Latricia cast a sidelong glance at the other two bears, both of whom looked sheepish and wouldn’t return her gaze.
“Before we go,” Marley continued,” make certain you are determined to do this. This creature is a vicious nightmare and little we see will be as it should. The bogey may have already begun to create boogeymen to assist it or to unleash on other dreams.” She hesitated.
Ambrose saw her jaw clench and laid a paw on her shoulder.
“Marley, what else is there?”
She was quiet for a moment before responding.
“Other bears have attempted to stop it and have not returned. This has been a long, drawn-out nightmare. The bogey is just playing, but could end the child’s life if it chooses. You must be committed to the battle, never waver, and, most importantly, succeed.”
She turned and faced each bear in turn. She lingered on Latricia, her violet eyes boring into the young bear. Although visibly shaken, she did not quail under the scrutiny. Without a word, Marley turned and leaped under the bed, the other three close behind her.
They were falling through rolling, puffy clouds into the warm light of a spring day. There was a hint of rain in the air, although no drops were evident as they descended. Marley landed first, briefly crouching as her legs absorbed the impact. Sonny and Ambrose landed with grace, then turned to catch Latricia, whose fall had turned into a flailing tumble.
“How did you three do that?”
“Practice.” The response was in unison as the three bears began scanning their surroundings. Latricia did the same, but she could not see anything amiss. Sonny and Ambrose were intent, yet puzzled. Marley closed her eyes and stood silent.
Sonny was the first to turn and look to his companions.
“I know something isn’t right, but I’ll be deviled if I can figure it out.”
Ambrose nodded. “It’s like a shadow at the corner of my eyes, constantly shifting whenever I try to focus on it.”
After hearing this, Latricia began to take in the landscape with an eye to sorting out some feature out of place. Then she saw the hazy image, just outside of her vision. Meanwhile, Ambrose had begun to watch Marley, who continued to stand with eyes shut, her brow furrowed. Suddenly, she slammed a paw to the ground, causing a rippling effect to spread out from her. The pleasant scene briefly disrupted enough that the true nature was revealed: They stood in a gravel-strewn wasteland, studded with stunted and malformed trees. Overhead, the sun was an angry, rippling red, sending down blistering torrents of heat. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the image was gone.
“That’s the most I am able to show you the reality of the nightmare. This is the strongest, though, and I will be able to disrupt it better the deeper we go.”
She let out an explosive breath. Apparently it took considerable effort to break the illusion for even a moment. Latricia was in awe of the bear’s strength.
“Can you teach me to do that?”
Marley’s eyes focused and she turned around with a wry smile on her lips.
“I’m not entirely certain how I can do that,” she said. “It came to me serendipitously some time back. If it’s origin is what I suspect, it is not something I am able to teach. We’ll try, though, at a later time.” She gave Latricia a warm smile and squeezed her shoulder before moving off in a random direction. After a moment’s hesitation, Sonny and Ambrose began to follow her. Trailing behind, Latricias reached out her senses and noticed a slight pull in the direction they were headed. The depths of the nightmare and their quarry were pulling them along.