The stunned-looking woman sat up in her waterbed as she watched Lexine Lark take out her book of bedtime stories.
“Oh, Sparrow,” she said, “I am not even sure you can riddle this dream mystery in time because the same thing happens to me every night!”
“And that is?” asked the Dream Detective.
“Just as I hit an important part of my dream, someone in a funny uniform comes up and says I have to pay money to continue the dream, or it will end! I always say no, and I always wake up!”
“Hmm,” said the Sparrow, “That sounds like a case of a Dream Toll.”
“A Dream Toll? People have to pay to dream these days?”
“No, it is a condition that happens every once in a while, but yours is the first time it is recurring, and that is concerning. Someone in the dream world knows you are the keeper of some very important solutions to riddles, and is tricking you awake by means of a Dream Toll.”
“How very inconsiderate and dastardly.”
“We will get to the bottom of this tonight.”
“But what if I am asked to pay the Dream Toll? Should I pay it?”
“You will not need to as I have the pass.”
“Oh, good, perhaps now I can find out what the big secret is.”
“You will, but first you have a choice of bedtimes stories. One is about four dogs who ran out to play in traffic, and the other is about a man who became a troll to frighten all the pixies in the world.”
“I will take the story about the troll and pixies because if a dog gets hit by a car in your story, I will shed more tears than this waterbed can hold!”
The Sparrow told her story and the woman soon fell asleep and soon the two met in the middle of the road where there were four lost dogs running about in traffic.
“Great,” groused the woman who frowned, “Just my luck I don’t pick the story that probably had the answer to this horrible problem, and now these four dogs will probably all get run over in front of me, turning this into a nightmare! I would rather be awoken because I won’t pay a silly dream toll than be jolted awake because I failed four doggies in need!”
“Now, now,” reassured the Sparrow, “There are no cars here, and we can save these dogs.”
“But how? They just run away if we try to catch them because we are not their owners.”
“This is the dream world, and they are in your dream.”
“Oh!” said the woman in realization, “Of course! How silly of me! Come here, doggies! Let’s go to my dream house for some snacks and belly rubs!”
The dogs all happily came to the woman and walked single file behind her as she began to strut.
“No wonder they pay you the big bucks to be a dream detective,” said the woman as they reached her dream home, “It’s all very simple for you.”
Just as the Sparrow was about to reply, she heard someone call out to her.
“Yoo hoo! Lexy! Over here!”
She turned around and waved to her friend Madreselva, otherwise known as the Heart Collector.
“Madreselva! What a wonderful surprise! What brings you by this woman’s dreams?”
“Oh, just the usual, I have a letter to give to her as someone wishes to give a grain of hi heart to her.”
The woman made a face of disgust. “Yuck! How macabre! Who would cut out his heart to give to someone else? How frightful!”
“But…” began the Heart Collector but the woman’s retching and shivers drowned out her explanations. She turned to the Sparrow and gave her the letter. “Maybe you can give it to her when she calms down and explain it is a spiritual grain, not a physical one. What an idea!”
“She is forgetting the ways of the dream world because she is always be forced awake – and that is a vital clue.”
“At least something good came out of it. After this, why don’t you come over to my place in Eden so we can have a beautiful lunch and then go to the fashion shows to see all of the latest styles this season in paradise.”
“Oh, that does sound beautiful! I will, and thank so much for your help.”
The Heart Collector waved goodbye as the Sparrow calmed down her client and explained the contents of the envelope, which the woman snatched and opened, looking at it and frowned once more.
“What is the matter?” asked the Sparrow.
“What’s the use of this grain now?”
“What do you mean?”
“This man died many years ago. I cannot reciprocate this love, as much as I felt the same way about him. I bet it has to do with this mean-spirited Dream Toll! It’s all a plot…wait a minute! The other story was about a man who turned into a troll to bother all the pixies in the world! I bet he is the culprit behind my sorrows! Come on, doggies! Let’s find this bad man and kick him in the shins!”
“Oh dear,” said the Sparrow, “My client is jumping ahead of things without any evidence, and I can see the Dream Toll ahead. If she wakes up before she finishes her dream, she will be convinced that her theory is right.”
The Sparrow fluttered ahead as the woman marched angrily, but just as she reached the man in the funny uniformed, he took one look at the Sparrow, gasped, and ran away.
“Stop! Dream thief!” said the woman who chased after the man as her four dogs chased him as well.
But the Sparrow studied the scene very careful and nodded, “That important clue cracks the case wide open!”
She flew ahead of the man in the funny uniform and stop him as he tried to hide his face from her.
“You are not a Puzzle Thief, Soul Squatter or a Dreamjacker, and if you were General Rem, you would not hide your identity from me.” The Sparrow yanked the hat off the man, revealing her own lost love, Doros who once was known to the dream world as the Keeper of the Seeds.
“Doros, what is the meaning of all this? This woman has done nothing to deserve it, and it took you a long time to get yourself out of the Dangerous Realm. Why did you try to bring me here by means of a Dream Toll?”
“Because you won’t talk to me anymore.”
“I am talking to you now.”
The woman stormed up and kicked Doros in the shins.
“Oww!” he shouted.
“Take that! And that! Shame on you for messing up my very important dreams! Shame on you for keeping the man who loved me away from me until it was too late! And shame on you for trying to trick your old girlfriend at my expense! If there were proper authorities to report you, believe me, I would, you dream troll! I am doing back to my dream – and if I ever catch you trying to shake me down for a dream toll ever again, I will punch you in the nose!” She turned to the Sparrow and shook her hand. “Thank you, Sparrow for undercovering this horrible ploy. I understand the dream I rejected represented the problem I could not face, while the dream I chose showed me how to solve it. Imagine, people like that messing up the dreams of nice people like me. Shame on you, Doros! Shame on you! I can handle the rest of my dream from here as my doggies and I are going to find that troll trying to terrorize pixies. Goodbye, Sparrow, and I hope your dreams are more pleasant than mine were this evening! My word!”
The woman stomped off with her four dogs running happily behind her as the Sparrow looked at the former Keeper of the Seeds.
“Your melancholy is causing no end of headaches in the dream world,” said the Sparrow, “Your bedtime stories have been so dark and dreadful, that you have made many dreamers cry and fear to dream.”
“You won’t talk to me anymore, not the way you used to talk to me. All I did was purpose to you on the Ninth Cloud, and then we were torn apart. Before I knew it, I was a prisoner of General Rem’s and the only way to save me was for you to give me a kiss goodbye, and even after all that, I am forced to make amends by taking over your job by going into the meanest people’s dreams, and then even then I am abused. I went into the Dangerous Realm to cease my existence, and then you tumble right on top of me, and even then, you said we cannot get back together.”
“Doros,” said the Sparrow kindly, “How can we get back together when we were happy and kind, and some invisible force tore us apart and threw us in horrible places? We could get back together, but the danger is still there, waiting to tear us apart over and over for infinity. Is that not an important clue?”
“I never thought about it that way.”
“And how do you expect to solve the riddles of paradise by being melancholy and doing horrible things by charging a Dream Toll? It is shameful, even for a broken-hearted man to do. Good night, Doros, and pleasant dreams.”
With that, the Sparrow vanished, and Doros was left standing alone in a strange place in a stranger’s dreams where there were whispering pixies gossiping about the exchange and a troll staring at him wondering what the strange man was doing standing in a dream that was not his.
Doros turned around and walked away, more confused than he ever was in his existence.
He had his own dream mystery to solve, and he had no idea where to begin or how.
The four dogs who ran out to play in traffic
There once were two neighbors who had two dogs each. One owner had two big dogs, while the other had two small dogs, and there was no end to the bickering of which kind of dog was better: a big dog or a small dog.
The fights and debates went on for days, and the rest of the neighbourhood had become so fed up with the fights that they all took cats for pets instead for they never wanted to hear the word “dog.”
The bickering went on for months until the day all four dogs were sick of the comparisons and they all made a pact to run away someplace far away from their squabbling owners.
But as they were all sheltered dogs who never had to fend for themselves a day in their lives, they had no idea where to do or what to do. They vowed to stick together no matter what and decided to go wherever their path took them.
But the only paths they ever encountered was the sidewalk by their homes where their owners took them for a walk every day. So they took that path and continued on until they reached the highway and watched the cars speed one way and the other in front of them.
“What are those things doing?” asked a small dog.
“I don’t know,” replied the big dog, “Perhaps they are playing chasing games with each other.”
“That looks like a tough game,” replied the other small dog, “But I love when we chase each other in the yard.”
“Why don’t we try to chase those big things ourselves?” asked the other big dog, “If we get their attention, perhaps they will show us what other paths to take.”
As none of the dogs had a clue about traffic, they all happily agreed and began to run in traffic, chasing the cars that squealed their brakes and honked their horns in distress as they owners rolled down their windows and shouted, “You brainless mutts! What are you all trying to do?”
The dogs all looked at each other and seemed excited.
“Did you hear that!” said one of the small dogs, “These people in those big speeding things don’t see any differences among us!”
“Of course there aren’t any differences,” sniffed one of the big dogs haughtily, “We are dogs. We love to play and eat and nap and have our bellies rubbed. We love it when we are little, and we still love it even if we are big.”
“I never knew what the fuss was about, anyway,” said the other little dog, “And while I do not know what this fuss is all about, at least I know our owners used us as an excuse to squabble and not pay any attention to us.”
“And they wouldn’t let us play with each other,” complained the other big dog, “And I had a wonderful idea of tearing apart to sofa to see if it look different than tearing apart a wall.”
Just then, a woman pulled over to the dogs and opened her back door, “Get in here, you four troublemakers! I do not know how you became lost, but I am taking the naughty lot of you home with me!”
The dogs could not think of a better thing to do, and all hopped in with their tails wagging as they all then stuck their heads out of the windows and noted that regardless of size, they all loved the wind rushing through their fur.
Their owners never saw them again as they were too busy squabbling to notice their pets had left them for good.
And as for the four, they made a good home as they all made a terrible mess of the kindly woman’s sofa, carpet, and walls, but as she was good-natured, did not seem to mind, and the four were always proud that no matter what they looked like on the outside, their hearts beat as one on the inside.
The man who became a troll to frighten all the pixies in the world
There once was a man with a very sour disposition who had many pet peeves, but his biggest pet peeve of all was the idea of pixies.
He loathed the idea of little beings with wings who giggled and chattered in forests and that the very idea of a pixie made children happy, as happy children were his second greatest pet peeve.
“Bah!” groused the man, “I wish all pixies were banished so that children would stop giggling like fools and run out in the meadows and forests to look for them! They ought to just sit in front of the wall at home and be quiet. If I ever found a pixie, I would lock it in a drawer and keep it away from the world”
He had told of his wish to children, who called him a “mean old man” to his chagrin, but as neither the children nor the man would back down, tensions in the land only simmered as he eventfully became known throughout the kingdom as the Mean Old Man Who Hated Pixies.
The pixies all heard about the man’s desire to locked them in drawers and always kept away from him.
Then one day he overheard a bedtime story where the pixies were helpless against an army of trolls, and a very bad idea popped into his head.
“Aha!” thought the man, “If I became a troll, I could frighten all of the pixies in the world, and then children would stop giggling and looking for them, and then just stay at home and stare at walls in silence.”
He had no idea what it took to become a troll; so he went to the library and read every fairy-tale about trolls, and decided he would make himself look like one to fool the pixies.
He put on green grease, plucked out all of his hair and learned how to grunt and growl.
When the children all saw him, they screamed and ran away, delighting him no end.
“If I can fool the children, I can fool the pixies!” said the man and he strutted into the forest to scare off all of the pixies in the world so that children could be as miserable as he.
But when he entered the forest, he was met by a fearful sight: there was a stampede of terrified trolls running out of the forest as fast as they could.
“Run for your lives, fellas!” screamed the trolls, “The pixies have been unleashed!”
“Now see here,” said the irate man, “I read all the fairy-tales and they all said that pixies are terrified of trolls!”
“Those stories are written by fairies, and they are all comedy writers!” shouted one vexed troll, “They think writing stories about pixies being scared of trolls is supposed to be funny!”
Just as the man was about to object how could giant trolls be afraid of tiny pixies, the sky suddenly darkened as thousands of tiny, giggly pixies stormed out of the forest and began to chase the trolls.
“Let’s get them!” giggled the pixies who chased the screaming trolls who knocked down the man and trampled over him.
“Help!” shouted the man as suddenly a group of pixies came and lifted him up.
“Silly!” they giggled as they pointed their tiny fingers at him, “Why are you dressed like a troll?”
“Phooey,” said the man, “I was trying to scare the lot of you by pretending to be a troll…”
They all howled with laughter so hard that tears came out of their eyes and they held their bellies.
“But I see an army of real trolls are terrified of pixies.”
“We don’t know why trolls are so scared of us when we are very friendly,” said one of the pixies, “We go through forests and meadows helping sick plants and animals in need.”
“And making children happy,” said another.
“That’s the trouble,” said the man, “Their laughter annoys me.”
“But why?” asked another pixie who seemed the tiniest of the bunch, “When children are happy it makes the world stronger.”
“Well, they are laughing at me!”
“So?” asked the pixies, “They laugh at us, too.”
“And you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” said the pixies, “Because laughter means the heart is singing.”
“Hmm,” mused the man, “That is an interesting way of seeing it. I never thought laughter meant I was their muse! I must test a theory, but thank you for saving me from the trolls and myself!”
The man waved goodbye and then decided he would make a show for children to watch where he would do the silliest things he could think of to make children laugh. He became rich and prosperous as his shows were renowned across the world for children became so happy at his silly jokes and ways, that they made the world a stronger and happier place to live.
And when those children grew up, they always expressed gratitude to their hero – the man brave enough to make them laugh, and strong enough to give them the greatest gift of a singing heart…