Uncle Josiah collects dreams. That’s all Molly knows about him; all anyone seems to know. The family would rather forget he even existed. But when her mother dies and she and her brother are orphaned, Uncle Josiah is the only one who offers to take them in.
Molly finds living in her uncle’s house difficult at first. It is not a place for children—strangers come and go at odd hours and his amanuensis watches the children with secrets in his eyes. Uncle Josiah remains awkward and distant. Part Jungian, part mystic, he is determined to find the primordial nightmare at the root of the collective unconscious. His obsession has made him a laughingstock, but Molly is fascinated. In her uncle’s work she can escape her grief, if only for a little while.
Then the dreams begin, harmless at first, and Molly slowly realizes that she may be the only one who can save what’s left of her family.
Here is a Brief Excerpt:
Uncle Josiah collected dreams. That was all Molly knew about him, all anyone seemed to know. She had heard the whispers, of course, even the ones she was not meant to, hushed and disapproving. Eccentricity was permitted in old distinguished families, sometimes even borne as a badge of honor, but only a certain respectable sort of eccentricity. Uncle Josiah’s peculiarities were another matter entirely and not to be tolerated, certainly not by that great assemblage of aunts, cousins, and various relations. For her part, Molly had always found him kind and considerate, affable even, if a little awkward, despite his reputation.
They had met twice before, if fleetingly. The first encounter had been at her father’s funeral, but she had been barely seven at the time, and the whole ordeal was something of a blur, best forgotten. Their second meeting had been at Grandmama’s ninety-fifth birthday, a milestone that even Uncle Josiah could not safely escape. He had spent the entire time hovering in corners or by the refreshments, scribbling in his notebook, hardly speaking to anyone. Molly had approached him with childish determination because there he was, the reclusive uncle, the Dream Collector in the flesh.
The thought filled her with a strange thrill. Dream collecting—it sounded so wonderfully romantic, like something from a fairytale. She had created her own mythology, her own secret fairytales of expeditions into strange and secret places where dreams were carried on the winds, fluttering like wisps of clouds. And at the heart there was always the Dream Collector, her uncle, net in hand trapping and bottling dreams like butterflies.
Those were her favorite stories, her stories, the ones she whispered to herself at night, the ones she desperately hoped were true, and perhaps, just perhaps, one day he would take her with him. But that was before. She was older now. She no longer believed in fairytales. Not anymore.
The past few weeks had passed in a haze of sad, solemn faces—policemen, concerned citizens, and relatives, all suitably, infuriatingly sympathetic. It was all a jumble of images and moments. The priest had droned on, his voice a distant murmur. A procession of strangers in black had wound its way through the graveyard, an odd boy trailing the casket, sobbing. His grief bought and paid for. Molly and her brother, Tom, bore it all with numb, faltering patience. It had been six days since their mother died.
They heard so many stories about her, some familiar, others unknown—happy stories, funny stories. Tom and Molly didn’t laugh, didn’t smile. They were stiff in their formal clothes, isolated in their grief. The others had stories of a friend to share, a sister, a niece. Only they had stories of a mother, but they kept them locked away. Those stories were theirs alone. Not for company.
Molly could feel the family watching them.
“What are we going to do about the children?” their eyes seemed to ask, but no one answered.
There were spaces too between the stories—awkward pauses and significant glances—filled with the weight of things unsaid. And there was something else, something Molly couldn’t quite put her finger on. Beneath the fond memories and somber chatter, she caught glimpses of darker undertones, frightening, and out of reach.
She reached for her brother’s hand, but he seemed to shrink from her touch.
At last all the arrangements were made, the paperwork signed. A severe young woman and a flustered man in a suit from the Royal Philanthropic Society arrived. Their names were Ms. Sneed and Mr. Blot and they had come to take the children to their new home. The assembled aunts, cousins, and uncles, even Grandmamma herself, gathered to see them off, sadly, but Molly was unmoved. Their sadness had teeth. For all their sympathy and piety, none of them had been willing to take her and her brother in afterwards, none of them had even offered.
Uncle Josiah lived in a thin, old house at the end of a long, narrow street. There was a light on inside, waiting. Molly and Tom stood staring, dripping in the rain. It was a brownstone, somewhat neglected, with vines creeping up the side, threatening to ensnare the windows. They shared a long look full of furtive sadness and determination.
“Stand up straight,” Ms. Sneed said, interrupting. “You’re a proper young lady, act like it. Your uncle is an important man, even if they say he’s…” Ms. Sneed paused and coughed slightly. On anyone else it would have seemed embarrassed, but Molly had the distinct impression that Ms. Sneed didn’t know the meaning of the word, certainly not as it pertained to herself.
“No dawdling,” she snapped. Mr. Blot gave Molly a slight smile. It was meant kindly but appeared more strained than encouraging. The children exchanged one final glance. No turning back now. They climbed up the stairs and knocked.
Uncle Josiah’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hagen, welcomed them with painful, draconian kindness, fussing over Molly dreadfully, while Ms. Sneed and Mr. Blot spoke with Uncle Josiah in hushed voices. Ms. Sneed, in truth, did most of the talking. Molly couldn’t make out the words, but she was certain they were talking about her, and whatever they were saying, it wasn’t pleasant.
The children were bustled to their room, given a hot bath and some cocoa. Mrs. Hagen brokered no arguments from either them or her ostensive employer. Molly caught glimpses of a third figure, tall and gaunt, lurking unobtrusively in the background, but when she turned to see him properly, he was gone.
Throughout her ministrations, Uncle Josiah remained welcomingly aloof and uttered not a single word of sympathy. Molly was grateful. Indeed, he spoke to them only once that first evening, to bid them good night.
She was sinking, or perhaps falling. Falling through a void. Empty. Lost. She smelt smoke, acrid, burning. It was everywhere. It was nowhere. She looked, wandering far and wide in a world of shadows and thorns, but the flames were always just out of sight. She wondered why she wanted to find them. It seemed important somehow. The fire was important, or maybe she was just cold, and it was warm.
She shivered, her breath frosting in the air. Shapes danced past her eyes, a woman and a man, strangely familiar, but disjointed and blurred. They frightened her. She tried to focus but the more she focused the hazier the shapes became.
“Hello,” she called into the darkness, and the answer came, whispering, babbling. So many voices, too many. They pressed against her, burrowing through the skin, infecting her. She screamed. She was silent. She fell.
She became aware, gradually, of her feet—bare, dirty, and scratched—and the ground rising up to meet them with a roar.
Suddenly she was on solid ground, running, searching for something, or perhaps something was searching for her with a thousand eyes, and ears, and roots.
The shapes were sharper now, more familiar. Bark, branch, leaf, and stem. Trees. That was the word and with it the trees sprouted into sudden reality all around her. She was surrounded, enveloped. Not just trees. A forest.
And she was alone.