The scene shifted, fading from silver into gold, and Eris found herself soaring through the air over a purple meadow. Janus was gliding next to her, feathered arms outstretched. “This is what it is like to dream, Eris!” he cried, saturated with joy and amazement. Eris laughed, the first time she had laughed in ages.
Eris’s eyes snapped open. The classroom was nearly empty apart from her good friend, Venus. “Sorry,” Eris said shortly. “Dozed off, I guess.”
Venus gave a little titter and began a monologue about something entirely uninteresting to someone who had just flown. Even if it had only been a dream, Eris could still feel the wind caressing her face, the earth far below. Eris was mildly annoyed that she had been woken in the first place. She was eager to sleep again, so when she returned home she completed half of her homework before announcing that she was too tired to work any more. Almost as soon as Eris’s eyes closed that night, yet another enthralling scene unfolded before her.
A thick forest of towering pines surrounded Eris, a fine carpet of needles underfoot. The pungent scent of pinesap floated through the air, mingling with the golden fern spores that glistered in the shafted sunlight. In the silence there was the kind of mystic peace that enshrines a fae glen or a ruined temple. Hope stepped up next to Eris, having approached silently from behind.
“It’s so peaceful,” Eris whispered, not daring to raise her voice more.
“This is why we rescue people from the inanity of Asphodel,” Hope agreed, matching Eris’s tone.
“Why did they say all of this was dangerous? It certainly doesn’t seem that way.”
“They are forever trapped in reality. People often hate what they cannot have. They will never experience the peace of the thousand tranquil villages.”
“What are those?” Eris asked, bemused.
Hope gave her a small smile. “Janus can show you.”
Eris’s surroundings melted away and reformed into a long stretch of pearly coast. Her bare feet reveled in the soothing sensation of the powdery white sand. Opalescent waves lapped against the shore, one after another, in a gentle, infinite tide. The sun rested on the horizon, huge and vermillion in color. The sky had painted its face with the saffron colors of hope.
“Is the sun rising or setting?” Eris asked of Janus, who sat on a rock nearby.
He smiled. “That’s up to you. This is your dream, after all.”
Eris looked beyond Janus, her eyes travelling up the hill to rest on a sprawling village. “Is this one of the villages?”
Janus nodded. “There are a thousand of them spread around the world. They are made up of people like you who have chosen to live here forever.”
“You can do that?”
Eris didn’t want to give an answer at that moment, so she turned back to face the sun and set her hands on her hips. “I like to think the sun is rising. There’s more promise in a new day.”
“Then that is how it will be.”
Eris could hardly bear to wake the next morning and to exchange the blissful adventures of sleep for the plodding humdrum of reality. Days and weeks passed in a dreamy mist, and Eris only felt truly alive when she dreamt of fantastic adventures around her world of whims.
Her parents had begun to notice the strange change that had come over their daughter. Eris hardly spoke to them anymore, and rather than completing that night’s homework, she hurried off to bed at gradually earlier hours. Sometimes, they added, she had even been found talking to a nonexistent person or staring off into space for hours on end. They could no longer pretend they had not noticed this dangerous twist in Eris’s behavior.
Eris looked up from the halfhearted notes she had been taking. She felt compressed and constrained within the classroom of empty beige walls and students with hollow faces. It all seemed so dim and dreamlike…but if this was indeed a dream, it must be a nightmare.
Eris’s head whipped up again and she found that Janus was standing at the front of the room. “What are you doing here?” she asked. The teacher broke off from his lecture momentarily, bewildered.
“Here to rescue you from Asphodel, of course,” Janus replied merrily.
Eris surveyed the room again, taking in the blank, shifting walls and the rows of desks resting amongst quivering blades of amber grass. She raised her hands before her, finding that they were shackled again. Something squirmed unpleasantly in Eris’s heart. “Help me,” she pleaded to Janus.
Janus flitted over in an instant and unlocked the chains binding Eris to the desk. He raised his arms, which had grown hundreds of strong white feathers, and beckoned to Eris. Eris sprang up from her seat with a wide smile and followed Janus into the air, the walls and ceiling of the classroom falling away as mere illusions. She spun through the crisp air, soaring over the twin peaks of craggy mountains with Janus a few feet ahead. They dove sharply toward the vale just beyond the foot of the mountains, great spikes of pure adrenaline rushing through Eris’s veins as she plummeted toward the ground. She pulled out of the dive seconds before she would have made contact with the earth, gliding over the lake that rested in the center of the valley.
Janus and Eris landed lightly at the edge of the water where Hope was waiting for them. She handed both of them a flask of ambrosia and they sat together on the emerald field filled with the heady aroma of wildflowers. As they sat and discussed the beauty of dreams, Eris noticed that another figure had appeared on the other side of the lake. It was her mother, calling out to Eris in a distant voice. Eris’s attention was diverted from the airy, golden siblings, focused instead on her mother.
The mountains began to shrink and mold themselves into flat buildings. The grass in the meadow withered, turning to ash. The glittering pond shrank into a mere puddle, shining iridescent from the oil spinning on top of the water. Eris found that she was back at her school, seated in the middle of the parking lot. Her mother’s eyes, wide and frightened, swept Eris up and down. “Eris?”
Eris scrambled to her feet, looking frantically from side to side. “Where did they go?” she demanded.
Her mother seemed to gain some courage and strode toward Eris, taking her arm firmly in her grasp. “I was afraid something like this might happen,” she murmured to herself. “Come, Eris. We need to speak with Dr. Coeus.”