(Genre: Young Adult) Doctors’ visits and counseling bring no relief to 15-year-old Lyn. Then she has an exquisite dream–one that brings her immediate and lasting relief. Simply remembering the dream fills her with serenity. Then a stranger, a handsome young man, comes into her life by chance. She begins to believe that the creature who came to her in her dream is actually this same young man. As she grows to know him better, she realizes their encounter is only the final element in a lengthy, dangerous entanglement in which she has been used as bait to lure an enchanted beast to his death.
Dr. Greene began his ritual: filling the dark pipe, tamping inside the bowl with his yellowed aluminum pipe tool, lighting the rich tobacco with quick puffs and leaning back in his squeaky leather chair as the smoke curled above him like the head of a noble, ancient animal.
Waiting for him to finish his little routine always made Lyn nervous, but especially today. For the first time since she started coming to him for therapy, she was actually looking forward to talking to him. She had something she eagerly wanted to tell him.
“So,” Dr. Greene said as always, “more dreams?”
“Yes!” she said instantly. “But this time it was different.”
She could tell she had startled him—not by any movement he made, but by the way he stared at her from the corner of his eye. Casually he took the pipe from his mouth.
“It was good,” Lyn said. “It wasn’t a nightmare. In fact it was better than good. It was beautiful . . . it was . . . it was . . .” She sat so far forward in her chair she was almost touching his desk. “. . . it was —”
She nodded. “Yes! Exquisite! I woke up and my head didn’t hurt. In fact, I felt good all over.”
Dr. Greene straightened up enough in his chair to reach his pipe tool. He poked it into the bowl of his pipe with his lips tightly pressed together. Lyn realized she was waiting for him to say something, to encourage her.
“Hmm,” he said. “Interesting.”
Something inside of her sighed. She felt herself easing back in her chair slowly, her eyes dropping. For a moment she looked up at Dr. Greene and, seeing his mildly puzzled expression, she looked down again.
Lyn was frustrated by and disappointed in the doctor. She almost felt betrayed by him. For endless weeks she had remembered and written down continual nightmares—dreams that made her head throb with angry, hot pain—and had watched the knowing, almost gratified, look on his face as she told him about her terrors; but now she brought him a good and happy dream and it confused him. He could not accept her small joy. She wondered how a man who appreciated hurting so much could take it away.
“So,” he said, his voice touched with a hint of resignation, “tell me about this dream.”
She sat staring at him. She didn’t trust him with the dream. It was too wonderful. It brought her peace. It took the pain from her head. Sharing it with him would defile it somehow.
“But that’s why you’re here,” the voice inside her said. “Maybe he can explain why it made you feel so good and then you’ll feel good all the time.”
“No.” From somewhere within her, another voice spoke, “He hasn’t helped you yet. He hasn’t taken away the dreams or the headaches. He’ll only ruin the good dream.”
“If you don’t tell him, you’ll be wasting this hour,” the first voice said. “Your dad is paying $125 for you to be here. You’d better tell him.”
Lyn sighed. She had lost.
“Okay,” she said slowly, “it’s like this . . . I dreamed I was in my bedroom. It was night and I was sleeping. The window was open and the sheers were blowing a little in the breeze. It was all kind of real because, when it’s spring like this, the breeze is cool and I get up and open the window. Mom doesn’t like it, but I do it anyway. . .
“Anyway, I was sleeping and it’s like I was . . . I don’t know, dreaming . . . dreaming in my dream. And I woke up, although I guess I was still really dreaming, okay? And I had the feeling that something was outside my window.
So I sat up in bed, real slow and easy. It was like I was scared—but not scared. Sort of . . . ”
“Yeah, thrilled. I had goose bumps. I sat with my legs over the edge of the bed for a few minutes. Then I got up and started toward the window very slowly, very slowly. The breeze got a little stronger as I walked toward the window and it blew my nightgown against me; and all the air in the room had this real sweet, thick sort of . . . something.
“. . . I wasn’t really right at the window, but I could tell that something real bright moved by it and out of sight. So I stood there for a minute. I thought my heart would burst.
“And after a minute I heard this voice say, ‘Come to the window.’ I can’t describe that voice—except that something in me knew that voice and trusted it. I had to go to the window. It felt wonderful there. The breeze was blowing the sheers and my hair against my face and arms.
“And the voice said, ‘Lyn, draw back the curtains.’ So I took the sheers and held them away from the window, and there was a little, bright movement on one side, like someone nodding their head. Then he stepped in front of me, so close to the window that I could touch him. He was a beautiful beast.”
Lyn was surprised. Dr. Greene never interrupted her while she was telling a dream.
“Yes, a beast,” she said. “He was a unicorn.”
“Yes,” she said.
Months later, when the episode was over, Lyn would remember the look on his face. She had never seen him look shocked before.
“Well,” he said, “go on.”
“Okay. I . . . I remember how close he was to me. And I knew I had never seen him before but thinking that I knew him. His face was not human, but it was like . . . like . . . it had . . . you know, feelings, deep thoughts. And, you know, this thing looked right straight through my eyes and down inside me. All of a sudden I knew I could never have a secret from this beast . . . . He knew everything about me.
“Then I started to sweat, a real oily kind of sweat like I was just before a headache. I grabbed hold of the window sill and looked down because that headache was coming on and it was going to pull me back into the bedroom.
“But suddenly the beast started talking again. ‘Your head brings you pain,’ he said. And I said, ‘Yes.’ It was the first thing I said. I didn’t know how afraid I was ‘til I heard my voice.
“And the beast said, ‘Lay hold of my horn.’ Like I hadn’t heard him, I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Lay hold of my horn and the pain will leave you.’
“He put his head right there by me. My forehead was starting to throb, but I just stood there looking at him. A part of me said, ‘He knows you completely. He must know how to help you. Touch the horn.’
“When I looked at it, the horn began to glow. The beast was white, but its horn was silver—it glowed like fire inside crystal. When I reached out to it, my hand disappeared in the glow. It was so warm.
“I could feel the pain going out of every part of me. It was being ripped out of my heels and calves and thighs and back and bottom and shoulders, and last it came out of my head. . . . Then all of a sudden everything was quiet. The wind had stopped, the sheers had stopped blowing, but I was cold. I was not, like, freezing, but all the heat, the anger, was gone from me. I was cold deep down.
“Then the beast spoke again: ‘Loose my horn. Go and rest, maiden,’ he said. ‘Tonight I take your pain with me. Behold your bed.’ I don’t remember getting into bed, but I remember feeling, oh god, wonderful. And I woke up feeling wonderful. My head hasn’t hurt since.”
Lyn sighed. She was through, but somehow just telling the dream brought back a taste of the rest and the peace it had given her.
Dr. Greene stretched and sat up in his chair. “That’s some dream,” he said. He dumped the ashes from his pipe into a flat, black ashtray and dropped the pipe casually on the desk. “What do you make of it?”
The part of her that she had taught long before to call “impolite” wanted to laugh and call out, “You’re the shrink — you make something of it!” But she didn’t. She just sat there, her eyes on him.
He stared back at her, rubbing the back of his neck. Finally, with a wrinkled grin, he said, “So the ball’s in my court, huh? Okay.
“First off, I can tell that dream means a lot to you and I’m glad you shared it with me. I appreciate your trust. Second, I find it very revealing about some parts of your personality that we should maybe deal with. In other words, I think it gives us a lot to work on.”
Dr. Greene snaked a long arm across his desk for his pipe. He wanted less to smoke it than to toy with it. He always did that when she asked him hard questions.
“Well,” he said, “that dream’s kind of sexy, don’t you think?”
She thought about it. Sex had not entered her mind.
“Well, you know, of course, about unicorns?”
Lyn stared at him. She realized there was something obvious she was missing.
“I know they’re white horses with horns coming out of their foreheads.”
He smiled. “Legend has always had it that the only human who could communicate with a unicorn or capture a unicorn was a virgin. Supposedly that’s how the last unicorns were killed off. The knights took a maiden out into the woods and hid behind the trees. A unicorn came and laid its head in her lap because no unicorn could deny the request of a virgin. And the maiden grabbed the horn, robbing it of its power. Then the knights jumped out and cut off its head.”
She shuddered, turning away from him. “There never were any unicorns.”
“No,” he said. “There never were, but the dynamics here are very real. Say, for argument’s sake, that the unicorn’s horn was a powerful sexual object.”
“So then what is the source of your headaches and what is your mind telling you is the cure?
Her voice was meek. “Sex?”
“Bluntly put, yes.” He ignored her embarrassment and continued to talk, caught up in his words. “Of course, sex itself is not the problem, but the feelings it causes are a problem. When you were eight or nine and boys were ‘icky,’ you had no problem. Now you are fifteen and boys aren’t so ‘icky’ and, because you are a very pretty young woman, they notice you also.
“The problem arises because there are certain things that you learned years ago you shouldn’t do— even certain thoughts you shouldn’t think. You are a good girl, lots of self-control. So you don’t do things you learned were wrong.
“The problem is, no one can talk themselves out of having feelings and desires. When you see a good-looking guy, here come your feelings. But they make you uncomfortable, so you push them away. You try not to let yourself feel them.
“That makes your feelings angry. They don’t like being pushed away. They want you to experience them, so they go somewhere to get your attention, like into your dreams to frighten you or into your forehead to make you hurt.”
Lyn considered what he was saying. His words made sense. They always did; but, as always, they brought no cure, no feeling of relief. Only the dream had brought her relief.
“So what about the unicorn?” she asked.
Dr. Greene shrugged. “A unicorn is very safe. You don’t go to school with it and see it every day. Mom and Dad have never warned you about unicorns. There’s nothing nasty about unicorns you aren’t supposed to dream about.”
She looked away from him. She wished his office had a window. Most of all, she wished she had not told him the dream, allowed him to coldly dissect it like an ancient, brutal knight cutting off the head of a beautiful beast.
“How much time do we have left in this session?” she asked quietly.
She had just turned off the radio and was pulling her nightgown over her head when her mother tapped on the door and came into the room. She sat at the foot of the unmade bed where she could see Lyn sitting on the chair by the vanity.
“Your window’s not open, is it?”
“No, Mom. It’s closed and locked.”
Her mother smoothed the peach bedspread with her long, thin fingers. “How was your appointment with Dr. Greene today?”
“It was okay,” Lyn said. “Same as always.”
“Well, why didn’t you want me to take you back to school when you were through?”
“Oh, it was just English,” she said. She picked up the baby lotion and uncapped it, and instantly the air was full of its oily, sweet aroma. “We were just finishing the semester’s book reports and I’ve already given mine and Donna’s already given hers. Who wants to listen to Bobby Howard talk about another quarterback anyway?” She rubbed the lotion on the dry patches at her elbows.
She could hear the rustling sound of her mother changing positions on the bed. She didn’t look up at her.
“I want to ask you something, Lyn. Do you think you’re making any progress with Dr. Greene? Is he helping?”
She lied. “Sure. I’ve gone two or three nights without a nightmare and my head hasn’t hurt at all. I guess he must be helping.”
“Really?” her mother said. “That’s great. Maybe we’re getting somewhere at last. You’ve been going to him for almost four months. Something should have helped by now. Your father suggested last night that we try another doctor.”
“Dad?” There was a note of hope blended in with the skepticism in her voice. “Dad said that?”
“Sure. Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Oh. I don’t know,” Lyn said. She got up and sat beside her mother and her mother put her arm around her shoulders. “I guess I’ve always felt my headaches were more pain for Dad than they were for me. I guess I felt like he accepted the problems I’ve been having and just gave into them like any other unavoidable problem in life—like electric bills or menstruation or females in general.”
Her mother smiled. “Honey, what are you so upset about?”
She looked toward her window. “I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I guess that’s what Dr. Greene is trying to find out. And then, when he finds out, maybe I won’t be mad and my head won’t hurt and I can sleep all night.”
Her mother gave her a gentle squeeze. “I hope that’s real soon, Hon. That would be a happy day.” She stood up gracefully. “Would you like me to turn off the light?”
“Sure. Say, Mom, have you seen the cat? Have you seen Katmandu?”
“No, but I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. You know how cats are.”
Lyn sat in the darkness, listening to her mother’s feet padding down the hall to her parents’ bedroom. Their door opened and she heard the sound of the television. Her dad’s deep voice asked her mother something. Her mother responded. The conversation faded as the door closed.
For a moment or two she kept her mind clear. Then the voice that she had come to know was her conscience asked her why she had lied to her mother. Why was she protecting Dr. Greene? Perhaps she was protecting herself. Dr. Greene was, at best, a nuisance but at least she could tolerate him. If he didn’t help her, her parents would surely send her to someone different who might even be more intrusive, someone who might make her submit to radical tests or psychological drugs.
It was the dream that really perplexed her. Ever since the dream there had been no headaches, no nightmares. Just remembering it or telling it to someone like Dr. Greene or her friend Donna brought her a real feeling of peace. Was the serenity it brought her going to wear off? And then would the pain come back?
Lyn stood up silently and walked through the darkened room to the window. She opened it and there was only the brief whisper of cool air. It was a windless night.
Pushing aside the sheers, she put her hands on the sill and leaned out into the night air. The moon was full and snowy against the blue-black of the sky.
“That was what I saw,” she said to herself. “The moonlight came through the window and made me have the dream of something white outside. There was no unicorn.”
It made her sad to rob herself of the fantasy. She thought about going back to school and how Donna would ask about Dr. Greene. As she fell gently across her bed, she wondered what kind of dreams she would have.
Sara K. Wall, an educator and interpreter for the deaf, comes from several generations of writers. Having circulated her stories among family and friends for years, she was at last persuaded to submit her fiction for publication. The first result is the award winning middle grade novella, Where Did You Get Your Tiger, Robert? With a keen ear for dialogue and an obvious affection for all her characters, she turns the reading experience into a joyous excursion–is it reality or fantasy–for young and old readers alike.