Crimson had only lived on the ranch for about a week when she discovered the hideaway.
Roughly one acre of weed-choked and wild vegetable rows away and past an abandoned shooting-range where rabbit dens and empty bullet cases lay scattered around, she came across a slumped over arrow-shaped sign on the floor.
“Dream Space,” it said in scrawled lettering. After placing the sign into the hole in the ground beside it, the arrow pointed toward a trail lined with acorn trees and a scattering of boysenberry bushes. A crisp wind was blowing through, and the whisper of a thousand leaves brushing against each other spoke of secret and wondrous things. Crimson danced down the trail with dark tresses flying and eyes as wild as the brewing storm clouds that rolled above.
The trail abruptly ended, revealing a single, grand oak tree that stood way above all the other trees and was surrounded on each side by thick rose bushes. Nestled in its large roots was a hole big enough for a small child to fit through. Crimson felt as if she were in one of those magical books where worlds lay hidden beyond when she plopped down to her knees and pushed her way into the hole. Her hands buried deep into the sweetly-rotting damp of earth and leaves, while sleek black emerald beetles skittered away until she came through the other side of the tree.
She found herself in a dark, hollowed out centre of a mess of rose and boysenberry bushes. Dim sunlight flickered through the dome-shaped, leaf-and-thorn choked walls above and around her. The dirt-beaten ground was circled by large stones to keep the bushes from growing into the space.
On little lines, triangle-shaped mirrors hung around and broke the light into a scattering of kaleidoscopic beauty. To one side of the hollow, a circular window revealed a snippet of the outside world, while dozens of little covered jars lay scattered about. She opened one, and out fell the lifeless bodies of a dozen or so fireflies. A large, live spider remained in the jar, bordered by wizened white spindles, black eyes glittering with hunger.
Crimson screamed, frightened by the spider and the sight of so many firefly corpses. Just then, one of the triangular mirrors flashed in the light, and she noticed a live firefly.
This place was a trap, the mirrors attracting the fireflies, drawing them in.
To be captured in jars, she realized. And eaten alive. What kind of witchcraft is this?
Crimson felt the little hairs on the back of her neck prick.
What if, she thought, staring at the glowing bug. What if I placed one into the jar? With the question at the tip of her tongue, she plucked the little firefly from the mirror and dropped it into the jar. The spider, hunger-ravaged, made quick work of its free meal, beating the glowing bug with pearl-white spindles until only a white cocoon was left. And then it bit.
An overwhelming sense of sleep came over her, and her eyes were drawn to the only one window in the hideaway. A thin fog began to creep through the glass, blocking the outside world from view, and the lines of reality around her eyes disappeared as she was drawn further into the glass. An image was forming, something familiar and distant, and soon she found herself in another realm. A dream, it appeared, technicolor and bursting with emotion.
The sound of children’s laughter. The rusty creak of swings as kids flew high into the sky. The smell of fresh cut grass, a distant whir of hedges being trimmed. She found herself surrounded by three familiar, wonderful faces. Mia, Crystal, Amber. Amber talking about basketball, how she jumped up and made that winning score. Mia, with eyes like snake slits, lost in a poem. And bubbly, artistic Crystal. She had just drawn up a fox, and was presenting it to Crimson with that familiar, happy laugh of hers. Crimson’s three best friends, sitting in the shade of a large tree, making flower necklaces, the world and all it’s rough edges oblivious to them.
But their technicolor world soon faded into darkness.
Mia turned to Crimson, face blurred like a cloud passing. You were supposed to see me at my game, she said.
Why did you go away? asked Amber, lips tight with consternation.
And then Crystal’s, who was the saddest since she was never one to be sad. We miss you.
Crimson’s throat burned and could barely reply. I miss you, too.
And then she was awake.
The air was heavy with the scent of rain, and she could hear the pitter-patter of an evening spring shower outside beating the leaves. Crimson hurried to make her way back into the hole, but sneaked one last look at the mysterious window, and then at the jar with the fallen firefly and spider. Her heart beat with excitement. She had discovered someplace magical, secret, and it only cost a firefly in a jar to live what her heart missed most.
I’ll be back tomorrow, she promised.
The rain clouds darkened with the distant roar of thunder. Crimson raced home, full of wonder and anticipation for the next dream to come.