By John Thomas Tuft

My first visit to the world of Mater Palatia occurred when I was a little boy, perhaps five at the time, lying in the bottom bunkbed while my little brother snored above me in the dark. Make no mistake about it, dark is the operative word. Fear and fright live in the dark. Sometimes the dark can be a deceptive friend, hiding the smirks of those who try to humiliate, my clumsy stumbles over being shy, disapproving looks from those concerned I was not being a “good little boy.” I lay there, eyes wide open so I could see the dark, stomach in knots, praying I would not wet the bed, when the closet door looked like it was starting to breathe. I blinked and looked harder. In and out, in and out until it disappeared in pink smoke. It picked me up and floated me through the opening and I squeezed my eyes shut tight.

When I opened them again, I was on some sort of spongy ground on top of a strange mountain. The sky was a mix of red and orange and another planet hung in the sky so close I wanted to reach out and touch it. I got to my feet and walked to the side to look down. At every step, little blue stars rose from the ground where I touched it. When I reached the edge, a soft wind met my face and it seemed to carry a song, not from afar, but as though the breeze itself sang its own song. I wanted to gather it in, hold it close to my ears, my face, until it alone gave me a dance. There was a form of dark that I had never seen before. Across the great valley below, rose fierce, jagged mountains of purple hues, and I realized here the dark was more like that purple and I found myself relaxing a bit.

Just as I was wondering why the air smelled like cookies baking, I heard a gentle sound, the whinny of a horse. I turned around and there before me was a white stallion, high enough to be a cloud. On his back sat a beautiful girl clothed in silver. She smiled and a hundred new stars leapt from her mouth and danced into the sky. “We’ve been waiting,” she said. “Why?” I asked, hoping the giant horse would not bite me. “He doesn’t bite,” she laughed. “How did you know what I was thinking?” I was nonplussed. She shook her head. “That is how you came to be here.” “Where am I?” I tried to hide my trembling lip. She held her arms out wide. “This is Mater Palatia. This is where fears and worries about being alone or, being different come to be reborn.”

She jumped down from the great height and stepped close. My knees trembled as the horse leaned down and nibbled at some of the blue stars at his hooves, his big teeth making sounds like sleigh bells. From somewhere within the silver gown, she withdrew a magnificent gray robe. “You can touch it,” she encouraged. It felt soft and plush, and I pulled it to my face and held it to my cheeks. But suddenly it occurred to me that this might be a dangerous trap and I let go and stepped away. “I don’t want it,” I insisted, though I wanted it with all of my heart. “I don’t know who you are. Stay away from me.”

The horse drew up his head and reared high, and his cry echoed off the distant mountains. And when his hooves hit the ground it trembled and shook, scattering blue stars in all directions. Then I noticed the girl, kneeling, clutching the robe close to her. Her eyes filled with tears, tears of pain and love. As they ran down her cheeks, I stepped close and used the robe to wipe away her tears. As the tears soaked into the cloth, a wondrous thing happened. It began to glow with warm colors, so intense they appeared to vibrate and shimmer. My mouth dropped open and I watched in wonder as she drew me close and put the robe around my shoulders. I put my arms through the soft sleeves, and it felt warm. It felt right, just right.

“This is for me?” I asked. She smiled and more new stars were born. “Yes,” she whispered. “When you lie in your bottom bunkbed at night, fretting and worrying. Being afraid of the dark, afraid of pain, afraid of being alone, I collect them all. I gather them in and bring them to Mater Palatia.” She touched my cheek. “Here I weave them into these robes, enough for everyone, Johnny. But since you are the first, you must decide what to name it.” I closed my eyes, soaking up the gentleness of her touch, feeling the embrace of the robe, seeing the vivid colors alive around me. “It’s a hug,” I said, “it’s a hug. Can I come back for more?” I asked and opened my eyes.

I was back in my bedroom, hearing Danny snoring overhead. “Thank you, “ I whispered to the dark. “Thank you.” And pulled the hug close around me and drifted off to sleep. So, now you know. You are most welcome…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.