Sometimes when Hanks went to bed at night and she couldn’t fall asleep she made up a world of Her People. Her People were always happy families with a lot of children. Most times they didn’t have a dad and it was just a mom taking care of all of the children. When that happened the children had to all help each other and help the mom because it was too much for just one person to be able to do. Most times the families were poor. They had to reuse clothes passing them down to the little ones, they had to be sure to share their food with each other, and they did a lot of playing games, reading books and making pancakes with homemade brown sugar syrup. Usually Her People families had several girls so Hanks had a plethora of sisters. Thinking about these families and all the things they did together and all the love and caring they shared with each other helped Hanks drift off into sleep.
Some nights Hanks had bad dreams. Her mom told her they were nightmares, and Hanks certainly knew they were something terrible that happened to her at night when she was vulnerable and couldn’t run fast enough or protect herself or get away. One dream she often had was about a red wagon and a fire. Hanks had to run pulling the red wagon with her baby brother Snort in it and a fire was blazing right behind them almost catching them. Hanks ran and pulled and tried to breathe and knew she didn’t have time or breath to cry so she just ran faster. Snort hung on tight and did not fall out.
When Hanks was so exhausted she was afraid she would drop the handle on the wagon and the fire was so close the handle was hot and hot wind blew in Hanks’ face and Snort cried that he was scared. Hanks found herself coming out of the dream and she could hear herself screaming. She was screaming for dad.
Once Hanks was awake she knew she was safe in her bed and Snort was safe in his bedroom and she could actually stop calling for dad. But she also knew that if she called and dad woke up, he would come save her. So she kept calling even after she wasn’t afraid any more. Dad always came in and sat on her bed and asked her to tell him all about it. So Hanks told him about the dream and keeping Snort safe and how very scared they both were.
That was when dad would talk about the dream panther. He told Hanks that what she could do in her sleep was look around her when she was frightened and if she looked long enough and close enough she would see, off in the distance, a sleek black panther pacing around looking for her. What she was to do was to call to the panther and she would come to Hanks. Then Hanks could climb onto the dream panther’s back and fly off into the sky and take her away from whatever it was that was scaring her.
Hanks said, what about Snort?
Dad said grab his hand and pull him up on the dream panther’s back with you. Put him in front and keep him safe in your arms and the three of you will fly away to a safe and lovely land filled with fluffy white cotton ball trees and emerald green parrots and stars that flash off and on like blue and green and yellow lights. Dad and Hanks laughed together as they thought about that world dad wanted Hanks to see and then dad said ‘shhh, we don’t want to wake mom and Snort.’ So he tucked her back under the blankets and Hanks went back to sleep and had another dream.
This time she dreamed of a huge beautiful black cat, just like a panther. It walked over to her and licked her face. Hanks rubbed the soft back of the panther and put her face deep in the panther’s neck and breathed in deeply smelling clean fresh air and slick black lickerish candy. The panther, who said her name was Pan, put her head down low and Hanks climbed up, swung her leg over the panther’s back and put her arms around Pan’s neck. And off they went, flying over mountains and oceans and deserts, meadows and forests and tiny little cities and valleys and hills and farms. For a long time, they just glided through the sky, looking down over all the world below. Hanks didn’t mind at all that she left Snort home.
Flying high above earth and looking all around, Hanks could see everything. It was so very beautiful and peaceful. And Hanks felt very safe as she scrunched her legs tight around Pan’s belly and leaned against Pan as she hung onto her neck. One thing she was beginning to see more and more and was getting bigger and bigger was a yellow and orange and red and sometimes even blue flashing light all mingled together and flickering high and smoldering low and growing. As the dream panther swooped closer to the ground Hanks could see people running and hear them screaming and see the flames growing and moving very very fast. It was a fire! A small village down in the valley between beautiful mountains was on fire. Or at least something in the town was burning and all the people were running.
Hanks hung on tight to Pan and whispered in her ear, we have to do something. Those people are scared. They won’t be able to run fast enough to get away from the fire. Hanks certainly knew plenty about running away from fires. Although this was a dream and she knew that, nonetheless dad wasn’t here to help out and it appeared it was up to her and Pan. Her little red wagon would never be big enough for all of those people.
Pan glided down, down, down into the village and landed on the road right in front of all the screaming running frightened people. Grown ups were carrying babies, children were clinging onto hands, old folks were walking just as fast as they could. Everyone helped everyone else. Two big people picked up a lady who was old and carried her between them. One very strong woman grabbed a little girl and put her on her back and picked up a little boy and held him under her arm like a sack of potatoes and took hold of a young pregnant woman and pushed her toward the head of the crowd. Go this way, someone shouted, no this way someone else said. It was mayhem.
‘Follow us!’ shouted Hanks. She took a scarf from around her neck and waved it in the air. ‘This way!’ she shouted. ‘Follow us.’
‘What you got it mind, Pan?’ Hanks asked. Pan just kept on running as fast as she could and everyone began to follow her out of the village and into the hills. When lots of the people in front were safely out of the village, Pan bowed her head to the ground and Hanks slide off her back. Then Pan nudged Hanks in the bum and Hanks kept on running waving her scarf over her head directing the people forward. Hanks didn’t have a clue. She was doing what Pan told her to do. Running.
Pan ran around the crowd to the back and brushed gently up against stragglers so they would hurry and catch up. She bowed her head down and a little old man with only one leg climbed on her back and Pan kept urging everyone to keep going and to go faster. A tiny little girl fell off her father’s shoulders and a very tired mom dropped her baby boy. Pan bowed her head down and the man with one leg picked up the two little ones and held them close on Pan’s back. Everyone hurried.
Pan kept pushing all the people deeper and deeper into the hills and pretty soon the ones in front saw they were at a river they didn’t even know was there. They had never seen it before. Some jumped into the water and washed off the soot and grease and fire smell, some cupped their hands and drank, others splashed water on each other and began to laugh. They had been so frightened that their laughter was like being hysterical. Soon they were laughing so hard tears ran down their cheeks. It was contagious. All the ones coming up at the end started splashing and laughing and hugging and holding and saying we are alive! We lived! We have been helped and we helped each other. We did it because we all worked together.
When Hanks woke up she was grinning and hugging herself and she saw Bradshaw sitting on the side of her bed. ‘You know what happened, Bradshaw?’ Hanks asked laughing. ‘Yes!’Bradshaw said. It takes everyone to keep everyone safe. Everyone all worked together. It takes love and courage to save a village.
Hanks closed her eyes for just another little minute. She saw Pan walking slowly through the forest. Pan’s bright yellow eyes gleamed in the early morning sun and her sleek smooth athletic body walked across the boulders toward a river where she leaped in and swam toward a waterfall. Hanks saw her go under the water fall and disappear into a cave. Hanks knew Pan would be there when she needed her next.