Once upon a time there was a cruel dictator who ruled a small country. The peasants lived in a constant state of fear, but they survived, working day after day, hoping a time would come when their world would change. One day, while taking a walk in a village near his palace, the dictator stopped at a garden that was kept up by a peasant woman named Mary. The garden was small, but it flourished with many fruits, vegetables, and flowers; and at times its bright colors and heavenly scents felt like the only energy in the village, as if the plants grew from seeds buried in the hearts of the peasants.
The dictator saw Mary working in the garden and stood quietly watching her. Eventually, Mary looked up and saw the dictator. She brushed dirt off her knees, and then walked over to him. "I shouldn't have made you wait. I am honored you stopped here again," she said.
"You know I like to watch you work," the dictator said after kissing her on the forehead. "Do you have anything for me today?"
Mary collected a bag of the dictator's favorite things; she moved fast and made sure everything was fresh. She worked in the fields all day, but she spent her spare time in the garden. It was the only place she felt free, and, fortunately, she was allowed more leisure time than other peasants. "Tell me if something is bad. I can replace anything," she said, handing the bag to the dictator.
The dictator took the bag and patted Mary on the shoulder. He rested in the garden for a few minutes, and then he went on his way.
In Mary's neighborhood there lived a young man named Daniel. Daniel worked in a factory day after day, making iron cooking pots, kettles, shovels, and hundreds of other objects, but he also loved playing the flute. He played in ceremonies approved by the dictator, but he and his friends played their own music in secret. At times they were caught by soldiers, who confiscated their instruments and forced them to clean the dirty factory at night, often until their worn bodies collapsed from a lack of sleep, but it did not dissuade them. They were compelled to play their music and would never give it up.
Daniel often saw Mary working in her garden, but he never approached her before. One day he stopped to talk to her. "Your flowers smell wonderful," he said.
"Thanks," Mary said quietly. She glanced to see who it was, but then looked away. She recognized Daniel, and she didn't care for his group of friends causing trouble.
"I would love to play my flute for you. Your garden is a great place for music," he said, as he pulled his flute out and played a few notes.
"No, that wouldn't be a good idea," she said. "I'm busy right now."
Daniel watched as Mary continued working in the garden. "Maybe some other time. I will play you a melody you will never forget," he said, putting his flute away.
Mary didn't look up, but out of the corner of her eye she saw Daniel slowly walk away, and she was relieved he was gone, so she could enjoy the sunny day in her garden.
One night Mary quietly left her cottage. She watched soldiers walk by, with their boots clanking against the street breaking the silence of the village, and then she snuck into the countryside. She traveled into the forest, aided by a candle that barely lit the space in front of her. She walked through the forest until she came to a hill covered with large, clay rocks packed tightly against one another. From a distance, the rocks appeared like they formed the shape of a spirit's brain buried in the earth. She stepped from rock to rock, holding her candle in the tiny creases between the rocks, searching methodically. She looked for hours, until finally, she spotted the shadow of a flower hidden deep between two rocks. The opening was too narrow for her hand, so she reached in her gown and pulled out a string attached to a tiny hook. Diligently, she dropped the string in the opening and pulled out a purple and red flower with green seeds in its center, a type of flower that she had not seen since her childhood.
As Mary walked back home, the wind picked up and blew out her candle. While she tried relighting the candle, a strong fear swept over her. She looked up at the giant redwoods, and the patterns of the bark mesmerized her. Gradually, the forest turned into a nightmare. Ugly ogres, carrying clubs chained to their iron belts, shuffled through the brush; two headed violet lizards jumped from tree to tree; the rumblings of giant dragonboars echoed through the forest; and the glowing eyes of baby rassonmonsters peered out of the bushes. A ghastly stench enveloped the redwoods. Dozens of bats flew up to Mary's face before quickly darting away. She ran through the forest, her hands reaching in the darkness for the trees in front of her, as ghost owls flew up from underground, floated through Mary's body, and then traveled up and down the trunks of the redwoods. She remained strong, praying intensely, dreaming of her freedom.
Then, as fast as a flash of lightning, the nightmare ended and all of the beings disappeared. For a few seconds, Mary was frozen to the earth, but then she collected herself and quickly ran home under the dim light of the early morning sky.
Weeks later the dictator stopped at the garden again. Mary quickly gathered a bag of fruits and vegetables for him. "What is this?" the dictator asked, spotting a purple and red plant in the bag. "I've never seen this before."
"That is a Bali plant which I grew especially for you," she replied. "It is an old method I learned from my grandmother. I recently found the seeds necessary to grow it."
"It looks so delicious. I want to taste it right now," the dictator said.
"No, no, save it," Mary said, putting her hand over the Bali. "Share it with your family. It is very sweet, and it will taste good after your dinner."
That evening, after attending a banquet meal with his family, the dictator rested in his chamber, sitting comfortably in his hawk-crested chair. He took the Bali out of the bag and slowly ate it, enjoying every bite. The taste overwhelmed the dictator, so he sat with his eyes closed, savoring the sweet plant, and before long, he fell fast asleep.
Later that night, as the village was as quiet as the moon, Daniel and his friends practiced their music at an abandoned building. They played for a while, but there was no life to their music. As Daniel leaned back and cleaned his flute, he spotted the bright shine of stars through a hole in the roof of the building. "Look at the beautiful stars," he said. "We need to play outside."
Daniel laughed as he walked out into the summer night. After hesitating for a minute, his friends followed him outside. At first they improvised, but then they worked their way into a beautiful melody that they played over and over again. As they played, they paraded through the village, dancing in the street. The cobblestone street was narrow, and the brick homes were so close together that the musicians looked like ghosts floating through a fortress. The villagers woke up, but nobody would come out of their homes. The musicians wanted to play other melodies, but every time they tried to change the music, their melody took over, like a wild beast guarding its territory. The melody had a life of its own and it mixed with the starlight to light up the street. Eventually, the villagers realized that soldiers were not in the area, so a few of them went out into the street to see what was happening. They looked at one another and whispered, but they didn't know what to do.
Daniel grabbed an old woman's hand, inviting her to dance. The old woman paused, and then began dancing. It had been so many years since she danced that she forgot what it felt like. Then others started to dance. Daniel and his friends kept playing, inspiring more villagers to dance. They danced and danced, unleashing the passions inside them, and the crowd swept through the village, twirling in the streets. Soon they became tired and wanted to rest. But their legs kept dancing. Everyone wanted to stop, but their legs moved faster and faster. As long as the musicians played their melody, no one could stop dancing.
At that time, Mary was in her tiny cottage leafing through old photographs, with her meal, including a Bali plant, spread on the table. She heard the commotion outside, but she ignored it. The dancers became hungry, and they knocked on Mary's door to see if they could eat from her garden. She refused to answer, hoping they would go away. Everyone kept dancing until an elderly couple became so hungry that they danced into Mary's garden, grabbing her fruits and vegetables as they entered. "No! Stay out of the garden!" Mary shouted, rushing outside.
But the couple didn't stop, and the other villagers danced into the garden, eating everything in sight. Mary crawled through the swarm of bodies, demanding that they leave. "Stop! You don't know what you are doing!" she shouted.
But the music and dancing drowned out Mary's yells, and everyone danced through the garden, trampling the flowers, and eating all the fruits and vegetables. Then they picked the Bali off its stems, and as each musician and dancer devoured the sweet plant, they smiled as if they felt the pulse of a star and fell into a deep sleep. But the music and dancing didn't stop. The sleeping musicians continued playing their melody, and they led the sleeping dancers out of the garden. Mary stood motionless, watching with a mixture of horror and awe.
As the dancers danced down the street, the other villagers came out of their homes, staring in disbelief. The dancers connected to one another by holding hands, and then they began to dream, which turned their haphazard dancing into a united ecstasy.
Minutes later soldiers arrived, causing the villagers to flee back to their homes. But the dancers kept dancing, slowly gliding towards the outskirts of the village. "Stop! Halt!" the soldiers shouted.
The soldiers rushed up to the dancers, pointing their guns in the dancers' faces. But the soldiers were confused, for the dancers kept their eyes closed and seemed lost in a different world. "Stop the music! Stop the dancing! Halt!" they shouted.
The dancers continued dancing down the dark street, and then into the countryside, moving quickly towards the forest. The soldiers beat the dancers with clubs and shot their guns in the air, which echoed over the hills startling the creatures of the night, but the dancers still would not stop. The soldiers didn't know what to do, and the dancers entered the forest, absorbing the beauty of the land as they went. The colonel in charge ordered some of his soldiers back to inspect the village, while others followed the dancers.
Now, asleep in the marshes of the forest was a dark giant. The giant awoke, feeling the rhythm of the dancers' light steps on the forest floor. Half-asleep, he spotted the dancers, who were led by Daniel and the musicians, and trailed by the soldiers who followed with their guns cocked. As they approached, the giant hid behind some crisscrossing elm trees. The music stimulated his imagination, relieving the pain that engrossed his skull everyday. Moonlight streamed through the forest, reflecting off the musicians' instruments and the soldiers' guns.
As the enchanting music soothed the giant, he fell in love with the dancers. He burst out from behind the elm trees and growled loudly, frightening the soldiers. The soldiers shot at the giant, but the bullets only made small holes in him, like punctures in a fluffy pillow, and the giant thrashed through the forest, knocking soldiers in all directions. The soldiers retreated, fleeing back to the village as fast as they could. Then the giant softly stepped near the dancers, who displayed no fear of him, and guided them to a valley deep in the forest. There they formed a large circle, with Daniel and the musicians in the middle, appearing as if God had dropped a large jewel down to earth.
Early in the morning, attendants went to awaken the dictator, who was still sitting in his chair. They tried to rouse him, but he remained fast asleep, so they alerted the dictator's son, Rolan, who rushed to his father's side, accompanied by doctors. The doctors felt a slow pulse from the dictator, and they did everything they could to revive him, but they couldn't understand why he remained asleep.
The soldiers returned and told Rolan of the events of the previous night. "They were in the old peasant's garden, and they appeared to be sleepwalking," the colonel said. "We followed them, but the giant stopped us."
"There's no giant in the forest!" Rolan yelled. "Your soldiers are just seeing things in the dark. Now go back to the forest, and don't return until you arrest those peasants."
Equipped with new weapons, the soldiers left the palace and marched deep into the forest until they met the giant. The giant quickly killed a number of the soldiers, striking fear among the others, who had no choice but to run, fleeing their homeland forever.
Rolan was curious about the sleeping peasants, for his father showed him the Bali plant he had received from Mary, so he ordered his guards to arrest Mary and search her home. After storming through Mary's cottage, the soldiers arrested her and brought her to Rolan. "What did you do to my father?" Rolan asked.
"I did nothing to His Honor" Mary replied. Her body squirmed, for she tried to find the words to satisfy him. "The villagers came and destroyed my garden."
"Lies," he said. Then he gestured to his guards. "What did you do to my father?"
The guards beat Mary, making her frail body limp on the floor. "I used an old recipe that my grandmother had left me," she said, exasperated. "It was written in the Wequoa language."
"Murderer! Witch!" he said. "How do we wake my father?"
"I don't know," she replied. "I only know how to grow the seed for the Bali."
"More lies!" he yelled.
The soldiers continued beating Mary, kicking her and slamming her to the floor, but she kept repeating her story. Eventually, Rolan walked over to one of the soldiers and whispered in his ear.
Two soldiers and a royal priest took Mary to a cavern that was filled with thousands of carvings on the wall, etched in the Wequoa language. "We have known of these carvings for a long time, but we only understand part of what they say," the priest said. "Tell us what they mean, or we will kill you."
The priest held a torch that lit up the cavern, as the soldiers pressed their guns in Mary's back. For hours Mary interpreted the carvings, but she only related part of their meaning to the priest, who took notes on a small scroll. Then, as she read one carving, she was startled. "What is it?" the priest asked.
"Nothing," Mary replied, catching herself.
Then Mary whispered three words that were inaudible to the priest and soldiers, and she touched a painted red circle next to the carving. Then, like a surprised ghost, Mary floated through the wall. The priest quickly touched the red circle, but nothing happened. "What did she say? What did she say?" he frantically asked the soldiers.
The soldiers were silent. They pushed on the cavern wall, but it was as solid as the core of the earth.
When Mary appeared on the other side of the wall, she found herself on a golden staircase that descended into a large room of bookcases filled with thousands of different books, all covered with leather and written in the Wequoa language. She walked down the staircase, randomly leafing through the books. She read book after book, and as she read, it seemed like time was standing still. The books were filled with history and geography, philosophy and religion, science and art, and old stories and legends of all kinds. Something happened to her mind, which now ignited sparks that seemed to have always been inside her, and a part of her was sad, for if she had known these things before, her life, and the life of others, could have been very different. Eventually, Mary found a book on magic and spells, and she learned how to leave this room and help the dancers.
Mary returned to the staircase and pulled out the bottom step. Instantly, a purple carpet with white scrolls on the edges rolled out and spread across the floor. Then the wall opened, showing a long corridor that was decorated with murals of ancient beasts, including two headed lions, flying horned satyrs, and lorphs, which are half-human, half-deer beings that travel in small herds. Mary walked through the corridor, admiring the detailed paintings. As she passed them, the heads of the beings peered out of the murals, keeping a watchful eye on Mary, and tiny nightingales flew from mural to mural.
Eventually, Mary came to a mural of a goddess sleeping in a batch of red pritberries. She reached into the mural and grabbed two pritberries, which glowed as they popped out of the wall. Mary kept walking until she came to a mural displaying a twisting maple staircase. Cautiously, she climbed into the mural and walked up the steps, which led to an opening in the ceiling. She crawled through the opening, finding herself on a small hill, miles outside of her village. Then she walked to Lake Tera, for the book said to follow the Tera Spirit that returned home every night at dusk. When she arrived at the lake, she slipped into the cool water under a willow tree that hung over the bank, her body still hurting from the beating the guards gave her. She ate the pritberries, allowing her to breathe underwater, and she floated through the lake with her eyes above the surface like a crocidile.
As the sun set, she spotted a small, gray and blue bird flying towards the lake. The bird flew in gently, and then dove into the water. Mary plunged her head underwater and saw the bird turn into a giant serpent. The serpent had a long, green body, with a round, fat head, and two triangular scales that protruded out of the back of its neck and extended halfway to its tail. Mary swam as fast as she could and grabbed the tail of the serpent, which didn't feel the pinch of Mary's tiny hands. As the serpent swam, Mary hung on with all her strength. It dove to the depths of the lake where it entered a large cave. Mary let go of the serpent's tail and floated down, hiding in a batch of tall rollinweeds near the entrance of the cave.
Hours passed. The serpent lingered in its cave, watching schools of tronas, slounders, blue belly scrons, and other fish swim through the area. Finally, the serpent went to sleep, its head nestled between two rock columns near the back of the cave. As the serpent slept, Mary quietly swam past it and entered a dark tunnel. She swam through the tunnel, and when she approached the opening at the other end, she saw thousands of different lake creatures, including little winged octopuses, silver back throps, and burgens, which look like giant ladybugs twirling in the water. The creatures swam back and forth, but every few seconds one would disappear in a flash.
Mary flipped on her back, closed her eyes, swam through the opening, and floated to the bottom. The lake floor was made of a flowing beige lava, with hundreds of red eyes that popped up every few seconds, staring at the creatures above. Slowly the lava swirled, and when any being looked down, making eye contact with the red eyes, they would instantly turn into lava and fall to the bottom. When Mary reached the lake floor, dozens of red eyes surrounded her, tempting her to look at them, but she kept her eyes closed. Her hands dug into the lava, digging for the Pearl of Dreams buried deep in the lake. She searched and searched, and as she swam, the lava covered her entire body except for her eyes and the tip of her nose.
Finally, Mary's right hand hit a solid object, and she pulled out a pearl that contained an amber glow. With the pearl firmly clutched in her hand, she swam back through the tunnel and past the serpent that was now deep asleep. But then the entrance of the cave closed. The serpent awoke, quickly wrapped Mary in its tail, and pulled her towards its head. Mary began to rub the pearl, and as it spun in her hands, it collected the dreams of the dancers, who were still in the valley under the watchful eye of the giant.
As the pearl collected the dancers' dreams, it grew larger and larger until it burst through the top of the cave, exploding the rock walls in its path, causing the serpent to lose its grip on Mary and scurry to the dark depths of the lake. The pearl continued to grow, soon becoming as large as a hot air balloon. Spread across the top of the pearl was little Mary, hanging on with all her strength. Then the pearl floated to the lake's surface, and shot out of the water, flying higher and higher, expanding as it flew, until finally, after becoming as large as a baby moon, the pearl exploded, releasing all its treasures that poured down as a rain of glitter all over the country.
As the dancers' dreams blanketed the sky, everyone in the country, from the poorest peasant to the richest aristocrat, stopped what they were doing and watched in awe. When the land absorbed the dreams, everything changed. Worn down buildings turned into museums filled with beautiful paintings, sculptures, pottery, and other precious works of art; the peasants' shanties turned into pleasant, warm cottages with shelves stocked with plenty of food; and the factories opened up, turning into parks, decorated with fountains, marble walkways, and patches of wildflowers. The dictator's palace now looked frail, like a wounded fawn collapsing to the ground. Mary held on to a shred of the pearl and continued floating in the sky. The peasants were energized and embraced the new environment. Rolan and his royal officers were horrified, so they ordered an immediate crack down on the peasants.
But the peasants fought back, using whatever they could find as weapons, for now they were unified with a new life to fight for. They defeated the soldiers, who couldn't handle the thousands of angry peasants, and then they overthrew Rolan and his royal officiers.
Now that their dreams had come true, the dancers awoke, temporarily surprised by their surroundings. They could feel the changes that took place, and they wanted to embrace the new world, a world they, in part, created. But the giant stood in their way, his large hands enclosing them.
"What do you want?" Daniel asked. "You have no right to hold us."
The giant didn't respond. He stood silently, looking in the distance.
A moment later Mary floated into the valley, still clinging to a part of the pearl. The giant extended his right hand and Mary landed on it. Then the giant lifted his hand to his cheek, which Mary softly kissed. Suddenly, the giant began to shrink and turned into a prince dressed in dark clothes with a white, ghostly face. As the giant shrank, Mary tumbled to the ground and her head landed hard on a boulder.
"Are you all right?" Daniel asked, running over to Mary.
Mary didn't move, or make a sound. The dark prince walked over to Mary. Instantly, Mary's spirit released from her body. The prince wrapped her spirit in his arms and floated off into the sky, disappearing in a flash. As the dancers watched, they realized it was the prince of death who was the giant.
Then Daniel and the musicians played a new melody, enchanting the surrounding land, and as the dancers traveled back to the village, they danced freely in the soft grass. They returned to build a new society, a society where everyone lived in peace. As for the dictator, he forever remained asleep.