiled. Countless bricks later the wall had become a doorway. Behind it she could see a cellar. A barrel holding a lit candle on top stood in its centre. It didn’t look like she had imagined, but then again when did things ever. She took one last look at the city, made sure to remember what the wind against her cheeks felt like, then entered. Brick by brick the wall rebuilt itself behind her, until eventually there was no sign of there ever being a hole.
This was it. She was finally here, in the place she’d dreamt about for so long. Was it real? She ran her finger through the candle and pulled away as she felt the pain of fire on skin. It was real alright. The cellar was small, every wall covered in shelves holding strange scrolls and tools. There was nothing on the floor other than the barrel, the candle and a large oak table strewn with manuscripts in a language she didn’t know. At the far end a stairway led up.
There was so much information here, but she had no way of holding it. She’d planned for two years but didn’t think to bring her bag. Stupid! Stupid! She grabbed some scrolls at random and stuffed them inside her coat. This was all she could take, up there she wouldn’t be able to walk about in the open carrying scrolls. She would be apprehended straight away. That is, if it was the way she thought it would be. The way the stories said it was.
Carefully she put her foot on the first step and peeked up. There was nothing but a closed wooden door. She couldn’t hear anything from the other side. Either the door was very thick or there was nothing there. Step by step she ascended, regretting the decision to wear heels and not her black sneakers. When she reached the door she stooped down and looked through the keyhole. Something was wedged in there, blocking the view. She had no choice but to open it and hope for the best. With trembling hands she grabbed the handle and turned it. The latch slid back with a thump and she felt the door loosen in her grip. She pushed it open and gasped.
She could never have imagined it would look like this. Somehow she knew it would be unlike anything she’d seen before, but this? This was breathtaking. A vast, black desert as far as the eye could see. Not black as in dark, but as in sparkling black sand being carried back and forth in the wind. In the distance towers several hundred meters tall rose towards the sky. The closest one was maybe two kilometers away. And the sky. The sky. As she looked up she couldn’t help whimpering at the might of it all. Two giant moons covered about half of the entire skyline, one green, one purple. They were close enough to make out shapes on the surface. If she reached out it almost felt like she could touch them. By climbing one of the towers she probably could.
But that’s not why she was here. She had to focus and not get distracted. She started walking towards the closest tower. Black sand was everywhere, blowing into her hair making it sparkle, getting in her shoes and socks. Far away she saw a light. Was that it? The city of dreams? She reached inside her coat and touched the notebook. Still there. Words upon words of secret things she was never meant to know. Things that had carried her here where none like her had gone for aeons.
The weather was neither hot nor cold, but rather something inbetween that made the walk somewhat pleasing. Her eyes darted back and forth, trying to spot some sign of life. Maybe in the towers. For a second she stopped and peered at the closest one. She thought she saw a light high up, but she wasn’t sure. It could just have been a reflection from one of the moons. Head turned upwards she didn’t pay attention to the ground. With a snap one of her heels broke off and she nearly fell. It got stuck between the sand and a rock. She swore under her breath and bent down to pick it up. The sand was warm, like her living room floor. She took off her shoes and tossed them to the side. Better to walk like this. As she looked up she realised she could see the moons moving ever so slightly.
Eventually she reached the first tower. It was even bigger than she thought, a giant stone monument seemingly rising far into the sky, reaching for the clouds and the stars. At ground level about three dozen circulating steps lead up to a wooden door. She shivered as her bare feet touched the cold rock. There was no logic to the temperature; the sand was warm, the steps ice cold. She silently regretted tossing her shoes.
The door was adorned with a strange pattern. To her it looked like something from a pagan religion. When she reached out to touch it the lines lit up and revealed a tiny spherical indentment in the wood. Inside was a switch. She flicked it with her finger. Something stirred from within. Steps coming closer. The sound of latches being pulled back.
The door opened.
Reluctantly she stepped inside. She didn’t belong there. Black sand blew in through the door and she quickly closed it. It locked behind her with a click. She took a deep breath. There was no one there, it was as devoid of life as the landscape outside. The hallway was filled with bookcases, pottery, and paintings, like a forgotten art gallery. One of the paintings depicted the desert outside, only in it the two moons were further back. She checked the books. Still nothing in any language she knew. At the back a spiral staircase lead up. She checked the notebook again, flipping to the last page, then the first, then some pages in the middle. She nodded and started ascending the stairs.
Somehow she expected to find other rooms. Such a large tower would hold so many secrets, so many things long forgotten, but there was nothing. The stairs just kept going and going, bending ever upwards. There were no windows so she had no idea how far she’d gotten. She stopped counting the steps at a thousand.
It must have been thirty minutes later when she reached the top. Another door was standing in her way. Another pattern. This time it lit up as she approached, and she could see that the door was already ajar. Pushing it open she entered the chamber inside. It held a statue of the tower she was standing in, with an engraving carved underneath. It said:
”You who found your way here through trickery and deceit, look over yonder.”
She looked over her shoulder and found that the tower had several holes serving as windows. Funny, she didn’t notice before. From this high up she could see a city in the distance. Above it a giant castle sparkled in purple and gold, dwarfing the buildings beneath. It was beautiful.
She looked back at the carving and saw that the text had changed. It now said:
”Wouldn’t you rather go back?”
For a second she thought she heard laughter in the distance, but when she concentrated on the sound it was gone. She looked at the city again. That was where she had to go. The entire reason for coming here. It was even more majestic than she thought, and knowing that she would eventually reach it made her feel both uneasy and hopeful.
The walk down felt harder. Every step made her back ache, every wheezing breath was time she wished she could spend walking towards the city. Eventually she found herself standing in the room at the bottom, with the lingering feeling that something had changed. Something, or someone, knew she was here.
She left the tower. Outside it was still dark. Was it always nighttime here? Was that why the sand turned black and there was no life to be seen? She could see the city far away. The walk would be torture, but she couldn’t turn back now, not with so much to lose. Coming this far and bailing out was not an option.
For hours and hours she walked. She found herself longing for water without really being thirsty, as if some reflex in her brain told her to drink but her body had no need for it. No matter how far she walked the moons were always there, looking down on her as if she hadn’t moved at all. Black sand in her mouth, in her nostrils and inside her clothes. Black sand itching between her naked toes. The desert was beautiful, but it sure wasn’t comfortable anymore.
Slowly she saw the city growing bigger. She was getting closer. A million lights were greeting her from inside its walls, letting her know that what she sought would be there, waiting. And even though her legs ached and she was sure she would cough sand for a week after she smiled, because this was what she wanted. Life doesn’t always give you what you want, sometimes it teases you with it and then throws it away, but she was closer than ever to it now, and if she didn’t take this chance she would never forgive herself.
After a while she passed another tower. This one was crumbling in places, a little crooked and left behind. Some part of her wanted to check if it was the same as the first, but the thought of ascending all those stairs again made her keep walking. Plus it didn’t exactly look safe with all those missing rocks. What happened to it? The winds weren’t strong enough to grind it down like that. Someone, or something, must have been really angry.
Even though she’d been walking for hours without rest she didn’t get tired. It was as if time stood still, as if hunger and sleep were absent in this strange land. She passed several other towers on her way to the city, all in more or less perfect condition. The collapsed tower held some significance, what it was she had no idea. Maybe it was there as a reminder of something.
As she reached the final tower she stopped and gathered her thoughts. A huge wall surrounded the city, blocking all the lights she’d seen from high up. Now all she saw was the castle looking out over its servants. It was an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by desert and abandoned towers it seemed to be clinging to times long gone, holding on to the scraps of a civilization that couldn’t quite fathom that the good days were over. The city of dreams was supposed to be a place where wishes came true, but from here it looked more like a prison than the sparkling beauty it had supposedly once been. No matter, she was almost there, she would see it for herself soon.
The gate was sturdy, built in thick wood with a metal lining . In its midst a huge handle shaped like a smiling man hung. She looked for a side door, something smaller that wouldn’t take an army to move, but found nothing. The wall was blasted with tiny specks of black sand, every crack filled with it, making it look like a leaking oil painting. She shook her head in despair. There was no way she could move that door on her own. Turning to the notebook again she flicked through the pages, anxious to enter and see the city. She stopped at a page near the end and ogled it in disbelief. She read it again, two times, three. Then she shrugged and put the notebook back in her coat, got down, picked up a handful of sand and swallowed it. It hurt her throat. Then she grabbed the handle and pulled. The gate moved, she hardly had to use any force at all. It was like opening a door at the same time as someone pushed it from the other side. And what she saw there took her breath away.
It was huge. Bigger than she could have ever imagined. In every direction streets and houses jutted out, seemingly at random. The architecture was of another world, another time, with patterns and shapes adorning roofs, doors and patios in a never ending whirlwind of purple and gold. She tried peering into one of the alleys, but it was so crooked and narrow that she saw nothing but pieces of wood blocking her view. It was everything she’d imagined it would be, yet it was also completely different. Because it was empty.
She didn’t believe it at first. Thinking that maybe everyone was asleep she walked around trying to find an inn, or a bar. Doors without hinges were flapping in the wind, an empty barrel rolled back and forth on a patio. The whole place was abandoned. Was she too late?
Eventually she found what she thought was an inn. A wooden sign depicting a bed was hanging on by a thread from the hook outside. She entered carefully, not sure what to expect. There was no one there. No innkeeper, no patrons. The fruit bowl was empty. She called out, but no one answered. She ran outside and started zigzagging through alleys looking for signs of life. The city of dreams was dead. But if it was, who had changed the message at the top of the tower?
The castle was inhabited, it had to be. She had a clear goal coming here, and if the city wasn’t part of it, the castle had to be. She went back to the gate and walked straight ahead. The main road was bigger than the others, leading up to a massive set of stairs that would take her to her goal. The notebook couldn’t help her anymore, she was on her own. And she was so tired of stairs. Every now and again she looked back, trying to see if the lights she’d seen before hadn’t been an illusion after all. The steps were made of white marble, every single one of them carved with symbols similar to the one’s on the scrolls she’d snatched from the cellar. She bent down and tried to read them, but still no luck. Not even the notebook could help her. How did the tower know what language she could read?
At last she was at the top. The castle was gigantic, an impressive mansion covering what looked like an area about as big as half the city. The building had no huge gate, only a regular one covered in the same patterns she’d seen at the towers. She reached out and touched the linework, and just as she expected it lit up. A plaque in the middle said: ”State your business.”
She took a deep breath before she spoke, making sure to weigh her words carefully.
”I’ve come to see The Dreamweaver. The Lord of Wishes.”
The door slid open. Inside there was nothing but darkness. She hesitated, not sure if she wanted to go in, but she calmed herself and entered. As she did it lit up.
She couldn’t help but laugh. It was ridiculous how over the top it was. This was no place for humans, or anything human sized for that matter. A massive stairwell lined with what had once been sparkling silver banisters paved the way forward. Above hung drapes in dark purple adorned with golden images of planets and contorted faces. A thick layer of dust covered everything, the fancy fabric was ripped and faded. This was a graveyard. She looked around. There were no other doors as far as she could see. Only one way to go.
As she walked she pondered why it was so quiet. There were no sounds coming from upstairs, no sounds from behind. Not even the wind was audible due to the thick gate at the entrance. Her steps echoed through the broad hallway like thundering drums. If someone still lived here they would know she was coming.
At the top sat another door. This one was just an ordinary one, no patterns or carvings or anything. She half expected it to start talking to her when she turned the knob, but it just slid open like other, normal doors.
Inside was a huge chamber. The roof was so high up she could barely see it. It was apparent the castle only had two floors, the height was just for show. In the middle of the chamber stood a throne of carved marble. Something was written beneath and she bent down to read it, but it was in the same strange language.
”You don’t belong here, girl.”
She turned her head in the direction of the voice, eyes wide open.
”It says: Here sits the Lord of Wishes. If you must know.”
Behind her a tall, skinny figure stood. He was wearing a cloak of the same purple as the drapes and dark, slim pants. His hair was black as night, and a small, rather elegant beard graced his face.
”Are you him?” she asked.
”The Lord of Wishes? I am. Or the Dreamweaver. Call me what you will.” He was standing completely still, eyes fixated on her. Her head was throbbing, a dull headache grew in intensity for each second, making her cry out, until finally it dissipated.
”I see,” he said and brushed some black dust off his sleeve.
She was in awe. This being was millions of years old, one of the gods of origin, and now he was standing before her, like any other man. But she could feel it, folded into the air around them. This energy was not natural, it tore through the fabric of space, making her nauseous and ill at ease.
He drew closer, each stride seemingly without weight, until he was but an inch from her face. His eyes were like black fire. They held worlds inside them, fallen galaxies and ruined skylines glimmered back at her as she met his gaze.
”Tell me, why have you come?” he asked, not once looking away.
”To save my mother,” she answered, taking a step back.
”You wish to save your mother? And why is this?” He waved his hand and brought up an image of a middle-aged woman lying in bed, a blanket sloppily covering her pale body.
”She’s very sick,” Amanda said. ”Pancreatic cancer.”
”That is not a why. Just the reason for her dying.”
No matter how much she pulled back he kept hounding her. Eventually she stumbled onto the throne and, thinking it inappropriate to sit in his spot, squatted down and rested her legs on the steps leading up to it. Her brain was working full load trying to come up with the right words to say. Words that might move him in some way.
”I love her, and I don’t wish for her to die. That’s the reason.”
He grinned at her, white teeth showing beneath his lips. ”Liar.” The sudden change in expression made her uneasy, and she shifted her weight to the left, almost losing her grip. She desperately grabbed at her chest, trying to hold on to the scrolls inside her coat. When one of them fell out he stopped in his tracks and looked at it.
”A liar and a thief?” He picked it up and read it, every few seconds glancing in her direction. ”This could unmake you. Just a couple of these words would splatter your guts all over.” The scroll disappeared and he turned in her direction again. ”Foolish human. You come here, with your false reasons and your dreams, wanting me to grant your every wish. What do you think I am? A genie from one of your stories?”
Amanda got up, gathering herself as best she could.
”You’re the dreamweaver. That’s what you do, isn’t it?”
He scoffed. ”Once, perhaps.”
Turning his back to her he made a fist and banged it on the throne, leaving behind tiny specks of stardust.
”They left me, all of them. This entire city is deserted. My kingdom, dead. Why should I grant your selfish wish when I have nothing left?”
”Wanting to save my mother is selfish?”
Picking pieces of marble from his knuckles he looked at her with what she saw as contempt.
”It is if your reasons are mainly for your own gain.”
Amanda looked him straight in the eye. ”I love her.”
”So you say. But words are different from the things lurking inside you. They can be twisted. Considering you made it here you should know I do not grant wishes fueled by selfish, material needs.”
Amanda grit her teeth, swallowing hard, and again said: ”I love her.”
He took two large strides and grabbed her hair, yanking her head back with force. Looking down at her he studied her features, as if she was a map, or a painting.
”Greed is such a common thing, especially among your kind.” His grip was like stone, ripping and tugging at the roots of her hair like she got stuck in a blender.
”W-what do you-?”
”Spare me your false truths. I can see you without your mask.” He let go and Amanda gasped, catching her breath. With another wave of his hand he touched Amanda’s forehead. Hundreds of images flashed in front of her; memories, and fears. She saw her stepfather looking sideways at her as she accepted yet another check from her mother. Flash. She saw the lease for her apartment, covered in a smooth plastic pocket. Flash. Whispered words at the dinner table, her stepfather telling her that she was a leech, that she would have none of his money after her mother was gone. Then she was back. She inhaled loudly, struggling for air.
”How did you-”
”You’re in my realm now. Your thoughts are not your own here, and neither are your dreams. Greed is poison, and you, girl, carry it with you like a shield.” He glared at her, a crooked smile hovering on his lips. ”Does it scare you, knowing your stepfather wants nothing to do with you? That once your mother is gone you will no longer have the freedom you do now? I have seen humans kill, maim and deceive for money, yet through the ages money is never the same thing. Once, it was a herd of cattle, or solid gold. Now it is printed paper. Don’t you see how silly your quest for this abstract thing makes you? I detest that what has moved you to come all this way is the false notion that you deserve to continue leeching off another after your one tie is gone.” He walked to the other side of the throne, Amanda’s eyes followed him like a searchlight, nervous of what he might do next.
He pulled forth another tear in the air. Inside was Amanda’s apartment. Her tailor-made dresses. Her siamese cat Grumps. Her kitchen island dressed up in the finest mahogany. She watched it intently. With a flick of his wrist it caught fire, melted in front of her, until only charred lumps of coal remained. Fancy dresses lay smoldering as bookshelves crumbled. Furniture sizzled and disappeared. She couldn’t see Grumps anywhere.
”If your mother dies, you will be nothing,” he interrupted. ”-have nothing. That is what you fear. Not being poor, but being nothing. Having to struggle like the others you so detest. To build a life instead of having one handed to you. You traveled to another world, sought me out, not for some noble purpose, but because you are too weak to make something of yourself.”
She was angry but too afraid to show it. Who was he to judge her? He’d been living like a king for eternity, never knowing what it was like to look at those below you and fear becoming like them. He would always be the Lord of Wishes, no matter what happened. She didn’t have that luxury.
He reached into Amanda’s coat pocket, pulling forth her credit card. He held it up in the air, waving it around like a golden ticket. The glistening finish seemed to be teasing her, shoving her crushed dreams in her face like a consolation prize for a scholarship run.
”That such a thing could hold so much power over you,” he mused. ”It is hard to understand. There is no magic in it, no hidden power. Only plastic.”
A burst of flame erupted from his hands and the card melted. It was no more. It didn’t matter, she could just order another, but he never meant for it to matter.
”And now for your mother.” With a gesture the tear switched to the image of Amandas mother again. She was sitting now, trying to drink some tea without the shaking making it all spill.
”Can she see us?” Amanda asked.
”No. We’re just watching.”
They watched her finish her tea and lay back down in bed. Next to her was a thick book and a framed photograph of Amanda when she was younger. She stared out the window, at a simple oak tree, for what felt like an eternity.
”What is she doing?” Amanda said, mostly to herself.
”Knowing things are about to end will make the most simple sights something of beauty,” he answered. He looked at his embroidered cloak, seemingly absorbed by the golden patterns. He saw Amanda watching him and quickly waved a hand. The tear disappeared.
”She could die at any moment,” he said, ”and all this would be in vain. Your trip here worth nothing more than the sand in your lungs.”
”That’s the reason for my wish. She has to live.”
He pushed her out of the way and sat on his throne, one leg over the other, looking down at her.
”Making a poor wish is a dangerous thing, girl. It can brand you for life, in this world and yours.”
He smiled and for a second everything went black. When the world returned the image of her mother was gone, instead her apartment was there, as it always had been, no longer burnt to the ground.
”The burning was an illusion?” Amanda asked, scratching her arm nervously.
He laughed, specks of stardust flowing from his mouth as he did so. ”Silly girl. All dreams are illusions, hardly ever as they seem.” He flickered and for a moment she thought she saw a much older version of him there on the throne. ”What we want and what we need are rarely the same thing.”
”So you won’t grant my wish,” she said, disappointment flowing through her like black tar. She hated him then, more than anything.
”Still only one thing on your mind. I see you learn nothing from what I tell you.” His words were sharp, filled with contempt. He turned his head away from her. ”Simple-minded wretch.”
Amanda was seething, trying to handle the wave of feelings washing over her, to cope with the thought that he might not give her what she wanted. She had taken it for granted. That once she got to meet him it would be over. It wasn’t like that at all.
He laughed. ”Is this the first time not getting what you want?”
She flew at him, pounding at his chest and face with her fist, all her restraint gone with the rage boiling up inside her. He didn’t move. Each blow was like hitting rubber, like her limbs entered another world and then came back weaker.
She kept flailing.
”I said stop it.”
With a final punch she aimed for his nose. An inch away from landing her arm stopped in mid air. For a second she stood frozen, not sure what was happening. Then she saw his face. He was angry. He cocked his head and her arm broke apart. She felt the bone piercing her skin, nerve endings twist and snap in half. She fell to the ground screaming.
”I told you to stop it. I am not your equal. Not one to scream and wail at.”
This was not the Lord of Wishes she’d read about. This one was cruel. Vindictive. Not the godlike being who granted people’s wishes without asking anything in return. She felt the notebook throb inside her coat. She tried moving her arm to get it but the pain was too much. With her arm hanging on by a thread she could barely move, barely even make out what was happening around her.
”I need this,” she whispered.
”Dreamland is dying,” he said. ”Eventually the two moons will collide and the impact will sever space itself. I care little for your problems when my world is falling apart at the seams.”
Breathing through her teeth she watched the roof turn transparent. Beyond it the two moons were staring at each other like deities in eternal battle.
”If your world is doomed, why can’t you grant my wish? I know it’s selfish, but I don’t care. I can’t live like the others, slaving away at a grocery store until my knees give way and I’m forced to live on welfare checks.”
”Always so arrogant, you humans. What makes you better than them? That your mother has a fancy name?”
She tried moving but her arm was too injured. The pain made her unable to answer, all she could produce were grunts and strained breathing.
”The answer is nothing. Yet you went through all this trouble to get here. It must have taken years.”
”Not what you expected, I can tell. I know the stories. The thing about stories are that they change with time. Give them enough and eventually they are not at all what they once were. And even gods become different. Did you think I would sit on a fancy throne curling my moustache while handing out free pastries? Life is harsh, girl. My realm is no different.”
He stared at what remained of her, a broken woman lying on the floor, defeated. Several minutes passed, his eyes boring into her skin, nailing her body into place. When she gave no answer he sighed and lowered his head.
”I guess you might be the last to come through here.”
Suddenly he was beside her, lifting her to her feet.
”Do you see that star?” He pointed at a constellation to the left of the green moon. Amanda nodded. He reached out and pinched it between his fingers, bringing it closer and closer until eventually it was covering the entire skyline. The heat was intense. She found herself closing her eyes for fear of them melting.
”Go on, it won’t hurt you.”
Fearing reprisal she did as he said. To her surprise she could look straight at the burning giant. She’d never seen anything like it, could never have imagined something that big.
”Would you like to hold it?”
”I… don’t know. Wouldn’t it hurt me?”
He smiled a sly smile. ”I don’t know. Would it?”
Realising she had no choice she reached out and watched him shrink the star down to about two inches in diameter before he put it in her open hand. It was a pulsing ball of heat, fuel for countless worlds in the palm of her hand. It was burning her but she didn’t care, couldn’t even feel her bad arm anymore. Studying it she saw craters on its surface, balls of magma rolling through them, sparks flying in every direction. It was like the biggest forest fire she ever saw. An inferno the size of a thousand moons shrunken to a speck in her hands.
As the word left his mouth the star expanded to normal size. She found herself in empty space, right next to the gigantic boiling body of a flaming sun. She tried to scream but no sound came out. She tried to get away from the flames licking the sleeves of her coat but she couldn’t move. In her panic she twisted her broken arm and saw drops of blood floating away through space. Just as she realised she couldn’t breathe she was pulled back into the throne room.
”This is what awaits me if my world would perish. An eternal blackness, floating around in space like a forgotten relic.” He shook his head. ”I am the Lord of Wishes. There should be more for me.”
The pain in her arm was pulsing through her entire body now. She turned it over and saw bone protruding from her elbow. Suddenly she felt sick and ran over to the throne and threw up.
”Is the pain too much for you?” he said and was quiet for some time before he sighed loudly. ”For someone so bent on being above others you really do not handle yourself like anyone superior.” She heard his steps coming up behind her. ”Very well.”
She felt his hand on her. At first she pulled back, afraid that he would hurt her even more, but as he touched her a warm feeling spread throughout the injured area. Within seconds it was completely healed. She reached over her head and was just about to thank him when she cried out again. Something was still not right.
”It will heal, in time. A reminder to know your place.”
Slowly it began to dawn on her, the realisation of what awaited this place. She looked at the pile of puke and felt ashamed.
”I can clean that up.”
Without answering he snapped his fingers and the pile was gone.
”Why don’t you just move the moons like you did the star?”
”They are not of this world. Not even I can stop the hands of fate.”
Standing still they both watched the two heavenly bodies above. It was strange, knowing that they would break this world apart, that all that black sand would be no more, that the ancient towers would crumble.
They stood like that for a long time, frozen beneath the stars.
”I will grant your wish,” he said, finally.
Amanda lit up. ”You will?”
Seeing her reaction he scoffed.
”I will, but only to be rid of you, and only because I want to feel like my old self again.” He corrected his tunic.
”I care little for your affairs. Let greed devour you if you must. Let your mother live her life thinking you love her when you do not. She will live and you won’t have to get one of those jobs that you hate.” A purple haze spread from his fingers as he talked. It didn’t look deliberate, rather like he was overflowing. Something popped and the glow dissipated. His eyes were crushed stardust and blackened skies, and as he looked at her she realised for the first time how old he really was.
”To some, death is an escape. Remember this.”
He opened the door and waved her out. She passed him and was back in the hallway outside, back in a kingdom taking its last gasps. She got her wish, but she didn’t feel better. She felt something else. Small, perhaps. Seeing what she had just seen made her own world feel awfully insignificant. If this being could move stars, what could he have done to her if he really wanted to? Maybe she’d been lucky.
She heard him at the door behind her. ”It is painful,” he said, ”knowing that my own wish is the only one I cannot grant.” Then the door closed.
She walked through the castle and out into the deserted city. It seemed sadder now, like a memento of something that should never have been snuffed out. At the bottom of the stairs a burned tarp made of purple and gold were flapping in the wind. She picked it up, feeling the silky fabric touch her fingers. She thought about taking it with her, but no, that wouldn’t be right, maybe even dangerous. Still, it would be gone soon, crushed to dust.
She let go and walked to the town gate. It was still ajar and she was barely able to squeeze through. Back outside she looked up at the two moons staring down at her. It was like they had a gaze of their own. Soon they would crush this world and there was nothing he could do about it. A god doomed to watch everything he knows turn to dust and not having the chance to go with it. It was sad, really. But no matter, she got what she came for. Time to leave.
She reached inside her coat and brought forth the notebook. It was worse for wear, torn with ragged edges. It was as if her very coming here had made it age. She turned to the last page and found the incantation. Using her toes she traced a pattern in the sand and said the words as they were written. The crumbled tower to her right started shaking. So that was why.
She ran, realising this might be her only chance. Even though her arm hurt she didn’t stop until she was standing at the broken steps. She dashed up them and paused in front of the door. The pattern was already running, zigzagging across itself, forming terribly complicated mazes. The door opened and she entered.
Inside the tower everything was a mess. Broken shelves and crushed marble statues lay strewn across the floor. The shaking was immensely strong now, it sounded like the tower would be coming down any minute. She stopped for a second when she realised that this was where they had all left. Every wish granted was pulling the tower down. Eventually one of them wouldn’t be able to leave. How long had it been since the last? A thousand years? More?
She ran up the steps, dodging cracks in the ground as she went. The notebook was heavy, and she held on so hard that her fingers ached. She didn’t dare lose it. When she reached the top she smashed through the door and found herself in a chamber similar to the one at the other tower, only this one was much older. Standing at the top she could see how much the tower shook. It was wagging back and forth, perhaps five meters in each direction. It was a miracle it was even standing up. She stumbled up to a statue in the middle. There was a carving there, too. It read:
”Goodbye, realmwalker. May your wishes bring satisfaction. You will never return here.”
She read the words as she had learned them from the notebook. ”Goodbye, realm of dreams. My wishes are satisfied. I will never return.”
As she said the final word she felt herself being sucked in. Something pulled at her with all its might. Her arm was hurting, but so was the other one, and her legs, too. Before she had time to scream she was standing in the alley, feet in the middle of a puddle of water. It was raining. She could see people scrambling for taxi cabs. Others were sporting huge umbrellas, heading for the nearest diner to escape the downpour. Amanda smiled. She was home again. Running to the nearest phone booth she put two quarters in and dialed.
”Mom, it’s me.”
”Oh, hi dear. How are you?” She sounded better than she had in a long time.
”I’m fine mom, how are you?” She tried to hide the eagerness in her voice.
”You know, it’s the strangest thing. The pain went away. I’m up making pancakes. I’m sure it will return tomorrow but I’ll savor this for as long as I can.” Amanda heard the frying of butter in the background. ”Would you like some?”
”No, mom. I have to get home. Thanks.”
It worked. It really worked! She couldn’t help but hop and skip a few steps as she walked home. Her future was safe. The bus ride home was one of relief. She had been to the land of dreams and back, had walked across the black desert and visited ancient towers filled with magical artifacts. She had even met the Lord of Wishes, and he had granted her what she wanted most of all.
Safe in her own world she allowed herself to think back on him. He had been a rather sad figure, really. A broken god in a deserted realm, bound to a castle that was now nothing more than stone and wood. The elegant draperies and lighted patterns seemed to her to be a memento rather than a show of power. It just proved that even dreams will eventually wither and die.
Outside her apartment the next door neighbor stood smoking a cigarette. He smiled when he saw her.
”Hey A, you look happy.”
”You have no idea,” she said, walking past him into the foyer, up to her apartment.
This was a good day. Not even finding out that Grumps broke one of the chinese vases could get her down. He sat next to it looking at her. He had no fur, just a golden necklace that set her back a thousand bucks last year.
”Did you break anything else?” she asked him.
Grumps licked his paw and laid down in his bed next to the sofa.
Amanda yawned. Come to think of it she was pretty tired too. After making a sandwich she went to bed, not even bothering to brush her teeth. For some reason it felt like she should hold on to dreamland for a little while longer. And tomorrow was a new day.
The doorbell was ringing. Amanda put her pillow over her head and tried to go back to sleep, but it kept ringing until eventually she couldn’t take it any longer. With the cover around her she jumped out of bed, only to feel a sharp pain in her back. It felt like something pushing against it, but when she reached over and felt it there was nothing. Grimacing she opened the door. It was her mother, fully dressed and with makeup on. She looked healthier than she had in years.
”Mom,” she rubbed her eyes. ”What are you doing here this early?”
She smiled. ”I wanted to take you out for breakfast. I can move around again. Didn’t throw up once since yesterday. This is some kind of miracle.”
Amanda didn’t have time to answer before she had to run to the bathroom. She puked more than she had in years. Every contraction sent a stinging pain up her back.
”My god, are you all right?” Her mother stood in the doorway, watching her.
”I’m fine mom. I must’ve caught something.”
Her mother smiled. ”I guess eating out is off the table.”
Amanda sat up on the floor. ”I’m sorry.”
”Don’t be. Maybe I can bring us something from the diner downstairs?”
”Sure mom, that would be great.”
They had breakfast together, just like old times. It was strange seeing her mother like this, all vitalized and happy. The last few years she’d been nothing more than a shell, really. Now she was joking, laughing, talking about dad and all the fun they used to have. Maybe her wish hadn’t been that selfish after all. She liked watching her mother laugh again. It felt good.
Days passed and Amanda didn’t feel better. She kept vomiting, the back pain wasn’t going away. Eventually she made a doctors appointment. They took some tests and an x-ray and told her to wait a week or so for them to come back from the lab. The wait was killing her. She wanted to be out and about, enjoying herself after successfully completing the task she’d spent the last two years preparing for. Now she could barely get across the living room without popping painkillers like some junkie.
Five days later she was lying in bed as the phone rang.
”Is this Amanda Hackley?”
”This is Doctor Andersen, we met a few days ago and you took some tests. I…”
She sat upright in bed. ”What is it?”
The doctor took a long pause.
”Tell me!” Amanda said.
”I’m afraid you have pancreatic cancer. Rather far gone, too.”
It was like pulling down a curtain. Amanda couldn’ speak, couldn’t say anything. She was staring at something she’d never had to face before.
”But, it’s treatable, right?”
”Listen, Amanda. This is so far gone that treatment wouldn’t do anything. Frankly I’m surprised you didn’t notice any symptoms sooner. This kind of progress usually takes years.”
She swallowed. ”So how long do I have?”
”A month, maybe two. There are metastases everywhere. It spread to your spine, most likely all the way to your neck.”
Amanda dropped the phone and stared out the window. Dawn was breaking. Cars were making their way toward the parking lot over at Lempsey arena.
It was beautiful.