Prologue Onstage, a dream is unfolding.
The theatre’s lighting department has outdone itself—somehow managing to perfectly re-create the amber glow of a late-afternoon sun, right down to the dappled and dancing light through the leaves. The set builders have grown giant sunflowers that tower on the stage, and the actors have transformed themselves into dragon-sized bumblebees, emerging from the flowers with their fuzzy bodies covered in golden pollen. Even the air in the theatre feels crisp and edged with the smell of apples.
A great wind starts blowing, and yellow leaves begin swirling around the stage, some blowing out into the theatre and over the velvet-covered seats. The leaves change to snow, and the stage is transformed—now a lone lantern glows through the fluffy flakes, the ground sparkles like a million tiny moons, and the air smells of nutmeg, gingerbread, and a hint of pine.
This is the magic of the theatre; the way the creaking floorboards seem to speak in their own language; the way every prop, light, and velvet seat seem to know the audience by name; the way a stage can also be bumblebees and lanterns, cinnamon, and snow.
This is where dreams are written, says the creaking floor.
This is where dreams are born, built, brought to life, say the blinking lights.
This . . . is the Lunarian Grand. But then, the sweet smells begin to sour, and the big, beautiful flakes of snow begin to whip in the wind, turning to hail, then lashing sleet. The theatre goes cold—colder than cold—causing icicles to form below the box seats and balcony.
Something is stalking through the snow. Something is crushing fallen branches. Something is howling with a crylike screeching tires. The footsteps come closer and closer, carrying something wrong, something bad, something that smells of fear and darkness and something worse, far worse, too awful to even imagine.
“Cut!” yells the Director. “Wake up!”
“Wake up. Wake up!” join in the rest of the cast and crew.
“Wake up,” I whisper, less sure than the rest. “Wake up, it’s only a dream . . .”
A Brief Explanation of the Prologue Only a dream?
you’re probably saying. Was that whole prologue just a dream? But I HATE when writers do that. It’s lazy! Just stay in reality, pal.
Don’t worry, I totally agree. Lazy, lazy, lazy.
Well . . . that is . . . except in this one, specific, very particular case. Because, you see, dreams are
Hey! Come back. Where are you going? Okay, okay, I can see I’m starting to lose you. How to explain, how to explain . . .
Let’s see . . . have you ever woken up from a dream and thought, What was THAT? My auntie Gertrude shaped like a giant platypus waddling through my middle school while singing the word “farfanoogle” over and over?
Well, that dream? That was us! Or a dream theatre just like us. We built the middle school set, one of our actors played Aunt Gertrude the platypus, and our orchestra performed the Farfanoogle Waltz in Zzz Minor.
That’s because we are the members of the Lunarian Grand Theatre, affectionately referred to among ourselves as the Dreamatics. Every night we perform the dreams of one Luna Grande, age ten and three-quarters. Well, every night until tragedy struck and changed everything forever.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning . . .
The Weather Closet
Someone hadn’t fully closed a jar of winter in the weather closet, and everything was covered in drifts of snow. Again
Frost glazed the bottles of wind and the jugs of raining rain, and I had to dig to find the glass orbs of sunsets I’d been sent for in the first place. I finally found the one that Nox had told me to find—“colored peach pie with clouds à la mode, fading into a melted sherbet horizon.”
“Team, your desire for a snowball fight later,” said the Director, “is not an excuse to leave winter open in the set department again and give . . . uh . . . Whozamacallit here frostbite.”
I smiled and shook the snowflakes from my overalls. Sure, call me Whozamacallit. Or Whatsername. Or So-and-So. I answered to them all. Who needs to learn the name of the lowliest of low assistants?
(It’s Dormir, by the way. My name, that is.)
“Sorry, boss,” said Nox, our set designer. “My bad. Also, you said you wanted to change the snow for tonight’s performance? What kind of snow d’ya want?”
“Ugh, must I do everything?” asked the Director. “Just make it romantic. Make it fun.” She was wearing one of her usual stress-related T-shirts, which always featured things like a picture of a lightbulb saying “I’m burnt out!”or a head of lettuce saying “Romaine calm!” Today was another classic—a cat shouting “DON’T STRESS MEOWT!”
“We’ve got all the kinds of snowy precipitation,” continued Nox. “Ice pellets, blizzard, squall, thundersnow . . .”
think ‘thundersnow’ sounds romantic?” asked the Director.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Nox, putting her dirty work gloves on her hips.
“Something unique,” continued the Director. “Something poetic.”
“Unique . . . poetic . . . well, we have one thing, fairly rare,” said Nox. “It’s called watermelon snow.”
“And that is . . . ?”
“It’s technically caused by a red-colored green algae called Chlamydomonas nivalis,
” said Nox with the poetry of a snowplow.
The Director stared, bewildered.
“It’s pink,” said Nox. “Pink snow. It happens in the real world.”
I didn’t hear the end of the conversation, as I had plenty of my own work to do before the theatre opened for the night.
Not that I was complaining. I may have been a lowly-low assistant, but I was lowly-low at the Lunarian Grand
, which was, in my humble opinion, the most majestic, magical, beautiful theatre in the entire universe. I was sawing, nailing, painting, and rigging most of the time, sure, but I was also part of the show.
I felt the tingling excitement every time the houselights dimmed, knew every line by heart, and whispered them under my breath from the wings, loving every moment, but knowing that I would never be in the spotlight. You will never bask in that kind of glow,
I’d tell myself. You will never capture moments, say things unsaid, stir hearts, feel the thrill of the unknown. You will always be only what you are: a lowly stagehand, a set painter, an assistant to all, but never the star.
I thought. Still
. Even a dream like me was allowed to dream.
The Lunarian Grand
“If it isn’t the wizardess of illumination,” I said to my best friend, Circadia, opening the door to the lighting department. “Need anything before the show?”
Circadia, her giant eyes magnified even more by thick glasses, looked up from her table of various-shaped lightbulbs. She had a giant-insect-genius-who-may-accidentally- demolish-the-theatre vibe about her.
“Dormir!” she said. “Check it out.”
“Uh, which one?” I asked, my eyes traveling around the room.
Every shelf, every wall, and most of the ceiling were covered with lamps, sconces, chandeliers, and lanterns. There was an acorn lamp that made the entire theatre fillwith giant shadows of trees, a bat light that made stalactites appear on the ceiling and balcony, and an orb pendant filled with fog that could engulf the space in mist. They ranged from pea-sized to a chandelier the size of a blue whale.
“I think I’ve got it,” said Circadia, pointing to the whale. “It illuminates the stage with the exact light of being underwater, with a hint of sky far, far above. Took me ages to get it just right.”
Circadia turned on the whale lamp, and even though I was used to her brilliance, the glow that filled the room still caught my breath—it was like we’d been plunged into deep blue-green water, and near the ceiling—which now looked like sunshine and water-blurred clouds—there were darting schools of fish like specks of twinkling silver. A jellyfish floated by, but when I reached out to touch it, my hand went right through it. Just another trick of the light.
“One of my new almost-favorites,” I said. I licked my lips and could swear I tasted salt water.
“Noted,” said Circadia.
This, I knew, was Circadia’s way of knowing someone better—much like anyone else might ask about a favorite band or movie or book, Circadia wanted to know about favorite kinds of light. Circadia’s favorite, which changed constantly, was currently “the flame of an over-toasted marshmallow.”
After my visit with Circadia, I checked in with Tuck (favorite light: the way sequins glittered onstage) in the costume department. Tuck was to wardrobe what Circadia was to light, and he made costumes that could transform any actor’s details—change their voice, walk, mannerisms, even their smell. The walls were lined with spools in every color, the strings all made from threads of memory.
“Need anything before the show?” I asked.
“Ooh, yes, could you try on this dragon scale cape?” said Tuck. “I’m having some trouble with the pyrotechnics.”
I let Tuck fit the hooded cape made of green scales over my head, and as soon as he did, I felt a tickling in my throat. I coughed once, twice, then POOF! A giant flame shot out of my mouth.
“Perfect,” said Tuck, removing the costume. “You okay?”
“It feels like I burned my tongue on hot soup.”
“Intriguing,” Tuck said, making a note. “What flavor soup?”
Next on my preshow rounds was Nox in sets (favorite light: moonbeams on dewy grass). Both her hands were filled with watering cans and she was holding one in her mouth as well, so I grabbed a can and started helping her with the watering.
“These buildings are coming in real nice,” I said, lookingat the saplings, which were shaped like wee skyscrapers.
The sets in the set department were planted by Nox as little seeds, then watered, fed, and grown to full beauty and size. It took just as long as building by hand but made everything seem more natural and realistic.
“Let’s sing,” said Nox. “They prefer jazz, really helps them grow.”
And so, we sang: “With soft rain showers and sunlight Your walls grow strong, your angles right Now floor by floor and room by room Become a building in full bloom”
After helping Nox I walked toward the lobby, where I ran into Dozer (favorite light: a night-light). Dozer was our handyman, and in charge of changing the nightly show titles on the marquee. His name was fitting since he was almost always napping; most days he even fell asleep as he was putting the giant letters into place on the marquee. Luckily, the Lunarian Grand would usually just get exasperated and change its marquee itself.
Entering the lobby, I stared at the letters on the marquee. “We’re putting on a show called POO DAY AT SCHOOL
?” I asked. But then I realized what had happened.
“Dozer!” I shouted up to him on his ladder. His head was resting on the top rung. “Hey Dozer, you fell asleep again. I think you’ve left the H and the T out of the word PHOTO
“I’m on it,” said Dozer, not opening his eyes.
Next, I did a final check backstage before heading to the main theatre. Lanterns lined the hallways backstage, halls that I’d always thought might be endless. There were rooms filled with all kinds of familiar voices and laughter, rooms with school assignments wallpapering the walls, and rooms that held secrets that echoed like whispers down a well. One room housed a giant clock, and instead of numbers, it had degrees of sleepiness of Luna, each sounding like a distant relation of Sleepy from Snow White.
One Eye Open.
Were I Snow White, Asleep would be my favorite. Asleep was where the action was. Asleep was where the Dreamatics really shined.
An Everything-Filled Life
The truth was, the Dreamatics shined because of Luna. How could we not? Our shows were based on the Everything-Filled Life of a girl named after the moon.
And what, exactly, is an Everything-Filled Life?
Well, in Luna’s case, it was her teachers, her friends, and her neighbors. It was her favorite songs, and books, and beaches. But most of all, it was her family: her father Ted, her father Matías, and her beloved dog, Murph.
Of course, an Everything-Filled Life wouldn’t be complete without vast and varied interests, and Luna was no slouch in that department. In fact, she had a new most-favorite interest just about every other week and threw herself into them with wild abandon. There was her bee-keeping phase, her acronym-collecting phase, her map-making phase, and her magician phase. She even had a tree phase, and let me tell you, those are some fascinating plants. She would read facts to Murph from books, things like “Trees carry time in their rings,” and “In those rings you can read about ancient weather.” She said that trees are connected and can even communicate. Trees take care of one another—one tree will nourish another when injured by feeding it nutrients through their roots, keeping it alive, bringing it back to full bloom. Who knew trees had such a social life?
But Luna’s most recent passion was the one that interested me the most, for obvious reasons.
“Dad, how do dreams work?” Luna asked while eating her cereal and, clearly, thinking some deep thoughts.
“Hmmm,” said her father Ted, sipping his coffee. “I suppose that technically speaking, it all takes place inside the temporal lobe of the brain, where the hippocampus has a central role in our ability to remember, imagine, and dream. Experts theorize that dreaming is a way to store important memories.”
“Well, why do I keep dreaming about the Bermuda Triangle then?” said Luna, rolling her eyes. Her father Ted, a math teacher, tended to think about things in the most literal terms.
“What do you think, Papa?” Luna asked, turning to her father Matías.
“Ah, the eternal question,” said Matías, staring off into the distance. “The most important part of a dream is the mystery, the one beyond reach or reason or language. A dream,” he continued, “takes a while to rise in the morning, especially when it has not had its breakfast.”
Luna looked from one dad to the other, realizing that perhaps she needed a more neutral source for this information. She got down under the table and lay flat on the floor on her stomach until she was nose to nose with Murph. The dog wagged his tail with joy.
“So, what do you dream about?” asked Luna.
Murph, in reply, licked Luna’s nose.
Luna placed her hands on each side of Murph’s face. “Just tell me. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.
“Okay, fine,” said Luna when Murph continued his silently loving stare. “I’ll just guess what you dream, and you can blink when I’m right. Ready? Okay. Let’s see . . . do you dream about . . . Stan?”
Stan was Murph’s favorite squeak toy, shaped like a carrot.
“No blink for Stan,” said Luna. “Do you dream about . . . squirrels?”
No blink for squirrels.
“Do you dream about the dishwasher?”
Murph was deathly afraid of the dishwasher. But no blink.
“Do you dream about the smells at the beach?”
“Do you dream about watermelon?”
Murph loved watermelon. But no blink.
“Do you dream about running through the sprinkler on a summer day? Delivery people and the treats they leave for you with the packages? Your favorite flavors of cheese??”
But Murph did
dream, Luna was sure of it. That was because he slept in her bed, and when he dreamed, he twitched his eyes and snout, made little happy whines, and moved his paws like he was swimming or running or digging a hole.
Luna and Murph were best friends—they shared the same pillow, head-to-head, and often woke up from sleep to check that the other was still there. Murph was like Luna’s second shadow as she moved around the house, step for step, room to room. He kept watch at the window for her when she was away and did a butt-wiggling, tail-wagging dance of joy when she returned.
Sometimes, when she was doing homework or watching a movie, he’d go to his pile of toys and bring her one, laying it on her lap. He couldn’t exactly speak, but Luna was pretty sure he was saying,I am not a rich dog. I don’t have much. This is one of my only possessions, but I’d like you to have it, just the same.
And because they were best friends, Luna really did want to know what Murph dreamed about, so when her family made their weekly library trip, Luna checked out every book she could find about dreams. She read about dreams made of sunlight and plums, and dreams made of ice; dreams that glowed in the dark, dreams made of unwound fingerprints, dreams that flew away like a lost kite string. She read that some dreams followed you all day, purring against your windows, lounging on your roof, lingering after dawn. Dreams like dew hanging on a spider’s web. Dreams like a music box’s last notes. Dreams like an old firefly, blinking its last light.
But the part that intrigued her the most was in a section about non-human dreaming, and the most recent research about dogs. It read:
Latest research shows that when dogs sleep, they are dreaming about their humans. Since dogs aregenerally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing or annoying you.
And so that night as Murph dreamed, Luna watched; she watched his eyes and whiskers flutter, his chest riseand fall, his mouth let out the tiniest whimper. It was probably impossible, Luna thought, not to love someone— human or dog or anyone else—once you’d seen their eyes tremble in an unknown dream. And when Murph started moving his paws, paddling through the invisible air of sleep, Luna thought of the words she had read:Research shows that when dogs sleep, they are dreaming about their humans.
All this time she’d seen Murph dreaming, she had thought he was imagining toys and treats. But no. The truth was far better, far sweeter, had far deeper roots.Murph wasn’t escaping from something. He wasn’t racing after a ball in a game of fetch. He wasn’t chasing rabbits through the long grass. He dreams of running,
she thought, her heart in full bloom, toward me
Copyright © 2023 by Michelle Cuevas. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.