Do you have a refuge, a safe haven? A place to retreat to when you’re stressed and tired and it’s just been one of those days? Maybe it’s a physical space–a nearby park, a mountaintop that can only be reached after a long hike, a nook in your home that’s yours and yours alone. Maybe you find that safe place in a phone call to your best friend, the pages of your journal, in prayer. Maybe it’s an activity–kneading dough, digging in the dirt, pulling down the shades and dancing to music cranked way high.
Or maybe it’s a place inside your head, like the one I created as a child. I hadn’t been there in a long while, indeed I had mostly forgotten it. One night, I lay in bed after a long day, closed my eyes and there I was.
I stood in a wasteland, a giant’s playground of broken rock and twisted thorny trees. The air was icy-cold, the kind of cold that makes it hurt to breathe, and dry, too dry to snow. Two moons hung in the night sky; one a slender blue crescent, the other round and pumpkin-orange. Off in the distance, rising vertically out of the ground, stood a plateau, black against the starry sky. This was not comfortable country; it was indifferent, remote, vaguely threatening. Anything might be lurking amidst the man-sized boulders.
I picked my way over the rock-strewn ground until I reached a tree, a deformed thing skulking among the huge rocks. I ducked under the dry twiggy fingers of its low-hanging branches, turned sideways to squeeze past a boulder, and slid into a narrow crack in the trunk.
It was bigger inside than outside (one of those trees), and cheery with a friendly orange light hovering above. I poked at the wood, looking for a button or lever (It had been a long time since I was last here, and I’d forgotten how the mechanism worked). Somehow, I tapped out the right code and the ground under me slid down, like an elevator. I descended into darkness, leaving the orange light behind. The strange elevator came to rest and I stepped out into what was essentially a huge underground apartment complex. A dim bluish light was the only illumination; to my left was a railing and a view of a deep lightless pit, to my right was a curving wall of round doors. It was a quiet, sleepy place; I got the sense that behind those doors dozens of denizens–human and not–were abed. I walked until I got to a door that looked familiar; a key from my pocket fitted the lock.
The place inside was small, cosy and crowded with books, teacups and (for some reason) lots of boots. The ceilings were low, the doorways rounded, the floor uneven. The kitchen table abutted the small living room; one could sit in an armchair and have dinner at the table. The “bedroom” was a curtained alcove. A small door led out of the kitchen and the window beside it showed that outside was a well-tended garden, hidden in a remote valley surrounded by forested mountains (this is a magic place, remember).
I took off coat and shoes, made myself a cup of tea, and went to bed.
Somewhere in the real world, the real me also fell asleep.