This story available on Feb 27, 2021

Dream Steed


Paige Steadman

Marion shifted easily into her equine form and gave her glossy black mane a good shake before she stomped and sidestepped the pattern to open the realm of the Dreamscape.  Slipping into the nonphysical world was the only way to ply her trade these days.  Her father had called to his targets from outside their houses, luring them outside and onto his back, then taking them for wild rides across the countryside and dumping them into streams or bogs.   Marion had started her career in a similar vein, but human technology quickly became too dangerous -- and humans too paranoid and trigger-happy -- for the old traditions to be safe any longer.  Still, she had work to do.


The beautiful mists of dreams and nightmares swirled around her from hooves to ears, rainbow threads connecting and pulling.  Her nostrils flared as she sniffed, searching out a dreamer for tonight -- there!  Lonely, sad, stuck in routine, and, most importantly, a horse lover.  Horse lovers’ dreams were always easy to enter.  Eagle lovers, too.  Any animal she could become -- for what dog lover would push a dog out of a dream?  Goats were risky, though; the dreamers kept trying to put her in pajamas.


She used to think jarring people out of boring ruts was the most important part of her job.  That could no longer be her only selection requirement, however --  she remembered the awful dream Colin had trapped her in, back near the beginning of her career overhaul . . .


*   *   *


Marion entered the dream full of hope and excitement.  She could taste the boredom and sour loneliness of the mind, and she listened to its echoes to glean more information on the dreamer: male, in his forties, self-identifies as brilliant, self-name Colin.  Resenting a life of drudgery and obligation.  Longing for excitement.


I can bring him adventure! Marion resolved eagerly.  She trotted over the gray hillside, picking her way through stones and brambles.  Her target sat under a droopy tree, whittling.


“Colin,” Marion called in a low voice, hiding behind a pile of stones.


“Who is out there?”  Colin stood, holding out his carving knife like a weapon.


“Come meet me,” Marion invited, sticking to a traditional script.


Colin’s eyes narrowed.  “Away wi’ ye, ye pisky siren! I’ll nae be tricked by the likes o’ye!”


Marion stomped a hoof in indignation.  Siren!  She had never drowned a human in her life.  What an ignorant insult. Still, she had a job to do.  She pranced out from behind the stones and whinnied fetchingly.  Surely Colin would never before have seen such a fine horse as she presented.


“Ach, horse, whose are ye?  Ye’ll be gettin’ me in trouble now, someone thinks I stole ye.  Away.  Shoo!”  Colin waved his knife and the stick he was carving, flapping both his arms at her.  “Shoo!”


Marion sat down.  She snorted at him.


Colin scowled.  “On yer own head be it.  The monsters will be comin’.  Bad things always happen here.”


Then why not ride away? wondered Marion. But talking had made him more paranoid, so she couldn’t say that.  She whinnied again.


Bzzzzz. She shuddered her skin and swished her tail reflexively at the sound of a fly.  Odd, though, for a dreamer to include details like that.  Especially when Colin hadn’t bothered to include living grass, or a sky, or -- BZZZZZ!  A louder buzz zoomed past her ear, and -- “Ow!”


Marion jumped to her feet as something bit her flank.  Her tail swished furiously.  Her flank hurt.    She’d never gotten hurt in a dream before.


“Away!  Away ye monstrous beast!” snarled Colin.


Marion whirled to face the dreamer.  “Excuse you, sir?”


An enormous horsefly, nearly as large as a wolf, hovered in front of the human, buzzing and taunting, darting toward and then away as Colin jabbed at it with his carving knife and pointy stick.  Another made a larger circle around Marion.  She backed toward the human, kicking at the fly whenever it got too close.


“What are these things?” she demanded.


“Vampire flies.”


Vampire flies?  The dreamer must have been truly desperate for adventure, to dream up such nasty beasts.  At least he was no longer calling her a siren.


“On my back, let’s run,” she ordered.


“We have tae finish them, or they’ll kill us all,” he cried.


Points for valor, she supposed.  A third giant horsefly popped out from the tree behind them and stung her rump.  Valor could jump in a lake.  Why was she the only one getting hurt? She needed to finish this dream!


“Ow!  Fight from my back,” she told him.  “I’ll make sure you stay on.”


The man finally jumped onto her back, a feat only easily accomplished in a dream, and he stabbed one of the huge bloodsuckers with the stick.  His feeling of victory released her from his need to stay and fight, and she galloped full-speed away from that horrid dream-scene.  She ran until she found the hint of color seeping into the landscape, some green in the trees and dark blue in the skies, and when she came to a river, she slid abruptly to a halt.


Colin flew over her head and landed in the water with a sploosh!


“Write a book,” she advised him, and then she galloped away.


*   *   *


She had learned her lesson since that painful encounter.  Dreamers had quite a bit of control over their own dreams, even if most of them didn’t realize it.  She could only help someone who was open to being helped.


Marion trotted along the wispy thread that smelled of both hope and despair.  Sweetness and bitterness drew her to the swirling bubble of the sleeping mind.  She placed her forehead against the edge of the dream and let it draw her inside.


Strong smells of cinnamon, brown sugar, yeast, tears; the scents and the warmth of the kitchen rushed over her before she even opened her eyes.  Her hooves rang on the tiled floor, and she heard the dreamer gasp.  Oops -- too close!  That hadn’t happened in a while.  Usually she entered further away from the human’s perspective.  But this dream was tiny, such a narrow world in a tiny room, and the outside did not exist.  No doors, no windows.  Just the oven, the counter, a cooling rack of misshapen cinnamon rolls, and a woman slumped on the floor.  A woman who was staring at Marion and trying to scramble underneath the counter.


“No, no,” the woman whispered.


Sadie.  That was her name.  Marion could hear it in the echoes of her memories, in the woman’s sense of self.


“No animals inside,” Sadie shook her head.  “Out!”


Footsteps.  Marion heard the footsteps approach in Sadie’s mind, and she saw the woman growing younger, sixteen years old, then twelve, then eight.  Sadie looked around desperately, searching for an escape, but still there were no doors or windows, and still the footsteps grew louder.


Marion snorted softly, a reassuring whuffle.  She extended her nose toward the woman, now a child.


Young Sadie looked at the big, black horse with hope and fear.  She reached out hesitantly, and Marion thrust her nuzzle into the child’s palm.


“You can’t stay here,” whispered the girl.  “Oh, sweet horsie.  Beautiful horsie.  I love you.  But go.  Go!   You’re not safe here.”


Concern for her?  Marion’s chest ached for the child Sadie had been.  “Sadie,” Marion whispered.  That was one of the wonderful things about dreams: talking animals rarely phased anyone.  “Get on my back.”


The girl’s eyes lit up for a second, and then she pulled away.  “I’m not allowed to ride.  Mama says it’s dangerous.  She doesn’t like horses.”


Marion twitched her ears.  “I need a rider.  I will keep you safe.”


The footsteps grew louder.


“Don’t you like horses?” Marion asked.


“Yes!”  Young Sadie’s hands reached out of their own accord and pet Marion’s neck, scratching under her mane.


Marion knelt, lowering her huge body to the tile floor.  “Mount.”


She could tell Sadie was tempted.  The footsteps grew even louder.  A door appeared in the far wall, and the handle twisted.  Sadie tensed, pressing against Marion.


“Hurry!” urged the big, black horse.


As the door opened, the girl leapt onto Marion’s back.  Marion surged to her feet and leapt through what had been the wall of the kitchen, running through fields and flowers under an open, clear, sky night.  She felt the child on her back growing, legs elongating, arms reaching further along her neck.  By the time they slowed to a trot, then to a walk, the woman on her back was laughing in joy, happy tears streaming down her face.


“Oh, thank you, Horse,” Sadie said.  Her voice was deeper now, richer, fuller.  Her hair was white, and it glowed softly in the moonlight.


Sadie patred Marion’s shoulder, and they walked for a while by the edge of a trickling stream.  When they finally stopped, Sadie slid down to the ground and looked around in amazement.


“Make your own rules,” Marion said, and gently pushed the older woman into the stream.


Sadie yelped in surprise, splashing around for a moment, and then she started swimming.  “Horse!  You -- you -- !  Come back, horse!”


The Phouka trotted away.

From acting to composing music to writing plays to directing and building sets, Paige has done just about every theatre-related job there is.  She loves teaching improv and performing stage combat.  Shakespeare brings her joy.  

Paige says, " I love the theatre world, and my goal is to contribute to that world by acting, writing, directing, and teaching. I believe that learning theatre techniques helps in life: with communication, empathy, awareness, teamwork skills, and problem-solving skills."

She's recently worked with such theatres as The Academy Theatre, The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, Merely Players, and more!  Currently, she is the Director of Children's Theatre and Education at The Good Acting Studio in Marietta, GA.  

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