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That Day in the Desert: A Storyteller Tale

 

 

That Day in the Desert

 

A Storyteller Tale

 

 

Carol Holland March

 

That Day in the Desert

A Storyteller Tale

 

Carol Holland March

 

Copyright © 2016 Carol Holland March

Published by Compass Rose Press

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

 

Cover Design by pro ebook covers

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without the express permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Please share this book with your friends.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

 

“That Day in the Desert was originally published by bosque, the magazine, as “The Dreamwalkers of Larreta,” 2012.

 

Dedication

 

 

To the Storyteller of Verdallon

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Analia

The Dreamwalkers of Larreta

That Day in the Desert

The Coast House

Leo

A Note from the Author

 

 

 

Click Here to get the next Storyteller Tale.

CarolHollandMarch.com

 

Analia

 

 

Analia opened her eyes. High clouds scudded across an azure sky. Near a window, a chair shaped like a red tulip shimmered.

She moved to sit up and found herself entangled in soft white fibers that laced over her legs and chest. Shaking them off, she rose. She had fallen asleep on a long sofa that resembled an elaborate white chrysanthemum, a genus that grew on her home world. Of course. Verdallon. Finally, she had arrived and this elegant private residence was her gift from the Mentors.

Analia gazed around the room. She had dreamed the furnishings into existence, and this room had manifested as she’d planned, round with diamond-shaped windows stretching from floor to ceiling. Outside, new grass had sprung up in the garden. Circular flowerbeds were coming to life and young trees swayed. A sandstone wall circled the house and garden.

Analia scanned the room again. The ceiling was painted to resemble summer clouds, the furniture fashioned in the shape and colors of flowers from Earth, the polished floor shining like amber-colored marble. Sunlight poured in through the windows.

But something disturbed the silence. She tilted her head and listened. Someone approached. Beings were coming from two directions.

In her mind’s eye, she viewed the path that led to her home from the distant main road. Along it traveled a familiar energy signature and others she did not recognize. Nara was coming and bringing guests, but why so soon?

Irritation bubbled up in Analia’s chest, causing her to catch her breath. She had looked forward to a period of solitude before assuming her new duties. Instead, the question at hand was, how would she entertain her first guests?

They were coming to congratulate her, no doubt. Still, there must be another reason for the arrival of off-world guests. Another twinge of annoyance pricked her forehead. Analia smiled at the persistence of her human emotions.

The approaching guests were not the only problem. From the other direction, she sensed Leo, although how he found his way to her home was a mystery. Him, she must deal with first. As she pondered how to do that, the red rug in the center of the room sighed in sympathy. Gathering up the folds of her shimmering skirt of pastel silk that resembled falling rain when she moved, Analia drifted outside to wait for Leo.

In the garden, she inspected the green plants growing in beds edged with multi-colored stones. “It’s time to bloom.” She bent to touch their stems and leaves. “Important guests are coming, and even though you are young plants, I would be pleased if this garden looked as lovely as you can make it. Could you bring forth your flowers?”

Under her touch, the plants hummed. A rose stretched upward, its stem growing larger and fuller. Branches appeared, followed by thorns. Buds formed. With a tremulous shivering they opened to reveal bright pink petals.

“Wonderful. Thank-you.”

When the iris bulbs saw that the rose had bloomed, they pushed up their own green stems that widened and grew deep purple buds. With a faint popping sound, the buds burst into bloom.

“Lovely.” Analia stroked their stems with a long finger and moved to the next bed where the daffodils were competing over who could produce the largest blooms.

All the plants responded to her touch and her voice and the sense of anticipation hovering over the garden. Soon everyone was blooming, a mass of color, flowers of every shape and size emitting their scents and singing, their music a complex chorus that sounded like bells of many sizes and shapes.

When all were in bloom, Analia invoked a pleasant breeze, enough to cause the tulips to sway and the pale peonies to scatter their fragrance through the air.

In the distance, trees lining the path from the main road to the house murmured, informing Analia that her approaching guests were near. She placed a white wrought-iron table in the shade of a young weeping willow that shivered with pride at the honor. On the table, she smoothed a pale blue linen tablecloth and arranged a tea set of white bone china etched with delicate golden lines. The table was perfect, she decided, no matter what news her guests brought.

As Analia surveyed her handiwork, an opening appeared in the sandstone wall. That meant Leo was near. She wanted to tell him that that all would be well if he held on and stayed strong, but that would be a violation. Leo and the other dreamwalkers must choose their own paths.

In her mind, she watched him land at the bottom of the hill and accept healing from the grandmother plants who lived there. She made no sign, but at the sight of him, her heart opened.

 

Leo

 

Leo fell through fluffy clouds of pink and blue and thought he was safe. The clouds caressed him like loving hands. In the distance, bells rang. The air smelled like honey.

His rate of descent slowed. The clouds scattered as he plummeted toward a land of greens and browns. Distant rivers and lakes sparkled. Instead of a sun, a soft golden light pulsed in a hypnotic rhythm.

Leo landed in a field of green at the bottom of a hill. Above, a stone wall enclosed a structure that glowed in luminous hues of blue and green and bright orange. He had come to a place different from any he had seen.

Around him grew a mass of plants with vines that resembled intricate lace. As he caught his breath, the closest ones rubbed his legs in a way that made him feel loved.

It is good to lie among us, the plants said. We rejuvenate all beings. Soon you will be strong again after your fall from the high place.

Leo thanked them. The vines crept around his body, encasing him in their gentle vibrations, even covering his face. Leo fell asleep breathing in their hypnotic scent.

When the vines retreated, he awoke. Around his feet, the vines lingered. You do not belong here, they whispered, but you may visit. Go to the new building on the hill. See who awaits you.

Leo sat up, careful not to crush the plants, but they retreated as he moved, and he found himself on bare soil, rich and moist. The vines swayed in a rhythm inscribing circles within circles. They stretched high, became long and thin, only their uppermost leaves swaying. At a signal he did not perceive, they joined their tendrils into one network, the way a troupe of dancers might.

He rose. “Thank-you.”

In unison, they bowed the tips of their stems. Do not tarry long.

Before his feet a path appeared. He followed it up the hill to the wall that enclosed the colorful structure.

The wall stretched so high he’d have to hoist himself over it. He walked to his right and found an opening wide enough to pass through and the height of a doorway, as if workers had not yet installed the door.

Inside the wall was a garden and a building pleasing to his eye, round and constructed of stone, in hues of blue and green, teal on one side, aqua on another. The roof resembled a tangerine oval.

A giant could lift it off in one piece, Leo thought, and then wondered where he got that idea. This building housed beings near his size, based on the proportion of its walls and the size of the windows of a translucent material that reflected light.

Seeking a door, Leo walked around the building. When he saw the woman in the long, shimmering gown, he stopped. She brushed past him, so close he glimpsed the deep green of her eyes and smelled her scent that reminded him of the roses on Earth. She stood in the garden, inspecting the beds of flowering plants that swayed in the gentle breeze as they sang to her.

The woman turned in a circle and looked straight at Leo but did not acknowledge him.

I’m invisible, he thought, an improvement over careening through the black tunnel he had fallen into.

You still fall. The words hissed into his left ear.

He jerked around, but there was no one else in the garden.

Your desire has allowed you to see this place. Observing it is all you may do.

Leo winced. The hissing hurt his ears, and he shook his head to clear it. This woman looked familiar, as human as any flesh and blood woman, but she seemed to skim over the surface of the grass.

Her body had clear outlines but that changed when she moved and her edges dissolved, as if she were light in motion.

Leo leaned against the wall and watched her. When she faced him and spoke into his mind, he started and squared his shoulders.

My Leo, welcome. You are very curious to have found your way to my home.

Who are you? he said mentally.

I am Analia. You will see me again, for I reside in one of your futures.

I don’t understand.

Now is not the time. You have much to do before our next meeting.

Another opening appeared on the far side of the wall. Through it floated the blue column of light that Leo knew as Nara, Mentor of Larreta. Behind her, an old man dressed in white shambled on human feet, as if age dragged at him. Last, an oak tree trudged, its trunk divided into three thick sections that the tree laboriously lifted and moved one at a time, making such slow progress it lagged behind the others.

Nara and the old man waited until the oak tree had negotiated the opening in the wall and made its way into the garden before continuing toward Analia who stood amidst the blooming flowers.

You must leave, my dear, Analia said into Leo’s mind. The one who calls you is impatient. This is not your time.

I want to stay.

My love goes with you.

Leo’s form shimmered. He lifted his arm and watched it dissolve.

Nara moved toward the tall woman and embraced her. They clung to each other like old friends.

Within his dissolving chest, Leo felt their embrace.

The shimmering increased. The garden disappeared. Blackness descended. Again, Leo careened down an endless black pit.

 

Analia

 

“I’m so happy to see you.” Nara’s lights enclosed Analia, her warmth lingering even after Nara released her. “Such a beautiful place you’ve made here. You were always the creative one. I hope you don’t mind us coming so soon.”

“Your visit honors me. Come, please. Sit here under the willow tree. I’ve prepared afternoon tea for us all.”

Analia and the old man dressed in white sat opposite each other in chairs shaped like rose petals. The chairs sighed and adjusted themselves to the contours of their bodies. The blue light hovered over a third chair.

Oak Woman inspected the young willow that was busy darkening its leaves to appear older than its years. Oak Woman tossed her upper leaves in a dismissive gesture and lumbered to the nearest garden wall where she planted herself in a corner.

Roots crawled into the ground from the bottoms of her feet and green light shot up through her stem that was soon vibrating so rapidly gold sparks flew from her leaves. Oak Woman began to grow. Her trunk thickened and lengthened until she towered above them and had to peer down through her own branches to see her hostess who had been about to offer her tea.

Analia turned instead to the old man in white and poured tea into his cup. “It’s an honor to meet you. What would your friend like for refreshment?”

“Thank you, dear.” His smile added more lines to his crinkled face framed by a thick layer of frosty white hair flowing onto the shoulders of his white jacket. “I believe she has done so—from your garden, you know. She was most anxious to visit when she learned you had created such a spacious one.” He raised his cup to the tree. “That is high enough, old woman. You won’t be able to hear us.”

Analia turned to the blue light. “I didn’t realize you had come to Verdallon, Nara.”

The blue lights shimmered. “I arrived recently.” Nara’s softest voice emanated from the center of the light column. “Forgive me for not forming for you, but I have another appointment later.”

“Of course.” Analia shifted her weight in the rose petal chair.

“Are we are your first guests?” asked the old man in white.

“You are. I am honored.”

“Who was that wraith standing in your garden?”

Analia turned toward the spot where Leo had stood a few moments before. “Leo visited me from the past. He has continued on his journey.”

“Good,” said the old man. “Incarnates can be intrusive, can’t they?”

“Now, Father,” Nara said. “We must be tolerant of all the forms life takes.”

“Forgive me.” He shook his head. “This is a lovely place, Analia. It suits you. We are the welcoming committee, as I’m sure you know. We came to inquire about your state and to ask you a question.”

“My state is excellent,” Analia said. “I am content and grateful to be here at last.”

“Nara has told me of your journeys. I agree they are impressive. It is understandable that you wish to rest now that you have achieved the means to do so. That is what this place is, yes? A place to rest? And so serene. Patterned on Earth, I believe. Is that right, Nara?”

“Yes, father. Analia has created an environment from the European continent of the 19th century.”

“Ah.” The old man in white shook his head. “Earth. I visited there, many times when Nara worked with the last group of dreamwalkers. But I never got accustomed to how quickly they move, and their lives are so short—very confusing.”

“Analia was a member of the last group, father,” Nara reminded him. “That’s why we came to ask her the question.”

He reached across the table to pat Analia’s hand.

“Forgive me, child. Is there more of this liquid? I find it pleasant.” He waited while Analia poured more tea into his cup. “I asked Nara to come today because she understands the question better than I do, although I understand the answer better. You’ve known her for some time, so she can ask you clearly and there will be no mistake or confusion.”

Analia inclined her head. “What do you wish to ask?”

The blue light stretched toward Analia. “We want you to tell your story,” Nara said. “While it is fresh in your memory and while one of your dreamers still lives on Earth. We realize how great a challenge it is, but time is short, as you know, and many of us are making extra efforts.”

“Tell my story? But the dreamers know of me. I’ve worked with them for—well, forever, it seems. You know that, Nara. I have learned from them, and taught them as well as I could. I’m afraid I do not understand your request.”

Oak Woman sighed. Her breath ruffled Analia’s long black hair.

“You have taught them about their dreams, yes,” Nara said. “We are asking now that you relay, in words, your history to one of your dreamers. From the time of your arrival on Larreta, or you could begin earlier if you choose. You could tell of when you were a dreamer on Earth, how you remembered your identity as a dreamwalker and started your journey here.”

Nara floated off her chair and ascended to Oak Woman’s upper branches where she shone like a rainbow over the garden. “You have a dreamer who can hear your voice.”

Analia stared up at the rainbow arcing above the huge tree. “Why tell a tale that has been told a thousand times?” she asked in words of many colors, accompanying them with the sound of cymbals. “This is not a task I embrace.”

“Your story is not the same as any other,” said the old man in white.

Oak Woman nodded.

Nara pulsed a brilliant green.

“No dreamer has requested this of me,” Analia said. “My story will annoy beings who cannot remember their natures for longer than a night at a time.”

“They wish to know it in spite of themselves.” Oak Woman’s voice crackled the air.

“My recollections will bore them, no matter where I start.”

Oak Woman shook a few leaves onto the table.

“They hate biographies,” Analia said in the color of Nara’s silver blue gown on the day she took Leo to the cave between the worlds.

“It will be useful.” The old man in white was steadfast. “One of your dreamers is calling. To reclaim her status as a dreamwalker, she must remember herself. You can help.”

“How can I do that from here?” Analia exclaimed, spewing her dismay as teardrops that fell on the delicate teacups. The lapse embarrassed her and she transformed the tears into chamomile tea, which she drank while she contemplated telling her life story.

A year of Earth’s time passed.

“Why do you resist?” The old man in white tilted his head. “You are a teacher. You prepared for it in so many ways, no one can tell the story of a teacher so well. You cannot have forgotten the struggle required to master your own lessons.”

Analia had not achieved Verdallon by remaining inflexible, so she bowed before his words, opened herself and let his thoughts flow into her where she felt them as sounds of love. “I have not forgotten, but translation is difficult at this distance.”

“All translation is difficult.” His voice brushed the tablecloth, ruffling its edges. “For one with your experience, perhaps more so than for us simpler souls, but think of those on Earth who might raise their eyes to Larreta if they knew of its existence.”

Analia acknowledged his chiding by putting a tiny pink rosebud on the table between them. Behind his crinkled eyelids, the old man focused on the rose. It exploded and turned into its essence. Golden droplets rose well past the middle branches of Oak Woman. As they fell, everyone relaxed in the hail of gold.

Analia closed her eyes to indicate she wanted privacy. He was flattering her, for Analia was the newcomer on Verdallon. The word newcomer floated into her mind. With her new status came a responsibility she had not fully considered until that moment. I am a teacher, she thought, not an artist who creates new visions. My experiences were my education and my task here is to tell of what I’ve learned. That is true.

“Your task is to tell of what you’ve learned, is it not?” Nara said. “Your subject is behavior, not mathematics or poetry.”

“Yes, but I was to help the dreamwalkers of Larreta. To teach the dreamers of Earth from here is a different matter. They hear only words. They forget their dreams at least half the time. They are difficult to convince. I fear I am not experienced enough for this assignment.”

“All newcomers tremble,” Oak Woman rustled. A leaf from her tallest branch spiraled down and brushed Analia’s cheek like a forgotten voice.

A newcomer,” Leo said to Valerie. They stood on the balcony of the Coast House, watching the sun disappear into the sea. “Don’t we have enough trouble without dealing with some fool who doesn’t know what he’s doing?”

Analia saw the two as tiny pictures in her mind. She struggled to place them in time so she could tell of it later. The picture changed to daylight. Sunlight shone in Valerie’s eyes as she looked at Jesse, the newcomer with eyes the color of the Sea of Larreta at sundown.

The sun burned her shoulders; the salted wind threw sand in her eyes. “I was up there last night. I climbed as far as I could, to the spot that should have been right, but I couldn’t see a thing. It’s just too damned perfect, believe me.”

I believe you,” he said. “But it’s something to do.”

Valerie started to shrug him off, but she looked into his eyes again. She had the oddest sensation that someone was watching them, but there was no one else on the beach.

Why not? We can walk up. I know the path.”

The tiny figures in Analia’s mind started up the mountain trail to the spot where Jesse found the one thing that had eluded Valerie in all her years on Larreta.

“It would have happened anyway,” Analia said. “My remembering them did not affect their development. If she had not taken him up the mountain that day, they would still have discovered his gifts.”

“But when?” Nara asked.

“A little later.”

“Who knows the result when events happen later? She gave him courage, and he was better able to encounter Leo because Valerie believed in him.”

“I am a teacher, not a storyteller,” Analia said although she was beginning to realize she’d lost the argument.

“Sometimes the only way to teach history is to record it,” said the old man in white.

“Through the writings of the dreamers,” Nara added. “You will agree, won’t you, Analia? Father has had a wonderful vision of your success. We will store your words in the great library of Larreta. Countless generations will learn from them.”

“I am bound to listen and consider all ideas, but I am not bound to create anyone else’s vision,” Analia said.

“Your integrity is understood.” Nara blazed gold for a moment before her lights returned to blue. “I did not imply lack of choice, only a most wonderful possibility. Your journey is significant. You would not be here if Leo had not acted as he did. He rectified our ancient error, and for that act of courage, we are grateful beyond measure. The Mentors will sing about it for ages.” Her lights pulsed gold again, then silver. “You are one of us now. We need your voice to complete the harmony of the tale.”

Analia sighed. “I will consider your request. Will you come back for my decision? I wish to contact this dreamer.”

“Of course, my dear,” said the old man. “Come, daughter. We will leave Oak Woman until our return, if you have no objection. She is so enjoying your garden.”

Analia had to lean back to see the top of the sentient tree. “She’ll grow too tall, I fear, in your absence.”

The old man in white rose. “All newcomers tremble.”

After Nara and her father left, Analia looked up at Oak Woman. “We have met before, but I can’t quite recall.”

“Tell me your story and you will recall my relatives. They remember you well.”

“I never met a tree who spoke in riddles.”

More leaves spiraled down.

Analia settled herself in the rose petal chair and closed her eyes. She retreated into her mind to contact the dreamer Nara had mentioned. As she did, she left her body to enjoy the peaceful warmth of a day unspoiled by the harsh sunlight of the beach on Earth where her dreamer lay sunbathing.

Analia found the passageway she sought and projected herself through it. The human woman felt her presence; her thoughts stilled.

Analia considered her next step. Carefully, she constructed a picture of Nara and Leo in the cave between the worlds. She placed the image in the passageway, connected the verbal analog to the picture and waited.

The woman on Earth saw the image and heard the words. She looked around but no one was nearby except a teen-aged boy playing a solitary game of catch. Again, she heard Analia’s words, as if a play had begun in her mind.

You are looking wonderful, Leo.”

And you. Rather formal tonight, aren’t you?”

Tonight is special.”

From the passageway, Analia smiled. She had placed only one picture from her memory bank, but the dreamer had used it to access others. She saw, and there was no mistaking her enthusiasm.

Analia withdrew from her dreamer and returned her awareness to her garden. She opened her eyes. “You may call back your companions.”

“We have seen your answer,” said Oak Woman. “And thank you for the effort you made to reach your decision. Where will you begin your story, Analia of Verdallon?”

Analia considered. After a time she said, “My story begins and ends with Leo, who roamed my dreams long before I met him, but it was Valerie who brought everything into focus.”

Oak Woman rustled her leaves. “I have decided to stay for the telling. I will be your witness.”

Analia looked up, but the tree had sprouted more leaves, so it was impossible to see beyond her first set of branches.

“I am glad for the company and the chance to use my garden.”

“Tell me about Valerie.”

Analia turned her mind toward Earth. “When she arrived on Larreta, she came a full year early.”

“Was she called?”

“She was. When she was still on Earth, she knew someone called her, but not who and certainly not from where. It was a great shock when she found herself floating in the Sea of Larreta.”

“Was that in the time of the crisis?”

“The crisis on Larreta had begun earlier. Leo still grieved from the loss of his student to the first time rift to strike Larreta. He wanted to return to Earth, but Nara forbade it.”

“Interesting,” said Oak Woman. “So Valerie was anxious to get to Larreta and Leo was anxious to leave.”

“Yes. The first problem was that as soon as she arrived, Valerie found she feared what she had most desired.”

“I have heard that of humans.”

Analia sighed. “It’s true. We—they are full of contradictions. When Valerie and Leo met, she did not care for him, and there was doubt about whether they could perform their roles. In the beginning, I was not confident.”

A gust of wind moved down Oak Woman’s trunk and blew Analia’s hair across her face.

“All newcomers tremble,” whispered the wind.

The Dreamwalkers of Larreta

 

 

The dreamwalkers of Larreta journey to Earth to teach. Before they can teach, they must learn, for the worlds of density are far different from their home worlds. During their time on Earth, they learn, grow and develop themselves, as do all humans.

When their education is complete, they notice a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning for what they left behind, and they begin the search for the doorway back to their homes. Some search for many lifetimes before they find a portal that leads to Larreta.

The seers have always said there are many ways to find Larreta if it is your true destination, and that all true paths are clearly marked. The masters counseled those who sought wisdom to observe the steps, which each seer handed down to the next in line. Many said that when the seeker reached the top of the stair, the door would appear.

Sometimes it did.

On the other hand, in Valerie’s time, problems developed which caused confusion on Earth and Larreta.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, spiritual seekers on Earth proliferated at a startling rate. Many were sincere. Some were dreamwalkers inciting others to reach for the ancient wisdom. Others imagined themselves enlightened long before their time. Distorted teachings, megalomania and drugs influenced many.

These things were inconvenient, but not the problem.

That arose when novice travelers who wandered in the desert emulating their forebears encountered a true portal. A related problem was that some true travelers, like Valerie, had forgotten they were traveling. It can be a tricky business, who finds the way home and who stays lost.

This regrettable state of affairs caused much humor for beings like Radasam, the Guardian of the southwestern desert. The rest of us were often confused. It was a new era, after all, and we had to learn that not everyone with a knapsack on her back was necessarily seeking what she had lost.

Valerie’s call was a true one, but that she did not know until she and her husband traveled to Albuquerque to visit his sister. On their way home, driving from Albuquerque to Phoenix so they could visit the prehistoric cultural sites that dotted the great southwestern desert, they ventured into the home territory of Radasam.

He had been talking to Valerie in her dreams for more than a year.

Her entry into his land delighted him no end.

That Day in the Desert

 

 

Are you coming?

Valerie roused herself from the dream. The desert shimmered around the car, vast and empty as they drove west toward Flagstaff in the late afternoon heat. She felt the car’s vibration, heard the rhythmic sound of tires on asphalt, Peter’s thumbs tapping the steering wheel in a staccato rhythm as he droned on about the Indian ruins he wanted to visit.

Valerie closed her eyes and tried to re-enter the dream where the voice had whispered of long-held promises.

She knew that voice. She heard it at home when she walked alone on the beach in the morning. It beckoned her with everything she was missing—passion and excitement, the uncertainty of adventure. She stilled herself and waited.

When it didn’t come, she glanced sideways at Peter. He always looked happy. Like a puppy. He never stopped talking, yet hadn’t noticed they ran out of things to say years ago.

“Are you awake, Val?” Peter asked.

“Barely. Why is it so hot?”

“The AC conked out a while back. It’ll be dark soon and then it will cool down. We don’t have much farther to go.”

To avoid his face, Valerie studied the landscape whipping by. “What is that black rock? It looks like a volcano erupted.”

“It did. See those pointy hills in the distance? They were active volcanoes a few thousand years ago. The lava flow came all this way. I looked it up in the guidebook. If it weren’t so hot, we could stop and go for a hike.”

“I don’t hike.”

The sun touched the jagged peaks of the distant mountains, turning them golden red. In the fading light, the desert softened. A whisper tickled her right ear. Valerie shifted in her seat, alarmed at the sudden thought that the image from her dream was watching her from the mountain range, from a distance so great the car appeared to it as a speck of white inching along the ribbon of black asphalt.

She couldn’t know that. She was just hot, tired and nervous about so much open space.

Are you coming?

She sat up straighter. The words echoed in her mind. She shook her head to dispel them and said to Peter, “How much farther will you drive tonight?”

“I thought we’d turn off at Thoreau. Funny name. There’s got to be a story there. It’s the road to Farmington, so I figured there would be a motel. We can stay the night, then check out Chaco Canyon in the morning. We’ll still have time to get to Flagstaff for our flight tomorrow.”

The sun fell behind the stone mountains in the west. In the east, the sky flushed pink against washed out blue.

“It’s getting dark,” Valerie said. “We could go on to Gallup and come back tomorrow.”

“Why go out of our way? It’ll be fine.”

“If we head north, we’ll be driving into a reservation. There might be nowhere to stay.”

Peter offered her his indulgent smile. “What are you so spooked about, hon? I thought you liked the desert. You loved Death Valley last year.”

“In Death Valley, the air conditioning worked. In the room and the car. Not like this economy model. It must be a hundred degrees in here.”

“It’s all they had, hon. You were there when I asked for an upgrade.”

“I was there.” She leaned back against the plastic seat and closed her eyes. She hadn’t been honest with him, not for a long time. It was her fault he had no idea who she was. “Did you check for a place to stay tonight?”

“No. I thought we were having an adventure.”

Valerie looked into the deepening darkness. If she were anywhere but in this car, she wouldn’t have to listen to the sound of his voice.

“Hey, here’s the road.” He sounded pleased. “It won’t be long now. Motels always have restaurants. You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten something.” He exited the interstate and swung onto a gravel road heading north. The motion flung Valerie against the door. A cloud of red dust rose.

“Peter, turn on the lights. Please?”

He switched on the headlights and pressed on the accelerator. The car sped up a hill into the night, cradled by the hot breath of the desert.

 

###

 

Off the coast of the western shore, ten miles north of its destination and a mile out to sea, a gray whale broke the surface of the water, thrusting its upper body into the air to gauge its location. Air buffeted its head as it scanned the familiar rocks and contours of the land.

All its life it had traveled this coastline, but tonight was different. Someone was coming, and it could not be late. The whale dove deep, into the colder currents that were its home. It swam faster as it approached the surface and thrust itself out of the water again.

Before it crashed back into the sea, it had spied Valerie’s car that appeared as two tiny points of light on the curving road that traversed the steep mountain. Satisfied that it was on schedule, it swung its flukes downward with a mighty thrust, propelling itself forward, eager to complete its mission and catch up with its mate and adolescent children before they reached the waters off the Coast House.

 

###

 

As daylight faded, the red spirit of the southwestern desert draped itself over a mountaintop, so when Valerie looked ahead, she saw the image from her dream. Fascinated, she watched as the image wound its amorphous form around dark jagged peaks, finally appearing like a necklace of shining rubies.

At the top, the red shape thickened. A head appeared, then shiny black eyes. An arm separated from the body and pointed at the desert floor.

The voice thundered, filling her mind. Are you coming?

Where are you? She answered mentally, without making an outward sign.

Valerie stared inward and outward, poised in the center of herself. She saw the red creature in both places and sensed the power that had answered her desperate call.

She wanted to dive so deep she would never have to explain to Peter why she didn’t blame him for the failure of the marriage of convenience they both agreed was practical when they were young. Her parents had raised her to be married, conventional, obedient. Peter had seemed a good idea when she was twenty.

“Are you okay?” His hand was on her shoulder.

“Just tired.”

“I know you’re not happy, Val. I do notice things.”

She glanced at him. “Peter, you’re a good man. You’ve given me everything I’ve asked for.”

“Except kids.”

“Yes.”

“We should have adopted. I know that now. It isn’t too late. We could try.”

It isn’t that. I’m not young anymore and I don’t love anyone and something is calling me. If I don’t answer, what will I do for the rest of my life?

Time is short. Are you coming?

Yes, she breathed. Where are you?

Go to the edge of the circle and wait.

Peter rested his right hand on her shoulder. He stroked her hair. She shrugged him off and pressed herself against the window.

He leaned toward her.

“No,” she said. Her voice, louder than she intended, echoed.

Peter lost control of the car. It swerved around another steep curve and headed into the desert, soaring off the road and landing hard on sand. It bumped over rocks. She braced herself against the dash, but the sand slowed the car’s speed and when it hit something solid, the impact was mild. Her seat belt tightened against her chest, then relaxed.

“Val, are you hurt?” Peter looked shaken, but the adrenaline coursing through her was due to excitement.

“I’m fine. Turn on the lights.”

He fumbled with buttons. “No lights. We’re off the road. Stay here. I’ll get out and look around.”

“The headlights are gone, Peter. What can you see?”

He pushed open the door and disappeared. Valerie opened the glove box and found a flashlight.

“Light,” she whispered and pressed the button. An arc of light appeared. She used it to find Peter standing beside the boulder the car had smashed against. She handed him the flashlight.

“They’re both gone,” he said. “And we’re jammed up against this rock. The car isn’t going anywhere tonight without a tow.”

“What shall we do?” She heard herself being practical even as her heart fluttered from anticipation. She had not imagined it. Something important was happening. Right now. To her. On this day. In this desert.

“We’re not lost and we’re not that far from the road either. It couldn’t be more than a couple miles to that little town. There was a gas station, I saw a light when we passed. We’ll walk. With the flashlight, it’ll be easy. A car could come along and give us a lift.”

“I can’t walk in these shoes. Not over sand.”

He shone the pool of light on her flimsy Italian sandals.

“We’ll go slow. You can do it.”

“No.” She was certain. “I’ll stay in the car while you go for help.”

“I can’t leave you here.”

“There’s no one around. I’ll be safe with the doors locked, and you’ll go faster alone.”

“Well,” he faltered. “It isn’t right. I can’t let you sit here in the dark.”

“Look,” she said. “The moon’s coming up.” It was rising huge and yellow above a row of jagged hills.

He turned. “So it is.”

“There’s more light already. You’ll find your way to the road and be back in no time. Don’t look at me like that. Just start, so I don’t have to spend the whole night here.”

“Well.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “If you’re sure.”

Poor Peter. “I am.”

“Well, okay. Here, let me get you in the car.” He took her arm and tucked her into the passenger seat. “Lock the doors. Keep this window rolled up half way.”

“I’ll be fine.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile but she could hardly wait for him to leave.

“I’ll be back as fast as I can. I love you, Val.” He reached through the window and kissed her. His lips were dry and chapped, his face strained and white in the moonlight. Peter always tried so hard. For the right person, he would be the perfect husband.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m safe. Remember that while you’re walking back.”

He leaned in to kiss her again. “You know I love you, right?”

“Of course. I love you, too. Now go. Be careful.”

He smiled, nervous but trying to look brave. Then he was gone.

Valerie didn’t move. Once she looked in the rear mirror. Peter’s flashlight bobbed in the darkness.

She watched the moon rising across the indigo sky. Moonlight illuminated squat cactus plants and a spreading juniper bush, and finally, a circle of stones—upright, irregular, almost black, some a few feet high and others taller. She no longer saw the red spirit or the distant mountains but her chest had acquired an unaccountable lightness. She took a deep breath to quiet herself.

Valerie got out of the car and approached the stones. They formed a rough circle over one hundred feet in diameter. They looked different from the desert rocks along the highway. Smoother. Older. But that was silly. She had no way of knowing the age of a rock. Inside the circle was a shallow depression where nothing grew. Within it, sand shone silver in the moonlight.

The moon was paler now and still rising. She reached out with one hand and touched the surface of the nearest rock. Like glass under her fingertips. She shivered with pleasure.

The minor harbingers who assisted the red spirit of the desert watched her hesitate. They fluttered their tiny wings in encouragement that she felt as a slight breeze against her face. In her mind, she glimpsed again the huge red creature draped over the mountaintop.

Valerie turned in a circle, taking in the flat land pulsing around her, shadows cast by the knobby cholla cactus, the small, muffled sounds a rabbit or bird made as it shuffled for cover in a nearby bush. She forgot about Peter.

She smiled up at the moon and stepped into the circle.

 

###

 

On the deck of the Coast House, Martin raised his head and listened to what sounded like a branch cracking. He placed his book on the redwood table. Wind had risen. Waves broke against the rocks on the beach. In the last of the dying light, white spouts of water told him whales were near.

Earlier in the day, he received word that the desert Guardian was leading the woman Valerie toward the portal. He was mildly annoyed, but intrigued. She was not due at the Coast House for another year and Martin had plenty of other duties that demanded his attention. He did not enjoy surprises.

Still, he had been looking forward to her arrival. Now that he’d gotten used to the idea of her coming early, his annoyance drained away. She was the kind of person they needed at the Coast House. Independent. Strong-minded. Good qualities when unlikely events occurred.

Martin shivered in the night air as he thought about how a time rift had almost taken another dreamwalker. The rifts were appearing more often; Larreta was no longer a place free of danger.

Leo had never recovered from the loss of his student to the first rift to attack Larreta, and his difficulties since then caused Martin pain. He did not know how to help his most senior instructor.

Such a pity about Bobby. Martin sighed. Even though he suspected Leo was wrong about her, her loss was a blow. Now Valerie was coming. Perhaps it was a good sign. With luck, her arrival could be a boon to them all.

The evening was proving particularly beautiful. Wind ruffled the sea into whitecaps. The air was warm. Whales were here, circling close enough to shore that he heard the puffing of their spouts.

Another cracking sound. Valerie had entered the circle. She hadn’t waited for the red spirit to arrive. Fortuitous. One less confrontation suited him just fine.

Uneven footsteps stumbled toward him. She had gone through the portal and was in the tunnel. She would be here soon. He rose from his cushioned chair and opened the door that led to his office. He should hurry. It would not be fitting to be late on such an occasion.

 

###

 

When Valerie stepped into the circle of upright stones, the air was different. Lighter. To her right a cave appeared in a tall hill. She had not realized how close she was to the triangular-shaped hill, but she attributed that to the darkness.

A mound.

The word floated into her mind. She walked toward it, her excitement growing. The entrance to the cave was higher than her head and constructed of the same smooth rocks as the upright stones. She touched one side. Warm, inviting. With the moonlight she could see into the depths of the cave. No obstacles. She kicked off her sandals and stepped in. Her feet sank into soft sand, deliciously cool against her bare skin.

She made her way through a tunnel of opaque stone that looked silvery-gray and felt pliable under her fingers. The ceiling was high and rounded. She saw no artificial lights but the walls glowed and she had no trouble seeing far enough ahead to know she could walk safely. She walked faster, growing lighter as she moved.

At a fork she stopped. One of the minor harbingers fluttered nervously, beating its blue wings inches above her hair. The other hovered by her left ear and whispered, Go right.

She couldn’t see the harbingers but she received their message. Valerie hesitated and then turned into the tunnel on the left.

She walked a few more yards before the surface under her feet turned slippery, and she skidded out of control. When she grabbed for the wall, she couldn’t reach it. Too late, she understood that the tunnel had changed. It was higher and wider. When she tried to move to one side, her bare feet slid over a slick, spongy floor. Then she was falling down a steep slope. At the last moment, just before she fell into it, she saw white water churning below.

When Valerie landed in the water, the minor harbingers squawked in alarm and flew into each other’s arms. They flapped their wings furiously and stared in wonder as the obstinate human female disappeared under a foamy wave.

 

###

 

The red spirit of the desert has a wide sphere of influence. Its dominion consists of empty land that it roams when darkness conceals its movements, when it can be seen only in the subtle shadows the moon throws over rocks and heard in the rustlings of wind through the stiff branches of Paloverde trees. It is both protector and companion of the desert creatures and often plays with the grandmother snakes who remember the game of hide and seek the red spirit devised before two-leggeds roamed its hills.

The red spirit liked to mimic the sounds of small animals, to pretend it was a gopher or field mouse, skittering over pebbles and around clumps of sage, its tiny paws gripping grains of sand as it scrambled toward its burrow.

On this night, a rattlesnake raised its head, sensed the direction of its prey and uncoiled, sliding across the desert floor, following the palpable fear of the mouse or gopher, sensing a warm heart beating frantically as it pumped blood to the dashing paws. The snake slid faster. The prey was close. A vague sense of pleasure rose in its head as it sprang forward with jaws ready to grasp the tiny body.

At that moment, the red spirit changed itself into a pit of fire. Flames shot into the darkness, illuminating the snake as it plunged sideways to avoid the heat. The snake hissed and rattled, snapping its jaws in the air. It retreated and coiled itself as it watched the flames from a distance.

The red spirit had perceived the frightened cries of the minor harbingers when Valerie plunged into the water. When the flames died out, it went on its way, its laughter floating back to the snake as the sound of water rippling over river stones.

The snake thumped its rattle on the cool sand to warn all living mice and gophers that it would not be fooled again that night.

 

###

 

Valerie didn’t remember hitting the water or the churning waves or being pulled by a strong current into open water. She knew only the pressure on her body weighing her down. She kicked her arms and legs to gain upward movement.

Light shone above. She broke the surface and gulped air. Tread water and looked around. In three directions, nothing but water, but on the fourth was a beach. Small and white, at least a mile away. On the shore, a pile of rocks shone silvery blue. Near one of them stood a shadow. An animal or a person? A person would help her. Swim out to save her. Bring a boat.

“Help!” Valerie called.

The shadow lifted one arm and waved. She struck out for shore with strong, uneven strokes. She swam and swam, but the current was against her and the beach came no closer.

She was nearly out of breath. “Help me,” she called as loudly as she could manage.

She swam again, shorter strokes, hard kicks. She tried to remember what she had read about staying alive in an open sea but the outflowing current was too strong. It pulled her back, toward the distant horizon. When she was too tired to move her arms, she floated. She looked up at a cloudless sky that blazed a bright azure.

I’m going to drown, she thought. Right here, where I can see the shore. She felt sad but not panic-stricken. Maybe if she floated, the tide would turn and push her toward shore. Maybe the shadow would come.

Valerie floated and looked at the empty sky. She didn’t notice she wasn’t cold. She didn’t notice that when she didn’t swim, she stayed in the same spot. She didn’t think about Peter or the desert or the red spirit, but only how she would love to be on that beach, with hard sand under her feet.

Past the rocks on the beach, a house perched on a cliff, the most beautiful house she had ever seen. She wondered who lived there. Too bad she would never find out.

After she rested, she tried again to swim. The current tugged her backward. This is not the way, she thought and she wanted to laugh because there was no other way.

Valerie resigned herself. If she was destined to die here, she would do it gracefully. Drowning was supposed to be an easy death, like going to sleep. Not if she struggled, though. She let her legs hang motionless, to facilitate her descent and waited.

Someone called her name. She remembered Peter and the car crash, but that had been long ago. She slipped beneath the surface. Under the water, she opened her eyes, determined to be aware until the last moment.

I have an appointment.

The thought flashed through her mind but she couldn’t remember what it meant. Her hair formed a circle around her face, interrupting her concentration. To drown, she had to breathe, but her lungs refused to open.

When it glided up from the depths, she didn’t see the enormous silver-colored object. Its eyes emitted light that trailed pools of phosphorescence in the dark water. The object rose higher, close to her dangling feet, and hailed her in a deep sonorous voice.

Valerie’s left foot struck something solid. She started to open her mouth to scream, then remembered she was under several feet of water and kicked violently. As she surfaced, the object rose with her, keeping enough distance between them to avoid striking her.

It hailed her again. Valerie took a huge breath of air. Then she laughed. Choked on salt water. Laughed again. It had to be a whale. She was almost standing on it. More important, she understood its mournful sounds. They were telling her to rest her feet on its back and it would carry her to shallow water.

She hung in the water, moving her arms just enough to stay afloat while the whale positioned its broad back under her. When both her feet rested on it, it moved toward shore, aiming for the pile of rocks where the shadow person now stood at the shoreline, still waving. When she saw that the person was a man dressed in black, the whale stopped.

I can go no farther, it thought to her. You can swim from here.

“Thank you for saving my life.” Valerie lowered herself into the water and paddled to the creature’s head. A huge dark eye blinked twice.

We will meet again.

She took a stroke, then another. She was moving, making headway. Two more strokes. A wave broke behind her. It carried her toward shore. Her feet struck sand. She stood and looked back, but the whale had vanished.

Thank you, she thought to the huge creature.

She turned to the man in black at the water’s edge. He came closer when a wave receded and stepped back when another wave approached.

Valerie trudged through the water, waves slapping her back. When she reached the hard-packed sand, the man in black held out a towel. She took it and dried her face, then wrapped it around her shoulders. She looked at him, expecting an explanation for his inexplicable behavior.

“Welcome, my dear.” He inclined his head respectfully. “My name is Martin. I’ve been expecting you.”

The Coast House

 

 

“I could have drowned.” Valerie’s feet sank into wet sand to her ankles. “Why didn’t you help me? Don’t you have a boat?”

Martin’s brow wrinkled. “Why, no. No one’s ever asked for one, but you didn’t need saving, Valerie. The whale was waiting for you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your decision to come early was rather sudden, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Valerie pulled her right foot out of the wet sand and rinsed it in an incoming wave. “How do you know my name?”

“I’m the Keeper of this house.” He motioned to the redwood and glass building she had seen from the water. “The Guardian informed me about your arrival.”

Valerie looked at the house that seemed to cling to the mountain. It was two stories high with a deck spanning the length of the first floor and small balconies above. “This is insane,” she said as she yanked her left foot free. “What’s going on?”

A memory of Peter’s face in the moonlight surfaced. She whirled, half expecting to see the rented car stalled in the desert. Instead, she faced a calm sea. A huge white fin broke through the water.

“Oh.” Valerie turned back to Martin. “What’s happened? Why isn’t it night?”

“My dear, you’ve come to Larreta. Normally, we don’t find newcomers floating in the sea but since you made a slight error in the cave, time became distorted, and the whale was kind enough to assist. Do you remember the Guardian leading you to the stone circle? A rather dramatic soul. Often appears in red.”

Valerie blinked. “I dreamed about him, and then saw him while we were driving. I didn’t think …” She stepped onto the hard sand. “The red thing that draped itself over the mountain was real? That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Everything you perceive is real, Valerie. I gather you didn’t wait for him once you arrived at the portal.”

“Portal?”

“The one in the American desert. I haven’t been there myself but I understand it’s difficult to find if it isn’t your destination.”

“The car crashed by a circle of stones. The circle led me to a cave.”

“Radasam is quite inventive.”

“Who?”

“Radasam. The Guardian who contacted you. He is responsible for leading souls from that part of the world to Larreta.”

“Through a portal?”

“Exactly. They are one-way passages and very specific, so if you are not intended for Larreta, you likely wouldn’t find the entrance.”

Valerie stared at him. “You believe we’re not on Earth.”

“This is Larreta.”

“And what is Larreta?”

“One of Earth’s…children. Very similar, as you see, but vibrating on a different frequency. Some consider it a different planet.”

“Planet! Don’t you need spaceships to travel through space?”

Martin squared his shoulders. “We are not uncivilized. We use portals. The distance is not great, but the difference in frequency is critical.”

“Frequency.”

“Speed of vibration. That’s the key.”

“This looks like California.”

Martin stepped back as another wave threatened to engulf his perfectly polished shoes. “You will not see California again, but I think you’ll like Larreta. I assure you it was your decision to come here. In time, you’ll remember.”

Valerie turned back to the sea, lifted her arms and inspected them. She rubbed her hands together, relieved to feel the sensation of flesh moving against flesh. Something had happened in that desert but not the etheric spiritual encounter she had expected. There could have been an accident. When the car crashed, she must have been hurt.

“At least I’m not dead,” she said.

“You’re not wet either.”

It was true. She still wore the tan slacks and blue cotton shirt from that morning. Except for her wet feet, there was no sign of her time in the water. Her hair was damp from perspiration, not seawater.

“You’re telling me I’m dead? Is this heaven?”

Martin looked down at the sand. “There are many places to go, Valerie, when your sojourn on Earth is complete. This is one.”

“What is it called again?”

“The Coast House of Larreta. It’s a Waystation for newcomers. People come here to find what they’re missing. You have been here before, although not for a long time. We’re very pleased to welcome you home.”

They considered each other. Valerie looked at the house gleaming in the morning light, and for a moment, she remembered it. The little man was telling the truth. The next moment, her mind snapped shut.

She thought about Peter and the rented car and the desert. However she had gotten from New Mexico to the ocean, more time had elapsed than she realized. Amnesia. It had to be. Something had happened while she waited in the car for Peter to get help. Maybe someone had come along and attacked her. She could have been in a hospital and escaped. That thought cheered her.

“Will you come to the house now? I’ve prepared a room for you.”

She looked around at the white sand beach that stretched for at least a mile to the north where it ended at a high jetty of black rocks that blocked her view of what lay beyond. A short distance from the house another jetty bounded the beach to the south.

From the beach, the mountain rose abruptly. It was dotted with juniper and low scrub, too steep to climb and too high to offer an easy escape.

She nodded, expecting him to turn and lead her, but with his left hand, he pointed to the house and waited for her to start. It was several hundred yards through soft sand. Valerie saw a wide wooden stair from the beach to the redwood deck and headed for it.

When she reached the deck, Valerie took advantage of being twenty feet above the beach to look around. There was no other stairway. No driveway. Any road that led to the house must be in the back.

A wooden door to the left led to what looked like a private portion of the deck, but rattan screens covered it so she could tell nothing. The deck was wide and well kept. It accommodated several sets of tables and matching redwood chairs with thick cushions, but all were empty, with no sign of recent use.

The little man was on the stairs now. The only alternative to entering the house was to spend the day on the beach, so she stepped through a glass door into a large sunny room. A stone fireplace reached the ceiling. Groupings of sofas and chairs of different sizes sat on the wood floor that shone a warm, golden brown. Scattered on it were rugs she knew were antiques—Persian and Chinese and one large black and red oblong that had to be an old Navajo weaving.

The white walls were bare except for a portrait of a woman gathering shells on a beach, a large oil of two whales breaching, and a pastel of the Coast House as it would look from a boat. She recognized none of the artists. If this were her hallucination, wouldn’t the art be by someone she knew?

She walked through an archway into a smaller room furnished in the same manner. Another fireplace. Two loveseats, both upholstered in thick dark-red cotton. Valerie pushed open a door and found herself in a hallway. A wide curved staircase led to the second floor. She looked up but saw only a landing. To her left were two identical doors. She walked through one of them into a kitchen.

A young sandy-haired man stood chopping vegetables on a freestanding cutting board. He looked up and smiled. “Hello, Valerie. I’m Brian.”

“How do I get out of here? Is there a back door?”

Brian rested the knife on a pile of carrot sticks. “Didn’t you just arrive?”

“And I intend to leave as soon as I find a way out. I need to get away from the little man in the black coat.”

“That’s Martin.”

Valerie ignored his admiring glance. “Will you help me?”

“Martin’s the Keeper.”

“That’s right.” She jumped. Martin was right behind her.

“I see you’ve met Brian,” Martin said. “My assistant enjoys cooking.”

Brian winked at her. “It passes the time.”

Martin circled around Valerie and stood beside Brian. He inclined his head toward the younger man. “Valerie is on the schedule for next year, but she has come early. Why don’t you show her to her room?”

“I don’t want to see my room,” Valerie said. “I want to know what’s going on. And where my husband is.”

Martin leaned toward Brian. “Get her records from my office. On the desk. Check for a husband.”

To Valerie, he said, “I have authorization only for you, but if your husband decided to accompany you, we’ll find him.”

“Is this an institution?”

“No. Brian will double-check our records.”

Valerie remembered the moon rising above jagged mountains and the black boulders that felt like glass. She thought she had an appointment but not for this. Her heart began to pound.

Brian returned carrying a dark oblong object the size of a large paperback book. He met Martin’s eyes and shook his head.

Martin moved closer to Valerie and patted her shoulder. “It’s natural for a newcomer to be disoriented. Especially after that ordeal in the water. Why don’t you go upstairs and we’ll talk later. Brian will take you.”

She looked from one to the other and decided arguing was hopeless. Maybe if she were alone, she could figure out what was going on.

She followed Brian up the stairs to a long hallway with doors on both sides. He stopped at the first door on the left and opened it. She walked into the room, then turned and faced him.

“What are you doing here? Are there others?”

“This is the Coast House,” Brian said. “We orient newcomers, and some instructors choose to train here. Others use the house for short vacations. Like a hotel, you could say. There’s no one else here now, but that will change. You won’t be alone long.”

Valerie sat on the large bed and tried again. “Brian, this is a mistake. Can’t you help me?”

He shook his head. “Martin said you were early, but no one comes here unless they’ve decided to come. There wouldn’t be any point.” His brown eyes were kind, but she sensed he would not yield.

“This is one of the best rooms,” he said. “It’s on the corner, so it has a view of the water and the mountain. You can sit out here.” He drew the drapes and opened French doors that led to a balcony containing two wooden chairs, a round table and a box of red petunias in bloom.

“There’s nothing like this in New Mexico. What state are we in?”

“Larreta has no states. Here’s the closet. Martin chose clothes for you, but if they don’t suit, we’ll send for a tailor.”

“What ocean is that?”

“The Sea of Larreta.”

“It looks like the Pacific.”

“This is the Coast House.”

“I heard that the first time.”

“The Keeper can answer your questions.”

“So could you.”

“No, ma’am, I can’t.”

“Are you the cook?”

He laughed. “No. I cook for fun. Most people stop eating within a few months of arriving. It’s not necessary on Larreta, but during orientation, we keep things as much like Earth as possible, so newcomers can acclimate. To answer your question, I’m a dreamwalker. Or, was. Now I’m an assistant Keeper.”

Valerie turned away so she wouldn’t laugh in his face. Everyone here was crazy. How could humans survive without eating? When she was sure she could control her facial expression, she turned back to Brian. “That makes no sense. How do you survive without food?”

Brian did not look surprised. “That’s a hard one for a lot of newcomers. Have you noticed that your body is different?”

“Not really.”

“The portal changed you so you resonate with the vibration of Larreta. Now, you’re eternal. You have all the organs you had before and you will until you complete your time here and move on, but you can sustain yourself on water and sunlight. We have plenty of that.” His smile was disarming. He didn’t behave like an insane person, except that his words were nonsense.

“I see,” Valerie said.

“You’ll find out. For now, feel free to ask me for anything you want. We have fruit, vegetables, nuts, bread. No meat, no food with chemicals, but we have some very ingenious cooks and bakers in the city. There’s quite a variety available, and I can do a lot here.”

“So assistant Keepers cook for people who don’t eat.”

“Well, newcomers do, for a while. I like to help them feel comfortable and food is one way to do it.”

“Tell your Keeper I want to speak to someone in authority and I don’t mean him. Send in the person he reports to. I want to know who is responsible for me being here. Do you understand?”

“I understand your words, but …”

“But what?”

“You’re the only one responsible for your presence here.”

“You’re all crazy,” Valerie said. “Get out.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Brian turned and left. The door clicked shut.

Valerie moved around the room, inspecting the furniture—a bed with a peach colored comforter, a pale blue sofa in an alcove, a table with two comfortable chairs, and an oak dresser. She opened the drawers—all empty—and poked through the closet that held clothes similar to what she usually wore.

She found the bathroom and slid open the glass door of the medicine cabinet. It was empty except for a bottle of nail polish in her color and a pair of cuticle scissors. She looked at herself in the mirror. No difference. Brian was insane, no question. Then she noticed that her skin was different. Paler. Younger looking. The fine lines around her eyes had disappeared.

She went back to the closet and opened the door to inspect herself in the full-length mirror. She looked thinner. Then it hit her. She looked as she had ten years ago, when she was thirty and not so tired. A wave of heat passed through her. Then she shivered with cold. She must be dead, which meant this was the afterlife, but why did it look like the central California coast?

She closed the closet and went onto the balcony that hung directly above the large deck. The deck was still empty. She scanned the sea, hoping for a boat or a surfer or, at least, a whale, but there was nothing to see and nothing to hear except the rhythmic sound of waves hitting rocks.

Okay, Valerie thought. This is a quiet place. If I’m dead, something will happen eventually. If I’m insane, then I’ll see a doctor or nurse. Maybe I need to be silent.

She went inside and sat at the table facing the window. Pens and paper filled a drawer, but no stamps or maps or phone book. No phone. She had lost her cell in the water, and her purse she had left in the rented car.

She doodled her name across a piece of cream-colored stationery. Under it, she wrote the words, “I can wait as long as you can.”

Valerie had decided to speak to no one until someone told her the truth.

 

###

 

Valerie’s silence caused the first crisis with a newcomer at the Coast House since a newcomer named Leo confounded the Keeper by climbing onto the roof of the house and flinging himself onto the beach, a distance of over forty feet. When he landed and discovered he was uninjured, Leo dashed into the house to confront the Keeper, a young man named Julian, with the mysterious fact that he was still alive.

“You jumped off the roof?” Julian’s pale eyebrows raised into his hairline. “Whatever for?”

“I was trying to kill myself!” Leo hissed, so angry he didn’t realize he had grabbed the neck of Julian’s turtleneck sweater and was twisting it in his enormous fist.

“You can’t do that,” Julian whispered, grasping at Leo’s fingers.

“Why the hell not?”

“Let me go and I’ll tell you.”

“What? Oh. Sorry.” Leo relaxed his grip. Julian smoothed his shirt and gave Leo a push with both hands. Leo stepped back. “Tell me why I wasn’t hurt just now.”

“You really jumped?”

“Watch it, Julian.” He stepped forward again.

“I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew. I mean, it’s the point of all this.”

What is the point?”

“You can’t hurt yourself. You’re eternal. It’s only in the dense realities like your Earth where the illusion of mortality is acted out.”

“The illusion of mortality? The illusion. You’re saying I can’t die? Is that what you mean?”

“Yes,” Julian said, relieved that he had gotten this basic message across to the stubborn newcomer. “You can’t die. No one can. You can only change.”

“Into what?”

“Anything you like. You can change your body, have a different shape or color. It’s up to you.”

Leo stared into Julian’s pale blue eyes. “I don’t want to live forever. When that woman who glowed like light came to me in the mountain cave and said to follow her, I was freezing. I thought I was dying and she was some kind of angel. That’s why I did what she said.”

“What would an angel be doing on Earth?” Julian asked.

Leo stared at him.

“Were you near China when this happened?”

“Yes, I was near China. I was on a trek in the mountains. We started from Katmandu with a party of tourists. I stopped to investigate a cave and got lost.”

“Leo, you met the mountain Guardian of that continent who is in charge of transportation to Larreta. The meeting was planned. That’s why no one missed you.”

“I got lost,” Leo said through gritted teeth. “I didn’t want to come here.”

“No one comes unless they’ve agreed.”

“I would rather die and be reborn on Earth, if it’s all the same to you.”

“It isn’t up to me,” Julian mumbled. “Once you go through the portal, your body is changed so you can’t go back. Even if I wanted to help you, I can’t. I’m only the Keeper. Living and dying isn’t my field.”

Leo blinked. “It’s out of your area.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, since it’s not your concern, you don’t mind if I try again, do you?” He turned and marched toward the stairway that led to the roof.

“No. Don’t.” Julian followed, half-running. “Leo, please. Can’t you trust me?”

“Trust a man who tells me I can’t die? Are you crazy?”

Leo took the stairs two at a time, shoved open the roof door and strode to the edge. He looked down, saw a large rock protruding from the sand and decided to aim for it. Then he stepped back far enough for a good start, ran to the edge and dove off headfirst. Air rushed past him, the black rock swelled. There was a slight thud as he floated onto it and then fell sideways. He landed on his back on the sand. When he opened his eyes, Julian stood on the deck, staring down at him.

Not one to be easily convinced, Leo continued his experiments in mortality by climbing once a day at noon to the roof and hurling himself onto the beach. Each time he landed safely, and each day the Keeper became more distraught at the insane behavior of his newest charge. He had never encountered a newcomer who refused to believe that the portal to Larreta had transformed his body.

Visitors noticed Leo’s noontime ritual, and they carried away the story of the strange newcomer who jumped off the roof every day at noon. It wasn’t long before Nara heard rumors that things were out of control at the Coast House. She paid a visit to Julian and stayed with him for more than an hour.

When she came out, she glowed yellow-green. She went to Leo’s room to speak with him, but he was not there to greet her, although she had announced her arrival in the proscribed manner.

For years afterward, they told how Nara tracked Leo to the farthest corner of the beach where he was sunbathing behind a pile of rocks near the northern jetty. No one knows what transpired in that meeting, for Leo never uttered a word about it, but after that day he never again jumped off the roof.

It was, however, too late for Julian. The poor man had become so unsure of himself he could no longer function as Keeper. He left the Coast House, and a few days later Martin appeared to replace him. Under Martin’s supervision, there have been no unseemly incidents at the Waystation, with newcomers or travelers, until Valerie’s silence stretched into the second week, and then the third.

 

###

 

Valerie had not uttered a word for what seemed like forever—not to Brian or Martin or any of the overnight guests who attempted conversation with her. She listened to their questions and responded only with a polite smile and a shrug. When they persisted, she retreated to her balcony and sat listening to the sounds of the sea.

The funny part, she thought, was that she was beginning to enjoy the game—the looks on their faces, especially Martin, with his earnest eyes and the silly questions meant to trick her. You like cream in your coffee, don’t you, Valerie?

They were getting desperate. That odd-sounding ceremony downstairs this morning had sounded like a call for reinforcements, which could mean someone in authority would respond. Meanwhile she was enjoying the solitude. Never before had she had no responsibilities, no appointments, and no one to take care of but herself.

It startled her to notice that she did not miss Peter. She missed having someone around who cared about her, who inquired how she was doing and tried to please her, but not Peter himself. That gave her pause and the solitude provided time to think. The more she thought, the more she realized that the crazy people who ran this house were right. She had wanted to leave her life.

In the beginning, she had loved Peter or thought she did, but that had been years ago. He was attractive, appropriate, with the means to give her the life she expected, but over time, their marriage devolved into predictable patterns. She had never cheated, and didn’t think he had either, but when she asked herself if it would have mattered, she had to answer no.

Emptiness had invaded her life, as if she made a wrong turn and missed something important. A person. An opportunity. Valerie never mentioned this to anyone. In her world, what mattered was a decent education and a good marriage, a beautiful home and successful children. She had accomplished all of it except the children.

Did she really want to be a mother? As her second week at the Coast House began, she asked herself that question. There was no reason to lie, so she had to say, no, she didn’t. She could have persuaded Peter to adopt, but the truth was, a strangling panic rose in her chest when she thought of giving up her freedom to care for a child.

Still, something had been missing. She tried running an art gallery, which was fun for two years until it became drudgery. Then she thought she might be an artist, but her talent was small.

You’re a spoiled dilettante, she told herself as she sat on her balcony and watched the spouting of whale breath. A spoiled selfish woman who is probably getting exactly what she deserves. Then she laughed.

The silence was calming, and she moved more slowly, taking time to notice how the light fell on the polished floor of her room, how the wind whistled through the eaves in the house. The silence gave her access to her own past. All she had to do was sink into a memory and, after a time, the motivation behind her actions revealed itself. An interesting experience. Humbling.

She remembered the red dragon-like being that had haunted her dreams, how it materialized in the outer world as they drove through the desert. She had imagined it as a secret lover come to save her from her predicable life, safe because it lived only in her dreams, but now she wondered.

Was Martin right? Had it led her to the entrance to this place? Did she decide to come here or had she died in that crash and now was experiencing a very strange afterlife? Thinking about it gave her a headache, so she went for a walk on the beach and watched the stars appear.

 

###

 

The call for help from the Coast House puzzled Nara. Martin rarely called, which pleased her since she preferred her Keepers make their own decisions. Newcomers kept her busy enough, since they often didn’t understand the distinction between a problem and an emergency.

Martin’s call concerned a newcomer. Nara did not recall any newcomer assigned recently to the Coast House and her lapse annoyed her. She arrived in a flash of rosy pink light, circled the house once, then entered Martin’s office through the window and positioned herself on the ceiling to wait for him, appearing as a circle of vibrating pink light.

Martin perceived her arrival and hurried into the office. He glanced around without seeing her and then peeked through the curtains to see if she were waiting on the private balcony, but it was empty. He started out the door, deciding she must be in the common room, when Nara hissed like an angry house cat to attract his attention.

Startled, he looked up and saw her floating in a corner. He relaxed.

“Forgive me. I did not see you there.” He inclined his head.

“There is nothing to forgive. You are having a crisis; I have answered.”

“I’m sorry to bother you with such an unimportant matter but I’ve tried every means of persuasion I know. This woman is intractable. Again, I apologize for calling.”

“Call and I will answer. That is our agreement,” Nara said. “Now tell me who this person is and what has disturbed you.”

She changed her appearance into a shimmering pale green column of light and descended toward the floor.

“Valerie. A newcomer. The North American Guardian sent her to us believing she was impatient to begin her new life. Our records indicate that she was due about a year from now in Earth’s time. I only received word she was coming on the day she arrived.”

“I had not heard of a newcomer who was early.”

“I did not think it important enough to bother you before your scheduled visit.”

“So what is the problem? Does she want to go back?”

“I don’t know. She refuses to speak. Since the first day when she walked up on the beach, she hasn’t said a word. She insists that she will not speak until she sees the person in charge. I’ve tried everything I could think of to persuade her.”

“You are the person in charge,” Nara said.

“But Valerie does not believe that. She wants to speak to my superior.”

“Your what?”

“The term denotes rank.”

“You’re certain her decision to come here was finalized?”

“I have double-checked the records. There’s no mistake.”

“I hope not.” Nara floated eye-level with the Keeper. “Was it an error on the Guardian’s part? Why didn’t he send her by the usual route? You said she walked up on the beach. From the sea?”

“She was floating in the water. Radasam alerted the lead whale, so he was waiting for her and brought her to shore. It was odd, because she called so insistently to the Guardian, yet when she got to the portal, she didn’t wait for him. She came through on her own and took a wrong turn.”

“He was probably teasing the snakes again,” Nara said. “Do you believe this woman is ready to resume her life as a dreamwalker?”

Martin sighed. “She is one of us, without doubt. She is unusually stubborn, though, about moving into her new identity.”

Nara glistened green and gold to signify her understanding. “So what would you like me to do, old friend?”

Martin sat in the high-backed chair behind his desk. “I’ve been thinking about that. Perhaps you know someone who could persuade her to speak? Someone more like herself?”

“Intractable, you mean?” Nara mused. She floated past him toward the window. “That could be arranged. A good idea, Keeper. We both know someone stubborn enough to understand a voluntary mute, do we not?”

Martin permitted himself a smile. “We do indeed. Thank you for understanding. Shall I prepare another room?”

“Yes. I will send him to you tomorrow. Make yourself ready. I will observe what happens, so you need not call again.”

“I understand,” he said as she disappeared through the curtains.

Leo

 

 

First light was streaking the sky above Tyrid when Leo woke, sure someone was observing him. He looked into the mass of twinkling lights hovering over his bed and sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

The lights formed into a pulsing circle. A voice emanated from their center. “I have a situation at the Coast House and hoped you would assist.”

Leo closed his eyes and rolled over. “On leave at the moment, Nara, and I just got to sleep. Can it wait?”

Nara moved to the side of the bed and glowed dark blue. “Martin needs help with a newcomer.”

Leo opened one eye. Martin was his oldest friend on Larreta. The Keeper had given him sanctuary after he lost Bobby, the woman he believed he was destined to spend his life with. When Leo barricaded himself in his room at the Coast House, unable to cope with the grief that ravaged him, Martin had installed an impenetrable lock on his door so no one could enter. The solitude had saved him and Leo never forgot what he owed the little man. “What’s wrong?”

“A newcomer arrived early. A woman, quite independent-minded. She came through the desert portal, but landed in the sea and had to be rescued by the lead whale. Now she refuses to speak.”

“Not at all?”

“Not a word.”

Leo propped himself against the carved headboard of the enormous canopied bed. This was the most interesting problem anyone had brought him in months. “She must have taken a wrong turn in the portal.”

“Apparently. Martin is sure she belongs with us. She was so anxious to get here, she came early but now she refuses to adjust to Larreta. We cannot begin her orientation unless she speaks and I can’t send her back, so I need someone to gain her trust and handle the situation.”

Leo was starting to enjoy himself. He had just finished a class at the Center where he assisted instructors who trained new dreamwalkers. His next class would not start for several weeks, and he had taken a long leave because he noticed he was having trouble staying focused on the needs of his students. If he couldn’t pay attention, he shouldn’t be teaching, so he retired to his loft in Tyrid to decide how to spend his vacation. A rebel who refused to speak sounded more interesting than the eager newcomers who hung on his every word.

“What would you like me to do?”

“Persuade her to talk. Find out what’s wrong so she can be oriented.”

He grinned at the column of lights. “How do you expect me to do that?”

“Be charming. I understand you have expertise in such matters.”

“Going through changes, are we? What am I, the big gun?”

“This shouldn’t take long. Convince her to speak. Then I’ll assign her to an instructor and you can return to your own pursuits. If you do this for me, I would consider it a personal favor.”

“Fine,” he said. “I haven’t seen Martin for months and it’s time we caught up, so I’ll give it a shot. No guarantees, though. Not every woman falls in line the minute I walk through the door.”

Nara’s lights twinkled. “Rumors tell a different tale. Can you leave today?”

Leo threw off the bedclothes and stood. “All right. I’ll get ready, but you owe me for this one.”

“It will be recorded,” Nara said. “Call and I will answer.” As she disappeared, her words echoed.

Later that morning, Leo caught the public flyer to the Coast House. During the half hour flight, he dozed, and the slight jolt that told him they had landed on the helipad behind the Coast House surprised him. He bid good-bye to the pilot and walked up the long flight of stairs to the back door. He entered the kitchen and found Brian sorting fruit and storing it in refrigerated cabinets.

“Leo!” Brian gave him a big smile.

“The cavalry has arrived. How’s the new job going?” Leo set down his valise and shook Brian’s hand.

“Good. Busy. I love working with Martin, and now we almost have a full house. Two instructors arrived yesterday with their newcomers, and Valerie is still holed up in her room.”

“That’s why I’m here, I take it. What’s her story?”

“She’s an interesting one. Martin has her information ready. The odd thing is she’s convinced she’s either dead or in an institution on Earth. I don’t know if she expects a doctor or an angel to rescue her.”

Leo laughed. “That’s funny when what she’s getting is me. Well, I’ve got my no heaven, no hell speech ready.”

“Good.” Brian looked relieved.

He was a newly initiated Keeper, but the job seemed to agree with him. He looked even younger than the last time Leo saw him.

“I think you’ll like Valerie,” Brian said. “She’s feisty. And beautiful.”

“That can’t hurt. Where is she staying?”

“In the corner room on the south end. I saved your regular room for you. I’ll take your things up. Martin is waiting in his office.”

Leo left the kitchen, with Brian right behind him, carrying his valise. The Assistant Keeper turned left to go upstairs, and Leo walked straight into the common room. He knocked on the inner door to Martin’s office.

He found the Keeper sitting behind his desk looking harried.

Martin rose and extended his hand. “Leo, my friend. Good to see you. And just in time. I’m at my wit’s end with this newcomer.”

Leo sank into his usual seat on the loveseat in front of the desk. “I know you weren’t happy about having to call Nara.”

Martin shrugged. “We’ve wasted enough time. Now that you’re here, I hope we can move forward. As soon as you get her to talk, we’ll proceed with her orientation.”

“Do you have an instructor lined up?”

“He was here for a week, but when he got nowhere with her, he went back to the Center. Frankly, I don’t blame him. She’s a handful. Here’s the file.” He pushed a black tablet across the desk.

“I’ll look it over before I talk to her.” Leo leaned back and surveyed the room. “Nothing’s changed, I see.”

“Nothing ever changes. Only the dreamwalkers who come and go.”

“And me.”

“You’re a special case. When I didn’t hear from you in so long, I hoped you were doing better.”

Martin’s sympathetic tone made Leo realize he must look depressed. He didn’t feel any worse than usual, but his grief had never subsided. It bubbled beneath the surface of his attention, rising suddenly without warning and leaving him aching, as if no time had elapsed. In the four years since the time rift took Bobby, he had learned you could live with anything.

“I’m fine. I like the new job, most of the time, and it keeps me busy. I’m on leave now, or was until this came up. This Valerie of yours sounds interesting, but sometimes I think I’d rather go back to Earth and start over. One body, one life, no worries.”

“Not that simple.”

“No. Here, nothing’s simple.” Leo rose and picked up the tablet from the desk. “Okay. I’ll let you know what happens.”

Leo went upstairs and found his usual room arranged just as he liked it. Brian had put the oversized lounger on the deck for him and stored his belongings in the closet. Anything else he wanted would be at his fingertips if he asked. The Coast House was an amazing place if you could stand its perpetual perfection.

Leo opened the doors to the balcony so he could feel the ocean breeze and sprawled on the big bed to read the file. The report was mildly interesting, especially the part where Valerie took a wrong turn in the portal passage.

Before he got to the end of the report, Leo yawned. He was tired from his early wake-up call and would have liked a nap, but he decided to take a shower instead. No point in putting off the inevitable.

 

###

 

Valerie was startled at the loud knock on her door just before it was flung open.

“You fell through a portal, didn’t you?” the tall dark-skinned man asked, as if it were a natural thing to say.

He filled the doorway, his dark curly hair only inches from the top of the doorjamb. When he crossed his arms across his broad chest, his biceps strained against a short-sleeved shirt.

She rose from her chair by the window and stepped backward. She was sure she had locked that door. Even though she said nothing, he went on, “I have a key to most doors in this house.”

He moved toward her and pushed the door shut. Intense dark eyes stared at her. She had to look up to meet them and felt uneasy when they didn’t break their hold for even a cursory glance at the rest of her.

“It’s scary when it happens,” he continued in a conversational tone. “A lot of people are spooked by the method of transportation. It’s okay to be scared, you know. That’s not a sin here like it was in California.”

How did he know where she lived?

“Your history is part of your record, and I’m not reading your mind, I looked it up. They didn’t expect you until later, I gather.” His smile changed his face from forbidding and dangerous to simply dangerous. “Look, you might as well talk to me, Valerie. This is a nice enough room you have here, but there isn’t much to do. On Larreta, no one’s in any hurry. You can stay cooped up for as long as you want, but it might get dull.”

She backed up until she felt the far wall against her back. He followed her.

“You’re in a different place now and I’ve come to explain it to you. I don’t have all the answers but I got here through a portal the same way you did.”

She wanted to turn away, but the effort of moving seemed enormous.

“They sent me to find out what’s wrong with you. You managed to rattle our esteemed Keeper, and that’s not easy.”

Valerie held his gaze, willing herself not to move. He was right in front of her, his face so close she could count his pores.

“You came through the portal in the desert. What were you doing there? Sightseeing? Were you alone? It can be dangerous, wandering around in the desert.”

Heat radiated from his body.

“You’ve been here three weeks,” he went on, looking into her eyes. “Larreta time. You must be lonely. And scared.”

Of you. She took a deep breath to quiet her jangling nerves.

He moved an inch closer and put his right hand against the wall behind her. His arm grazed her shoulder. She closed her eyes, bracing for his touch, and then opened them when she felt nothing except his breath on her cheek.

“Were you alone in the desert?”

“No,” she whispered, forgetting her resolve. “The car broke down.”

“You can speak.” He moved back. “So your car broke down and you walked through the portal. Did you recognize it?”

“I don’t know. The red spirit told me he was waiting and then Peter drove the car off the road and then I was there.”

He seemed surprised at her mention of the red spirit. She took the advantage and slid around him, then walked backwards until she bumped against the door to the hall. With her hands behind her back, she reached for the knob.

He raised an eyebrow and turned to face her. “Was Peter your husband?”

Before she could answer, he grabbed her right wrist, so fast she didn’t see his hand move, and pulled her around him. Now his back was against the door.

Valerie pretended not to notice the juxtaposition. “He is my husband.”

He placed his right arm on her shoulder. His touch was gentle. She breathed out.

“What happened in that desert?” she asked.

“You walked away from your life. We all do it. That’s why the portals exist—so people like you and me have a place to go. You must have been looking for something, or you would never have found the portal. Larreta is an answer of sorts. Not a great one, in my opinion, but it gets your attention.”

She stared at him, expecting a sign he was joking, but his face was serious, still except for a deep crease between his thick eyebrows. His hand on her shoulder tightened.

“Please tell me the truth.”

He released her shoulder and crossed his arms again. “I am telling you the truth.

That’s another thing about this place. No one lies, not intentionally, anyway. We can be deluded.”

“Is Peter dead?” This wasn’t true, but a part of her mind, some old part that didn’t feel real anymore, insisted on making the words come out of her mouth.

“I doubt it.”

“You don’t know.”

“There’s lots of things I don’t know. That, I can find out, but I know this much—you walked up to that portal in the desert and some part of you recognized it. No one comes through, no one even sees the circle, unless they’re ready to come back. Were you unhappy with your life?”

Valerie was tired of silence and being stubborn and for some reason she believed he was different. “I was unhappy and I’m ashamed to say it because I had the kind of life people wish for. Ease. Comfort. People who cared about me. I felt useless though, like I had missed the point.”

He nodded. “We all have that feeling of missing something. There’s a good chance you’ll find it here.”

She knew he was telling the truth but her mind wasn’t ready to give up. “Is this the afterlife?”

The crease between his brows relaxed. He laughed. “There’s lots of destinations after Earth, from what I hear. Some are supposed to be pretty nice. Most people here say this is their real life and Earth was the dream.”

She had asked it to throw him off guard, but she was the one startled.

“If I take your word that this place is not Earth—even though it looks exactly like California, then the question is, where are we?”

Valerie saw he was tired from the small white lines that appeared around his eyes. He shrugged and looked up as if he expected the answer to appear on the ceiling.

“This is the Coast House of Larreta. It’s either a different planet or a different plane of existence or a different version of Earth. I’m no scientist, so don’t grill me about the details, but in the end, Larreta is what you make of it.”

“Why does it look like California?”

“You’re not the first person to say that. It looks like this because it’s a Waystation for people from Earth. This is one of the stable parts meant to give continuity to newcomers. No matter how much time passes, it will always look this way.”

“How do you know that? How long have you been here?”

Leo looked out the window toward the sea. “A long time. Longer than most.”

His somber tone startled her. “Are you a prisoner?”

It seemed to cost him an effort to turn his gaze from the water. “No one’s a prisoner. We can do whatever we like. Go anywhere. Time is different here and more malleable than on Earth, so almost anything is possible, but the trick is, you have figure out what you’re missing. If you don’t, you get stuck and that makes time seem endless, I’ve discovered. We all started here, Valerie, most a long time ago, so this a homecoming of sorts. For those who don’t find what we lost, it gets frustrating.” He smiled at her. “On the other hand, others barely get unpacked before they’re off on their next adventure. It’s up to you.”

“You’re just as crazy as the rest of them.”

“No. Pissed off a lot, but not crazy. Whether you like it or not, this is your place now.”

“I object,” she said weakly.

“Won’t help. You’ll feel better after we start your training.”

“What training?”

“My name is Leo,” he said. “I’ve been assigned to be your teacher.”

A Note from the Author

 

 

This is the first Storyteller Tale.

 

Analia has relayed a trilogy of stories that will be published by Ellysian Press as fantasy novels, but she also decided to share some additional tales from that world. I am offering these without charge to readers so you can learn about the world of the dreamwalkers.

 

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That Day in the Desert: A Storyteller Tale

A romantic fantasy of finding love on other worlds If Larreta is your destiny, you will find your way to a portal. Analia had barely arrived at her new home when the old man in white, the blue light and the sentient oak tree approached her with a question she never expected to answer. Valerie drove through New Mexico, ready to strike out on the adventure of her life. Her foray into the desert ruled by the portal guardian of Larreta delighted him no end. Leo was sure nothing could surprise him, but as dawn streaked the sky, he woke, certain someone was observing him. He looked into the twinkling lights hovering over his bed and sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you.” When the Storyteller of Verdallon begins her tales of the Dreamwalkers of Larreta, Valerie and Leo are thrown together to forge their destiny on what looks like a perfect world. But not everything is as idyllic as it seems. Learn about the connection between Earth and Larreta in That Day in the Desert.  

  • Author: Carol Holland March
  • Published: 2016-07-08 19:20:09
  • Words: 16758
That Day in the Desert: A Storyteller Tale That Day in the Desert: A Storyteller Tale