Cauldron of Dreams (Flash Fiction)

Devlin was hovering around my feet. Again. He always hovered when I was working. He danced around like a child needing to relieve himself. His diminutive size did nothing to help dispel the image.

“Do you need anything? I can get some of the ingredients for you.”

“I have everything I need,” I told him.

I leaned over the pot, watching the boiling contents change as I poured from my unlabeled bottles. Each one had a unique shape and color that told me what was inside. I trusted my memory more than I trusted labels. Labels could be changed. Not that I distrusted Devlin, he was loyal to a fault. But others had come and gone over the centuries, trying to change the recipe for their own reasons.

“Are they all in there?” asked Devlin. “All the dreamers?”

“Not the dreamers,” I told him. “Just their dreams. Every year I must make a new batch, and every year they recipe changes. Kingdoms rise and fall. Kings grow old and die. Young princes and princesses are born. New dreams must be created for the young, just as old dreams die away. So every New Year, I carefully craft a new batch of dreams for the dreamers.”

The wind from the open window blew in a gust of night air. A storm was brewing. The wind ruffled the pages of my open books, mixing the smell of dust with salt air from the unforgiving sea.

I crossed the room and shut the window, latching it closed. Through the mottled glass, I could see clouds in the distance. Lightning lit them with a momentary brilliance.

“Will there be rain?” asked Devlin. He loved to dance in the rain.

“Not likely,” I told him. “The storm is heading up the coast.”

Devlin sat down hard on his little stool and pouted. To lift his spirits, I added “We may get some rain tomorrow.”

The addendum to my weather forecast was met with skepticism. Devlin sat swinging his feet, staring at the cold stone floor. The thunder rumbling in the distance echoed his petulant mood.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. It was unlike Devlin to stay moody for more than a few moments. He had the mind of a child, and the attention span of a butterfly.

“Mrs. Book took away my cat,” he said. “She took away Jasper.”

“Did she say why?”

“She said Jasper was sleeping. And I couldn’t play with him no more.”

I struggled for a moment whether or not to try and explain the old woman’s meaning. The metaphor had obviously been lost on Devlin. I decided that a talk about death and its implications on domesticated animals could wait for another more appropriate time.

“Would you help me with this?” I asked, hoping to brighten his spirits. It worked. He instantly hopped off his stool, though he was still reluctant to meet my gaze. “I need you to put these bottles back and bring me the green bottle with the square bottom.”

Into his tiny fists he took the two bottles I offered and walked-skipped to the cupboard. He climbed his ladder and put the bottles in their correct place. Then, from the topmost shelf he could reach, he grabbed for the green bottle. He had to strain to reach it, but I let him do it without offering my assistance. To my relief, he managed to snag the bottle with a short hop, and worked his way back over to me without dropping it.

To keep his mind off his cat, I made a point of engaging him in the detail of my work.

“Do you know why I use dragon’s tears?” I asked.

He shook his head, but never looked up from the floor.

“Dragon’s tears are bitter. They make dreams turn sour.”

“I don’t like bad dreams,” said Devlin.

“If dreams were only good, dreamers would never awaken.”

I unstopped the bottle and let the acrid smell of dragon’s tears escape into the air. Two drops fell from the bottle into the pot, where the dreams of every man and woman swirled. Two drops might not seem like much in a pot bigger than Devlin, but it was enough.

“Almost finished,” I said.

“What’s left?”

“A fresh seed to represent a new beginning.”

I went to the cutting board and carved open a pumpkin three times the size of my head. Getting the blade through the rind was difficult work. After working the blade around, I pulled on the stem and removed the top. From within, I withdrew a single pumpkin seed and dropped it in the pot.

“That should do it, Devlin. A new pot of dreams for a new year.”

The brew swirled as it cooked over the low fire. The mixture turned dark for a moment then lit up with the yellow-brown color of a day-old bruise. From a distance, I thought I heard crying.

I looked at the table where I had left the green bottle of dragon’s tears — now empty.

“What did you do, Devlin?” He hopped from his stool and tried to run. I grabbed the man-child and shook him. “What did you do?”

“I wanted Jasper to wake up. So I poured in more dragon’s tears,” said Devlin, trying to escape my hold on him. “You told me people only wake up because their dreams turn bad. I know he won’t sleep now. He’ll wake up. Then we can play together again.”

The sound of screams echoed throughout the castle, and beyond the gates. Across the kingdom, everyone — from peasant to king — was crying out from their nightmares. There would be no sleep this night.

Or any night for the coming year.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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