Gale hadn’t sensed herself growing sleepy; rather, exhaustion overcame her all at once, like an attack. She slept and she dreamed. In those dreams, she watched from her perch in the tree as a woman with no skin ran through the undergrowth, only to be dragged down by a hideous leopard. As she screamed Gale’s name, it had been Sanura’s voice heard above the night sounds of the jungle. Next an army of corpses had marched into view, many in advanced stages of decomposition. They built a fire around the base of the tree in which she sheltered, and Gale tried to climb higher as the flames grew, but the top branches were full of coiled serpents. The burning tree trunk cracked and toppled beneath her, and Gale felt herself falling.
Then she found herself lying in an open glade, a natural clearing in the forest divided by a dirty stream. A small waterfall spilled over an embankment ahead of her, raising a mist which shimmered in the moonlight. As she watched, a man stepped from the waterfall, wading through the stream towards her. A man she knew.
“It’s you,” Gale said, standing.
She had seen this man in her dreams many times, starting when she had been a child. He looked like no one she’d ever met or seen, yet his face and features had become so familiar to her that she recognized him in an instant.
He always arrived in the dream in some mysterious way. Gale’s mother had often joked that he was the man Gale would marry, and that she’d know when she found him in real life. Gale always enjoyed her unconscious encounters with the man, though she had never so much as touched him in any of her dreams. This time, his presence brought with it a special comfort. It was as though he’d come to rescue her.
“I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” Gale asked.
The man carried a flower in one hand. He gave it to her. A tiny, pale blue flower.
“Thank you,” Gale said. “I’m glad you’re here.”
For the first time, the man touched her, clasping her hand in his own. Gale felt a sensation akin to a mild electric shock, though not painful. She nearly gasped, her eyes locked with his.
“Remember the way,” he said. As always, he spoke with an American accent.
“What do you mean?” Gale asked.
“When you’re running,” he said. “Remember the way back.” He smiled at her, turning away.
“Don’t leave me here alone,” Gale said, holding onto his hand.
“You’re not alone,” he said.
Then he was gone.