Part 16

Dream’s home was deep in the forest where it was always pitch as the darkest night.  Orbs, like a field of tiny moons, floated dreamily around her house, creating just enough milky light to muddle-along by.

The previous night, when they returned to the Forest, there had not been much time for Muse to explore her sister’s lair.  She walked past the moonlights into the house and was shown where she should lay down to sleep, and that was it.  Dream lighted their way indoors by long white tapers that looked like any other candle, but instead of burning warm yellow they glowed with the same pale sheen as the outdoor orbs.  Dreamlight.

In the morning she awoke to find Dream still sleeping.  A single dreamlight candle still glowed on a ledge, and Muse took it down, holding it in one hand and marveling at how cool it was.  Instead of giving off warmth, it exuded a slight chill.

She looked at Dream, in repose, and wondered what mortal dream she trespassed through and what creatures she might find there.

Instead of waiting for her sister to awaken, Muse turned and went off to have a look around.

Dream’s home looked small on the outside, a mere cottage, but inside was a door that led to a room with three doors, all leading to other rooms with three more doors, all leading to yet more rooms, yet more doors.  This, Dream had told her, and she did not doubt her.  One could get so easily lost in Dream’s house, but Muse didn’t fear that.

At least, she did not think she feared it.

She pushed open a door and shone her light into the room.  It was bare, but not empty.  A girl sat in the center, crossed legged on the floor, reading a book.  She looked up when Muse entered.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Muse.”

The girl returned to her book, seemingly uninterested.  Muse shrugged, and walked past her to another door.  Just as she reached for the handle she heard the girl hiccup, and glanced back automatically.  She was just in time to see a frog jump from the girl’s lips and land in a heap on the floor.  It gained its balance and hopped nonchalantly across the room towards Muse.  The girl went on reading as if nothing had happened.

“Well, are you going to open the door, or not?” asked the frog.

“Sorry,” Muse said.  She pushed open the door and let the frog hop through first.  In the next room was a pond rimmed by tall reeds.  The frog flopped happily into the water, and Muse padded across the mossy floor after it.  She supposed she should not be surprised by anything that she found in Dream’s house.

She had no need of her light in the next room.  It was suffused with a warm, late afternoon glow.  The sudden brightness should have hurt her eyes,  but it didn’t; she felt no need to squint or cover her face.  Inside the room, bathed in the light, was a harp.

Muse looked around, but there was no one else in the room.  Potted flowers lined the baseboards, rimming the room completely.  They were all past their bloom, drooping and rotting.  Muse went over to the harp and set her candle down.

She couldn’t resist a musical instrument.

As soon as she began to pluck out a melody, she noticed the flowers lift a little, taking on color.  She continued to play, watching the flowers stretch and bloom and fill the room with scent.  More green shoots pushed up between the floorboards, and she played on as they burst into color.  Soon the room was filled with brightly colored hyacinths, roses, daffodils, sweet alyssum, and tulips.  A calla lily erupted near her feet, and she laughed with a sudden, uncontrolled joy.

A vine dappled with tiny blue star shaped blooms wrapped its way up the harp, and soon the leaves and viney offshoots choked the strings and silenced her playing.  The flowers remained, swaying expectantly, as if for the next rain.

Muse sighed a little and stood up, fishing her doused candle from a patch of petunias.  She made her way through the garden to another door, spurred on by curiosity and a certainty that she had exhausted the wonders of this room.

The next room was dark, again, and Muse frowned at her dreamlight taper, now devoid of any light at the tip.  She thought about trying another door, but then a tiny voice said, “Here, let me take care of that for you.”

She wondered where the voice came from, but then felt something drop onto her head from the door frame above.  That something skittered down through her hair, tickling her scalp, and ran along her neck to her shoulder.  She looked and saw a spider perched there; it was about the size of a small lizard and the color of melting snow.

It spit a stream of whitish liquid from between its mandibles, and hit the candle wick dead on.  A flame sputtered to life, and Muse said, “Thank you,” in surprise.

“Don’t mention it,” replied the spider, and sped down her arm, landing on a globe thistle.  It began to munch happily, drooling white spit that curdled the petals.

Muse continued on.  She stepped into the next room and by the light of the candle saw a large web stretched from ceiling to floor and wall to wall.  Hundreds of little snow white spiders perched in the web, their black eyes glinted back at her in the light.

In the middle of the web hung a cocoon, the size of a small animal, or person, perhaps.  It was engulfed entirely in the webbing, so she could only guess.

“It’s a pony,” lisped a hundred little voices, as if reading the question in her thoughts.

“Of course,” said Muse.

“We’ve always wanted a pony,” they said, crawling over and around their prize.  “So Mother gave us a pony.”

“How nice of her,” said Muse, and backed out of the room, closing the door.  She turned around, expecting to see the flowers and the harp, but instead she stood in an empty dark room.

The little girl, the frog burping girl, stood facing her, holding her book at her side.  Muse noticed the title, “Twelve Dancing Frog Princes.”

“Can I do something for you?”

The girl shuffled her feet slightly, then said, “Your sister wants to know if you’d like to keep wandering, or eat breakfast.”

“Breakfast, I suppose.”

“You rarely turn down a meal.”

Muse thought she detected a note of scorn, and said, “You wouldn’t either, if you were me.”

“I am you.”  The scorn was unmistakable now.

“I was never a child,” objected Muse.  “And if I was I’d never burp up frogs.”

“But you dreamt about it.  All the time.”

Muse crossed her arms and squinted at the girl.  The girl smiled, for the first time, a little mocking smile, and pointed to one of the doors.  “Dream is that way.”

Muse turned and went to the door, but paused before opening it.  “I don’t suppose you want breakfast.”

“I’ve eaten.”  The girl put her back to Muse and sat down, opening her book.  Muse left her there.

She found herself in a kitchen; Dream was there, sitting at the table.  Several dreamlight tapers sat in silver candlesticks around the room, lighting it well and making it chilly.

“Your breakfast is getting cold,” said Dream, indicating toward the chair opposite her.  A sesame muffin and some sausages were laid out on a plate next to a cup of orange juice.

“Did you give a bunch of spiders a pony?” Muse asked.

“Spiders?”

“There was a room full of spiders.  They had something in their web and they said it was a pony.”

“I suspect you had more to do with that than me.”

Muse just raised an eyebrow and bit into her muffin.  Dream pushed a serving bowl of strawberries towards her, and it reminded Muse of yesterday in the other world.

“I went on a picnic with Love,” she announced, which elicited a raised eyebrow from Dream.

“And I saw Muse.  The old Muse.  The one who left this place.”

“Really.”

“Yes.”

“How did you know it was her?”

“The same way I know I’m me.  She looked very old, and a little crazy.  But it was her.”

“Where was this?”  Dream almost looked concerned.

“An old abandoned house out in the country.  You see it belongs to Love and that’s where we went for the picnic.  I saw her looking out at us from a window as we left, but I didn’t mention it to Love.”  Muse fell silent, munching on a sausage.

Dream was also silent, though she made no move to continue eating.  She frowned thoughtfully to herself for a few minutes, then said, “I’m sorry to hear that she’s gone wild and crazy and old.”

“Not surprising though, considering what Joy had to say about her.”

Dream took a sip of juice, then said, in an offhand tone, “You don’t seem bothered.”

“Should I be?”

“I don’t know.  I thought you might be.  She came before you and that is where she’s ended up.”

“But she’s not me.”

“Hmm.”

“Tomorrow I think I’m going to go back there and see if she’s still around.”

“You want to talk to her?”

“Well I think I should.”

Dream nodded, but looked distracted, and more uncertain than Muse was used to seeing her.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to go wild and crazy with her.”

“Sometimes I think you could stand to go a little wild and crazy,” Dream said.  “Just not in that way.”

“I went on a picnic with Love, didn’t I?”

“Is that all you did with him?”

Muse gave her an affronted look.  “Dream!”

“Oh don’t give me that look.”  Dream returned to her usual, knowing smile, and said slyly, “You should steal him from Beauty.  You could have him all to yourself, in either world, so easily, if you really wanted it.”

“Do you honestly think that Love would give up on her?” Muse asked dissuasively.

“I think that Love can’t stand to be second best.”

“Neither can I.”

“Trust me, I know that,” Dream said with a smirk.  “You could make him forget her.  And you know that.  You just like to suffer, I think.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You’re the one feeding ponies to spiders in your dreams.”

Muse didn’t know what to say to that, and finished her breakfast in disconcerted silence.

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