The boy closed his eyes before stepping into the forest. He knew what darkness awaited, and did not want it to seep beneath his lids. The whispering was gone. The shadows of the world were left in the grass near his pond, exposed to starlight they gave up their voices and lay dormant.
The woods were quiet, a bucket of snow on a windless day. He could hear pine needles crackling beneath his feet, their perfume filled his senses once more – a warm blanket of scent to combat the black. He did not know where he was going, but he trusted his shadow to keep to the path.
He thought as he walked, of the places he’d been, the faces he’d seen. There were names attached to each of them, but he couldn’t remember them any more. There was a girl, her face danced in his mind, but when he reached for her name, it eluded him. There was a home. A city. An ocean. But they were pictures with no sound. A sideshow of someone else’s life. Had he really been these places, and met these people? Or were his memories borrowed?
He walked with his moment through time. He rolled the slides over in his mind, looked at them from every angle, but it might well have been a stranger’s collection. Not a single name found his lips.
Wind touched his face, made the trees creak and pine needles rustle. The boy opened his eyes. A thick gray fog filled the darkness. Winds stirred the colors together, made swirls of yin and yang. Dim, sourceless light made every wisp and eddy visible.
“What is this place?” the boy whispered.
“The valley of the sleepers,” said his shadow. The voice was muffled, far off, filled with fog.
Who are the sleepers?" asked the boy.
“Those who choose to burrow into their own lives and shut out dreams and passion.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because they are afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid that should they open their eyes and awaken, they will be held accountable by their forgotten dreams,” said his shadow.
“Why would anyone choose to forget a dream?” asked the boy.
“Why would anyone choose to forget a name?”
The girl’s face danced through his mind once more.
“To avoid pain,” he said.
“To sleep,” his shadow replied.
“Am I asleep?” asked the boy.
“You were. But you are waking up. All that remains is to cross the valley.”
“I cannot see the path.”
“There is no path here, only drowned sorrows and forgotten dreams,” said his shadow.
“Then how shall I cross?”
“Hold onto your dreams,” said his shadow. “They are sacred here, and will guide you.”
Behind his eyes, the boy saw a tree. It stretched towards the sky, emerald upon sapphire; a green cloud of leaves and wood. In the shade of the tree stood a small house. It was old, but well maintained. The boy could see his hands in every board and nail. He saw himself, sitting by a window, staring up at the tree. He was older, but happiness radiated from the lines around his eyes. He held a pen in his hand, and an open book lay before him. As the boy watched, two young girls ran from the house towards the tree. They laughed as they ran, ribboned hair flying behind them.
The boy held the tree and his family in the cradle of his mind, and stepped into the valley of the sleepers.