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Gossamer(2)
Author: Lois Lowry

2

The woman stirred slightly in her sleep. She was dreaming. Sometimes, in her dreams, she recalled earlier times when she had been happier. When that occurred, her eyelids fluttered and the corners of her lips moved slightly in an upward curve.

Sometimes the creaking walls of the old house disturbed her sleep, or a shutter that came loose in the wind startled her briefly awake. A few nights before, a bat had found its way into the room, making squeaking sounds as it swooped through the dark. Sometimes a mouse scampered across the floor, usually in the fall when outdoor creatures sought warmth. Occasionally she thought that she should get a cat. Women her age often kept cats as company.

But she had the dog. They were growing old together and were good friends to each other. The dog made her take walks and gave her someone to talk to. He was all she needed.

The dog and the house. And her dreams. The tiny footsteps that crossed her bedroom each night never woke her.

3

"She talks constantly. Asks questions. Is much too curious." Fastidious sniffed imperiously and listed her complaints.

"What sorts of questions does she ask?"

They were back inside their place now, the gathering place of the dream-givers, the place they called the Heap. Littlest, exhausted, had curled into her own special corner and was asleep. But the bigger ones were meeting. Most Ancient was concerned about Littlest One.

"Oh, the usual," Fastidious replied irritably to his question. "The same things we've all wondered about. Who we are. Whether we might be a kind of dog, for heaven's sake! She asked that tonight. I should never have let her see that book about dogs. But it was on the woman's coffee table. It needed touching, and she was with me."

Most Ancient smiled. "She's very sweet, actually. I don't think we've ever had one quite so curious. It's appealing."

"And she plays."

"Plays?"

"Dances about. And—well, as an example, I'd been teaching her about the delicacy of touch? Next thing I knew, she was chanting something under her breath, and when I asked her what on earth she was mumbling about, she said she'd created a tongue twister out of my instructions!"

"A tongue twister? What was it?" Most Ancient looked amused.

"I'd prefer not to say," Fastidious said primly.

"Come on. Tell," he coaxed.

"Well, all right, then." She sniffed. "It was this: Flutter, flicker, and trutter—no. Flutter, tricker— no." Fastidious took a deep breath and spoke very slowly. "Flutter, flicker, and trickle; flutter, flicker, and trickle. Completely silly, if you ask me.

"It's a nuisance," she added. "We started her too soon."

Most Ancient, smiling, looked around at the others. They were all resting after the nightly tasks. The actual touching wasn't exhausting. It was the moving around, climbing things, fluttering—which was very difficult and energy-consuming—and remembering what to touch. Stairs were hard to navigate. It made one tired. And that didn't even take into account the most arduous and important part of the job: the bestowal. Most Ancient was a little concerned about how Littlest One would take to that. It was one thing to play and giggle during the touching. But bestowal was a serious and demanding task. Perhaps Fastidious was correct and Littlest wasn't up to it yet.

***

"Others? Opinions, any of you?"

One of the others yawned. "She'll be fine. I think she's cute, actually. Just keep an eye on her. We were all curious like that, once. Maybe not quite as talkative."

Most Ancient smiled. "Yes, that's true. Most of us were. I know I was. Do you think you can bear with it a while longer, Fastidious, until she settles down a bit?"

Fastidious sighed. "I suppose so. But—"

"I could switch you with someone else. Is there anyone who'd be willing to trade places?" He looked around.

Thin Elderly raised his hand. "I'd rather have that house, as a matter of fact. My assigned house is very spare, very minimalist. Not much to touch. It makes a dull night."

Most Ancient peered at him. "Have you ever supervised?"

"No. But I think I'd do a good job. I like little ones."

"And you?" Most Ancient turned to the one who had raised the problem. "How would you feel about switching?"

Fastidious shrugged. "I'd be happy to have a dull night. Does the other house have stairs?"

Thin Elderly said no. Modern house, no stairs.

"Let's do it, then. I have increasing trouble on the stairs."

"Done." Most Ancient made a note in his book. "Anything else?" He looked around. But most of them were asleep now. They lay sprawled in the Heap, cuddled against each other. One snored slightly. One was murmuring, "Flutter, flitter—?"

"Well then," he went on, and tucked the book away. He yawned. "Another night's work well done, all of you.

"Sweet dreams," he added with a chuckle. It was his favorite joke.

4

This gathering, this dwelling place where they slept now, heaped together, was only one, a relatively small one, of many. It was a small subcolony of dream-givers. Every human population has countless such colonies—invisible always—of these well-organized, attentive, and hard-working creatures who move silently through the nights at their task.

Their task is both simple and at the same time immensely difficult.

Through touching, they gather material: memories, colors, words once spoken, hints of scents and the tiniest fragments of forgotten sound. They collect pieces of the past, of long ago and of yesterday. They combine these things carefully, creating dreams. Then they insert the dreams as the humans (and sometimes animals, for occasionally they give dreams to pets, as well) sleep.

The act of dream insertion is called bestowal. It is very delicate. It requires absolute precision to bestow a dream, or even to decide exactly when one should be bestowed.

Littlest, the one who was only learning, had not yet studied bestowal. She was beginning the way they all had, with the touching, the gathering of material.

And she was learning, too, to dissolve.

"Concentrate," Fastidious had told her. "Stay very still, focusing on your own form."

Littlest stayed motionless and tried to concentrate on her small wisp of a self.

I wish I had wings, she thought. Everything would be easier if we had wings. I could swoop and glide, and I would never tumble on the staircase because I would simply—

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