When I was about seven years old, I had a dream. I was in Dad's workshop, and I watched, rooted to the spot, as Dad picked up one of his chairs and slowly began using his plane on it. He stared straight at me while he was doing this, as though he needed to concentrate more on me than he did on his work. And as he did so, the work eerily began to proceed in reverse. Curls and chips and bits of sawdust flew up from the floor and clung to the chair as Dad planed it, and the more he worked on it, the rougher and less chair-like it became, until finally it had transformed back into a young tree. And then the shadows closed in on the tree, and it vanished. For some reason, due to the kind of internal logic common to all dreams -- the kind that dissipates and vanishes as you rise up to consciousness -- the scene was threatening, terrifying. I screamed myself awake, and Mum and Dad did everything they could think of to blunt my terror, but they couldn't console me. Finally they let me sleep between them, where the dream couldn't come back.
It's come back again. And now it's worse, because now I know what it means.
The chair, with all the marks of my father's beautiful workmanship, is coming undone. My father stares at me as he slowly, methodically destroys his work. I don't want to meet his eyes. I don't want to see what he's doing. But this is a dream, and I do not have the choice of looking away.
And because I cannot look away, because I must steel myself to face this scene that fills me with such dread, I see something I didn't perceive when I was seven. Dad is staring as he does his work, yes. But he is not actually staring at me, nor at something near me or behind me. I come closer, moving my head out of the way of that intense gaze, and his eyes do not track me. And then the thought floods my mind: Dad cannot see. He is blind to the task before him.
I wake abruptly, shaking with fear and cold. The deserted summer cabin that I found half-buried in the snow is only minimally warmer inside than out. There's no insulation to speak of, and all it has for heating is a small wood stove, put in as an afterthought for chilly summer nights. I've piled all the available blankets onto one bed and tried to burrow in for the night, but my core temperature has dropped too much and I can't generate enough body heat. My mind is fuzzy and unfocused and I can't remember the spell for heating objects. I'll have to go out in the dark and cold and find wood for the stove.
Unlatching and opening the back door is a body shock, as the cold hits me like a solid wall. At least the wind has gone, but so has the light of day; I can see only by the faint reflection of ambient light off the snow. There just has to be something to burn out here. I have to find it quickly; not only is the intense cold a danger to me, but I am darkly haunted by the lingering images of that dream. And the dark thought that defines the other side of my odd existence, the one I never allow myself to linger upon, rises up in the front of my cold-addled mind: when absolutely no one else on earth knows you exist, there's no one to come looking for you when you're in danger.
I'm not sure why my seven-year-old self had the dream in the first place. I don't think I had any special insights back then; I never demonstrated a gift for seeing into the past or the future. Still, there must have been some part of my mind that understood, in some deeply buried place -- perhaps the very place where the knack for magic dwells -- that something was wrong.
There has to be something to burn.