Have you ever had a dream in which you’re running to get somewhere, but no matter how much you try, you never seem to get there? It’s like you’re running so slow, even though you’re trying so hard, and sometimes it feels like you’re not even moving. Well if you do, then you know how N.T. felt, because N.T. Ed was currently running up a winding, mountain road, struggling to get to the dream version of his house; however, to him, it felt like he was making no progress at all.
Just earlier that evening, Ned Theodore Ed, the silent skeleton star of the story, had opened an enchanted Encyclopedia of Dreams and became mixed up in a dreamlike adventure! Along the way, he ran into his sprite friend, Carli, and the creator of the Encyclopedia of Dreams, Mr. Hadfield! But all that took place in parts one through three, and now, as N.T. perseveres up the mountain, we begin part four of his journey, in the black-and-white version of Spinesville, which was known as Hatfield.
Before N.T. had left Mr. Hadfield’s hat shop and started on foot up the mountain, Mr. Hadfield had coached N.T., preparing him for the tasks ahead.
“If you’re going to fix the dream filter, you’re going to need some supplies. Do you have access to basic tools in the real world?” Mr. Hadfield asked N.T. They were in Mr. Hadfield’s office, standing over his desk with the blueprints to the dream filter sprawled out in front of them. Mr. Hadfield stood with his hands on his hips and looked at N.T., who was next to him.
Mr. Hadfield’s office was exactly what you might expect from a Dreamist. In case you don’t have expectations of a Dreamist’s office, let me describe it for you: the walls and ceiling were painted royal blue, but because Hatfield was black-and-white, they looked dark gray, with little white lines and dots patterned across it, which represented different constellations. There was a very antique dream catcher in the corner, with delicate feathers dangling from it, and Mr. Hadfield had posters and diagrams hung up all over the walls, such as one poster advertising a “Sleep Potion” from the 1920’s, one was a diagram of a brain, another poster a sign for a “Dream Emporium” that was opening soon, in 1940… In the middle of it all, was Mr. Hadfield’s grand wooden desk, which was cluttered with trinkets and toys he pushed to the side, and a pillow that he had shoved in his bottom desk drawer when they walked in.
YES, N.T. wrote on his notepad, answering Mr. Hadfield’s question about tools. Mr. Hadfield nodded. N.T. wasn’t going to explain this in the moment, but he was somewhat of a handy-man. He thought about the paper-making machine he had built in his basement years earlier, and all the do-it-yourself projects he’d done over the years to fix up his cabin. He regularly chopped wood for his fireplace, and so tools were something he had a wide variety of, in his basement. In fact, that was what he used to board up his window earlier that evening, when the pine branch crashed through it. Now that he thought of it, that incident seemed like so long ago…
N.T.’s thoughts were brought back to the mission in front of him as Mr. Hadfield started talking again.
“Good, then on to the next issue: how to fix the dream filter. The dream filter is housed in the real world. First, you’ll need to know what’s wrong with it. Now, since I’ve been in the dream world, I don’t know specifically why the nightmare dust coordinates are off. You’ll need to memorize the blueprints so that when you see it in real life, you’ll be able to know what’s wrong.” Mr. Hadfield said all of this with confidence, but N.T. was feeling a little nervous. He would have to memorize how a machine he had never encountered operated? And then pinpoint what was wrong, and fix it? The consequences if he messed up seemed catastrophic. He worried that in the worst case, he would unleash nightmare dust onto the town of Spinesville, causing chaos and tension among the people’s lives.
Mr. Hadfield explained what he guessed was wrong with the dream filter, so that N.T. could have an idea of what he might need to look for. He spoke for a while about how he built it, and gave tips about how to take it apart and repair common errors with it. N.T. listened intently and asked a lot of questions on his notepad. He wanted to take notes about what Mr. Hadfield was explaining, but he knew when he woke up out of the dream world to fix it, he wouldn’t be able to take anything with him. He would have only what he could remember.
This worried N.T. as well, because oftentimes when he woke up from a dream, he would quickly forget it. In the first couple minutes after waking, he would be confused and feel like he were still in the dream, and then quickly he would forget what he had actually dreamt, even though he knew it was about something. He worried that this would happen tonight, when the stakes were so high!
As N.T. worried more, he began to bite at his fingers. Mr. Hadfield noticed this, and tried to ease N.T.’s nerves.
“I know this is a lot, but trust yourself, N.T. You already have a better understanding of the dream filter’s mechanics than most of the people I’ve ever tried to explain it to,” Mr. Hadfield said, putting a friendly hand on N.T.’s bony shoulder. “Don’t doubt yourself, because then you’ll make unnecessary mistakes.”
N.T. was appreciative of Mr. Hadfield’s kind words. Soon, they wrapped up N.T.’s training and rolled up the blueprints to the dream filter. Mr. Hadfield returned the blueprints to his office safe; they would remain in Mr. Hadfield’s shop in the dream world. The men left the office and returned to the main shop room of the hat store, where Carli was reading a book Mr. Hadfield had left out on the counter, Any Dream Will Do. She looked up as they appeared.
There was one last matter of business before N.T. and Carli set out.
“Carli can weave in and out of the dream world somewhat seamlessly, but you are not a practiced weaver like she is. You will need help Waking Up.” Mr. Hadfield held up a silky black sleeping mask.
“This is what the spirit of young Margaret brought to me, when you stumbled across us in the alley, earlier. It looks like a sleeping mask, but it is actually a waking mask. You will use this to wake up.”
As N.T. listened, Mr. Hadfield explained that N.T. would have to go to his house in the dream world to wake up. “There is a machine there that will help you wake up. It’s modeled after a bed, and it’s stored in my old workshop, the little cabin down the road from the Hadfield House.”
N.T. thought for a second. YOU MEAN, MY HOUSE? He asked.
“Well,” Mr. Hadfield said, handing the waking mask to N.T., “It’s not quite your house in this dream. Here, it is still my old workshop. But when you wake up, you will go to your house, because that’s where the dream filter still is, in the present day. In the attic of your cabin.”
The dream filter has been in my home this whole time? N.T. wondered. He thought back to all the strange things that had happened at his house over the years and if the dream filter had anything to do with it all, or if he was just naturally prone to bizarre activity. But, Mr. Hadfield telling him that the dream filter was actually located in his cabin didn’t really surprise N.T. that much, not after everything else. And somehow, the fact that it was in his home, which he was familiar with, made the task seem less daunting to him.
“Be quick, though,” Mr. Hadfield urged suddenly. “We have spent enough time talking. Now for action! Please be careful, and I wish you the best.”
It was after a couple brief goodbyes and last minute questions that N.T. and Carli set off on foot up the mountain, to Mr. Hadfield’s old workshop, or as we know it, N.T.’s house. Carli didn’t technically have to go to the workshop in order to wake up, but it was N.T.’s first time waking up from the Encyclopedia of Dreams, so she flew along with him in order to help him make it through.
Running up the mountain was a challenge, though. They would have driven, but all the cars in the dream were old, and N.T. didn’t know how to drive a gear shift! Also, sometimes in dreams, you don’t always think to do the most logical thing, and with the all the pressure to fix the dream filter before nightmares wreaked havoc, N.T. made a snap decision and started running. Plus, it made no difference to Carli, who was able to fly for long distances without getting as tired.
The world was still black-and-white, even in the mountains and pines. The sun in the Hatfield dream began to set, and dark shadows cast along the road. Carli provided a little burst of light to guide him along, but N.T. grew tired and nervous, his legs sore from the steep incline and winding roads. He felt he would never arrive at his house. He didn’t remember it being so far up the mountain!
“Come on, N.T.!” Carli cheered him along, flitting around him. “You may be tired, but the secret is none of this is real. You can power through! Mind over matter!”
Thinking about this helped N.T. keep going, and eventually he saw a familiar giant pine at the elbow of the road’s bend, and looked up the way to see the cabin front peeking out slightly from behind some tree trunks. Finally!
When N.T. and Carli reached his front porch, N.T. was out of breath and needed a moment to sit on the steps. Even though it was just a dream, his bones were slightly quivering from the hike. If he woke up and still felt sore, he would be amazed!
“I haven’t been inside his workshop for a long time,” Carli commented, with a tone of curiosity, eyeing up the exterior.
From the outside, the cabin looked almost the same as how he knew it, but less weathered, and the one step on the porch wasn’t slanted like how it was now. The windows were covered with curtains, and it was dark inside, just as it was starting to grow dark outside. With a turn of the front knob, the door opened and they stepped into Mr. Hadfield’s workshop.
They flicked on the light switch and took in their surroundings, the door closing behind them. It was the same ol’ cabin, and N.T. felt a longing for his home as he looked around the living room and at the fireplace, and the door to the bedroom.
The biggest difference was that the kitchen was just a utility sink and a work counter–no oven, no refrigerator, no toaster! Mr. Hadfield had tools, copper parts, metal pieces, nuts, bolts, oil cans, grease-stained rags, pencils, rulers, and goggles spread out all over what N.T. knew as the “kitchen.” Here, it seemed to be where he did most of his nitty-gritty work. There was a tool bench and a tool box where N.T.’s fridge was, and there were a few lamps set up and flashlights lying around. Either Mr. Hadfield was a messy worker, or he had left here in a rush!
In the “living room,” where the fireplace was, there was a large half-constructed machine built, set up on a wooden rack. N.T. looked at it carefully, and realized it had a similar structure to the dream filter. He wondered if this was the new and improved version Mr. Hadfield had mentioned he was working on.
Then, N.T. opened the bedroom, and was most pleased. It had the same spirit of Mr. Hadfield’s office—-constellations painted on the dark walls, more posters and diagrams tacked up, and sketches of inventions. There was a desk near the window, and a bed in the back corner. N.T. walked slowly throughout the room, reading all the posters and glancing at the drawings that laid out on the desk. He was looking at another vintage poster for a “Dream Emporium” that was above his desk when Carli flitted up behind him.
“That was one of Mr. Hadfield’s goals,” she commented, seeing that he was looking at the poster for a moment. “He wanted to open up a dream emporium for children.”
N.T. nodded, remembering seeing an article about it in the Eveland dream. That must have been a fragment of Mr. Hadfield’s consciousness that had crept up in his dream. N.T. was starting to see how a lot of the Encyclopedia’s dreams connected to Mr. Hadfield.
Then Carli fluttered away from N.T. and towards the bed, saying something about how she wanted another nap, and created a little breeze with her small, flapping wings, that just barely brushed the top paper on Mr. Hadfield’s desk to the side. Something caught N.T.’s attention, and his eyes fell to the page that lie underneath it, just the corner revealed.
He tilted his head, and with a gentle finger, slid the top paper to the side completely, revealing the entire paper underneath it. It was a detailed drawing, done in pen and ink, and as he picked it up thoughtfully, he noticed that beneath it, was another drawing, very similar.
N.T. picked up the other drawing, and noticed that there was a whole stack of drawings featuring the same thing. As he sorted through Mr. Hadfield’s pile of papers, he was astonished: they were all sketches of skeletons. Why were there so many drawings of skeletons? They looked just like N.T.
He was standing at Mr. Hadfield’s desk, holding a drawing of a skeleton in a bowler hat, when Carli flittered back to N.T., hovering over his shoulder. She looked at the drawing and then at N.T., who was still staring at the paper.
“Um,” Carli said, for once at a loss for words. She rubbed her hands together nervously.
N.T., who suddenly snapped out of his trance, set the papers back down on the desk and pulled out his notepad, scribbling hastily. WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT? WHO ARE THESE SKELETONS?
He flashed the notepad at Carli, who looked at her feet, suspended in the air in front of N.T. “Not skeletons,” she corrected, looking sheepishly at N.T. “Skeleton, singular. They’re you.”
N.T. frowned and looked back at the drawings. He recognized himself in all the drawings, but then again, he recognized himself in almost any drawing of a skeleton, and the real world was inundated with skeleton doodles and diagrams. But these—-these were specifically him?
“Have you ever wondered where you came from?” Carli asked, softly. “Have you ever wondered why you were a living skeleton, among humans, with flesh and organs?”
Too shocked to reply, N.T. made no movement or scribble. He merely stared at the drawings, feeling denial but struggling for acceptance. What did this mean? He felt like he couldn’t move.
“You’re like me, N.T.,” Carli continued. She looked at N.T. with care, putting a hand to her heart, but he still didn’t look at her. “You’re made from dreams.”
N.T. pulled out the chair from the desk, and sat down, staring into his hands folded in his lap. All these years he had wondered where he came from, he had questioned why him? Why a skeleton? Especially when everyone around him was normal. He questioned his origin for so much of his life, that eventually he learned that questioning it did him no good, and he had accepted his differences. Now he had his answer, and he didn’t know how he felt about it.
Why hadn’t Mr. Hadfield said something to him? Why had this been kept from him? N.T. tried to see it from Mr. Hadfield’s perspective, and figured that maybe he didn’t want to distract N.T. from his mission, or knew that N.T. was okay not knowing. And here, he had accidentally found the answer he had been asking his whole life.
Carli fluttered down and sat on N.T.’s folded hands so that he would have to look at her.
“Hey, Ned,” she said. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, looking away and then back at her.
“Just processing, huh?” Carli asked.
“I’m sorry I never told you,” she added. “I guess, I thought, it didn’t matter. But everyone deserves to know where they come from. It helps you piece together your identity. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
N.T. nodded again, the numbness dissipating. If anyone would understand how he felt, it would be Carli. He couldn’t be mad at her. He knew how hard it was to know something in your mind but not have the tools to say it out loud. Plus, she was right: it didn’t matter. It felt good to have a definitive answer about where he came from, but it didn’t change who he was. It didn’t change all the wonderful experiences he had in his heart, or who he was today. And who he was today was a hero. A hero who was going to save Spinesville, and his friend Margaret.
Finally, N.T. looked at Carli with a smile, and she instantly smiled back.
“There you go, bud.”
N.T. sat down on the bed that wasn’t a regular bed and held the waking mask in his hands. Carli had explained to him how it worked—-the bed held some ability to jolt a dreaming mind awake, and the mask would help with the transition so that he wouldn’t get caught halfway-asleep and halfway-awake. She had also promised to meet him in the real world at N.T.’s cabin, so she could help him fix the dream filter, in whatever way she could. Even if it was just moral support, N.T. was glad to know he’d have a friend there.
“Ready?” Carli asked. She was sitting on the nightstand next to N.T., and N.T. gave her a thumbs up. They had briefly discussed what N.T. had just discovered about his origin, but he wasn’t quite ready to talk about it yet, and they were on a bit of a time crunch, so they agreed to come back to that topic later.
“You’ll be fine,” she said. N.T. trusted her because she had so much experience traveling throughout dreams. “See you soon!”
He laid down on the bed, on top of the nicely made blankets. He wasn’t feeling afraid at all, because he knew that whatever happened, he could face it, either alone or with a friend. As he closed his eyes and set the waking mask on his face, a wave of alertness shocked N.T.’s chest and mind, and with a wave of static, he was jumping up out of bed, back in Margaret’s second floor guest room, in the dark, and blankets tangled around his body.
N.T. hit the floor after tumbling out of bed, landing on his back. He looked around frantically, his vision slowly adapting to the darkness. He could hear the wind howling outside; thoughts raced across his minds. Where was he? What had happened? He struggled to sort out what was reality. He remembered giant cats, a black-and-white city, running up a mountain.
The room was very dark, but he could see the shadowy bookshelves, the grand bed, the reading chair in the corner. He oriented himself a little; he was at Margaret’s house. The night’s events were a vague haze in his mind, and in his middle-of-the-night daze, he thought that all of his dreams were merely that: dreams. The more he thought about the dream, the more he was amused with his own imagination. He would have to write it down so he didn’t forget, and tell Margaret and Talia about this wild dreaming!
He went to turn on the light but the switch merely flicked and the room was still dark. No power? He thought. Suddenly he remembered a comment from his dream, a voice saying, “The power went out in the real world…” How strange, that he had had a premonition in his dream.
Instead, he lit a candle. The ones he had lit before falling asleep had all burned out, so he re-lit one on the end table beside the bed. He pulled out some of his paper and a pencil and groggily began jotting down notes from his dream.
The dim light from the candle cast long shadows across his paper, and his mind began to wander. As he wrote down “sprite,” he realized it had been Carli in his dream, and pieces of his foggy dream began materializing in his mind. He began to remember the hat rule, and a little girl running, and a man named Mr. Hadfield!
A wave of excitement flooded N.T., and he almost tossed the paper in a frenzy of energy, because it finally dawned on N.T. that his dream wasn’t a dream! Well, it was a dream! But it was a real dream!
He didn’t know how to explain it to himself, but quickly he remembered that he needed to meet Carli at his cabin, and repair the dream filter! Peeking out the window, he saw that the snowstorm was still raging on through the night and the wind was blowing the snowflakes sideways. Briefly he doubted himself—-what if he was just imagining all of this? What if he made it back to his house and the dream filter wasn’t there? Then he would have to face the repercussions of voyaging through a blizzard on the whim of a dream.
But, N.T. felt a sense of duty and decided to trust himself on this one. He had a very strong feeling that he should return to his cabin, and he would just have to bundle up and bring a flashlight. N.T. also decided not to think about the nightmares that may be lurking in the night forest.
In the dimly-lit room, he began pulling on socks and long-Johns, and as he was hopping around on one foot trying to get his pant-leg pulled up, he noticed a book lying on the floor by the bed, slightly pushed underneath. It was the Encyclopedia of Dreams. He looked at its shadowed cover thoughtfully, and felt even more empowered by his decision. He was going to face the snow storm and the nightmares. He was going to fix the dream filter.
*To be continued, Part V coming out next Friday!
Don’t miss out on any other of N.T.’s adventures! Read the rest of the Encyclopedia of Dreams series!
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