The child slowly makes her way into the forest. And sometimes beneath the forest as the canopy of leaves weaves a green blanket against the clouds. Oh! And sometimes over the forest when there are roots! Don’t trip, little girl, don’t trip. And now... she's going through it.
I stand in the shadows beyond the path leading away from the girl's village where countless humans have gathered. The small bud on my head peeks out from behind a bush. My hooves dig nervous furrows into the ground, and I hug the branch from Mother Tree tightly to my chest, comforted by the familiar, swirly feeling of the bark.
It's safe here, in the trees. Or maybe a few more steps behind them.
J-just a few more…
Even with so many humans in the village filling the hillside with life, the girl is alone.
I hold my branch tighter, reminding myself of what I have to do. It’s time to move forward, Lillia. Just one step. You can do this—Mother Tree is sick. She needs the girl’s dream. I take the step. Or, at least, my hoof shifts a little. Oh. That didn’t go very far. Okay, Lillia, another one. This time I lift one shaky hoof up, and before I can get too afraid, I slam it back down.
Whoopsie. That was backward.
The girl stops to sit beneath a tree not far from where I'm watching, just close enough that I can hear her crying softly into a ragged doll cradled in her arms.
There's no one to wipe away her tears... but she's not entirely alone. Beneath everything, vibrating with potential in my branch... I can feel it—her dream.
The bud dangling from the tip of the bough shudders to radiant life now that it senses the child and her dream. Like the small flower on my head, the glowing bud and branch are also from Mother Tree—drawn to dreams just as much as the slumbering magic is drawn to them. Glittering pollen drifts from between its petals, and the shadows around me recede, fleeing the light before I can.
My— My hoof is showing? Eep!
I sprawl and contort all four of my legs to fit in the shrinking shadow, wobbling as my balance threatens to give. The glimmering bud swings wildly as the bough sways with me, casting clouds of dust-like pollen that drift toward the girl through the leaves. And then, as the shadows move again, I stumble into the clearing where she awaits.
All I can do is peer at her from behind my branch, too afraid to blink.
But she doesn't see me. She presses her face into the doll, hiding her tears. Her sobs turn into whimpers, her whimpers into sighs. The pollen from the bud gradually settles around her, twinkling as the girl's eyes slowly flutter closed. She slumps against the tree, the doll sliding from her grasp.
I'm still afraid to move. Something twirls out of the bough's bud and dances above my head. It's my old friend, a little dream that's traveled with me since I first left Mother Tree's mystical garden. As if sensing the other dream still snuggled inside the girl, my glittering friend dances through the air toward her.
“That was a close one,” I say as the dream flits back and forth.
It skims above the girl and leaves a trail of sparkles that tickle her skin until she smacks her lips and wrinkles her nose. She snorts so loudly that I leap again, landing with a blush. I touch the petals of the small bud on my head, wondering if they're flushing as red as my cheeks. The child remains fast asleep.
Why isn’t her dream coming out?
My friend continues to spin around the girl, trying to summon the other dream. But my eyes are drawn to the doll on the ground instead, the girl's hand hanging as if she still reaches for it, her fingers squeezing tight.
Before I left the garden—the place that was my home—I used to think that dreams were the things people wanted most every time they closed their eyes. But now, I see that the things they want, that they reach for and hold on to... only make them sad. The thing I wanted most, which was to meet the dreamers, hurt Mother Tree.
What if dreams aren’t the things we want?
I put down my branch. This time you can do it, Lillia. Just close your eyes, like you're sleeping. Stumbling forward, I kneel beside the girl and take up her doll.
What if dreams are the things we need?
I start to hand the doll back to the girl, wary of getting this close, even to such a small human. Instinctively, she rolls over as she feels it against her chest, sitting up to pull the doll into a hug. Her tiny arms are just long enough to wrap around me as well. As she hugs the doll, she pulls me in closer, and closer.
And in that moment, we both find what we need to bloom.
The girl's dream finally emerges in a luminous swirl, spiraling and dancing alongside my old friend, and filling the forest with so much wonder that I can feel it all the way down to my hooves.
I want to prance!
Like a color that has no name, each dream is so hard to describe. Is this dream the girl's sister, wrapping her in its arms although the sisters have already said goodbye? Is it the doll she pretends is her sister before she put on armor and left everything else behind? Or are these only the things the child grasped too hard while hugging her doll, and her dream is something deeper—something truer?
“You miss your sister, don’t you?” I whisper into her ear. “You need her love.”
Giving her that love, seeing it and feeling it, is what I need, too. I melt into the hug, and send dream dust spiraling as the small bud on my head twirls open.
Both dreams curl into the large bud on my branch. “I’ll whisper your dream to the tree. I’ll remember,” I tell the girl. “I’m glad I got to meet you,” I add.
I hope her dream hears me, too.
I let go of the girl and lay her down gently. With her sighs, she releases all that's been trapping her dream.
Like so many mortals, her sister may never come back to give her the love she desires. That's why she needs to dream. That's why it will always be there, and she'll never be alone, as long as she remembers to close her eyes.
That's why dreams are magical... and the little girl is, too.
I sneeze, and the dust-pollen in the bud on my head swirls away, carrying the magic of the child's dream into a wind that blows toward Mother Tree.
“Whoopsie,” I blush, realizing I'm in the open. And before the feeling of wonder completely fades, I prance back into the forest.
The girl opens her eyes with a well-rested yawn. The sun is shining through the leaves above her. She's surprised to find herself still in the forest, and drops her doll in shock. Then, slowly, she remembers what it means to her—who gave it to her—and picks it back up.
She holds the doll tight and starts to run through the clearing.
“O-Ma, O-Ma! Has sister returned?” she cries to her grandmother. “I just saw her. I saw her!”
The girl's small outline disappears, but in her wake, following the path where she ran, dream blossoms sprout from sparkling pollen.
Perhaps when the child returns, she will pick one of these flowers. And know that in her heart—though it can't be held—the love of her sister will always bloom.