Caleb loved to dream. He had a knack for it. For some reason, and he couldn’t explain it, he seemed to be able to control his dreams; not completely, but he was getting better at it all the time. Last night he dreamt about a beach. He wasn’t sure which beach it had been, but it turned out exactly as he’d wanted. His parents had been drooling over a holiday programme on Channel 4, discussing next year’s family outing to the Costa del Sol; a week in so-called paradise. “Right,” he announced, “I’m off to the bed.” His mother checked her watch in surprise. “It’s a bit early for you, tiger,” she said quizzically. “Are you feeling OK?” “I’m fine, Mother, just off to the beach.” Caleb pointed at the long, golden beach that tapered off into the distance on the television. “That’s nice, dear, have a nice trip.” Tonight he decided to take it a step further. The thought of it exhilarated him. He’d had some difficulty concentrating in school today; History had been a real drag: some rubbish about dinosaurs. Yawn, how dull! He wanted to keep exploring the limits of his dream control. His library book had helped him at the beginning. It had shown him the basics: breathing, relaxation techniques, and most importantly, how to focus. First he needed a goal; something to aim for. He searched around under his bed, looking for magazines and books that he could use for ideas. He wanted something simple, something that he could easily visualise, without lots of complicated detail. He opened last month’s edition of National Geographic and immediately found what he was looking for: the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, covered in massive Redwood’s. He started to read the article. Apparently these huge Redwood trees take over five hundred years to reach maturity, and some are as old as fifteen hundred years. “Goodness,” he exclaimed aloud, “these are ancient.” He decided that tonight’s trip, to the land of dreams, would take him to the Sierra Nevada. He wanted to see these giants for himself. He turned out the light, settled down into his duvet and started to relax. He counted from ten down to one, deeply breathing out with each new number. He could feel the process beginning. His feet and hands were starting to tingle, a sure sign that he was on his way. The next step was to concentrate on all the muscles in his body, relaxing each one in turn through a mix of deep controlled breathing and direct mental focus. He slowly and systematically worked his way up from the ends of his toes to the top of his head. He was now ready to work the magic. This part was his favourite. He loved the sinking feeling that marked his decent into the world of dreams. The formation of scenes, as his mind focused on the image, exhilarated him, conjuring up colour, shape and form, moulding it into the final picture that would be the setting for tonight’s adventure. He was in a wood, though it was no ordinary wood. The trees were immense. He hadn’t appreciated from the National Geographic article just how big the Redwoods would be. He tried to put his arms around the nearest one. Not even close. “You must be at least five meters round, Mr. Redwood.” He gazed up the length of its long trunk towards the sky; his head spinning as his gaze finally reached the small branches, right at the top. “Mum wouldn’t be happy with me if I swore, but, I suppose since she’s not here, Jesus Christ, you’re tall.” As he stepped back, a deep, reddish brown dust clung to his Spiderman pyjamas. He briskly dusted himself off and sat down with his back to the trunk. The ground below was soft, covered in all shades of dying leaves and masses of red bark. He picked up an unusually large piece of bark and carefully fitted it back into a round hole in the tree’s trunk. “There,” he said, “good as new.” OK, time to have some fun. He considered what to do next. He thought back to his library book. Time travel was covered in chapter eight. The chapter was entitled: “Advanced Dream Techniques”. He laughed to himself. It was supposed to take years to achieve this kind of dream control. He’d only been at it for three weeks, and here he was, sitting in the Sierra Nevada, underneath the outstretched canopy of the oldest tree on the planet. Cool. He paused for a minute and smiled, considering his success. The book was aimed at adults. They have clouded minds and frightened dispositions; none of the qualities that he, as an eleven year old boy, would possess. Right, fun’s over. Time to get started. He closed his eyes and started counting backwards again. According to the book, counting backwards was a way of giving your mind a deadline for achieving what you needed to achieve. He decided to try and make the tree younger. He’d go back a hundred years and see how it looked. Ten, nine, eight… When his eyes readjusted to the daylight, he was dismayed to see that the tree looked exactly the same. “Damn it,” he shouted. He strode up to the ancient sentinel and kicked it as hard as he could. As he did so, a large, piece of bark fell away and landed on the ground beneath his feet. “Whoa,” he exclaimed, “it did work after all.” He flung his arms around the trees massive trunk. His hands were definitely closer together. Then it dawned on him. One hundred years, in the lifespan of these ancient wonders, was nothing. A giant like this may have matured here over a thousand years ago, and here he was shaving a meagre hundred years off the end. What an idiot. He decided to try again. Ten, nine, eight… Again, the bright sunlight hurt his eyes as the forest came back into focus. That’s more like it, he thought. The Redwood was definitely smaller. He threw his arms around it and rejoiced as his hands clasped together. A thousand years did make a difference. This time the results were undeniable; the tree was in its infancy. In fact, as he looked around, he noticed that other trees, once majestic and towering, were now just seedlings, no more than a few metres tall. “It worked, fantastic,” he shouted aloud, though not a sound accompanied his exalted cry. He called as loudly as he could, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” but all he got in return was a deathly silence. He sat back down, his back against the tree. Should he go any further? What a dilemma. The book said to take things slowly at first, to move at a pace that suits you. Well, he didn’t feel that he’d pushed himself at all, and his new thirst for exploration was getting the better of him. OK, just a bit more, he thought, then I’ll try and get some rest. Ten, nine, eight… The forest was gone. How far back had he gone this time? As the landscape around him came into focus his breath turned to ice as he stared in amazement. Snow covered the once plush green mountains. Frozen glacial tongues filled the deep mountain valleys that had previously been coated in trees. Surely this had to be the Ice Age. He remembered a previous history lesson; one of the few he’d actually enjoyed. The Pleistocene Epoch, about ten thousand years ago, had been the end of the last Ice Age. This was amazing. He shivered as the adrenalin started to pump through his body. Here he was, standing in North America, ten thousand years before the invention of Bubble Gum. “Whoa,” he said again, and not for the last time. “I can’t stop now”, muttered Caleb to himself. Recently he’d developed a bad habit of talking out loud to himself during his dreams. Unfortunately he’d also carried on doing it during the day. People at school had started to notice. They were beginning to think of him as a little odd, so he decided to try and stop. “Damn it,” he blurted out, “there I go again.” Ten, nine, eight… Shadow was replaced by light. He gazed up at the mountains. Strangely, they seemed flatter, yet harsher than before. As he gazed around him, the world felt strange and alien. Feathery plant life, like nothing he’d ever seen before, waved in the breeze, and the sky was a strange reddish colour. Sunlight still penetrated intensely through the murky haze, burning into his skin with a searing heat like he’d never felt before; even on the family holiday on the Costa del Sol. He racked his brains. Think, Caleb, think. What did Mr. Granger say about the world one hundred million years ago? That was it, the Mesozoic Period; the middle bit in his big diagram that showed the Earth’s three geological eras. This was the time when the continents had formed and the dinosaurs roamed the plains; just like in the movie, Jurassic Park. He grinned, pleased that his history lessons had proved useful after all. Mr. Granger would be so jealous. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a huge chicken-like bird with massive glistening claws and a razor sharp beak sprinted past him. It issued an ear-splitting shriek as it ran along. Caleb froze. Holy cow, he exclaimed, pleased that he hadn’t cursed, Archaeopteryx, the precursor to the farmyard chicken. Amazing. He wondered what it was running from; probably some massive, bloodthirsty predator, like a Megalosaurus, or possibly the armoured hulk of an Ankylosaur. Quickly he decided that it was best not to hang around and find out. Dream or no dream, he could always come back again, with a bit more protection. He sniggered to himself then closed his eyes, preparing to slip back though time yet again. Ten, nine, eight… This time he fell deeper into the dreaming than he’d ever fallen before. Out of control, and falling further and further, back through time. He opened his eyes, but continued to slip, seeing the Earth around him erupt into plumes of red-hot lava, spewing out of craggy fissures in the ground. It was a frightening vision of violence and destruction. The time slip was speeding up. The fires receded and the Earth began to dissolve into blackness. He saw the sun shrink into a gaseous cloud then speed off towards an increasingly glowing mass in the far off universe. He remembered Mrs. Bell’s science lesson. The universe is very, very old, probably older than any word that his limited vocabulary could describe. Galaxies, stars and planets whizzed across the ever increasing blackness of space, combining into the fierce glowing mass of celestial matter. He remembered the Big Bang Theory; the universe erupting from a single point in space at the beginning of time. This must be the Big Collapse, he mused. Suddenly there was darkness, a black nothingness, blacker than anything he’d ever seen before. The time slip was slowing now. He could feel the urgency ceasing as the falling sensation gave way to a limp weightlessness. He closed his eyes again and floated for a while, relaxing in the empty void that was once occupied by people, trees and birds and animals. After some time, and he wasn’t sure exactly how long, Caleb opened his eyes. Something had changed. A blurred landscape was beginning to materialise out of the darkness. As he watched, he saw trees begin to take shape. Was he back in the present, in the woods of the Sierra Nevada? No, this was different, no Redwoods. These were pine trees. He noticed that the sky was black as pitch. So, where was he? It was then that he saw her. Some distance away, through the trees to his left, he saw a woman. She wore a long white, silken robe and was extremely beautiful. In her left hand she held a golden scroll and in her right hand she carried a flute. He noticed that her figure was strangely blurred around the edges, with no firm boundary, but her facial features were solid and absolute. Briefly she stared at him before delicately placing the scroll on the round and raising the flute to her pouted lips. She played, and it was beautiful. The music made Caleb feel comforted and welcome. He decided to go to her, and find out who she was. He felt that his control on the dream had been relinquished. He controlled himself, but not the rest of it. “Excuse me,” said Caleb, as he approached the lady. “My name is…” “Caleb Zarek,” said the woman. “We are extremely pleased to welcome you to the Land of Delusial.” “Do I know you?” Caleb was perplexed. How could this woman know him when he didn’t know her? Was she not just a figment of his imagination? “Pardon, Caleb Zarek. I am the Lady Clio, Muse of History to the Lord of Time, Ratziel.” “Ratziel?” exclaimed Caleb. “Who’s he?” “You do not know our master, but yet you enter his domain?” said the Muse. “Well, I didn’t come here on purpose. I sort of slipped here through time.” Caleb closed his eyes and shook his head. Surely this is just a dream he thought; it seems so real. “The Lord Ratziel wishes to talk with you, Caleb Zarek, please, will you follow?” Gracefully she turned and glided off through the trees. “Hold on just a minute,” called Caleb, but she was gone. He quickly hurried off in pursuit. After what seemed like hours of walking Caleb came upon a clearing. In its centre, a large grey-stone altar rested on two vertical uprights. Sitting on top was a man. His appearance was meek, yet his presence felt sublime. He smiled at Caleb and stood up. His eyes were dark and black, like the windows to immense secrets. “Caleb,” he announced, “my name is Ratziel, keeper of the pool of time. I’m very pleased to meet your acquaintance.” He extended a welcoming hand to Caleb. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Caleb, accepting his handshake with vigour. Ratziel continued. “I’m very tired, Caleb, very tired. I’ve always been in Delusial, right from the beginning, running the timelines that define our infinite universe. It’s an interesting job, being in control of the dawn of all things. Do you think it sounds like fun, Caleb?” “Yes, sir, it sounds very interesting.” Caleb felt a strange realisation creep over him. “Do you want me to take over for a while, sir? Is that why I’m here?” “You’re very astute, Caleb. That is my wish. My Muses play the instruments of creation that shape our worlds. You will focus their efforts; orchestrating all of creation.” “I accept,” exclaimed Caleb. He didn’t have to think it over. Back at home, Caleb’s lungs breathed for the last time and his heart stopped beating. Things couldn’t get any better!