The Heaviest Dream
M. Kate Havas
The child’s closed eyes were heavily shadowed, as if the weight of her dream had left bruises on the lids. She was sleeping with one hand splayed over her heart, guarding her secrets. Baku’s tiger-pawed feet crept to the edge of her futon, his massive head lowering. She had called to him before she fell asleep, in a hushed little voice that barely made it to Heaven, asking him to take her nightmare. That was his job among the celestials, to take dreams when they were offered, and so he heeded her. A child’s nightmares were important, if only to the child and to Baku.
The girl’s breath smelled like toothpaste and last evening’s matcha. She was only eleven, and Baku had tasted her nightmares before, dreams of paper houses on fire and cars crashing down steep mountains, dreams that left her abandoned. They were heavy dreams for a child, but not for Baku. In his years he’d tasted the worst dreams of the worst men in this land of rising sun. Baku’s tongue rolled out to out to lap the dream from the child’s mouth, where it sat hard and dark like a half-rotted peach pit.
It wouldn’t come. The dream was lodged like a riverbank stone, packed down and unmoving. He dug with his tongue and shook his great head, but the dream wouldn’t budge from the child’s mouth. It rocked gently with her breaths, but it would not come. The girl’s eyelids began to flutter and Baku eased away from her. In his ancient years there had never been a dream he could not move. He’d taken the last dreams of people who would wake and spill their bowels on stone floors. What could this child dream that was more private, more sticking?
The girl’s eyes opened, and her forehead crinkled with lines too deep for her years. Crumbled bits of sleep-sand and tear-salt clung to her lashes, making them stick together and giving her a lidded, haunted look.
“Did you take it?” she whispered, her voice thick with sleep. She was as flat as her futon bed, pressing her body down and away from the spirit. He could smell her fear, and knew it would get wrapped into new nightmares, another string in the temari of dreams. Baku had no voice to answer her, so he shook his head, and the tendrils of his mane passed through her flesh. He opened his mouth wide, wishing he could ask her what her dream was and why it was escaping him.
The girl copied him, evidently taking his frustration as instruction. The dream tumbled, loosened by her waking, and began to slide back into her throat. Baku’s tongue lashed out to catch it in motion, snaring and pulling it from the trembling child. He pulled it past her chapped lips and into his mouth.
“Oh!” The girl’s face youthened again, the lines relaxing into baby fat. She buried her head in her pillow, her sleep coming light and easy now. Baku reared back, the dream sitting on his tongue, its flavor musky and familiar. It was a dream of power, the power to make small and big wants real, the power to choose which wants were most dear. It was a terribly grown-up thing to dream of the ability influence the world for selfish reasons. It was terribly childish, too, that such an idea would terrify.
The dream rattled against Baku’s curved teeth as he turned his head from side to side, jaws shut around it in a fang cage. He should give it back to her. One day she would be swept out of the cocoon of school skirts and mama’s bento, and if these dreams, these desires grew, perhaps she would not spin herself another one.
But she had asked him to take the dream, and Baku swallowed and let it fill his belly. The child would sleep easy tonight, with her power gone. Baku turned on his tiger-feet, turned back to Heaven, the girl’s dream settling low in his stomach. He wondered if, when she was older and fuller, dripping with babies and a world of expectations instead of choices, she would remember that she was the one who asked for her dream to be taken away.
M. Kate Havas is currently an English teacher living just outside Osaka. She has one story slated to appear in the upcoming anthology So Fey: Queer Faery Fiction and is working on a series of articles aimed at foreign women living in Japan.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish