Another hill to climb.
Sweat plagued his eyes. He sniffed and swallowed, wishing for water. He’d been going since sunup. Heat and humility built around him. It seemed determined to crush him like a grape.
Giving up was considered and dismissed. He was here and going to do it. Doubt about whether he was following the instructions kept bouncing through, confusing him about what the little thing told him. Half-asleep, he wasn’t sure if it was a robot, tiny human, or something else, like an elf or fairy. They hadn’t introduced themselves. Maybe it wasn’t even real. Just his imagination.
Without preamble, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” derailed his thinking. Didn’t matter. He’d reached the hill’s crest. Signposts were ahead. An intersection. Down this hill and up another. Stepping faster, he was there in less than ten minutes, perspiring with more vigor, and breathless. He didn’t think he’d need water for this. Not for a dream. Didn’t think it’d be sunny, or like a day in any way.
The signpost was in the center of a large gold-bricked circle. Arrow shaped signs. About a hundred of them. No, more than that. Maybe a thousand. Different colors, languages, and printing styles. Looked crude. Homemade.
His little nocturnal visitor sounded like an irritated teacher when they said, “I’m tired of you sitting around, whining, waiting, and wishing, so I’m doing you a solid.”
They pointed. “See that?”
Slow because he was half-asleep, he pressed to see what the little one meant even though the little one was still talking. “Get in there and turn left for the past, right for the future, or straight ahead to another existence. Whichever way you go, you’ll come to a signpost.
“You better hurry if you’re going to do it. The portal will close and fade, and your opportunity will be gone.”
“Wait, what?” He sat up. Yawned. Stretched. Rubbed his eyes. Massaged his genitals. Considered peeing. Frowned. “What?”
His small visitor was barely a fading memory. The opening remained where there was usually a wall. A portal? Thinking, I must still be dreaming and I’ll wake up at any moment, he entered the opening. Fearing the future, regretting his past – too many things to change there and who knows how it would turn out – he’d gone straight.
He stared up at the signs. Words emerged. Animals.
A frown creased his face. What was that about? He’d always liked cats and they liked him. He admired birds. Dogs were okay…
He stepped in the cat’s direction with slow, short steps. Shivers tickled him. Changes took place. His fingers were gone. Paws halfway through construction had replaced them. Looked like he’d be a black cat.
He backed up. More shivers traveling him, his fingers returned.
Did he want to be a cat? He looked back down the road he’d followed to come here with the thought, maybe he should have gone to the past to see what he could have changed. He might have been hasty.
The road was gone. Nothing was there. Gray nothing.
He walked toward it. The gray nothing stopped him from advancing. Like trying to wade through stiffening tar.
Well, what the hell. This was only a dream.
He turned back to the sign and read the offerings. No doubt, that’s what they were. Unicorn. Whale. Elephant. Dog. Kracken. Dolphin.
Dragon, he saw.
Dragon. It’d be so cool to be a dragon, even if just in a dream.
But bravery wasn’t in his personal inventory. He stood, staring, considering, flounder, eel, coral snake, eagle – eagle would be fun. Puma. Tiger. Heron. Emu. Alligator.
No. With all of his fears and hopes, the best thing he could become is something fantastic.
Happy with his decision, he turned and advanced, shivering and coughing as he grew and changed until at last he walked out of a high mountain cave into a purple dusk. Spreading his golden wings, he released a fiery roar and felt the world’s fear. Yes, being a dragon was going to be so cool.
Even if it was just in a dream.
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