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Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #183631
Charmian returns to a familiar place for an important item...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 26: Magical Mystery Tour



PART TWENTY-SEVEN:
No Place Like Home


CHARMIAN CONTINUED LOOKING around, confused beyond description. It looked and felt like she was back on the mainland, but she knew it had to still be a dream. The thing was...why would the dream take her to the mainland?

Both Tal Natha and the native...Moon Wolf...had told her she knew whose dream she needed to find. But she didn't know. Unless it was subconsciously...

Did that mean that the person whose dream she was searching for was...Miss Anne?

She stood up and righted the fancy coathanger she'd knocked over during her fall to the floor. Dusting herself off some more, she wandered around the store toward the book area, where she and Drake had looked at the picture of Red Bird that had started this whole thing.

For some reason she wanted to see if it were still there. She sort of wished to bring it back to the Island with her, show it to Red Bird--show her the thing that had started it all. The more she thought about it, though, the less sense it made; how would she manage to get the picture back to the Island, anyway? This was just a dream. She wasn't certain it would even arrive back with her in one piece--or at all. At the very least, it wouldn't be the same picture she'd find here. It would have to be some sort of copy--a dream picture, or something.

A noise from the back section of the store froze her in place. It was dark outside--it must be night--and she assumed everyone would be asleep. A light came on behind the counter and then a shadow appeared.

Charmian stared.

The shadow appeared to rub one eye and then stared back at her. "Charmian? Is that you?"

She let out her breath. It was Miss Anne. "Hi, Miss Anne," she said. She looked around the store and then shrugged with an awkward smile. "This is kind of...confusing, to say the least."

The shadow moved from behind the counter and now she could make out Miss Anne, wearing a nightgown; apparently she slept upstairs, above the store. She looked Charmian up and down, then looked at herself, and back at Charmian and smiled.

"Well...it must be his doing again. I didn't know he could do this. He brought you here, into my dream?"

Charmian nodded. "Uh-huh. Well...sort of. He brought me here, but he says that I knew the way."

"So you did go to the Island after all." She tilted her head. "What did you find there? I've been dying to find out."

"Well...it's really long and involved...but I finally met him--Tal Natha--and Red Bird--the girl in the photo--and he told me why he wanted me there. The thing is, there's a lot more trouble than he thought and he's in danger now, and I have to find a way to help him. But the only way I can help him is if I get somebody who totally hates him to help him, and...well, I told you it was confusing."

"What does this have to do with you coming back here? There must be some good reason, he wouldn't bring you here for nothing."

"Yeah, I know. I think I'm supposed to pick up something that can help us out. But I'm not sure what it is. Like I said, I don't even know why I came here."

"Well, what sort of thing are you looking for? Maybe I can help."

"I have to...bribe somebody...to help out Tal Natha. He's really stubborn and not very easy to get along with. He also doesn't like Tal Natha very much and what Tal Natha needs from him is really pricey so I'm not sure what to give him in return."

"What sort of things is he interested in?"

Part of Charmian's mind was rattling on about how absurd this whole situation was, she standing in an antiques store in some other person's dream, chatting as if shopping for a gift item. She told this part of her mind to shut up and let her think. "Well...I hear he likes gems and jewels and such."

"I have plenty of those..."

"Yeah, but he's going to need something different. Moon Wo--I wasn't really told what should be so different, so I don't know..."

Miss Anne frowned slightly. "True...everything I have here is pretty ordinary, when you think of it." She paused for a moment, staring at the floor as if lost in thought.

Charmian sighed. Well...so much for that idea. Why had Tal Natha bothered bringing her here if Miss Anne could offer only the same old thing? She couldn't believe both he and Moon Wolf would have made the same mistake. If Miss Anne didn't have anything special to offer, she wouldn't be here. So there must be something. She just needed to find out what it was.

She scowled to herself. Think think think. Why did he choose me for this job? I'm not doing anything useful.

The old photograph of Red Bird came to mind again and with annoyance she tried to shove it out. Why bother with that now? She wasn't interested in a picture, she was interested in something a bit more worthwhile. It was especially a waste of time to think about it when she wouldn't even be able to bring the original back to the Island with her...

Her scowl faded and she slowly opened her eyes, staring at the patterns of moonlight on the floor. If she tried to return with the picture...what would she return with? The original, or nothing, or...? A copy? A dream-duplicate?

What sorts of properties would a dream photograph have?

Better yet...

What of something else retrieved from a dream?

She gasped and snapped her fingers, startling Miss Anne. "That's it! I can take anything! Anything from here will be something special!"

Miss Anne looked at her inquisitively.

"I came here through Tal Natha's dream," Charmian explained. "He's the only one who's able to travel freely through the dreams of others. And so if he were able to bring back something from another person's dream, it would be something only he could bring back--something unique--something special." She held up her arms, gesturing at the shop. "So whatever I bring back from here--anything at all--it's bound to be more than normal, isn't it?" She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice--she wasn't certain she was right!

Miss Anne, however, looked interested. "That sounds like it could make sense...if it's the case, what do you think you should bring along with you?"

"Well...anything out of here would be interesting, as it wouldn't be the original, it would be some kind of dream-copy. Something that doesn't exist except in dreams, where he--the person who can help Tal Natha--can't find it. But he likes jewels. Something red maybe." Her eyes lit up. "Or something green."

She moved toward the glass display case and peered down inside it, looking around until she found what she was looking for.

There it was!

The old necklace of silver and green glass shimmered up at her in the pale light.

"That!" she exclaimed, pointing.

Miss Anne looked in at it. "That?" She sounded puzzled. "Are you sure? It's only glass."

"Sure, here it's only glass. But it won't be 'only glass' when I take it back with me. We're dreaming right now, remember?"

"True...you're certain he would like it? Green glass? What sort of things is he interested in?"

"I'm pretty sure," Charmian said, hoping she was right. "Green seems to go with him." She thought of the Ocryxes' green and red eyes, and of the way the light glistening on the surface of the glass made it look like water. "I bet he'd be interested in it. It's not emeralds, but once I get it back it'll be close enough."

"All right, then." Miss Anne walked away toward the book section, and a moment later came back with a small velvet bag. She went behind the counter and retrieved a key, opening up the case and taking out the necklace. She carefully tucked the necklace inside the bag, tying it shut and handing it across to Charmian.

"I don't suppose I should charge you for it," she said, with a slight smile, "as any money you'd give me wouldn't be legitimate currency in the waking world."

Charmian smiled back. "Thanks, Miss Anne. This really means a lot to me. I'll try to find some way to pay you back, when I get back home." She broke off and looked over her shoulder out the window, heart suddenly sinking. Nighttime...that meant her parents must be worried sick about her by now. She turned back to Miss Anne, earlier cheerfulness gone.

"Well...I suppose I'd better get back...the sooner I get this all done, the sooner I can get home and my mom can quit worrying about me."

"I'm certain she's all right," Miss Anne reassured her. "Most likely worried, but remember, you have more important things to tend to right now."

"True..." Charmian lifted the bag and bobbed her head. "Thanks again. Cross your fingers and hope this works!"

A smile. "I will. Good luck."

"Thanks, goodbye!" Charmian took a few steps backward and was relieved to feel the brightness of the glowing ring at her back. She stepped through it and saw it close before her, vanishing into a sparkling dot and sailing away on the dreamcurrent.

That too faded and vanished around her and once more she was surrounded by darkness tinged with blue.

A voice from near her: "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Uh-huh." Charmian nodded and opened the little bag, drawing out the necklace. She spread it across her palm and showed it to him, though he couldn't see it. He leaned forward and sniffed at the jewelry in her hand. "I got it from Miss Anne. The lady you told to tell us to come here. Pretty, huh?"

"What do you intend to do with it?"

"Well, in order for you to get better I have to have a talk with somebody. And I have to give him a pretty good payment to get what I want in return. I've heard he's stingy with his favors."

Tal Natha's ear flicked. "You don't speak of whom I think you speak of, do you?"

"Uh-huh." Charmian nodded again and her face grew grim. "I'm going to have to have a heart-to-heart with Ocryx."





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