Polly don't need your cracker...
Zoe remembered. It had been half her lifetime ago, but she remembered it perfectly.
Sitting there, looking out the window and watching the other kids play, she had the familiar feeling of… being someone else.
She talked about it once to a grown-up, when she was sick with the flu. The doctor prescribed rest and lots of liquids, and asked her if she had any other problems. “I feel like I’m someone else”, Zoey had responded, and the doctor was surprised. Because he thought it was funny.
He leaned close, touched her cheek with his finger, and said “Nope. You’re you alright.” He thought himself quite clever, but Zoey didn’t think so. She thought he was treating her as if she was silly, and she didn’t think that was respectful. But she grinned foolishly, because she somehow knew that’s what was expected from her.
The only thing she learned from that was that some things should be kept to yourself.
That sense of ‘otherness’, only grew after that. She felt like she was missing out on her real life, but she didn’t know what to do about it. She had no one that would just listen and not think her odd, except for Bugar. He was a great friend for listening, but not much help. She wondered if she liked him so much extra because he wasn’t one of them. Nobody was going to come and take him, like they might the others.
The door opened behind her and Miss Stemwedder took a step into the room. Zoey turned and looked at her expectantly.
“Have you thought about what you did?” the short rosy cheeked house mother asked.
“Yes. I’ve been thinking about it.” Zoey replied. She really had, too.
“And what lesson have you learned?”
Zoey immediately thought of several responses, each of which she felt was entirely true. They all boiled down to, “if you stand up for others you’ll probably be punished for it.”, but she was sure that wasn’t what mother Stemwedder wanted to hear. People usually didn’t want to hear what they asked you to tell them.
“Girls shouldn’t hit boys and make them cry” is what she actually said.
It did the trick well enough. After enduring a short lecture on how important it is for girls to be girly, she was set free to go back outside until supper.
Bounding out the front door and across the porch, Zoey spotted David next to the tire swing. He was looking her way and she knew he wanted to gloat, but he dared not. She would give him another wallop if he did, and he knew it. He could pretend he wasn’t afraid of her and pretend that he didn’t hit her back because she was a girl, but they both knew that was a lie for the house mothers. After all, his picking on Sarah, 2 years younger than him and half his size, was what earned him his first wallop.
The other children, nine in all, were scattered about the yard, most of the younger ones in the playground area. They had been at the orphanage for various lengths of time, although none as long as Zoey, since they didn’t accept babies either before or after Zoey’s arrival. She was the one and only in that respect.
She had seen more than a dozen children come and go. She never saw where they came from, but she had seen some leave with nice new parents, and sometimes brothers and sisters. Off to be a family and live a normal life Zoey supposed.
They had shoppers that day. Couples that were looking to see if they wanted any of the kids. If they did, it would always be the younger ones, so the house mothers made sure they were clean and especially well mannered. Zoey, being one of the 4 ‘old’ children, knew they wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Zoey had never been considered for adoption, even when she was youngest. There had been one occasion when she was certain that shoppers had an interest in her, but they were steered away by Mrs. Berump, Zoey’s least favorite house mother.
That used to hurt, but not anymore.
Mrs. Berump was a short squat woman with a round, pasty face that always glistened with sweat. Heavy boned, as she called it, her arms and legs were enormous, and her feet pounded the wooden floor wherever she walked. Her mouth was invariably drawn in a straight line across her face, as if smiling was some kind of sin.
Everything was a sin to hear Mrs. Berump tell of it, and she loved to hand out the punishment for any infractions.
One good thing about Mrs. Berump was that she could never sneak up on you.
As Zoey stood on the porch and scanned the yard, she saw Bugar for the first time. He was walking with his mom and dad. Zoey wondered if the boy would be a drop-off. Sometimes kids showed up with adults and stayed. That didn’t seem to fit though. Bugar looked comfortable and there was no apparent tension between him and the grown-ups. Might be a family looking for easy expansion, Zoey thought. The boy looked to be about her age. Maybe she wasn’t too old to be considered.
A ladybug suddenly hovered in front of her face. How odd, Zoey thought. She had never seen, or even heard of a hovering ladybug. Those big fat bees hovered, always seeming so curious about whatever you might be doing, but ladybugs were more likely to be blown along to whatever was easy to land on. Even more strange, now that she thought about it, she had been seeing a lot of ladybugs lately. Either that or this ladybug was stalking her.
Then the ladybug landed on her nose, and suddenly she was dreaming.
Now Zoe is dreaming again and she realizes the entire memory has grown into the dream, as if the years are expanding it.
She let her right eye open just a tiny bit, just so she could confirm she was dreaming. It was an awesome feeling to be right here on the edge, able to follow the dream along, and dive right back in if she chose to. But also sure of the solid foundation of reality. Maybe now she could direct it.
She had this dream many times and it never scared her. It just wasn’t a scary dream. Even if it had been, Zoey didn’t get frightened easily. She was always the one that comforted the other children, whenever someone had bad dreams or was frightened. When a tornado had nearly taken out the house when she was seven, the mothers had found her at the door, watching the funnel, after having shuffled all the other kids downstairs. She always seemed fascinated, when others were scared.
But she did feel like there must be some reason why she was suddenly having this dream so often. It wasn’t a nightly occurrence yet, but it felt like it. Since the first dream, when she was 6, it had been repeated probably 20 times. More than half of those had been in the last couple months. And now she had begun dreaming about having the dream? That, she had just realized.
The dream never changed and neither did her part. That struck her as odd too. I mean, she was just a child the first time. Now she was 10, almost 12. Soon to be officially a young lady. She skipped eleven, just as she skipped all odd numbers. She would remain 10 until she felt like she was eleven and a half, and then she would be 12 for the next 2 years. She knew it was unorthodox, but the truth was, nobody could actually produce her birth certificate, or any concrete factual record of when exactly she was born, so in her opinion she could calculate her age however she wanted. Not that other people recognized her right to do so. The mothers cared little for her opinions in general for that matter.
The point was that a 10 year old should not ever be 6 years old in their dreams. But she was always 6 in the dream. She always reacted the same way. She always did and said the same things. She never quite knew what she would do next, until she did it, or said it. But then she would remember it perfectly.
It got on her nerves sometimes. She really wished she could remember the details in advance, and spruce up the dialog to match her burgeoning vocabulary. If felt like she was being made to play childish games she had long outgrown. It was especially odd because Zoey always remembered the main storyline of the dream.
She was going to be kidnapped.
By a ladybug…
It would turn out, in the dream, that the labybug would introduce itself as a Persnicket named Tiffen, but when a round orange shiny bodied bug with tiny black flecks, little wings, and the cutest face you ever could see, if you ever could see it, lands on your nose in a dream, you call it a ladybug.
It was small enough to sit on the fingernail of your pinky finger. Probably with a few friends. When it started talking, well, it’s a dream, right? Tiffen would carry on a mostly one sided conversation about worlds, and channels, and kings and evil creatures and Zoe would ride along the winds of the dream like any precocious 6 year old.
Now, as the Zoey in the dream listened curiously to the Persnicket, the Zoe in her bed was frustrated with her inability to change the dreams events.
“Why can’t I ask something intelligent?”, she thought.
In the dream, Tiffen stopped talking and stared at her! Not at the Zoey in the dream, but at her, almost 12 year old Zoe in the bed!
Zoe’s mind raced and she felt herself slipping away into the full consciousness of wakefulness, the dream vision thinning almost into a mist. Zoe struggled to recapture it, and it began to solidify again in her vision. Tiffen was smiling at her. The little ladybug that had somehow become a tiny elfish fairy looking creature said,
“Finally, you believe!”
Zoe stared, dumbfounded. Her entire concept of dreaming was forever changed.