The Other Realm

 

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One: The Land of Fog

PART ONE: AURORA

n. Dawn

The sharp, unwelcome sensation of rain on my face ripped me from my dreams.

    Grandpa had been talking, but I hadn’t been listening. These days, he had managed to mumble on for minutes at a time about random things I didn’t quite care about. The moment he brought up the presidential election, I zoned out.

    Besides, I would much rather think about Elvin, who was absolutely gorgeous and absolutely fictional. But I hadn’t even gotten to that part of the dream yet before the rain started.

    Grandpa didn’t seem to realize it was raining, but I didn’t really mind. I had grown to enjoy the sensation of rain hitting bare skin. Fog covered the air in a fleece blanket, and the clouds moaned with quiet slumber and restlessness. The sun hit off blades of blue grass in our dewy lawn. I press my feet into the soft grass, feeling the wet rain go in-between my toes.

    Grandpa stops talking all of a sudden and turns around with a plate full of hot dogs. “I think I’ve got them perfect.” He sets them down on the table. “Well, sweet cornsticks, when did it start raining?”

    The corner of my lip turns up at the sound of cornsticks. It was something I used to say when I was little when I didn’t know what corn on the cob was, and he still made fun of me for it today.

    “Just started a minute or two ago,” I say. “We can stay outside if you prefer.” Meaning: please let me stay outside. I don’t mind if the bun gets a bit soggy. It wasn’t even raining that hard anyway. The wind was only a slight push, and the sky was something I wanted to watch forever. Someone had scattered the stars that night.

    Grandpa shrugs. “I guess if you would like. Just tell me if you ever want to go inside. I’m going to go and grab the buns and some sides. You just wait out here.” He sets the hot dogs on the table. I’d never been one to like hot dogs, but it was hot dog night, and that was never going to change. At least tomorrow we’d be having roasted veggies.

    There’s a blue in the sky just behind my birch tree that’s the exact color of Elvin’s eyes: blue the same color of a dark rumor and sparkles the same way the moon does. I wish I could see Elvin all day, but I guess that’s all I can do - the dreams always end as soon as he talks to me or touches me.

    He doesn’t even seem like someone that would be my type. He has a look that screams something like a vampire - pale, paper-like skin, soft, black hair that’s a bit longer than most, and long, gangly fingers. And of course his eyes, which are the most brilliant peacock blue with thick, black lashes that remind me of tarantula legs.

    For about the thousandth time, I force myself to stop thinking about him. He’s imaginary, literally a figment of imagination. Still, it seemed like he meant something. After all, I only started seeing him after the accident. Something always seemed to loom around him the same way light seems to make fog look larger.

    Grandpa comes out with a tray filled with condiments - ketchup, mustard, relish (his personal favorite), onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and sour crout. Beside that is a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips and a steaming bowl of rice with roasted broccoli. My favorite.

    “So that’s what was taking you so long. Heating up some of my food?” Grandpa knew I wasn’t a fan of hot dog night.

    “Who said it’s all for you? Is that something they’re teaching young folk in school today, that any opportunity is automatically something for them? All theirs? It’s ridiculous the way the government is today…” He keeps going, but I zone out. He’d been doing it more often lately. At first, it’s difficult to tell whether a lecture is coming or if he’s just joking, but it always ends up being a lecture. I’m not even sure why I’m hopeful anymore.

    Grandma left long before Grandpa did. When I moved into the house after the accident, Grandma was already the way Grandpa is now. I wasn’t really sure then - only nine years old - as to what was going on, but now that I’m down this road again I feel like an old pro. At the same time, I feel like I’m an inexperienced noble.

    I dress my hot dog with an assortment of the things Grandpa provides - tomatoes, lettuce, and a small amount of mustard. I’ve never liked pickles… so much as the smell of them alters my taste and I have to try not to breathe. Grandpa knows this, but he hardly cares. “That sound like a you problem.” - my favorite quote from Grandpa.

    After I finish my hot dog, Grandpa is still talking, so I quietly excuse myself. He doesn’t seem to notice my leaving and still talks all the while I walk through the door.

    The first thing I do after opening the door to my room is run and flounce down on my bed. There’s something so comforting about pretending you’re in the movies… running and bouncing onto bed the same way they always did. I don’t know. I haven’t seem many movies since being moved here after the accident, but I remember my favorite was always The Princess Bride. I watched it with my mom when I was eight with my younger brother. He didn’t understand it, or maybe he just thought it was dumb. I don’t quite remember now. All I remember is that I wondered if something that insane could ever happen to me, and I remember giggling along with my mother as she looked down at me with loving eyes. I didn’t quite appreciate the moment then, but I’d give anything to spend a moment back then.

    The fabric is cold in my fingers. I fold my fingers around it, feeling each pad through the thin blanket. Through my open window, wind tunnels through. Cold, early fall air filters into my bedroom and onto my mattress. It’s a weirdly comforting cold: the type that makes you want to snuggle up rather than run away, and instantly, my nostalgia of pre-accident wiped away with the same swiftness of sliding a finger down a foggy mirror.

    Almost, but not quite.

    An owl hoots from outside my window as the wind stirs its cup of coffee. Softly, I hear outside a mother talking to her daughter. The daughter is yelling at her mother in a harsh, impatient tone. I want to tell her to stop, that someday every conversation she ever had with her mom that wasn’t filled with love will seem like a betrayal, and she’ll want to take them all away the same way you erase lead from paper. I guess that’s the way I should be treating my grandfather, but he might as well already be gone. Soon he’ll be living away from me, and I’ll be living…

    I don’t even know where.

    That was one of the things I was terrified of. Whatever comes afterward… whatever that may be. Foster care? Adoption? On the streets? I swallow it all down, trying not to think about it. It all is too far away, and therefore it’ll never come.

    Maybe.

    My feet are wrapped up in the tight grip of the thin sheet. It’s twisted below my ankle, then wraps back up again and flips around. I’m not quite sure how I manage to tie myself up like this, but it seems to happen every night. I lean over to free myself from its iron grip and relax my feet under the covers, sticking out one leg for the cool breeze the air provides, and snuggle my head into the pillow. Hair wraps around my neck like a strangler. I’ve been wanting to cut it for a while but I’ve never found time and Grandpa always seems to forget before it can reach up to two days in his memory.

    Soon, I’m counting down from one-thousand, my favorite falling-asleep pastime. It was something my dad taught me when I was little and couldn’t fall asleep. Start at one-hundred and imagine several little bunny rabbits jumping over a fence one by one, escaping their owner’s residency. I always had to set it at one-thousand since I could never fall asleep by one and it was make me more upset than happy if I got there. Still, I wish my father were here, coaching me on how to fall asleep. If I ever had a difficult night, he’d be right there beside me, slowly rubbing my back and telling me funny stories of his childhood until my breath was even and I could no longer listen for my mind was dreaming.

    Six-hundred-and-ninety-eight, six-hundred-and-ninety-seven, six-hundred-and-ninety-six…

    I am soon in a room filled with fog. I can see nothing except for black and the grey fog and the light that comes from a corner of a room, illuminating a patch of wispy air. My steps make the air scurry away, as if they are afraid. It’s only me in this room, but I know that’s not true. I’ve been here several times before, and soon I would be with someone else.

    The door that light peaked through began to creak open, and I never knew when to love it or hate it. Sometimes, she seemed like she hated me for being alive, even if she didn’t voice it. Other times, she just wanted to love me. Regardless, it was all a figment of my imagination, anyway, but it always felt so real when I woke up.

    My mother steps through the door. Strangely, she’s seemed to age alongside with me, the same way Elvin does. For most people, the memory of dead people seem to stay in place, not aging, but my dreams carried my mom’s aging. I remember the time she visited me in my dream and I first saw a strand of gray hair rooting through her loose ponytail. It stood out promptly because Mom had dark brown hair that most mistook as black.

    I greet my mom as she comes in. Her hair is loosely cascading down her shoulders. Through her aging, she’s managed to stay as gorgeous as I always remembered her. When I was little, I always hoped when I was a teenager I would look as pretty as mom did, but of course, I was disappointed. Now, I have Mom’s black/brown hair but not her piercing blue eyes. Instead I have hazel brown eyes that look like the color of slugs in the morning, my nose is round and spherical, my eyes large and baby-like, and my birth covers up half of my left cheek. But my dad always said I was beautiful, even if I could hardly believe him. And now, of course, I look different than the way I did pre-accident.

    “Delphine? Are you here?” Mom emerges from behind the thick fog. I immediately shout her name and run up to hug her. Something had happened for the past week or so - my dreams had been mundane. For the first time since pre-accident, I hadn’t visited mother every day of the week. I had a nightmare three times, one falling dream, two flying dreams, one dream where I was naked, and one strange dream where I was a chicken and for some reason wanted to escape to the moon.

    “I thought I’d never see you again!” I shout. My head is buried in Mom’s hair. I am trying not to sob into her.

    “I thought I wouldn’t either. I kept showing up here and you never came… I thought maybe you moved on,” said Mom. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by ‘moving on’, but if she meant me moving on from her, that would never happen. Seeing Mom, and maybe Elvin if you want to get specific, was the only reason I wanted to go to bed.

    “I would never move on,” I say. Mom nods, as if not believing me, but she had every reason to. I had no idea what the separation had been caused by, but the thought of something like it happening again and me not being in control scared me.

    Mom grabs my hand. “How’s Grandpa?” she asks, massaging my palm. A sure sign she was worried or stressed. She seemed to normally be stressed when she came here… well, I guess she doesn’t really come here. My mind imagines it in a dream, and then fake, made-of-memories Mom comes here. I forgot a lot how my family wasn’t real, even if they seemed like it in my dreams.

    “He’s fine.” I hadn’t mentioned his muttering to her. If she knew, she’d be upset. I had told her about Grandma and she was devastated when she died. Dad’s parents had died before I was born, so I was living with Mom’s. Losing a second parent… Mom was emotional, and I didn’t think she would be able to handle it, even if she was just a figment of imagination.

    I suddenly began to wonder how Tedore and Dad were - if they wondered why I wasn’t showing up when they came. “You are able to have contact with Tee and Dad, right?’

    Mom nods, slowly. “Yea? What about it?”

    “Can you tell them that I was here? Just in case they’re worried?” I thought of Tee’s sweet little face. He’d been aging too, but he still seemed so little. Now he was twelve, nothing for me to be calling “cute” or “little” about, but memories of him when he was little distorted my vision of him. Tee had been five - four years younger than me - when the accident came.

    This place of fog was so weird. It wasn’t real - I was fully aware of that - but the way I could feel the way the fog glided over my fingers and the way the cold was only disrupted by the light that glided out that mysterious door… it was all so weird. The hyper-details that made me feel like I was alive… they were all so real.

    “Yeah… I can talk to them. Sometimes. It’s been less and less nowadays.” Mom’s gaze turns away from me.

    “What do you mean?” I had always thought that they lived altogether in some heaven-like reality I one day hoped I would be in with them. Sometimes I cursed the miracle that made me survive.

    Mom looks at an invisible watch. I always wondered why she did that. It was like she kept her old habits even when she no longer had the items to hold them in place… I guess that’s just dreams keeping their weird formats. “Would you look at that! I’m out of time,” says Mom, making her way to the door.

    “Wait, Mom!” She kept walking. “Mom! Come back!” I always wondered what the “limit” was for. It seemed like it wasn’t a real thing at times and at other times it seemed like it was the only thing that pushed their actions was the time limit in the back of their head.

    She crosses through the door. They always resisted against telling me what was on the other side of the door, no matter how much I nagged them.

    Soon, the door was closed, and I was suited alone in the room filled with fog and smoke, listening only to my own heartbeat. And then came a knock on the door, and in came Elvin.

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Two: "You're about to die."

For such a bright day, something as dark as the accident was even more of a surprise.

    We had been driving to our grandparents house when the accident occurred. Dad’s eyes were keenly kept focused on the road in front of him, I was watching clouds out the window as they passed by in their sluggish crawl, Tedore was brushing out the hair of a barbie head, and Mom was adjusting her glasses to focus on the map spread out in front of her. And outside the car, the bright sun peaked out from in between two clouds as if playing a game of peek-a-boo as clouds fluffy as polyester floated in a clear sky.

    The car was mainly silent, except for the music that came in through my earbuds and Tedore’s mumbling beside me. Nimble fingers of his began to work through the barbie’s hair. It looked like he was making a braid.

    The clouds acted as if they were pulling themselves along the sky with just their fingertips; they went at such a slow crawl it was difficult to tell if they were moving at all, which I knew they were. We had just learned about it in science class.

    I was counting the number of rabbit-shaped clouds there were when my world filled with a blinding white. Mom jumps up in the car, screaming at my dad. A huge screech fills the car as if a huge bear had dragged its claw down the metal door. Sparks flew from outside the windows. My eyes were wide open as I watched my world go spinning around me, the car flying through the air.

    Knowing you’re about to die is a weird thing. For a split second, it was relaxing, as if I was falling through clouds, knowing my fate. But after that, time ran in slow motion as I freaked. What do you even do when you’re about to die? Yell out that you love your family? Hug them for the last time? Cry? I did none of those, actually, except sit stiff and stale as if staying that way would save me. And even if that wasn’t exactly what saved me, it sure didn’t kill me. So I guess that was one win that night.

    Or… maybe things would’ve been a lot easier if I would’ve died with them that night.

I wrap my arms around Tedore, not quite sure if to save myself or him, and scream with all I have in me. When the car lands, our family is thrust into the ground. The last thing I heard was a frightening, skull-breaking crack before my world plunged into a blind black.

    As I slept, I was visited by Elvin.

    At the time, he and I were both nine years old, and I had only the briefest memory of the trauma I had just experienced and only the slightest clue how much my life was going to change from thereon. My first reaction to Elvin wasn’t anything about his attractiveness, although I did notice that. The first thing I thought was who are you and what have you done with my family? But then, of course, I realized it was ridiculous to blame someone in my dreams on the disappearance of my family.

    Elvin was stunning. At the time, his cheekbones hadn’t broke through his baby fat. His cheeks pudged out from smiling, pale cheeks. I can see his blue veins from under his eyelids. His hair is long-ish, just to the length where it reaches his eyebrows but not long enough to be gross.

In the seven years I’ve known him, Elvin’s been such a huge part of my life, and even if that day is by far the worst day of my life, Elvin’s definitely the best thing to ever happen to me. I don’t know what I’d do without his support.

I swallow my spit, my throat suddenly dry. I ask him what he’s doing.

“Waiting for you, of course. You’re about to die, if you don’t wake up.” We’re in a place filled with smoke and fog. It feels like I’m on a huge stage in front of an empty crowd. The smoke looks stunningly like dry ice, but I know it’s not since the stench carried with dry ice isn’t there and my fingers don’t feel tingly when I grasp it.

    I process what Elvin said. “I’m about to die? How do you know? What is this place?” I imagine my mother staring above my lifeless body as I’m hooked up to machines. I imagine my father stroking my hand, hoping that I’ll wake up. I imagine Tedore looking at me from a distance with his wide, owl-like eyes, hoping for me to wake up but not voicing it.

    “This is your imagination. I’m not aware if it has a name,” says Elvin. When he talks, he stares me right in the eye. “And yes, you’re about to die. I’m the one who saved you. Without me, you wouldn't be here right now, and you’d be dead. I pulled you out right before you died and brought you here to give you a choice: stay or go.”

    I imagine my parents looking at my dead body. They loved me dearly, I knew it. If I died, I don’t know how they’d cope. My mom had always been very sensitive, and my father had always tried to seem strong for us, but I always knew he had a soft side. They were waiting for me to make a decision, right now.

    At the time, when I made my decision, I thought dying or living was a no-brainer. But thinking about it now, I’m not sure what choice I would make if I could live it over again.

    “Well, of course I’d like to live!” I wanted to hug Elvin, but withheld.

    “That’s your decision? Already?” asks Elvin. I thought it was a crazy question for him to ask at the time. Why would I want to die if I could go back and visit my mom and dad and brother? Why would dying be any better than living?

    I excitedly nod. I knew how lucky I was to have Elvin here to save me. Why me, I wondered? What was it about me that made all the other souls not get a chance to live?

    There was no time for decisions, I wanted to go visit my parents and see Tedore. “So how do I get back?”

    “It’ll come when you’re ready,” said Elvin.

    I nod, and rock back and forth, waiting for my turn to be alive and leave this imagination place. Who was Elvin? Why had he came here now? And why was Elvin a figment of my imagination but somehow had saved me? There were so many questions, but all I figured I could do was sit and wait to go back to the conscious world. My parents were waiting for me.

    

    Newsflash: they weren’t waiting.

    When I awoke, all I saw were the bright white hospital uniforms of workers and they lights that were set way too bright in the ceiling above me. I was lying down on a rather uncomfortable bed. My parents were nowhere to be seen. As time progressed, more of what had just happened began to come back to me. The car. The crash. Elvin. The decision. The land of smoke and light. Being resurrected.

    This wasn’t what I had pictured. Where was my family? Instead of them, I just say hospital workers with their masks. I flip over to see one of them and pain shoots through my side. I groan in pain. “Just lay still, honey,” said one of the workers. Although her tone was comforting and calm, there was an underlying tone of panic and fear. “Excuse me, honey, I’ll be right back.” I didn’t like how much she used the word honey.

    The hospital smelled of sour bleach and, weirdly, rust. I press one of my hands to my side. It tingles to move it, probably because of the dozens of wires that were connected to it. When I touch my hand to my side, I feel the sticky sludge of… something. My hand is a bright red, and my side feels like it is pulsing. Okay, blood. Got it. Now where’s my family, and why aren’t they here? And why hadn’t Elvin told me what was going to happen once I woke up? Did my awakening do something to my family?

    In the hallway, I hear the worker’s hushed tone. “She’s awake, I don’t know how… I know, it’s a miracle… there has to be something… I don’t know… survivor…” Once she mentions my injuries, I zone out. That was something I didn’t want to here. Still, I wanted to know where my family was. Maybe they were injured like me and were in their own hospital rooms. That had to be it. Still, it would’ve made more sense to have us all in a room together, wouldn’t it?

    When the woman returns back into the room, I don’t waste time. My eyes were strained off of all the white and my muscles ached. I just wanted to get out. “Where’s my family?” I ask. Her voice falls from a joyful, optimistic smile to a frown.

    “Oh honey,” she says, her eyes dropping to the ground. Just break the news, I wanted to shout at her. Get it over with. Looking back, it probably would have been better if she didn’t tell me at all.

    I raise my eyebrows. She cringes. “They… died.” She looks to the ground and wipes her hands on her hospital uniform.

    My whole world started to swim. Is this why Elvin had offered me the opportunity to die or live? Because he thought I might want to go with my family? Or had he just not cared enough to tell me the details? Regardless, I was angry at him.

    My family was dead.

    The stages of grief are wrong. They say the first stage is denial: saying to yourself that what happened didn’t happen, but that was wrong. The first stage is complete unemotional and complete knowing of the reality. The realization that after all these years of luck, reality had finally came to slap you across the face with an iron palm.

    My family was dead.

    All the times with them where I had smiled, all the times I had laughed with them, all the memories of vacations, gone. All the times I had yelled at them, or they had yelled at me, they were only going to be memories now. I would never see them with my very own eyes again. I would never be able to snuggle up against Mom’s chest when I needed someone to cry on, and I would never be able to sit at the table and sing for my father’s birthday around a carrot cake with a candle. All the things that would never happen, would never happen again… it was too much.

    My family was dead.

    What would happen to me? Would I live with my grandparents, or would I go into the foster care system, or was I going to have to live on the streets? I never really paid attention in class when they taught about this, and now I wish I had. There’s some sort of mentality I’d always had where it felt like the realities of the world could never happen to me, and now life had taught me a lesson. All that I had left to control was the brutal truth:

    My family was dead.

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Three: Raining Arrowheads

“OMG, Delphine, you’re being ridiculous,” Calla says, stuffing a large bite of Pop Tart in her mouth. The crumbs coat her lips, which are coated in a thick layer of lip gloss. She runs her tongue around her lips, scraping off the excess Pop Tart. “Like, I’m sorry and shit, but your mom’s dead.”

    Things like this would’ve annoyed me years ago when I first moved to Oregon, but now I’d grown used to Calla and was wise enough to realize that she was one of the nicer ones at our school. I roll my eyes and take another bite of my sandwich. Calla, Brittany, and I all had second lunch together. The rest of our friends had first lunch without us, and I was already starting to see them separate from us. Besides them, sometimes Dylan sat with us. He was one of my best friends… he was one of the more kind ones at the school, and he was hilarious to talk to. Whenever Calla and Brittany were being especially irritating, I’d just text him and he’d waltz over.

    Brittany smiles widely. When she smiles, you can see the red lipstick that is stained on her teeth. Her cheeks fold over on top of each other on either corner of her lips. She has big, rectangular teeth. It was one of the first things I noticed about her. “Yeah, honestly Delph the whole dream mom thing is getting a bit weird.” Brittany shakes her head at me, as if I was some immature child who didn’t understand social etiquette.

    Calla shoves a lock of bright red hair behind her hair hungrily. “What’d you pack for lunch, Delphy? Delphs? Delphiline? I’ve gotta find some nickname for you.” Calla glares at Brittany, who had just called me by a nickname.

    “Pretty sure Delphiline is a bit of an extension rather than a nickname,” I comment. Calla shoots me a cold glare.

    “OMG, you’re being way too critical, Deppy! Hm… I kinda like that nickname. Makes you sound like some fatty,” says Calla, grinning at her success. I frown. Why was ‘Deppy’ a “fat” name? I actually thought it sounded quite cute, even if it was pretty far from my original name.

    “I actually liked that name?” I add in. My comment is instantly washed out by Brittany.

    I stare at the table. Here we go again…

    “You always try to copy everything I do, you bitch,” says Brittany, out of nowhere. Brittany was the definition of a blonde bimbo: bleach blonde hair with brown roots, half-up, half-down hairstyle with a giant poof at the top, and purple makeup that made her look like she was forty. Besides that, the amount of foundation she wore accentuated her wrinkles.

    Calla swats the air with a hand of overdone nails. “Why would I want to copy anything you do… anything you do, I can do better. Including that nickname. Did you hear what Deppy said? She said she thought it was cute. I didn’t hear that from your stupid Delphy!”

    “At least Delphy sounds like Delphine. Deppy sounds like that one brand that makes twinkies! Wait, what’s that brands name again?”

    “Little Debby, stupid?” I want to chuckle, thinking about Hostess.

    “Me? Stupid? Says the one who thought that Delphiline was a nickname!” Brittany rolls her eyes and take a large bite of salad greens. With a mouth full of salad dressing, Brittany spits out, “You’re the dumb one, bitch!”

    It’s so strange hearing your name thrown around in a conversation. The two seemed to bicker every lunch period, even though the two of them were better friends than they were with me. Maybe they were just prone to getting into dumb arguments.

My nickname? Really?

“Weren’t you the one who Mr. Sannaz asked to stay after class? Got a bad grade on that test, bitch? Well I got a 77%.” Calla shakes her head. “You’re dumber than I thought you were.”

“Bitch, he asked me if he could see me after school to have sex with him. And he’s hot af. But he’d kick your ugly ass right out of his house!” Brittany laughs at Calla’s ashen face… and probably mine too. She had to be lying - Mr. Sannaz was one of the few decent teachers at this school. He was a realist, and he didn’t take anyone’s dumb problems. He was the last person who would ask Brittany to have sex with him… maybe Mr. Otterson would, but he was a gym teacher… and it seemed like that’s how all gym teachers were.

    Once, Mr Otterson stopped me in the hallway. I think back to how I was casually at my locker on my way to my next class and he stopped me at the corner, asked how my day was going, and then made me late for class. Doesn’t seem creepy, but I couldn’t stop shaking until the class period ended.

    I would have butted in and talked some sense into Brittany, but I didn’t want to get involved in this argument. Normally these things just played out.

    “He did not! You so got a bad grade! What was it? A 20%? No, that’s too high for someone like you…” Calla grins at her remark. I wanted to get up and leave. I should have been used to their arguments, but they never got any less irritating.

    “Oh he did. And that sex was nice. He’s definitely had some practice.” Brittany groans. “He even asked if we could make a sex tape, but I said no. You should’ve seen how disappointed he looked.” The more Brittany talked, the more Calla’s face reddened with fury.

    “You’re lying, bitch! You thought I wouldn’t notice?”

    Brittany laughs sinisterly. “Try me. Got any proof?”

    “You have math with me, and we took the test one week ago. Together. And all the glass got their grades back today, which means since he asked you to stay back today… the end of the day hasn’t came yet, which means you couldn’t have had sex yet, you lying bitch!” Calla shakes her head, and then starts to smile. “You’re a real dumb bitch, you know that? Don’t worry, I still love you.”

    Brittany crosses her arms. “Okay, I guess you might be kinda smart to figure that out. But it still wasn’t the test he asked me to stay after for, even if it wasn’t… that.”

    And here things began to calm down… sort of. One of them always made a half-hearted apology, and then things seemed to sizzle out from there. Sort of.

    “Ooh… what was it then? You now I love my fair share of gossip.” Calla leans over the table towards Brittany. Brittany withdraws and curls back her lip.

    “I’m not gonna tell you,” says Brittany, smiling at Calla’s reaction. Calla’s face reddens and her lip puckers in frustration. Brittany looks at the wrinkles on Calla’s forehead and raises her eyebrows. “You keep that expression and you’ll look like you’re fifty with all those wrinkles.”

    My phone buzzes in its pocket. Calla and Brittany’s arguing turns into white noise. I heard something about how Brittany’s uglier than a fifty year old… and then I tune out for good. They were going straight back into another argument.

Dylan Your friends are real good at arguing, aren’t they?

    I look up from my phone across the cafeteria where Dylan always sits. He’s smirking at me, and then looks toward the arguing pair to my right and raises his eyebrows.

Dylan Want me to come over?

    I immediately begin to text a message back to him. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, and normally Dylan coming over just started Calla and Brittany arguing about whether Dylan liked me or not or whether I liked Dylan… etc, but in reality, none of that was true. Dylan and I were just really good friends.

Me Nah… not as bad as it could be.

    I look up excitedly at where Dylan sits. There’s something exciting about watching someone read your text and see their reaction. A few seconds after I send the message, I see Dylan’s head jerk towards his phone. He reads the message and smirks, shaking his head. He then shows his phone to his friend and chuckles. My thumbs immediately begin to tap on my keyboard again.

Me Does your friend find my texts interesting?

    While Dylan is still showing the message to his friend, the phone buzzes in his fingers. His eyes widen in amusement for just a second, and then he smiles at the message. His friend reads it as well and shakes his head at it, but admittedly turns back to his lunch. Dylan looks up at me and grins.

Dylan Stalker, much?

Me Not a stalker, just a watcher.

Dylan Is there a difference…?

Me Obviously, otherwise I’d be a stalker!

    I watch Dylan as he opens the message. He grins and shows the message to his friend under the table, as if hoping I wouldn’t see it on the off-chance I’d be watching. I don’t call him out. Shortly after he takes his phone back, I received a message.

Dylan I’m coming over.

I am running through a field of silver wheat.

    The clouds overhead shine the same way tinfoil does, and their dimensions look similar to a crunched up paper bag. They are the color of iron. The sun is a deathly pale blue color, and it shines its powdery light upon the field I run in. I am running from something, but I’m not quite sure what.

    The papery sunlight glints back at me from the wheat like stars in a black sky. The wheat is soft against my fingers like a teddy bear’s fur. I have no shoes on my feet, but the soil is soft so I don’t mind. Something seems so calm, but my heart beats out of fear.

    In the sky, the stars are like little ice crystals. The sky is a deathly black but everything on the ground is illuminated. The clouds travel mechanically, and suddenly one rumbles.

    Quickly following, something hard hits my head. I shriek and look up to see the source. I don’t find anything except a punch in the eye. I collapse onto the dirt, clutching my eye. The source had hit me square in the eye, and it pulsed with blood-curdling pain. I press my hand to my cheek and something liquidy runs over my fingers. It’s red, and smells salty.

    The sky was raining something hard. I dig my right hand into the dirt, my other clutching my eye, attempting to build myself some shelter in the dirt. There was nothing but silver wheat for miles, and I had no hope as to if it would end. As I dig, I am pelleted by the sharp chips, and I dig faster. One hits me in the back of my head, and I faceplant into the dirt. Despite the chaos, the grass still sways gently, as if it hadn’t noticed the tinfoil clouds raining arrowheads.

    An arrowhead wizzes right by my head and plunges straight into the soil. I pluck it out, inspecting its length. It had to be at least five inches long, and with the momentum it was coming down at, it would definitely have been long enough to cause some serious damage. That only meant one thing: if the two that had hit me before hadn’t hurt me, they must have been getting worse.

    The blood on my hand started to dry and became sticky. I wipe it off on my pants and continue to dig. The blood from my eye runs into the hand that covers it up, drying as quickly as it came out. One of the sky rocks plunges right into the arm I was digging with, and I go face-first into the ground. Now, I was helpless against the soil, completely exposed to the clouds who took archery, only protected by string-thin grasses that couldn’t care less.

    At once, I scream. Someone clutches onto my shoulder, and I scream again even before I turn around.

    My grandpa is behind me. The sky and clouds had disappeared, the soil no longer digging into my feet, the blood no longer rushing into my palm. I take a glance at my surroundings. Home. I was lying in bed. Still, it felt as if I had never left the place of silver.

    “Delphine, what happened? What were you dreaming about?”

    The memories of the place of dreams come rushing back all at once, and I fall into my grandpa in a storm of sobs. Helpless. That’s what I was.

    And that’s what I always would be.

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Four: Beach Party

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Five: The Day They Died

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Six: Halloween Party

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Seven: A Kiss

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