Silence Skyward is yet another novel start of mine. I have just over 20K words written of it. A few years ago, it was my main work in progress, but I’ve put it aside for the time being to focus on “Coven.” I classify it as young adult speculative fiction. It’s main character Elise is only 11 years old as the story begins.
In this scene, she’s waking for the first time in the dream world where much of the story takes place. More about my inspiration for this dream world in the comments.
Elise opened her eyes. She blinked, staring up into green mossy branches with morning sunshine filtering down through maple leaves onto her face. I must be dreaming, she thought. What a glorious space to wake in, but she doubted she’d get to enjoy it very long. She always woke up for real once she realized she was dreaming.
Knowing she didn’t have much time and wanting desperately to remember the beauty of the place, Elise tried to record as many details as she could to her memory. The massive maple stretching out above her seemed to have too many branches to count reaching out in all directions. Smaller branches fingered off from the four, five or six main bows, each of whom were large enough to be a whole tree all unto themselves. The smaller reaching branches swept out and down instead of up, creating a round sanctuary with the tree’s massive trunk at its center.
Taking all this in, Elise barely dared to breathe, let alone move. She’d read that one way to keep from leaving a dream when you wanted to stay was to stare at your own hands, so tentatively, she raised them up under her face. Her fingers so familiar, filled her vision, and it took a second for Elise to realize she was wearing a ring on her left index finger. Forgetting her fear in favor of curiosity, she took a closer look. The ring had a thin brassy band and featured a pattern of twisted vines on top.
Elise blinked and sat up, completely forgetting herself and staring at the ring. She’d never seen it before, certainly not in real life. The thought brought her back to the knowledge that this was all a dream. She looked around again, frightened of every next second, but the scene around her didn’t darken into a nightmare or dissolve away. To the contrary, the sun was clearly inching up higher in the sky, and Elise realized this was different from any other dream she’d ever had. She could feel the leaves she’d by lying in sticking to her shoulders. Details like that had never entered her dreams before. She looked down and with a start, realized she was wearing a skirt made from the fur of some animal.
Her top too, just a little too short to reach past her waist, was a sleeveless shift of silvery gray fur secured in front with leather ties. So much rich detail. She’d never dreamed like this before.
She stood up and instinctively walked toward the thick trunk of the maple reaching out to touch the weaves of bark. The sheer size of the tree kept amazing her, and as her fingers brushed over its rough surface, Elise felt she could sense a wise and patient consciousness about it. How long would a maple have to grow to reach this size? She had no idea. Mom might’ve known.
Elise drew her hand away and turned around. She walked toward the low hanging branches in front of her, pausing with a leafy window in front of her face. She could see foothills rising in the distance and a quick look side to side confirmed they formed a ring around this space. She knew she’d be able to see so much more if she stepped outside the encircling branches, but something about the idea made her just a tad uneasy. They weren’t words in her head exactly, but more of a feeling. The extreme stillness and silence of this place seemed to… pose a question? No, that wasn’t right. Offer up a challenge? Not exactly. Elise clearly felt, more every moment, that something about her being here, and the ring and her clothes and this tree, something about all of it offered up a choice or a chance or both.
And now, looking through the leaves, a step away from being outside of this tree’s sanctuary, Elise knew that step meant everything. That step meant she was agreeing to take on something, something vitally important. But what? And how could she know all this merely from waking here?
All the same, here she stood. And one more step, she knew, meant she was agreeing to whatever challenge this world held for her. A dream world, though not really, she thought again.
“Well this is certainly the best dream I’ve had in a long time,” Elise said, speaking for the first time. The effect of her words made her stagger back from the branches toward the maple’s trunk. She couldn’t put her finger on why, but her spoken words seemed to have sent invisible shudders through the very air. The light hadn’t changed. The scene before her eyes didn’t ripple. It was more of a gut feeling, a last opportunity to decline whatever offer this place posed to her.
Elise caught her surprised breath and took another deeper one. A singular thought formed in her mind. There was only one way to figure it all out. With a last steadying breath, Elise lifted the branches in front of her face and stepped determinedly outside of the tree’s circle and into the brilliant morning sunshine. A brisk breeze blew for a split second after she took that decisive step. It caught Elise off guard as she realized it was the first breath of wind she’d felt here. It shifted the maple leaves at her feet and was gone as quickly as it had come.
“Hellooo,” Elise called out before she could stop herself, and she clapped her hand over her mouth for some reason as soon as the cry had left her lips. Again how jarring to hear even her own voice in this place. The question nagged her again. Why? But she had no answer, and her legs were moving now along a little path her feet had found. Looking left and right as her feet followed the path, she took in details like the breathtaking foothills, thickly wooded with pine and cedar rising on every side of the valley. She also noticed a few small houses, not at all like houses she’d ever seen before. These were made from the same type of wood that grew thickly around the clearing, right down to the flat wooden shingles on the roofs of some. Other roofs were thickly thatched, and each house looked as if it could just as likely have sprouted from the ground as been built here.
“Hello?” Elise said again. It just didn’t feel right to trot by the houses without acknowledging her own newness in the place even though, inexplicably, she felt sure none of these homes were occupied. How she knew this, how the homes looked neither deserted nor decayed, but still somehow communicated their emptiness to her… it was all overwhelming and mysterious.
Cresting a small rise, Elise now saw two other paths on either side and looked down into a little round plaza with a few somewhat larger buildings around it. The grasses between the paths began giving way to a fine dust and another moment of walking delivered Elise to the edge of the plaza which she now realized was cobbled with small tiles. The building here, while still so undeniably a part of the landscape, presented themselves differently from the small dwellings she’d passed on the way. For one thing, these appeared to be adobe structures and clearly not houses but more like meeting places. One looked rather small and square except for a wide short tower rising out of its center. Elise stared up at the tower, more than half as wide as the building itself. Like so many sensations here, she couldn’t decipher why she felt so sure this was a temple.
“Hello?” Once again, Elise hadn’t meant to call out. She couldn’t see anyone in the open plaza, but still, it didn’t feel right to enter without announcing her presence. The soft scuff of her moccasins over the small tiles was the only other sound as she took her first step into the circle. A fine dust covered everything adding to the silence of this place. Elise walked the few steps to the center of the circle and instinctively looked up to the sky. A few thin swaths of clouds contrasted the light blue expanse. After staring for a few seconds, Elise realized what made the whole thing look so ethereal. The clouds weren’t moving at all.