The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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It started when we learned to record and project our dreams. Those first few years it was all celebration. At first it was prohibitively expensive to record dreams at home, so The Institute chose celebrities and other luminaries to sleep in their recording chamber, documenting their brain activity and translating it into video. From the beginning, the dreamer was the only one to see the rough cut of their dreams, and edit them as necessary. Once edited, they had their own prime time TV slot – nine o’clock on Sundays the world would gather to watch their favorite people dream.

A few years later the Home Kit was developed and people could record their dreams from the comfort of their beds. The world went from watching a few curated, manicured dreams to watching millions of hours of unedited, raw dreams online. There were the predictable hurdles: raw dreams mostly made little sense, lacked recognizable stars or casts, and frequently devolved into pornography. And nightmares were far more traumatic than any medium the world had witnessed, and did a lot of psychological damage to the young and the sensitive.

What the Home Kit allowed for, with the countless publicly-available recorded dreams that followed, was pattern recognition. The seasonality of nightmares, the evolution of dreams from childhood into adulthood, our shared anxieties and versions of utopia – suddenly everyone in the world was a dreams researcher, sharing their theories on the what and why of dreams. 

And then, somebody noticed Eve.

The public was quick to deny her presence, claiming that Eve was most likely an amalgam of a few celebrities whose likenesses were commonly combined in dreams. Yet once the first compilation was released, there was little denying that this woman appeared in the periphery of people’s dreams worldwide, from third world children to politicians to artists to affluent octogenarians. Once the first person spotted Eve, she started getting noticed everywhere.

For the most part, Eve stood at the edge of crowds, never taking an active role in anyone’s dream, content to watch from the sidelines. She was rarely in perfect focus, being so far from the spotlight, but she had a number of distinguishing features that set her apart, even at a distance. People labeled her The Watcher those first few weeks, as more evidence came in that she was a passive observer of seemingly everyone’s nightly stories.

The next step, of course, was to make contact. As her online sightings started numbering into the thousands it became evident that Eve never spoke to anyone, though in many cases, it seemed as though she was looking for the right moment to speak. By this point, the public knew the most efficient route to make contact – a call was put out to lucid dreamers. Soon after the introduction of the Home Kit, lucid dreamers became minor celebrities, as they could control their role in dreams, which made for more interesting, satisfying story lines. 

It took a few months for a lucid dreamer to find Eve in their dreams. It was as if she was aware of the media attention and went into hiding. A teenage girl finally noticed her in the middle of an anxiety dream she was having about her parents killing her cats. She pulled away from the narrative in the backyard and walked over to the fence that Eve was peering over shyly. That night the world gathered to watch Eve solemnly nod and beckon the teenager follow her. She then led the teen through countless backyards to a small, nondescript one that had what looked like a kid’s fort in a corner of the yard. She motioned for the teen to enter the fort. And then the teen woke up.

The mystery of what was in the fort became national headlines, and there was wild speculation, though some dream researchers dismissed it as something personal to the dreamer. It took three months for the next lucid dreamer to spot Eve. The fortysomething almost passed her in his car en route to a beheading. She stood quietly on the side of the empty road, corn fields all around her. When he approached her, she didn’t shy away. Instead she started walking into the field, looking over her shoulder to make sure he was following. She led him through field after field for half an hour, until they arrived at a clearing. In the middle was the same little fort. Once again, she motioned for the man to enter the fort.

This time something stranger happened. As soon as he began to crawl in, the point of view switched – Eve became the dreamer, waiting for the man outside the fort. Online that morning, everyone watched as the man disappeared into the fort. They waited for a full hour, as Eve stood patiently watching the fort for the better part of an hour. Then the man woke up. He had no memory of what was inside.

Soon everyone began getting led to the fort by Eve. There were a dozen more dreams the next day, a hundred within the week, and by the end of the month there were millions dreaming the same dream. Each time, something prevented them from seeing or remembering what was inside the fort. Each time Eve remained silent, simply leading and watching the dreamer.

There were those that claimed to remember what was inside the fort, but they couldn’t agree on what it was. There seemed to be absolutely no pattern to their claims, and for the most part, those who remembered tended to also believe in ghosts and alien abductions. They were quickly dismissed, and the public came to the conclusion that seeing was believing – someone had to get footage inside the fort to prove its contents.

After a year of speculating, and months past the point of losing hope, the entire world was given a brief glimpse inside. On an otherwise normal Sunday, seemingly everyone in the world had the fort dream on the same night. Eve found them in the dream and led them – some through forest paths, others through deserts, a few through coral tunnels at the bottom of the sea. They arrived at the fort, some after walking a few blocks, some after walking across a continent. She motioned, and as always, they entered. 

But this time they were greeted by a woman. She was a different woman to everyone. To some she was a ghastly old witch. To others an innocent blonde child. To a few a queen, and to many a pale, thin woman with piercing eyes. In every dream the situation was the same. As they entered the woman slowly looked up, then made a gesture that they sit in front of her. Once they were seated comfortably, the woman smiled widely and opened her mouth.

Illustration by James Sheridan