For the third time in a week, Joey woke up crying in the middle of the night. It was a behavior that, like most children, he had left behind years prior, along with diapers and pacifiers and Elmo. It was only in the recent months that it had started again, infrequently at first but worse with every passing week. What made this night particularly notable was that, unlike the previous dozen occurrences, he could actually remember what he had been dreaming about.
"I was flying," he groaned into his mother's collarbone, sniffling and rubbing at his eyes. "I was flying over the mountains. I had these big wings, and everything looked really tiny."
"Aha," she murmured softly, smoothing his hair. "So you were afraid of the heights? It's just a dream, sweetheart, you don't have to worry about falling. That happens to me sometimes, too: a scary dream will wake me up, and sometimes it makes me want to cry just out of fear."
"No, it wasn't scary, though." He blinked up at her, eyebrows pulled together in a little knot. "It was awesome. I cried because I woke up, and I'm not a dragon anymore."
She tried not to let him see her face sour, but a storm cloud had descended.
The dragon thing again.
"Well, honey, it's okay that you're not a dragon. Dragons burn villages and get hunted by knights, remember? Instead, you're a big strong boy, and maybe you can be a pilot some day." She hoped her smile was convincing, and prayed that the room was dark enough to hide it if she failed. "Now, why don't you try to get back to sleep? In the morning, we can talk about this some more, and then maybe go to the museum to look at the dinosaurs?"
His face said that he wasn't incredibly interested in being a pilot, but he was a good kid, and they'd deeply ingrained the lesson that one did not argue with their parents. If she said he would be a pilot, that was good enough for now.
He lay his head back down upon the pillow, and she kissed his temple. "Sweet dreams, darling. I'll see you in the morning."
The door swung shut with a click, and Joey entered Doctor Gilliam's private space. This was a magical little world where all of the chairs were comfy, the air conditioning was always set exactly where you wanted it, and you could say absolutely anything. Anything at all, without worrying about what your parents would say since, best of all, there were no parents in this room.
"How ya doin', Joey?" asked Pete, who always preferred that his younger clients call him by first name. He was an older guy, but not scary old or anything. He had a very neat little salt and pepper moustache that always reminded Joey of a push-broom, and eyes that sparkled behind his spectacles.
"I'm good, I guess. Kinda tired," he yawned.
"Yeah, still waking up in the middle of the night? The dragon-dreams?"
Joey nodded. "Yeah, only lately I've been thinking maybe they're not dreams, y'know? Like maybe it's just when I go to sleep, I go to this other world, and I go to my true form, y'know?"
"True form? Like you're actually a dragon, just disguised as a boy?"
"Kinda, yeah, but not really disguised, 'cause I can't just take it off. More like, I guess," he trailed off, his face screwing up in thought. "Like I'm tails and the dragon is heads?"
"Like a coin, you mean."
"Yeah, sorry, like a quarter. The heads can't be on the tails side—"
"Or vice versa," Pete offered, smiling with understanding.
"Right, visa versa. So now, I'm on the heads side, but I go to sleep and things flip. I just wish I could flip that coin over forever."
Doctor Gilliam had seen the Stone Family every Monday and Thursday for the past three months, and had seen both of the parents in various stages of stress, frustration, and exhaustion. He'd never seen them look as bad as they did now.
"It's every night now," Carla moaned, her head rested on her hand. "Sometimes it happens multiple times in the same night. And it's all he ever talks about when he's awake, is dragons. Anything that looks like one. Turns out there's a lizard called the bearded dragon? No wings, no fire, of course, just a lizard, but now he's dying to go buy a bunch and set them free. Because dragons don't belong in cages, he says."
"You know how bright he is," Chuck intervenes, meeting the doctor's eyes. "But it's like he can't focus on anything else anymore. When he talks about people, he refers to them as 'humans,' like he's something else."
"Have you humored the idea that maybe he is?"
The parents looked offended at the suggestion. "Of course not," Clara stammered.
"We wouldn't do that to him," Chuck added. "That would be horrible, wouldn't it? To promote these delusions?"
While his parents talked over his issues, Joey ventured to explore the office-building. The central staircase seemed to wind forever, but the journey was rewarded with an unlocked door onto the roof. For the first time in real life, Joey reached out and felt as though he could grab a cloud.
Stepping to the edge, he looked down at the ants before him and focused until they turned into cars. The wind whipped at his face and clothes, and his smile rivaled the sun in terms of sheer brightness. It felt like standing atop a mountain.
Arms spread, face up, Joseph Stone stepped over the edge.
Windows and gargoyles whooshed by at tremendous speeds, wind thundering in his ears and ripping tears from his eyes. He clenched them shut with all of his might, extending his shoulder blades as though to burst them through his skin…
And gasped, when he felt his wings catch the breeze.