CREATURA

By

Nely Cab

CHAPTER 1 PREVIEW

Copyright © Nely Cab, 2013

 


Prologue

 

February 5, 1:01 A.M.

             In my dreams, he watches me. Haunts me. He’s the cause of my nightmares, and the dread of my nights.

             My name is Isis Martin, and I’m seventeen years old. I suffer from a sleeping disorder.  After three months, I’m finding it difficult to function on one or two hours of sleep per night.

Today, I’ve got another session with Dr. Jameson. He’s my best friend’s dad and the only psychiatrist in town. He suggested I start a journal to release my stress and maybe one day I’d be able to sleep again. He says my recurring dream is only a reflection of my anxiety to sleep, but there’s something that tells me he’s wrong.

 

February 23, 12:14 A.M.

             Why do you plague me like this, haunting my dreams and taking over my thoughts? I do nothing to evoke you, and yet, you come to me every night. You keep me under your watchful eye. Do you find pleasure in my fear? I haven’t led a normal life in months.

             What are you?

             Tonight, in my dream, I was lying in that field of flowers without a worry in the world. I could actually smell the poppies. As I turned to see the sunset, there you were again. Why do I fear you if you’re nothing but a black silhouette in the distance, taunting my nerves?

             Three sleepless months I’ve had to live with you in my subconscious. The psychiatric sessions do nothing for me, and now they want to drug me. I refused, of course. I’m seventeen for goodness sake! I don’t want to be dosed up for the rest of my life.

             My mom focuses on the dark circles under my eyes when she speaks to me. What can I do if the problem is in my head and not elsewhere? I despise you.

 

February 29, 5:45 A.M.

             You walked toward me tonight. I was petrified. You growled at me and paced back and forth in the meadow like a savage beast. All I can see is your dark shadow and the glistening of your eyes.

             I cursed you for my sleepless night and wished I had taken the sleeping pill. The doctor says I have to make myself believe you are nothing and nothing you will become. It’s so easy for him to say. The panic I feel in my sleep is all too real. I know I’m at fault for feeding it. How can anyone live like this, awake through the night?

 

 

 

CHAPTER  1

 

 

I had always been able to control my dreams. I don’t know how, but I could. In my sleep I discovered worlds that only existed in my imagination. My favorite was a poppy field where the sun rested over the horizon frozen in time for no one else but me. The meadow with the odd shaped tree that I had named Infinity was my private haven and my emotional sanctuary. In that far away land, night never came and day never broke. It was the place where tears did not fall and worries did not exist…until the nightmares began.

 

                I didn’t have the energy to doll up before school. Using black kohl, I drew a line over the top of my eyelids and followed with a coat of mascara, leaving rosy cheeks and glossed lips as a thing of the past. I paused to examine my reflection in the bathroom mirror. The girl that gazed back at me didn’t look too hot. She wasn’t even lukewarm. But at least her hair was straight-ironed.

                It was a hot and muggy March morning as I walked to Los Fresnos High School. I started walking to school right after the dreams started so I could be alert—a morning ritual that consisted of coffee in hand and Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams blaring on my iPod.

                As I crossed the main street, I was tempted to stop for a refill of coffee at the gasoline station’s convenience store, but decided against it. I could only take in so much caffeine before my legs started to shake.

                Los Fresnos, Texas is a typical small town with a scant population of about 5,000 inhabitants. It’s the type of town where everyone knows everyone. It’s located at the southernmost tip of Texas, bordering Mexico.  The weather is humid, hot and sunny most of the year. I wasn’t a fan of either the heat or the humidity, but I had been forced to grow accustomed to it, having lived here my whole life.

The town is peaceful, reserved and only a few miles from several small surrounding cities, which is where the town’s people do their shopping.  All in all, it’s a pretty monotonous place. It’s a safe little town to walk around in, even at night.

                Everyday my best friend, Andy, waits for me at our usual table in the cafeteria with her boyfriend, Bill. I don’t have one of those anymore—a boyfriend.

                Walking alone through the school doors, I remembered the three-year high school relationship with Gabriel, the guy my friends swore was destined to be my husband. Gabriel was a freshman at Florida State University. He graduated early from high school with an academic scholarship and jumped right into the spring semester.  I was very proud of him then.

                “Isis,” he said to me before he left, “I’ll be back every chance I get, I promise.  You won’t even have a chance to miss me. We’ll talk on the phone every day. We’ll chat. We’ll text. It’ll be like I never left.” Looking into his brown eyes, I believed everything he said.

One month after he left, I found out how much Gabriel cared for me when he dumped me via text message. What a cruel way to break up with someone. I kicked myself for not seeing the warning signs. Gabriel never visited after leaving for Florida State. He made excuses not to talk to me. I attributed his behavior to his heavy class load. When I received the break-up text, I ran to Claire and cried.

Claire is my mom. When I was a little kid, I used to call her Claire because everyone else did. I assumed it was normal. It wasn’t until I was in Kindergarten that she insisted I stop calling her by her name. Now, I call her “Mom”, but in my head, she’ll always be my Claire.

                Claire had warned me not to get too serious. She persuaded me to continue having friends because she saw that Gabriel consumed all my time and that my group of friends had started to dissipate.

                “You need time for girly things,” Claire had said. “Friends will always be there when boyfriends aren’t.”

                My mom knew what she was talking about. My dad cheated on her so many times that I don’t know how she had the strength to endure the humiliation. Everyone in our little town knew about his infidelity, but no one said anything. Not to her face, anyway.

                I was twelve when she told me she was filing for divorce. “My heart is done breaking”, she said. “It’s time to begin repairing it.” She never mentioned my father’s cheating, but I always knew.

                I was glad I had listened to her. I still had one shoulder to cry on. Andrea “Andy” Jameson had been my best friend since we were five. When little Billy Nesbit put a frog down the back of Andy’s shirt in kindergarten, I stuck it in his mouth to teach him a lesson. I was suspended for a day, but I would trade a lost day of school for a best friend like her anytime. We were inseparable from that point. Ironically, little Billy Nesbit was now Andy’s boyfriend.

 

                “’Sup, guys?” I tried to sound awake and full of energy.

                “How’d you sleep?” Andy asked, fishing a tube of makeup out of her cosmetics bag.

                “The same. Close to three hours, I think.” I set my book bag on the table and took a seat, waiting for Andy to work her magic on me.

                “Sleepy?”

“Mhh,” I moaned.

                Andy took a cosmetic sponge and dabbed the makeup on it. With her pinky, she pushed my hair away from my face and began to cover the dark circles around my eyes.

                Bill shook his head. “Just take the pills, Isis. You look a little more like crap each passing day.”

                “Nice,” I scoffed as Andy continued to dab. “Do you use that same poetic charm on Andy?”

                “He’s right, you know,” Andy said as she twisted the cap back on to the concealer tube.

                “I’m considering it,” I said.

I took the compact mirror that Andy was holding up in front of me and looked at the layers of makeup on my eyes.

“Well?” Andy asked.

“I look like the undead.”

Andy nodded.

“I’m so exhausted of being...” I paused to think of the right word, “exhausted.” I took a deep breath and lay my chin over my arm on the table.

                “So is it fear of sleep or insomnia?” Bill asked.                

“It makes no difference if the end result is sleepless nights, right?” Andy answered before I could. “My dad says you only have to try the pills for a few days to see how you react to them.”

                “Your dad’s been talking to you about me?”

                “Of course not. You know how he feels about doctor and patient confidentiality. I overheard him on the phone with your mom.” She bit her nail for a second. “Well, okay, I might have been eavesdropping, but with just cause. I’m worried about you.”

                “Can we please talk about something else?” Bill complained. “We’re young. We’re supposed to be talking about music or movies. Haven’t you two ever heard of YOLO?”

                “But she’s gotta talk about it. I don’t want her to go deeper into depression,” Andy said.

                “I’m not depressed!” I frowned. “Did your dad say that too?”

                Andy paused, then answered. “Well, no, but…”

                “Stop trying to diagnose me. You’re not a doctor, okay? I’m just tired.”

                We sat in awkward silence until the lull was broken by shrill laughter from the cheerleaders’ table.           

                “What the hell is Jean Murphy so happy about today?”

                Andy turned to look at Jean. “You used to laugh too, remember?”

                “Her voice just gets under your skin. Make her stop.”

                Bill grabbed his notebook and stood up. “Nope, she’s not depressed. She’s a grumpy old woman with insomnia, digestive problems and a houseful of cats. ”

                “I don’t own cats,” I said, suppressing a smile,  “and my digestion is fine, thank you.”

                Bill laughed. “I have doubts about that last part. I’ll bring you a big bag of prunes tomorrow, you old hag.”

I waved him off and rolled my eyes. Andy giggled and smacked a kiss on his cheek.

                 “The bell’s about to ring.” Andy said, pulling me off the chair. “Let’s get to class before the stampede starts.”

 

                After school, Bill and Andy drove me to Dr. Jameson’s in Bill’s red ’67 Mustang.  Claire was already seated in the waiting room. She worked half a block away at the county courthouse as the administrative paralegal to the judge. She had managed to get that job after a lot of struggle.

A few months after my parents were divorced, my dad passed away of a sudden heart attack. Dad was only thirty-one years old when he died and left my mom a lot to deal with. Claire said that being a waitress wasn’t going to cut it anymore, so she put herself through night school and got a degree as a paralegal. I don’t know how she managed a house, a job, school and a kid, but she did it, and I admired her for it.

                Not to sound weird or anything, but my mom was hot. Claire was thirty-five years old. She had beautiful brown hair, huge copper-brown eyes and a body I wished for. I didn’t understand why in the world she was single. I really wanted her to find someone that would treat her right, but she always told me Mr. Right just hadn’t shown up on her doorstep yet.

                “Hey, Mom.”  

“Hi, hon. How’re ya holding up today?”

                “I’m okay,” I lied.

                Dr. Jameson’s assistant called me into his office before Claire could bombard me with questions about symptoms of depression she had highlighted on a pamphlet that she was reading. It was starting to irritate me that everyone close to me pretended to be a doctor.

                Dr. Jameson sat behind his desk when I walked in. He was the only one allowed to bombard me with questions about my mental health as far as I was concerned.

                “So do I show signs of depression, Dr. Jameson?”

                “Isis, I can’t diagnose you with depression, or any other illness other than insomnia. The only thing I can suggest is to take the medication I prescribed so you can sleep. It’s obvious that the fear of this recurring dream has the upper hand in your case. You need to let the dream play out. I’m certain that you’ll see that there is, in fact, nothing to fear.”

                “I started writing that journal you suggested, Dr. Jameson.”  I was hoping to steer him away from the medication issue by showing him that I was following his other advice.

“That’s great, but it would be even better to hear that you’ve slept. Can I count on you to take the medication tonight?”

“Instead, what if I promise to keep writing in my journal?”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “How about you promise to do both?”

The chair I was sitting in quickly became very uncomfortable.  I looked down at my feet and shook my head. “Sorry.”

“But, Isis, this is for your own good.”

I looked up at the doctor, but said nothing. He went on to lecture me about the effects that sleep deprivation had on the brain and the body. When he was unable to sway me, Dr. Jameson called Claire in. I waited outside.

                As we walked to the car I noticed Claire’s brow line was in a deep crease.  “You’re taking that pill tonight, Isis,” she said as soon as we were in the car.

                “No, I’m not.” I didn’t like contradicting her. Mother-daughter fights were unusual with us, and I didn’t want to start one over this.

                “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” She put the key in the ignition but didn’t turn it.  “Don’t you think I deserve a little compassion? I work all day. I feed you. I do your laundry. I do all the housework.” She lifted my face so that I could see her. Tears were threatening to spill from the inner corners of her eyes. “I haven’t had a sound night’s sleep in two months because I keep getting up to check on you. I need rest, Isis. We don’t have the luxury of having a man in our lives to care for us. We have to take care of each other.”

                Claire wasn’t prone to tears very often, but recently she had become more emotional.  That scared me.

                “Mom, c’mon don’t cry.” I reached over to her.

                “I’m worried, Isis. You don’t sleep. You hardly eat. Are you on drugs? Tell me what it is, and I promise I won’t get mad. I promise.” She sniffled. “Let me help you.”

                “Mom, I’m not on drugs, and I’m not doing this to you on purpose.”

Claire’s face was flushed and her mascara was streaming down her cheeks. I didn’t like seeing her like that. I took in a deep breath and exhaled.  “I’ll take the pill, Mom. I’ll take it tonight, okay?”

 

 

                I glanced at the clock; it was nearing ten. Claire reached across the kitchen table, handing me a glass of water and the sleeping pill. I sighed, setting the pill on the table and stared at it like I was about to swallow cyanide.

                To be honest, I was scared to take the pill. I was afraid of not being able to wake from my nightmare, afraid of having to see that hideous grey figure.

                “You promised me,” Claire said, setting her hand on her waist.

                I glanced at her and gave her a grim smile.

                “I know,” I said, taking the little white pill in one hand and the glass of water in the other.  I put the pill in my mouth. “Sweet dreams, Isis,” I said, and then I gagged. The pill started dissolving on my tongue with an explosion of bitterness. I gulped the water to flush it down. “It’s disgusting!”

                 “You’re such a baby,” Claire mumbled, walking out of the kitchen with a happy curve on her lip.

                At 3:30 A.M., I woke from another nightmare and found my mom asleep next to me. I had slept for five hours. The medication was still at work inside my body. I felt drowsy, but I willed myself to sit up. I had to fight it. I wouldn’t let myself dream that same horrible dream twice in one night. Claire felt me creep out of bed and followed me downstairs to the living room.

                “Go back to bed, Mom,” I whispered.

                She shook her head, slurred some incoherent thing about ducks and fell asleep on the couch. As I watched her ease into her own dreams, I thought about how long she had tolerated the lack of sleep.

                I didn’t tell her I wasn’t able to sleep until a month had passed, for fear that she might do just this ¾ stay up with me.  And to think, she’d have to work tomorrow while I could slack off at school.

                I grabbed a quilt from the coat closet and placed it over her.  Since it was still fresh in my mind, I started jotting my dream in my journal on the kitchen table.

 

March 2, 3:39 A.M.

             The sleeping pill did its job. I fell asleep within half an hour of taking it. I wish it hadn’t worked at all.

             Hiding behind the Infinity tree, I saw you with a little more detail this time. You’re a muscular human silhouette. My heart raced as I watched you in the distance walking toward me, snarling. I slept a full five hours before you ran toward me, your menacing growls reverberating through my chest.  I woke in a cold sweat.

             The doctor wasn’t right about letting my dream play out. I’m more afraid than I had been in our previous encounters.

             I fear you, but I won’t live like this anymore. I’m going to confront you tonight. Tear me apart if you want, but you will haunt me no more.

 

 

                Claire opened my bedroom door as I curled the ends of my hair with my flat iron. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, and she looked rested and beautiful in her navy pantsuit.

                “Hun, I left you some pancakes on the table. Call Dr. Jameson to tell him how you felt after taking the pill. Keep the caffeine intake to a minimum today and please, please remember to lock the front door. You’ve been so absent minded lately,” she said, all in one breath.

                “Will do,” I said, twisting the flat iron on the last strand of hair that needed curling.

                Claire walked over to me and kissed my head. “Thanks for taking the medication, baby. You have no idea how relieved I am.” She took one last look at me, smiled and closed the door.

“I’m off to work!” I heard her yell down the hall.

“ ’Kay!” I hollered back, setting down the flat iron.

                My eyes felt heavy as I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Today the girl that stared back at me looked like she was making an effort. But that was just a likeness of the girl that once was. On the inside, the nightmare was on automatic replay in her head. Would it ever stop?

                I took a closer look at the dark circles under my eyes. They didn’t change much overnight. I applied more concealer than usual to keep Andy from worrying.  My cell phone rang while I was dabbing the last of the makeup under my left eye.    

                “So, you need a ride today, or are you still sleepwalking to school?” Andy teased.

                “Ha…I’m walking.”

                “The pill didn’t make you sleep?”

                “Yeah, it did. I slept about five hours or so.”

                “What’d you dream?”

                “Same thing, only…” I paused, “with a little more detail to the beast.”

                “Tell me about it at school?”

                “Sure. Let me finish getting ready.”

                A car honk on Andy’s end of the line made me pull the phone away from my ear.

“Bill just got here. Sure you don’t want a ride?”

                “I need the walk, but thanks,” I said.

                “Suit yourself. See you in a bit.”

 

                At school, I told Andy and Bill how that thing in my dream had leapt and ran toward me, growling. This was the first time I told them a detailed account of any dream.

                “Do you think it might be something, you know, having to do with demons or evil spirits?” Bill asked.

                “Bill…” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “I did not need to hear that. I already pray like a religious fanatic. You’re only adding to my nightmares.”

                “Geez, Isis! Why didn’t you ever tell us how scared you really are? Does my dad know about this?”

                “Of course.”

 

                For the most part of the morning, I couldn’t seem to get Bill’s words out of my head. Demons or evil spirits. I felt drowsy and unable to direct much attention to my morning classes. I wasn’t looking forward to taking that pill again since all it did was prolong the nightmare. But I would take it, and I would confront the creature.            

                At lunch I called Dr. Jameson to tell him how my night had gone. He wasn’t too pleased that I had only slept five hours. He suggested I take the pill earlier and double the dose. I tried to argue, but then I remembered how much Claire wanted me to cooperate. I didn’t want to see her break down again. I’d bear it for my mom’s sake.

                                                    

                At exactly eight o’clock, Claire had a glass of warm milk waiting for me at the kitchen table. She extended a fist, and then opened it, revealing two pills, instead of one. I took them without argument. Claire walked me to my room and sat on my bed as the medication eased its way through my blood stream.

                “You don’t have to sleep with me, you know? I’ll be okay.” I patted Claire’s hand as she tucked me in like she had done every night until I was eleven.

“I’ll just stick around until you fall asleep,” she said.

                My head felt fuzzy, and my body started relaxing. This part of the sleeping process I didn’t mind. It had been a long time since I felt calm before falling asleep. Maybe tonight would be different from the rest. Maybe, just maybe, tonight I would dream something pleasant.

                When I woke into my dream I lay in a familiar field surrounded by a bed of golden-orange flowers. The Infinity tree waved its newborn leaves in a symbolic “hello”.

                The scent of sandalwood danced on my nose along with an aromatic wave of flowers. I inhaled the sweetness in the air. Poppy petals caressed my skin, imitating the finest of silks ever woven. As I turned to admire the lavender and rose-colored sky that so brilliantly contrasted with the meadow, I saw it—its dark shadow in the distance. I knew it would be waiting.  With apprehension, I stood and forced myself to walk toward the shadowy presence. I wanted to stop when I saw it spring forward, charging toward me, but I was tired and angry and wanted this nightmare to end. I kept going. I wouldn’t be intimidated by a figment of my own psyche. My dreams were mine to control.

                As this thing saw me approach, it let out an echoing growl that bounced off my chest. It charged toward me at an unbelievable pace. I shut my eyes but continued to walk toward it. My heart raced with fear. Desperate for strength, I started to recite the Father’s Prayer, but I couldn’t remember the words. I kept waiting for the oncoming attack.  I listened in terror to the sound of its heavy feet approaching me. All of a sudden, the meadow grew silent, and I couldn’t hear the creature’s steps anymore.

I opened my eyes and tried to focus. The blood drained from my face as I found it standing in front of me, its cold glare penetrating my eyes. Its snarls resonated like rolling thunder through the field. My trembling legs threatened to collapse as it held my stare. I was frozen, unable to even blink. Its contour became a blur to me. As it saw that I had no intention of retreat, it took a step back, and my eyes regained focus.

                The monster was no monster at all. He was a tall, sculpted young man. His hair was as black as a raven’s glossy coat of feathers. His skin was the color of pure gold and his eyes were a rare indigo blue. And to my surprise, he had wings. The wingspan had to be at least six feet across, which made his stature appear even more colossal. He wore nothing but a white, gold-lined loin skirt. My mouth dropped. I was speechless.

“Why do you keep coming here?” he asked.

                I struggled to speak, still in shock from that which I had thought was a monstrosity. He was somehow angelic, crafted in perfection and beautiful all over.

                “Why are you here?” he asked again.

                I snapped out of my daze and stammered, “This…this is my dream.” I drew up courage from some hidden place and plowed ahead. “I control my dreams, and I’m not afraid of you. You’re just a fictional character in my overactive imagination.”

                He sat on a large rock, a fist under his chin as if in thought. We stared at each other, neither of us speaking.

                ““You have no business here. Leave…now,” he said, finally.

                “Who are you to kick me out of my own dreams?” I said.

                “I’m your dream weaver, my lovely. Something you are ignorant of in your reality.”

                “No. You’re only a figment of my imagination, and I’m not afraid of you.”

                “You’re a sprightly little thing, aren’t you? Just full of charisma.” His smug tone made me dislike him even more. He stood, took a few steps in my direction, and let out a vicious growl.

                I whimpered.

                “You lie when you say you do not fear me. You fear me plenty.”

                “What’s there to fear if you aren’t real?”

                “Oh, on the contrary, I’m plenty real, and I can prove it.”

                 “Prove it then. I’ll be waiting.”

                I heard another low growl forming in his chest, his Adam’s apple vibrating. He jumped up and set his face an inch away from mine, then bared his teeth as his top lip quivered. I prayed like my life depended on it. He softened his glare, took a step back and vanished, leaving behind a cloud of golden shimmer. He was gone. I sat underneath the Infinity tree with a wide smile across my face. The field was mine to dream in again.

 

                

For the first time in months, I awoke to the blaring of my phone alarm. The sound of a bomb siren that I had programmed into the phone scared the bejeezus out of Claire, who sprung off the bed and landed on her hands and knees on the floor. I burst out laughing, unable to help her up.

                “Turn that stupid thing off!”

                After I quieted the alarm, I tried as hard as I could to help her up, but ended up rolling on the floor, cackling. I could tell Claire was holding back a smile.

                “Too funny!” I laughed. “The look on your face…”

                “Shut up and get dressed,” she said, slamming the door to my room. I could hear her giggling in the hallway.

 

                

I arrived at school smiling and a little drowsy from the medication. Bill was the first to notice my mood. My glossy eyes must have tipped him off.

                “Are you high, or did you just get some sleep?”

                “Both. I slept the whole night.”

                Andy handed me an oatmeal cookie.

“You look better,” she said.

                “Yeah,” I yawned. “But I’m so sleepy.”

                “So, tell me about your dream.”

                “I confronted him, Andy, and get this. He wasn’t a monster at all. He was just a guy with wings and gold skin…who growled a lot.”

                “A golden boy with wings? Yeah, that’s scary alright.” Bill rolled his eyes.

                 “Wow! Maybe he was an angel,” Andy said.

                “Trust me, he was no angel. He growled at me, and right in my face. I was so scared that I thought I needed a new pair of undies. He’s gone, though. I told him I wasn’t afraid of him and—poof—he was gone. I hope he’s gone forever.”

                “Call my dad to tell him the news later,” Andy said.

                “Mmm hmm,” I nodded, putting the last piece of the cookie in my mouth.

 

                It was hard to stay awake through my morning classes. During lunch I updated Dr. Jameson on my condition.

“Isis, I hear you slept like a baby.” I wondered if it had been Claire or Andy who had gotten the news to him first.

“I did, but I’m way too drowsy. I think I should cut back to one pill again.”

“You might feel that way until your body grows accustomed to the medication. We’ll continue with two pills. Just remember, no operating any heavy machinery during Home Ec.,” Dr. Jameson laughed at his own lame joke.

                “Wait a minute, Dr. Jameson. Just how long am I going to be on this stuff?”

                “We’ll try two more weeks and see if that’s enough for you to get your rhythm of sleep back in sync.”

                “Two weeks? What if I can fall asleep without the pills?”

                “Two weeks, Isis. No exceptions.”

                

                In study hall, which is when I usually get most of my work for the next day done, my eyelids were too heavy to keep open. When I rested my cheek on my arm, I was almost instantaneously immersed into dreamland.

                I found myself sitting on a large rock in the meadow. The Infinity tree was in its usual place, several feet away. I twisted my neck in the direction of the sunset to see if that snarling angel was there, but there was no sign of him.

                “Ha!” I smiled to myself. I had indeed outdone my subconscious. No more nightmares. I was finally free.

                As I admired the sunset, I felt something heavy land on my shoulder. Startled, I gasped and fell back, landing splayed at the creature’s feet.

                “If you insist on coming here, we might as well make a truce. Although, you’re not supposed to be here, you know? You have no idea of the quandary that may beset the both of us if you’re discovered.”

                “You’re not even real. Why bother?” I said, dusting off my pants, and then returned to my place on the rock, ignoring his gesture to help me up.

                “Don’t tempt fate, dear girl. You know not what I’m capable of.”

                “You can’t intimidate me,” I said. “I know you’re not real. Look at you, all gold and feathery and …whatever.” I looked away.

                I didn’t see or hear him move, but all of a sudden, he was right in front of me. He took my hand and placed it on his chest. I could feel his heart beating.

                “Is that real enough for you?”

                “It’s a vivid dream; anything’s possible.”

                “You’re stubborn.”

                “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I don’t take criticism from people that don’t exist.”

                He took my arms firmly and looked into my face.

                “I am real,” he said, adding pressure to the grip he had on me. He released me when I squirmed. He took two steps away from me. I turned away from him, but I felt his gaze on me as I rubbed my upper arms.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I’d like to know your name.”

I turned to look at him.

                “You’ve harassed me for three months and now you want to be my buddy? Pfft… You’re out of your mind. Go flap your wings somewhere else.”

                “My sincere apologies, and it hasn’t been three months that I’ve watched you come and go.  It’s been almost a year. I don’t understand why you keep coming back even after I’ve tried to lure you away. You’re the only human to ever enter Somnium. The Gods would have your head and mine, as well, if they knew you were here.”

Just the night before this creature almost bit my head off and now he was Chatty Cathy, trying to befriend me. For a second I wondered if this was a side effect of the sleeping pill? I’d have to check into that as soon as I woke up.

                “Stubborn girl?”

                “That’s not my name.”

                “Tell me your name then.”

                “Tell me yours first.”

                “That’s childish of you.”

                I hated being called immature. I was seventeen and wore real bras now. I was without a doubt mature.

                “I’m not childish.”

                “Then why not just tell me your name…Isis, is it not?”

                I gasped. “How did you know that?”

                “I know many things. Everything you dream is right here.” He tapped the side of his head with his two fingers.

                Suddenly, I remembered that this was a dream—my dream, not his.

“Listen, dream boy, you’re part of my subconscious, and my subconscious knows everything about me. Of course you’re going to know my name. How naive do you think I am?” I turned around and began to walk away.

                “Wait.” He followed, placing his hand on my shoulder to stop me. Out of nowhere, there was that glorious smell of sandalwood. “A proper introduction is in order.”

                “I doubt there’s room left for formalities.”

                “Then let’s begin again. My name is David.” He extended his arm and took my hand in his, pressing his lips to my knuckles. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Isis.”

                “Isis...Isis.” I heard Andy’s voice echoing as David shimmered into nothing.

                “He’s not real,” I mumbled as I woke up.

                “No, he isn’t. Now, let’s get to class before they count our tardy.” Andy pulled me out of the desk.

                In a dash, I grabbed my books, stuffed them into my bag, and rushed to the final class of the day. As I took the tardy slip from Mrs. Vincent I noticed a glittery gold substance on the back of my right hand.

                “Hey, Andy,” I whispered.  “What is this?” I pointed to my knuckles.

                “Looks like gold eye shadow.”

                “In the shape of lips?”

                “It’s probably lip-gloss from when you were asleep last period.”

                “But I’m not wearing gold lip-gloss. ”

                “Girls!” Mrs. Vincent snapped. “Do you mind if I continue with the lecture?”

                “Sorry!” Andy said.

                Was this his kiss? No, it couldn’t be. He wasn’t real. Maybe I did have lip-gloss on this afternoon and didn’t remember. I rubbed the gold smudge to feel the consistency. I was sure now that it wasn’t lip-gloss. The substance was like silk powder.

                From my bag, I fished out my powder compact and looked in the mirror. I wasn’t wearing gold eye shadow either. I rubbed the substance off the back of my hand.  Both hands were covered in luminous gold sparkles.

                I didn’t tell Andy that the gold dust could have come from that last dream. I’d be crazy to tell her I thought the golden boy could be real.

 

                

When eight o’clock rolled around that night, I told Claire I wanted to see if I could go to sleep without the pills. I explained that I had dozed off at school, but she said I needed the help to catch up on lost sleep.

                I closed my eyes and cleared my mind of everything. I was sitting next to a stream in my dreamland, the land that David had called Somnium. I was sure I was asleep, and I felt very much in control of my dream.

                “Back again, eh?” The voice coming from behind me made me jump.

                “I wish you would stop showing up like that.” My heart pounded hard against my chest.

                “As I wish you would, as well.”

                I ignored him and dragged my hand through the cool stream water. After a moment of silence, David took a seat next to me.

                “May I ask you a question?” All of sudden he was “Mister Proper,” again. His mood swings gave me vertigo.

 I shrugged, “Whatever.”

                “How did you find this place? You come here every single time you sleep.”

                “I don’t know, really. I just think about it when I’m dozing off, and then I’m here, or wherever I want to be.”

                “I see.” He looked me over from head to toe.

                “What?”

                “You’re quite petite. That’s lovely in a woman.”

                “I’m five feet tall,” I said, feeling uncomfortable with the look he was giving me.

                “Your eyes are alluring. And your lush eyelashes, very exquisite.” He nodded.

                “Are you…” I cleared my throat, “…flirting?”

                “Pointing out your good traits, is all. You’re quite lovely when you’re not being ill-mannered.”

                 “Oh.” I pressed my lips together. I didn’t take compliments very well. They made me feel awkward. And if anyone should be talking about manners, it shouldn’t be him.

                “So…why is your skin gold?” I asked, changing the subject.

                “I’d rather not say, as I’m not allowed. You never know who or what may be listening.”

                “Well, that wasn’t a weird answer at all. I suppose I can’t ask you what you mean by that?”

                “No.”

                I felt uneasy sitting in silence with his constant stare. It made me nervous. I turned my head away, focusing on the flow of the stream. David inched closer to me, and a shiver of anxiety bolted through my body. A hypnotizing scent rose from his skin. It was the same scent of sandalwood that I had sensed before in the meadow’s breeze. It had an instant soothing effect, and my anxiety melted away.

                “Your cologne smells nice,” I said.

                “Right. I wouldn’t call it cologne.”

                “What is it then?”

                “Me.”

                “Sure wish real people smelled that good.”

                “Why can’t you believe that I am real?” he asked.

                “Because you’re not. Look at you with your golden skin and wings, wearing a skirt. How can I believe you’re real?”

                “I can prove it.”

                “Oh, yeah? I dare you.”

                “Do you, now?” David raised his brow.

                “Double dare. And you should wear a skirt that looks more like pants for the occasion.”

                “Your clever quips are very delightful, my lovely. Are you positively sure about this?”

                “I’ve been waiting for this for three months.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Bring it on.”

                “Very well. But I have to warn you, I’m quite the competitor.”

                “Then there should be a prize for the winner to make it more interesting.”

                “You’re proposing a wager?”

                I nodded.

“If I win, you’ll leave my dreams forever,” I said.

                He gazed at me for a moment. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I thought I saw a trace of a grin on his face.

“If I should win, you will believe me when I say I’m not a dream,” David said.

                “If you say so,” I snickered. “I guess this is goodbye since I’ll be winning.”

                “And…” he said

                “There’s more?”

                “And…you will never again come here.”

                “Okay,” I said. “Fair enough.”

                “And…” he said again.

                “That’s too many ‘ands’.”

                “And…” he continued, “I bid you not farewell, but good morrow.”

 David tipped his head as he disappeared, leaving behind a cloud of golden dust.

 

                When I woke up, there was a smirk on my lips. I was sure my nightmares were over. My life could go back to being normal.

I got up a little earlier to make it in time for the Spring Festival pep-rally. The Spring Festival in Los Fresnos was an annual fundraiser for the senior prom. I should’ve been excited but nobody had asked me.

                Instead of the usual spot, I met Andy in the gym. Bill was a football player, so he was off doing his football pep-rally thing, getting the crowd motivated. Suddenly, I remembered I had to leave the rally early to discuss university applications and the admissions process with my guidance counselor, Ms. Albright. I picked up my book bag, said goodbye to Andy, and headed off.

The sign-in sheet at the front office had no other names on it. Just as I took a seat, another student walked into the office. From the back, he had a better build than the school’s football players. Nice.

                “How do you pronounce your last name?” the clerk asked him.

                “It’s like chaos but with a long ‘I’…Chios,” the boy sounded it out for her. He had a subtle accent that I couldn’t place. Foreign exchange student, maybe?

                “The counselor will see you in a few minutes. Take a seat, Mr. Chios.” The clerk pointed to the chairs where I was seated.

I looked away so he wouldn’t know I had been listening in on his business.  I pulled out my cell phone and started fiddling with it. I managed to catch a glimpse of the Chios boy out of the corner of my right eye when he sat one chair away from me.  I was very sure he wasn’t from around here. I’d recognize someone that freaking gorgeous. From my first stolen peek, I saw that he had fair skin, high cheekbones, deep blue eyes and black hair. On the second peek, I observed that his chin was parted, his jaw line curved at a perfect angel and he had dimples. Dimples! He looked like a model straight off of the runway. It was obvious he was a new kid.

                “Isis Martin.” The clerk’s voice startled me. “Ms. Albright is ready to see you, dear. Go on in,” she said, scratching my name off the list.

                I bent over to collect my bag from the floor and twisted my head a little to peer at the gorgeous boy. Embarrassed to find that he was looking at me too, I quickly turned away. When I stood up and took the first step, I tripped over my own foot. I was thankful that I hadn’t fallen, but I could feel the boy’s stare on the back of my neck. Could I be anymore pathetic? I glanced at him to see if he was really watching me. He was.

                “Are you alright?” he asked.

                “Fine,” I answered, red-faced.

                I walked into the counselor’s office where I found Ms. Albright taking sips of her coffee and munching on a protein bar behind an altar of files. Her bright red curly hair sprung from her head without any particular direction.

                “Hi, Isis. What brings you by today?” she said, reaching for her desk phone and holding her index finger up to signal me to hold my thought. “Yes, I have his schedule right here. I’ll be a few minutes. Thank you, Gladys.” Ms. Albright hung up the phone and turned her attention to me.

                “You told me I should come by today to talk about my choices for universities,” I said.

                “Oh, yes.” She handed me a thick manila envelope. “Here are some applications for different colleges you might want to consider. Fill them out and drop them off at the front office for me, and I’ll get back to you.” She grabbed a mirror and red lipstick from her purse and began to apply it just as the first school bell rang.  “I have a meeting with some parents in five minutes, Isis. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to review the list of colleges with you.” She blotted her lips.

                “That’s okay,” I said, getting out of the chair. “I can manage.”

                “Before you go, there’s something I need your help with.” She reached for her desk phone gain. “Gladys, can you send in the new boy? Thanks.” She hung up the phone and veered to the door. From the hallway she motioned me to follow.

                The Chios boy met us halfway down the hall where he sized me up. There was something about that beautiful blue stare that disquieted me.

                “I’m your counselor, Ms. Albright,” she spoke slowly, loudly and enunciated every syllable, as she talked to the new boy. “Isis is going to show you around today.”  Her red hair bounced as she turned to look at me. “He’s foreign.” She winked at me like she was doing me a favor.

                 “Is he hard of hearing or something?” I asked her in almost a whisper.

The new boy stifled a laugh.

“No, he’s foreign,” she said, again, as if it explained why she was talking to him like his I.Q. was 3.

Ms. Albright handed the Chios boy his schedule and welcomed him to the school. Without waiting to hear a response from either of us, she called in the married couple that was waiting to speak to her.

                The Chios boy would be the day’s gossip for the school.  I was afraid to look him in the eye or even talk to him. It was a new experience because boys had never intimidated me before. What was wrong with me? I exchanged glances with him while the clerk wrote us passes to class so we wouldn’t be counted tardy. At last, we escaped the clerk, and I ignored the butterflies that seemed to be break dancing in my stomach.

                “After you.” He opened the office door.

                I decided to begin our tour through the school at the cafeteria, which was right across from the office.

                “That’s the cafeteria.” As if he couldn’t see that by himself? He must’ve thought I was a complete moron.

The Chios boy nodded and kept his eyes on me.

                “That’s the gym over there.” I pointed.

                He stared at me as we walked, and I could feel myself start to get a little flushed. We headed down the hallway passing the library, the nurse’s office and some other small offices that I had never visited. He kept silent through the grand tour, which only made me more nervous.

“I guess, I should show you where your first period class is and you can probably get someone in there to guide you to your second period.” I readjusted the bag on my shoulder.

                “You haven’t even asked what my name is,” he said. I knew I had heard his voice before, but I couldn’t remember where.

                “Oh. Sorry.” My face grew bright red. I couldn’t ask him now that he had put me on the spot. I expected him to tell me his name, but he didn’t. He only stared at me as we continued walking down the hallway. Right before we turned the corner, he stopped.

                “I see you’re shy.”

                “Not at all.” I threw my hair back over my shoulder.

                Without warning, he backed me against the white hallway wall. My heart started to race.

                “Well, aren’t you going to ask me what my name is?” he asked.

                “Don’t…don’t try anything. I can scream.” I could feel my throat drying up. “Campus police will come right away if you pull anything.”

 “I just want you to know my name,” he said. “That’s not a crime, is it?”

                I took a step to the side, but he was quick to follow.

                “I’m going to tell you my name, since you’re too shy to ask,” he said.

                My heartbeat was at my neck, while my mind sounded off all the things I should do: Scream! Kick him in the tenders!  I wanted to listen to my gut instincts, but I couldn’t. I was frozen like a deer in front of oncoming headlights.

Slowly, he leaned toward my face.

                “My name is David, and I am real.”

 I blinked, recognizing the voice at once.

“I win,” he grinned.

I opened my mouth in an effort to scream at the top of my lungs, but David pressed his hand over my lips, muffling my poor attempt at crying out for help.

The blood in my head plummeted to my feet, making me dizzy. The only sound I could hear was my heart thumping deep in my ears. I felt cold sweep through me, and the outer walls of my vision turned into a black vignette that framed a white light. The world disappeared as my legs caved in, taking my consciousness with them.      

END OF CHAPTER 1 PREVIEW

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