The mountain lay blanketed in darkness as Sam slept. A faint orange glow appeared at the foot of the mountain, obscured by waves of black. A fire and her smoke danced together at the mountain’s foot, and the dance brightened and broadened as it scaled tree after tree, rolling and sweeping up the flanks of the mountain, spawning slender ropes of fire devils that spun wildly off left and right and up into black clouds and drifting wisps of smoke. The fire spawned two great fires that shot up two adjacent ridges, and when the ridges met, the fires converged into the form of two great wings.

No sooner had the two great wings formed than they took to flapping slowly, making a deep sound of hot, rushing air as they pressed down. A blaze shot out between them, and the conflagration took flight over the summit as a great bird. Winds were born across the mountainside every time the great wings drew up and pressed down.

The great firebird turned to circle the mountain, and just then the fiery head seemed to spot Sam. The bird flapped its great wings to turn toward Sam, and just then Sam saw a rider upon the back of the bird, between the great wings. Winding fire devils writhed from her wrist to the head of the bird as she turned it about. Sam turned to run, but he couldn’t move. As the awful bird closed in on him, the rider became more than a form. Sam could see her in increasing detail. Here she was, he thought. He would at least see her face. Finally, after all these years, he would see her face. He no longer strove to escape. He watched.

Just then, he heard her voice. “Sam” he heard her say. He knew that voice. He could place it. “Sss—“ he tried to say the name, but he couldn’t speak. The great beak opened upon him, and he couldn’t see the rider anymore. He could feel the hot wind of its breath blow against his face. He could hear her. Something took hold of him and shook him as he shouted “Cindy!” as the bird vanished.

“I’m right here,” Cindy answered as she shook Sam by the shoulders. “When you dream, you really make a fuss, Sam. Are you okay?”

Sam just panted and looked around in quick jerks as he tried to get his bearings.

He pushed out the words “Cindy—dream” as soon as he caught his breath.

Sam sat up in his bag. Cindy rubbed his shoulders while he came to his senses. Her touch felt better than he might have imagined, had he ever thought to imagine it. He wanted her to stay with him and hold him. She squeezed his shoulders and got up.

“I’m going back to sleep,” she said. “Maybe you can find something better to dream about.” She walked off between the dark trees.

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