When N.T. regained consciousness, he was lying underwater, on an uncomfortable bed of pennies. Quickly he jumped up to his feet, splashing out of the water with only a fraction of grace, and looked around him rapidly to discover he was standing in a wishing well in the center of a town. Water dripped off of him as he took a moment to look around and jog his memory.
That’s because just earlier in his evening, Ned Theodore Ed—-our silent, skeletal protagonist—-had opened a magical book called the Encyclopedia of Dreams, and had somehow been transported into this book of dreams, and had ever since been encountering one peculiar thing after the other. He was still in the process of figuring it out, with help from his sprite friend, Carli, who was the last person he expected to run into, amidst all of this. We are now beginning the third part of their adventure, so things are starting to shape up for N.T., although he’s still pretty disoriented.
N.T. heard some high-pitched cackling nearby, and he knew right away that was Carli, laughing at his confusion. Nothing seemed to give her more entertainment than N.T.’s confusion. They had just traveled to this place from a beach, so N.T. stepped out of the fountain, shaking his feet dry with his steps. I’m about done with waking up in water, he thought to himself.
Then, he noticed the water looked funny. It was a cloudy day in this dream, and it seemed to be about noon, but the water in the wishing well looked so gray. The fountain also looked gray, but darker, and then the cobblestone walkway surrounding the wishing well was gray, too. Everything was a different shade of gray. He looked up to the sky: light gray! The grass: gray! The tree trunks: dark gray! Everything was black and white here! N.T. was a little baffled, and quickly wondered if something had happened to him or if this was just how this dream was.
But then Carli asked, “This might seem like a funny question, but do you normally see in color? I don’t know if it’s different for skeletons.” She fluttered around N.T. and he nodded. He could usually see colors. But not now!
Carli nodded. Usually her hair was green, but now it just appeared dark gray. “Sprites see colors very vibrantly, so being in this black-and-white world is really jarring,” she said. “But, you get kind of used to it. Anyway, this is Hatfield!”
N.T. and Carli were at the center of a park, by the wishing well. The cobblestone path winded throughout the park, and there were patches of grass and trees where average humans—-contrary to the giant cats in the last dream—-flew kites, or laid out on blankets for a picnic, or walked their dog. The peculiar thing was that everyone was wearing a hat; every different hat you could imagine! Pirate hats, baseball hats, cowboy hats, sun hats, bowler hats, cabbie hats, knit hats! You might laugh if you saw it, because it was very funny to see the people dressed in average clothing but with outlandish hats, like an umbrella hat! But everyone was minding their own business, except to glare at N.T. and Carli when they passed them.
“They can tell we don’t belong, because we’re not wearing hats,” Carli said quietly to N.T. She gestured in the direction behind her and, with a giggle, said, “Let’s head to the hat shop.” She paused. “Get it? Head to the hat shop?”
N.T. smacked his palm to his forehead and gave Carli a wide smile, and she giggled some more at her joke, as they began to walk.
The town was devoid of color and the people all wore a variety of hats, but there was something else peculiar about Hatfield. Perhaps it was the black-and-white aspect, but to N.T., it felt sort of like a journey into the past. The cars people drove along the street were outdated, and there were children running around delivering newspapers. Many of the women wore long dresses with ruffles, and not a single person was walking down the sidewalk staring into a smart phone. As they made their way out of the park and started heading to the downtown area, N.T. noticed button shops and bakeries and even a blacksmith storefront. Did blacksmiths even still exist?
But despite feeling like he was displaced into another time entirely, the town of Hatfield felt somewhat familiar to him. The layout of the village jogged his memory and when he saw a few street signs, he knew exactly why: the town was like the shadow of a past Spinesville!
Spinesville was the town where N.T. grew up, and in real life, it lie at the foot of the mountain he lived on. As he and Carli turned left down Mandible Avenue, N.T. glanced up above the town, and sure enough, there were a few mountains in the distance, presumably modeled after the very same ones from real life! He was so excited by this realization. It was like a parallel universe! Except, of course, that it was just a dream.
They had been walking through the town kind of briskly, and N.T. almost had to jog to keep up with Carli’s quick flight. Heads were turning as they passed the citizens of Hatfield, the pair’s bare heads so crudely exposed. N.T. ducked his head a little as they walked, trying to keep a low profile. This was dually difficult because, well, he was also a skeleton among humans.
“We’ll get hats, and then you’ll meet someone who I think will be very excited to see you,” Carli said over her shoulder. It was nice that she was trying to keep N.T. in the loop, but she had done such a poor job of explaining things in the dream world that N.T. began to stop wondering and just followed her. He trusted that if there was a way to get out of the Encyclopedia of Dreams, Carli would lead him to it. Besides, for now, he was mystified with seeing this alternate Spinesville. The shopfronts were in the same places he remembered, but they advertised businesses that no longer existed. It was like being in an old photo.
N.T. had been trying to keep his head down to avoid drawing attention, and while doing so, he noticed a small girl trotting and weaving among people up ahead of him. He watched as her hair bounced behind her from under her cabbie hat, and her little feet wore buckled shoes. He was about to look away from her when she suddenly looked over her shoulder for a brief moment, and N.T. was then struck by the appearance of her face. It was a face that he knew, in some way, in some world, but it wasn’t quite the face of this young girl. In fact, the face he knew belonged to a much older woman…
The girl cut down an alleyway and on an impulse, N.T. followed her. He trusted his gut, and as the young girl dashed down the alley, weaving among crates and garbage barrels, he picked up his pace to keep up. There were a few puddles on the uneven brick street, and they splashed as she dashed through them. She got to the end of the alley and turned left, and he almost lost her among the shoppers who crowded the sidewalks, but then he caught a glance of her feet kicking up behind her, and N.T. began to weave among people. The girl cut down another alley, and N.T. followed her. He had long lost Carli.
When he turned down this alley, the girl was standing by the back door to one of the shops, next to a man dressed in black slacks and suspenders, and a white button-up shirt. His hair was dark and slicked back underneath a bowler hat, and the girl handed him a little package that she pulled from inside her jacket. She looked back at N.T. and smiled greatly—-now he was sure that it was a version of Margaret in the past. Then the girl disappeared into yellow flower petals and was carried off into the wind.
N.T. stood there looking at the man and where the young girl had just been standing. The man looked at N.T. with a friendly face, a sentimental look in his eyes.
“I was hoping you’d come through the front, so you could get the full effect, but you can follow me through the back entrance,” the man said. He was young and lean, but mature, and clean-shaven. N.T. followed him silently as they stepped through the back door and out of the alley.
“Carli is already here. She was a little worried, but I told her you’d find your way here on your own,” he said, leading N.T. down a dim hallway of doors. The hallway opened up to the main room of the shop, at the front of the store. There were hats everywhere—-hooks speckled the entire shop walls floor-to-ceiling, each one with a different hat hooked upon it. The wallpaper was patterned in busy, random geometric stripes; there were also a few mirrors, a couple hanging, one full-body mirror propped in the corner, and a giant rug covered the hardwood floor. There was a counter with an old register sitting on it, and a chair behind it. No one else was in the shop, although they could see from the storefront windows all the pedestrians passing by.
Carli was seated on the counter by the register and jumped up into the air when she saw the two men emerge from the back.
“There you are!! I’m sorry I lost you!” Carli flew up to N.T. and hugged his neck. N.T. nodded and smiled. He still didn’t have any paper or pencil to communicate.
The man must have realized that at the same time, and he ducked behind the counter and pulled from its shelves a notepad and a pencil, sliding it towards N.T. across the counter.
“Welcome to Hadfield’s Hatfield Shop,” he said, gesturing at the shop they were in. “I’m Noah M. Hadfield.”
N.T., Mr. Hadfield, and Carli sat in the hat store in a group facing each other. They had pulled the few leather chairs together in the center of the shop, and Mr. Hadfield had closed the store for the afternoon so they wouldn’t be bothered. Mr. Hadfield had removed his own bowler hat and placed it on N.T., and Carli wore a thimble on her head because there was no other hat her size. She was so small, sitting on the human-sized chair.
YOU’RE THE MAN FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA, N.T. wrote on his pad of paper and showed Mr. Hadfield. N.T. was so happy to have paper and pencil again! It felt so good to get his thoughts out of his head and share them with others. Most of all, he was looking forward to asking all the questions that had built up inside him.
Mr. Hadfield nodded. “You’re right, I’m the one who wrote the Encyclopedia of Dreams. How much do you know? There’s quite a lot to explain.” He smiled. Mr. Hadfield seemed like a very friendly man to N.T. and he felt a lot of trust for him.
BASICALLY NOTHING, N.T. responded. CARLI HAS TOLD ME SOME, BUT THERE ARE STILL GAPS I CAN’T FILL IN.
“Okay,” Mr. Hadfield said, chuckling a little. He bit the inside of his cheek and seemed to be thinking.
“I tried,” Carli shrugged. “I just never know where to start.”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now,” Mr. Hadfield agreed. He took a deep breath and folded his hands in his lap, then looked at N.T. directly. N.T. was very excited and eager but did a good job of keeping a calm exterior.
“So, I may be alive in this dream, but I’m not alive in real life. That’s the beauty of dreams—-you can live in ways you can’t in real life. Dreams allow us to live our wildest fantasies, where our imagination feels vividly like real life. Something shocking happens in a dream, and your heart races in real life. Something beautiful happens in a dream, and while you’re dreaming, you feel like you’re really there, seeing that beautiful thing. You see someone who passed away, and for that moment, in your dream, you believe that you are with them again.” Mr. Hadfield looked down at his lap and blinked meaningfully.
“I have always loved dreams,” he continued, looking back at N.T. “That’s why I dedicated my life’s studies to them. I refer to myself as a Dreamist, because I tried to use science and dream studies to do more with dreams than just interpret them. What I discovered during my lifetime led me down a most incredible path of possibilities.”
Mr. Hadfield gestured at Carli. “When you dream—-when anybody dreams—-that’s magical. Isn’t it? Can’t you feel it? There’s something so beautiful and powerful about dreaming. I discovered that it really is magical. When someone dreams, there’s this inexplicable ‘dream dust’ that is created in real life. This dream dust manifests and floats out into the world and makes things more beautiful. When a child dreams about love and happiness, the world becomes a better place. When a teenager dreams about becoming a doctor to save others, that good will manifests and improves the world. When an adult dreams about a magnificent sunset, they are creating beauty in the world.”
As Mr. Hadfield spoke, N.T. became more and more hooked on his every word.
“The dream may not directly affect the world. For example, if a child dreams of a tabby cat large enough to ride upon, that doesn’t mean that cat will come to life. But there is just a little more joy in the world because of that child’s imagination. It’s small, but when many people dream, the world improves. If many people dream of love and happiness, the magic of that dream dust starts to accumulate.” Mr. Hadfield’s eyes shifted and gazed out the window of the shop as he spoke.
“I wrote the Encyclopedia of Dreams to document all my favorite dreams throughout my lifetime. As I grew older, my dreams became stronger and more tangible to me. I would wake up with such a vivid dream that I was sure it wasn’t just a dream. What you have become absorbed in, N.T., is a collection of my dreams, an accumulation of all my memories mixed with my fantasies, mixed with my expectations, mixed with everything else I experienced or thought of during my life. That’s what dreams are, a blend of everything you’ve experienced and everything you want to experience.”
SO YOU CREATED EVELAND? N.T. wrote on his notepad.
“Yes, that was one of my dreams,” Mr. Hadfield replied. “We had many cats in my household! Margaret was always taking in stray cats.”
N.T. thought for a second before writing. He didn’t want this question to make him sound foolish, but he wanted to clarify. THAT MEANS YOU REALLY ARE MARGARET’S FATHER? He had known a little about Margaret’s father, but never quite knew his name.
Mr. Hadfield pointed at his nose. “Precisely.”
SHE IS A FRIEND OF MINE. I WAS AT HER HOUSE. THAT’S HOW I WOUND UP HERE, N.T. explained.
“I’m sure,” Mr. Hadfield said. “My Encyclopedia of Dreams was so jam-packed with the magic of dream dust, that anyone who wasn’t used to it would have easily become enchanted by it. In real life, you are merely asleep right now, cast under the heavy spell of dreams.”
SO I’M NOT ACTUALLY IN A BOOK? I COULD WAKE UP AT ANY TIME? N.T. asked, thinking about all the terrifying things that had happened to him in the Encyclopedia that would normally have woken him up from his dreams.
“Well, theoretically, yes. But you’re not here for no reason… We need your help.”
N.T. looked at Carli, who nodded, then looked back at Mr. Hadfield. He went on.
“There are dreams, and then there are nightmares. Nightmares are like dreams, except they prey on your fears and pain. Nightmares happen when someone feels troubled, and they do not produce dream dust. They produce something else, which complicates the world. Nightmare dust is not as powerful as dream dust, but it still exists, and it’s not pleasant.”
N.T. tilted his head.
“A long time ago, I took a look at my town of Spinesville, and I thought I could make it better. I thought that if I could create a machine—-a dream filter, I called it—-I could channel dream dust at the town, and remove the nightmare dust. I thought I could improve the hearts of people by sweeping away the bad and aiming the good dream dust at it.”
Mr. Hadfield cleared his throat. “Basically, it just filtered what was already there. All the beautiful dreams of the people would stay and help the good will of the town, and all the nightmares of people would be whisked away. I built this machine. And it worked—-for a little.”
“Spinesville started improving and people began helping each other,” he continued. “It was great! But then it began to malfunction, a little, and the coordinates got messed up. Soon, the dream filter wasn’t aiming dream dust at the town anymore. It was aiming the dream dust at the pines by the Hadfield house, up in the mountains, where Margaret still lives.”
YES, I LIVE BY THE PINES TOO! N.T. added, and Mr. Hadfield nodded. THEY ARE STILL A WONDERFUL PINE FOREST.
“Wonderful indeed,” Mr. Hadfield agreed. “So wonderful that… Things in real life became very enchanted.”
“Enter: me!” Carli suddenly chimed in, nearly hopping up and down on the edge of her seat. “And the pine sprites!”
N.T. looked at her somewhat incredulously.
“So, the pines are quite magical themselves, and combined with the dream dust, which the dense pine forest so thoroughly kept within its branches… The pines began literally creating fantasies. Bringing dreams to real life.”
N.T. didn’t understand. HOW COULD THAT HAPPEN?
“Well, when you have so much powerful dream dust compacted into one area… Ned, do you study the cosmos at all? Before a star forms, it’s just debris and gases, swirling around space, like a nebula. Eventually, when you get enough of that in one place, the pressure sort of condenses and forms it, and a star is born. My theory is that it’s a similar process for brining dreams to reality.”
As Mr. Hadfield spoke, N.T.’s jaw began to fall open.
“I know, it’s incredible!” Mr. Hadfield said, laughing. “So the pine sprites, who had previously only existed in my dreams, became real into our world. And so did many other forms, from other people’s dreams. Things in the pine grove began to get very, very enchanted.”
CARLI, I HAD NO IDEA! N.T. wrote, speechless—-as always—-and incredulous. Carli was created from Mr. Hadfield’s dream? That was nuts!
Carli giggled, clearly enjoying N.T.’s amazement.
Mr. Hadfield smiled at the energetic little sprite and turned to N.T. again. “Carli,” he gestured, “likes to weave in and out of the dream world. She and her fellow pine sprites are some of the few creations with that ability. It sounds diabolical to phrase it like this, but she sort of takes care of things in the real world for me. When she mentioned you once to me, about your being the Diplomat of Flowers, I stopped her because I wanted to know more about you.”
“Anyway,” he said, waving away that tangent. “I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but I need your help with the dream filter.”
N.T. was a little overwhelmed. Me? They need my help? What could I possibly do for them, that they can’t? He wondered. He clamped his hands together nervously.
“You know how the dream filter separated the dream dust and nightmare dust?” Mr. Hadfield explained, making strong eye contact with N.T. to make sure he was following. N.T. nodded. “Well, that means the nightmare dust had to go some place, right? While the dream dust was supposed to aim towards Spinesville but ended up redirecting dream dust to the pines, the nightmares were aimed at a particular cave on the other side of the mountain.”
N.T. had never been to the other side of the mountain, and now he certainly didn’t want to venture over there!
“The cave contained the nightmare dust very well, because the cave is very deep and nightmares like to stay there. Fortunately, when the dream filter messed up, nightmare dust continued to go to the cave. I was working on an updated version of the dream filter when my mortal self passed away, so I never had the opportunity to build the new one to fix it.”
Carli yawned and laid down on her chair. Both N.T. and Mr. Hadfield ignored her, although N.T. briefly thought how ironic it was that Carli was yawning while in a dream.
“The dream filter was fine, for the most part, until recently… You see, this snow storm that the real world is experiencing right now kind of threw a couple things off for the dream filter, and it’s not working the way it should right now. The snow storm is only getting worse, and Carli informed me that the power even went out in the real world. The nightmare dust is currently getting dispersed among the pines, and I’m worried… that bad things might happen to Margaret if nightmare dust is rampant in the pine grove. That means nightmares will start coming to life, and I never wanted that. Margaret always believed in me and my dreams, and I… I want to protect her,” Mr. Hadfield said, his voice turning to a whisper. He leaned his elbow on the arm rest of his chair and set his chin in his hand, staring at the floor.
N.T. thought about everything Mr. Hadfield had told him and tried to piece more of it together. He thought about earlier that evening, in the real world, and how he wound up falling into this dream. As he wrote it, he wondered if his question sounded like an accusation, but he was legitimately curious. DID YOU MAKE THAT BRANCH CRASH THROUGH MY WINDOW?
Mr. Hadfield glanced at N.T.’s question and sat up straight. He waited a moment before responding. “I don’t really have that sort of control, so no. I did know that you were already having a nightmare about trees falling onto your house, and the dream filter misguided your nightmare dust, which ended up coming to life. I’m still able to monitor the dream filter’s activity, so when I saw that your window had cracked, I knew help might be on the way. Your help, specifically.”
N.T. didn’t know how he expected Mr. Hadfield to respond, but he wasn’t upset at all. He thought about if he wanted to help Mr. Hadfield, who seemed like a good man who merely got himself in a jam. Besides, he really wouldn’t want any mischief to befall Margaret, who had only ever shown him kindness and hospitality. And even though she wasn’t N.T.’s mother, he did feel a sense of duty and loyalty to help her whenever possible. In the moment of quiet that followed Mr. Hadfield’s response, N.T. resolved that he would help the man, no matter what. For the sake of Margaret, and for the sake of whatever consequences might affect the pines and the town of Spinesville. Spinesville was his home and there were so many people with good hearts and family and aspirations, that he was sad at the thought that some nightmares could manifest and destroy any of that. He would help Mr. Hadfield, for the sake of the community.
OKAY, N.T. wrote slowly, thoughtfully, on his notepad. I WILL HELP. He showed the message to Mr. Hadfield, who smiled. Carli couldn’t see the message, so she had to fly next to Mr. Hadfield to read it.
“Cool!” she shrieked, twirling in the air. “We’re gonna save the day!”
N.T. felt a pump of excitement flow through his bones, and Mr. Hadfield clapped his hands together and said, “Thank you, thank you so much.” The way his voice sounded so grateful, N.T. was happy he decided to help. “I knew you were special from the moment I very first conceived of you–” Then, resolutely, Mr. Hadfield stopped himself and declared, “All right, N.T. You’re going to fix the dream filter! Now here’s what you have to do…”
*To be continued, in Part IV of N.T. Ed and the Encyclopedia of Dreams! Next Friday, find out if N.T. is able to fix the dream filter and save the world from nightmares!
More Tales of N.T. Ed:
- N.T. Ed’s Pines
- N.T. Ed, the Diplomat of Flowers
- N.T. Ed and the Jack of Tricks
- N.T. Ed Finds his Voice
- N.T. on the Desk
Also, be sure to check out my Slanted Spines collection on Bonfire! Wear N.T. Ed and promote Slanted Spines by purchasing one of the styles below! Sale goes until February 7! Visit www.bonfire.com/slanted-spines-diamond-design