The Fine Line Between Dreams and Nightmares
It could’ve been a battlefield. People dashed about, bartering deals and shoring alliances. The noise level ebbed and flowed from dull roar to deafening thunder. At random intervals complete chaos would ensue as projectiles launched to screams of “take cover.”
Just another Friday in the school cafeteria.
Headphones in place, volume high enough to drown the noise, Gwynn pulled his hoodie tighter over his head, hoping to remain at the eye of the storm.
His seat resided at the centre of the cafeteria. His seat. If asked, he’d never call it that, nor would anyone in the school have a clue where such a thing might be. Yet every lunch hour, here he sat. No one else ever occupied the seat. The Chair always sat vacant awaiting his arrival.
Something poked Gwynn’s shoulder. He reached up to brush it, assuming it a stray bit of thrown food. He jumped when he met another hand. Gwynn tried to compose himself. He yanked out his headphones and swept his hood back.
“Hey Gwynn. Mind if I sit?”
“Sure.” He stammered. “What’s going on Sophia?”
Sophia Murray had occupied his dreams since he’d been old enough to have dreams about girls. In all the time he’d known her, they’d exchanged few words, but something drew him to her. Unlike Gwynn, whose feelings of isolation and being different kept him alone, Sophia travelled in the popular circles and all of school society seemed to revolve around her. But unlike those others, who cared little for school, looks and material wealth being far more important, Sophia strove to succeed. Her answers were intelligent and her eyes never filled with the vapidness of her other friends.
Gwynn couldn’t concern himself with the games, gossip, or competitions of his classmates. He didn’t belong. Though he lacked an explanation why, he’d always suspected Sophia was much the same.
Sophia gave her blond hair an absent-minded twirl around her finger. “I wanted to say thanks again for your help with Mr. Baker’s assignment. My mark would’ve been crap without you.”
Gwynn’s heart pounded in the back of his throat. He regretted the speed he had fired down the cafeteria’s lukewarm dollar store pizza.
“No worries. You did as much work as I did.”
“We made a good team.” She stopped playing with her hair and gave her bottom lip a bite. “Maybe we could be partners again some time.”
“Sure. I’d like that.” Gwynn flushed. He hoped he didn’t have the sweat to match.
“So…” Sophia averted his eyes, her hands fidgeting. “Do you have plans for tomorrow night?”
“Tomorrow?” He gulped on the word.
“Yeah. You do know it’s Halloween, right?”
“Right, Halloween.” He’d forgotten. No sense keeping track of celebrations when he didn’t receive invitations. “Um, I don’t think so.”
Gwynn’s stomach knotted. He had a recurring dream where Sophia asked him out—a nightmare that ended with him on a table, his pants around his ankles and everyone laughing while they pelted him with food. Gwynn suppressed a shudder and swore that even if she begged he would not stand on any tabletops. Quite the opposite, he had a sudden urge to crawl under the table and beat his head with one of the tacky orange cafeteria serving trays.
She smiled at him, and all thoughts of retreat melted away. If she asked with that smile, he wouldn’t think twice about getting up on the table, nightmares or not.
“Think maybe you’d wanna hang out with me and a few of my friends?”
“Sure.” He tried not to cringe, waiting for the moment his pants would hit the deck and food would start flying. But the world appeared oblivious to the momentous event occurring in his life.
“Sweet. Meet me in front of the 7/11 on Williams at seven, okay?”
“Yeah. Sure. Looking forward to it” He tripped over several words answering.
“Me too.” Were the words she used, but Gwynn noted something more. Satisfaction? A mission accomplished? “See you tomorrow.” She smiled, turned, and left without a further word.
The noise and hectic atmosphere of the cafeteria melted away and a vacuum of silence surrounded Gwynn. The ten year old who had carried a torch for the past seven years started jumping up and down, then skipped along singing so loud it obliterated any sense of tune. The solitary seventeen year-old Gwynn had grown into remained guarded, but optimistic; unsure whether he should join in the festivities, or stay leaning against the wall at the sidelines. He shook his head trying to suppress the stupid grin threatening his lips.
A heavy hand slapped him on the shoulder, interrupting his dreamy state.
“Hey Gwynn, I hear we’re going to be hanging out tomorrow.”
Seeing the face, he wanted to shrink under the table. Eric Haze, captain of the school football team. Gwynn had done everything he could to stay clear since Eric had beaten him up in the seventh grade.
Haze thrived off two types of people; those who glorified him, and those he intimidated. Seeing Gwynn’s discomfort made Haze’s square, Neanderthal features even more animated.
“Relax man, it’s Halloween.” He laughed. “I was psyched when Sophia told me you were coming along. We’re going to have an, uh, awesome time!”
Haze started walking away, but then turned and shot Gwynn a thumbs up with a smile that suited a crazed hyena.
Gwynn couldn’t help thinking he would’ve preferred being in his boxers with food pelting him.
Gwynn walked through the halls in a daze.
He’d slipped out of the cafeteria ten minutes before the bell rang, wanting to avoid the crush of bodies dashing for class. Gwynn hated moving between classes in the surging waves of students. Many times those waves swept him away and he missed his destination. He hated feeling powerless. More than that, he hated that so many people surrounded him he could barely breathe, yet he still felt alone.
The unsettling events of lunch had left Gwynn rattled. Being stuck in the halls would just be too much. Although getting to class filled him with a greater dread. He had English class with Mr. Baker. Sophia would be there. So would Eric.
The classroom tables formed a horseshoe shape, allowing the whole class an unobstructed view of Mr. Baker and each other. In what Mr. Baker described as a whole other life ago, he had been a Shakespearean actor. Gwynn’s decided old dramatic habits die hard, as Mr. Baker performed Shakespeare as though he stood on a stage as opposed to a high school classroom. Other students made fun of Mr. Baker behind his back, but Gwynn found his delivery gripping. While his classmates debated the need or use for Shakespeare, Gwynn wondered more at how people could ignore the power of words. When Mr. Baker launched into a soliloquy, the world shifted. The ebb and flow of the world moved in time with the teacher’s voice. He wished he could share that feeling with someone, but anxiety clawed at his chest over what his peers would think. So he kept quiet and hoped his rapture went unnoticed.
He found the classroom silent and empty. Gwynn took his seat at the center of the horseshoe and bored a hole in the floor with his eyes. He took in a slow breath, trying to abate his growing anxiety. The bell rang and he grabbed the books for class.
Besides his amazing delivery of Shakespeare, Mr. Baker had become Gwynn’s favorite teacher for pairing him up with Sophia. He’d assigned them a scene to analyze from the Tempest. While Mr. Baker touted numerous advantages of group work, Gwynn suspected it had more to do with Mr. Baker wanting to grade half the number of papers.
Much to his delight, Sophia didn’t seem to mind working with him, despite their different social standings. While they had been in the same classes off and on for the past seven years, he had never spent any time with her alone.
“You shouldn’t get too worked up.” His Aunt Jaimie had cautioned.
She’d been his guardian for almost ten years. She treated Gwynn well, though she had never wanted the burden of a child, let alone someone else’s. Still, this life felt secure. He tried to insulate it from everything else. Meaning he often left his social life at school out of it.
“What would you know?” He grumbled.
“Oh, I remember. You pointed her out to me during your school play on the Greek pantheon. You looked so cute in your Ares outfit.” Jaimie gave a conspiratorial laugh. Gwynn had a sinking suspicion there were photographs that would one day find their way into the hands of any girl he brought home. “You were so worked up. ‘Aunt Jaimie, did you see the girl playing Athena? That’s Sophia Murray! Isn’t she amazing?’”
Heat filled his cheeks. He remembered the play. They were all dressed as various Greek gods, and Sophia wore a toga with a laurel wreath in her hair. He still remembered her tears about having to cut her hair short when the laurel tangled in her long blond curls.
“Geez, you must have it pretty bad for her if you’re this worked up after all these years.”
He stiffened. “She’s just my partner for this assignment. It’s not that big a deal.”
“Sure, sure, Romeo. Just keep that in mind when you’re working with her. Otherwise you’ll make an ass of yourself and flunk too.”
Gwynn had clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. No wonder he didn’t share personal details with his Aunt. On the other hand, she had given him sound advice. In the end, he did what she said—kept cool and professional. The two of them had fun. He’d even managed to make her laugh. Being near her had been comfortable, easy. On top of that, they’d aced the assignment. Now Sophia had asked him out. Jaimie would be surprised how well her advice worked out.
Students started shuffling into the classroom. Gwynn averted his eyes from the door, appearing to focus on his books. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sophia come in alone and then Eric followed shortly after with two other members of the football team. The boys guffawed about something, though Gwynn couldn’t hear what. They stifled themselves after entering the class. After everyone had arrived, Mr. Baker made his entrance. The teacher’s grey streaked hair stuck out at random angles and his tie rested over his shoulder—all hinting he had met an unexpected wind turbine somewhere in the hall.
He launched into his lesson. They were wrapping up the Tempest today, and Gwynn leaned forward in his seat, eager for his teacher’s typical performance.
“Now everyone, I’m going to be reading this soliloquy from The Tempest. We’ll be going over it in detail because it might just be on your test tomorrow.” Mr. Baker gave an exaggerated wink and launched into his performance.
The words reverberated around the room. With each syllable, Gwynn remained entranced. Sophia caught his eye and gave him a small smile. It should’ve made him happy. Instead, his insides churned. Beyond her, Eric talked in hushed whispers with his cronies who stole occasional glances toward Gwynn and then averted their eyes if they saw him looking their way. A shadow seemed to hang over him since Sophia asked him out. Maybe he should cancel before the dream tumbled into the realm of nightmares.
In some distant place, Mr. Baker called the tempest down. Thunder rumbled. Or had Gwynn imagined it? In the pit of his stomach, something twisted. His body threatened to collapse in on itself.
Bell-like laughter, playful, but verging on mockery, filled the classroom.
Gwynn searched the room for the source. His classmates were listless. Most kept occupied passing notes to each other, or catching a few minutes of sleep.
The laugh again. This time, he followed its sound and found the source. On Mr. Baker’s desk, less than five feet from the teacher himself, sat a girl Gwynn’s age.
She sat cross-legged, her long legs encased in black stockings disappearing beneath a black dress that puffed outward over white frills. Green eyes regarded him with childlike playfulness and her smile begged for a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek.
She jumped down from the desk, her movements filled with a dancer’s grace. She passed within a foot of Mr. Baker, ducking under his gesticulating arms, who paid her no attention at all.
She leaned both elbows on Gwynn’s desk and rested her chin in her hands. Long black hair divided into two long strands fell on either side of her face.
Her eyes filled with hurt. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Gwynn stole a quick glance around the room. No one seemed to notice her. “I’m sure I would remember you” His voice wavered with uncertainty.
“You used to know me.” She gave his nose a gentle poke. “Soon there will be a time when you need me. I am Gnosis, you are Logos. I am the Knowledge and you are the Word that will give the Knowledge shape.”
She moved and took hold of Gwynn’s right hand. Flames of pain raced up his arm. His head exploded in agonizing white flashes.
“Soon,” the girl said, “the Word and Knowledge will become one and deliver the Gospel.”
He fell. Everything went dark with stabbing punctuations of painful light. A great weight rested on his chest.
“Gwynn, Gwynn, are you all right?”
At first, he didn’t understand. It took a moment to register he was on the floor. He nodded, unsure as he got back to his feet.
“Do you need to go see the nurse?” Mr. Baker asked, his eyes questioning far deeper than just whether Gwynn needed a nurse.
Snickers came from the direction of Eric Haze. Gwynn didn’t think the school nurse would be much help. He took stock of the room. The girl in black had disappeared, if she had ever been there to begin with. What the hell? Hallucinations and blackouts? Even if the nurse couldn’t help him, he’d rather be there than in the classroom.
“I think maybe I should.” He managed.
“Don’t worry about your books. Will you be okay getting down there, or should I send someone with you?”
Gwynn just wanted to pull his hoodie up and disappear. “I’ll be fine. Thanks.” He left the class as quick as his wobbly legs would carry him.
School had long since ended.
Mr. Baker wandered the deserted hallways toward his office. He liked this life. A mix of theatre and a dash of power. Sure, the little bastards had their snide comments behind his back, but seeing their faces fall at their low marks made for sweet revenge.
He kept his office Spartan—nothing but a desk and filing cabinet. Keep things simple, it made maintaining the charade easier.
Mr. Baker fished a key from his pant pocket and unlocked the filing cabinet. From inside, he pulled a plain black flip cell phone. It lacked the streamlining of modern phones, but his people had always been more about function than form. He collapsed into his office chair and reclined. He punched a series of numbers and waited.
A gruff male voice with a thick accent that Baker couldn’t place answered.
Mr. Baker cleared his throat. “I’m calling with a status report.”
“Ah, Mr. Baker. How did things proceed?”
“He reacted to the Ambrosia field as predicted.”
An excited anticipation in the man’s voice. “Did he awaken?”
Such an idiotic question. “No.” Mr. Baker’s patience ran thin. If the boy had awakened, there would’ve been little need to call in an update. It would’ve made the evening news. “He did have a reaction. I believe things are in place. This weekend should reveal everything.”
“Then we will fulfill the final prophecies of Delphi.”
“Yes.” Mr. Baker said, a grin infecting his voice. “It will be glorious.”
Harbinger – The Bleeding Worlds Book One
On sale October 30, 2012
To find where you can purchase the book, follow this link to the Harbinger page.
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