The doctor was waiting for them when they arrived, and he ushered the two of them into his grey office. Eris muttered quietly to herself and tried to ignore the fact that the walls were restricting her breath while her mother explained the situation to Dr. Coeus. He surveyed Eris for a moment, a contemplative hand on his chin. “You should have brought her to me sooner,” he sighed finally, straightening to address Eris. “Eris?”
The girl looked up, her eyes unfocused. “What happened?”
“You didn’t follow our instructions,” Dr. Coeus said sternly. “We told you to stay in Asphodel.”
“I’m still there!” Eris exclaimed angrily, kicking at the dirt and grass under her seat. “You brought me back.”
“Listen, Eris,” the doctor began soothingly, “I need you to focus on the room, the realness of everything you see in front of you.”
“It isn’t real!” Eris protested, watching the objects in the room become distorted. The only things that refused to leave were her mother and Dr. Coeus.
“It is quite real. You must learn to focus, Eris. You, like so many others, were gifted with the capacity to dream. That can become a danger when you confuse dreams with reality. You must focus on what is real, or you will lose everything. I have trained myself to remain in Asphodel to protect myself and my loved ones.”
As he finished his last statement, Eris found with relief that his figure was finally wavering into a ghost as well. Only her mother remained solidly in the room. Eris put her head in her hands, gripping her hair tightly in her fists. “Go away!” she shouted.
Someone laid a gentle hand on Eris’s shoulder. She looked up, and relief flooded her heart as she saw that it was Hope. Hope wore a serious expression, however. “Come with me,” she said gravely.
The doctor rose with Eris, glancing at her mother. “We may need to keep her in the institution for a while. Don’t worry–she will be quite safe.” He ushered the raving girl toward the door, and Eris’s mother began to weep.
Hope and Eris exited the room, turning right to walk down a long, grey hall toward the door at the very end. The sign, faded and worn, informed them that they were about to enter a quarantined patient zone. Hope opened the door, and the two of them stepped across the threshold.
The building had disappeared, replaced by a field of ashen weeds. They were standing by the edge of a cliff that dipped suddenly into an impenetrable oblivion. Before them was a gnarled black tree upon which a raven sat. It cawed bleakly and swooped over the headstones of many graves lined up in uniform rows. Hope gestured to them and spoke with a deep sadness in her tone. “These are the souls of those who gave up, Eris. They imprisoned them here and gave them medications and treatments to dull their minds until they stopped dreaming.”
“They want to do that to me too?” Eris asked, panicking.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Hope said. “There is still one way. You can join the others in the village.”
A small spark rekindled the dying flame in Eris’s heart. “Tell me how, Hope. I must escape this.”
Hope took Eris’s hand. “Of course. I will never leave you, Eris. Neither will Janus. We are real. We will always be there.”
They lifted off into the sky, swooping off over the cliff and toward the promising peaks of snowy mountains ahead. Janus soon joined them, drifting on magnificent wings. Eris felt the familiar golden sensation bursting in her heart, and she soared higher into the sky to reach the sun. She laughed as she felt the beautiful warmth of the sun on her skin, climbing ever higher toward the heavens.
The world shifted, and again Eris found herself standing on the beach where the village rested quietly. Now, she was able to see the inhabitants milling around in the roads, their faces alight with some new life. She looked back at Hope and Janus, who gave her encouraging smiles. “This is your fate, Eris. You were meant to dream,” Janus said.
Eris nodded and waved to the pair of them, running off to join the members of the village. They welcomed her warmly, inviting her to stay with them. Hope and Janus exchanged knowing looks and took off into the sky again, passing over the gentle ocean waves that gleamed like sheets of fiery opals and flying toward the setting sun.
Eris never woke again.