I scream myself awake. Black lightning bolts shoot from my palms and take chunks out of the plaster.
“Silver!” Matt yells and tackles me back to the bed.
His arms trap me. I fight against him, but I can’t move. Why can’t I move? I’m stronger than him. Panic runs through me, blurring my vision, making me pant and causing an excruciating pain to tighten in my chest. The black lightning bolts shoot everywhere, but Matt doesn’t cower away from them, even when they scorch his hair.
“It’s just a dream, Silver,” Matt says in my ear. He doesn’t let go and eventually I stop struggling.
It takes me a full minute to realize I’m in my bedroom. We’ve only been living here for a few months and it doesn’t feel like home yet. The moon shining through the open curtains allows me to identify the objects in the room. There’s a wardrobe with sliding doors, a chest of drawers, two bedside tables bookending the king-size bed. No paintings or pictures, nothing personal. I’m not ready for that. Besides, my lightning bolts would probably destroy anything I put out. But there is Matt. Always Matt. He is my one familiar. My one constant.
He sits up, rubbing his eyes, then fiddles with his scorched hair.
“Maybe you should sleep somewhere else,” I say.
He shakes his head. “I’m not going to leave you alone.”
“But I could hurt you.” I chew on my lip. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re not going to hurt me.” He kisses my cheek. “Do you want to tell me about the dream?” Fatigue lines his voice and I catch an undercurrent of irritation. This isn’t the first time I’ve disturbed his sleep. It happens every night. Sometimes more than once.
Suddenly cold, I pull the covers to my chest. “Maybe it’s not a dream.”
I inspect his face, looking for clues. Whatever he says next will define my future.
“Silver, of course it’s a dream. What you’ve described to me is impossible. It can’t exist. Scientifically, fundamentally, not possible. It’s just a dream.”
“I’m sorry, Matt.” I hold his hand.
He tucks my hand into his elbow and lies down next to me. “I know you are. I’m just so damn tired. And you are too.” Settling under the covers again, he rests his head on my pillow. “I really hope Deja will help you. We can’t go on like this. We’re not going to have a house left to live in.”
I don’t reply, but lie there looking at a foreign ceiling, examining the dark shape of the lamp shade I often think is a mysterious entity hovering above me. My eyes are moist, but I don’t reach for Matt. He’s already asleep again. How does he do that?
I grab a few acorns from where I left them on my bedside table and circle them in my hands, hoping they’ll calm me. I think about my mother in the next room. She may be catatonic, but I’m sure she hears things. She’s been that way ever since we rescued her from Earl’s mountain over five months ago. I’ve tried everything I know to heal her, but so far nothing has worked. She has around the clock care, but the nurses don’t seem to know what to do either. My dad left after a month to go looking for a woman who is rumored to be able to help in such situations. I’ve only heard from him once and I worry the journey will be too much for his faulty heart.
Worry, worry, worry.
The battle with Earl was months ago, but I can’t seem to stop worrying. I lie awake for the rest of the night and pretend I’m asleep when Matt gets up and leaves for work. I smell the soil of the farmland as he tugs on his boots. Then I feel him looking at me, but I don’t say anything.
“It’s going to be okay, Silver,” he whispers, then leaves.
A few minutes later I get dressed in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and my favorite pink flipflops. My combat boots stand in the corner, there if I need them, but I refuse to wear them. Maybe if I wear flipflops every day nothing bad will happen. I know it’s a silly thought, but if I dress for fun, if I refuse to believe in the possibility of new threats, then maybe I’ll be left alone.
I leave the house and walk through the streets of Camp Fortitude. It’s a new area developed near the old Central City where President Montoya and her most valuable assets are assigned to live. We reside on the border between suburbia and country. Mostly so we can be near the crops my father genetically engineered to grow quicker. But also so the greatest minds, those with the most strength or power, can be together to shape the future of our country. The old mission team all live here with me. I couldn’t be without them.
Although most of the world was wiped out by the virus, the population greatly decreased, there are enough of us to maintain electricity grids and factories. But everything is greatly reduced and we’ve learned to be careful with our usage. It’s not a world I recognize. Sometimes I wonder if the battle with Earl was worth it. Then I mentally slap myself and remind myself that I’m grateful for my friends and family. All of those who are still alive.
Reluctantly, I walk past Paige’s house, wishing I could visit. She is heavily pregnant and not having an easy time since Jacob’s injury. But I know I’d be procrastinating and I’m not interested in the argument with Matt that would result if I miss the appointment. A few minutes later I find myself outside a more office-like building. It’s still a house, but there are slatted blinds in the windows and an official sign on the front door.
After the battle, I expected the panic attacks to subside, to disappear as suddenly as they entered my life. I’m dreaming all the time and I can’t tell the difference between a vision and a harmless nightmare. I envisioned my anxiety as salt dissolving in water, hoping it would wash away without any effort. Instead, the salt seems to aggravate the scars I carry, and the panic attacks are becoming increasingly frequent, driving me here, to a therapist’s office.
I’ve never been good at talking about myself, about revealing my inner most fears and the things I don’t like about myself, like my anxiety. But I promised Matt I’d try. The memory of the dark circles under his eyes is enough to force me to press the doorbell.
The door opens automatically and I follow the arrows along a small hallway and into a comfortable living area. Stifling a bitter laugh, I scan the room. It’s such a cliché. The big wooden desk, the bookshelves lined with self-help books, the two armchairs facing each other for more intimate conversations. It’s a throwback to the time before, when the world was normal. But nothing is normal anymore. A vase of cheerful, red tulips is arranged on the windowsill. They’re my mother’s favorite flower and encourage me to bury my hesitation.
The woman behind the desk rises and offers her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Silver. My name is Deja.”
The name surprises me. Deja. Déjà vu. A bit like a vision or an omen. I can’t seem to stop reading into things wherever I go.
Although she wears flats, she’s an inch or two taller than me. A silk blouse is tucked into a smart pair of trousers and her dark hair is swept into a messy chignon. Like it matters anymore. People work from home when they can and when they can’t, no one cares what anyone wears. But in spite of her formal appearance, her smile is warm and reaches her eyes.
I force a smile onto my lips and take the hand. “I’ll be honest, I’m really not sure about this.”
She nods. “Neither was I before I started. Experience of trauma led me to a new career. It helped me and now I like to help others.” Her words make sense but that’s her life, not mine.
“Give it a go. For Matt, at least.”
I grit my teeth. I want us to be a normal couple. I don’t want to worry about hurting him when I’m dreaming. That’s why I’m here. But I don’t expect anyone to be able to take my anxiety away. It’s who I am.
“He’s worried about you.”
She gestures to one of the armchairs. “Make yourself comfortable.”
I sit on the edge of one of the chairs, an old-fashioned green velvet thing, and cross my ankles. “Is this where I pour out my whole life story, or something?”
Deja sits on the chair opposite. “Actually, I thought we could start with a bit of hypnosis. If you’re up for it, I’d like to take you back to the dream.”
A flush creeps over my skin. My mouth goes dry. The dream. Vision? No, definitely just a dream. I won’t let it be anything else. Matt is right; it’s too impossible to be real.
“You think you can make it go away?” I ask.
“I’m not promising anything. But I’d like to try.” She offers me a reassuring smile.
I follow Deja’s instructions. Listening to her soothing voice, I allow my eyes to close and my thoughts to drift. It’s comfy here, safe and warm. Then she takes me back. Back to the dreams I desperately want to forget…
Standing in the valley surrounded by the snow-topped mountains, I admire the way the sunbaked rocks glisten in the evening light. The scattered, leafless trees tremble under the effects of a wintery gust. The cold stings my cheeks and I bury my chin into the top of my jacket.
Turning to face the voice, rough, leathery skin sweeps past my cheek. I startle backward, looking for the attack. Ripping my glove from my hand, I ready my knife and my lightning power. But it’s just a bat. A lone bat getting an early start on the night’s hunt.
I turn again, closing my eyes against the lowering sun. I’m facing the doorway, the blackhole of my nightmares.
With a rushing flurry of wings, more bats emerge. A handful to begin with, bringing the smell of death. Then a dozen more. Fifty. A hundred. Hundreds quickly become thousands. A tumultuous flow of bats dart and weave around each other, as though trying to evade the last rays of the sun before they are saved by nightfall.
The wind howls, dislodging the last remaining snowflakes from the mountain peaks. The bats are joined by clicking, cackling insects. They fly in a chaotic group of directionless fury, as if controlled by an unseen puppet master.
I cover my ears against the noise of their deafening wings. The stench of wrongness fills my nostrils. There are thousands of them. More. Tensing, I watch the gaping entrance of the cave. But nothing else emerges.
Who is that calling my name? It sounds so familiar.
Shadows loom, larger than the angle of the sun should allow. Night descends. The wind whips my hair. Organizing themselves, the bats and insects join together to form a black wave of power. They come for me, tumbling over each other like the crest of a tidal wave. And they call my name.
Other animals appear within the wave. Dark and terrifying animals: howling wolves, fangs dripping a hungry saliva; growling mountain lions with stalking shoulders; a black bear rears up and emits a tree-cracking roar. They run down the mountain with the thousands of bats and beetles, swarming toward me. A cacophonous clicking noise rises from within them, as though they are an endless mass of rolling glass marbles, knocking into each other, eager to reach me.
Spotting a pair of large eyes, involuntary tremors shudder through my body. Yellow, inhuman, like liquid pools of fire. They appear in the middle of the sky as though they are portals to another dimension. Then comes the hulking mass of the body. It’s so black it is indistinguishable from the night and the wave. It moves, absorbing the wave, growing taller, wider, swallowing the night sky.
It calls to me from a mouth too large for its face. A mouth with no lips. A mouth which distorts into a maniacal grin and emits the most horrifying, hair-raising sound I’ve ever heard. Black hands decorated with crawling beetles reach for me. Fingers that end in razor-sharp claws grab for me. I crouch and roll away.
But there is nowhere to go.
Everywhere I look, the black wave surrounds me, the yellow eyes loom at me, and those hands, those decay-smelling fingers, creep closer and encircle my neck, my throat, squeezing. I gasp for breath, choking, feeling the air wrung out of me. This is the moment, this is how it’s all going to end.
“You’re safe! Silver, you’re safe!” Deja grabs my arms and stares into my eyes. The yellow eyes glare at me. No, not yellow. Deja has brown eyes. “You’re safe.”
I can’t breathe. I cough and splutter and gasp for air. My hands fly to my neck to wrestle the attacker away. Instead, all I find is the chain of my pendant digging into my skin. Releasing the chain, I gulp oxygen down into my sore throat.
“You’re safe,” Deja says again.
Nodding, I wipe the sweat from my brow. The dream. It’s the same every time. Waking from a nightmare should put an end to any feelings of terror – for a normal person. Instead, my heart pounds faster, my chest tightens, and I’m almost flattened by a dizzy spell. Clutching a pillow, I bury it deep in my ribcage, something to soften the burning acid flashing through my chest.
It’s a panic attack. I’m having another goddamn panic attack. I thought I was through with all this crap. Earl is dead. We’re safe.
Get over it, Silver.
Cupping my hands over my mouth, I draw in deep, ragged breaths until my heart rate slows and the pain in my chest eases.
“That’s it,” Deja says.
“I’m so tired.” I ache everywhere.
“It’s an awful dream. I would be too.”
“No, not that. I’m tired of the panic attacks.” They’re almost daily and have been worsening over the last few weeks. The dream won’t leave me alone.
Deja pours a glass of water and hands it to me. “If it’s any consolation, I get them too. A lot of people do, considering what we’ve all been through.”
“I know I’m not the only one.” Sighing, I put the glass on the table. “But I am the only ultimate weapon. I’m the one who possesses all this power, abilities I don’t even know yet, thanks to Earl. I’m the one who has to fight for control of the destroyer ability. No one else has to deal with that. I’m the only one who has a catatonic mother who is beyond my help.”
“Silver. That’s why we’re here. But one problem at a time.”
I fist a hand. “I don’t have time.”
Deja smiles patiently, which irritates me. “Why not? Your mom’s not going anywhere. Neither are your abilities. And your dream is just a dream. You said yourself you recognized Earl’s mountain. Well, you’ve already defeated him. There’s no reason for you to go back.”
I close my eyes. “I’m tired of the pain.”
Deja holds my hand. “I know. We’re going to work together so you can live with the pain.”
Unable to speak, I ball my hands in my lap. I wish someone could wave a magic wand and take it all away. Deja explains it doesn’t work like that. But there might be another option. Not a magic wand, but something equally effective.