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Whispers of a Faded Dreamer

 

 

 

 

WHISPERS OF A FADED DREAMER

Celesta Thiessen

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 Celesta Thiessen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – The Arrival

 

This is the story of a faded dreamer for that is what I am.

I was sitting on a large, flat rock on the sandy beach. With the city behind me, I looked out over the calm blue water as the sun shone down on me. But the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze didn’t touch my soul. I was alone. The horror was fading but tears filled my eyes again. I’d lost everything. I wouldn’t be able to help anyone, ever again. Tears spilled out and coursed down my cheeks. I let myself cry. There was no reason to try to be brave anymore.

“Now, who will dream my dreams with me?” I whispered.

 

***

 

“Cara Pierce, you know I don’t like you helping all the guys all the time.” Dennis stood too close to me in the school hallway. He towered over me, regarding me with his serious blue eyes. He was so sincere but…really? Scolding me and calling me by my full name?

Taking in his lanky features and fair hair, I took a small step back and tried for a smile. “I help the girls too.” I didn’t like where this conversation was going…again.

“It’s just…I’m your boyfriend. I want you talking to me, spending time with me.”

“I know…but you’re not in my Math class. My teacher likes that I help the other students understand how to do the assignments.”

“That’s not the point. I’m a guy. I know what guys are like. You’re a pretty, blue-eyed red-head. I know what they’re thinking. You’re sending the wrong signals, Cara. I don’t like you flirting with other guys.”

I looked at him incredulously. “Dennis…it’s not flirting – at all.”

He had been talking so loudly that people were staring at us. Dennis glanced down at his watch. “Gotta go. The bell’s about to ring.” He turned away from me and walked quickly down the hall.

Reluctantly, I entered the brightly lit classroom. I took my usual place, at a desk beside Jason, someone who appreciated my help. But it really wasn’t flirting.

Our elderly Math teacher went up to the front and droned on for a while about the topic of the day. I tried to pay attention to the examples that he put up on the board. Opening my binder and pulling out a pen, I copied down the problems and their solutions. I wondered if I should feel angry at what Dennis had said or if I should feel guilty. But the truth was that I felt bad about it already and I wondered how I would be able to make things up to him. I’d have to make sure I wasn’t sending the wrong signals. I wasn’t trying to send the wrong signals. Were boys really so complicated? I sighed. Dennis was such a good guy. I really loved him. But I was just never able to do good enough – even when I was really trying. There was an ache in my heart again. It seemed like I’d been struggling with that for a long time. I blinked and tried to refocus on the examples. It would never do to cry in class.

Finally the teacher stopped talking and wrote down which questions we needed to do from the textbook. After re-explaining how to do these problems to Jason, I started on the questions myself.

“How about a little help over here, Angel?” a boy called from across the room. Our elderly Math teacher, now sitting at his large wooden desk in the front of the room, pretended not to notice.

I looked up and sighed. Dark eyes, an attractive face, and dark hair, a little longer than was proper.

I turned to the guy I was sitting beside. “Do you think you’ve got it now, Jason?”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m sure I would have flunked this course without your help.” He was looking down at his paper, not smiling or anything.

“You’re welcome.” See, totally not flirting. I stood and slowly walked towards the tall guy who had called me ‘Angel’. He was still looking at me but now he was also laughing, along with the guy and the girl on either side of him.

“Bryce, if you want help, that’s not a great way to ask,” I said quietly, when I reached his desk.

“It’s Blaze,” he corrected.

“Okay, Blaze.” His real name was Bryson. Some people still called him Bryce. But he told everyone his name was Blaze. Maybe it was because he wanted to be an actor. Or maybe it was because he sometimes worked as a model for department store flyers or magazines. He kept some of the magazines in his schoolbag so he could show them around. Guess he figures he’s really hot…and, well, he is. He had really long eyelashes too, especially for a guy. I realized I’d just been staring at him. I felt my face flush. He laughed again and rocked in his chair. “Do you need help with something?” I asked.

“Nah, I’m just messing with you, Angel.”

I sighed again and walked back to my desk. Why did he always call me that? Their laughter followed me. I thought about not responding next time he called for me. It would probably be best but, sometimes, he really did need my help when he asked. I just wasn’t sure about the best way to deal with him. I didn’t want to be mean. But I certainly didn’t want to send the wrong signals.

I had only just returned to my seat beside Jason when the whole classroom began to tremble. I held on to the desk, vibrating beneath my hands. An earthquake! Only, I thought, we don’t get those here. I tried to remember what to do. A moan issued from my throat as the shaking intensified. I scanned the faces of those around me for some cue as to what to do but they only looked back at me, their expressions showing bewilderment.

The ground was bucking so much that I could hardly hold on to my desk. A metallic blackness descended. I screamed as I waited for the crushing blow I knew would kill me. But it never came. I opened my eyes. There was only blackness. I was sobbing. What’s happening!? The shaking lessened and then faded to a quiet hum. My fingers were cramped from clutching my desk so hard and I couldn’t stop crying.

“Cara…are you alright?” Jason’s quiet, even voice sounded out of the darkness beside me.

“No.” I released the desk and wiped moisture from my face and neck. I tried to control the shudders that ran through my body. “I can’t see anything.”

“What can I do to help you?” Jason asked.

“I can’t see. Everything’s dark. Can you see?”

“I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe, if I bring you to the window, it will help?”

“Okay.” I reached out into the darkness, desperately groping for Jason. He caught my hand and slowly led me through the inky blackness.

And then, suddenly, I could see again! Light filtered in through the window. Bryce lay sprawled on the ground, staring wide-eyed at something behind me. I released Jason’s hand and turned around to see what Bryce was looking at. There, right behind me, taking up over half the classroom, was a black metallic…well, it could only be one thing…a spaceship.

Only part of it was visible. It was massive! I reached out to touch the dull metal surface but my fingertips passed right through the hull. I gasped and stumbled away from the thing.

“What’s wrong, Cara?” asked Jason. There was concern on his face. Our teacher was approaching me from the front of the classroom. The students around us were mostly looking at me, rather than at the spaceship.

“What do you mean, what’s wrong? Don’t you see it?” I asked. The hair on the back of my neck began to rise.

“See what?” Jason asked quietly, still staring at me.

“That!” I gestured towards the ship.

Jason simply shook his head.

“I think I do see something,” said a girl still sitting in her desk nearby. She was peering in the direction of the ship. “It was weird. A minute ago, I thought I heard something too. Rumbling. Like thunder far away. But it was hard to concentrate on it with the way you were crying so loud.”

Were they all crazy? Couldn’t they see the thing? What was going on? I turned to see that Bryce had righted himself. He was leaning against the back wall of the class, his wide eyes looking straight at the ship. He saw it.

“Is there some problem, Cara?” the Math teacher asked.

“Yes. Can’t you see that?” I gestured toward the massive spaceship.

“Cara, please step out into the hall with me.”

I followed the teacher out the door into the hall. I glanced around. Everything looked normal out here.

“Do you mind explaining what that was all about?” he asked.

I peered through the glass panel in the door. The spaceship was still there. I shook my head. “I can’t. I don’t know what’s going on.”

The Math teacher stared at me for a moment. “Are you taking drugs?”

“No! Of course not!”

He looked at me for a moment longer. I think our Math teacher typically pretended not to notice what was going on in the classroom so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it. But since this was way more intense than the usual scuffles that went on, he’d actually intervened. Now, clearly, he was out of his depth. “Do you…want to speak with the guidance counselor?”

“No…I think…I think I need to go home.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? Are you well enough to go home?”

“I live close by,” I assured him. “It’s less than a seven minute walk and my mother’s a nurse.” I turned to go. There was no way I was going to be speaking to the guidance counselor about this.

“Don’t forget your book and pencil.” He pointed back into the classroom.

“Right. I’m just going to go use the washroom first.”

The old man nodded and shuffled back into the classroom like it was perfectly normal for an alien spacecraft to land in our school. There was no way I was going back in there. I needed to find out what was going on! …Or at least get away from it. I knew my mother wouldn’t be at home because of her new job. She had gone back to school to become a nurse. The house was empty – a refuge. I walked through the hall towards the exit. Certainly there would be something on the news or online about what had happened.

I paused at the front door of the school. But what about Dennis? Was he in danger here? I couldn’t just leave. They had all acted like I was crazy but…I needed to warn him. I turned back into the school. Just then, the bell sounded, indicating a class change. Students flowed from the classrooms. I fought my way upstream to the class I knew Dennis had next. On some of the faces I passed, I saw fear or confusion. But clearly, for most people, it was just a normal day.

I found Dennis sitting in his next class. I motioned him out into the already clearing hall.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, joining me just outside his classroom.

“Did you see it? Did you hear it?”

He shook his head. “No. What?”

I looked passed him and saw that part of the ship was protruding into this classroom too. “That.” I pointed towards it. He looked in the direction I was indicating. Then he looked back at me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cara. Don’t you have a class right now? Can we talk about this later?”

I didn’t say anything so Dennis went back to his seat. He didn’t see it. I walked quickly through the hallway to the door that led out to the parking lot. The bell rang, indicating the beginning of the next class. I pushed the door open and stood on the step for a moment, taking a deep breath of the warm air. The sunlight felt good on my skin. If only this were some crazy dream. Fear turned me cold inside as I noticed a huge black ship in the parking lot. I looked around. From where I stood, I could see six massive spaceships in the neighborhood.

Someone came out through the door behind me and plowed into me. “Could you move?” he said in an irritated tone. It was Bryce. I stepped to the side but continued to gawk at what just couldn’t be happening. Was it an alien invasion?

“You see them too,” said Bryce. He had stopped beside me and was looking out past the parking lot.

“Yes. Why can’t the others see them? Are we just going crazy?” I asked.

“Going crazy together? I don’t think so. Maybe they’re cloaked or something.”

“But we see them.”

“I don’t know, okay?” he snapped.

“What are we going to do?”

I’m going home. If it’s the end of the world, I’m not going to get in trouble for ditching class.” Bryce strode over to a metallic blue car, climbed in, gunned the engine and peeled away.

I just stood there and watched him go. Why could we see them but the others couldn’t? Checking the television and online were my best options, I decided. I struck out towards home. Taking my usual shortcut down the back alley behind a store, I encountered a problem. A spaceship was blocking my way, taking up the whole lane. There was no way around it as part of it jutted into the fence on one side and the back of the store on the other. I thought momentarily about walking through it but I couldn’t bring myself near enough to see if that would even be possible. The thought of being inside that alien darkness again freaked me out. So I backtracked five minutes and gave it a wide berth, going around the building and through the front parking lot.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – Alien Conflict

 

It was over twenty minutes before I got home because of all the detours I had to make around spaceships. This was crazy! I was relieved to see that none of them had landed on my house. When I got inside, I locked the door and sank down onto the couch. I pulled the remote from the coffee table and clicked on the TV. On the news channel, the reporter was holding up a piece of paper. I sat up straight and turned up the volume. On the paper was a drawing of one of the spaceships!

“This is a picture of what those affected say they are seeing right now. It is unclear at the present time whether the ships are real and only a portion of the population can see them or whether there is some other explanation. There are some who are calling this some kind of elaborate hoax. Hand-drawn pictures like this one can now be found all over the world.”

The TV displayed news clips showing similar illustrations from other countries – Russia, Japan, Germany, Australia, South Africa – and then returned to the first reporter. “And, now, our own Jenny Watts, with a leading expert in the field of extraterrestrial research, live from Pennsylvania.”

The picture cut to a young, thin, female reporter, standing with an elderly man in a white lab coat.

“This is Jenny Watts reporting live from the laboratory of Dr. Vauhnhoffen. Dr. Vauhnhoffen is a professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Vauhnhoffen, what is your professional assessment of the current situation?”

The camera panned more towards the scientist. I shuddered as part of a spaceship became visible on the screen.

“I believe the ships are probably actually here,” said Dr. Vauhnhoffen.

Great. He believed they were probably here – when he was standing right next to one of them. Some expert. I leaned forward and rested my head in my hands as I continued to listen.

“The chances of so many people in the world all having the same delusion at the same time is extremely improbable. Ah, here is one of my lab assistants – Richard.”

I looked up to see what was happening.

The old man beckoned to someone off screen. A young man stumbled into view. But he wasn’t looking at Dr. Vauhnhoffen or the reporter. He was staring, wide-eyed, at the menacing black ship jutting into the laboratory.

“Are there aliens in there, Dr. Vauhnhoffen?” he asked quietly.

“Do you see a spaceship in this room?” asked Dr. Vauhnhoffen.

“Yes. It’s right there.” He pointed to where I could plainly see the black protrusion.

“Interesting,” said the elder scientist.

I rubbed at my forehead again. A scream came from the TV. I startled and looked back up.

Richard was pointing and yelling a warning. “Something’s coming out!” And then I saw them too. Black, vaporous forms were pouring from a grey fracture in the black ship. I put a hand over my mouth. Were they aliens or something else? They had two short arms and two little legs that trailed about with them but the wispy figures had faces so black that I could discern no features. I shivered and moved my finger to the power button on the remote but didn’t press it. I didn’t want to see more but I knew I needed to know what was happening. I put the remote control back down. What was going on? Was this really an alien invasion? Oh, why can’t this just be a bad dream? I want to wake up now!

The TV now showed the male reporter back in the newsroom. An alien floated slowly across the screen but the reporter just kept talking as if it weren’t there.

Just then, I saw something dark on the edge of my vision. I turned my head to see what was there and screamed. One of those things was floating in my living room, not ten feet away from me! I screamed again, pulled one of the pillows from the sofa onto my lap and clung to it. The creature stopped and seemed to regard me for a moment with its featureless face of darkness.

I tried to calm my breathing. The thing started moving again, continuing its slow progress through the love seat and then through the wall. Were these things invading our planet? Or were they just explorers from a different world? Another one of the creatures came through the wall from the kitchen.

“What do you want?” I asked quietly. But there was no reply. The thing did not pause. Did they want to hurt us? Could they? They seemed incorporeal. “Hey,” I addressed the alien again, this time more loudly. Again, no response. “Think fast,” I called as I tossed the pillow in its direction, only wondering, as an afterthought, if the action might make it angry. The pillow fell right through the dark being. When the alien reached the far wall, it disappeared through it.

Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. Maybe I could get used to it. I got up to get myself a glass of orange juice. Maybe I could just learn to ignore them. I’d learned to cope with some pretty bad stuff. But was this just the first part to some worse plan? I poured slowly and then walked back to the living room and settled down on the couch.

They were interviewing another scientist now, remotely, with the screen split, one side showing the reporter and one side showing a female scientist with short brown hair.

“You see them?” the reporter asked.

“Yes. I have seen the spaceships and the aliens themselves quite distinctly. It’s interesting to note that not everyone who sees them can see them with the same clarity. In fact, some people can only sense the beings rather than actually seeing them.”

“That doesn’t sound too scientific, Ms. Voth,” the reporter commented.

“On the contrary. The job of a scientist is, first, to observe the world and, then, to try to understand it.”

“So what is your assessment of these aliens?”

“Any conclusions at this point would be premature, but, as a hypothesis, I think the aliens may be operating on a slightly different plane of existence. But I think that some form of communication with them may be possible. We haven’t had any success in that area as of yet but are excited about the possibility.” The woman was smiling now and gesturing as she spoke. “Oh, and it’s also interesting to note that we can see them on television. So, whatever they are, they can be recorded and broadcast through television signals. In fact, I see one near you right now!”

The reporter looked around curiously as a dark, incorporeal being floated by, between the reporter and the camera. I shuddered.

I watched TV for much of the afternoon. At about three o’clock, the door creaked open. Mom was home.

“What are you doing here, Cara? Shouldn’t you be at school?”

“I can see the aliens.”

“You can see the aliens. Of course you can. Now why does that not come as a surprise to me?”

“Maybe it’s because I’m adopted,” I muttered. I went to my room but closed the door quietly. If I had slammed it, she would have been sure to follow. I’d always felt like the odd one out in this family. Mom and I never really got on. We were just too different. Then, a couple of years ago, I found out I was adopted. That’s why she always favored Matthew, my younger brother, the biological child. I’m not sure that she’d ever loved me but, since Dad got sick, things had been even worse.

Now that she was home, the house was no longer a refuge. I would have to go out for the evening or else she’d probably end up getting physical with me. She’d been doing that lately. I’d thought of calling child protection services but it was only two years until I’d be able to move out on my own and I didn’t want to have to switch schools. But maybe none of that would matter now.

Quietly, I stuffed a jacket in a bag and slung it over my shoulder. I opened the door a crack. Water was running in the shower. I walked quickly to the front door, making sure I had my house key in my pocket. Then I slipped outside, locking the door behind me.

The view outside was jarring. I could see five spaceships from the front step of my house. I prayed the aliens had nothing sinister in mind. But, even if that were true, how would I ever get used to this?

My feet were already carrying me down the road. I would go to Dennis. He lived about a twenty-minute walk away. His parents were very nice. I ate there a couple nights a week. They never asked me prying questions about my family life, even though they knew my father was in the hospital.

As I approached the door, I realized I was a little early. Dennis wouldn’t be home from school yet. I hesitated, trying to figure out what to do. Just then the door opened. It was his mother.

“Come in; come in, Dear. How nice to see you! Dennis isn’t home yet but come on in and I’ll give you a cup of milk and some cookies I baked fresh just this afternoon.”

She held the door open to me so I had no choice but to go in. And, to be honest, cookies sounded great.

“Thank you,” I said as I followed her to the kitchen. I hoped Dennis wouldn’t be mad that I came to his house when he wasn’t home.

But, as it turned out, he was. I could see it on his face as soon as he walked into the kitchen a little while later.

“What are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d come over. My mom… you know.”

“Why was she mad this time?”

“Because I went home early.”

“So that’s why I couldn’t find you after school. Why did you go home early?” He sat down at the table and picked a cookie off the plate.

“Because of the alien spaceships. I was really freaked out. I just had to find out what was going on.”

His mouth formed a hard line and he put the cookie back. “Aliens? Some people at school were talking about that this afternoon. I don’t believe in it for a second.”

“It was on the news! People have seen them all over the world,” I protested.

“There are plenty of things on the news that don’t turn out to be accurate.”

“But…but…I see them!”

Dennis pressed his lips together more tightly and I saw the jaw muscle on the side of his face clenching. He was mad all right.

“I want you to leave, Cara.”

“But that’s not fair! It’s not my fault that I see them,” I sputtered.

“Someone told me that you were holding Jason’s hand in Math class today. Is that true?”

“He was helping me! I couldn’t see anything! Did that someone tell you that part too?”

“Why, yes. They did. They said you had a huge, freak conniption fit and then Jason held your hand to comfort you. Is that supposed to make it better for me?”

“It wasn’t like that!”

“Look, I told you to stop flirting with those guys in Math class and what do you do? You wig out and then start holding hands with one of them.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. “Dennis, you’re not being fair.”

“I want you to leave now. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” He pointed to the door.

There was nothing more to say. Maybe this would be the end for us. I grabbed my bag and stumbled out the door.

His mother’s voice floated out after me. “Cara’s not going to stay for dinner?”

“No. She has somewhere else she needs to be.”

I walked quickly down the sidewalk away from his house. But I had nowhere else I needed to be. I couldn’t go home yet; that was certain. At least I had indulged in the cookies. There’d be no other supper for me now. I walked to the public library. Maybe I could find more news about the aliens on the computers there.

The small library was almost empty. I plunked myself down at one of the computers. I typed ‘Aliens news’ into the search bar. News reports filled the screen. But my vision was so blurred by tears that I couldn’t make out the words. I put my hand to my gut. It hurt too bad. Why was Dennis being so unfair? Why was he being such a jerk? He rejected me just when I needed him the most. I knew I should break up with him the next time I saw him. But he had seemed so stable, so perfect. And his family was so nice.

Someone sat down in the cubicle beside me. Quietly, I wiped the tears from my face. I would wait and see what Dennis had to say tomorrow.

“You okay?” I looked up to see Bryce.

“Are you stalking me or something?” I snapped.

“No. I’m looking online to find out what’s happening.” He dropped a bag on the floor at his feet with a loud thump and then started typing something into the computer.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said.

He turned back to me, the irritation gone from his face. “No problem. What, you having boy problems or something?” he teased.

“How did you…” I trailed off as I watched his face.

His mouth had fallen open in surprise and then he laughed. “I was joking. I thought you were upset because of this whole alien thing. I mean, that’s my most pressing concern right now.”

“Oh.”

“Do you want to talk about your boy problems?” Bryce leaned into my cubical and smiled. He really did have an attractive face, especially up close like this.

I swallowed hard. “No. Let’s just forget you said that.”

“Fine with me.” He pulled back into his own seat and pressed ‘Enter’ to begin his search. “So how about these aliens?” he asked casually.

Now it was my turn to laugh and he joined in. How about these aliens like how about this weather. “So, what do they look like to you?” I asked.

“The ships or the aliens?”

“Both.”

“The ships look like some kind of black metal and the aliens look like black ghosts with legs and arms.”

“Okay, that’s what they look like to me, too,” I confirmed.

“And you were expecting that I might see them differently?”

“I heard on TV that some people see them more faintly or something.”

“So, what, are we more intelligent or just more spiritually perceptive?” he asked, leaning towards me again.

“I don’t know. Maybe we’re just more unlucky.”

Bryce laughed at that. But it wasn’t a mean-sounding laugh. I smiled and then I laughed too. This was all just too crazy. It felt good to release the tension I’d been carrying around all day.

“What are you doing?” a male voice demanded.

I sat up straight and looked to my other side. Dennis was standing there. My mouth opened in surprise but no words came out.

“I come looking for you to tell you that I’m sorry and what do I find? You flirting with another guy again!”

“Hey, it’s not what it looks like,” said Bryce.

“Shut up. Cara, it’s over.” Dennis turned on his heal and stormed off.

“Wait!” I called after him. “Wait! I don’t even like him!” I knew I shouldn’t be pleading but I couldn’t help myself. I stood up. “Dennis, I’m sorry. Please come back. I don’t even like him!”

The librarian scowled at me from across the room. Bryce didn’t miss the cue. “This is a library, Miss,” he said in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “Please stop with the screaming.”

“I don’t even like you, Bryce,” I snapped as I grabbed my bag and strode away.

“It’s Blaze,” he called after me. But I couldn’t have cared less.

I had time to kill. I walked to my favorite place by the lake. It took forty minutes and, by the time I got there, I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was probably for the best. Dennis was just so jealous. It was cute at first, like he really loved me. But, now, he was just angry all the time.

I sat on the beach and absently shoved a perfect shell into my pocket. I’d have to hide it in my room. Shells still fascinated me but Mom objected to my collections. Like she objected to most things about me. Looking out over the water, I watched the sunlight playing on the waves. This beach wasn’t very popular and, being that it was a weeknight and not very warm, I had it mostly to myself. I scooped up cool dry sand and let it run through my fingers. So much had changed so quickly. I was scared. What would happen now? I sat on the beach and watched the sun set over the water.

It was just after 10 pm when I crept into the house. My mother would be asleep by now. Matt would already be in his room and he knew better than to wake Mom up after she was in bed. She would be working the early shift in the hospital tomorrow. These days, Mom spent most of her time at the hospital, either working or sitting by Dad’s bedside. I got to see him once a week but he was mostly just asleep anyway.

Silently, I closed the door to my bedroom, put on my PJs and slipped under the covers. My aunt had said that Mom was just upset because she was losing Dad. I knew that was part of it but it was also the money. We almost lost the house because of the ongoing medical bills. Now that she was working as a nurse, we might be able to keep it but we were in so deep… When I turned sixteen in two months, I’d be able to get a job and help out. I fell asleep thinking about money and how to help my family. But my dreams were all about Dennis.

 

***

 

I opened my eyes and saw the grey light of pre-dawn filtering through my curtained window. The dream had been unsettling. Dennis was breaking up with me over and over again. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. Pulling my laptop from my bag, I flipped it open and surfed the net. I checked the news first. There wasn’t much new information. I was hungry but I didn’t want to leave my room yet. So I put in my ear buds and listened to some music. Several hours later, I heard the front door close and my mother’s car starting. Mom and Matthew were gone. Now I could get up.

I helped myself to a big bowl of sugary cereal and then another. It was definitely a two-bowl morning. I took a shower and got myself ready. Then I sat on the couch and flipped on the news channel, watching with an eye on the clock. I had to leave in four minutes. I liked to time it just perfectly so that I would have to spend as little time as possible in that mandatory institution with its pointless monotony and over-crowded hallways.

Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was one minute later than I was supposed to leave. I’d have to really hustle now or I wouldn’t make it to class before the bell. I grabbed my backpack, shoved my feet into my sneakers and sprinted through the door, slamming it behind me.

I walked into my bio class ten minutes late. Detouring around the ships had really messed with my schedule. The teacher didn’t look up as I slipped into my seat. As luck would have it, bad luck that is, Bryce and I had most of our classes together. He stared at me from across the room. I ignored him.

The day passed ever so slowly, with its boring usualness except for the spaceship parked in the Math and Chem classrooms. I asked to switch seats for Math because there was no way I was going to sit inside that ship in the dark. When Jason called to me for help, I made him come to my desk.

“You don’t want to sit beside me anymore?” Jason joked as he crouched beside my desk.

“No, it’s not that. It’s…”

“She just likes being near me,” said Bryce from just behind me. His entourage roared with laughter. I ignored them.

After school, I saw Dennis at his locker. He saw me too but he didn’t say anything. So neither did I. It was raining on the way home. I had been in such a rush that morning that I had forgotten a jacket.

Bryce’s shiny blue car pulled up in front of me. He leaned out the window. “Want a ride?”

“No, thanks.”

“I’m not going to abduct you or anything.”

“No, thanks.”

“Come on, please? I wanna talk.”

“I said no, thanks,” I snapped.

“Fine.” He gunned the engine, a mini-tsunami splashing me in his wake.

On the way home, I let myself cry. It was raining anyway so who would know? I had learned to cry quietly at home, without sniveling. I didn’t get in trouble that way. I missed Dennis already. He was my first kiss. I had thought he would be my one and only.

I went into the house. Everything was quiet. I spied a note on the kitchen table. Leaving my wet shoes by the door, I went to the table to read the note.

 

[Help yourself to whatever you want for supper. I’ll be at the hospital for most of the evening. Matthew is at Grandma’s.
– Mom]

 

She hadn’t even written my name on the note. I hopped into the shower to warm up. Then I pulled on some dry clothes. After I fixed myself a bowl of cereal, I plopped down on the couch. I kept hoping the phone would ring and it would be Dennis saying he was sorry and that we could go back to being like we were. I was so happy before. Stupid aliens. I clicked on the TV and briefly flicked through the channels. Nothing on. Finally, my flicking stopped when I reached a news channel.

“Something’s changing.” The female reporter was clearly reading off-screen prompts. “There’s something different in the sky.”

 

 

Chapter 3 – FUN

 

I stood up, cracked open the front door and looked up into the sky. There, in golden text, scrolling upwards like in the Star Wars movies, was a message. My mouth dropped open as I read the words.

 

If you are reading this message, Kingcade Worldcorp thanks you for your participation in this social experiment. What you have just experienced is part of our new entertainment technology, Eclipsesys. We want YOU to be a part of this new adventure. Find us on kingcadeworldcorp.com.

 

I scanned the neighborhood. The black metal ships and the apparition-like aliens were gone. I slammed the door shut and locked it. Hurrying to my bedroom, I grabbed my laptop and then headed back to the living room. As I plopped back down on the couch, I flipped open my computer. Then I typed the website URL into the browser. The site loaded.

 

If you got our message, you are highly compatible with our technology – Eclipsesys, the entertainment technology of the future! Congratulations! You are a Dreamer.

Eclipsesys interfaces with the human brain using Focused Unifarious Neurostimulator(FUN) waves. FUN waves are a highly specialized type of low frequency, non-ionizing, electromagnetic transmission which interacts directly with human alpha, beta, and delta brain waves.

 

There was a reason I didn’t really want to become a nurse. On top of not liking blood, I also didn’t really care for this type of technical information. I could hardly believe it! Seriously? FUN waves and no aliens? Well, the no alien part was good, at least. I read more.

 

Kingcade Worldcorp has an exciting opportunity for all Dreamers! Working for our Eclipsesys division as a dream hub, you can host this new form of entertainment at our Peaceful Sleep Clinics. This will be better than movies, better than television! Finally, an entertainment experience that the user perceives as entirely real! People will plug into units installed in their homes to dream your dreams with you.

 

I clicked the page closed. Creepy. I didn’t want to read anymore. So it was a hoax after all! Guess Dennis was right. It had fooled me entirely. I vowed to try not to be so gullible in the future. Never just believe something – even if you see it with your own eyes, apparently. Well, at least there were no aliens to worry about. I watched some dumb show on TV. Maybe I could talk to Dennis tomorrow. Maybe things could go back to being okay between us.

At just after eight, I headed to bed. I wanted to be in my room by the time my mother got home. With everything that was going on, I didn’t want to have to deal with her too. After waking up so early, I was tired and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Things were going to be okay now. No aliens – what a relief! Maybe everything would even get back to normal. Deep down, though, I knew that normal was gone for good.

Some time before I fell asleep, I heard Mom get home. She was yelling at Matthew. Dad must not be doing well. I wished there was something I could do to help.

 

***

 

When I got to Bio class the next day, I found Bryce waiting for me, eyes all excited. I decided it couldn’t hurt to talk to him at this point. I was probably never getting Dennis back anyway. I sat in the desk beside him. Bryce grinned broadly.

“So, are you excited?” he asked.

“About what?”

“This whole dream hub thing sounds interesting.”

“Sounds weird to me. And a little invasive. I’m not sure I want people sharing my dreams.”

“You’d like my dreams.” He raised his eyebrows at me.

I sighed and opened my binder. Why did he have to come on so strong all the time?

“I’m just joking. You don’t have to look like I’m harassing you or something. Hey, what did you dream about, anyway?” he asked.

I looked at him and tried to smile. “I don’t know. I don’t remember my dreams most of the time.” I didn’t mean to be unkind to Bryce. It just came naturally.

“Aww…you didn’t dream about me?” I didn’t say anything but the look on my face must have set him straight.

“Just kidding! Just kidding! I was at a rock concert. Rock on!” he growled, holding up his hand, his thumb pressing down his two middle fingers, pinky and index fingers pointing into the air.

I sighed. His antics were attracting a crowd. And class was starting.

A tone sounded on the PA system. Then the principal’s voice came over the speaker. “Everyone who saw the message in the sky, please stop by the main office at lunch time.” He repeated the message again and then the PA clicked off.

“Oh, oh, we’re in trouble,” sang Bryce. “Getting called to the principal’s office.”

My stomach squeezed a little. “I wonder what that’s about?”

“My guess would be that it has something to do with the message in the sky,” said Bryce.

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. He snickered to himself. Did he try to annoy me on purpose?

At lunchtime, I went to the office. There wasn’t a long line up or anything. I guess there weren’t that many of us who could see it. The secretary handed me a glossy single page flyer. I read it as I pushed open the door to the parking lot and started walking home for lunch.

The message, in bold print, on the top of the colorful flyer, read: We Welcome You To Our Peaceful Sleep Clinics – Starting Wage is $100/hr.

One hundred dollars an hour?! That was a lot! I would be able to help Mom with the medical bills and that would really relieve tension at home. I scanned the rest of the paper. The sleep clinics were places where Dreamers could go to sleep. Everything was automated. The clinics would allow users to interface with the Dreamer to experience their dreams. The flyer claimed that it was totally safe.

It did seem a little weird. It meant I’d be sharing my dreams with… who knew how many people. I shrugged. Some of my dreams were pretty awesome. It could be fun. And I wouldn’t have to go to college to become a nurse. I could do this instead. I did like the idea of helping people as a nurse but, in all honesty, I didn’t think I was cut out for it. It was something Mom wanted me to do but it wasn’t something I was actually suited for. For months, I’d been trying to think of something else I could do. Mom’s aspiration in the field of medicine just wasn’t for me. I loved sleeping and dreaming though – two of my favorite things. And maybe I could help people this way. Maybe I could teach people about honor and goodness through my dreams; maybe I could bring them joy. Bringing people happiness was a form of helping, right?

By the time I walked into my house that lunch hour, I had decided. I was going to be a Dreamer at a Peaceful Sleep Clinic.

After lunch that afternoon, I saw Bryce in Math class. “So, are you going to do it?” I asked him.

“Nah. Don’t see why I would.”

“Because we’d get paid a hundred dollars an hour, for sleeping!”

“My family’s totally loaded, you know? And I make enough spending money with my modeling gigs. I’m keeping my eyes on the prize. I’m going to be a movie star one day.”

“But this won’t take up all your time. It’s just when you’re sleeping. I thought you were totally excited for it?”

“I changed my mind. There’s no way this is really going to become more popular than movies. I’m going to become an actor. Plus the flyer made it sound like we were obligated or something, like we didn’t have a choice. I don’t like that.”

“I’m doing it because I want to help people. I think maybe my dreams could help people.”

He shrugged. “Whatever. I don’t care about helping. No one controls me.”

After school, I saw Dennis at his locker. He slammed it closed and started towards me. He stopped a few feet away.

“Hi,” I said. He still looked mad. What did he have to be mad about? He broke up with me!

“You’ve been talking to that guy, Bryce.”

“What, do you have spies everywhere? I’m a free agent. I can talk to whomever I want.”

“I saw the flyer and I checked out that company, Kingcade Worldcorp. There were no aliens.”

“Yeah, you were right all along.” I tried to smile at him. But he just looked angry.

“I don’t want you going to the clinic.”

“It’s not your choice, Dennis. They’re offering a lot of money. I can help my family this way.”

“I’m sure that’s really why you want to do it. Or is it because you want everyone to see your dreams? Dreams are private, Cara. It’s unnatural. What, are you some kind of exhibitionist or something? It’s disgusting.”

“That’s not fair, Dennis. I am really doing this to help my mom. You know we’re drowning in debt because Dad’s sick. But, even without all that, I see this as a good opportunity. I can bring my dreams, my form of entertainment, to people. It’ll be a more positive option. Better than most of the other entertainment choices out there. It might even help people.”

Dennis laughed derisively, an ugly expression marring his features as he stepped towards me. “You’ll be a dream-sharing prostitute.” He stopped laughing and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. He was standing too close again. “Cara, if you do this thing, that’s it. There’s no chance for us. We won’t even still be friends.” His narrowed blue eyes locked on mine in a challenge.

I spoke quickly before I lost the nerve. “Then I guess we’re not friends.” There was a tremble in my voice but I snapped my mouth shut and just stared back at him. Dennis opened his mouth like he was about to say something more but then he turned around and started down the hall. I stood there and watched my only hope for a normal, happy life walk away from me forever.

 

Chapter 4 – The New Job

 

That evening, Mom was home and we had a family dinner, the three of us. Matthew was smiling a lot. I could tell he was enjoying Mom’s improved mood. She had made pork chops, rice and peas. I set the table without being asked and got out the juice and the salt and pepper. I wanted to try to keep things nice for Matthew.

“How was your day at school?” Mom asked. I looked up and saw that she was talking to me.

“It was okay.”

“Good. Let’s eat. I’m starved.” We all sat down at the table. Then we recited our usual before-meal prayer in unison.

“Thank you, God, for the wonderful food we’re having today. Amen.” Mom liked to keep the praying short and simple, nothing too religious. She didn’t like anything too religious. She probably thought it was a waste of time. Dad always liked praying. But, to Mom, it was just a routine.

When the meal was almost over, I pulled the flyer from my pocket and unfolded it. I slid it across the table towards my mother. She wiped her fingers on a napkin, picked up the paper and scanned it. When Mom looked up, her eyes met mine.

“What are you thinking, Honey?”

“I would like to sleep there. Then I could help out with the bills.”

Mom’s eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t expected that. She stood up, walked around the table and pulled me up into an awkward hug. After a tight squeeze, she let go. “I think that’s a good idea. I’ll sign the application, giving my permission for you to start work early, because you’re not quite sixteen yet.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Relief flooded my mind. She was going to let me do it.

“When do you want to start?” Mom sat back down.

“The flyer says the clinics are already open. I’d like to start right away if I could.”

“That sounds like a great idea!” My mother beamed. “I’ll take you there right after supper.”

Maybe our finances were even worse than I thought. “I think I need to take some online test and then they give me the address.”

My mother still smiled at me from across the table. “That’s fine. Why don’t you go take the test now, while I clean up? Then we’ll go.”

I tried to smile back. Hopefully, things would be better now. I would be able to help the family and stay out of her way.

While Mom did the dishes, I went to my room. I picked up my laptop from my nightstand, set it on my lap and opened it. I surfed to kingcadeworldcorp.com. Near the bottom of the page, there was a link that said, “Click here to take the test to be qualified as a Dreamer!” I clicked the link. The ‘test’ turned out to be really easy.

 

If you can see what’s written on this page, congratulations! You’ve passed the test. Proceed to 232 McGregor Street, the nearest Peaceful Sleep Clinic to your location, to enroll in the Dreamer program! This is the first day of the rest of your life!

 

My backpack was on the floor beside my bed. I grabbed a pen and small piece of paper from it and scribbled down the address. Then I took my time packing up my PJs, toothbrush, a change of clothes and the other things I would need. If I came out of my room too soon, Mom might not think it was a real test. I didn’t want her to get upset or change her mind or anything. She was unpredictable and random like that, sometimes. Or maybe I just didn’t want to do the dishes. I smirked a little at that but I felt bad too. It was usually my job. But I’d be contributing financially now, so it was probably okay to slack off chores for one night.

When I came out, Mom had just finished up in the kitchen.

“I’m ready,” I announced.

“Great! Perfect timing. You got the address?”

“Yes. Right here.” I held up the scrap of paper.

“Good.” She took the address from me. “Matthew, put your shoes on. Let’s go.”

The three of us piled into the car and drove for about ten minutes to McGregor Street. We arrived at a small, unmarked building. It looked new. The building’s exterior was very clean and brightly lit. But there was no sign on the outside of the building saying we were in the right place. We got out of the car and approached the building. The door opened for us automatically. I felt a little intimidated as we went in. A security guard, standing in the foyer, nodded at us. My heart squeezed a little more but he didn’t say anything to us.

“Why did I have to come?” whined Matthew.

“Hush,” said our mother.

In the lobby, there was a woman sitting behind a fancy, large, white desk – one of those tall ones where you can’t really see the person until you walk right up to it. I went up to the desk.

“Hi, I’d like to work here. I took the test online.”

The lady behind the desk handed a clipboard up towards me. “Please fill this out.”

I took the clipboard and, leaning against the desk, filled it out, using the pen that was attached to the clipboard. Mom leaned over my shoulder and told me what to write when I got stuck. Then she signed on the line to give parental approval for starting work early. The woman checked over the form.

“Thank you. This is perfect,” she said, with a pleasant smile. “When would you like to start?”

Holding up my bag to the lady, I said, “I’ve come prepared. I think I’d like to start tonight.” I looked to my mother for confirmation. She nodded.

But, on the inside, I was starting to get cold feet. I wished I hadn’t told Mom that I wanted to start today. It would be strange sleeping somewhere new. I was feeling really anxious about it now. The whole thing seemed just so weird and creepy. Maybe Dennis was right. Was I a bad person for wanting this? Could I even trust them? When you’re sleeping, you’re totally vulnerable. Was this going to be okay? No one was reassuring me. The receptionist seemed friendly in a professional way but… it was all so impersonal.

It was as if Mom could sense my uneasiness. “You’re very lucky to get such a wonderful first job,” she murmured as she patted me on the shoulder. I guess she wasn’t worried that they would do experiments on me or abuse me or anything. Or else she didn’t care. Or else she was so blinded by the promise of money that nothing else mattered to her. But she did pat me so…that was something at least.

Okay, I was probably just freaking out inside for nothing. I waved goodbye to Matthew and Mom as they left.

“Right this way,” said the receptionist. I put my backpack on and followed her through the door behind her desk into a wide, brightly lit, tiled hallway. Everything was clean and white. There were six doors leading from the hall, two closed and four open. She led me into a small, white-walled room. There was a cot in the middle of the room. It was sort of like a hospital bed. There was an orange, flexible, bowl-like hat on the metal counter that ran along one side of the room. No wires connected the hat with anything. And that was all. I guess I was expecting a metal-dome headpiece connected by wires and tubes to the walls and ceiling. I was relieved. This didn’t seem too Frankensteinish.

“So, you can just get in bed and put on the orange sleeping cap, whenever you’re ready.”

“Is there somewhere I can change?” I patted the shoulder strap of my backpack.

“Certainly. There’s a bathroom right this way. And also lockers where you can store your things.” She led me out of the room and pointed past a closed door to an open one at the end of the hall.

“Thanks.”

In the clean, one-person bathroom, I slowly went through the motions of undressing and dressing and brushing my teeth. Then, folding my hands, I prayed that God would protect me and that this would work. I was afraid of sleeping here but I felt like it was what I was supposed to do.

Wearing my slippers and carrying my bag with me, I shuffled out to my room. I didn’t know how the lockers worked so I just kept my stuff with me. Once inside, I closed the door. No lock. That was a little unsettling. After I dumped my bag by the wall, I walked to the metal counter. I held the funny orange hat. It looked like an orange shower cap or a swim cap. I put it on. It didn’t feel uncomfortable or anything. I walked to the cot, kicked off my slippers and climbed into bed. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt that I had made the right choice.

 

***

 

I was standing in darkness, shivering. Just ahead of me, I could vaguely make out the start of a massive swinging bridge. Most of the bridge was cloaked in darkness. On the other side of the bridge, I could see light. A voice called from the other side but I saw no figure.

“Come!”

I hesitated. The bridge was so dark. What if it’s not safe?

I heard the voice again, a trustworthy voice. “It’s not safe. But it’s better than staying in the dark.”

I looked behind me and to each side but I couldn’t see anything. It was really dark here. My heart pounded in my chest. I didn’t dare cross the bridge. But did I dare to stay in the darkness? There was light on the other side. Making a decision, I stepped forward onto the bridge. My fear was high but I controlled it – putting one foot in front of the other. The bridge swayed beneath me. The farther out I got, the more it swayed. I closed my eyes for a moment and held tightly to the ropes on either side of me. The swaying became less. I opened my eyes. The light was closer now. Step by step, I got closer to the end of the bridge, closer to the pool of light on the other side. Finally, my feet touched the solid ground. I stood under a lamp, bathed in warm yellow light. I felt that the one who had called me was pleased.

 

***

 

My eyes fluttered open. I stared up at fluorescent lights inset in a white ceiling. It was odd, sleeping with the lights on. But I felt strangely peaceful. The white clock on the white wall read 4:00 in the morning. Not time to get up yet. I let my eyes fall closed again.

 

***

 

It was nighttime. I was at a carnival. The lights on the rides sparkled like magic gemstones, glowing with inner fire. The scent of cinnamon doughnuts made my stomach growl. But then I saw the roller coaster. It was one of the biggest I had ever seen. It went up so high into dark sky that the lights on the top looked tiny, like twinkling stars.

“Yup. I have got to try that.” The male voice beside me startled me. I looked and saw Bryce! He was grinning at me. “Well, hello, Cara. Fancy meeting you here. Shall we try the adventure together?”

“The adventure?” I echoed.

“The name of the coaster.” Bryce pointed to the illuminated sign at the entrance to the ride.

I laughed. “Sure! Maybe an adventure is just what I need.” I had always loved roller coasters. And adventures. We walked up the ramp to the ride and through the empty waiting area that snaked back and forth.

“We’re lucky there’s no line-up this evening,” said Bryce.

“Yeah, this is awesome!” We reached the platform where the coaster was waiting for us.

“Let’s go in the front car!” said Bryce.

“That’s the scariest one but…Okay. If we’re going to do this, we might as well sit at the front.”

“Totally!” He led the way and sat on the narrow bench. I sat down beside him. Usually, I felt awkward around Bryce but, this time, I felt happy. This was going to be an adventure all right! The restraint bar came down over our legs and the cart jerked into motion. The coaster went up and up and up, at a nearly vertical angle. My anticipation was building. We were almost at the top. The coaster crested and hesitated there, for just a moment. I could see down. We had to be over twelve stories high! The coaster tipped over the bend and rushed downwards. I closed my eyes; the feeling was so intense I couldn’t even open my mouth to scream.

 

***

 

My muscles tightened and my eyes flew open. All motion had stopped. I was staring up at a white ceiling. That had been a fun one! I sighed. It was a pity I had to wake up. I looked at the clock: 6:00 am. I might as well get up and get ready for school.

 

 

Chapter 5 – The Prince and the Dragon Slayer

 

The days passed quickly. It was great spending most of my time at the clinic and not much at home. After school, I’d stop at home for a snack and then I’d head out to the clinic. Mom didn’t get physical with me anymore – mostly because we hardly ever saw each other. And the money was probably helping too. Sleeping twelve hours or more each night was actually super fun. The dreams were great. They were so vivid and I almost always remembered them. The stories were better than most things I used to watch on TV. My dreams made me feel happy. And I was sure they were making other people feel happy too.

Each night, I pulled on my orange sleeping cap and settled into my cot. After a couple of weeks, this place and the routine had become familiar and safe. The room with its faint hum faded away as I drifted to sleep.

 

***

 

The King watched from a window in the throne room. He feared that he already knew the outcome. Every man who had come at the dragon had perished.

The knight charged the red dragon like no one they had seen before, headlong, horseless and without hesitation. The seven princesses crowded around a second window, their colorful dresses like flowers in a basket. They clung to each other and exchanged whispers as they leaned out. Would this be the hero to save the kingdom from the fearsome beast that had terrorized them for these many months? If he vanquished the dragon, he would win the right to choose one of them as his wife, along with one third of the kingdom’s wealth.

The crown prince watched as well, but from a window one floor up, away from his father’s scornful eye. He clenched his fists. Why couldn’t he fight the dragon? His father had forbidden it; that was why. Though, in truth, the prince didn’t really want to fight it. His father knew that. The king knew his son was no hero and would have only gotten himself killed in the attempt. But whoever won would be the prince’s rival for the throne. Perhaps his father meant to have a more worthy heir through one of his sisters. The prince loosened his hands and observed the crescent shaped indents that his fingernails had made on his palms. His father said his nails were too long. But they had to be long to pluck the strings of his instruments. He and his father had never been close. And his mother was dead. Music was all he had.

His eyes were drawn back to the action. The knight ran at the monster, sword upraised. The monster blew its terrible blue fire and hit the knight dead on. He would be cooked in his armor, as the others had been. But, valiantly, the knight ran on, surprising the prince. Evidently, the dragon was surprised too as the knight got past the fearsome claws on the forelegs and sank his long sword into the creature’s chest. The animal shuddered, reared up and then collapsed to the ground, quivering. The knight pulled his sword free from the dragon’s flesh. A flow of red blood spilled from the mortal wound.

The crown prince crossed his arms over his chest. With any luck, the man would soon die from the wounds he had received during the battle. But, as the knight hacked the creature’s head off, the prince began to doubt his assessment. The knight’s steps did not falter as he approached the castle. The prince stared incredulously. He started down the stairs to the throne room at a brisk pace. The king would expect him there as the hero received his reward.

As he entered the throne room, his father motioned impatiently.

“Hurry up!”

The crown prince cringed. His father always spoke to him like he was a child. The prince’s pace quickened as he approached the king. Neither spoke as the prince took his place, standing to the right of the throne.

His sisters stood in a bunch on their father’s left. One of them was to be the prize, part of it, at least. And the royal priest was also in attendance, just beyond the young women. The king intended to make good his word immediately. One of his sisters would soon be wed. Their eyes were fixed on the open doors, waiting to see what kind of man this would be.

Any hope the prince had of the knight’s being gravely injured fled as the tall, armored hero strode into the throne room. Quickly, he clattered to the throne and knelt on one knee.

The king stood. “Brave Sir, I now offer you one of my children in marriage, as well as one third of my kingdom.”

“Thank you, your Majesty. I accept.” The voice was higher than the prince had expected. He must be a very young man!

“May one of my servants help you with your armor?”

“Yes, thank you.” The hero stood.

A servant rushed from the wings with tools for removing armor.

“That is a fine sword you carry,” remarked the king.

“Thank you, your Majesty. It was a gift from my father.”

“I thought you were cooked for sure,” said the prince.

The king shot him a disapproving look but said nothing. The servant was having a difficult time dismantling the armor.

“I designed this suit myself,” said the knight. “It has water pouches inside which help to absorb the heat.”

“Ingenious!” said the King. “I am so glad to welcome such a brave and intelligent man into my family. What is your name, Sir?”

The servant was finally able to pull the helmet free. The crown prince gasped as he saw the fair face that was revealed.

In my dream, what had been playing like a movie twisted. Now, instead of merely watching the scene, I was one of the characters. To my surprise, I found myself clad in armor, looking up into the face of Bryson.

“I’m a woman actually. My name is Cara,” I said, smiling. The astonished looks on all their faces only added to my delight.

The servant stood gaping for only a second before he recovered and continued to remove the armor. When he had carefully removed my armored gloves, I said, “I’m very excited and honored to become a part of your family, your Majesty. I’ll take that one.” I pointed a bare finger at Prince Bryson.

His mouth opened in surprise and he looked to his father. Though he was technically of marrying age, he had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in getting married yet. And to her?! Bryson noticed, with chagrin, that she had shorter fingernails than he did. Which was probably true in real life too…but the thought drifted away as I was swept along in the dream story.

“Well…yes…” stammered the king. “That is only right and proper, I suppose.” He looked helplessly towards his only son. The king didn’t see any way around it. He had promised that the hero who vanquished the dragon could marry one of his children. Though his son’s dark brown eyes pleaded with him to reconsider, there was no alternative. “Well, yes. You shall now be wed to my son.” He motioned to the priest.

“One moment, Sire. Might I be permitted to change my clothing?” I was wearing only an off-white, one-piece undergarment. “It is not fitting that I should marry the prince wearing this.” I gestured to my humble attire.

The king nodded. “As you wish. My daughters will help you find something suitable to wear.”

The seven princesses stepped gracefully from the raised dais and fluttered around me for a moment. Then, like a flight of colorful butterflies, they led me out of the throne room.

The prince stood awkwardly at his father’s side. Neither of them spoke. Now Bryson was to be a reward for the dragon slayer. He didn’t even know what to feel anymore. He wouldn’t get to marry some cultured beauty who would respect him and adore his music but, instead, he would wed some base woman who wore less makeup than he did. Bryson looked at his father. Was he punishing him? Did he really hate him so? But no. The king had no choice but to honor his word. No one would have ever expected that the hero could be a woman.

Only a short time later, his sisters returned, accompanying the tall, red-haired woman, now wearing a beautiful green dress. His eldest sister curtsied before the king. “This dress was the only one we could find that was the right length and of suitable quality.” The princesses resumed their places on the king’s left.

“Go stand with her.” The king motioned Bryson towards me.

Though her hair was short and she was taller than he was, Bryson had to admit she was attractive. And she did have a kind smile, which she was directing his way at that moment.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything so foolish,” I whispered to him as he took his place beside me.

“You look lovely.” And it was true. She really did.

“I clean up well, I guess.” Beckoning, I led the prince away from the priest and the king, just out of earshot. “Look, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. If you hate the idea, I’ll tell your father that I’ve changed my mind and I’ll just take the third of his kingdom.”

“You don’t want to marry me?” he asked with a half-smile. “Guess that shouldn’t surprise me.” Not only could he never live up to his father’s standards, this peasant girl didn’t even want him. No, of course she wouldn’t. She was a dragon-slayer. A hero. What was he? A fop. Not good for anything useful at all.

I stared at him until I got his attention. “Of course I want to marry you! But I’m an orphan. I don’t want you feeling trapped with me when you could have had a princess.”

Bryson considered her words as he looked into her open face. “You want to marry me because then you’ll be queen.” He figured it was as good a reason as any other. Anyone who married him would want to do it for that reason only. At least the girl didn’t despise him.

“I do want the security that a marriage with you would bring. But, at first, I was thinking I would take only lands and money. But then I saw your face.” I laughed lightly. Nothing like being honest.

Bryson flushed at her boldness. “You find me attractive?”

“Yes. And you don’t look like an angry or harsh man. I feel safe in my armor but, as a woman…” I looked down at the dress and shrugged. “I don’t feel safe.” Gazing into his face, I asked, “I would be safe marrying you, wouldn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“And do you want to marry me?” I asked hesitantly.

Bryson smiled and took my hand.

“Of course, I want to marry you. You’re the dragon slayer.” He led me back to the dais where the king and the priest were waiting. “We are ready,” the prince announced.

The priest spoke some words but Bryson couldn’t concentrate. Now he would spend the rest of his life with this woman he barely knew. He came to himself and realized the priest had just asked him a question.

“I do,” the prince replied. And so it was done and he led her away as his bride.

 

***

 

The scene shifted and we were in his chamber. A harp lay on a small table in the corner of his room. “Do you play this?” I asked.

“Yes.” He walked to the harp and plucked a few strings.

“May I watch you play?”

“If it would please you.”

“It would please me very much.”

Prince Bryson sat down on a stool and began to play. I sat at his feet, looking up at him, smiling. A peculiar warmth spread into my heart. He played and played and I watched him, content.

There was a rattling at the doorknob and then the door flew inward. “Why have I been waiting for you all afternoon?” A stout man with wild white hair filled the doorway.

I startled instantly to my feet. “Who are you, and why do you interrupt my lord and dare to enter his presence without knocking?”

“He’s my tutor,” Bryson explained.

“And just who are you?” asked the large man.

“I am the woman who will one day be queen. Leave now. And never again enter our lord’s presence without first knocking.”

“I don’t have to listen to you, Strumpet.”

“You have not heard word of the dragon slayer who has come to the castle?” asked the prince.

“No.”

I slid a cast iron poker from near the fireplace. “That’s unfortunate for you.” Faster than he could perceive my movements, I had struck the man several light blows and he was sitting on his derriere, looking up in stunned confusion.

“Prince Bryson is your lord and master. Treat him as such. Be sure there is never such a breach again or you shall find yourself very much the worse for it. Now get out!” I held up the fire poker.

The man scrambled backwards to his feet. Then he turned and fled. I pushed the door closed behind him to the sound of Bryson’s laughter. As we gazed at each other, his mirth subsided.

“May I hear you play more? That was beautiful. In my travels, I have heard many minstrels and even musicians who have played before royalty. But I’ve never heard anyone play as well. You have great talent for music.”

“Thank you. You flatter me.” He bowed to me.

“But it’s true. Your music is beautiful, just like your heart.”

“Thank you.” He stepped closer, as though he would hug me, but then he didn’t, clasping his hands in front of him instead. “Some people have made me feel like my music is a waste of time. And that somehow I’m less of a man because I like a violin bow better than a crossbow. But you make me feel…worthy.”

“You have been made for this. And you have been made very good. Now, will you play more?”

The prince smiled. “Gladly.”

Prince Bryson played for me into the early evening. When a timid knock sounded on the door, I walked over and pulled it open. A quivering lad stood just beyond the threshold.

“My Lord the king bade me to call you for supper.”

“Thank you.” I dismissed the servant.

“Shall we go sup?” The prince held out his elbow to me.

“Yes. I’m famished.” I took his arm and he led the way to a grand dining hall. We took a seat at a large, polished wooden table, with the king and his daughters.

“I hear the palace tutor has been abused,” said the king, tearing a bun in half and smearing it with butter.

The prince looked straight at his father. “The man has been chastised. He will knock before entering my chambers.”

Father and son looked at each other and the king pursed his lips. “I suppose that makes sense,” he said finally. “But he said you were idling with music again instead of focusing on your studies.”

Bryson inhaled deeply and seemed to grow taller even as he sat there. “Father, it is my wedding day! And playing music is not wasting my time. Music is a gift I’ve been given. I will play.”

The king put down his food and nodded, looking at me. Then his eyes drifted back to his son. “Marriage suits you. I can see you’re coming into your own.”

And the prince and the dragon slayer lived happily ever after.

 

***

 

I woke up and sighed. Dreams were funny. Most often, you were yourself but, sometimes, you were someone else. Sometimes, your perspective changed and you knew what other characters were thinking. I should totally get a raise for that one though! Funny I dreamt of Bryce, again. Wouldn’t it be great if he became a nice guy and loved me like that? And imagine being so bold! I laughed. Guess I dream of him because I sit beside him in Math class every day. I stood up, bare feet on the cool, tile floor. Still, it was an uplifting and entertaining story. Someone must have gotten joy out of that one. I must be doing some good by working for Kingcade Worldcorp.

Later that day, I sat with Bryce again during Math. “I had a weird dream last night,” he announced.

I looked at him. He seemed to be waiting for a response. “Oh yeah?”

“Oh yeah!” He laughed and rocked his chair. Then he let it slam down onto all four legs again and looked at me expectantly.

“I had a weird dream too,” I confessed. Then a sudden panic clenched my gut. He didn’t somehow see what I had dreamed…did he? “Hey, you don’t ever use Eclipsesys, do you?”

“Pfftt…Nope. That’s stupid stuff. I don’t want to peer in on random people’s dreams. That’s for losers.” He was quiet as his eyes stared into mine like laser beams. “Why, what did you dream?”

“Never mind. What did you dream?” I asked sharply. What was his problem? He knew I worked there.

“Never mind,” he mimicked in a high voice. Then he laughed.

Why was he such a jerk? I stood and picked up my books. “I’m getting pretty sick of your attitude, Bryson. Seriously, just leave me alone.”

“It’s Blaze. And you came and sat beside me.”

“A mistake I won’t repeat.” I walked across the room and sat beside some girl whose name I didn’t know.

“Hey, Angel, I’m sorry. Come back,” he called as he patted the empty seat beside him. Several people nearby snickered.

But I ignored him. He didn’t love me. We weren’t even friends. Why had I started sitting with him anyway? I couldn’t let my foolish romantic dreams influence me in the real world.

 

 

Chapter 6 – Not Incorporeal

 

The days passed quickly. I kept attending school and I still tried to do my best and to help people there – because that was the right thing to do. But I didn’t really care about school anymore. My marks dropped a little because studying seemed pretty meaningless to me now. I ignored both Dennis and Bryce, which was easy because they both ignored me too. I started sleeping longer at the clinic. The longer I slept, the more money I made. The dreams started seeming more real to me than my life at school. Soon I was sleeping about sixteen hours a day and stopping in at home only to shower, change my clothing and grab a quick bite to eat before heading out the door. I was giving most of my paychecks to my mother. She seemed really happy whenever I saw her, and she started leaving little notes on the table for me. Today’s message read:

 

[Cara,
Thanks for everything you’re doing!
Love, Mom]

 

I shoved the note in my pocket. She had written my name and ‘love’ on the same piece of paper. I would keep it with me for a while.

That evening, I went home for supper, which was unusual for me but it had been her request. It was just going to be the two of us because Matt was at Grandma’s house.

“Oh, Honey, it’s so nice to see you. It’s been a while.” She walked across the kitchen and patted my shoulder awkwardly.

“Thanks. What’s for supper?”

“Steak and potatoes.” She pulled her hand away and went to stir something on the stove.

“I see we’re moving up in the world.”

“Thanks to you.” Mom turned and smiled. The smile seemed almost genuine. Maybe it was.

I smiled back. It was nice to finally feel like she cared about me. It didn’t even matter that it was probably only because of the money. I set the table while she finished preparing the food. We each sat down to a large steak and mashed potatoes, with a garden salad on the side. While we were eating, she asked how I was enjoying my new job.

I finished chewing the bite of meat I had in my mouth. “It’s really easy. I just go there and sleep. It doesn’t creep me out like it did the first night.”

She paused, a forkful of salad halfway up to her mouth. “You were scared?”

“Yeah, just a little when I first started.”

“I didn’t know that.” She popped the salad into her mouth and chewed, looking down at her plate.

“Well, it turned out fine. I’m really glad I can help out with all our bills. It just seemed weird. But now I’m used to it.”

“It was funny how you believed there were aliens.” Mom laughed lightly, putting her fork down. “Aliens that looked like ghosts.” She laughed again, reaching across the table and patting my arm.

I tried to smile and enjoy her good mood. “They didn’t look like ghosts…exactly.”

“I heard they looked incorporeal.”

“Yeah, I guess they did.”

“Like ghosts and all things supernatural. Like all things that are pretend. And you thought they were real.” Laughing, she cut a piece from her steak.

“Lots of people thought they were real. Not everything supernatural is pretend or incorporeal. God’s real and he’s not incorporeal.” I felt mad. I was trying not to but I did. Why was she bringing this topic up anyway? Did she want a fight with me? I stuffed a forkful of mash potatoes into my mouth but I had lost my appetite.

“Look around. You see God? You feel God?” She waved her empty fork through the air. “No? That’s because he’s incorporeal. You do know what incorporeal means, don’t you?”

“Yes I know what it means. He’s…”

Mom cut me off so I couldn’t finish the sentence. “Okay then, Cara the Dreamer. Let’s not argue.”

Arguing wasn’t what I wanted either. But she had started it. And she was the mom. Why was she always like this with me? We ate the rest of the meal in silence.

Later that evening, as I lay in the clinic falling asleep, I was still thinking about what she had said. But I was sure she was wrong. God was real and he was not incorporeal. Do I know what incorporeal means? Sheesh, I’m in Grade Eleven. Yes, I know what it means. Blinking back tears, I wondered why it still hurt so much.

 

***

 

It was night. I was in a field. The full moon was shining overhead. I looked down at myself. I was dressed in black to blend into the darkness. Across the field was a castle. I pulled a hood over my head to hide my red hair and shadow my pale face, in case anyone should look down from one of the windows. Then I ran for the castle wall. I knew why I was here. Time to find out, once and for all. I had to know.

I reached the castle and took off my backpack. Quickly pulling the zipper open, I reached in for the rope I knew would be there. I pulled out a thick coil of black rope attached to a metal grappling hook. With skillful ease, I launched the hook up towards the top of the castle wall. It reached the parapet with a clang. Slowly, I pulled it back to see if it would catch on something solid. The hook stopped and it held fast as I tugged on the rope. I tested it with my weight. The grappling hook remained secure. Quickly, I climbed the rope, scaling the castle wall. Upon reaching the top, I threw the rope and hook down into some bushes below. They were hidden from sight. Crouching, I looked around the dark walkway. There was no sign of movement anywhere and no sound but the wind.

Stealthily, I made my way along the parapet and then down a staircase into the castle proper. All was darkness here too, illuminated only by the moonlight that streamed in through the open windows. I crept along the hall, straining my ears for any sound. When I came to a large open doorway, I peered inside but I saw nothing. I knew I had to go in. Something drew me inside. But where was he?

Heedless of any danger there might be, I entered the room. I felt so close now and I just had to know, had to see him, had to touch him.

Blazing lights shattered the darkness. I cried out and put my hands up to my face. My fear ebbed away, leaving a feeling of peace behind. My arms dropped to my sides and I looked around. I stood on a white tiled floor. Above me shone a bright white light. I couldn’t see what the rest of the room looked like because the light didn’t reach the walls. Whatever else was there was cloaked in shadows. Then I noticed someone standing with me, dressed in white. I had found him.

Even though I was looking for him, I still felt surprised. Shocked even. It was really the High King! “Hello,” I said in a small voice.

“Hi.” He smiled and the smile reached his chocolate brown eyes.

He was not as tall as I thought he’d be, only maybe 5’9” or 5’10”, only a little taller than I was. And his plain brown hair and bowl haircut didn’t speak of his majesty. But I knew who he was, all the same. I wondered if I should sink down to my knees. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to touch him. That’s why I’d come. I know he’s not incorporeal. But I had to really know. I needed to touch him.

Slowly, I reached out but he evaded my probing fingers, still smiling. So I tried again and again to touch him. But he just smiled and danced around me, always staying in the pool of light but just out of reach. Finally, I stopped and just stared into those smiling eyes.

Then he spoke, a voice that was smooth and warm. “Cara, you could have just rung the bell at the castle gate. You didn’t have to dress up like that and climb the wall. I’ve been waiting for you for a long time. I want you here with me.”

I looked down and tears came to my eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sad anymore. I’m just explaining things to you. You are welcome here any time, Darling.”

I smiled at that and looked up into his gentle face. “You’re not incorporeal, are you?” I asked quietly.

He shook his head and held both arms out to me. I ran into the embrace. I half expected him to dodge away again but he didn’t. When I careened wildly into him, he wrapped his arms around me and I threw my arms about his neck. My momentum propelled us and he spun me in a circle and then held me fast. He was solid. I was safe.

“I was thinking that your first time in my castle should be like this.” He held me at arm’s length for a moment and then looked around the room. The place lit up and suddenly we were in an ornate grand ballroom. “And this.” He looked down at my clothing and my black, night camouflage gear became a sparkling, pale blue, Cinderella dress.

I looked up at the High King and gasped. Now he looked the part. Gone was the white clothing, replaced by kingly attire in maroon and navy. A golden crown rested on his head. At the sight of him, I could hardly keep my feet. I just wanted to fall down and worship the High King. But he pulled me closer as music started. My heart soared as I fell into step with him. We danced.

 

***

 

I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling for a while. The feeling of security didn’t fade. I was welcome there anytime. And he wasn’t incorporeal.

It slowly dawned on me that I was somewhere unfamiliar. I looked around the dimly lit room. It seemed I was in a therapist’s office, reclining on the type of couch-bed I’d seen in television shows. The room was nicely decorated with floral paintings in golden frames. I felt at peace. The atmosphere was comfortable. I glanced around again. There was a man sitting at a desk. This must be my therapy session. I hadn’t been here before, had I? I paused for a moment to think. Wait… was this real or just another dream? Maybe it didn’t matter if it were a dream. Maybe I should just go for it, either way. Seriously, maybe I needed help with everything that was going on in my life. And dream therapy would probably be as helpful as anything I could get in the real world anyway.

So I started talking, just letting everything spill out. “I think I need… help. I feel like things are just so messed up. Dennis, my first and only boyfriend, broke up with me because he thinks I’m a bad person. He was mean and then he rejected me. And he blamed me for everything. He told me that I was a dream-sharing prostitute and that we couldn’t be friends. And he yelled that to me at school, in front of everyone. My mother is harsh too. She always loved my little brother better. He’s her biological child. I’m adopted. I don’t think she ever really loved me. She’s…well it feels embarrassing to say… and I think it’s in the past now anyway since I’m making money and staying away most of the time. It hasn’t happened for months. But she was physically abusive. I feel like I’m all alone. Is dreaming going to be all I have? It feels that way. I don’t even have any friends really. No one close anyway.” The stress of bringing everything out into the open made me chuckle nervously. I was sure I sounded like a crazy person. “Sorry to unload on you like this. I don’t mean to sound crazy. But that’s what therapy’s for, right?”

“Dreaming isn’t all you have, Cara.”

“It’s not?” He knew my name. It was nice to have someone use my name. And he had a kind voice.

“No. You have so much more than that. Your life is so very important.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And I’m going to help you see it. So, first things first. You need to forgive your mother and Dennis.”

This was a funny kind of therapy. They didn’t usually tell you what to do so bluntly, did they? Maybe I didn’t want to forgive them. At least not yet. “But how they treated me was really wrong. They hurt me and left me all alone.”

“Yes. What they did to you was terribly wrong, especially your mother. She’s the one that should have been taking care of you and helping you. Instead, she was harming you. That’s terribly wrong.”

“So I shouldn’t forgive them. Because what they did was really wrong.” I stared up at the ceiling, listening for his reply.

“Forgiveness is deciding not to stay angry at someone even though what they did was wrong. Forgiveness is giving up your right to vengeance.”

“But…they deserve my anger, don’t they? They didn’t even say they were sorry.”

“Forgiveness is for you, as much as it is for the other people. If you don’t forgive, a bitter root will grow inside you, poisoning every relationship you have.”

“Well, that’s not a problem. I already told you, I don’t have any relationships.”

“Cara…”

I looked up at the man at the desk for the first time and was astonished to see that it was the High King! “Oh!” I felt horrified that I had spoken back to him like that.

“You have to forgive, because I forgive you. I absolve you of every wrong. And I ask only that you forgive others.”

I sat up, swiveled on the divan and swung my legs down so my feet rested on the floor. Looking at my hands, tears came to my eyes. “Thank you,” I said quietly. “Thank you for forgiving me. I know I don’t deserve it. Please forgive me for the sin of unforgiveness.”

“I forgive you, Cara.”

I folded and then unfolded my hands. “I want to forgive because you say to, but I don’t feel it in my heart. What can I do?”

“You were right when you said that you need help. I can help you. Just ask me for what you need.”

“Please help me to be able to forgive them.” Immediately I saw them in my mind, both my mom and Dennis, with a cloud of deep darkness around them. The reason they had acted that way was that they were in bondage to darkness. They were suffering both from hurts in their pasts and from current spiritual torment by the forces of darkness. Tears sprang to my eyes. “Oh! It’s so terrible… so sad! I forgive them. I forgive them!” I looked up at the High King. “What would help them?”

“Choosing me and forsaking all else. That’s what would save them.”

I looked into eyes as deep as the universe. “I choose you.”

“I know you do, my Cara. And I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future, plans to give you an unexpected end.” He was smiling a little. His face was…happy. “And now, I need you to do something important for me.”

“What?”

“I want you to carry me across the water. You need only believe.”

“I do believe! I mean… I want to believe. You know I want to. Help me to believe better!”

The king smiled. “You have faith enough for the task at hand. Follow me.”

I followed the king through the doorway. Instantly, I found myself in a dark forest. It was night. I had lost sight of the king. I was disoriented. It was like I was having double vision, like I had been split into two people and was seeing from two different vantage points. “Where are you?” I shouted. “I don’t see you! How can I carry you across the water? I don’t know what to do!”

You will know what to do. The calm thoughts came into my mind and I knew they were from the High King.

Far below, a river flowed. It was like I was hovering over the water. By the light of a crescent moon, the water looked black. I felt afraid. The situation didn’t seem safe. There was a canoe in the river. I was in the canoe and hovering above it at the same time. The me in the canoe felt excited. I had a paddle in my hand. It was an adventure – some type of competition. He’s counting on me. I can do this! Won’t everyone be surprised that I’m so far ahead! The me hovering above felt horrified that I was in a canoe, in the dark, on a swiftly flowing river. Canoeing is not one of my strengths. I felt certain that disaster was imminent. The me in the canoe was paddling and the water was moving faster.

The me above the canoe was suddenly too scared to even make a sound. I saw, off to the left of the canoe, an impossible rectangular hole in the river where water was swirling downward. The canoe was being tugged towards the hole. The me in the canoe didn’t see the hole and was completely unaware of the danger. But I paddled harder when I felt the tug – I was having fun going so fast. The current carried the canoe past the threat.

The me in the canoe knew that, ahead somewhere, was the part of the race where I’d have to dive into the water to get something. Would I be able to find the item under the water in the dark? Would I have the courage to do it? I knew that I would. I would do it; I would find it and I would win. The me watching the race was totally panicked. Why am I paddling in the dark? And thinking of jumping into the water? Am I crazy!? I wondered if the canoe itself was sound. Is it taking on water? The me in the canoe was confident. I eased my shoes off. Not only am I going to do this for the High King, I’m going to win it for him!

The canoe slowed and I knew it was time. I stood, feeling a swell of courage. The me hovering in the dark sky above rushed down and melded into the me in the boat. No longer double-minded, I was not afraid. I knew what to do. I scanned the surface of the water but saw only the reflection of the black, night sky.

I kicked off my shoes and stood up. The canoe swayed gently beneath me. Then, without a moment of doubt, I jumped, feet first, into the water. A splash. Bubbles tickled my ears and nose as the cold water stole my breath. But I didn’t surface. I need to do this now. Angling downwards, I kicked as hard as I could. With my hands out in front of me, I descended into total blackness. Deeper still, I saw something glowing. I must be nearly at the bottom. My lungs burning for oxygen, I kept kicking fiercely. I had to do this. The glowing object was right before me now. I reached out and touched it. The panic that had been building inside me flowed away. It was some sort of cup…so beautiful. But it was stuck in the mud, half buried. I dug in the mud with my fingers. When I tugged on the cup again, I pulled it free. It was an ornate, golden, jeweled chalice. The light from the chalice pushed back the darkness as I swam up. I broke the surface and gulped the fresh air. The sun was rising. It was a new dawn. I swam to the shore and pulled myself up, one-handed, onto the slippery muddy bank. I stood shakily, breathing deeply as water dripped from my clothes. The task had taken all I had.

I looked down at the treasure I now held. By the light of the new day, I could see that there was an inscription on the chalice. I wiped the little remaining mud from the gold and looked more closely. In fancy script was one word: Hope. A fresh excitement swelled within me, forcing away the exhaustion. A drink from this chalice would bring hope back into the world, one person at a time. I looked into the cup and wasn’t even surprised to find red juice there. As I drank deeply, a new hope and unspeakable joy filled my heart. I held the chalice tightly to my chest. I would serve the High King forever.

But what had he meant when he said that I should carry him across the water? I looked around. I didn’t see him anywhere. When I looked behind me, there was no longer a river but a lake, so vast I couldn’t see the other shore. My canoe rested in the reeds nearby. Then I knew what I had to do. I would bring the chalice to the people on the other side, the people who didn’t know the High King. I would bring them his hope.

 

***

 

When I woke up in the morning to the white-walled, sterile room, it was with a new confidence. I’m all in for this adventure, I prayed. I can do this! I will do whatever you’re calling me to!

 

 

Chapter 7 – Let’s Run Away

 

One morning, when I slipped into my house to have a bowl of cereal before school, I found Matthew sitting at the kitchen table.

“What are you doing here? I didn’t see Mom’s car in the driveway.”

“I’m eleven now so I can stay home alone.”

“Oh.” It had been a long time since we had spoken. I didn’t remember having even seen the kid in the last month. “But don’t you have school or something?”

“I told Mom that I was sick so I could stay home.” On the table, by his plate, were the wrappings of three pop tarts and a chocolate covered granola bar.

Are you sick?”

He looked away from me, out the window. “No.”

I grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and set it on the counter. Matthew didn’t say anything more. I could understand wanting to skip school but I was kind of surprised that he had lied to Mom. I turned and opened the high cupboard above the stove. I dumped sugary puffs into the bowl.

“Why did you tell Mom you were sick?” I asked, finally.

“I asked her why I couldn’t see them, like you could. At school, they said that the talent is hereditary, that it runs in families.”

“Not everyone who can see it is in the same family. People all over the world are Dreamers.”

“I know that.” He was pouting. “Mom told me that you were adopted.”

“Oh.” I took milk from the fridge and sloshed some into the bowl.

“You knew that already?” he asked.

“Yeah, I found out a few years ago. It kind of explains things, don’t you think?” I said, gesturing to my red hair.

Matthew laughed. I sat down with him at the table.

“I was really mad when I found out. I’ve always been really mad that she was so mean to you. Now I find out it’s because she sees it like you’re not her real kid.”

“She said that?”

“No.” He looked down and then away from me. “It just seemed like that when she was talking.”

“Don’t be mad for my sake, Matthew.” I reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “I’ve forgiven her and I think I’m okay now.” He looked up at me and I smiled. Then I started eating. I was starved. Working at the clinic, I sometimes forgot about the mundane, such as actually eating real-life food.

“Really? You’re okay?” Our eyes locked. He was nicer than I remembered.

“I’m okay, Matthew. Thanks for caring. You’re developing into a kind, young man. I’m proud to call you my brother.”

He blushed and looked away. “Thanks.”

“You have a cell phone now, right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, it’s super-cool. Thanks, by the way. I figure Mom’s probably buying it with your money.”

“Sure, no problem. I have a cell now too. Let’s exchange numbers.” I pulled my phone from my pocket and so did he. We exchanged numbers and then I finished my cereal. “See you next time,” I said as I was heading out the door to school.

“Sure thing.” He grinned at me.

Before I was off the doorstep, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and saw a message from Matthew. A happy face with the tongue sticking out. I laughed as I shoved the phone back into my pocket. I was glad to have had the opportunity to connect with him. It was nice having a little brother, after all.

Early that evening, when I lay down at the Peaceful Sleep Clinic, I was relieved to be closing my eyes on the day. School was such a pointless waste of time. Some people there were so annoying. I was glad I only had Bryce in one of my classes this semester. He was as boisterous as ever. I didn’t know why the sound of his voice bothered me. Why couldn’t I just be happy he was happy? If he was happy. It’s not like he had harmed me or tried to harm me. Bryce didn’t pick on me or anything. He just left me alone. Just like I had asked him to.

 

***

 

I wore an old-fashioned dress and was standing on a beach. I thought we were going to have to swim but it seemed Bryce had other plans. He took me by the elbow and pulled me across the beach to a patch of long grass. There we found a small, very old-looking, wooden boat. Perhaps we might still have to swim, after all!

Letting go of me, Bryce began to drag the boat from the greenery. His shoulder-length hair fell forward, covering his attractive features as he bent down, pulling the boat. I cast a furtive glance back at my house. All was still. What were we doing? He had never acted like this before…had he? I thought of walking away. Or running. Would he come after me? Why was I was afraid? I wasn’t afraid of Bryce, was I? We were in love…right? He had said that this was the only way we would be able to be together. And I wanted that, didn’t I? Yes, I wanted to be with him. But, somehow, I still felt afraid.

The boat was in the water now, being tossed about by the large swells.

“Get in,” he commanded. His dark brown eyes looked back up to the house we had just left.

I pursed my lips and hesitated. Why does he always have to come on so strong? I’m not a dog! But some part of my heart urged me to hurry. I clambered into the boat. I didn’t want to miss my chance with him. We could work out the details once we were safely away, enjoying our happily-ever-after.

Bryce’s muscles tensed at the oars as he pulled the boat out into deeper water. We had left in such a hurry that his white shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and the wind pushed it back, exposing his chest. I felt a blush rising on my cheeks and looked away, out over the water. His physical beauty wasn’t what bound my heart to his, though. He had noticed me. I wasn’t used to being noticed. He talked to me like I was the only woman in existence. And he loved me. But my father wouldn’t let him court me because he had been found washed up on the beach. No title. No money. Not the right sort of fellow to marry into the family. So Bryce had asked me to run away with him, back to where he had come from.

“Is your island as beautiful as you say?” I asked, still averting my eyes.

“My home is very beautiful.”

“Is it really close enough that we can get to it with this boat?”

“Yes. It won’t be long now.”

We had awoken very early to make good our escape, before anyone else woke up. Now I was tired and anxious. But I felt safe with Bryce, didn’t I? Wait…should I feel safe with him? At least I was an excellent swimmer, should anything happen. My eyelids felt heavy. I let them close and leaned forward, placing my elbows on my knees. The waves rocked me to sleep.

When I awoke, I was very hot. I opened my eyes to see Bryce had stopped rowing. I put my hand to my muzzy head and blinked the sleep from my eyes.

“Are we lost?”

“No.” There were tears in Bryce’s eyes. As he met my gaze, they spilled out and ran down his cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I’d never seen him cry before.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

I shuffled towards him and knelt in the bottom of the boat at his feet. Taking his hands in mine, I looked up into his eyes. All of a sudden, it was like darkness was living there. A shudder ran up my spine.

“I’ve done something terrible,” he said, averting his gaze.

“What have you done?”

“I’ve made a woman believe that I loved her so that I could lure her out to her death.”

I looked down at our hands, still entwined, as fear rose up my throat. “Why would you do that?” My eyes filled with tears. “You mean me, don’t you?” My voice caught and I couldn’t control the tears running down my face.

He nodded but said, “It’s complicated.” Bryce didn’t pull his hands away and he held my gaze.

“So… you didn’t feel anything for me? You don’t love me?” I asked.

“No.” He shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “I’m sorry.”

“But you were so…charming.”

“Yes. That’s what we do.”

“What we do?” I echoed, confused.

“Yes.” He pulled one hand away and gestured out over the water.

“Oh!” I gasped. Over the side of the boat, three beautiful faces peered up from under the water. They broke the surface. Women. No. Mermaids.

“You see, males occur very infrequently with our kind. Many think we are…undesirable. Some of my sisters put a curse on me to make me human. But they promised that they would undo the curse and let me return to our kingdom if I lured a human to its death.”

“Brother, you have returned.” A beautiful blonde mermaid swam to the side of the boat.

“Yes. Here she is.”

He leaned over, grabbed me by the hips and tipped me into the sea. It happened so quickly that I didn’t even resist. I cried out as I spilled into the frigid water. I surfaced and started swimming away, which was difficult in a long dress, now heavy with seawater. Then I looked back to see what was happening.

The blond mermaid laughed, a harsh, metallic-like sound. “Did you really think we’d take you back? No. I think we’ll eat you instead. Human.” She laughed again as she pushed down on the edge of the boat with such great force that it flipped over, knocking him into the water.

I saw that the boat had righted itself and swam for its safety while the mermaids were preoccupied with Bryce. With great effort, I flung myself over the side of the rowboat and managed to pull myself in. Bryce was fighting back but it didn’t look like he would last very long against them. One oar was still close by, floating in the water. I reached out and fished it out of the drink easily. The other oar had drifted some distance away. I paddled towards it and then strained out over the water to reach it. Just as I touched it with my fingertips, the current tugged the boat forward so that I almost swept right past it. I reached back and snatched the second oar up out of the water.

I looked around. No one was visible above the surface of the water. My eyes filled with tears. He didn’t love me but what a horrible way to go.

At the sound of a splash, I turned and saw Bryce surface only a few feet from the boat. He was still alive! Without hesitation, I reached out an oar to him. He latched onto it. I hauled him closer and, using all my strength, heaved him up into the little boat. His shirt was gone and there were vicious-looking bite marks on his shoulders and back. He fumbled to get himself seated. One of the mermaids surfaced beside the boat. I lifted one of the heavy oars and cracked her over the head as hard as I could.

“You’ll not be eating me!” I yelled. Another came up out of the water and I served her the same treatment. After conking all three of them, I thrust the oars into the oarlocks. Blood was oozing from Bryce’s mouth. He stared vacantly as if looking through me.

“ROW!” I roared.

He didn’t respond. I kicked him in the shin. “Row to land!” I pointed to where I could just see the coast. “Row or move so I can do it!” I shoved him. He resisted me but took the oars. Mechanically, he began to row towards land with powerful, quick strokes.

I looked back out over the water where they had been. Nothing.

It was more than an hour before we reached the shore. Bryce didn’t speak or look at me.

When we reached land, he got out and dragged the boat up onto the beach.

“We could have had a life together,” I said quietly.

“I’m a fool. Such a fool.” He looked into my eyes. Tears spilled over onto his cheeks. “I’m sorry.” He choked on the words.

“I forgive you. But I think it will be for the best if you don’t come back to the house with me.”

He nodded and then reached for my hand. I let him hold it and he knelt in the sand before me.

“Thank you for saving my life. If you ever want me, I am yours. You’re the only one who was ever truly kind to me.”

My resolve wavered for a moment. Even after everything, I still loved him, still wanted him. But then I pulled my hand away.

“If you court me in a proper way and, if my father agrees, then perhaps, one day, I will marry you.”

He stood, wet sand clinging to his pants. “Is that what you want? Or would you prefer to never see me again?”

A small smile crept to my lips. “I enjoyed your attention. You were so clever and sweet. If you want to pursue me, then you should. But only if you want to. I won’t hold what you’ve done against you.”

He smiled back at me. “I do want to. With an honest heart this time. You are a worthy woman. Better than I deserve. I’m going to go and find purpose. When I come back, I will be a man that your father would accept into the family.”

“Goodbye,” I said.

He took my hand and kissed the back of it. “Until we meet again.”

 

***

 

I woke up laughing, actually laughing, which was a first. That was a good one! Imagine! First trying to feed me to his evil kin and then begging for my hand in marriage! That’s what came of thinking of Bryce right before bed. Still laughing, I sat up and clambered out of bed. Now I totally deserve the raise I got last week. That dream was seriously awesome! And so funny! I was still laughing as I walked down the hall to the bathroom.

 

 

Chapter 8 – The Darkness Comes Out

 

It was finally summer holidays. I had done okay on my finals and was glad to be rid of school for a couple of months. Most high school kids get jobs in the summer. Only I already had a job. My work was sleeping. I didn’t see the point of getting another job. Even though I was giving Mom the biggest chunk of my paycheck, I was still making more money than I knew what to do with. I didn’t like spending time at home. So, mostly, I ate out.

As for what to do with all my free time, I decided to spend the long summer days at a library near the clinic. I’d always loved reading, but I’d never had much time for it because I used to take school so seriously. Between reading and dreaming, I got to be in a different world most of the time, which suited me just fine. I loved the ideas swirling around in my head. Adventure, all the time. Even though I was alone, I wasn’t lonely.

Matthew and I texted back and forth. He liked reading too and would download the books I recommended onto his tablet. Once a week or so, we’d go to the beach and swim together. Matthew said that Mom still spent most of her time at the hospital. So it was kind of nice that Matthew had me. We were family.

I was glad to have a break from seeing the kids at school. It would be great when I graduated next year and that part of my life would be over for good. Even though I didn’t see him, I kept dreaming of Bryce. I was drawn to him at some subconscious level, I guess. But I tried not to over-analyze it. They’re just dreams, I told myself.

The summer months sped by. School started again. I took to reading in class. None of the teachers seemed to mind. It was like we were all just waiting for the time to pass. I felt kind of sorry for the teachers. What a way to live.

My favorite time of day was in the evening, when I could finally settle down under the covers in my cot at the clinic. With my tight sleep cap on my head, I felt like I was entering the important part of my life.

 

***

 

I loved watching the sunset. Too bad this one might be my last. Sadness and fear weighed heavily on me. I sat against the rough brick wall of a tall building, near the edge of the city, looking into the sky above the Interstate highway. He’s dead. I blinked away the tears that blurred my vision. The sparse clouds were like pink cotton candy in the ever-darkening sky, the last rays of the sun providing a dying warmth, like a final embrace. So far, I had managed to elude those who came out after dark. But now I was alone. Dennis had killed himself today while I slept – abandoning me. I tried not to hate him. The situation looked hopeless all right. And I was so tired. I wondered, briefly, about giving up, too. But that would be wrong. I didn’t want this to be the last time I saw the light. When I pushed myself up to a standing position against the rough bricks, my ankle hurt a little but, at least, I wasn’t injured badly. Soon it would be time to run.

It was ironic. I had to live like them, asleep during the day and awake at night. But if I slept outside, under the light of the sun, I was perfectly safe. Light was safety. It was during the night that I had to be alert – to make sure they didn’t catch me, didn’t touch me. These weren’t brain-eating zombies, like in silly horror movies. This sickness spread through physical contact alone; no bite was necessary to spread the disease. But they were aggressive.

I limped away from the buildings, out onto the exit that led to the Interstate. My foot was just a little stiff. I’d still be able to run. Wide-open roads were the safest places to be, especially at night. The ones who ventured out after dark seemed to have an aversion to open spaces.

I was almost to the Interstate now, the buildings behind me. Military personnel had cleared the highways of all derelict cars several weeks ago. Dennis and I had waved at them for help but the armored vehicles had fired warning shots in our direction. I had cried in frustration. We hadn’t seen anyone on the road since then. No one drove anymore. Where was there to go? Or maybe there was no one left who knew how to drive. The disease left people unable to speak or to recognize anyone they had known. Both their gross and fine motor control deteriorated. They were able to function only at the most basic level, like animals. Dennis didn’t want that so he had chosen death instead. I blinked back tears and tried to stop thinking about finding his lifeless body that afternoon when I woke up. Have to stay alert. I scanned about in all directions as I walked. They weren’t out yet.

First, there had been bombings in some of the large cities, and then came the sickness. Initially, officials had called it a contamination. I didn’t know what officials called it now, if there were any officials left to call it anything. Dennis and I just called it the darkness. Every night we ran from it. And every night, the darkness got a little closer. Tonight, I would run alone.

I continued down the ramp at a brisk walk. When I reached the Interstate, I slowed to a stroll. The eight-lane highway gave me a good 360 degree view. They wouldn’t be able to sneak up on me here, especially if I kept moving. And it’s not like they were quiet. I would run when the time came for it. But until then, I’d try to take it easy on my ankle.

The chill of night slowly settled in around me. I zipped up my thin jacket. A full moon rose. I breathed a prayer of thanks. Any light at all brought a measure of security. The more light, the better I could see. And I had to be able to see them before they saw me. Before they got too close.

Then, in the distance, I saw an underpass on the Interstate. I peered into the darkness ahead. I didn’t see anyone but Dennis and I had run into trouble in an underpass before. I didn’t feel comfortable turning around either, though. I looked behind me. There were probably some back there too. I would have to take the exit off the Interstate and then the ramp back on, to avoid going through the underpass. That way, I could go over it instead. But it would not be without risk. Even now, they might be watching me. They might be waiting for me to draw near so they could rush at me. But I saw no other possible course of action. I started to jog. The faster I got this underpass far behind me, the better.

The ominous gaping blackness of the underpass yawned before me as I took the turnoff ramp to the right. No one came out. Good. Maybe they hadn’t noticed me or maybe there wasn’t anyone down there. I was halfway up the exit road when I heard them. My jog became a sprint as fear surged through my body. I hazarded a look behind me. They were coming. Dozens of them had spilled out from the underpass and were in pursuit. They moved at a pace somewhere between a shuffle and a run. I put distance between myself and the mob as I crested the incline and began down the other side. I prayed none of them would have had the sense to try to get in front of me to block the down ramp. The road before me appeared clear. I gave it everything I had, sprinting back down onto the Interstate. As I reached the highway, the horde had just crested the hill. Then I saw more of them coming out from the underpass. They were only several car lengths away. I didn’t look back anymore but focused on my breathing and stride. I would outrun them if I didn’t fall. Just keep going! My gasping breath was loud in my ears, blocking out the sounds of those who pursued me.

When I could run no more, I slowed to a walk, clutching my cramping side and looking behind me. The underpass was far in the distance now. No one pursued me. As I walked on, the cramp abated and my breathing slowly returned to normal.

All my muscles ached for rest. When I could no longer see the underpass behind me, I sat down for a moment, right in the middle of the deserted highway. There was a clear view from here. I scanned in all directions. Nothing. Satisfied that I was alone, I lay down and looked up at the stars while my breathing slowed. The night was silent, save for the chirping of distant crickets. I would hear it if anyone approached. My muscles relaxed and my breathing returned to normal. I looked up into the vista of blackness strewn with tiny blue diamonds. My eyes fell on the constellation of the Big Dipper. The North Star was somewhere near it, but I had forgotten which one it was. Sailors used the North Star to guide their ships by. I wished I had a North Star to follow. What was I guiding my life by? Love, I decided finally, was what would guide me. Real love, loyal and kind, not the thing people called love, which was really just selfishness. Love would be the North Star in my life. The cement beneath my back felt like a soft mattress to my weary body as my breathing slowed further and my eyelids drifted closed.

A sound nearby jolted me awake. I scrambled to my feet in a panic. It was still night. There, right in front of me, was a man who had been taken by the darkness. Fear filled me with adrenaline as I faced him.

With only five feet separating us, I knew I couldn’t get away. He was taller than me. If he attacked, he would catch me for sure. He wasn’t quite as tall as Dennis. He might have been older but it was hard to tell, his unkempt mane shrouding his features in the darkness. The man snarled, saliva frothing on his chin. The wind blew the hair from his face for a moment, revealing unnatural black eyes in the light of the full moon. Even the whites of his eyes were black. It was like that with all whom the darkness had taken. He lurched towards me.

When I was a child, my father had told me never to run from an aggressive dog but to shout loudly at it instead. “Stop!” I shouted loudly. “You stop right there.”

The man faltered for a moment and looked confused. Perhaps they had chased me, like a pack of aggressive dogs, because I had run.

But this was no dog. Maybe I could reach him with my words. Maybe he would understand. “This is not who you are. You are a man, not a wild beast. This is not who you are!” The man staggered back and then slumped to the ground. This was my chance! If I ran now, I could outrun him, I was pretty sure. The guy wasn’t even looking at me anymore. But I didn’t want to run. I was through running from darkness. And something in the way his shoulder slumped called to me. He looked sad. Was a human conscience still in there?

I knew that love was the greatest force in the universe. Speaking more gently, I said, “We can be friends. You don’t have to be alone anymore.” What on earth was I saying? How could we be friends?

He writhed on the ground and slammed his fist into the pavement.

“It’s not too late,” I said softly. “You can be free of the darkness, too.”

The man moaned and reached his hand up towards me.

“Come on then. We’ll walk together. It’s almost dawn.” I took a step away and waited for him to follow.

At first, he crawled after me, dragging himself over the cement. I walked slowly, encouraging him to follow with kind words spoken in soft tones. Was I only leading him to his death? They always hid during daylight. Perhaps the light would kill him. Dennis had told me that, once, he had seen some men in white spaceman-like suits tie one of them to a tree. When daylight came, it died. The thought made me sad. But to see the light would be better than to live in the clutches of darkness like this, no matter what the result. And it was his choice. He could run away if he wanted to.

The grey light of pre-dawn appeared in the sky. He did not run. No more running. Whatever his fate, I would share it. I stopped and reached down to help him up. His obsidian eyes stared up into my face. I realized with shock that it was Bryce! He reached up and took my hand. I was infected now, too. It took all my strength to remain upright as Bryce pulled on my hand, struggling to his feet. I could already feel changes starting to happen in my body. Darkness began to crowd in at the edges of my vision.

We stood there looking at each other, my hand still in his, as the sun came up over the horizon behind me. Bryce cried out and stiffened as the light rays hit him. Screaming, he fell backwards, pulling me down to the ground beside him. He shook violently, releasing the grip on my hand. Gently, I stroked matted hair from his face. I felt pain in my abdomen and my eyes as the sun warmed my back.

“At least we’re not alone,” I murmured. “And it’s better to be in the light.”

Bryce lay still, his black eyes open to the ever-brightening sky, seeing nothing. Tears flowed down my cheeks even as my own pain diminished. The blackness faded from the whites of his eyes and his irises resolved to brown.

He gasped, taking a ragged breath. He blinked and turned towards me. Slowly, his eyes focused on my face. “The darkness…” his voice was rough from disuse. “The darkness comes out!” His hand fumbled over mine and then he clutched my fingers, relief filling his eyes with tears. “Cara…thank you.”

“I thought you might die from the light,” I said, smiling gently down at him. “I thought we both might die. But the light saved us.”

“It wasn’t just the light. It was your kindness…your love that guided me. You helped me find the light.” Bryce sat up, blinking away the tears, a confident determination coming over him. “Now we know that the darkness comes out, we don’t have to be afraid. Maybe we can help the others.”

I stood and helped Bryce to his feet. “I like the way you think. I’m done running from the darkness.”

 

***

 

Feeling hopeful and determined, I woke to the view of the sterile white room of the clinic. Then a sudden panic gripped my heart. But what about Dennis? Was he okay? I mean I know it was only a dream but it was unsettling. He would never kill himself, would he? That didn’t fit with his personality.

When I got to school that day, before classes started, I went out of my way to walk down the hallway to where Dennis’s locker was. He was there, leaning against the wall, talking with some girl. I didn’t think he saw me looking so I turned around and went back the way I’d come. Dennis is fine. See, it was just a dream. But somehow, still, I felt that the dreams I dreamed now carried more weight than before I had become a Dreamer. But at least Dennis was all right. I was glad he wasn’t dead, even though he didn’t care about me and we weren’t friends. And what about saving people from the darkness? Hmm…I didn’t know how to do that. Too bad I didn’t really have Bryce on my side.

 

 

Chapter 9 – Everything Changes

 

My final year in high school passed quickly. I never bothered to learn to drive. Mom wasn’t interested in teaching me and I liked to spend my time dreaming, anyway. During the time I spent trapped in school, I pondered my dreams and waited until I could dream again. Dennis and I never spoke. I came to believe it was for the best, except during weak moments of loneliness when I missed him.

I graduated high school. It didn’t really mean anything to me. But I decided to attend prom anyway. Mom said it was a rite of passage.

I was wearing a pale blue dress and sitting alone at a candle-lit table, set with fancy place settings. Tables were arranged around a dance floor in the dimly lit room. Why was I here again? Oh yeah. A rite of passage. Prom night. I shouldn’t have let Mom talk me into this. Looking around, I saw people talking together in small clusters, a sea of unfamiliar faces.

I had lost all my friends, not that I’d ever had many close friendships. I saw Dennis across the room. Our eyes met for a brief moment. My heart soared in spite of myself. Would he come over and talk to me? But he just looked away. He put his arms around a girl who was standing with him. She giggled but didn’t pull away. Probably his girlfriend. My heart turned to lead. I tore my eyes away. Seriously, why did I even care? My gaze came to rest on Bryce and I found him looking at me. He smiled and started walking in my direction. Yikes! I was glad I hadn’t been in any classes with him this year. Play it cool, I told myself. Don’t let on that you dream of him practically every night! He was wearing a tux that fit him perfectly. He probably owned it, rather than having rented it. He was way out of my league, in every way.

He reached the table were I was sitting and looked down at me. “Hi.” His voice was deeper than I remembered.

I swallowed hard. “Hi.” There. I sounded normal. Good.

“Mind if I sit with you for a while?”

“Suit yourself.”

His face soured a little and he sighed. I had said the wrong thing. Just because I was playing it cool didn’t mean I had to be mean to the guy. I felt like kicking myself under the table.

He sat down anyway. “So, how have you been lately?” he asked.

“I’m doing well.” I replied with my standard answer.

“Still working at…that place?”

“Yeah.”

“How are you liking it there?”

“It pays well. I enjoy what I do.”

“You look really pretty.” Thankfully, his eyes rested only on my face, sparing me the discomfort of a once-over leer.

“Thanks.”

“After supper, there’s going to be dancing. Do you want to dance with me then?”

“I don’t dance. I’ll be leaving right after the food.”

“Oh. Then I’ll try to trade spots with someone so I can sit with you during dinner.” He smiled.

I felt I could drown in his deep brown eyes. “Sure. Okay.”

He smiled and sauntered away. What was happening? Bryce was paying attention to me in a nice way. Maybe this was one of my dreams after all. In a few minutes, he came and sat down beside me. He told me about how his life was going, about the modeling jobs he was scoring. He had even acted in a couple of commercials and had landed a bit part in a movie.

“I know it’s only a matter of time until I’m playing the lead role in movies.”

“I’m happy for you, Bryce.”

He scrunched his face. “I still go by Blaze.”

“Oh, right. Blaze. Sorry.”

Dinner was served. Lukewarm chicken breast and over-cooked veggies. The baby potatoes were good, though. And it was better than what I helped myself to at home, which was mostly cereal these days.

Partway through dinner, Dennis stood up and called the crowd to attention. “Hey, everyone! I have something important to say!” He pulled his girlfriend’s hand and she stood up too, looking surprised. Then Dennis knelt before her and pulled something from his pocket. He opened a ring box and held it up to the girl. “Will you marry me?”

She gasped and put a hand over her mouth. Then she reached for the ring. “Yes!” Dennis took the ring from the box and gave it to her. She slipped it onto her finger. Dennis stood quickly and flung his arms around her. I tried to feel happy for them but couldn’t manage it. But I wouldn’t let myself cry.

The plates were cleared away and dessert and coffee were served. Bryce was still talking but it was hard to pay attention. I didn’t want to be there anymore.

“The dancing is going to start soon,” said Bryce. “Can I dance with you?”

“I told you, I don’t dance.”

“I could teach you.” He smiled.

I almost said yes. But wait…What was happening? Was Bryce trying to put the moves on me? I couldn’t let that happen. He wasn’t a good guy. I shouldn’t let him get too close. Couldn’t let myself fall under his spell. What was his game anyway?

“Why? Why did you sit with me anyway? We’re not really friends, are we?”

“You’re pretty. I saw you looking at Dennis and you looked lonely, so I thought…”

“Don’t,” I interrupted him. “I’m going home.” I stood shakily, turned and strode away from him. But I didn’t go home. I almost never went there anymore. I went to the beach and stood under the dark sky, looking up at the stars. I prayed. I believe in you. But I feel so lost and scared and alone. What’s your plan for me?

You’re not alone and you won’t be alone. Don’t be afraid. You’re going to do what I’ve made you for. And you’re going to like it!

 

***

 

Later that summer, I saw Dennis’ wedding photos on social media. I wasn’t being a stalker; really I wasn’t. His bride looked pretty and happy. I didn’t want Dennis anyway.

I got another big raise. I was making $500 an hour now. But I didn’t tell my mother. I kept giving her the same amount. I sponsored some orphans in Uganda and I gave a lot away to different projects that helped poor people in our city.

My father died. I felt guilty that I didn’t grieve but it was like all the grieving had already been done, like he had already left us several years before. He had been sick a very long time.

Rain fell from a grey sky on the day of my father’s funeral. We looked into the coffin before the service started. Mom and Mathew cried. I didn’t. Mom whispered to me fiercely that I should show some grief.

“Don’t you even care?”

But Dad was in heaven now, so I knew he was okay. I would miss him, but I had already come to terms with his absence over the last three years. I had not been allowed to visit him much and, for the last couple of years, he just wasn’t the same. It was like he’d already gone. Mom glared at me when I didn’t say anything but I was pretty sure that whatever I said would only make things worse. And I was unable to cry on demand. Poor Mom. She had really loved him. But I couldn’t wish him back, not even for her sake. He had gone home – to the place where there would be no more sickness, no more suffering. I was glad he was finally able escape all this pain. He would suffer under darkness no more but look on the face of Love, eternally. In a way, he was the lucky one.

The pastor spoke about redemption and we sang Amazing Grace. After the service, we ate crackers and cheese with the guests in the reception hall. Everyone came by our table and told us how sorry they were for us. Mom performed admirably. I was just quiet.

At the graveside, they lowered his coffin into the ground. The pastor said a few words. Then we threw roses down on top of the coffin but no dirt. I had never been to a funeral before. I found the ceremony odd and futile. Dad wasn’t there anymore. What was the point of it all?

Dad’s funeral took away one evening’s dreaming. I made up for it the next day; I dreamed away almost 24 hours at one time.

The day after that, I moved out. I didn’t tell Mom until I was all packed up, just ready to leave. She was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, when I told her.

She put the newspaper down and looked from me to my suitcase. “This seems a little sudden.”

“I’ve already found a place to rent. An apartment near the clinic.”

“You’re an adult now. Guess it makes sense you would want to live on your own. You’ll need to keep back a portion of the money you make, I suppose? It really is poor timing, with your father’s funeral expenses still coming in.” I’d seen how she’d been living lately. I was pretty sure she was doing all right.

“I got a raise so I’ll be able to keep paying you the same amount.” I didn’t bother to tell her that what I was giving her now was less than a quarter of what I was earning.

“Oh.” I could see the wheels turning in her mind. She was wondering how much I was making. But, in the end, she thought better of asking. “I hope you’ll have your brother over sometimes. He’ll miss you.”

“Sound’s great.” Right. Sure. She really cares about our relationship. More like she was just looking to get some time to herself. “Sure. I’ll invite him over some Saturday when I’m not working. The building has a pool. So we could have some fun together.” But, in reality, Matt and I had come to like communicating via text. We chatted regularly through our phones. So that wouldn’t change. We were closer now than ever before.

“Good. Well, bye then. Hope everything works out for you.” She looked back to her paper, dismissively.

Everything I owned fit into one suitcase. I lugged it to the door. No tearful goodbye. No hug. Well, no surprise there. She didn’t even offer to drive me. Guess I’ll be taking my luggage on the bus. I pulled the suitcase through the doorway and closed the door quietly behind me. I waited at the bus stop for fifteen minutes. It was a sunny day in early autumn. The bus pulled up and I bumped my suitcase up the stairs. I sat in the first empty aisle seat, near the middle of the bus. During the ride, I got a few curious stares, mostly from old ladies and kids. That was one of the benefits of living in a large city. Usually nobody looked at anyone. The unwritten rule of city life – mind your own. Suited me just fine. I had always been an introvert. Since school had ended, I rarely even saw real people anymore. But that was okay. I was already tired. Ready for my next cycle at the clinic.

The bus pulled up to my stop. I lugged the suitcase back down the stairs. The apartment building was less than half a block away. I pulled the suitcase handle up so that I could tow it behind me on its wheels. I walked the short distance to the building and then punched in my code on the keypad by the door. The lobby was spacious and clean but devoid of furniture, to discourage loitering. The tiled floor reflected the florescent lights from the ceiling. I pressed the elevator button. The monotony of life made me love my dream world even more. At least, there, I felt important and valued.

The elevator dinged and the doors swooshed open. I stepped inside, onto the red carpet, lugging my suitcase behind me. On the sixth floor, the elevator released me into a darker, carpeted hallway. I followed the hallway and then opened the door to my room. After locking the door behind me, I sat on my suitcase in the barren apartment suite. Guess I’ll have to order some furniture or something. But that could wait. I looked at my watch. Yes! I could start my shift at the clinic now.

I left all my worldly possessions in the middle of the floor and hurried to the clinic. Excitement began to swell in anticipation, pushing back the depression I tended to feel during my waking hours.

 

***

 

I looked down from the castle wall at a large meadow and, beyond it, an old forest. It was nearly sunset. My velvet, royal blue gown fell to my feet, and my hair was gathered into one braid that went down my back. I felt something on my head. My fingers found a metal circlet there. I pulled it off to study it. A delicate crown. I must be a princess.

Returning the crown to its place on my head, I looked down again on the scene of lengthening shadows. No one was there now. But I felt that, perhaps, something was coming, something ominous. I startled at a sound from behind me. Turning, I saw him. An unimpressive form but I knew it was the High King. His brown eyes were filled with joy and a majestic golden crown rested upon his head. He wore a kingly robe. His attire seemed to suit him perfectly and yet, at the same time, it seemed like he was playing dress-up because the trappings were so far beneath his true splendor.

“It’s you!” I said.

“Yes.”

“You’re the High King.”

“Of course.” He smiled and held out his arms to me. I flung myself into his embrace. He held me tightly. “You are my daughter. My princess.” I felt safe. When we parted, there was a serious look on his face. “I have an important job for you.”

“Okay.” I would do whatever he asked. He led me down into the courtyard where we found a bevy of children playing and dancing. He took my hand and we watched them for a few minutes. I enjoyed their energy and the carefree smiles on their faces. They waved at us from time to time.

“These are also my children,” he explained.

“I am to care for them?” I asked.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. But it is more than that.” We turned away from the happy scene and he led me to the castle gate, which was open to the meadow. “I must go now, on an important journey. It is imperative I leave right away. You must guard my little children while I am gone.”

“But…” I stared into his deep brown eyes. “I can’t do that. Just look at me.” I looked down at my fancy princess dress.

“Of course you can. I am leaving you my sword. If you keep hold of this sword, you cannot lose.” He pulled a heavy-looking sword from a jewel-encrusted sheath hanging from his belt. As the sword pulled free, it emitted a low hum and glowed blue. He held the sword’s hilt towards me.

“I can’t do this!” I protested. “I’m just Cara the Dreamer.”

“You are a Dreamer because I have made you such. And, today, I call you Cara the Warrior Dreamer. You were made for such a time as this. Take the sword.”

I took the sword, wrapping my fingers around the hilt. It was not as heavy as it looked. The sword glowed with an inner life, even in my hands. “I will do as you say.”

The king hugged his little ones goodnight and they scampered off to bed. I continued to hold the sword unsheathed. Its glow illuminated the courtyard. Dusk was coming to an end. Night was almost here. The High King mounted a white stallion and looked down at me.

Authority rang in his voice as he spoke, “The sword – it’s part of me. As long as you hold onto it, you cannot fail.”

“I will hold on to the sword. I will guard your little ones.” I would not doubt the High King. He said it. I believed it.

“Stand here,” he said, indicating the gate. “Do not be surprised if the Dark Knight comes.”

“Should I close the gate or something?”

“No, Cara. You must never try to hide or flee. If you fight the Dark Knight with this sword, he will flee from you.”

When I looked up into his face, I knew his words were truth. “I will do as you say.”

“Cara the Warrior Dreamer, you must fight.” And, with that, he clucked to the horse and flicked the reigns. Soon darkness hid him from view.

I stood with the sword out in front of me like I’d seen in movies. Whoever was out there, I hoped they would be intimidated by the glowing sword and not come near. I must protect the children of the High King.

Though I stood there for a long time, I didn’t feel tired and my arm didn’t waver. Energy seemed to be flowing from the sword into me. Then I heard the sound of hoof beats. But I knew it wasn’t the High King returning. It was something evil. My skin crawled, as the hoof beats grew louder. I raised the sword higher and tried to brace my muscles. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. I was afraid but stood firm. Courage also seemed to flow from the sword, up my arms and into my heart. I would not fail the High King.

Two figures dressed in black, atop black horses, pulled up just short of trampling me with their steeds. I didn’t flinch. The figures dismounted. They were wearing armor and helmets. One was as tall as a giant.

“I’m the daughter of the High King!” I shouted. “So…be off with you!”

The giant roared with laughter. Granted, I didn’t really sound that intimidating. I clung to the sword in desperation, as I held it out in front of me.

As the evil giant rushed at me, he pulled a huge sword from his belt. He raised it, ready to strike. Then, faster than I was able to see it happen, the sword in my hand blocked the blow and then slashed, all of its own volition. It was all I could do to hang on. The sword beat back the giant. Striking his sword, his armor, his shield. I couldn’t even register all the lightning quick moves the sword of the High King was making.

Somehow, the smaller, black-clad figure thought he had a chance and he moved in. The sword struck him across the faceplate from above. His helmet split in two and clattered to the ground. The man fell onto his back, blood gushing from a diagonal wound across his face.

The giant took the opportunity to remount his horse and ride off into the darkness. The other horse followed him. I heard the hoof beats fade out into the distance. But I was still looking at the fallen man, too stunned to move. It was Bryce!

Hesitantly, I stepped closer and stood over him, sword in hand. By the blue light from the blade, I saw fear in his good eye. The other one I couldn’t see for all the blood.

“Cara…”

“Why do you travel with the Dark Knight!?” I shouted at him. I knew it wasn’t really Bryce but I was still angry.

He put his hands out in front of him, in surrender, as blood pooled around him. “Let me live and I will switch allegiances. I will. I promise. I’ll change. You’ll see.”

The sword didn’t want to act against him further so I nodded. “Very well.”

He stood, shakily. I thought I would help him then -wash his wounds - but he darted off into the shadows and was gone.

I stood at the gate, with the sword in my hand, until the gray light of pre-dawn filled the sky. Then, as the sun crested the horizon, I heard hoof beats. It was the white horse and, atop the horse, was the High King.

He dismounted and pried the glowing sword from my stiff fingers. “You have done well, Cara the Warrior Dreamer.”

“It was Bryce. The sword cut his face.” Tears filled my eyes. “I didn’t want to hurt him. Didn’t even know it was him until his helmet came off.”

The king sheathed the sword and then looked down at me. “You did the right thing.” He pulled me into an embrace. “Just keep fighting the good fight, Cara.” He pulled away so that we could look into each other’s eyes.

 

***

 

I woke up to the white ceiling of the clinic. Pulling the orange cap from my head, I tossed it to the counter. Waking up made me feel sad. I wondered if the High King in my dreams was really him. Somehow I knew it was. I had dreamed of him many nights now. Only, why would the High King want to come visit me in my dreams? Surely he had much more important things to do. Was I really Cara the Warrior Dreamer?

 

 

Chapter 10 – Making Castles and the Masquerade

 

The sun was shining down on a beach and I was standing with my bare toes in the sand. And I was short, really short, and I had very little feet. I squinted down at them. Oh, yeah. I laughed. It was because I was just a kid. I scanned the beach. It wasn’t familiar to me. I had never played here before, as far as I could recall. Large waves lapped against the shore. Was this the ocean? Was this a vacation? I looked around again. I couldn’t see my parents anywhere. But then I saw a dark-haired little boy nearby. He was starting a sandcastle. I thought I recognized him. Slowly I approached. He looked up and saw me. A tentative smile formed on his face.

“Hi,” he said. It was Bryson! Did we play together? Were we friends? I continued walking slowly towards him.

“Whatcha working on?” I asked.

He gestured to the pile of sand he was standing beside. “It’s going to be the best sandcastle ever. I’m going to make one so big a person could live in it!”

“That sounds fun! Can I help?”

“Sure!”

I dropped to my hands and knees. I felt the dry hot sand of the pile he had gathered. “I think the sand needs to be more wet to stick together.”

Bryson nodded. He picked up his red pail and walked to the water’s edge. Scooping up some water, he walked back and dumped it on the sand. Sand washed away, leaving a groove where he had poured. “That’s cool!” he said. “A river!”

“Let’s make this pile even bigger!” I suggested.

“Yeah! Let’s make it up to the sky! …Or at least as big as me!”

“Okay!” I pushed with my hands and he dug with his white plastic shovel. Then we switched off and he pushed the sand with his hands and I dug with the shovel. We made a pile as high as Bryson’s shoulders and twice as long as I was, when I lay down beside it.

“This is super-cool!” said Bryson.

“It totally is!” We added more water to the sand and patted it with our hands to form it. We made towers with his pail. And we used driftwood sticks for flagpoles. We worked on the castle until the sun was setting out over the ocean.

“Well, guess that’s it,” I said.

“It’s the most perfect sand castle ever!” Bryson declared.

I looked around. Some dark clouds were in the sky and the wind was picking up. “It’s getting dark.”

“Yeah.”

“I wonder where my parents are.”

Bryson shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“But it’s almost nighttime.”

We looked around the beach again. There was no one else there. It was just the two of us. I sat down beside our sandcastle and wrapped my arms around my knees. Bryson sat down beside me. I looked out at the water as the sun set. It was pretty but more and more clouds were gathering. Soon the wind was making me cold. I shivered. It was dark now.

“Bryson, what are we going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember how I got here.”

I looked beyond the beach. There was a large, rocky hill at the edge of the sand.

“We could climb up that hill to get a better look around. Maybe we could see someone who can help us,” I suggested.

“Right. Let’s go.” Bryson stood up and brushed the sand off his legs. Large drops of rain began to fall. “Race ya!”

I scrambled to my feet. We streaked across the sand as the rain pelted down on us. The hill was steep and the rocks were slick because of the rain. We had to use our hands to help us get up the hill. When we reached the top, we saw a cabin. There was a light on in the window. Surely someone was home. Bryson reached the door first and knocked. Lightning split the sky as the door opened. I gasped in fright, but then I saw that the man at the door had a kind face. Somehow, I recognized him…It was the High King! Wherever I went, there he was. And here he was in a cabin by the sea.

“Hello,” I said.

His eyes twinkled. “Hello.” He knew that I knew who he was. But Bryson didn’t seem to notice. “Come on in. You can sit by the fire. I’ve been expecting you.” In the hearth, a fire blazed. On the table was a big pot of chicken noodle soup and two bowls.

“I’ve also made some supper.” He gestured to the table.

“I’m starved!” said Bryson, abandoning the fire and veering towards the large wooden table. I followed him and sat on a wooden chair beside him. The High King took the ladle and served us the soup.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Yeah. Thanks,” said Bryson.

It was good to know there was someone who was always taking care of me, even when my parents weren’t there.

The soup was hot and salty. It warmed me up from the inside. After supper, we sat with the High King by the fire. Bryson told him all about the sandcastle we had made.

“It was the biggest castle I’ve ever made! The highest flagpole came up past the top of my head! Maybe, tomorrow, we can go down to the beach and I can show the castle to you.”

I looked at the High King’s face. It felt wonderful being with him, under his care. The High King pulled two sleeping bags from a closet. “These are for you. In the morning, we’ll go down to the beach like Bryson wants.” He laid the sleeping bags out on the floor. Bryson and I crawled in. Suddenly, I felt so tired and so comfortable. I looked over at Bryson. He was already asleep. My eyelids felt heavy. I let them close.

The next thing I knew, it was morning. I opened my eyes to see the timber roof of the cabin. With a start, I sat up. It was odd waking up here…wasn’t it? I looked and saw that Bryson was still sleeping beside me. He woke up to find me looking at him.

Bryson grinned. “Liking what you’re seeing?”

I blushed. “I was just seeing if you were still asleep.”

“Nope. I’m not.” He scrambled out of the sleeping bag and stood up, just as the High King walked into the room.

“Did you two have a nice sleep?” he asked politely.

“Yeah, but it was weird.” Bryson replied. “I didn’t dream. I always dream.”

The High King smiled and half-shrugged. “This is a different kind of place.”

“Can we go down and look at the sandcastle now? I’ve just got to show you!”

“Sure.”

I was hungry. I had thought we would have breakfast first. But Bryson’s enthusiasm won me over too. “Yeah, it is a really great sand castle. We worked on it all day!”

The High King and I followed Bryson out of the little cabin and down the steep, rocky hill. It was much easier walking down, in the daylight and when the ground was dry.

We had almost reached the beach when Bryson spoke from the front of our little group. “I don’t see it.”

I stepped past the High King to get a better view. The sandy shore was littered with driftwood and seaweed. Bryson ran out across the sand. The High King and I followed along after him. Bryson stopped at the place where our sandcastle had stood.

“It was right here.” He kicked at a piece of slimy seaweed.

“It stormed last night,” explained the High King.

“I guess it got washed away,” I said.

“Aww…That’s too bad,” said Bryson.

“Guess that’s why they say you shouldn’t build your house upon the sand,” I said.

“That’s right, Cara.” The High King smiled at me and I smiled back. “You should build your house upon the rock.”

“Like you did?” asked Bryson, looking back at the hill where we had come from.

“Like I am.” The High King smiled at him. “Blaze, it’s me.”

 

***

 

I startled awake and sat up. Only this time, I was in the clinic. I wasn’t a little kid anymore. And neither was Blaze. And we didn’t get to play together on the beach. We weren’t even in school together anymore. In fact, I’d probably never see him again. That thought left me a little sad. It had been…nice. Hopefully he never engaged in Eclipsesys. How embarrassing it would be if he knew I dreamed of him almost every night! But he probably wouldn’t start using Eclipsesys. He had scorned the idea when we had spoken of it years ago. And movie stars were super-busy, right? I sighed and eased down from the bed. I seriously had to get a real life. Waking up was getting to be a real drag. I looked at the clock. Hmm…actually I could sleep a little longer. I lay back down and closed my eyes, eager to escape into a different world.

 

***

 

It was evening, the sky lit with twilight’s glow. I walked down the sidewalk. There were voices coming from beyond the tall hedges up ahead – happy voices – and a slight swooshing of fabric coming from me. I looked down at myself. To my delight, I saw a fancy evening dress, gold and…probably dark blue, but it was hard to tell in the fading light. Perhaps I was going to a ball. I rounded the hedge.

Torchlight reflected off water. Flickering torches lit a glorious fountain in the center of a pool on a large patio. Groups of people stood here and there, laughing or engaging in lively conversations. They were dressed in finery. And – they were wearing masks! I put my hand to my face and found a mask there also. How fantastic! I had always wanted to be invited to a masquerade ball! As I joined the party, no one remarked on my presence. So far, so good. You could never tell how these sorts of things would go. I realized I didn’t even know who the host was. Hmm…guess I’m crashing this party. I joined a small circle of people near me. They made room for me and several nodded in my direction. I noticed, in particular, a man with a very large feather coming out of the top of his mask.

His mouth was exposed. He smiled. “Good evening.”

That voice, deep and creamy. I recognized that voice, didn’t I? And those eyes… like dark chocolate even by torchlight. “Good evening,” I replied. He was staring at me. Then I realized he was looking at my hair. Guess the mask didn’t disguise me much. My curly red mop of hair was pretty identifiable. Did he recognize me? “Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked.

The flicker of a grin passed across his lips. “That pick up line’s a little old, don’t you think?” It was Bryce! He wasn’t looking at me now, though. Bryce took a step back, away from the group. He was looking uncomfortable. Then he turned and walked away. I followed him.

“What’s wrong?”

He glanced back at me and then broke into a run. The sensible thing for me to do would have been to let him go. Instead, I chased him. He ran, full out, his poofy sleeves fettering him as he sprinted down the dark path. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up but I ran just as hard as I could. It was crazy, chasing him like this. But I wanted to help him. He veered off the path and disappeared into the bushes. I slowed and looked into the brush, trying to figure out where he had gone.

Probing the bushes, I searched for the place where he had gone through. But what I found was a cave. I peered inside but could see nothing. Need some light in there. A torch! I ran back to the courtyard where the guests were gathered. Several people seemed startled when I wrenched one of the torches from its place on a pillar but there was no time to explain. Bryce was in trouble! I ran back to the cave and entered, slowly, torch first. No sign of him.

“Bryce?” I called. The name echoed hollowly. “Where are you? Why were you running? What’s wrong?” I walked forwards, the torch lighting the patch of ground in front of me. The cave opened up into a much larger cavern where the light didn’t reach the walls or the ceiling. “Bryce?” I called again.

I heard a scuffling sound up ahead. Gripping the torch tightly, I continued forward. Fear wouldn’t send me skittering back out. I needed to find out what was going on with Bryce!

I heard the sounds of stones sliding and then a loud yell rang out in the darkness. It was Bryce! I hurried forward, then slowed. The floor of the cave in front of me fell away to blackness. Holding onto the edge of the pit, I saw fingertips, Bryce’s fingertips! I quickly put the torch on the ground, got down on my hands and knees and crawled to the edge of the precipice. Peering down, I saw his face looking up at me in the flickering torchlight, anguish written on his features.

His grip on the cliff’s edge was slipping. I got down on my stomach and grasped one of his wrists with both hands.

“Hold on to me! Let me help you!”

“No.” He looked up at me, brown eyes narrowed, mistrust written on his handsome face. Why did we have to be enemies?

“Please. I can help you.”

“Like you helped me last time?”

His mask had fallen off and there was a jagged red scar across his face that I had not noticed. Last time…Oh. The dark knight! “Bryce…I had to. You attacked me!”

“It’s Blaze!” He squeezed his eyes shut. “I had to,” he said quietly.

“Why?”

“I belong to the dragon. As long as he lives, I will never truly be my own. I can never be free. We can never be together. Stop chasing me.” Bryson’s fingers were slipping from the stone ledge but he seemed more sad than afraid.

“Just grab on to me. I’m sure I can help you! Don’t give up!”

“I’m sorry, Cara. I wanted to keep my word and switch sides. It’s just…I don’t know how. I’m not a good person. I know I can’t save myself. And you can’t save me either.”

“Maybe we could fight the dragon together.” I tightened my grasp on his wrist but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold him if he didn’t hold onto me too.

“No. Everyone who fights the dragon loses. It’s hopeless. I’m sorry, Cara.” He closed his eyes and let go. I screamed as his wrist tore from my grasp and he plummeted down and down into the vast cavern below. I got up on all fours and peered down into the blackness. But I couldn’t see the bottom. I hadn’t heard him hit the ground. Was Bryce gone forever? Or could he have somehow survived the fall? I had tried to save him, hadn’t I? Could I have done more? Did I let Bryce die? Was it my fault he was lost? I would see him again, wouldn’t I? I had to have another chance. This just wasn’t right!

 

***

 

Tears filled my eyes. I blinked them away, to the familiar sight of white lighting overhead. It had been a dream. I’d dreamed of Bryson, again. As I lay there thinking about the dream and about Bryce, I wondered if I had somehow let him down. Was my subconscious trying to tell me something? Why couldn’t I save him?

It’s not your responsibility to save him Cara. You can help him but only I can save him. You can trust me for that. I will save him!

I smiled as my tension ebbed away. Yes. Whether in the dream world or in real life, I could trust the High King. Then I laughed as I thought of his comment to me. As if I keep chasing him! My dream Bryce was just like the real one, in terms of attitude. Maybe I needed to get a boyfriend or something.

 

 

Chapter 11 – A New Allegiance

 

The apartment I had rented had a nice pool where I could exercise and a hot tub where I could relax when I wasn’t dreaming. The truth was, I didn’t really need an apartment at all. I had a locker at the clinic and there was a shower in the bathroom there. But I guess it was nice to have my own place too; at least, it was nice to have somewhere to swim. I’ve always loved water. And it helped comfort me when I wasn’t sleeping.

I don’t think Mom was sad not to see me anymore. She never contacted me. I kept sending her the money though, because that’s what she really loved, anyway. Matthew and I kept up, via text. He was thinking of becoming a doctor. Mom must have been happy about that. I clicked off my phone after reading his latest message. I was sitting on my cot at the clinic. I shoved the phone into my backpack and let the bag fall to the ground. With the familiar feeling of the tight sleep cap cradling my head, I lay down. Now, how not to dream of Bryce… I fell asleep thinking about him and wondering what he was up to these days.

 

***

 

I found myself standing on a gravel road in a small, rustic town. No one else was in sight. The overcast sky and the run-down look of the place gave me a bit of an ominous feeling. I walked up onto a wooden porch. The white paint was peeling. I pressed the doorbell, not knowing whom I expected to answer. No one came. I rang the bell again. I felt drawn to this place. Somehow, I knew it was important. Still no one. I turned away and there he was, right beside me. He looked angry. I’d never seen him look that way before.

“Bryce!” I gasped.

Somehow, this time, I knew it was a dream. I often didn’t but, this time, I did. Why do I always see him in my dreams? Sometimes as a love interest and sometimes as an enemy. Which would he be, this time? Deep down, I must have a huge crush on the guy or something. Or maybe I’m just fixating on him because he’s one of the last people I interacted with, in real life. I was surprised to see a faint diagonal scar across his face. From where I got him with the sword. So weird. He was still looking at me. His dark eyes were smoldering coals.

“Bryce, what’s wrong?” Would we fight like we had at the castle? I had no sword this time.

“It’s Blaze. How many times have I told you that? You act like you’re above me. You don’t treat me with respect. I can see it in your face. You think I’m a loser. What, I’m not good enough to be your friend? I hate your God! I tried to be a good guy, Cara. I tried! But I can’t. Your God has rejected me…just like you have.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. Whoa! Strong words but …he was right. God had not rejected him. But, in a way, I had. The tears flowed down my cheeks at his strong emotion. I guess I had felt that he was beneath me, worthy of only contempt. It seemed like all he cared about was his appearance and becoming a movie star. I guess I hadn’t found that admirable. But still, treating him with scorn wasn’t right. The anger on his face melted to sorrow with my tears. I was crying so hard I found it difficult to talk. The way I had treated him was hindering him from choosing to follow the High King. There was no excuse for that! I needed to try and make things right.

“I’m sorry I made you feel that way. I know… I’ve been judgmental. And I’m really sorry. God hasn’t rejected you and…I’m sorry that I did.” Guess my subconscious was calling me on my attitude. I knew this wasn’t the real Bryson…But it felt real. Maybe I could apologize to the real Bryce one day… but I felt it was important that I made amends here. Maybe just for me. I reached for him. “I’m really, truly sorry.” The twisting of his features eased and he stepped into my open arms. He felt warm, and I cried onto his black t-shirt. Soon his arms wrapped around me in return.

“Okay,” he whispered into my hair.

But I couldn’t stop crying. Why had I treated him so badly, thinking he was below even my speaking to him? At Prom, when there had been an opening to try to connect with him and maybe help him, I had just walked away.

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

“It’s okay now.”

I let go and looked up at him while I wiped the tears from my face. “I’m sorry I treated you that way. But it’s not true that God has rejected you. I try to do the right thing. But I’m flawed. God’s perfect. And he loves you and will accept you.”

He stepped back and looked away. “You know, I don’t really believe in God anyway.”

We were an arm’s length apart now. “Then why were you so upset?”

“You were always like an angel. To everyone except me.”

“I was sometimes kind to you. I tried.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“But you always looked like you had it all together, like you wouldn’t care.”

Our gazes locked; his face was serious. “But I’m crying on the inside,” he whispered.

I stepped forward and caught him in a hug again. “I’m so sorry, Bryce. You’re so incredibly valuable. God loves you desperately and he wants to save you.”

“Wants to save me from what?” he asked quietly, gently returning the embrace.

“From crying on the inside.”

We parted and Bryce looked at me quizzically. I didn’t know how to explain. But I felt better now, like the damage had been repaired. I reminded myself that this wasn’t really Bryson and wondered again if I’d ever get to apologize to him for real. Was he really crying on the inside? Probably not. Here, he was still staring at me so I looked at the house.

“Do you know who lives there?” I asked.

“No idea,” he replied.

“Let’s circle around the back,” I suggested.

He nodded agreement and followed me. It seemed I had an ally this time. As we rounded the side of the house, a cool wind hit me, smelling of salt water.

“It must be the ocean,” he murmured from behind me.

A block away was the sea. Sunlight sparkled on white, frothing swells. “It’s beautiful,” I said, looking out over the water. Then I heard sounds coming from behind the house. “What do you think that is?” I asked.

Bryce shrugged. “I’ve never been here before. Let’s go check it out.” He took the lead and we continued around the house to the back. There we found a shop with sounds of wood working coming from inside. We walked to where we could see through the open door but the inside of the shop was in shadow. I stood there while my eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight.

“There you are!” The figure inside put down his tools and came to join us in the back alley. Surprise swept over me. The High King! He was wearing simple clothing but he was certainly the High King. Bryce took a hesitant step away.

“It’s alright,” said the King. “You needn’t run.” He held out a hand towards Bryson in a handshake gesture. “You said you’d switch allegiances, remember? I accept.”

“But…” He stared at the High King for a long moment. Then Bryce took the man’s hand. They shook hands. I wondered at the exchange.

The High King turned to look at me. “Are you ready?”

“For what?” I asked.

“For an adventure!” He smiled. Warmth and joy filled his eyes.

I couldn’t help but stare up into his face. “You’re really him, aren’t you? Not just a part of my dream? But really, really him.”

“Of course.”

“Why do you come and visit me so often?” I asked.

“I have plans for you.”

“What kind of plans?”

He stepped closer to me and gently placed a hand on my shoulder. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Plans to give everyone hope. It’s important.”

Warmth and love flowed from his hand on my shoulder into my heart. The apprehension I’d been feeling melted away. When I was with the High King, I felt safe.

“What kind of adventure?” asked Bryce, suspiciously. “And do you have plans for me too?”

I flinched in surprise. For a moment, I’d forgotten he was there.

“Do I have plans for you?” The High King laughed but it was a pleasant sound. He dropped his hand from my shoulder and reached for Bryson, who stepped away. The High King dropped his hand and answered quietly. “Of course, I have plans for you, Blaze. You are very important.”

A vulnerable look of uncertainty crossed Bryce’s face. “And what kind of adventure?”

“A rescue mission, of course.”

“What if I don’t want your plans? What if I don’t go on this rescue mission?”

“You don’t have to come with us. Come on, Cara.” He motioned that I should follow. The High King walked quickly down the lane in the direction of the sea. Bryce folded his arms across his chest.

I held my hand out to him. “Let’s adventure together, Blaze.” He looked surprised – probably because I called him Blaze. But the High King had called him that, after all. Then he reached for me and took my hand, the look of vulnerability on his face again. We walked hand-in-hand. I pulled him along, our feet skittering stones on the gravel road, as I hurried to catch up with the High King. When we reached him, I slowed our pace. “It’ll be more fun adventuring together.” I gave Blaze a reassuring smile as we walked along. He smiled back. My heart warmed and I knew it was true. This was good. We kept holding hands. I much preferred having an ally to having an enemy.

“I did promise to switch allegiances. Now, here I am, with you. Promise fulfilled, right?” He smiled at me.

“Right!” It was weird, having dream-Bryce with me. If we ever met again in real life, it would be super awkward for me. We’d have all this history together – only we wouldn’t really. And his hand felt really good in mine. It had felt good when I had held the High King’s hand – so good. But not like this. I turned to look at Blaze and caught him looking at me.

“What?” I asked.

“I can’t get over it. You look just like her. And act like her too.”

“Like who?”

“Like Cara.”

“I am Cara.”

“Right.” He shook his head and laughed. “Never mind.”

We reached the seashore. Tied to the dock was a beautiful sailboat. More clouds were gathering overhead.

“Come aboard,” said the High King.

We followed him onto the boat. I wasn’t used to the rocking motion so I gripped the boat’s railing tightly. He unfastened the tether and we started to drift from the dock.

“Why do you want us to come with you anyway?” asked Bryce, as he reluctantly jumped onto the boat.

“There are some villagers stranded on a small island, several miles from here. You’ll need to rescue them and then take them back to shore.”

“And what are you going to be doing?” asked Bryce.

“I’m going to be fighting the dragon.” The High King put his hand on the hilt of the sword that hung from his belt.

Blaze paled. He looked back towards land. We had drifted too far from the dock for him to jump back. “Fighting the dragon? This isn’t some fairy tale. He’s ancient and supernatural. No one who fights this dragon wins.”

“Except for me,” said the High King with confidence. “Blaze, please pull up the anchor.” He pointed to a large winch on the front of the boat.

Blaze walked unsteadily. He turned the handle of the winch. After a few minutes, he brought up a massive, metal anchor. “I’ve got it.”

“Good.” The High King had unfurled the sails. He secured the anchor in place. Wind filled the sails and carried us out to sea. The High King stood at the railing beside me and looked out to the distant horizon.

“Don’t you have to steer or something?” asked Blaze.

“This ship knows what to do. I built her myself.” The High King patted the railing absently. “Don’t worry; she’ll get you home.” There was no smile on his face now. The clouds were getting thicker and more threatening. Even though it must have been only midday, it was growing dark. The wind was picking up.

“Looks like a storm is coming,” said Blaze.

“Is this going to be a difficult mission?” I asked the High King.

“Yes.” He was gripping the railing so tightly that his fingernails were turning white.

I wonder if he’s afraid. He certainly looks unsettled. But why would the High King ever feel afraid? When he spoke, he didn’t seem worried that he would lose to the dragon. So what is bothering him?

“How did these people get stranded out there anyway?” asked Bryce.

“They thought the dragon had treasure and they were trying to get it,” said the High King.

“Let me guess. He doesn’t really have any treasure?”

“No.”

“Well, that was stupid of them. So, basically, it was their own fault. Why should we help them?” asked Bryce.

“This whole realm lives under the terror of this dragon. These people had a regent who made a deal with the beast. The dragon promised the regent that he would protect the realm and keep the High King from enforcing his laws here. The agreement is in effect for as long as they both live.”

“So the dragon promised the regent to keep you away?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes. The regent didn’t want to follow my laws. He wanted to be the ruler here, instead of me. But, of course, the dragon could not really keep me away. Nevertheless, this whole realm has fallen under the beast’s power and authority. But I will free them once and for all.”

Blaze spoke angrily, in a harsh tone, “So what are you going to do? Kill the regent to nullify the contract? Some hero you are!”

The High King regarded him sternly for a moment. “No, Blaze, I will destroy the dragon and free the people from its power. Even the regent will have the opportunity to turn from his ways and believe.” Then he turned back to me and put his hand over mine on the railing. “You will have to be strong, Cara. Remember about my sword.”

I understood the importance of helping but I didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t he going to be using his sword? So I just nodded. The High King gave my hand a little squeeze.

Blaze came to join us near the front of the ship. “There it is,” he whispered.

I’d never seen him look so scared. Then I remembered what he had said to me at the masquerade. Did he know this dragon somehow? Did they have some kind of history?

I looked away from his face, out over the water, to see what he had seen. A dark shape swooped from the sky to the ocean. It was too far away to make out any details. “Has it seen us yet?” I asked.

“The dragon knows we’re coming,” said the High King. As we got nearer to the dragon, I saw a small landmass to our right. “That’s where the people are,” the High King explained. “You must save them after I have defeated the dragon.” He walked to the very front of the boat and unhooked the massive anchor.

Blaze followed him. “After you defeat the dragon, why can’t you save them yourself? Wait…what are you going to do with that anchor? Aren’t you going to use your sword on the dragon?” asked Blaze.

“Because of the deal, the dragon has a measure of legal authority here, so my sword can’t penetrate its armor. Soon you’ll understand my plan,” the High King said, quietly. “Please go over there.” He pointed to the back of the boat. Then he pulled the sword from its sheath and held it high in the air. The blade glowed blue, lighting up the sky.

I walked to the back of the boat where the High King had indicated and sat on the deck. Blaze followed me and sat down too. I clutched the railing beside me as the boat’s rocking intensified.

“Dragon!” The High King’s voice boomed out over the water as he waved the sword in the air.

The black, scaly creature saw his challenge. It approached – huge black wings beating the air, glowing red eyes fixed on the High King. The dragon was so large that it eclipsed all light from the sun, and its shadow fell across what now seemed to be a very little sailing boat.

I let out a scream as it dropped. Its sharp, talon-like claws plummeted towards the High King at incredible speed. He deflected the attack, the blue blade ringing out like metal on metal as he struck the creature’s leg. The blade flashed again as the High King leaped and struck at the beast’s gut. The sword sang out again as the thrust glanced harmlessly off the scaly hide. But the dragon bellowed in rage at the unexpected attack.

The dragon flapped away, out over the water, and then came around for another pass. It dove again, this time gaping maw first. I saw thousands of teeth and felt the heat from its throat, even at this distance. The High King stood ready with his sword. Then, at the last moment, the dragon swerved off course, veering right towards us. I screamed again but could not move for fear, not even to shield my face with my hands.

The High King sprinted across the deck and leapt astride the beast’s neck. He held on to one of its horns with his left hand as he used the sword in his right hand to hack at the creature’s snout. The dragon roared, pulled up into the sky, shaking the High King loose as he did so.

We saw the High King fall. At first, I thought he would fall into the sea but he came down onto the deck of the ship with a mighty crash. He lay gasping for a moment, trying to catch his breath. His sword was still in his hand. I rushed towards him as he regained his feet. The back of his head was oozing blood.

He used his sword as a cane as he motioned with his hand for me to move away from him. Tears streamed down my face as I stepped back to where Blaze sat, huddling on the deck.

The High King breathed in deeply as he turned to face the dragon again. “I won’t let you have them!” he shouted defiantly as he raised his sword aloft.

I feared for him. I knew who he was but…somehow…in order to be here with me, he had left some of his power behind.

The dragon dove at him, breathing deadly fire.

The High King turned away from the searing flames. His face was burned. The sword clanged to the deck and its light went out. The form of the High King wavered for a moment as he was backlit by the flames. Then he fell forward, onto the massive anchor, and clutched it tightly in his arms.

Horror rendered me silent as the dragon kept coming. Its powerful jaws closed over the broken figure of the High King. The creature’s momentum propelled it across the ship. It slid into the sea on the other side. The deck was empty. The High King was gone.

“No!” I screamed as I stood, rushing to the edge of the boat. I saw the dragon sinking, struggling to swim back up to the surface of the water. But it sank deeper and deeper, the massive anchor that it had swallowed dragging it in, down into the depths. Something had to happen! He can’t be dead! I watched until the dragon sank out of sight. The sword still lay on the deck. I ran and caught up the sword. It came to life, a blue fire in my hand. I turned to Blaze. “We have to do something!”

Blaze was looking over the railing into the dark water. “He’s gone.” He gripped the railing tightly, tears on his face.

I ran to stand beside him at the railing. “Maybe he’s not dead! Maybe the dragon swallowed him whole and he’s still alive!” But we had seen him burned so badly. I didn’t want to admit it but, in truth, he looked almost dead before the dragon’s teeth closed over him.

“Cara…there’s nothing we can do here.” Blaze held up his hands in a surrender posture as I flailed the sword around dangerously. “Let’s go rescue the people like he said to.”

Tears streamed down my face as the boat began to carry us away, towards the small island. “It’s not fair,” I whispered. I let the tip of the sword fall to the deck, unable to control my sobs.

Blaze scrubbed the tears from his face with a fist. “No, it’s not. Not fair at all. He was so brave. It was like he knew he was going to die the whole time. Like he tricked the dragon into eating him with that anchor. Maybe that was the only way to save all the people…and the regent.”

I thought about Blaze’s words and then nodded solemnly. “You’re right. That must have been his plan the whole time.”

“Crazy plan,” Blaze muttered. More tears escaped from under his long lashes.

I looked at his face and puzzled over the expression there. He looked…ashamed. What was going on with him? “What do you know that you’re not saying?” I demanded, my grip tightening on the sword.

He turned away from me a little, so I was looking at his side profile. “What makes you think I know something?” he said, evasively.

“It’s written all over your face.”

Blaze sighed heavily. “I was the regent.”

“What?”

“It was…a long time ago, I think. I was lord of this realm. I made a deal with the dragon. I should never have listened to him. It was me who brought the terror of the dragon on us all. And…” His tears choked out his words for a moment. “He knew was me.”

“The High King knew it was you who made the deal with the dragon? How do you know?”

“I could see it in his eyes when I asked him if he was planning to kill the regent to void the dragon’s claim here. But that wasn’t his plan. He was planning to let himself get killed instead. To save me.”

“He was so brave.” Tears poured from my eyes.

“Yeah.” He turned away from me entirely. The boat had neared the rocky shore of the island. “I think we’re close enough to jump,” said Blaze. He climbed over the railing and leapt from the boat, landing deftly on one of the larger stones. “Come on,” he called back.

I hesitated, looking at the sword in my hand. I climbed over the railing and hesitated again. “I don’t think I can jump with it.”

“Just throw it over here onto the land first, then.”

“Okay.” I prepared to throw the sword.

“Wait, wait, not at me!” shouted Blaze. “Over there.” He pointed to his left.

“Okay. Right.” A nervous laugh bubbled past my lips even though my heart was in anguish. I had been going to throw it at him. Whatever was I thinking? I threw the sword, deliberately aiming away from him. It landed with a clang on the rocks. Blaze moved to pick it up. I jumped for shore. My foot slipped as I landed and I banged my shin. I looked up to see Blaze handling the High King’s sword. The blade was a dull, metal grey.

“It’s not glowing anymore,” he said.

After brushing gravel from my bruised shins, I scrambled up over the rocks to the beach where he stood. “Here.” I held my hand out for the sword. He looked down at the sword and then handed it to me, hilt first. The sword’s blue, internal fire sprang to life at my touch.

“It likes you,” he remarked.

I set out across the beach, looking for the people, feeling relieved that he had given the sword back to me. The High King had given it to me and it seemed like it was all there was left of him in this world. “Maybe it’s because you don’t know the High King,” I suggested.

“I saw him, just like you, and talked with him. I met him too.” Blaze fell into step beside me.

“Yeah, I know, but I mean really. Do you know him for real?”

Blaze rolled his eyes. “I think I know what you’re getting at and you know I don’t believe in all that. Look, I don’t know if you know but, this,” he gestured around, “this is just a dream.”

“Fine.” My dream-characters telling me it was only a dream – that was different. I stopped and shaded my eyes as I looked up the steep slope of a sandy hill. At the summit was a pile of broken wood. “That looks like it could be from a ship.”

Blaze shaded his eyes and looked. “Yup. Weird. Let’s check it out.” We started up the hill. It was sparsely covered in scraggly green weeds.

We reached the pile of broken boards at the top of the hill. I felt my hope fading. How could anyone still be alive under this mess? Was the High King’s sacrifice for nothing? The sword in my hand hummed more loudly and then it struck one of the boards, causing it to shift off the pile.

“I think we should move these boards.” I put the sword down and pulled at the wooden planks. Blaze sighed and bent down to help. We pulled board after board off the pile and threw them behind us, down the sandy hill. After an hour, it seemed like we should have been almost down to the ground by now but still there was no sign of life. Then I heard a soft moan coming from somewhere close by.

“Did you hear that?” asked Blaze, pulling the planks away more quickly.

“I did. There must be people here!” We worked for another ten minutes. The sandy ground was now exposed in some places. But still there was no one to rescue. Blaze pulled away a particularly heavy piece of wood. Now we could see a deep depression in the sand.

“There they are!” cried Blaze. We saw the face of a young girl peering out from a hole. Her face was dirty but her blue eyes were clear and there was a tentative smile on her face.

“You’re not the dragon!” she said as she crawled out. “We were keeping very quiet because we thought it was the dragon out here!”

I held out my hand to her. “Everything’s okay now. The High King defeated the dragon.” She smiled and took my hand; I pulled her up. Behind her came the rest of the people who had been on the ship, seventeen in all.

“Thank you,” said the little girl, taking my hand again. “Where’s the High King now?”

“He’s…” I looked down. I should tell these people the truth. “He died defeating the dragon. The dragon ate him.”

The little girl’s eyes filled with tears and so did mine. “Oh no! That’s terrible!”

“Okay, guys, let’s get on the boat,” called Blaze from the bottom of the hill.

We followed him quietly to the boat. “Thanks for coming for us,” said a man, taking the little girl’s hand. But she kept holding onto me too.

“It was the High King who did everything. We were just along for the ride,” Blaze said, as we reached him at the bottom of the hill.

I was surprised but glad that he said it. Maybe he really was changing. Then I reminded myself, again, that this Blaze was just a figment of my imagination.

We climbed aboard the sailboat and the little girl’s father lifted her in. The High King was right. The boat knew what to do. It sailed along until it came to rest at the same dock from which we had left earlier that day. We clambered off. Blaze tied the boat to the dock.

We all stood on the shore for a while, looking past the boat, out to sea. Then the villagers shook our hands or hugged us while murmuring their thanks again. But I could hardly pay attention.

When they had left, I walked along the beach. I noticed Blaze walking beside me. I still carried the sword, which hummed quietly in my grip.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” I said.

“No. It’s so…weird.” We walked in silence for a while. Blaze kicked a rock along in front of us as we went. “What do you want to do now?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” It seemed like it had been a long dream. I didn’t think I’d be sad to wake up from this one.

“Maybe we could go back to that guy’s house and look around.”

“He’s not that guy. He’s the High King.”

“Right. The King. Whatever. Since he’s dead, I don’t think he’d mind if we took a look around.”

“After everything, I’d think you’d show a little more respect,” I snapped.

“What good would showing respect do now? He’s dead. And it’s my fault. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I sighed and reminded myself that we were friends. “Okay. Let’s check out the house.” We strolled to the house where we had met the High King. The door to the shop at the back was open, so we went in. We could see that he’d been working on another boat, which stood off to the side, partially completed. Funny he’d be working on a boat when he knew what was going to happen to him. Surely there must be more to this story. He just couldn’t be dead!

We explored the house. It was a small, one bedroom cottage. The wooden furniture was simple but sturdy.

Blaze ran his hand over the surface of an end table. “Looks like he made these things himself, in his shop.” Then he wandered into the next room.

“I wonder why I’m still here?” I mused.

“What?” Blaze called from the kitchen.

“Nothing,” I called back.

He came back into the living room where I stood, looking out the window at the sea. “I thought I heard you saying something.”

“Nothing important. Did you find anything?”

“No. Didn’t find anything remarkable or kingly.”

“Oh.” The glow of the sun setting somewhere behind the cottage turned the clouds above the water a cotton candy pink. The beauty seemed incongruous with what had happened. How could the world even go on?

Blaze stepped up to the window beside me. “But I did find bread, cheese and grape juice. You hungry?”

I turned to look at him and found him smiling at me. He was standing close. But, when he was close, it was never too close. It never felt intimidating like it had with Dennis.

“Actually I’m starved.” I followed him to the kitchen. It was getting dim in there so I looked for a light switch. Then I noticed there was no fixture on the ceiling. “There’s no electricity.”

“Hmm…” Blaze rummaged around in one of the drawers and came back with a candle and matches. So we ate the simple meal by candlelight. The food smelled good and tasted fantastic. A somber mood had settled in around us. We were both mostly quiet that evening. It was nice not to have to listen to Blaze talk about himself the whole time, for a change.

Finally it was night. We were tired. In the house, there was one bed and a couch. Blaze took the couch and I curled up in the large bed. I knew that it was just a dream but, at the same time somehow, it felt like not just a dream. And I was sad, so sad. I couldn’t stop the tears that came. Silently, I cried myself past exhaustion and then fell asleep.

 

 

Chapter 12 – A Good Plan

 

When my eyes opened, I was surprised to see the same small room with the mirror on the wall. Light poured in through the open window. Is this the dream that never ends? Then I saw myself in the mirror from where I sat in the bed. Last evening, by candlelight, I hadn’t noticed. My face was dirty, probably from shifting all those dusty boards. But there were clean patches under my eyes where my tears had washed the grime away. I stood up and found an empty white porcelain washbasin, with a matching pitcher of clear water beside it. I poured from the pitcher, filling the basin. The water was cool. I scrubbed my face and arms. There was a blue towel folded on the dresser nearby. Why am I still here? This is a dream…right? I dried on the towel.

Then I wandered into the living room. I wasn’t sure if I would find Blaze still here with me. But there he was. Sleeping. It was so unusual to see someone asleep in a dream. I sat on a nearby chair to watch him. The prominent scar, cut across his face, served to make him look more dangerous but not less attractive. His long eyelashes blinked open and I stared into his dark eyes.

He grinned, sat up and stretched slowly. “So, we’re still here.”

“Looks like it.”

“So,” he leaned towards me, “what do you want to do today? Besides staring at me, I mean.”

Suddenly he was too close. I stood up and went over to the window, pretending I wanted to look out when I really just wanted to move away from him. It was like the sadness had worn off for him. But not for me. Where was the High King? He couldn’t really die, could he?

Blaze’s teasing annoyed me because I wasn’t in the mood for it and also… well… I really did like watching him. Which infuriated me on some level because I didn’t want to like it. What was it that made me always dream of him? “I don’t know, Blaze. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. But yesterday was kind of a drag so let’s do something fun.”

Kind of a drag? After the High King saved your life and this whole realm, that’s all you can say? But I didn’t bother saying it out loud. “Okay. Let’s explore the village,” I suggested.

“Ooo…Can we? That sounds like fun.” I looked over at Blaze. He was leaning back on the couch but giving me his full attention.

Was he trying to put the moves on me? This was just really, really not the time. Maybe he did try to annoy me on purpose. “Well, let’s just go outside and we’ll see if we can find something to do.” I headed to the door.

He sprang up, reached the door first and held it open for me. “Ladies first,” he cooed. I had to brush past him in the narrow opening. Feeling irritated, I also felt myself blushing. I hurried out into the street, hoping he hadn’t noticed. I was supposed to treat him with respect. But it was going to be seriously difficult if he kept this behavior up.

I walked towards the ocean. The sound of the waves called to me. I just can’t accept that the High King is dead. It’s like I’m waiting for him to come back. Bryce walked beside me. Our hands touched. I moved over a little so we were walking farther apart.

When we got to the shore, the little girl was there with her father.

“Hello,” she said brightly. “We’re going fishing. Do you want to come along?”

I looked over at her father who was organizing the fishing gear. “Would that be alright?” I asked.

“Of course. We’d welcome the help.”

I heard Blaze sigh behind me. Guess it wasn’t his idea of fun but helping sounded great to me. Blaze and I carried their gear onto their fishing boat and we were off, cutting through the waves. I loved the smell of the salty, moist air and the feel of the droplets that landed on my skin. The morning’s fishing passed quickly. Turned out I loved fishing. At least in dreams. Blaze smiled at me a lot. We caught more fish than the girl’s father had expected. At lunchtime, he brought the boat back into the harbor and invited us to his house for lunch.

We agreed and set out with him to his house, each carrying a large basket of fish. While the family prepared some lunch, Blaze and I sat on a bench in their front yard.

“Are we having fun yet?” Blaze asked.

I laughed. “I’m having fun.”

“Yeah, I guess it was okay. Certainly better than a dragon attack.” His hand closed around mine and I didn’t pull away. He smiled, looking out over the yard.

Lunch was good and, afterwards, we learned how to clean and smoke fish. Which wasn’t great but I liked to help and be productive – even if it was only in a dream. Blaze was a good sport about everything and stayed near me. But he wasn’t coming on so strong anymore. This dream-Blaze I liked. He seemed…nice.

“Daddy, Daddy!” The little girl came running into the backyard where we were smoking the fish. “They found the dragon washed up on the beach!”

“The dragon!” her father exclaimed.

“It’s dead,” she said happily. “They’re going to burn its rotting corpse.”

“Burn it!” I turned to look at Blaze who was looking at me and wiping his hands on a cloth. “But what if he’s not dead?!” Panic was beginning to rise inside me.

“Oh, the dragon’s dead. I’m sure. I saw it myself,” said the girl.

I turned and ran for the ocean. When I reached the shore, I saw the crowd gathered on the beach. The crumpled form of the dragon had been dragged free of the water. The villagers were laying logs around its body.

“Wait! Don’t burn it yet!” I ran full out, skittering to a stop in the damp sand beside the dragon. I pushed wood out of the way so that I could see the hide of the beast. The metallic gleam of the scales had faded. I touched it and some of the large scales came off on my hand.

“The High King is inside the dragon,” I announced to the startled townsfolk. Some gasped. Others backed away, shaking their heads. “It’s true. When the High King was fighting the dragon, to save us, the dragon swallowed him up.”

“That knocks the wind right out of me.” A woman put her hand on her ample girth.

“It’s too bad it didn’t swallow up the regent instead,” said a man.

“Yes,” agreed the woman. “That man was a fraud. No one was sad to see him go.”

“I wonder whatever became of him,” the man replied.

“I don’t know,” the woman responded. “But to lose the High King…that’s such a terrible shame. Everyone knows that the High King was the only hope for all the world.”

Many of the woman and children were weeping. Some of the men too. Then I saw Blaze standing beside me. He held the king’s sword, dull and lifeless in his hands. He was looking chagrined at the townsfolk’s words. They wished he were dead instead of the High King. But it had been the High King’s choice to save Blaze. His eyes met mine. There was pain in his eyes.

“Here. I brought you this.” Blaze held the sword out to me. He must have gone back to the High King’s house to get it.

“Thank you.” I took the sword and the blue fire inside it re-ignited. I looked the body of the dragon up and down, trying to figure out how I could open it up. I had to see if the High King was still inside. The sword sprang to action on its own, tugging my hand and arm with it. At the motion, a long, neat slice opened in the beast’s gut, in a line parallel to the ground, near the sand.

“Nice cut,” said Blaze. “You must have been great at the dissections in Bio.”

Ignoring his comment, I dropped the sword into the sand. “Can you help me push the dragon over so we can see inside?”

Blaze and I pushed against the beast. Finally, some of the men in the crowd came over and pushed too. The carcass rolled so the gut was fully exposed. The slice that the sword had made ripped open, spilling out intestines and the contents of the stomach.

I screamed and stumbled back. A corpse. The charred body of the High King had been dissolved by dragon stomach acid, almost beyond recognition. The crowd recoiled too.

“Let’s burn it all,” said a man.

“But that’s the High King,” I whispered.

“There’s nothing anyone can do for him now,” the man replied.

Bowing my head, I wept into my hands. I had been just so sure that it couldn’t be true – that the High King couldn’t really be dead. But he was dead.

They piled up logs and driftwood until I couldn’t see him anymore. It was evening when they lit the fire. Flames licked up into the sky as the light of the sun faded. The fire burned all night. I sat on the beach, watching, as did many of the villagers. Blaze sat beside me, his arm around my shoulder. I didn’t remember him putting it there but I didn’t move away. His comfort was like a Band-Aid on a fatal wound. I watched the flames dance until the grey light of predawn filled the sky.

Just as a sliver of the sun appeared above the horizon, the smoldering fire exploded in a shower of white flames. I gasped and stood up, brushing sparks from my clothing.

Blaze stood too but his eyes were fixed on the flames. I followed his gaze.

A man was walking out of the fire, coming towards us. He was backlit by the light of the rising sun and, yet, his face was not in shadow. The sword, lying on the sand beside me, hummed to life.

“The High King!” I fell to my knees as tears streamed down my face. Blaze fell to his knees too, his eyes wide with wonder.

The High King stopped in front of us and smiled. He looked just like he had at the castle, in flowing royal robes. There was not a trace of a burn on him. Not even the smell of smoke.

“You’re not dead anymore.” My voice quavered through the tears.

“No. Not anymore.”

“But…we saw you die… and we saw your corpse,” stammered Blaze.

“Yes. You did.” The High King put his hand gently on Blaze’s head. “Blaze…you can believe in me. You can trust me. I won’t leave you alone.” Blaze blinked and I saw tears in his eyes.

But then the High King looked at me. “My Princess.” He shifted his hand to my head. “You don’t have to be afraid. I have a good plan.” Then he put his hand out so that I would pass him his sword. I handed it to him and he sheathed it. Then he held out his hand for mine. I reached up to him and he pulled me to my feet. Then he turned and pulled Blaze up too.

“I have other matters I must attend to now. But I will see you both again. Soon.” We watched him walk away into the village.

I turned to Blaze. “That was so amazing! Can you believe it?!”

Blaze crossed his arms over his chest, a serious expression on his face. “Well, since this is just a dream, anything could happen, right? So it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not a real miracle or anything. Just a dream.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, mirroring him. “Why do you always have to be like this? Even if it is just a dream.”

Bryce dropped his arms and shrugged. He began to fade from view. “Wait,” he called. “Wait…” He became clearer again and stepped closer. “I’m sorry. I’m just being stupid because…that’s not even what I really think.”

“What do you really think?” I whispered.

Blaze was standing so close. “I’m thinking these dreams mean something,” he confessed. “It’s crazy, making life decisions based on your dreams. But…that’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t know why but…” His eyes met mine. “They seem real. Or something more than real.”

“I feel like these dreams are important, too.” Of course my dream characters echo my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t think the real Blaze ever would really act or think like this. But I felt happy anyway. And I couldn’t help gazing up into dream-Blaze’s eyes. His nearness caused something inside me to flutter. I must be lonely. Maybe I should find some real guy to take an interest in…

Blaze reached out and took my hand. “Thanks for being kind to me today.” We shook hands awkwardly but I knew he needed more, and so did I, even if it was only in a dream. Still holding his hand, I pulled him into an embrace. I leaned my head sideways against his chest. I could hear his heartbeat. It was nice. We clung to each other for a long time.

 

***

 

When I woke up in the clinic, I was smiling. That was the best dream yet! It certainly must have helped people to see the truth about the High King. No matter what happened from here on out, being a Dreamer had been worth it.

 

 

Chapter 13 – Fight!

 

The happy feeling from the dream I’d had the night before didn’t last. I knew I was spending too much time alone but I just didn’t feel like putting in the effort to try to make some friends. The only activities I did, where I actually saw other people, were eating out and shopping.

With a sigh, I lay down on the bed. The white ceiling and walls made me feel sad, all of a sudden. This place didn’t usually make me feel down. Maybe I was getting tired of doing this. But I didn’t see any other viable options at this point, certainly nothing I wanted to do more. The austere room was kind of like my life. It was a blank. Nothing fun. Nothing special. Nothing. I had no connections to anyone in real life anymore. It made me sad that I couldn’t reconcile with my mother. I had forgiven her but she wasn’t interested in a deeper relationship with me. The sting of rejection still hurt, even though I was an adult now. I closed my eyes and tried to stop thinking. Nothing for it, I guess, if the other person won’t reconcile. I had the High King. And I had the work that I was doing for him by being a Dreamer. That would have to be enough, at least for now.

 

***

 

I found myself in a cafeteria. Information came to my mind that a community of us all lived together in a large compound by the sea.

A young boy rushed past my table and shouted, “A kraken is in the compound!”

I smiled. Children had such wild imaginations! Or else he was trying to prank me. Krakens didn’t come out onto land. There was not a kraken in the compound. I looked around to see if the boy was still in the room. But I was alone in the dining hall. I heard a strange sound. Fear rose up inside me but I suppressed it. Probably the next stage of the child’s prank.

Slimy sounds got louder and I glanced behind me. A kraken! My mouth fell open in shock. For a moment, I was frozen in place by fear. It was huge! The beast was purple on top and whitish underneath, where the suckers were. It was like a huge sea squid with a beak in the front and enormous eyes above the beak. And it was almost on top of me! A scream tore from my throat as I leapt up and sprinted down the hall. The kraken shuffled after me, chasing me. Terrified, I ran and ran. Seeing an empty room with an open door, I threw myself inside, skidding to a stop in the closet. Silently, I closed the closet door, scrunching down into one corner and covering myself with discarded clothing. Wet squishing sounds came from the hallway. I tried to breathe quietly. I knew I had been far enough ahead that the creature had not seen me dash into this room.

“I see you. I’m coming for you,” rumbled the kraken.

I stayed as still as I could in the closet. It must be lying. There was no way it could see me. I felt something brush against my shoulder. I looked up. It was the tip of the kraken’s tentacle. It was reaching in through the air vent at the back of the closet. All I could see through the grate was one of its huge eyes. I screamed, flung open the closet door and bolted from the room. I dodged the huge beast in the hallway and made for the exit.

“Run!” I screamed as I passed people in the hallway. Panic set in. All around me people were shouting and running for the doors.

Outside, the people gathered together in a clump. There were whole families living in this compound, even children. We had to defend the little ones. We had to fight the kraken! The women gathered the children together and pushed them behind the group, away from the door.

One of the women turned to me and asked, “What’s going on?”

“A kraken,” I said. “It got inside the building somehow.”

A man opened the door of a black van. “It won’t be a problem,” said the man. “We have weapons. We’ve fought kraken before. Here.” He pulled a cylinder from a box in the van. “A shot from this weapon will paralyze the kraken while we move in and finish it off.”

“I need to help, too,” I said.

The man nodded. He gave one of the futuristic weapons to me.

“Make sure all the children are behind us!” shouted the man. He passed out all the cylinders. We were ready. Soon the kraken emerged from the building. It looked even bigger than before as it slithered towards us.

“Steady, Lads,” said one of the men. “On my mark.”

When the kraken was about 20 meters away, the man shouted, “Now!” We all pressed the cylinders. The kraken didn’t even pause. Nothing happened. In the silence that followed, all that could be heard was the kraken sliding towards us.

“That’s not a natural kraken,” the man beside me whispered.

Cara, you are mine and I am yours. Just as you once had my sword, you now have, at all times, my power and authority. Never back down from evil. Fight and win! Then, all of a sudden, in my heart, I knew what I was supposed to do. I stepped towards the beast.

“By the power of the High King,” I shouted, “I declare to you, kraken, you are dead!” It quivered. I pointed at the kraken and shouted again. “By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead!” The beast stopped and looked at me with bulbous eyes. My heart soared with relief. Yes! It’s working! Again I shouted, “By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead!” The creature tried to get away. It shuffled towards the black van. Then it went in, compressing itself into the vehicle, trying to hide. It was working! I closed my eyes and shouted again and again. “By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead! By the power of the High King, I declare to you, kraken, you are dead!”

Finally, the man beside me nudged me with his elbow. “I think you got it.”

I opened my eyes. The kraken lay motionless, its large eyes devoid of life. Even as I watched, it was breaking down into slime and oozing out of the van.

 

***

 

I woke up feeling victorious. The depression of the previous evening was gone. I didn’t have to be afraid. My heart soared.

Cara, just as I have fought, so you must fight. Though the battle is won, the war is not over yet. You have my power and authority. Never back down from evil. Fight and win! I blinked. Fight the kraken! I had heard the words in my head and my heart but it wasn’t part of the dream. The High King wanted me to fight! If only I knew what he meant…But, surely, he would teach me what to do and how to do it when the time came.

 

 

Chapter 14 – Alien Change

 

Creatures surrounded our spaceship that night. I saw their pink and blue glowing eyes through the portholes and listened with apprehension as the battered metal groaned under their attacks. I thought surely the monsters would leave at morning’s light. The alien sunrise revealed four-legged animals with black fur and facial skin of pastel pink or blue. They walked low to the ground, looking like something between a bear and a crocodile. They continued to jump and scratch at the ship. How much more could it take?

A tone sounded, indicating we were to meet in the community room. I left the view of the outside world. We all crowded into the room.

The commander spoke from the podium. “The ongoing battering from the creatures is causing damage to the ship. We need to erect an electrified perimeter to keep them away. The soldiers will drive the animals from the area while everyone else works at building the fence. We need every able-bodied adult out there. After seventeen generations on this ship, this planet is our new home. Our only home! We aim to survive it.”

The people cheered. I didn’t see what there was to cheer about, really. A gun hung from my belt. I was a soldier. Which seemed odd, somehow.

“Report to your designated hatches and you will be given your assignment.”

I shuffled along with the rest of the people. The crowd thinned as groups and individuals turned off down different corridors. Soon I stood at my designated hatch. There were about thirty of us there. People parted to let me through to the front of the crowd. I wasn’t excited about this mission. The tech standing there, who, no-doubt, had been assigned to give us our instructions, looked relieved to see me. I was to be the firepower, their protection.

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” he began. The plan was basic. I was to go out and shoot the creatures with my gun on the second-lowest setting. Apparently, this had been tested early that morning and it was enough of a zap to cause the creatures to run but it wouldn’t kill them. Then we’d put the fence up. We didn’t want to kill any of the local wildlife. The plan was to co-exist. Somehow. Additionally, we didn’t know how intelligent these creatures were. Was there any sentient life on the planet? We didn’t want to make war with the locals. But we needed to defend ourselves. So we would use the minimum amount of force necessary.

I drew my gun from its holster. The setting dial was at the top. I turned it down to Level Two and kept the weapon at the ready. There was no way of knowing how many creatures were out there. The tech pulled the lever to release the seal on the airlock. Then he turned the wheel quickly. The metal door groaned as it released. I put my arm out in front of him to keep him from opening the door as my instincts kicked in. I motioned him to get behind me and signaled to the rest of the group to move back from the door.

I pushed the metal hatch open, slowly. At first, I didn’t see any of the creatures but, as the door opened fully, I spotted them. They hadn’t seen us yet. I started shooting. I hit three of them before the door finished its course. The hatch rang out as it met the hull, fully open. At the sound, the rest of the creatures turned to look. I kept firing, striking two more before they decided what to do. Sure enough, the ones I got were running. The remaining creatures’ faces changed, becoming more wrinkled and showing more teeth. I kept shooting, six, seven, eight, nine. A low, vibrating, growling sound reached my ears. Was it just my imagination or were their eyes becoming even more vibrantly colored and beginning to glow? I jumped out of the ship and ran a few paces. They were still just standing there, glaring and growling. Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. Would I really have to shoot each one? Would they run now or would they attack en masse?

I heard sounds behind me. Our people were putting up the fence. I kept firing. There were fewer creatures now, as each one that I hit ran away. I missed one. Tried again. Suddenly, I felt tired… dizzy. I shot again. This time the bolt found its target. I took aim at the next one. My vision blurred. I blinked, staggered and shot blindly. Their glowing, hate-filled eyes followed me into unconsciousness.

 

When I came to, I was lying on the hard, alien ground, having a close-up of its exotic vegetation. In a spurt of panic, I sat up quickly. My head was pounding. What had happened?

It was still daytime. I looked back towards the ship. No people anywhere. The fence was up. But I was on the wrong side of it. I sprang to my feet and turned in a slow circle, scanning for the creatures. The landscape was empty. My gun was near my feet. I reached down to retrieve it. When I saw my hand, a deeper fear sprang to life inside me. My skin was a pastel pink, the same color some of the animals’ faces had been. I snatched up my weapon and holstered it. Then I inspected my other hand and pulled up my pant leg to see the skin there. All the same. Somehow, I had been changed. With dread, I looked back up towards the compound as an airlock hissed.

A soldier stepped from an open hatch. I didn’t know him well. “You’ll need to leave the area!” he shouted. “You’ve been infected. We think you were bitten or something. We can’t risk contamination of the entire colony. You’ve been provided with a survival pack, a first aid kit and rations for a week. We’ve also left you your gun. Don’t make us regret it. I’m sorry but you’ll have to leave the area – for the safety of what’s left of the human race.”

I opened my mouth to protest that I hadn’t been bitten but no sound came out. Whatever had happened to me, I’d lost the ability to speak.

He fired at me and missed. A warning shot. But I couldn’t leave. The ship had always been my home. These were my people! How could I leave? He fired again. Pain exploded in my brain. He’d shot me! I put my hands up in surrender.

“Leave the area!” the soldier shouted. He motioned with his gun.

With tears in my eyes, I turned and limped away. What would happen to me? Would I be alone for the rest of my days? But, as it turned out, I wasn’t alone for long. As I crested the next ridge, something slammed into me from the side. Falling, blackness enveloped me.

The next thing I knew, I was lying in the back of a canvas-covered truck. The engine was rumbling and the vehicle was in motion. I picked myself up and sat down on one of the benches that ran along both sides. There was no one else there. Was this one of our trucks? I squinted in the dim light. No. As far as I knew, we didn’t have any vehicles like this one. Whose then? There must be other sentient beings on the planet. Could it be other humans? Was I a prisoner? I looked around to see how I might be able to escape. Just then, I heard a ripping sound. A slit of light appeared in the canvas.

I sprang towards the opening and tumbled out of the moving truck. I glimpsed the grassy alien plain right before I landed on a bare-chested, blue skinned man. He had black hair and the most unnatural, glowing blue eyes. I stood up and backed away. The creature-man picked himself up too. But he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the line of trucks bumping past over the uneven ground.

“Wait here. I’ll see if I can save anyone else,” he said, turning towards the nearest vehicle. The line of trucks came to an abrupt halt with a squealing of breaks.

He sprinted towards the vehicle and pulled his knife from his belt. A bolt of yellow light flashed.

The blue man cried out and dropped back down into the long grass. He righted himself and ran back towards me, rubbing at a burned spot on his forearm. “On second thought, I think I’ll just save you for now.” He scooped me up into his arms and took off running through the tall grass. The long, alien grass concealed us as he ran, crouched over. He carried me as though I weighed nothing. “I’ll keep you safe,” he whisper-huffed into my ear as we continued our headlong flight away from the caravan. We stopped in a grove of trees some distance away. “We can work together to rescue the others.”

“But…I’m like this.” I held out my hands for him to see the unnaturally pink flesh. “And that’s not all. I feel it. I’m different inside. I can feel it. But at least I’m able to talk now. When I tried talking before, I couldn’t.”

“Well, me too. I didn’t used to be blue, you know. My people crashed here last year. I am the only one that changed, so far. They rejected me, but I’ve been protecting the colony however I can. I don’t think it was an accident that, when I slit that truck open, you were inside. We’ll make the perfect team. And it’s the same for me about the talking. When I try to talk to the people from my colony, I can’t. I can’t talk to them anymore and I don’t understand why. I’m really grateful that I’m able to talk to you.”

“So… you got infected too? Is that what happened to us?”

“Well, yes. But I think about it as a good thing. Something bad that turned to something good. This,” he held out his bulky arms and then motioned past his shorts down his well-muscled, bare blue legs, “is what you need to survive here. The enemy is powerful but, like this,” he clenched his pale blue hands into fists, “we can fight back!”

I hadn’t thought of it that way but I supposed he was right. “But now I’m cut off from my people. They’re all I ever knew.”

“Were you the only one to change?”

I tried to think back to what had happened. The details were fuzzy. Was I the only one on the outside of the perimeter? “I…I think I may have been the only one but I’m not sure. There may have been others. But I didn’t see anyone else who had changed. They said I’d been bitten. But I wasn’t. I think it was vibrations that made me pass out. Do you think that’s what made us change?”

“Hmm…I did feel some vibrations before it happened and I was knocked out too. But, it doesn’t matter. We have to help the humans. The situation’s desperate. I’ll fill you in about what’s going on. And…we’ll have each other.” He leaned in towards me and touched his forehead to mine. “The name’s Blaze, by the way.”

“Blaze…really?” A suppressed memory wiggled at the back of my mind. I knew someone by that name.

He flexed his blue, biceps in show. “Yup, Blaze. Everyone wants to be the hero of their own dream, right?”

 

***

 

Okay, then, why am I not the hero? Wait…dream? As I had the thought, the dream began to fade away and I rose to the surface of consciousness – I was waking up. No. I wanted to see how the dream would end. Would we rescue the others?

A repetitive beeping pulled me from sleep. My alarm? No, I never used one of those anymore. What was going on? I opened my eyes and found two technicians, in white lab coats, at the head of my bed. They had a panel open in the wall and were studying the equipment there, engaged in conversation. This was a first. I hadn’t even realized that there was any equipment back there.

“What’s going on here?” asked one of the men.

“I have no idea,” the other replied.

“We’d better get it figured out and fixed. She’s the highest rated and most used Dreamer in the region.”

“I know. Hey…Why is this frequency number so high?”

The other man leaned in to get a better look. “I don’t know. It seems like she’s overlapping with someone. We don’t have any other Dreamers set at the same frequency, at the same time, do we?”

“Better not have. We’d better check it out though. You know how dangerous that could be.”

The techs left the room without speaking a word to me or glancing in my direction. I sighed. Weird. At least the beeping had stopped. I didn’t really feel like even getting up. There was nowhere I needed to go.

Just then, Reina, the Regional Coordinator, walked into the room. I had only seen her once before. This must be pretty serious. I sat up and swung my feet over the edge of the cot.

“Good morning. How are you feeling?”

“Fine. What’s going on?”

Reina pursed her lips and looked down for a moment before her eyes flicked back up to mine. “Our connection with you is fading. Somehow, it’s degrading. We don’t understand why this is happening. It’s possible that it’s just due to some technical issue with our equipment. Maybe we’ll be able to figure it out and everything will be resolved in a good way. But, it is also possible, if the fading continues, that, in time, you will no longer be able to work for the Kingcade Worldcorp as a Dreamer.”

“I’m sure that’s not going to happen.” Losing what I had here wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t fade any further. As I blinked back the tears, I stood up and pushed past her to get to my locker and the bathroom. They couldn’t take this away from me. Being a Dreamer was all I had now! Maybe I was sleeping too much. Yes. That had to be it. I resolved not to sleep so much.

I cut my sleep back from eighteen hours a night to seven. I never used to need more than that. During my free time, I exercised in the pool. I even watched a little TV. Being a Dreamer was my identity. I couldn’t lose that.

One warm sunny day, I decided I’d do some walking. I walked for hours, not really caring where I was going. My aimless wandering led me to the river, so I followed the paved walkway there. After several hours, I saw a movie theater. I left the river and walked down the street to the theater. The side of the building displayed what they were showing that afternoon. I moved in closer to get a better look.

Blaze. His face was on one of the posters. I studied the picture. It was Blaze all right. I stared at the close-up of his face, with the ocean in the background. Probably some romance movie.

I wouldn’t see it, I decided. That would be too hard. Feelings welled up inside me when I looked at him. I dreamed of that boy way too much. Does he remember me at all? I wished I could re-connect with him… but that was just silly. We were never even really friends. I was glad I had graduated so that I didn’t have to see him at school anymore. That would be too hard, especially now that dream-Blaze and I were so close. Too bad dreams weren’t real. Guess he was living his dream, though, acting on the big screen, just like he’d always wanted.

Sadness clenched my gut as I turned away from the poster. All I had were dreams. Maybe the life I was living wasn’t socially healthy. I had to admit it; I was lonely…when I was awake.

I walked into a local convenience store. A ding sounded, announcing my arrival. Getting food felt anything but convenient lately. It felt like work. Really, buying food and eating shouldn’t feel like a burden but everything in real life felt like work these days. I grabbed a basket and scouted down one aisle. This store wasn’t my usual one. I usually went to a large supermarket but I just didn’t want to face the crowds today. I threw a loaf of white bread into the basket and a jar of chocolate spread. The door chimed again as someone else entered the store.

I reached the till at just the same time as a man. He was no one I recognized, dressed in black jeans and a hoodie. Then my gaze traveled down to his hand. He was holding a gun. It was like I was frozen in place.

He looked at me. “Don’t move.” His voice was deep and gruff. He looked at the clerk and pointed the gun in that direction. “Take the money out of the till and give it to me. Just the bills.”

I heard movement from the clerk and the sound of the till opening. But my eyes were frozen on the gun.

Suddenly, it was like the High King was there with me. I could feel his presence. Tell him it’s not too late for a second chance. What happened to him wasn’t his fault and what he’s done can be forgiven.

I forced my eyes from the gun to his face. “It’s not too late.” My voice came out louder than I expected. The thief flinched and then scowled at me. I spoke more quietly. “What happened to you wasn’t your fault. What you’ve done can be forgiven. It’s not too late for a second chance.” We looked right at one another for a long moment. An unexpected change came over his face. The hard lines seemed to soften and his eyes filled with tears.

“Why did you say that?” he asked.

“God told me to,” I whispered.

“I believe you…Thank you.” He shoved the gun under his jacket. Ignoring the bills in the clerk’s outstretched hand, he turned away and walked out the door. The chime sounded his departure.

I blinked, expecting to wake up. But I didn’t. I’m not dreaming. What had just happened had all been real! After the High King had spoken to me, I hadn’t even been afraid. Maybe the dreams were helping me to become brave.

“Maybe the dreams are like some kind of training,” I said aloud. I turned to look at the clerk who was on the phone, with the police, no doubt. He looked back at me like I was crazy. I laughed lightly as I lifted the basket to rest it on the counter. No, not crazy. But something had changed and was still changing. Things were changing in a good way. I could feel it.

 

 

Chapter 15 – Aquatic Change

 

I walked along a pristine beach as the sun set over the water. The few wispy clouds in the sky were like pink cotton candy. Waves lapped on the shoreline. A clear glass bottle washed up onto the sand. I strolled over to investigate, my bare feet splashing in the cool water. Somehow the bottle seemed important.

Inside it was aqua blue liquid and a curled up note. I pulled out the stopper and fished in the liquid with one finger for the note. Amazingly, the scrap of paper was dry. It had one word written on it: Drink. I hesitated for a moment. It was like Alice in Wonderland, only this bottle felt like it came with divine purpose, rather than being little more than random. This must be a message from the High King! I sniffed at the opening. The liquid smelled slightly sweet. I shrugged and downed the contents.

I felt a burning in my belly that spread out into my legs. Hot. So hot. I walked out into the salt water fully clothed, splashing my chest and face to cool the fire inside. When I was into the ocean up to my neck, the discomfort subsided. I kicked off my pants, ducked all the way under and sighed in relief. I didn’t feel like surfacing so I swam deeper, cutting swiftly through the ever-darkening water. It was beautiful, watching the shifting light, and I felt so free – like I was flying. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had stayed under far too long. In a near-panic, I swam to the surface. The sun had set and the first stars were shining through the twilight sky. I realized then that I had no need to draw breath.

Fear dissolved to wonder as I looked down at myself. I sank back down into the water to get a better look at what I had become. A strong tail, covered in scales that reflected the light, had replaced my legs. I laughed and was startled by the silence as no sound came from my mouth. I tried saying hello, but again, there was only silence. At first, I felt a little sad but then I smiled. After all, I had always appreciated silence. It was more peaceful this way anyway.

Then I heard a vibrating sound coming through the water. A speedboat. So it wasn’t that I couldn’t hear. I just couldn’t make sounds myself. I swam up and looked out over the water for the boat. It was some distance away but it seemed to be coming in my general direction. I tried saying hello again but, still, there was only silence. I couldn’t talk. …This could be awkward… But maybe I would just hide myself from the people in the boat. Yes, that would probably be better anyway. I let myself sink so that I could just see over the water between the waves.

It was a go-fast boat, the type of ocean-going vessel used by modern-day pirates and smugglers, as I recalled from a news article I’d read on the topic. Pirates! I was curious, so I swam closer to where the boat would pass by.

They were pirates, all right. By the light of the moon, I saw that three of the men carried machine guns. A small group of what looked to be tourists cowered in the middle of the boat. I felt concerned. What would happen to them? As the boat flashed past me, I wondered if there was anything I could do to help. I swam after the boat, as quickly as I could. There was no way I could catch up. The boat’s top speed was much greater than mine! I continued to press on hard after them. Helplessly, I watched the boat get smaller and smaller as it moved farther and farther away.

I saw a splash behind the boat, but the boat didn’t stop. Was someone thrown overboard or had they jumped? Or…I shuddered. Was it a body? I stopped at the place where I had seen the splash. There was no way I could catch up to the boat anyway. I could see nothing above the waves. I looked down under the water. It was dark now and it took my eyes a moment to adjust. Slowly sinking down into the depths was a human form. Fear welled up within me as I dove quickly for the figure. Oh, please, let them be alive! I grabbed the body. There was no movement in response. Please let them just be unconscious! From the size, I judged it to be a man. I hauled him towards air. When I pulled his head and shoulders from the water, he didn’t move. Keeping his head above the surface, I swam towards shore. Somehow I knew the direction. Crying now, I swam as hard as I could. Swimming up to the beach, I placed him gently on the sand. Only then did I get a good look at his face in the moonlight. It was Blaze. Of course it was. If only I had taken CPR! I didn’t know what to do for him. Oh, please, help me save him!

It was then that I noticed the bottle that I had drunk from, lying nearby in the sand, glowing faintly. Unable to stand because of my tail, I dragged myself towards it. Grasping the smooth glass with my fingertips, I pulled it from the sand and peered inside. In the bottom pooled a small amount of the liquid, which now glowed softly. It couldn’t hurt to try. I scooted back towards Blaze.

Brushing the sand from my fingers, I parted his lips. Slowly, I poured the glowing liquid into his mouth. Please let this work! I put the bottle down and watched his face.

His eyes fluttered open. Then he smiled. His lips moved like he was trying to speak, but the words I heard were like thoughts in my head. Thanks, Angel!

I laughed soundlessly but Blaze seemed to hear me because I heard his laughter in my mind. I think we must both thank the High King, I tried to say.

So, this is weird. It’s like I’m hearing your words in my mind instead of from your mouth. Blaze sat up. Whoa! This is beyond weird! I have a tail! No, seriously…I’m a mermaid?! That’s just not cool! Angel…what have you done!?

I couldn’t help but laugh again, at the stricken look on his face. Not a mermaid – that’s for girls. Looks like you’re a merman.

A merman! Blaze shook his head. I never got that. Why is it mermaid and merman? Doesn’t make any sense. It shouldn’t be maid and man; it should be maid and butler! He sighed heavily. Then he put his head down into his palms in mock-grief. Guess I’m a merbutler now.

I groaned but then laughed, in spite of myself. Everything had to be funny with him. But funny was actually …pretty nice.

Blaze laughed too and ran his hand through his hair. The way this day has gone – I seriously hope this is a dream.

A dream. Right. That would make sense. Funny how, usually, it never seemed like a dream; instead, it seemed intensely real, night after night. I refocused my attention on Blaze, who was staring at me. What happened, anyway? I asked him.

The laughter drained from his face. A pirate hit me and I fell overboard. He must have knocked me out cold.

And before that?

I was on a small yacht when pirates attacked. It all happened so quickly. They shot the boat with a rocket or something and then they captured most of us. Except for one family – they were hiding below deck. He sat up straighter and leaned forward, looking at me intently. Maybe we should go see if they’re all right. The boat was taking on water. What if it sinks?

I started moving back into the water. Would you be able to remember the way?

Blaze splashed into the waves beside me. I think so. He swam under the water and out into the deep. I followed. It didn’t seem very long before he surfaced. I’m sure it was somewhere around here.

I looked out over the waves in the darkness. The water looked black, reflecting the dark night sky. I don’t see a boat.

There it is! Blaze pointed off to our left. A white yacht listed in the water, much lower than it should have floated.

I wonder if the pirates came back for them? I asked.

Doubt it. I don’t think they knew there were more people on the boat. Blaze swam towards the yacht. We reached it at the same time. Then he swam around and found a ladder. Hmm…don’t think I can climb this. How do you suppose we should get their attention?

Call?

Blaze laughed in my head. I don’t think we can do that either.

I felt my face flush. Right. Uhhh…Can’t mermaids sing or something?

I’m not much for singing. Why don’t you give it a go?

I opened my mouth to sing the way I’d heard mermaids in movies do but nothing at all came out. Blaze turned away and knocked on the side of the boat. The aluminum rang out, announcing our presence. Maybe this will work. He struck the hull with his fist again and again.

A man’s face peered over the railing. His look of fear shifted to concern as he saw us in the water. “Oh, my! Are you two all right? Can you climb up the ladder there?”

Blaze looked up at the man. We’re fine, actually, just a little worried about you. How’s your boat doing? Are you going to be okay?

“No, I think it’s sinking. We have an inflatable dinghy but no paddles.”

I looked at Blaze in surprise. He can hear us!

Blaze grinned back at me. We have telepathic mermaid powers, don’t you know?

“And just what do you mean, you’re fine? What, are you just going for a swim, in the middle of the ocean, at night?”

Blaze laughed again. Yeah, something like that. If you and your family climb down here with the dinghy, we’ll pull you to shore. It’s not far.

The man squinted down at Blaze. “Hey, weren’t you on the boat with us?”

I was. The pirates took me prisoner with the others. But then one of them didn’t like my attitude so I ended up unconscious in the ocean. My friend here saved me. Blaze gestured towards me.

The boat tilted so that the man almost fell right down on top of us but he caught the railing and managed to find his footing. “We don’t have any choice. This boat is sinking. I’ll get the dinghy and my family.” He staggered away as the boat lurched again.

A few minutes later, he threw an inflated yellow dinghy overboard to us. Then he climbed down the ladder, followed by two scared-looking children, a boy and a girl. Their mother came last. We held the dinghy as they climbed in. Waves splashed into the small craft.

“I don’t know how you can be out swimming on a night like this,” exclaimed the woman. She pulled the children close to her, one on each side, as they settled down in the small inflatable boat.

Blaze took the rope at the front of the boat. Oh, we love the water; it’s like our home. Right, Cara?

That’s right, I confirmed. And we can help you get to shore. It’s no problem.

The family didn’t seem to notice that we didn’t talk from our mouths. Blaze started pulling the dinghy towards shore. I pushed from behind. It was slow going, pushing against the waves. The children were shivering. Finally, we saw the shore. We pushed the inflatable up onto the beach. The father stared with wide eyes at our tails resting in the shallow water.

The children saw too. “The mermaids saved us!” the little girl cried.

Mermaids are girls, Blaze told her. I’m a merbutler. Laughing, we dove back into the waves.

Let’s see who else we can save! I suggested.

Yes, let’s. It’ll be a rescue mission!

 

***

 

As the dream faded away, I looked up at the florescent lights of the clinic with a great sense of peace. Dream Cara had again done well, displaying bravery and selflessness. Certainly, entertainment like this would help people, probably more than any movies Blaze was making! Apparently, I was very popular as a Dreamer. Surely this was my calling! Though my life wasn’t perfect and I was alone, I could feel happy because I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

After getting dressed, I found Reina waiting for me in the hallway. It had been several weeks since I had seen her last. She spoke quietly.

“Cara, we haven’t been able to resolve the problem. In fact, it’s gotten worse. It looks like you’re not going to be able to work for us much longer. Our scientists haven’t been able to determine why this is happening and, so far, there’s nothing we can do about it.” She shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry, Cara.”

“I don’t want to accept that.”

“You could quit now or keep going and see how long we can keep the connection open.”

“I want to keep going.”

“Very well. But, please understand, I am serving you official notice. When the connection is lost, you will be terminated.”

“Uhhh… by terminated you mean fired, right? Not executed or something…”

Reina laughed lightly. “Terminated as in fired. Sorry, Cara.”

I turned and leaned my back against the wall. Closing my eyes, I heard the click, click, click of her high-heeled shoes against the tile as she walked away. Would there really be some new phase to my life now? Should I go to college and become a nurse, after all? Or take something else? I did have money saved up. But I didn’t want to do anything else. I loved adventuring every night. Maybe they wouldn’t lose the connection.

Chapter 16 – Super Change

 

“Are you ready?” I found myself crouched on the roof of a flat building. It was nighttime. I turned to see that I was with the High King again! Only, now, he was crouching beside me, dressed in a gold and red superhero costume. I almost laughed but I didn’t want to offend him.

“Ready to go, Boss,” said a deep voice from my other side. I turned to see who was there. Incredibly, it was Blaze. He was crouched on my other side, dressed in a blue superhero outfit.

The High King looked at me. “I’m ready,” I stammered. “Wait, ready for what?”

“You know, a rescue mission,” said Blaze impatiently.

I looked down at myself. My costume was green and silver. I’d never dreamed of being a superhero. I looked to the High King for confirmation. He nodded, a smile playing on his lips.

He led us across the roof in a walking crouch. Then he sprang off the edge of the roof, out into nothingness. I rushed to the edge of the building and looked down. He landed, with a roll, on a roof ten feet down and five feet away. Blaze took a running start. He also landed with a roll. Blaze brushed himself off as he took his place beside the High King. It was like Blaze had been altered, changed into some sort of superhero.

“I can’t do that!” I called down.

“Of course you can! You are Cara the Warrior Dreamer,” said the High King.

I peered straight down over the edge. Streetlights illuminated a sidewalk far below. This building must be over seven stories high. Nothing happens if you die in a dream, right? But I wasn’t so sure. I held my breath and then slowly let it out. My breathing made wispy fog in the chilly night air. I would try it. I took a running start as Blaze had done. My foot tripped on the edge of the roof and I sprawled into the air. I clutched at nothing. I didn’t even have time to scream before I hit the roof below. I slid to a stop on my belly and my palms. My momentum had carried me across the gap. I gasped for breath but none came. I rolled over onto my back. I’m not a very good superhero.

“You’ll be okay, Cara,” said the High King. “Some things just take practice.” He gently lifted me to my feet. At his touch, I could breathe again. My palms burned. I looked at them. Even in the dim light, I could see that they were bleeding and had gravel embedded in the flesh. “Let me help you with that,” the High King said gently. He brushed off one palm and then the other. I was amazed to see his hands come away clean. The burning faded and I looked down. My skin was whole, like nothing had happened.

“What?” I sputtered.

The High King gave me a brief hug. “Trust me, Cara. It’s all part of the plan.”

“What now?” asked Blaze.

“Here, you’ll need this.” Incredibly, the High King’s sword hung from his belt. I had not noticed it before. He unsheathed it and held it out to me. I hesitated. Blaze took the sword instead.

“It’s still glowing,” he said.

“It is life to you now because you believe. But, today, Cara will use it.”

Blaze held the sword out to me and I took it. “What now?” I asked.

“Just one more jump to make,” said the High King.

He took off running and leapt off the other side of the building. Blaze just followed him, not even bothering to check how far the jump was first. So I followed too. At first, I worried about the sword thumping against my hip as I ran. But, as I launched myself into the air from the edge of the building, I felt that the sword was actually helping me. I landed, bending my knees. I had made it.

I looked at the High King and smiled. But his expression was serious. “It’s time. Listen.” A scrabbling sound came from the other side of the building, down below the roof. “A young man is climbing up to this rooftop. He has stolen goods with him. If there is no intervention, he will jump to the roof of the adjacent building. But the police officer who is chasing him will fall to his death.”

“What are we supposed to do?” I asked frantically.

“Hold the sword at the ready.”

“Okay.” I held the sword up. Blaze and I tensed, getting ready to intervene, whatever that would look like.

As the thief stepped away from the ladder, I held the sword high. “Halt!” I called out. He bolted across the roof. Blaze tackled him to the ground.

“Stop struggling,” I commanded, going closer to them. When the guy got a good look at the sword, he stilled in Blaze’s grip.

“We could use our Spidey super powers now and wrap him up in webbing!” Blaze exclaimed, holding the bewildered-looking youth down on his back on the pavement.

“Or you could use this,” said the High King. A roll of duct tape fell onto the cement beside Blaze.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the disappointed look that flashed across Blaze’s face.

“Now, don’t try to get away,” Blaze threatened as he took the tape and stretched it across the guy. “See that lighty-up blue sword? It’s really sharp. I should know. Just look at my face.” The young man’s eyes went even wider as he took in Blaze’s scar, by the light of the sword. Blaze sat him up and wrapped the tape around and around his body, pinning his arms down by his sides. Then he taped his feet too. “Done!” he exclaimed.

“Now, tell him that it’s not to late to turn his life around,” said the High King.

“What?!” demanded Blaze. “I thought we were here to stop him, not council him!”

The High King shot him a hard look. “Both. You should know that I always give people another chance.” Blaze dropped his gaze and closed his mouth. “Tell him quickly before the police arrive. They are on their way up the ladder.” The boy didn’t seem to be able to see or hear the High King. He looked from Blaze to me and back to Blaze.

“So what, you gonna kill me now?” he demanded.

“Of course not,” snapped Blaze. “Can Cara do the talking this time?”

The King nodded so I exchanged places with Blaze and gave him the sword. “It’s not too late to turn your life around,” I whispered.

 

Chapter 17 – FUN Change

 

I opened my eyes to the white florescent light of the clinic. I sighed. It had been an exciting dream. I sat up and looked around. I was alone. Good. Six days had passed since Reina gave me official notice of my pending termination. Guess the techs finally got it sorted out. Waking up to beeping had been unsettling. I got up and dressed. As I walked through the lobby, the woman at the desk didn’t acknowledge me. She must have been having a bad day.

I sighed. Looked like I was destined to have a bad day too. I had arranged to visit Mom today. Why I had initiated it, I didn’t know. I guess some part of me still wanted her approval, her love. It made me feel small and vulnerable inside and just a little sickened. I wished I didn’t care about her approval anymore. We had planned on going shopping. I groaned inwardly. Shopping really wasn’t my thing. And with Mom…I sighed again. Looking at my watch, I decided to walk. I had plenty of time before I was supposed to be there.

As I walked along the sidewalk, I pulled a granola bar from my jacket pocket. The season was late summer, I guessed, or early fall. It was pretty bad that I didn’t even know what month it was anymore. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know what year it was anymore. I stuffed the last piece of granola bar into my mouth and looked at my watch. The small font above the number read FEB. Obviously, not February. Clearly, my watch was on drugs. This day was getting worse by the minute. I sighed again. Seeing the trees swaying in the gentle breeze cheered my mood a little. Maybe I needed to get out more.

After about an hour, I arrived at home. Well, at my old house, where Mom and Matt still lived. I hesitated on the doorstep. Her car was in the driveway. Should I just go in? I still had the key. Or should I ring the doorbell? I decided that ringing would be the safer bet. I didn’t live there anymore and I didn’t want to give Mom any excuse for getting mad. I pressed the doorbell and heard a chime echo through the house.

Why was Mom taking so long to answer the door? I rang again. Shuffling came from behind the door. She must have been checking the peephole. Then there was silence. Still the door did not open. I rang again, impatient now. What was her problem?

The door jerked inwards. She leaned out and scanned behind me. “You little brats better be running!” she shouted. “I’m calling the cops!” Then she slammed the door shut in my face.

I pulled the key from my pocket. My fingers were shaking. I fumbled with it in the lock. It fell, clinking against the pavement. I picked the key up again, shoved it into the lock and turned. Then I went into the house and closed the door behind me.

“Mom?” I called. She was brushing her hair in the bathroom. “Mom?” I said quietly. But she didn’t look at me, just scowled at her reflection in the mirror. “Mom! Mom, it’s me!” I shouted but she didn’t acknowledge me. Fearfully, I reached out to touch her. But my fingertips slipped right through her shoulder.

I screamed and stumbled away. “No! This can’t be happening!” I righted myself and tried to touch her again but my arm passed right through her middle.

“Matthew! Matthew!” I shouted. I found him in his room. The door was open so I went in. “Matthew?” I said, quietly.

Sitting beside him on the bed, I tried to rest my hand on his knee. But my hand passed right through him and I felt the blanket beneath my fingers instead.

“This is not possible. It must be some sort of bad dream!” I stood up and paced away. Yes, that must be it. I must still be asleep. Only it didn’t feel like being asleep.

I had a brainwave. Standing, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket. I dialed Mom’s number. I heard her phone ringing from the bathroom. Feeling relief, I put the phone to my ear. See, I’m not some kind of incorporeal phantom.

Mom answered her cell. “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me – Cara.” I was so relieved to hear her voice.

“Hello? Hello?” she said, impatiently.

“Mom? It’s me – Cara!” I said frantically. “It’s Cara! It’s Cara!”

“Cara?” asked Mom.

Relief washed over me. “Yes, Mom, it’s me. Something’s happened.”

“Look, Cara, I see on my call display that your phone is calling me but I can’t hear anything. I guess your phone’s not working. Hope everything’s okay. I’m waiting for you. You’re late.”

I couldn’t stop the tears that were flowing down my cheeks. Then I had another idea. I picked up my phone and tapped open the text app.

Mom?

In a few moments, my phone buzzed with a reply.

What?

I cried harder, with relief. At least I wasn’t completely cut off.

Something happened at work today. I’m not going to be able to make it for our shopping date.

It would have been nice if you had called earlier.

I’m sorry, Mom. I think there’s something wrong with my phone. More like something wrong with me – with everything. Really wrong.

I’ll see you another time then, k?

K. Love you, Mom.

Love you too.

My phone buzzed again. I held it up and looked at the screen. This time it was an email. I tapped it open.

 

Dear Ms. Cara Pierce,

We regret to inform you that you have slipped past our dimensional plane into a slightly altered one. The Kingcade Worldcorp sincerely apologizes for any difficulty this may cause you. Unfortunately, we can no longer employ you as a Dreamer. We will, however, continue to pay you a generous, ongoing severance package of $500/day, provided you do not instigate legal action against the Kingcade Worldcorp, which would be rather difficult for you to do in your current state, in any case. If you have any further questions or concerns, please reply directly to this email.

Regards,

Reina Maharaj – Regional Coordinator
Kingcade Worldcorp

 

Fighting angry tears, I slumped down onto Matthew’s bed. I could hardly believe my eyes! The Kingcade Worldcorp had fired me, via email. After they did this to me! They had better be able to fix this. But what if they couldn’t? I’d be trapped here, alone! But since I’d eaten on the way here, I knew I could still eat. So I wouldn’t die. I had to get away to try to think this through. There had to be something I could do, some way to fix this! But I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to Matthew.

He was still sitting on his bed, playing some sort of game on his phone.

As I watched him, I spoke out loud. “I’m really glad I got to know you better over the past few years. It’s been great having you as my little brother.” Then I tapped Matt’s number on my phone. I tapped out a message to him.

Matt, I won’t be stopping by the house today after all. Something’s come up with work. It’s pretty serious. There are some big changes happening here. I think I’ll be going away for a while with my work. Maybe for a very long time.

Matthew closed the game to get the text. His expression changed to one of concern as he read.

But you’re okay, right?

Yeah. I’m okay.

He smiled in relief and tapped out a reply.

That’s okay. You being farther away won’t make much of a difference for us. We just text anyway. We can still chat every day!

But we won’t be able to go swimming together.

He laughed out loud, startling me. “Score!” He laughed again as he wrote the message.

That was more for you than for me anyway. Swimming was always your thing. I just went with you to make you happy.

I laughed out loud as I tapped out an answer.

LOL! Love you, Matt! What a sweet kid. He had been going swimming just for me.

Love you too. Let me know how all the changes work out. Hope things go awesome for you!

Will do.

Shoving my phone into my pocket, I got up and left the house through the front door. Chances were that I wouldn’t be coming back, ever.

Where could I go now? To the lake. I had always found a measure of peace there, no matter what had happened. It took me forty minutes to get there. I had to take extra care crossing streets because I knew the cars couldn’t see me.

I sat on a large, flat rock on the sandy beach, looking out over the calm blue water. The warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze didn’t touch my soul. The horror of being forever alone and untouchable was fading but tears filled my eyes again. I had lost everything. I wouldn’t be able to help anyone, ever again. Tears spilled out and coursed down my cheeks. I let the tears come. There was no reason to try to be brave any more.

“Now who will dream my dreams with me?” I whispered.

I cried myself empty. The sun was setting. But I wasn’t afraid. No one could harm me now. It must have been summer because the evening air was still warm. I saw that someone had left a large towel spread out on the sand. So I slid off the hard rock and curled up on the towel. It was still warm from the day’s heat. I was used to having a lot of sleep. Soon I faded from consciousness.

 

***

 

I was sitting on a pier that stretched out into the ocean. Waves were lapping against my bare feet. I looked to the right and saw that the High King was sitting beside me, his feet also hanging down into the water.

He spoke first. “Everything’s okay, Cara.”

“But…” I pursed my lips. I looked down at the rhythmic swells. I wanted to yell and tell him that everything was not okay. How could everything be okay? But, instead, I waited for him to speak again.

“I know what has happened. This is still part of the plan.”

I looked up, a small hope beginning to flutter in my chest. But he seemed content to watch the horizon. “Part of the plan?” I prompted.

The High King met my gaze and smiled. “I’ve already talked to Blaze. I told him where you are. He’s coming to find you.”

My mouth hung agape. I closed it. “What do you mean? The Bryce in my dreams was the real Bryce all along?”

“Yes. The real Blaze.”

“How is that possible?

He smiled and took my hand. “What wouldn’t be possible for me?”

“He’s coming to find me? How did he get where I am?”

“The same way that you did.”

His cryptic answers weren’t satisfying me. “But what will we do?”

“Will you dream my dreams with me?” he asked. “And help others dream them too?”

I looked deeply into his brown eyes. He still held my hand. I knew I could trust him. “Yes. I will do whatever you want me to.”

“Then it will be an adventure.”

 

***

 

I groped for his hand but was left clutching only a fistful of sand. Above me was blue sky. I sat up. I was still on the beach. Somehow, I knew it hadn’t just been a dream. I stood and brushed the sand from my clothes. I turned around. There, in the parking lot, coming towards me, was a tall man with dark hair – a little longer than was proper. Tears filled my vision. I blinked and tried to swipe them away. Is it really Blaze?

He started running towards me. It is Blaze! I could make out his face. He was smiling. I took a few tentative steps towards him. And then he was right there, catching me up in an embrace and spinning me in a circle. Crying, I clung to him as tightly as I could. It had really been Blaze all along!

He spoke into my hair. “Cara, when it happened, I thought I was alone. I can’t believe it was really you all along. I’m in love with you.”

“I love you too, Blaze. I’m glad we’ll get to adventure together,” I whispered.

“I love it when you call me that.” He released me suddenly. I let go and turned to see what he was looking at.

The High King! He was with us, really with us, standing against the backdrop of the lake, smiling.

“You’re here!” said Blaze. “Really here!”

“Are we dead?” I asked.

The High King laughed. “No. Not dead.”

“Where are we?” Blaze asked.

“You are between places. You’ve slipped sideways, just slightly. You are now partway out of the human spiritual dimension.”

“So…now, we’re like your angels?” I asked.

He smiled kindly. “No. You are both still mortal. It was caused by the Kingcade Worldcorp technology. Their technology had a consequence they did not foresee. They are broadcasting their Focused Unifarious Neurostimulator radiation in all the major urban centers. And it’s not just affecting those who are hooked up through their Peaceful Sleep Clinics. It’s affecting everyone who is susceptible to that type of radiation.”

“Is that why I was able to dream with Cara?” asked Blaze. “Because that radiation was affecting my brain?”

“Yes. And it is why you are here. It has affected you neurologically, physically and also, in a manner of speaking, spiritually. It has affected your whole beings. Their FUN waves have now pushed you onto a different plane.”

“That’s not very FUN,” muttered Blaze. “What are we going to do about it?”

“I want you to work for me,” said the High King. “You could be my agents. We’ll take this bad situation and turn it good – very good. What do you think?”

“Yeah! Agents of the High King!” Blaze pumped his fist in the air.

“So, the reason that we kept seeing each other in our dreams was because we are both very susceptible to that radiation? That’s the only reason?” I asked. Blaze also looked at the High King expectantly.

The High King slowly smiled. “Your minds were thrown together because of your geographical proximity and because of your susceptibility. However, your geographical proximity was divinely arranged.”

“That’s why I could never get acting gigs outside of this state!” Blaze exclaimed.

The High King laughed. “You needed each other. It is important.”

I smiled at Blaze and he smiled back. We were victims of divine matchmaking. What a blessing! Then I looked at the High King. “So…we’re mortal…we could get married and have kids?” I looked at Blaze’s widening grin and stammered, “Hypothetically, if we ever wanted to, in the future?”

The High King smiled broadly. “Yes, you could.”

“But who would marry us since no one else can see us?” I asked.

“You can order those documents online these days,” Blaze said. “Plus, maybe the High King could help us out with the ceremony?” Blaze looked to the High King for affirmation.

“Of course.”

I laughed. “Thank you!” I grinned at Blaze.

He grinned back but then the smile was replaced by a thoughtful look. “My dreams were making me so sad. I was glad I found the High King and I brought that through to my real life but, Cara… I thought you were just symbolic or something. That I wanted a good girl to be kind to me – to love me – that I was longing for that or something. Only loving you in my dreams was making real life lose color, if you know what I mean. So…I guess it wasn’t really my dreams making me sad. It was the waking up.” He laughed. “But now, I never have to wake up again. Oh, Cara!” He wrapped his arms around me, hugged me and then lifted me up and spun me around. “I love you!”

“I love you too!” Laugher bubbled up from inside me as I held Blaze tightly. This wasn’t the end of everything, after all. It was just the beginning!

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Chapter 18 – The New Adventure!

 

I pounded down the asphalt in near darkness. More than half of the streetlights had been broken in this neighborhood. A tall building loomed over the narrow street.

“Hurry, Cara!” shouted Blaze from up ahead.

I kept running just as fast as I could, not sparing the breath to tell Blaze that I was already running as fast as I could.

“Caught up to him!” called Blaze.

I phased the last half block and arrived beside my adventuring partner. Being between planes had its advantages. And, the more we practiced, the more we could do. “What have we got?” I jogged beside Blaze, keeping my eye on a young male in a hoodie.

“I’m not sure why the High King has led us here. Can’t tell if the guy has stolen something or what.”

I jogged closer to the guy. “Slow down,” I whispered. He showed no sign of having heard me but his pace slowed slightly.

“Why couldn’t you just tell him to stop?” complained Blaze. “I’m getting a cramp in my side.”

“You could try,” I huffed. “You know they don’t always do what we suggest. If they don’t want to do it on some level, they won’t.”

“You know they listen to you better than they do to me,” said Blaze.

Now, jogging closer to the youth, I glimpsed his face, which had been hidden by shadow under his hood. He was bruised. “What happened to him?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s injured. Got a black eye and worse.”

Blaze ran ahead of him a little so he could get a better look. “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask?”

“What happened?” I whispered.

Anguish washed over the young man’s face. “I’m not going to let him hurt her again!” he muttered fiercely.

“We’d better ask the High King,” said Blaze.

“Right.” I moved to where I could hold Blaze’s hand. “What should we do?”

Immediately, thoughts came to my mind. Tell him to call the police instead. His mother doesn’t want him to do it. His mother doesn’t want him to go to jail.

Blaze looked at me. “He needs to call the police.”

“Right.” I looked at the teen. “Call the police instead,” I whispered.

Blaze moved to whisper on his other side. “Call the police instead. Your mother doesn’t want you to go to jail.”

The boy swatted an imaginary bug away from his face.

I tried again. “Your mother doesn’t want this. Call the police,” I whispered.

The young man came to an abrupt stop. Panting, he leaned against the brick wall of a building.

“You know your mother doesn’t want this. Just call the police,” I whispered.

He rubbed his forehead with one hand and slipped the other into his jacket.

“He’s got a gun,” said Blaze.

I walked around to the youth’s other side and saw the handle of a gun in his hand, concealed in his pocket.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. “We can’t let him kill somebody.”

“We’re going to whisper the truth to him, just like the High King told us to.”

“Right.” I moved very close to the young man’s ear and whispered, “Deep down, you want to do the right thing. Call the police.”

A tear leaked out from the corner of his eye as he released the gun and pulled a cell phone from his pants pocket. He stared at it for a moment, his brow furrowed. Then he dialed 911.

“Hello?” His voice was shaky. He sounded younger than I had thought he was, by the dim light. “This is Mike. My mom’s boyfriend is abusing her. She’s hurt but she won’t go to the hospital because he’ll be mad.” Then he gave his address. Mike stopped talking and listened. “I’m safe. I’m not home right now.” There was another long silence. “Yeah…” He looked down like he was ashamed. “He hits me too.” Mike listened into the phone. “Sure, you should come pick me up and I’ll tell you everything. I got a gun because I was scared for my Mom. But I’ll give it to you guys when you get here. Thanks for helping.”

Blaze and I waited with Mike until the police arrived. He put the gun on the ground like the officer asked him to. They weren’t rough with him and they didn’t put him in handcuffs.

“I think he’s going to be okay,” I said.

“Yeah, another mission accomplished. High five, Partner!” Blaze held his hand up. I gave him five and we both laughed. It felt really good helping people for the High King and, best of all, we never had to wake up from this adventure. It was our real life now.

I felt the familiar vibration of being phased. “Here we go,” I said. The High King was taking us to our next mission.

We materialized into daylight at a park. I assumed this must be some different part of the world, where it was daytime now. The park was mostly empty. Then I noticed a little girl at the base of a large tree, looking up. Given no direction, I walked towards her. She was crying.

“Kitty, come down!” By her accent and the time of day, I concluded that we were probably in Australia.

“So, what are we supposed to do?” asked Blaze. “Save her kitten?”

I laughed. “Not superhero enough for you?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t seem all that important.”

You must get the cat down quickly. If the girl climbs the tree, she will slip and fall to her death. It is not her time.

“You go for the cat,” I told Blaze urgently. “I’ll try to keep her from climbing.”

Blaze nodded and phased from sight. He appeared on a thick branch high overhead. I knelt down beside the girl, who was reaching up to the crook of the tree and trying to get a foothold.

“You mustn’t go up,” I whispered. “You’ll get hurt.” The little girl stopped trying to climb and looked up at the tree thoughtfully. “That’s right,” I said. “Wait here. Kitty’s going to come down so just wait right here.”

“One problem,” called Blaze. “I can’t grab it. It’s a living thing. We can’t interact physically with living things, remember? What am I supposed to do?”

I heard a loud hiss from up in the tree. Then I heard his laughter. “Never mind. This cat can totally see me.” The cat hissed again and jumped down to a lower branch.

“Kitty!” cried the girl. “You are very naughty! Come down.” The cat appraised the situation, looking from the girl to Blaze who was still hidden in the leaves higher up. Apparently, the cat thought the girl the safer of the two. It jumped to a lower branch again and then landed on the ground beside the girl. She scooped it up and held it tightly in her arms. The cat seemed content to stay with her. At that moment, a woman came running into the park.

“Lydia! There you are!” She rushed over to the little girl and hugged her, the now-struggling cat between them. The mother took the cat under one arm, in a football carry, while, with her other, she took Lydia’s hand. “You can’t just run off like that, Sweetheart. Mummy was so worried about you.”

“I’m sorry, Mummy. Naughty Kitty ran away. I had to save her!”

“I’m glad to see you’re both alright.” The mother kissed her daughter’s hand.

Blaze phased in beside me. “We saved her.”

“Yeah.” I watched contentedly as mother and child left the park. “Do you think we’ll have kids one day?”

“Yup. And I’m super-excited to start trying.”

“Blaze!” I scolded. We weren’t married yet. I turned to him. He laughed, a mischievous expression on his face. The laugh made me think of the way he had laughed when he had been up in the tree. “What did you do to that cat anyway? I think it saw me too but it wasn’t scared of me.”

Blaze just smirked. We felt the now-familiar thrum of being phased. “I hope the High King is taking us home now,” said Blaze, flexing his neck from side to side. “It’s been a long day.”

The vibration intensified and we blinked out. I arrived at my apartment. It had turned out to be a great investment after all. I was glad I didn’t have to live, like a ghost, in a house with other people, which was what Blaze did. He had a large estate and some of the hired help lived there with him. Only they didn’t know he was at home. So they would walk in on him whenever. At first, he was worried that his relatives would try to get him declared dead to get their hands on his fortune. Then we looked it up online and discovered that someone has to be missing for seven years for them to be legally declared dead, if no evidence existed to suggest that they had died. We’d only been living like this for a little over a month. Besides that, we could still text. So Blaze kept up with texting people. He just told them that he’d become a recluse, which was true enough.

I grabbed a box of sugar-puffs and a bowl from the cupboard. After pouring myself some, I took the milk from the refrigerator. Almost empty. I’d have to order more tomorrow. I’d taken to ordering my groceries online and having the delivery person leave them in the hallway outside my door. The payment was online too. I felt kind of lazy getting everything delivered but it was the only way I could get food and pay for it. Blaze and I had made a solemn vow not to steal anything, even though we could have. I sat down to my quick cereal dinner. I was tired. But it was a good kind of tired – exhaustion after a long, successful day at my new job.

After washing the bowl and putting it away, I brushed my teeth. Then I changed into my PJs. Stretching out on my queen-sized bed, I reflected on how nice it was to actually have my own bed again. Being a Dreamer had been good. But being a faded dreamer, whispering hope and truth to the world, was unspeakably great. I clicked off my lamp, sleep coming over me in waves. My phone buzzed, pulling me back to consciousness. I grabbed it from the nightstand and read the glowing message in the darkness.

It was from Blaze.

Don’t forget what day it is tomorrow.

Excitement exploded in my heart as I sat bolt upright, still staring at my phone. My calendar app confirmed it! Tomorrow was my wedding! How could I have possibly forgotten? I leapt from the bed and flicked on the bedroom light. Slowly, I opened my closet door and stared at the princess-like wedding dress that hung here. I pulled the phone up to text back.

Thanks. How am I supposed to sleep now?

LOL! You’re welcome.

I smiled. Being married to him was going to be so good. We would be getting our happily-ever-after together, after all!

 

Just after dawn, I phased myself onto the beach. There was Blaze, standing with the High King. A golden crown on the High King’s head reflected the light of the sun as it rose over the city. Blaze was dressed in a tux, which fit him perfectly. Some things never change. I walked towards him, smiling so hard it made my face hurt. A gentle breeze blew off the lake.

When I reached them, the High King spoke. “Take each other’s hands.”

I stood, bare feet in the sand, hands clasped with Blaze’s, looking into his eyes. Now we would commit to each other.

“I, Blaze, take you, Cara, to be my wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part.”

I swallowed and tried to speak through the tears. “I, Cara…” My throat squeezed with emotion. Blaze looked so beautiful, standing there, smiling encouragement at me. Thankfulness welled up in my heart. He was going to be all mine. And he loved me, wanted me. “I, Cara, take you, Blaze, to be my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part.”

Then we looked to the High King as he spoke. “You have declared your promise. I consecrate this holy covenant, strengthen you to carry out this commitment and bless you with fruitfulness in your union.”

Blaze leaned towards me and kissed me tenderly on the lips. I clung to him, feeling glad that I didn’t have to share this moment with a crowd of onlookers. I pulled away and we both looked to the High King expectantly.

“What now?” asked Blaze. “I was thinking a honeymoon to Hawaii. Would you be willing to swing that for us?” So far, we could only phase ourselves to places nearby, places that we could see or knew very well.

“Hawaii is the perfect place for your honeymoon and I will gladly give that to you. However, there is an urgent task I need your help with first.”

“Aww…really? Before the honeymoon? We just got married,” Blaze lamented.

“Marriage is the foundation of families. One is in peril right now.”

“We’re ready to help,” I said.

“Aren’t we going to change first, at least?” said Blaze.

“No time,” the High King replied.

“Okay, let’s do this,” said Blaze, his attitude changing.

I felt the buzz of phasing and then found myself in a crowded bar, which was awkward because people were walking right through me.

Tell him to leave now, go home to his wife and say he’s sorry. I heard the voice of the High King in my mind. I looked around and saw Blaze off to my left.

I joined him, shuddering as someone else passed through me. “Do you know who he means?” I asked.

“Him.” He pointed towards the bar where a balding, middle-aged man sat on a stool.

“How do you know that’s him?”

“He’s got a ring on and I doubt that that girl’s his wife.”

I looked at the scantily clad, young female he was talking to. “You’re probably right. Let’s get closer so we can hear what they’re saying.”

We walked between the tables to get to the bar. “Let’s stand on the bartenders’ side,” Blaze suggested.

I followed him around the counter. That was easier – less crowded. We approached and leaned in close to hear the conversation.

“My wife – she’s gotten very fat. And all she does is complain.” The man slurred his words. He’d been drinking too much.

“Well, Honey, you know I won’t complain. You got money?”

Blaze shook his head. “What a pig. Going to cheat on his wife with a prostitute. Cara, you’d better talk to him. I just feel like knocking some sense into the guy.” He stepped back so I could get in even closer.

Taking a deep breath, I recalled what the High King had told us to say to him. I felt angry too but I knew my feelings wouldn’t help the situation. “You need to go home now,” I whispered. “Go home to your wife. Confess and tell her you’re sorry.”

The man got up with a start. He looked around. “I think I need to go home now,” he slurred.

“What’s wrong, Honey?” asked the woman.

“It’s time to go home,” I whispered insistently.

“It’s time to go home,” the drunken man echoed. He staggered towards the exit and then out the door. The woman looked around and then sauntered towards someone else.

“Mission accomplished?” asked Blaze.

“Let’s just follow him to make sure he’s all right.” I hurried across the bar and through the exit door. We got outside just in time to see him stepping onto the street.

“No!” I shouted. It was a wide road with heavy traffic. I tried to follow him but Blaze stopped me.

“No, Cara, it’s too dangerous!”

The man cleared the first lane but, when he staggered out into the next lane, he was hit by a yellow sports car.

“No!” I fell to my knees, a sob tearing from my throat. His crumpled form lay on the road. Then I felt the vibrations carry me away. I found myself kneeling on the sand in my princess wedding dress. Blaze still had his hand on my shoulder. The High King was there. “Why did you let that happen?” I shouted. “We told him to leave and then he got hit by a car!”

He made the choice to be in that bar with evil thoughts on his mind. He made the choice to drink too much. He made the choice to stagger out into the street. I did not supernaturally stop that car from hitting him…but I did slow it down just enough. Cara, he’s not dead. For him, this was the best possible outcome because of his choices. Now he will confess all to his wife and tell her that he is sorry. Now he will find that she is kind, a most worthy woman. Now he will find his way back to me.” The High King reached his hands down to me. “I love you, Cara, and every other human in the whole world. My will is that none should perish but all should come to know the truth, the truth that sets free.”

I let him pull me into his embrace and I rested my head on his shoulder. “I just wish I didn’t have to see that on my wedding day. This is supposed to be a time for happy endings.”

“Cara, trust me. This is a happy ending.” He put a hand on my forehead. “See what I see.”

I saw a vision of the man in a hospital bed. His wife was there, holding him. They were both weeping but also smiling. The image faded and then I saw them in their home. The man had a cast on his leg and the wife was bringing him a cup of tea. He smiled at her and she smiled back. I could tell by the twinkle in their eyes that they were in love.

Then I glimpsed farther into the future when the man was wrinkled and had lost all his hair. He was once again lying in a hospital bed. His wife, now old and grey too, was there with him, holding his hand to bring him comfort from the pain. They both knew it was almost time for him to go. But she didn’t look sad. She knew he’d be going to a better place, one where there would be no more suffering. And she knew she’d be going there soon too. His breathing slowed and then stopped. The woman squeezed his hand and shut her eyes.

“Go to the High King, My Love. Soon we will be together again.” A single tear tracked down her cheek.

Then I saw the man rise up out of the bed. Not shriveled and weak like he had just been but glorious and strong, almost too beautiful to look at. Tears trickled from my eyes too as I watched him float upwards, looking into the heavens, arms spread wide.

The High King released me and looked into my eyes. “Now you understand.”

“I do. You make all things good.”

Blaze came up beside me and took my hand. “That was really cool. Thanks for letting us see that. I’m glad things are going to work out for him now.”

The High King pulled both of us into an embrace. “You’re an important part of the plan. You all are. Now, time for that honeymoon.” The vibrations of phasing began, tickling my bare feet.

“Wait…” said Blaze. “You all, as in, there are more of us? Like Cara and me?”

Blaze and I came out on a different beach, still holding hands, the salty smell of the sea in the air. We were alone.

I looked at Blaze, trying to read his expression. “He never answered your question. Do you think there might be more faded dreamers?”

Blaze shrugged. “That can wait. Look! Hawaii! Now that we’re here, let’s enjoy it.” Still holding my hand, he led me towards a fancy hotel just off the beach. “Come on! We can use a computer in the lobby to pay for a room. I’m excited about this new adventure with you!”

I giggled nervously, squeezed his hand and let him lead the way.

 

***

 

This is the story of a faded dreamer, for that is what I am. But I’m not alone anymore. And I’m living the dreams of the High King. I’ve been given hope and a future and an unexpected end. Only the end is just the beginning.

About Author Celesta Thiessen

 

I live in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada with my husband and two young daughters. We’re homeschoolers and entrepreneurs. My husband and I make iOS apps and I write stories. Being a writer is magical – spinning nothing into stories – stories that can light the way to a different world.

 

[+ Join my subscribers list+] to get free books and other special offers.

 

 

Other Books by Celesta Thiessen

 

 

Prince Jade

Jade, the fourteen-year-old, second-born prince of Kedrin, is full of unnatural powers and an uncontrollable darkness. He is ready to seize the throne. But when Jade’s life takes an unexpected turn, he meets Marigold, a simple farm girl who embodies everything that he is not. Gradually, for the first time, he begins to want the light.

Like a Shakespearian fairy tale, this romantic fantasy adventure chronicles Jade’s journey as he finds love…and love finds him.

 

Dragon Warrior and the Princess

He’s a volatile, genetically-engineered slave, longing for peace. She’s a spoiled princess who wants to reclaim the throne and save the world. He must help her.

Princess Aurelia is left for dead on the frozen planet of Quisquiliae. There she meets a dragon warrior…the last of his kind. The Dragon Warrior, who had also been left for dead, thought war and servitude were behind him. But his short-lived peace is shattered when the fiery young woman revives and starts telling him what to do. He submits himself to her, as is his duty as a slave to the royal family but, deep down, he blames her for everything he is and all he has been forced to commit. After the Dragon Warrior saves Aurelia’s life, the princess is duty-bound to return the favor. Her course of action shocks the Dragon Warrior as he tries to come to terms with his true nature and identity.

The Dragon Warrior and the princess walk the path of honor together but it will take a confrontation with space pirates, a supply run for weapons, a star ship battle, a ground skirmish, a rescue mission and, ultimately, an encounter with evil itself before they find out where this journey will end.

An edge-of-your-seat science fiction adventure filled with innocent, romantic longing, The Dragon Warrior and the Princess breaks from the typical military space opera mold. Shaped by the theme of mercy verses justice, where shades of grey polarize and resolve into right and wrong, The Dragon Warrior and the Princess displays the power of good working through its heroes to give the world hope and a future.

 

 

If you liked Whispers of a Faded Dreamer please write a short review wherever you bought this ebook. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Whispers of a Faded Dreamer

In this unusual, Christian sci-fi/fantasy novel, Cara Peirce wants to help people. She wants love but making connections in real life just isn’t something she’s good at. Through an unsettling turn of events, Cara finds herself a mostly-willing participant in a bizarre life in which she only feels truly alive in her dreams. Her surreal adventures in other realms seem important, somehow. And, almost every night, she dreams of the same guy - Blaze Saxon. In the end, only whispers remain. But the end is only the beginning. This is the story of a faded dreamer.

  • ISBN: 9781370475193
  • Author: Celesta Thiessen
  • Published: 2016-12-06 19:05:13
  • Words: 51060
Whispers of a Faded Dreamer Whispers of a Faded Dreamer