Jordan Yeng felt most awake when his consciousness faded and sleep claimed him. It was the promise of these nightly adventures that kept him going most days. By day, Jordan was scrawny, generally disliked, and often disappointing. Grandmother Yeng, with whom he and his mother lived, frequently remarked that his clumsiness and poor grades were a sign of their ancestors’ displeasure. His mother would respond by attempting to pat down his unruly hair, while murmuring about a curse as though it were a term of endearment. His father had disappeared years ago and he had no siblings to redeem him. At night when he settled beneath faded blankets on a hand-me-down mattress, Jordan wiggled with anticipation. Because in his dreams, he was so much more.
The world of dreams was filled with possibility. There, Jordan didn’t look any different than he did in the waking world, but he was different. Power radiated through his every step as he strode the paths leading from one plane to the next. A watercolor sky swirled above him; the perfect backdrop for adventure. Winged figures darted above the approaching tree line within a thickly forested plane Jordan had named “The Woods.” He was different in dreams, not more creative. A screech pierced the air as one of the winged figures noticed his approach. At his thought, a brilliant purple-flamed sword appeared in his hand. Jordan smirked as he felt the weight of the hilt in his palm and the subtle heat of the flaming blade near his body. It was going to be a good dream.
Mornings in Grandmother Yeng’s apartment were most often quiet. Breakfast was prepared and laid on a patterned tablecloth, tea was sipped, and Jordan ate under the weight of his mother’s gaze.
“Do you have any homework due today?”
Jordan nods, his eyes drowning in his cereal.
“And will it be A+ work?”
Jordan nods again, knowing full well it’s not. So does his mother.
Grandmother Yeng tsks over the stove where she is scrubbing the already sparkling surface.
That night, Jordan soared through the sky on the back of a massive griffin. A gentle crackling emitted from the purple-flamed sword strapped to his back. It was warm, but would not burn him. His fingers wound tightly through its feathered mane, securing his grip as powerful wings pumped to lift them higher into the clouds. A thick blanket of stars greeted them as they broke the surface of the cloud banks. The black pupil of the griffin’s eagle eye glanced back. Jordan braced himself and nodded. With a sharp piercing cry from the griffon’s beak, they darted forward into crisp, thin air rushing against them. The speed was so great that Jordan felt the burning of his cheeks as tears leaked from the outer corners of his eyes. A grin composed of pure joy was plastered across his face. For this young hero, nothing else could compare.
The walk home from school covered three blocks, two alleys, and one bus ride. Most days, Jordan immersed himself in day dreaming, reliving the adventures of the previous night. Today, however, was different. As he finished the last leg of his commute, seated rather uncomfortably amid two strangers on the bus, his mind was alarmingly present. Jordan Yeng had never in his life been described as present. It was a foreign feeling to him. But at the present, nothing could distract him from the very real griffin’s feather that waited beneath his bed at Grandmother Yeng’s apartment. The same griffin’s feather that had been clutched tightly in his hand when he had woken up that morning. The same morning after he had been dreaming of such a griffin.
The apartment door swung open as Jordan flew through it, hardly able to contain his excitement. He rapidly abandoned backpack and shoes – no one walked on Grandmother Yeng’s floors in anything other than clean socks. As he blurred past the kitchen to his room, his mother’s voice brought him to a standstill.
“Jordan, to the table.”
All momentum stopped and gravity tugged at his feet as he trudged down the hall and into the kitchen. His mother and Grandmother sat on mismatched dining chairs, the griffin’s feather on the tabletop between them.
“Don’t stand there like a fool, come sit down.” Grandmother Yeng snapped, though her tone was not unkind.
He felt their eyes on him as he took the empty seat, but he didn’t look at anything but the feather. It sat delicately against a floral tablecloth backdrop, cream and silken fibers mounted on the dark hollow quill.
“Jordan, we know you’re dreaming.” His mother began, but her voice cracked and she stopped.
His grandmother took over. “It is dangerous for our family, dreaming; an ancient magic that has followed our family for generations.” She looked softly at his mother, her brown eyes sad. “Your father dreamed as you do. Until one morning, his place in our bed was empty.”
Jordan held his breath and remained silent as his mind processed the truth of his father’s disappearance. Inside, however, his stomach was turning somersaults as his thoughts shot like rockets into infinite directions. His father had not simply disappeared. He had stayed in a dream. Jordan was torn between rabid curiosity and nausea.
His mother’s slender hand floated across the table and gently touched the feather. “He talked of the griffins once,” her voice shook, “but they would not let him near. He was determined to discover their secrets.” Her hand recoiled, as though the feather had stung her.
Jordan found his voice, “I rode one last night.” He looked up excitedly, in time to see a look he could not interpret passed between the two women. They seemed to decide on something.
“You may go now. I’ll call you for dinner.” Grandmother Yeng said. Jordan was confused but did as he was told.
“I’m ready for bed!” Jordan called out from beneath his threadbare covers and looked toward the door. To his surprise, Grandmother Yeng appeared instead of his mother. “I will tell you a story tonight grandson.” Her tone was even as she settled in on the edge of his bed and folded her wrinkled hands in her lap. Jordan settled into his pillow as she leaned forward and the soft scent of her perfume enveloped him.
“Long ago, before my mother’s mother, our family was deeply connected to other places within our minds. Science men are calling them dimensions now, but we have always called them dreams. Everyone in our family used to be able to visit these places, but as our family grew and spread and became distracted by the modern world, our minds have forgotten. But not yours and not your father’s.”
Jordan’s eyes widened, but she shushed him before he could let loose a gasp of surprise.
“These dream places are wonderful and dangerous. Our ancestors could not control them anymore than you could control the world outside this apartment. So we visit as we would any foreign place, with respect and caution. There is old magic in these places boy and it should not be sought out. Your father was a fool, determined to unearth things not meant for our minds.”
This time, Jordan could not withhold the sound of his shock. Grandmother Yeng narrowed her eyes at the interruption. He shut his mouth tight and pulled the covers beneath his chin.
“You are many things Jordan, but you are not a fool. To dream is no small thing. Why our ancestors chose you is not for me to say. And if the griffin has allowed you to tame it, then you are the first in generations to do so. The last of our line with such power was a king over these other places. Perhaps – though I am skeptical – you could be too.”
She rose and smoothed the comforter where she had been sitting, then shuffled quietly from the room. It took Jordan a long time to fall asleep. Tonight, he would begin the search for his father.