She’s splayed out over the nylon blankets. The street lights slither their way around the edges of the curtain illuminating enough to keep her away.
Just to remember how to feel.
Just to remember -how- it feels.
I tumble through a glass tube (we never end up on the same paths, that’s why I’m here). He runs along side through the laboratory, jumping tables while I jump hands and bodies.
I’m stopped several more times—for a second fear chokes off my throat. I’m not the 6ft tall mass of magic and strength anymore. I’m delicate, and my uniform doesn’t even fill out. Their forearms are the size of my neck. But nimble and quick, Jack. Yes that’s what they said. The advantage of being small is having more room to move than your 6ft tall enemies in a 6ft tube.
By the time I make a clearing he’s met some guests of his own; however infinitely more skilled he be. I was trained for ambush, he was trained for offense. He’s better suited and he still runs in stride.
Damn I am out of shape.
But still doing better than I expected.
Before her eyelids sink heavy, she asks for the history. Preferably, a dream with the city hawk would be desirable but she knows not to ask too much. Just tell me how we got here, tell me the things I don’t know.
That was potentially a grueling mistake. The planes are riddled with cops, and my dreams overrun with invasion.
My mother is Chinese—but no one ever asks me that. He slips a picture of his mother from a more vintage period. A time hardly remembered in these shatter proof structures. His father was African, but he requests we don’t ask. Whatever dynamics are there have left him uncomfortable and seeking. I don’t say anything; he started speaking of his own accord, I’m an ear just to listen.
If the odds weren’t enough, his religion stacks another uncertainty on him. Here’s where I ask. Well I’d love to hear about it some time if you’re willing, how come you don’t openly share that?
If they knew I was muslim they’d start asking about my father.
It’s only my first day in this training cell, and I know far better than to be optimistic about our classmates. Whatever hell they’ve put him through I’ll never know but I can guess.
Yet his presence seems respected. Several scholars for close friends, and nearly everyone fights each other out for a chance to greet him.
If I didn’t know any better you seem to be the 1950’s star quarterback in a room full of high school cheerleaders.
He makes a funny face at me where I’m not sure if he genuinely found my dry humor funny, or if he regrets that the hypocrisy is undeniably true. The attention makes him uncomfortable either way: he knows less than half of them are genuine.
I catch my own reflection in some surface of the room: Dark curly brown hair, a round feminine face, freckles. I weigh a cushier amount than I do in the waking realms—at first I’m taken aback. The reflection is too pretty and soft to be me. I’m expecting rough edges, masculine angles, pits and scars.
She shudders awake with a struggled inhale. Unsure if she forgot to breathe or if something was stopping her, she clutches the sheets for a minute in fear and disorientation. She drifts back to sleep, knuckles tight.
We excel in the classroom. The other classmates make it a living hell for me. A nobody from out of town is supposed to be at the bottom of the pecking order and yet I got paired with everyone’s first choice.
Jesus fucking christ you’d think it’s a 1950’s prom queen derby too.
One of the advanced tests requires physical contact. The maturity of wizards would think nothing of it but there are bonds being tested here—being close proximity is not a matter of passing the test as much as it is the potential to blow a fuse and explode the building.
I hold back on myself, shaking with the effort to contain it—intellectually we are match. But I can’t bank on the physical. What means something to me might not mean anything to him. It is my luck to be paired this way.
The results are positive but I don’t celebrate. I can’t allow myself to feel anything.
I can’t show that I felt stupidly safe and protected for the whole five minutes that it lasted.
My apathy strikes a cord of suspicion and he looks at me somewhat hurt and stern: He’s not buying my bullshit. But he’ll still go to great lengths to finish the job.
She gasps and nearly rolls off the bed. Nothing terrifying happened in the dreams yet but something feels like she’s been stabbed in the chest.
Jesus christ stop holding your breath.
But the feeling remains; something’s happened. She tries to stay awake, to leave the dream planes, but she incoherently mumbles herself back to sleep.
There’s a mass rush and panic. Images are overlaying, familiar red-gold wisps flicker between the images of the building falling down, my classmates running, the inherent knowledge that my partner has run off as I catch the back end of his jacket around a corner.
He’s not a student, and he knows more than he lets on.
I try to follow him around the bend but the ceiling beams crash down, 7 stories tall. I hurriedly stumble through the rubble out into the street and into the nearest hospital. I’m chasing on pure instinct now.
But keep telling yourself it means nothing.
Part self-jest, part reality. At this point, even if it did mean anything it can’t go anywhere now.
The uniformed terrors run in invading every space and hallway. A few of them have seen me but again; I’m nimble. I manage to power-walk my way between the nursing professionals and tesla guns.
I find dressings and cover-ups, a pre-surgical mask and hair net is enough to conceal my face. The hazmat suit provides a ubiquitous disguise. One of the uniformed terrors snears at me knowing who I am still—and makes brief, lewd conversation about the nature of my partner’s death.
Part of me feels like I’m dying. I allow myself to cry because there is nothing to hide from this invader. The other part of me is still pinging the thread for remains. Dead or alive—I have to trust he gives his best effort to get out and know that he trusts me to find what he was hiding.
It’s a quick hunt; the invasion forces are too preoccupied to notice a 5 ft 2 nurse rounding up a laboratory vessel into a shopping cart. I get on the heavy load elevator. My heart is pounding and I don’t have an escape plan. I wager that if I just continue to let the elevator run its course, and let the people get on and off without conversation it will blend in with the hustle and bustle.
A few of the uniformed terrors enter the elevator several times and I wonder if they can feel the aura projecting from my center. If they can feel the pain I’m trying to choke down and the immense amount of fear and identity I’m trying to hide.
My disguise is successful because they pass me by as nothing more than a nurse.
The one who delivered the news to watch me cringe spots me as the doors close for the 17th time.
Shit this method is over.
I try to get out of the elevator and into the next shaft but the blast causes the structure to cave in. I hear screams and deafening blocks of cinder block falling. I’m standing on a now unlevel floor between the doors and the button matrix—holding onto the shopping cart for dear life as the two injured invaders try to grab it from me but the metal beams crush them and i manage to crawl out grabbing the vessel out of the cart and making a run for nearest somewhat stable room.
GOOD CHRIST GET UP.
She notices the alarm is about to go off in 5 minutes. She doesn’t want to see the rest.
Get up get up get up.
I duck under a visitors armchair, children and doctors seeking the shelter of any furniture in the room as the lights flicker a few more times before going out. The floor is rumbling with either impending earthquake or forced disaster.
The invaders break in shortly and I weigh the odds: I’m going to die within 10 minutes anyway so I might as well cut my losses and try to get out with what I can.
I lose grip of the vessel and it shatters. A quick assessment concludes that the vessel contained a species of life from god knows where. I grab what few I can and stuff them in a mason jar in my bag.
I question myself for a second on why I have a mason jar in my bag.
Apparently this is not my first time running from the powers that be; I do, afterall, work in a military lab.
Shots are being fired and I’m not longer in control of my screams and fear. I’m disassociated.
I’m briefly taken back to an image of my partner bloodied and dischevelled in the elevator.
And further back to catching my reflection in the classroom.
You’re disassociating again.
Don’t do that. You’re here, this is you.
I break through a window and one of the soldiers pulls me down by the waist. I kick him square in the face and tumble out into the next layer of the dream.
The “attic” is about the size of a large Home Depot.
Filled with belongings from my childhood. My parents look weary. My brother looks absent.
No beautiful dark curly brown hair. No star freckles. No healthy weight and soft curves.
Just bony, ill, me.
I breathe a sigh of relief that while I have lost something, I am no longer stuck in a wheel of terror. I throw my lanky self over the edge of the couch. My mother tells me I should clear out some belongings—I ponder its a good idea because then I can rearrange my office. [I’m mad that such solutions have been forgotten because they would have suited me well here].
I begin, but the dust gets to my allergies and eyes so I sit down on a lower level on an old couch. Looking at a gorgeous dimensional painting of a wheat field in sunset. Some cardinals and oriels fly out of the scene, one landing on my knee. I try to quietly and smoothly slip my hand into my purse to get my phone and send a snapchat to the wife and son—
but the bird morphs into a teenage girl who rolls around in my lap for cuddles and preening. She’s giggly and happy. The other two birds perch and also change into young men.
The one is familiar, I know his face to be the person I prayed to see in the first place. I’d recognize his jacket anywhere: he always wears the same cut and design. He thumbs with the straps of his backpack, tipping back on his heels as he smiles and tells me I should move out to California.
I grin with sadness because I’m tired of hearing my dreams mimicked back to me with all the best intentions.
You have no idea my friend. You have no idea. But moving is not an option.
I fiddle with a red scarf that’s draped over my lap. My depression doesn’t sway him and he continues his light conversation with me. He tells me of adventures and things I can do while hiking.
He’s trying his damned best to find a way for me to enjoy my life while I’m stuck in the attic.
The other two birds run off with some bags saying they have to catch their flight back to Cali.
He waves goodbye without even a speck of regret.
Aren’t you going?
No…you know those test tubes are pretty dangerous you’re pretty luck you made it out of there alive.
I swing my legs over the armrest and fiddle with the scarf some more. He takes a seat on a crate near the couch. I eye him suspiciously but not distrusting. Part of his presence dismantles my defenses and the sadness I keep locked in my chest seems to flow out openly.
We don’t say much. We kind of just look at each other for a very long time in silence. After a while we turn our faces back to the painting that serves as a portal and we watch the life pass through from sunset to sunrise and back again.
Why did I wake up -now-….