[2011: Highly Commended]
He slept a long, deep sleep from which no-one could waken him.
And in this sleep, he dreamed.
He stood on black stone, a high cliff in a mountain range of the dark rock. In front of him yawned a chasm, over which stretched a dark wooden bridge, just wide enough for one of his feet, without rails or ropes, that disappeared into thick, clinging fog. The cliff he was standing on was a platform, millions of miles off the ground. There was no sound, no wind, no animal calls, only the click, click, click, of John’s claws as he moved around the platform.
John examined himself frantically. He was wearing loose white trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. He was covered in smooth, dark green scales and each finger and toe was tipped with a sharp, black claw. When he touched his head, he found he had short horns protruding from his ordinary short, black hair and a long, arrow-tipped tail. Even his ears were different, looking like those of a dragon. What had he become? Not human, he knew that for sure. Fear flooded through him. Where was he? What was going on?
Greetings. I am Sigoshia.
I am Makidos.
You are Dreaming. To awaken you must cross the Chasm of Souls.
I will take you across the bridge.
Makidos, I shall take him.
“What on earth are you things?”
Fear not, John. We will not hurt you.
The two spirits circled John. Sigoshia was a glowing white-scaled beast with a long crocodile-like snout full of sharp teeth, four taloned fingers on each hand and a body that ended in a long serpentine tail with spines running down her back. She had pitch-dark, long, silky hair that ran down her back, and glowing white horns protruding from her hair. The short horns curved backwards into points. Her coal-black eyes with white slit-pupils promised safety and peace. Makidos was a copy of her, but in reversed colours. His black scales seemed to radiate darkness and his hair was short and glowing white, the horns black. His forbidding eyes glowed white with black slit-pupils. Still, there was something about him that seemed... protective? Something made John think that Makidos was more trustworthy than the white spirit.
Walk to the bridge, John. I shall guide you across.
John headed to the bridge, his claws clicking on the dark stone. He knew he had to cross it, and Makidos was offering to keep him safe on it, but there was something about the black-scaled spirit seemed not quite right.
No, John. Makidos is not to be trusted. He will make you fall! Let me guide you?
Will you listen to this witch? Who do you trust, John? Me? Or He spat the word, her?
John spun around, his gaze meeting each of their eyes in turn.
“Which of you is truly trustworthy? You both deny the other’s worth, so whom can I trust?”
Me. they said at once as they circled John, who stood on the edge of the precipice. John sighed. “Then the only way to find out,” he said, turning to the bridge, “Is to cross.” Makidos bared his teeth in a grin and floated out over the chasm.
Come, John. Cross with me.
He extended a taloned hand to John as Sigoshia glided to the other side of the bridge. John stepped on to the bridge, placing one clawed foot in front of the other, making slow, careful steps on the wood, arms out to counterbalance himself as the spirits floated to either side of him. He focused on his feet, careful not to misplace them, as this would cause him to fall. Wind whipped his clothes against his body. Distracted by a twinkle in the abyss, his eyes focused on the depths and he realised how high up he really was. This made him dizzy and swung him off balance, making him lean drastically to one side. Makidos seized his chance, swooping in to grab John’s wrist and hefting him off the bridge to dangle over the chasm. John screamed and squirmed in Makidos’s iron grip, but the spirit was too strong.
Now I shall finally be free! All I needed was a dreamer’s soul, and now I have one! You can do nothing to stop me now, Sigoshia!
The female spirit screeched in anger as Makidos hoisted John up to his face and reached for his chest, right where his heart was. Sigoshia swooped down to Makidos and wrapped her tail around his neck. She jerked back and he let out a strangled gasp, letting go of John’s wrist. He plunged into the depths of the Chasm of Souls, and around him he could see the faces of other Dreamers lost to the abyss. Sigoshia plummeted towards him and grabbed his tail, throwing him up and catching him under his arms.
I told you that Makidos was not to be trusted. Too many Dreamers have been lost to the abyss because of his kind.
She carried him back to the bridge and set him down carefully.
“Thank you, Sigoshia. I did not know whom to trust earlier, as you both denied the other. If ever I go through this again, I will know to trust you.”
John continued along the bridge, step by step, until Sigoshia started hissing at something. He looked up to see Makidos with his serpentine coils wrapped around the bridge.
You have not won yet, Sigoshia.
She glared at Makidos and replied.
Why do you not just give up, Makidos? You have not taken a soul from me yet, and you never will.
I will take a soul! This soul! I am not staying in this place any longer!
So you would destroy this soul and hurt many others for yourself?
Makidos growled and unwrapped his coils from the bridge. I will not listen to you!
He dove for John and knocked him off the bridge with his tail. John screamed as Makidos grabbed him again and reached for his heart. Time seemed to slow down, and in panic John scratched at Makidos’s arm, somehow managing to slide one of his claws under the scales to pierce the soft flesh beneath. Makidos screeched and let go, and John fell, down, down, down, into the mists of faces near the bottom. “Sigoshia! Help me!”He cried, and then the spirit was beside him, chasing him down. Reach for me, John. John stretched out his arm and Sigoshia grabbed it. She swished her tail and shot out of the abyss, up, up, up. She reached the bridge and placed John gently down on it. I will protect you from Makidos, John. I will not let you fall.
“Thank you, Sigoshia.”
Keep walking. You must get across the bridge as quickly as possible.
John continued, one foot in front of the other.
Suddenly, he was blind.
He looked up and around him. He had reached the fog. It was so thick that he couldn’t even see his hands out to either side of him, or most of his lower legs. “Sigoshia! I can’t see!” Her glowing eyes and scales were just visible through the fog, but her soft, flowing voice was dulled. It will be hard to see for some time. Until then, place your feet so that the claws of one foot touch the heel of the other. You will not be able to see it, but you will feel it. John followed her advice and kept walking, making slow progress while Sigoshia followed beside him. A deep growl sounded from the fog and Makidos shot past. The strong wind from his passing knocked John off balance. He cried out, dug his claws into the bridge, thrust out his arms, flicked his tail and eventually righted himself with help from Sigoshia, who held on to his hand. As soon as she saw he was all right, Sigoshia told him to continue walking. She then dived into the fog with a hiss. Probably going to fight Makidos, John thought. He resumed his walk across the bridge and continued, uninterrupted, until he was out of the fog. But where was Sigoshia? John turned around and peered into the clinging greyness, but it was so thick that he could not see anything. Could something have happened to the friendly, white spirit? Perhaps Makidos had... No! John shook his head to clear it of unwanted thoughts. “Sigoshia! Sigoshia?” He called, apprehensive. There was no answer. John didn’t want to continue walking until he was sure that Sigoshia was safe. Just then, a pair of glowing eyes was visible through the fog and Sigoshia drifted out to float next to John.
Hello again. That flowing voice seemed strained, as though she was finding it hard to get her words out. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” John said, relieved. “But... is there something wrong with your voice? It sounds... strange.”
Oh, it’s nothing. You should keep walking- Makidos might attack at any moment.
John nodded his agreement and proceeded. He made much quicker progress now that he had left the fog behind. Sigoshia glided beside him and, though his eyes were not focused on her, he realised something about the way she moved was... different. John dismissed it as nothing, and they continued.
John walked. Sigoshia drifted. There was silence.
Walking, walking, walking. John wondered if it was ever going to end.
Then John put his foot down on... air?
He jumped back with a shout of surprise. The bridge had suddenly broken off! There was nothing there! A deep, maniacal laugh sounded from behind John. It was Makidos’ laugh! John spun around to see the so-called “Sigoshia” shedding white scales to reveal black ones underneath. Long, black hair shortened and turned white, and suddenly Makidos floated in Sigoshia’s place.
I can’t believe you fell for it! I thought you would see through my disguise instantly, but it seems I overestimated you. Now, you’re mine!
Makidos lunged for John, teeth bared and claws outstretched. Time slowed down... all seemed hopeless...
Then John saw a flash of white over his attacker’s shoulder...
And he was sent flying as the white spirit barrelled into him. John turned somersaults in the air as the broken bridge and the two spirits faded into the distance.
Then, Sigoshia’s call...
And Makidos’ cry of anger as John spun around, outstretched hands ready to grab the ledge just behind him...
John sat up in bed, startled.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
A cardiograph beeped loudly.
John held out his hands. For a moment, they were covered in green scales, each finger tipped with a sharp, black claw... then John blinked, and they were normal, soft, nailed human hands.
John touched his head, and found he had short horns protruding from it... then he touched it again. There were no horns, only hair. He felt his ears- but no, they were not pointed. They were very ordinary, very round, and very, very human. John did not flick his tail in surprise. He had no tail. He was perfectly normal! In his own, human shape! What had happened?
Beep. Beep. Beep.
John gazed around the hospital room. It was mainly unadorned, but there was a table beside the bed. On it was a vase of wilting flowers and a few cards. He picked up a card at random. On the front was a drawing of what may have been a man in a hospital bed. There was a lot of heavily applied glitter. Above the drawing of the man, written in the scrawl of a six-year-old, was “Git wel soone, /unkil/ uncle John!”
The writing inside was nearly indecipherable, but John eventually made out...
“I now yoo ar very sik, but Mummy says yool git beta soone. I now Mummy is telling da truth, becas she always dus. I now yool be beta. Trust me. From Susie.
John looked up from the card, and thought he could see a pair of eyes with glowing white pupils watching him through the window in the top of the door...