I was woken up this morning by a knock at my door, which I found somewhat surprising since I went to bed in a tent. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't still asleep, but the suburban semi-detached-ness of my surroundings failed to transform itself back into damp canvas. Awake, then, presumably - but did that pinching thing ever really work, anyway? I mean, you feel much worse things in a lot of nightmares without waking up.
"Still, never mind," I thought through my mental caffeine-deficiency haze and through the folds of the dressing gown that was currently refusing to play nice with my drowsy limbs. "Should see who's at the door."
The two people at the door were tall, beautiful and entirely androgynous. Since they themselves took up most of the porch, they had to stretch their shining wings backwards across the front garden.
They introduced themselves as Gabriel and Raphael, and asked if I'd thought about letting the light of Jehova into my life.
I said that I was Serin, and sorry, but I thought that Jesus was just fictional.
"And you are otherwise?" Gabriel asked, and I was forced to concede that no, I was fictional too.
Raphael said that was okay, because angels weren't real either, and they asked if I wanted to talk about it.
I invited them in and made a pot of coffee - thick, strong, Columbian stuff. While pushing down the cafetiere's plunger, it dawned on me that I didn't know what Columbia was, but that it probably didn't matter. Probably just another fiction taking up space in my ever-decreasing memory.
I said as much to the angels, and Gabriel fixed me with a long, hard stare from his perfect eyes.
"Columbia," he said, "is a large South American country."
"So is it real?"
"Do you want it to be?"
Raphael chose to answer now, his melodious voice chiming perfectly with Gabriel's. "There is something you need to understand, Serin, and quickly. You are not fiction. You are real. We are real. It is all this," he gestured at the rest of the comfortably-appointed living-room, "that is not real."
"So this really is a dream!" I responded happily. "I knew it!"
"Not quite," came Gabriel's answer. "Almost the opposite, in fact. There are rather a lot of people who believe that this world is real and that the one in which you were only yesterday is but a dream."
"So I've just woken up after dreaming the rest of my life? What are you trying to say? How come I remember everything so vividly? How come I know what coffee is but not what Columbia is? What's really going on!?"
"What is 'going on'? Well, you will have to wait a while for the answer to that. There is, however, one thing we can tell you, one thing we can teach you, and that is this. The most important fact for you to realise is that neither of these worlds is real."
"Neither? What do you mean? Are all my memories a dream, or... or what?"
"Your memories, dear Serin, are as real as you are. Very real indeed. Your companions, they are real also. But they can do many fantastic things, correct? While you can not."
"I... I can do some magic," I replied hesitantly.
"Passive magic, Serin. You do magic, but you do not change anything. Your friends, some of them at least, are the kind of people who carve their initials in the fabric of the world just by their very existence. Would not you like to be as they are? To forge your own way, your own life?"
I sighed, and sank deeper into the sofa. There was no way of avoiding it, they seemed to know everything about me, even the feelings that I'd kept locked so far down in my mind that no-one knew them - sometimes even I forgot about them. "Yes," I conceded. "Yes, I would."
Raphael and Gabriel stood, and put down their coffee cups. "Then we will show you the way," Raphael said.
The three of us stood outside in the garden, looking at a tiny plant that was growing in an otherwise empty patch of ground. The dew was cold and tingly on my bare feet, and the breeze was slowly starting to chill the rest of my body - still with only a dressing gown to keep me warm - as well.
Raphael indicated the small island of green in the brown sea of earth with an empty-handed gesture. "What is this?"
"It's a sapling," I replied. I was caught a little off-guard - I was expecting some kind of cosmic truth to be unveiled, not a patronising biology lesson. "Oak. By the looks of it, this'll be its second Spring. What's your point here?"
I immediately regretted being so abrupt when speaking to an angel, but the remark appeared to go unnoticed. It was not answered.
"So what would you say, for example, if I did this?" Raphael asked, and gestured once more to the... to the tree.
"But... but, that's not a tree, that wasn't a tree, it should be just a sapling, what did you... oh. Oh, it is just a sapling."
I suppose I should have expected that angels would have that kind of power, but it still caught me off guard. "Was that... an illusion?" I asked guardedly.
"No, Serin. I turned that tiny sapling into a giant oak. And you turned it back."
"Me? How could I...? I don't have power like that!"
"You do, Serin. Everybody does. It is your absolute, total belief that there should be a sapling and not a tree over there that re-wrote the world around you. Every day of everyone's lives, everyone is doing this in tiny and subtle ways. The only trick is to acknowledge that there is no absolute, real world, just the worlds inside our heads."
Gabriel picked up where Raphael left off. "It is like the lucid dreams that you have. You can do anything. The only difference, the thing that you will come to realise, is that the world you experience - the world you thought of as real - is just another dream. They are just worlds inside the heads of people. You can, absolutely and without limit, do anything you want to do."
It was hard to let words like that sink in, but eventually they started to do that. I began to realise, began to see, that this world around me was not what I wanted it to be. Why was I here, standing in a dressing gown, outside, on a cold mid-March morning, still wondering about the existence of some place called 'Columbia' while being lectured at by angels?
"This gown is weird," I thought, and thought, and thought, and concentrated, and willed with every fragment of my mind, and opened my eyes. I was wearing the thick woollen dress that I was much more comfortable in.
It became easier with every change I made. My thick hob-nail boots shielded my feet from the freezing dew, and my scarf protected my face from the wind, and my hat sat heavily on my billowing hair. The wall at the end of the garden resolved itself into a line of trees and, as I turned, the house that felt like mine turned back into a caravan and a cluster of tents around a smouldering fire.
I turned back to Gabriel and Raphael, who looked smaller and somehow frayed at the edges. A bubble of confusion floated to the surface of my mind. Did I even believe in angels, anyway?
"No," Gabriel replied to the thought I hadn't voiced, and the two of them faded into tiny points of light that dissipated on the dawn zephyrs.
A bleary-eyed face poked out of a tent to her right. "Why is it that I can smell coffee?" it asked in as coherent English as its owner could manage at that time of the morning.
I grinned and passed him the coffee cup that I still held in my hand. "Try some. Where's Columbia?"
"Columbia?" Tsuki replied. "Dunno. Ask Kyren?"
Things were back to normal again, after what can't have been that long. It felt like an age, though. An age in which I changed a lot.
"Maybe not quite back to normal," I muttered to myself as I smiled and my thoughts turned into reality and another cup of coffee appeared in my hand. Kyren would be needing it.
"Who's not quite normal?" came a deep voice from behind me. I span abruptly, and ended up looking right at Kyren's happily smiling face. My heart felt like it had skipped a beat, and I hastily gulped down a mouthful of air before calming myself and grinning back at him and handing him the coffee.
"Does it taste... real?" I asked him as he took a sip.
"Real? My dear, you have just offered me a cup of coffee that exists only because you wanted it to. There is a sparkle in your eyes today, the sparkle of a woman who has discovered, at last, her own reality. And if it's real for you, it's real for me."
I smiled, and laughed. Finally, I understood, and others understood me. And, of course, I got to see his smile again.