“Quickly, Ayune. We haven’t much time.” Uncle Richard’s hushed voice cut through the darkness.
Without reply, I slipped off the bed onto my sandals to avoid the unpleasant shock of bare skin against cold floor. My hand reached out and flipped the wall switch behind the hospital bed. The reading light flickered on, throwing long shadows across the room between beams of dim yellow light. I could see Uncle Richard rummaging through his bag on the floor, swiftly pulling out small pieces of metal and polished wood, and laying them neatly on either side of himself.
It was odd to see a man of his size handling such small objects. The large muscles across his shoulders flexed under his red flannel shirt as he moved. I could barely make out his eyes as the light cast odd shadows on his face over his neatly trimmed beard and the high bridge of his nose. I wondered what he was up to.
“Mom,” I said, gently shaking her shoulder, “Uncle Richard is here.”
“. . . hmm . . . that’s nice dear . . .” she mumbled, obviously not awake.
She bolted straight up, barely catching herself from falling off the narrow sofa. Maybe I could have said that a bit more softly . . . and farther away from her ear.
At least dad didn’t seem bothered by any of it. Not much can wake him these days.
“Goodness, Snow! You’re going to wake the dead,” mom said, one hand rubbing her eyes. Then she saw him. “Richard?!”
“Hello Misaki. You look well.” Uncle Richard paused to look in our direction. He was sitting with his back against the far wall, legs crossed on the floor. A bear inside a circus cage. “If you don’t mind, I could sure use a hand over here.” He smiled.
Mom’s gaze lowered to the objects scattered on the ground surrounding Uncle Richard’s bag. Her eyes widened. “Impossible. . .” she whispered. “I thought it had been destroyed?”
“It was . . .” said Uncle Richard, his eyes momentarily looked far away, lost in thought, “It seems, however, that there is more than one.”
In a single motion, my mom tied the long waves of her black hair in a loose ponytail with a hairband from her wrist. She knelt on the ground near Uncle Richard and gently picked up one of the objects, slowly running a thumb over the raised engravings. The piece was square and looked like some sort of medallion – a border of gleaming silver surrounding a dark red emblem of wood. I couldn’t make out the details, but it reminded me of the red stamps I’d seen on old Chinese ink paintings – paintings of mountains and pagodas that always had some fancy words written in vertical lines off to one side, ending with a bold red stamp so people could tell who the artist was.
“More than one. . .” her voice trailed off.
“I know, I know . . . but I’ll have to explain it all later,” said Uncle Richard, “because for now, we need to get this thing put together before it’s too late. Do you remember how it goes?”
“Like riding a bike,” my mom replied, sliding a tiny metal rod neatly onto a clasp with a click as if she’d assembled this whatchamacallit a thousand times before with her eyes closed.
Uncle Richard handed her more parts, and more parts clicked together . . . rods and pins, gears and springs, wood and metal . . . eventually taking the shape of what looked to be, a box.
Over the years, I’d learned that there were certain times when grownups didn’t like to be bothered with questions. For example, like when they stopped looking at you and started talking to each other as if you weren’t there. Like, for example, now. I tried to stay quiet.
“Whatcha doin?” I said to no one in particular, my curiosity getting the best of me. I was laying belly down on the floor between my mom and Uncle Richard, careful not to be in the way when either of them reached for anything.
“Oh, there’s no describing it, Snow,” Uncle Richard said, breathing deeply as he concentrated on getting two pieces of metal to fit one another. Mom seemed to be working on similar pieces and had about ten assembled in front of her. Uncle Richard had two. “You’ll have to see it for yourself!”
“See what?” I asked.
“A’Shara,” he replied, “The World of Dreams.”
I looked at my mom who returned a quick glance and a smile as her hands continued to work in a blur. She certainly didn’t look like someone who’d just heard something crazy. Maybe I’d gone crazy.
“The World of . . . What?” I asked, chin down and eyes up at Uncle Richard, waiting for him to give me a more sensible answer.
“The World of Dreams,” he chuckled and reached for a small metal coil from the floor. He took one look at my face and said, “I haven’t gone mad, child, and neither has your mom. You see, A’Shara is the world that we go to when we dream . . . all of us.
“Most of the time, we’re only there for moments . . . like fleeting rain on a cool spring day. We dream what we will, then wake up to our normal lives, never having realized that we’d gone anywhere at all . . . and like so, our spirits pass between the two worlds day in and day out; countless sleeping souls with as many hopes and dreams to follow them.
“Ah, but there’s more to A’Shara than just dreams, my dear.” Uncle Richard continued, “It is an ancient world, and beyond the Fields of Echoes await mystery, adventure, and magic — and not the ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ type of magic either, but real magic . . . magic strong enough to move mountains . . . magic strong enough, I’m hoping, to save your father.”
“Save . . . my dad . . .” the words stuck in my throat. I noticed my mom had paused and was looking at me, lips slightly pressed together in thought.
“How?” I said, as more questions started to fill my head than I could remember to ask.
“Well, before we can do anything,” it was my mom’s voice that replied, “we need to finish assembling this Spirit Box. If we’re not ready before the last light of the moon tonight, then our window of opportunity will close, and our hopes will be lost.” She gestured her head towards the intricate box on the floor, now a maze of intertwining metal tendrils, knobs, and gears embedded into dark polished wood. Something inside the box seemed to glow then fade away. It must be my imagination.
“Using a Spirit Box,” mom said, sounding like she does when she explained homework to me, “is the only way that we can enter A’Shara outside of a dream. Usually, when we sleep and dream, we enter A’Shara as nothing more than wisps of air and smoke . . . fading echoes in an empty cave. Our natural connection to the Dream World is too weak for our spirits to fully travel there. A Spirit Box helps amplify our spiritual link, allowing us to take shape and freely walk the land like natural born A’Sharans. This freedom, however, comes at a cost. Where, normally, we can dream of dying and wake up with only cold sweat to remind us of our demise, the rules change when under the effects of a Spirit Box: Death in either world becomes permanent in both.”
“So . . .” I spoke slowly, “if dad dies in our world before we can find a cure for him in the Dream World, then we fail?”
My mom’s eyes rested on mine for a moment as if trying to find her words. She stretched one hand towards me, tucked some stray strands of hair behind my ear, and said, “Yes, darling . . . there are no guarantees in this life. We can only do the best we can in the time that we are given, and pray that it is enough. Fortunately for us, time works strangely between our world and the World of Dreams. A person could spend a year in A’Shara and wake up only a few moments after they’d gone to sleep. No one knows the exact rules for which time bends — only that it does — and almost never in the same way twice . . .”
“And . . . Voila!” A wide smile grew across Uncle Richard’s face as he spread his hands outwards like a party magician finishing a particularly good trick. The box that sat in front of him was like no other I’d ever seen. Barely the size of a shoebox, delicate silver metallic vines and small heart shaped leaves seemed to grow seamlessly out of the wooden framework to form a splendid canopy of glimmering silver roses. The roses formed a pattern that looked somewhat like the swirl of a hurricane, coming together at the eye to frame the red squared medallion that I saw my mom holding a while ago. Three twist knobs protruded from the back of the box, just below a silver hinge, and a white glow pulsated from somewhere inside. It wasn’t my imagination after all.
“It’s. . . beautiful,” I whispered. I laid there on the floor staring in wonder at its intricate details, imagining what this World of Dreams must be like.
Uncle Richard turned to look outside the window. The moon was full, and low on the horizon. Morning would be coming soon. His hands reached out for the box and with the turn of a knob and a click, the lid smoothly opened on its hinge like a clam. Inside, the box was empty except for thin veins of silver metal that etched the dark polished wood like the veins of a freshly picked leaf. The metallic lines pulsed with a soft white glow. “The Tokens, Misaki,” he said. “Hurry.”
My mom got up and went to the bedside by my dad. She lifted his frail hand, removed his wedding band, and sat back on the floor at my side. She placed dad’s ring in the open box, and then, her own wedding ring next to it. She moved so quietly that, sometimes, she reminded me of a cat.
“Your necklace, Snow. Can you help me add it to the box?” she said, gesturing at my throat. My grandparents had given this necklace to me on my third birthday. A simple thin string of silver with a small pendant of a Buddha, for luck. I don’t remember the last time I took it off.
“Tokens,” said Uncle Richard, “are the objects used to identify us. . . so that the Spirit Box knows who to bind. They must be items of great personal value, or the spell will not work.” He placed in the box a small wooden figurine of a bear, the edges rough from being carved by hand.
A thought came to my mind.
“Does . . . the person who’s traveling to . . . a-Sha-Ra . . . have to be here?” I asked.
Uncle Richard gave my mom a curious glance, one eyebrow raised. “I . . . don’t suppose so,” he said, one hand rubbing his beard. “As far as I know, the spell only requires that the person’s Token be placed in the box, the spell is triggered, and the person is asleep. Then ‘Tada!’ we’re in A’Shara.”
“. . . and does this person need to be . . . a Person?” I could feel my heartbeat accelerate.
Uncle Richard’s mouth started to open, but then stuck there as if he’d forgotten how to speak. He turned his head to my mom, eyes searching for help.
“Go on. Spit it out, Snow,” said mom, arms crossed beneath her breasts and a no-nonsense look planted firmly on her face. Her lips were pressed together, daring me to say something stupid.
I summoned my most dazzling smile — the one I use when I wanted to get my dad to buy me a toy, but it wasn’t my birthday – and begged, “Can Kenshin come?? Please-please-please mom? I miss him so much!”
“Who’s Kenshin?” came Uncle Richard’s voice.
“Our dog,” my mom said, not taking her eyes off me.
“Oh. Boy. . .” Uncle Richard let out a sigh.
Now, it was a battle of willpower.
Our wise neighbor, Mrs. Tillerson, once told me, “Negotiation is an art, my dear. . . a battle of wills. You must read your opponent, understand how their mind works, and most importantly, hold your ground. The person that speaks first during a standoff is usually the loser.”
The sides of my mouth were starting to hurt from holding my smile. My eyes started to water from the sting of not blinking. My mom hadn’t moved a hair. She was so much tougher than dad.
“Fine!” mom threw up her arms, “But you have to be responsible for him, ok? Do you have any of his toys with you?”
I couldn’t help but let out a laugh as I ran to my backpack on the floor by the faded blue sofa. I pulled out a small segment of a deer antler, well-worn and chewed all over. Kenshin’s favorite. Not even stopping to zip up my bag, I scurried back to the Spirit Box and placed the little bone inside.
“Alright! That should do it . . . unless we have any other unexpected adventurers joining us?” One eyebrow raised as Uncle Richard slowly turned his head to look at me.
I giggled and shook my head sideways. They don’t let pets in the hospital so Kenshin has been staying with our neighbor, Mrs. Tillerson. I wonder if she’s been feeding him wine? I missed him dreadfully.
Three swift turns of the first knob on the back of the Spirit box, two turns of the second knob, four turns of the third, and the lid closed with a heavy click.
“It is done,” mom said as she stood up, Spirit Box in hand, and gently placed the gilded container on the plain white shelf by the bed. “Get well soon” balloons and flowers in colorful vases filled the ledge, most of them wilting or already dead. I’d lost track of how many days we’d been here.
“Now we sleep,” said Uncle Richard, as he eased into a flimsy armchair in the corner of the room. I wondered if the armchair would break. “Oh, by the way, Little Snow. If you want to bring anything with you to A’Shara, be sure to put it in my bag. It’s the only way to transport objects between our worlds.”
My mom settled back into her sofa by the window. I switched off the reading light and crawled under the blankets by my dad. The pulsing glow from the Spirit Box made the room feel like it was breathing. Light… then dark… light… then dark. I felt sleepy. I yawned . . . and the world around me disappeared.
Go To :
- Previous Chapter: Chapter 1 – The Visitor
- Next Chapter: Chapter 3 – Mardi Gras
- The Wishing Glass: Table of Contents
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