My Aunt Eileen was
the only one in the family who understood me, and that was
weird, because I'd never met her.
Aunt Eileen sent me
the best presents.
When I was ten, and
my older brother Scott told me there were no such things as
fairies, Aunt Eileen sent me a scarf with fairies on it, and
they moved. They were dancing, and every time I looked at the
scarf they were in a different position.
When I was thirteen
and Scott found my diary and read parts of it out loud to my
friends who were at the house for a sleepover, resulting in my
social downfall (why did I have to describe my friends' worst
habits and flaws, even if only for myself?), Aunt Eileen sent me
a journal with a lock that really worked.
When I was fourteen,
Scott showed my boyfriend Brent, the love of my life,
embarrassing pictures of me with chicken pox. Brent faded out
of my life after that. Aunt Eileen sent me a friendship ring
with celtic knots that flowed into each other without end. I
had lost the love of my life, but I had her friendship, and that
counted for something.
I wrote Aunt Eileen
letters thanking her for the presents. I sent her little things
in return, a fat golden acorn with a perfect cap, a red-striped
agate I found on the beach, a bluejay feather. I didn't know
how she always found me the perfect present when I hadn't told
her why I needed it.
This year I was
fifteen. I wondered what Aunt Eileen had sent me for
Christmas. Scott hadn't done anything terrible to me lately,
maybe because I didn't have friends over anymore. I only had
two real friends, and we met at one of their houses. I hadn't
let Scott know who they were. He was in high school now and
could no longer watch me in the cafeteria to see who I was with.
I was still afraid
to date boys, though. I would have to tell my mother who I was
seeing, and Scott would find out from her, and I just knew he
would screw the whole thing up somehow. I was still sure Brent
was my one true love, though I'd been noticing another guy,
Doug, at school lately, and I knew he noticed me back. Well, a
lot of guys noticed me, but I just smiled.
Scott, Mom, and I sat on the floor near our little white-lighted
live tree. Dad had left a year ago. Mom said he would call us
in the afternoon, but I wasn't even sure if I wanted to talk to
him. I was still mad at him for leaving. Plus, he moved
halfway across the country so even if I wanted to see him I
We each passed out
the presents we could reach until there weren't any more under
the tree, and then we opened things. Scott tore through the
paper quickly to see what was inside. Mom watched him and
waited for "thank you"s he was too preoccupied to make, even
though she got him a new Wii (I guess she and Dad went in on it
Mom had fewer
presents — one each from me and Scott, one from Aunt Eileen, a
couple of presents she'd brought home from work — her coworkers
at the library had given them to her. She had a little stack of
Secret Santa gifts from work, too. She opened a present and
then waited a while, watching me and Scott.
I tried to slow
myself down, open one thing at a time and really look at it.
Mom had gotten me new pens, one of them a really nice fountain
pen, with special ink. Dad had sent me a new laptop. I really,
really wanted it, and I also wanted to hate it because it came
from Dad, but ultimately, I had to hug it. Mom had given me
stickers to personalize it with, owls and frogs and bats and
black kittens, and word processing software. So they must have
talked about this, too.
When Scott saw my
laptop, he tried to grab it. I hugged it tighter. I wanted to
plug it in right away, but not in the living room where Scott
could do something to it.
"Scott. Leave your
Scott ignored Mom,
the way he usually did when she told him to do something he
didn't want to. Finally I had to take my laptop up to my room
and hide it in a drawer.
My present from Aunt
Eileen was small, and I saved it for last. When I opened the
black ring box inside the blue paper, I found a small silver
seed lying on gold satin. There was a folded note with it. I
sat with the box in my hand and stared at it.
"What is it.
Damara?" asked my mother.
"A seed," I said.
"Whoever gave it to
you must not know about your black thumb," said Scott. "Maybe
you're supposed to eat it." He reached for the seed, and I
snapped the box shut and put it in my pocket. He tried to
pickpocket it later in the afternoon while we were having the
turkey. I excused myself and hid the box in my room, where
Scott was not allowed to go, though he went anyway. I wished
he'd find something else to do besides snooping on me all the
time. I made friends and Scott didn't, and he couldn't figure
that out. Maybe he thought I had the secret in my room.
In the afternoon, we
visited our cousins and aunts and uncles. Cousin Peter locked
Scott in the closet for most of the visit and nobody noticed; we
were all playing a noisy game most of the afternoon.
We came home tired.
I was ready for bed. I went to my room, locked the door, got
out the seed, and unfolded the note.
"Dream Seed," it
"Plant this in dirt,
water with tears or milk, wait a night, and see what grows."
I snuck downstairs
and got a teacup full of dirt from the garden, and one of milk
from the fridge. Back in my room, I planted the silver seed in
the dirt and watered it with milk. I sat cradling the seed cup
and thought about Scott, the way he sabotaged me and made me
scared. I managed one tear that dropped into the milk-wet dirt.
I set the cup on the
dresser and went to sleep.
When I awoke the
next morning, a boy sat on my desk chair, watching me. He was
dressed in green leafy things that covered everything about him
but his face and hands. His hair was wild and dark. His face
was peaceful. He smiled when he realized I was looking at him.
He didn't scare me,
and I didn't know why. I sat up. "Who are you?"
"Ranir," he said.
I saw that a vine
grew from the teacup on the dresser down to the toe of Ranir's
"Are you my dream?"
"Am I? Maybe you're
mine." He smiled again. "Who are you?"
He came to my bed.
The vine attached to his toe broke off. He sat on my bed,
leaned toward me. I was afraid. He smelled like sagebrush and
clean dirt, and his eyes were gold-flecked brown.
"What—" What had
Aunt Eileen sent me? I hadn't been dreaming about anything like
him. "What do you want?"
"I want to know
you," said Ranir.
"Why?" I huddled in
"It's time someone
knew you. You've been alone long enough."
I didn't want
anybody to know me, what I was really like underneath. Whenever
anyone got close, all Scott had to do to drive them away was
show them something more about me, my hidden thoughts, my ugly
past, all the things I had never showed my two new best friends.
"You won't like me,"
"I'm your dream," he
said, and leaned closer. His breath smelled of honey. I closed
my eyes and sensed his warmth. His lips touched mine, so warm
and soft, and they tasted of ripe fruit. "Just tell me
everything," he whispered.
I didn't even
speak. Somehow all I had been, all I was, all I hoped to be was
between us, and he breathed me in. He leaned closer and hugged
me. At first I held back, but then I leaned against him. He
was warm and smelled like jasmine and honeysuckle. He knew me,
he understood me, and he loved me.
Then he vanished,
leaving nothing but a few silvery petals and a dusting of gold
on the bed.
I lifted one of the
petals and it disintegrated between my fingertips. But that
moment when he had loved me, that sat inside me, solid and
forever. No matter what else happened, I knew I could hold onto
About the Author:
Over the past twenty-some years, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold
adult and YA novels and more than 250 short stories. Her works
have been finalists for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic,
Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, and Endeavour awards. Her first novel
won a Stoker award.
Nina's young adult novel Spirits That Walk in Shadow and
short sf novel Catalyst came out in 2006. Fall of
Light is due from Ace in May, 2009.
Nina does production work for the Magazine of Fantasy &
Science Fiction and teaches writing through her local
community college. She also works with teen writers. She lives
in Eugene, Oregon with several cats and many strange toys.
Story © 2008 Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Photo by