• The dreams were always perfect. At least, that was how they seemed.

    They started as bits and pieces, shards of life placed with a mother's love into a silver cauldron, simmering quietly. Over time, they coagulated into crystalized shapes, each one unique and delicate.

    Only Naia could tell when a dream was ready. Only Naia plucked them from the scalding mixture, hanging them above her head to dry into a final, glistening form.

    How could she know? Naia had only seen the cave where she lived. It was impossible that she could understand the complexities of the stories that she wove. But, despite her own limitations, Naia's creations were always perfect. Surrounded by sounds of the bubbling cauldron and the drips of the wet dreams above her, she worked in total silence, speaking only when we came to take the dreams away.

    "Give this one to a daughter who has been fighting with her father," she told me once, placing the dream carefully into my gloved hands.

    "Give this to a man who has lost everything; it will teach him to hope," she said another time.

    One dream she handed to me, her face wet with tears and the steam. "This dream belongs to a woman who needs someone to love."

    Maybe she saw herself in that dream.

    We would take those dreams to the people she had described. No--that's not quite accurate--the dreams themselves would lead us to their appropiate destination. Hold it in front of you, and quickly your feet would start to move, and before you knew it you would be right in front of the designated dreamer.

    On the way back, we would pick up little things--a bit of rusted iron, a few flowers, the smell of a summer night--and then Naia would make more dreams.

    I'm not sure why we started to change Naia's dreams. Perhaps we were jealous of the simple pleasures that her task brought her. Perhaps we were just bored. Perhaps we were tired of following her dreams. Whatever the reason, we each started to corrupt her perfection in various ways.

    One of my companions used to dip a corner of the dreams in mud before delivering them. Another smeared waste on theirs. Personally, I liked to break off one or two of the beautiful corners. Sometimes, I kept the corners for myself.

    This went on for a while--a million years or a few weeks. I'm not sure; time is relative here. Once, fresh from the world, my pocket full of pilfered dream-bits, I returned to Naia's cave and found her gone. Nothing left but a few dreams hanging from the roof to dry, the bubbling silver cauldron, and one of the shoes she always wore.

    Stunned, I sat there, and watched as my colleagues returned to the quiet cave. Once we were all there, we chattered about what might have happened.

    "Do you think it's because of the dreams?" one asked.

    Another said, "How could she know? She never leaves."

    "But she always knew other things, things she couldn't..." I trailed off, and for once in my short, intermnible life I felt ashamed.

    We all bowed our heads for a few moments. And then we began the task of making dreams.

    Our dreams are not perfect. They are not delicate crystalline creations. The cauldron is no longer shiny, the mixture no longer clear. We are not Naia, and we could never be.

    But our dreams are so much more entertaining. They cause the dreamers to twist and sigh, to scream in the night. We always watch now. We have to make sure you are enjoying them as much as we are.