On a hot day near the end of summer, Laura Hame sat with her father; her cousin, Rose; and her aunt Grace against the fern-fringed bank on a forest track. She watched as her uncle Chorley and the rest of the picnic party passed out of sight around the next bend. Chorley turned and waved before he disappeared. Laura stared at the empty, sun-splashed path. She saw black bush bees zipping back and forth through the air above the nettles and heard the muffled roar of Whynew Falls, where the rest of the party were headed. Laura and Rose; Laura’s father, Tziga; and her aunt Grace were sitting under a sign. The sign read, CAUTION: you are now only100 yards from the border to the place. “The falls are loud today,” Tziga said. “It must have poured up in the hills.” They listened to the cascade pound and thump. Laura, who had never been allowed near the falls, tried to imagine how they would sound up close. Her father said, “Think how startled Chorley would be if one of these girls suddenly skipped up behind him.” Aunt Grace squinted at Laura’s father. “What do you mean?”
“Come on, Grace. Why don’t we just get up and wander along that way?”
“Tziga!” Grace was shocked. Laura and Rose were too. The family had owned a summer house at nearby Sisters Beach for ten years, and at least once a year they would go with friends for a picnic up in the old beech forest. Every summer those who could would continue along the track to see the falls. And every summer the girls were forced to wait at the sign with their dreamhunter parents. Tziga Hame and Grace Tiebold couldn’t go and view Whynew Falls themselves because, one hundred yards from the honest and accurate warning sign, they would cross an invisible border. They would walk out of the world of longitude and latitude, and into a place called simply the Place. Tziga and Grace could no more continue on to Whynew Falls than Laura’s uncle Chorley could walk into the Place. Uncle Chorley, like almost everyone else, couldn’t go there. Tziga and Grace were part of a tiny minority for whom the rules of the world were somewhat different.
“Come on, Grace,” said Tziga. “Why should we make the girls go through all the ceremony of a Try? It’s only for the benefit of the Regulatory Body, so they can see their rules enforced. Why can’t we just find out now, in a minute, in private?”
Rose wailed, “It’s against the law!”
Tziga glanced at Rose, then looked back at Grace. He was a quiet man, self-contained, secretive even—but his manner had changed. His face had. Laura thought that looking at him now was like peering into a furnace—its iron doors sprung open on fire. Her father was a small man. He was a mess, as usual, his shirt rumpled and grass-stained, his cream linen jacket knotted around his waist, his hat pushed back on his dark, springy hair. Laura’s aunt Grace wasn’t any better turned out. Both dreamhunters were thin, tanned, and dry-skinned, as all dreamhunters became over time. Rose was already taller than her spare and weathered mother. She was white and gold and vivid, like her father, Chorley, and like Chorley’s sister, Laura’s dead mother. Laura had, unfortunately, not inherited her mother’s stature or coloring. She was little and dark, like her father. But—Laura thought—her father, though small and shabby, still had the aura belonging to all great dreamhunters. She liked to imagine that the aura was a residue of the dreams they’d carried. For when Tziga Hame and Grace Tiebold ventured into the Place, dreams were what they brought back with them. Dreams that were more forceful, coherent, and vivid than those supplied to all people by their sleeping brains. Dreams they could share with others. Dreams they could perform, could sell.
Laura’s father was saying, “We were pioneers, Grace. You didn’t ‘Try,’ you crept past the cairn beyond Doorhandle early one morning when there wasn’t a soul on the road. Do you remember? That moment was all your own. There wasn’t anyone standing by with a clipboard and contracts.”
Laura saw that her aunt had gone pale. Grace stood up. Laura thought Grace meant to walk away, back toward the road, to go off in a huff and put an end to Laura’s father’s crazy talk. But then she saw Grace turn to look up the track toward the border.
Laura’s heart gave a thump.
Her father got to his feet too.
Rose didn’t move. She said, “Wait! What about our Try? You’ve even bought us outfits—our hats with veils.”
“Rose thinks she’s a debutante,” Laura’s father said.
“I do not!” Rose jumped up. “All right, I’ll go! I’ll go now! I’m not scared. I was only trying to follow the law. But if you don’t care about it, why should I?”
“Good,” said Laura’s father. He offered his hand to Laura. She looked at it, then took it and let him help her up. She busied herself brushing dry moss from her skirt. The others began to amble slowly along the path. Laura caught up with them and gave her hand to Rose, who took it and squeezed it tight. Rose’s hand was cold, much cooler than the air, which, even in the shade of the forest, was as marinated in heat as the open paddocks, the dusty roads, and the beaches of Coal Bay. Rose’s hand was chilly, her palm coated with sweat.
Around the first bend was another, very similar. The track was flanked by black beech trunks. The sun angled in and lit up bright green nettles and bronze shoots of supplejack.
“I guess we won’t see the Place until we’re there,” said Rose.
“That is right,” Grace said. “There’s nothing to see. No line on the ground.”
Tziga said, “The border is around the next corner.”
They didn’t slow, or hurry. Laura felt that their progress was almost stately. She felt as though she were being escorted up the aisle, or perhaps onto a scaffold.
She didn’t want to know yet. It was too soon.
In two weeks Laura and Rose were due to Try. Any person who wanted to enter the Place for the first time had to do so under the eye of an organization called the Dream Regulatory Body. The Body had been set up ten years before. It employed rangers—those who could go into the Place but couldn’t carry dreams out of it—to patrol the uncanny territory and its borders. The dream parlors, salons, and palaces in which working dreamhunters performed had to obey laws enforced by the Regulatory Body and its powerful head, the Secretary of the Interior, Cas Doran. The parlors, salons, and palaces were businesses and had to have licenses. Dreamhunters, too, had to have licenses. A Try was the first step on the road to a license, and a livelihood.
The Body held two official Tries a year—one in early spring and one in late summer. Each Try found hundreds of teenagers lined up at the border. It wasn’t compulsory to Try, but many did as soon as they were allowed, because dreams represented a guarantee of work and the possibility of wealth and fame. Any children who showed an inclination—vivid dreaming, night terrors, a tendency to sleepwalk—were thought, by hopeful families, to have a chance at the life. A dreamhunter or ranger in the family was another indicator of potential talent. More boys than girls Tried, since parents were more permissive with boys, and the candidates were, by and large, in their midteens. The earliest age of a Try was legally set at fifteen.
Rose and Laura had celebrated their fifteenth birthdays that summer.
Walking along the Whynew Falls track hand in hand with her cousin, Laura felt desperately unprepared for an impromptu Try. Every night that summer as she’d put her head down on her pillow, she had mentally ticked off another day— the time narrowing between her and her life’s big deciding moment. She had felt as though she were hurtling down a slope that got steeper and steeper the farther she fell. For Laura knew that, after her Try, she would either be in her father’s world or remain at her school—Founderston Girls’ Academy. She would have a calling or be free to continue her education, to travel, to “come out” when she was sixteen and appear at every ball that season. If she was free, Laura knew she’d inherit the Hame wealth—but not the Hame glamour. And, free, she would lose Rose, because Rose fully expected to walk into the Place, fall asleep there, dream, and carry back her dreams intact, vivid, and marvelous. For Rose had already been into the Place, had been a number of times, because Grace Tiebold had gone on catching dreams when she was pregnant with Rose. (When her sister-in-law Verity said to her, “Did you ever think that you would go there and leave the baby behind?” Grace had put a hand on her stomach and laughed at Verity—also pregnant—saying, “Oh! Darling! What a bloody thought.”)
As Laura approached the bend around which her father had said the border would be, she began to drag her feet. Rose gave her hand a sharp tug. “Come on,” she whispered. “Stick with me.”
“Tziga,” said Grace. “Just tell me this—why now? We could have tried last year, or the year before, or when they were only ten. We could have whipped them across quickly when they were really tiny, and they wouldn’t even have known where they were. We would have learned whether they could cross or not, and just waited to make it official.”
Laura saw her father shake his head at Grace, but he didn’t answer her.
“Why do you need to know now?” Grace asked again.
Laura gave a little sob of tension. Then she crashed into her aunt, who had suddenly stopped in her tracks. “Jesus!” Grace said. They all stepped on one another. When Laura righted herself, she saw a ranger approaching along the path.
The man came up to them. He looked, in quick succession, surprised, suspicious, and polite. “Mr. Hame, Mrs. Tiebold,” he said respectfully. “Good day to you. Are you going In?” Then he looked beyond the adults at the two girls. He stared pointedly.
“No, of course not,” said Grace. “We are just waiting for my husband and our friends. They went along to the falls.”
“I see,” said the ranger. He stood blocking their path. He cleared his throat. “Perhaps it would be wiser to take these young ladies back to the sign.”
“We do know exactly where the border is,” Grace said, frosty. “It isn’t as if it moves.”
“It is very well marked,” Tziga said, neutral. “We’re not likely to make any mistakes.”
“But you can’t always keep your hand on your children near the border—best not to go too near.” The ranger was quoting a bit of the Regulatory Body’s official advice, saying something he no doubt had to say to many people on his patrols. But because he was addressing the undisputed greatest dreamhunters—one of them the very first—he at least had the decency to blush. “I’m very sorry,” he said.
“We’re not dopes, you know,” Rose said, indignant. “Laura and I are Trying in two weeks, for heaven’s sake. Why would we spoil that by sneaking across now?”
“It is better to be careful,” the ranger said. He focused on a point above Rose’s bleached straw sun hat and composed himself into a stiff state of official dignity. He looked block-headed.
“Come on, girls,” Grace said. She turned Rose and Laura around and propelled them back along the track.
Laura swallowed hard to suppress her sigh of relief.
The ranger hovered for a moment. He seemed to realize that Tziga Hame meant to stay put, so he followed Grace and the girls.
† † †
At Whynew Falls, Laura’s uncle Chorley Tiebold filmed the other picnickers as they requested. He shot them pointing up at the waterfall, wet from spray. He filmed them jostling and giggling at the pool’s edge.
When he was finished, Chorley packed up his movie camera, hoisted it onto his shoulder, and followed his neighbors back along the track. He was itching to return to his workshop in Summerfort, the family’s house at Sisters Beach. He wanted to see whether he’d managed to capture on film the scales of shadow pushing down the white face of the cascade. Chorley picked up his pace to catch up with the others. He passed the orange-painted circle of tin tacked to a tree trunk—the border marker. He went on a few steps, then for some reason glanced back. He saw the track, tree ferns, gray, knotted sinews of a redbush vine. Then he saw a flicker of color and shadow in the air, and his brother-in-law, Tziga, materialized on the track behind him.
Chorley flinched. He had filmed this phenomenon—people passing into and out of the Place on its busiest border post, the cairn beyond Doorhandle. It was Chorley’s best-known film; he’d sold copies to all corners of the world. Everyone wanted to know just what it looked like—and that it didn’t look like trick photography. It didn’t. It was a quiet, unfussy, terrifying sight. The only time Chorley had seen it and hadn’t felt frightened was when, shortly before they married, he and Grace had played a stalking game in the long grass on the bluff above the river at Tricksie Bend. Grace, inside the Place, hadn’t known where Chorley would be outside of it, and he hadn’t known where she would emerge. She jumped back and forth, sometimes startled to find he was close by and could grab her. It had made Chorley anxious, made his heart ache to see Grace come and go like that—go where he couldn’t follow. But it was magical too.
“There you are,” said Tziga. “You always come last when you’re carrying your camera.” He stepped around Chorley and walked ahead of him, turning back now and then to speak. Looking up, for Chorley was quite a bit taller. “You know—there’s far too much interest in Laura’s and Rose’s Try,” he said.
Chorley couldn’t remember anyone mentioning the girls’ Try at the picnic. Not even Rose, who grew more excited the nearer the event came. He said, “I may be following you, Tziga”—he poked his brother-in-law with the legs of his camera—“but I don’t follow you.”
“There’s too much interest in the outcome of their Try. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t want them besieged with publicity, or contracts.”
“That’s why we’ve bought them hats with veils, to keep their faces out of the newspapers,” Chorley said. “To keep it all as private as possible. We could, at least, all agree to do that much. You do realize that I’ve been trying to talk to you—and Grace—about this for months now?”
“I know. But there was never any question that they’d Try as soon as the law allowed.”
Chorley took one hand off his precious camera to grab Tziga’s arm. “I questioned it,” he said. “The law can say what it likes, but I think they’re still too young.”
“They want to Try,” Tziga said. He looked very unhappy.
Chorley said, “Rose wants to—Laura just doesn’t want to be left out.” He watched Tziga’s face go remote. Even Chorley, who knew his brother-in-law better than anyone, couldn’t tell whether Tziga was offended, angry to be told something about his own daughter that he should know himself, or whether he had just dropped down into a colder and deeper reach of his usual sadness. “Tziga,” Chorley said, and gave the arm he held a little shake. He was annoyed with himself for poking the chisel of his complaints into this crack in his brother-inlaw’s certainty. “Look,” he said, “it’ll soon be over. It’ll be decided one way or the other.”
Chorley told Tziga to get a move on. The others would wonder where they were. “You do know it will be all right whatever happens,” he said as they went along. “I’m not a dreamhunter, and I’m all right. Grace and you are dream-hunters, and you are too—all right, I mean. Aren’t you?” He gave Tziga yet another chance to confide in him, to tell him why, lately, he’d seemed so hunted.
Tziga just made a faint affirmative noise, then asked Chorley if this was the camera Chorley wanted him to take into the Place.
Chorley immediately forgot his worries. “Yes,” he said. “Are you saying you will? Finally?”
Tziga said yes, he’d take Chorley’s camera In tomorrow.
Chorley was rapt, and for the next hour, long after they’d caught up with the others, he talked. He gave instructions, advice, almost gave a shooting script for the film he most wanted to make but couldn’t make himself.
Tziga interrupted only once, when they reached the cars, which were parked at the gate of the farm beside Whynew Falls Reserve. He said to Grace, “There he is,” and tilted his head in the direction of a man in a duster coat, a shadow against the tangled trunks of the whiteywood forest.
“He’s seeing us off,” Grace growled.
“Who is it?” Chorley asked.
“A ranger,” said Rose.
Chorley saw Grace give Rose and Laura a sharp look. The girls got into the car. Chorley said to the dreamhunters, “Do you think that ranger is watching you?”
“Of course not,” said Grace.
“Yes,” said Tziga. “I’m being watched. The Regulatory Body has a big investment in me. Contracts. That sort of thing.” He made one of the gestures peculiar to him—seeming to crumble something in his right hand and cast it away into the air. Then he went around the front of the car to crank it for Chorley.
Excerpted from Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox.
Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Knox.
Published in 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
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