Colbie Amame’s dream repeated the same starting sequence in her dorm room. Her dream-self lying motionless and dumb upon the bed, waking in the shadow of the nightlight throwing a harsh blue diagonal of light across the walls and ceiling of her room, and the light of one of her lamps atop her dresser drawer glowing red and throwing up a purple circle of light on the ceiling, cut into thirds. That was how it always started.
That purple circle cut into thirds was her dream cue, and upon recognition, she broke the subtle trance that all dreams imposed on non-lucid dreamers. She was now in control, and she could pursue her latest fantasy, perhaps attempt another stab at her favorite fantasy. She had her guilty pleasures, after all.
She arose from the bed and turned on the lamp. A spectral light flooded the room.
She reached for her watch right next to the lamp, put it on, and glanced at the dual dials: 4:30 a.m. on one dial, and 45 minutes and counting down the seconds on the other dial.
She got off the bed and went to the closed door of her room, the door that led to the upstairs hallway and down the staircase in her waking life, but in her dreamworld, the door was something more.
Placing her hand on the knob, she focused on the destination she wanted to reach. Spectral waves blustered through her room, and her locks of hair fluttered and spread wide in the turbulence, and her pajamas fluttered in the blast.
She opened the door into the inky blackness that was her subconscious mind, and stepped into the void—
(with 45 minutes left)
And found herself in a weird version of Little Tokyo or Little China, somewhere in one of the back alleys, dressed to the nines in a flower kimono and sash, her brown locks tied into twin tails behind her head. Firecrackers exploded somewhere in the distance, and past the swaying red lanterns hanging overhead streaked shooting fireworks across the night sky, exploding into colorful starbursts like neon paintings against a canvass of twinkling stars.
The alley was abandoned. Not a soul in sight, spirit or dreamer, roamed the place. The red lamps overhead merely swayed in the night air, and all the shop lights in the alley were but dim apparitions through the windows and the curtains and the shutters.
Just then, another streak of light scraped the sky in a trail of sparks before exploding into another starburst. All the celebrations were happening somewhere blocks ahead of her, where her friends were waiting for her to appear.
“Damn it!” She stomped her foot on the cobbled stones, which reverberating along the empty streets, and balled her hands into fists, fuming. She then took out a smartphone and called Kendra Tellerman’s number, waiting for the dial to click off.
Then, from the other side of the connection came Kendra’s voice: “Where the hell are you? We’ve been waiting for an hour!”
“Sorry about that. I guess I must’ve lost my concentration when I made the dive.”
The voice on the other end sighed, then said, “That’s okay. Where are you now?”
“I’m in an alleyway,” she said, looking around at the empty shops, “but I can see the fireworks ahead. Wait a minute, I’ll be on the roof.”
Colbie focused her mind, imagining steps she could climb, and a blast of air lifted her from the ground, fluttering her kimono and her hair, while she traipsed up invisible steps of moving air and reached the roof of a three-story building, where she got a better vantage point. Two blocks away, across the tops of several buildings and housing complexes, she spied the glow of street lamps and fireworks and neon lights moving like shadowy snakes made of spectral fire. The festivities were four blocks away, too far for her to make an accurate jump without the help of her friends.
She clapped her smartphone to her ear. “I see it, but where are you guys?”
“I’ll send up a flare,” Kendra said.
And moments after, the action was set to words. A bright red flair streaked silently through the night.
When Colbie saw it, she placed her smartphone in her kimono and concentrated on the light, imagining herself right there above the glowing festivities, where the last of the flair was dissipating into smoke.
In an instant, she was there, floating on a blast of air above the festivities. She looked down and saw the little people, ghosts and dreamers alike, on the sidewalks watching the scene and sitting at cafe tables further down the street. Others were parading through the streets with floating dragons snaking alongside and above their keepers amid the cheers of the crowd, and still others (pyrotechnics, she guessed) were lighting fireworks on the rooftops along the street, sending streaks of light skidding through the air and exploding above her head. They almost formed a moving mosaic of activity, the very picture of a postcard moment. She made a mental note to write all this down in her dream journal when she woke up.
But her reveries where short-lived.
One of the fireworks streaked by her, just a few feet behind her, making her jump forward to get out of the way—
When she fell from her perch and tumbled towards the streets, tumbled towards a cheering crowd that had yet to see her fall till a few of the spectators pointed up towards a falling object, tumbled amid the screams of panic from the crowd who were witnessing her fall, tumbled and tumbled down and down and down. Yet in her tumble, amid a bluster of thoughts and blurring images racing towards her at the speed of gravity, she managed to regain her focus at the last second.
A huge blast of air cushioned her landing on the street, blowing everything and everyone around her in a hundred-foot radius of near-hurricane gusts, ripping through the crowded thoroughfare and stopping the festivities for the moment. Till at last, amid the shaken crowd and fluttering debris, the winds dissipated, and Colbie alighted onto the cobbled street on tenuous feet, doubled over and clutched at her knees, trying to catch her breath.
Soon afterwards, Colbie looked around and spotted Kendra Tellerman and Celia Hearn wading through the crowd, both shaken from their worried expressions, yet when she stood up and faced them, she saw their glares and struggles to get to her. Her friends looked like they were about to murder someone once they cleared the obstacles of pedestrian dreamers and ghosts.
Colbie raised her hands in a placating gesture, saying, “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!”
But they didn’t wait; they kept up their struggles, got past the last pedestrian separating Colbie from her would-be attackers, and now ran full-tilt on a collision with her.
Colbie stepped back, and was about to make a run for it, but it was too late. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! I can ex—”
And her girlfriends tackled her to the ground.
Kendra slid behind her, wrapped her arms around Colbie’s, and locked her hands behind Colbie’s neck, securing her miscreant friend from escaping her punishment. “This is for making us wait so long, you little meat head!”
“And this,” Celia added, digging her hands into Colbie’s kimono and tickling her, “is for scaring the crap out of us with that stunt!”
And for some moments, Colbie laughed and giggled and strained against Celia’s relentless tickles, trapped in place by Kendra’s hold, till her sides hurt and she was on the brink of hyperventilating.
But Colbie’s friends were not that cruel.
When Celia stopped tickling her to death, and Kendra released her hold on her, Colbie collapsed onto her knees and doubled over, taking massive gulps of air. Colbie stayed prone this way for several moments, then looked up at her friends.
Kendra had her hair down to her shoulders, no longer pulled back in a pigtail. And by God, she even sported a body-hugging mandarin dress, conforming to her gorgeous shape from her boobs to her hips, and showing scandalous amounts of thigh between the cut in her dress.
Temptation flashed across Colbie’s mind. She was staring at her friend’s legs, wanting to run her hands along those thighs and maybe even pull down her panties just for the hell of it, just to see her face light up. It wasn’t everyday that she saw the flinty Kendra Tellerman wearing something that revealing. How Celia Hearn managed to get her into that dress must have been a miracle in itself.
“Earth to Colbie. I’m not your type,” Kendra said, folding her arms over her chest like a schoolmarm, glaring hellfire down at Colbie for her stare and then at Celia for getting her to wear it. “And don’t even think about putting this in your damn dream journals!”
At that, Celia Hearn exploded into gut-busting hysterics, and Colbie followed suit, laughing like a maniac as she got to her feet.
“Oh, come on, girl,” Celia said. “That dress totally fits you to a T. You were born to wear that!”
Now it was Colbie’s turn. “And I bet your handsome Randal’s gonna love to see you wearing it. God knows what’ll be on—”
“That’s none of your business!” Kendra was now fuming, balling her hands into fists as if she were crushing Celia’s head in one hand and Colbie’s head in the other. “You two are impossible. And you,” she said, pointing her finger like a gun at Colbie’s head, making her flinch, “should have been born a dude. That way, I wouldn’t have any qualms shooting your head off.”
And with that, Kendra spun on her heel and walked off, gaining several looks from passing dreamers and a few ghosts.
Colbie traded glances with Celia and smiled a knowing smile. There was no way Colbie would omit this from her dream journal, and she knew Celia felt the same way.
Both girls laughed like maniacs. Now—
(with 32 minutes left)
They spent much of their time observing the festivities, feeling the collective rush of the moment and the noise, but it eventually got stale, and they were getting restless. While the festivities were still going on, the noise and the clamor began to fade behind the trio of dream divers, as they entered a less crowded thoroughfare. The only reminders of the festivities manifested in the distant firecrackers and fireworks scraping through the sky and exploding into starbursts.
For the next block or so, Colbie Amame walked with Celia Hearn instead of catching up with the fuming Kendra Tellerman some paces down the street. Colbie loved messing with Kendra, but she got the feeling that she overstepped a line when she mentioned Randal Larking, the prince of Shad-Row Academy, and Kendra’s possible boyfriend.
So she passed the time with Celia, talking about their latest dream dives and their choice of fashion for this collective dive into the Orient. On that point, Colbie looked her friend up and down, from her trilby to her kimono top over frilly dress, stockings and boots. “Still going for that lolita look?”
Celia gave an exasperated sigh. “You, too, really?”
“Did Kendra have an issue with it?”
“Yeah, but you know her. She’s really conservative when it comes to dress-up, even in her dreams. You have no idea what I had to do to get her to wear that dress.”
Of course, knowing Kendra, Colbie had a pretty good idea what that was, so she rolled her eyes and smiled a knowing smile at her fellow conspirator. “Let me guess. It had something to do with taking pictures, doesn’t it?”
Again, Celia sighed. “Yep.”
“Your nude pics?”
“Don’t be disgusting; it’s not like that.”
“Then what is it?”
Celia took hold of Colbie’s arm and leaned into her as they walked, leaned close enough that Colbie could smell her perfume, and whispered into her ear, “She wants me to help her collect certain pictures of a certain someone.”
Colbie caught sight of Kendra flinching some paces ahead of them. Maybe there was some truth to those words. She said, “By ‘certain someone,’ do you mean Randal Larking?”
“Yep, I’m sure he’s it.”
Both girls now saw Kendra flinching, then clenching her hands into momentary fists.
“And by ‘certain pictures,’ do you mean, like,” and Colbie whispered into her conspirator’s ear, “dick pics?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Now both girls saw Kendra balling her hands tight, as though she was about to lash out at any moment.
So Colbie said, “Do you think she’s into that?”
“Well, she likes taking secret pictures of us from time to time, especially when we’re like this, but she’s really cagey about it. Makes me wonder where she keeps those pictures.”
“Does she have nude pics of us?”
“I’m kinda scared to find out, but maybe if we confront her about it, she might meet us halfway and—”
That’s when Kendra turned around ahead of them and faced them, arms akimbo, stopping Colbie and Celia in their tracks with a murderous glare. “All right, love birds. What’s going on?”
Their response was immediate. Both girls flinched at the sight, and something of an electrical shock of fear ran up their spines, but they played along as a mock-couple, anyway. If they played their cards right, they might find out a little more about Kendra’s infamous photo album.
“Oh, nothing,” Colbie said, waving her hands in mock-surrender. “We were just talking about Celia’s lolita getup, that’s all.”
“Why do I not believe you?” Kendra said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Celia added, looking away from her uppity accuser, all moe-eyed and innocent from her lovely curls to her dainty boots. “Only you can answer that, silly girl.”
“Why do I get the feeling you were talking behind my back?”
“Because we were, silly girl,” Colbie said. “Just not about you, specifically.”
“Who then?” she said, now balling her hands into fists. “And will you stop calling me ‘silly—’”
And before Kendra finished, Celia released her spell, and a giant magic seal of pink roses appeared glowing on the ground, encompassing all three girls and blinking them out of sight—
(with 18 minutes left)
And now shifting to a different dreamscape under her power. No longer were they walking alone on a nameless route through abandoned shopping arcades and desolate thoroughfares. No longer were they three tourists walking the fringes of a collective dreamscape. For now they entered another part of the Phantom Realms, the part of the Realms with the farthest vistas of imagination stretch into that dizzy infinity, where they had eked out a little corner of home they called their Floating World, their dream dive retreat, their own floating sukiya-zukuri mansion between the spectral skies of slumber and dreams and the infinite horizon of the Astral Plane.
“Celia, what the hell?” Kendra said, staring all around her in wide-eyed annoyance. “Why’d you bring us back here for?”
And ignoring her question, the dynamic duo of Colbie and Celia posed on the tatami floor of tea room, raised their hands at their unwitting contestant, both holding up three fingers and saying, “Three guesses for the gorgeous Kendra Tellerman.”
“Brought to you by the wonderful Colbie Amame,” Colbie said, smiling her most radiant smile amid a background of purple larkspurs, “your hostess for tonight’s strip show extravaganza!”
“And don’t forget the innocent Celia Hearn,” Celia added, smiling amid a background of yellow roses, fluttering her tareme eyes, then tipping her trilby in a bow and letting her hair tumble in wavy curls, “your favorite lolita doll for this beautiful occasion!”
Both girls resumed their poses with frivolous faces.
Looking on their shenanigans, Kendra gaped in exasperation, still wide-eyed and now speechless.
“Oh, don’t be that way, silly girl,” Colbie said.
“Stop calling me ‘silly girl,’ damn it!” Kendra said, balling her hands into fits and glaring at the ridiculous duo to the last extremity of her plight. “I’m not your plaything! And if you think I’m bluffing, I’ll get my big guns and blow both of your brains out, got that?”
“We’re only playing around, geez,” Celia said, crossing her arms over her chest in a pout. “You don’t have to get all pussy-footed over it.”
“And besides,” Colbie added, “we don’t have much time left in this dream session, so we thought we’d make it fun for all of us.”
Kendra shook her head. “It depends on what you mean by ‘fun.’”
Colbie looked at Celia, and Celia looked at Colbie, and both of them smiled, before turning their maniacal gazes on the hapless ‘plaything’ standing before them. Now was the time for the real ‘fun,’ the kind of fun that involved placing certain caresses and certain touches on certain parts of the human anatomy, eliciting certain sounds and certain emotions now fluttering across their maniacal stares and eager expressions like snapshots of an ecchi show.
Kendra (poor girl) visibly paled and then blushed, stepping back on tenuous feet and wobbly knees. “Don’t even . . . Don’t you dare! No! No! Come on, guys, you’re scaring the crap out of me!”
“Don’t worry, silly girl,” Colbie said.
“We’ll make it all better,” Celia added.
The dynamic duo teleported towards Kendra in a blink. Colbie shoulder-tossed Kendra to the floor, which reverberating through the room with the force of a body slam, while Celia straddled Kendra’s hips, pinning her to ground, and went to work on Kendra’s sides, tickling the poor girl with the ferocity of a thousand bee stings. Kendra bawled with laughter, arching her back and straining against Celia’s merciless tickles, kicking up her legs as Colblie went to work on Kendra’s lower half, pulling up the hems of her Mandarin dress, so she could dig in and take off her panties.
But before their shenanigans continued, before Kendra got de-pantied, before her mind broke under Celia’s tickling assault, the mansion shook with a jolt, toppling all three girls into new positions.
While Kendra remained in the same position lying on her back, she had her face covered in the frills of Celia’s dress. Celia had toppled forward, planting her face on the tatami mats, with her legs now sprawled open and her dress flung up over Kendra’s head. All the while, Colbie had her own face planted on Kendra’s stomach, with one of her hands still clutching at Kendra’s panties and her other hand cupping one of Kendra’s breasts.
All three girls groaned on the floor, getting up and struggling to their feet.
“Man, what was that?” Kendra said, propping herself on her elbows, brushing the frills from her head, before noticing her friend’s hand cupping her breast. “Hey, get off me, you little perv!” And she slapped the girl on the face.
“Ow! Geez, Kendra,” Colbie said, feeling the slap searing into the side of her face, “it was an accident! I didn’t mean for that to happen!”
“Then get your hands off my panties, or I’ll slap you into next week!” she said, ire burring in her eyes.
Which had the intended effect. Colbie skittered off and cowered under Kendra’s growing glare. “Okay, okay, I’m off, I’m off! Calm down, please!”
All the while, Celia groaned, still dizzy from the impact of planting her face onto the floor, still struggling on her hands and knees. “Ugh, I won’t be surprised if I wake up with a headache after this.”
Colbie and Kendra got up and came to her assistance, both girls taking hold of their fallen friend’s arms and hauling her up on their shoulders.
“Hey, are you all right?” Colbie said.
“Looks like you took a nasty fall,” Kendra said.
But the girl simply cupped her hand to her head, massaging away the effects of her fall. “I’ll be fine, guys, don’t worry. Just,” and she looked to the shoji screen leading to the outside, “go check outside. Something must’ve happened outside, if it could shake the whole house.”
Ever the trooper, Kendra went ahead, slid back the screen and went out to take a look, while Colbie helped her friend sit comfortably on the floor.
“Celia, are you sure you’re all right? You want an ice pack or something?”
“Guys, I found someone!” Kendra yelled from outside.
Celia said, “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. Just go check on Kendra. She needs you.”
Colbie nodded, went out into the verandah, and looked out into the nearby garden, where she spotted Kendra waving at her.
“She’s over here,” she said. “This girl’s in bad shape.”
Colbie jumped from the veranda and spirited across the garden pathway and into the garden itself, trampling through the flower patches to get to her friend, then walking up to find Kendra in a small crater with an unknown girl in her arms.
“How bad is it? Tell me,” Colbie said, but no sooner had she said those words when she saw the girl’s condition with her own eyes. She gasped, placing a hand to her mouth in shock.
The unknown girl was unconscious in Kendra’s arms, her blue over-dress and pinafore stained in blood, her hands cut and caked with dried blood. She seemed stuck in a dreamless sleep that most people could only wake up from in bodily form, when sleepers wake up in the morning, for only the living could do so. The dead could never wake up from the sleep of death.
Kendra said, “Come on, help me get her to the house.”
Colbie’s heart raced at the sight as she stepped into the crater and placed the girl’s arm over her shoulder, while Kendra carried her other arm over her shoulder, and the both carried her in silent dread. All the while, Colbie kept praying to hereof that this girl would make it, that this broken girl had not succeeded in offing herself.
They carried her to the house, where Celia was waiting for them at the veranda beside the entrance.
Celia gasped. “Oh my God, is she okay?”
“I don’t know. Just get the bandages,” Colbie said, helping Kendra lay the unconscious girl in the middle of the room away from the night breeze, drops of blood that had yet to congeal marking a trail on the floor. “She’s lost a lot of blood.”
Celia ran for the supplies in the storage room, pulling out drawers and opening cabinets, then coming back with rolls of bandages and tape, and bottles of water.
“Help me undress her,” Colbie said, and she and Celia removed the girl’s pinafore and over-dress, before they proceeded to roll up her shirt to see how bad her wounds were.
All the while, Kendra stood apart, her face completely grim, as she held onto the the object the girl had with her when she found her bleeding in the crater of the garden.
“Wait, there’s no wound,” Celia said, raising the girl’s shirt past her bra to make sure, looking over her bare stomach and waste without a single gash anywhere, then looking over her legs from her calves to her knees to her thighs and stopping at her panties without a speck of blood on her. Celia sighed. “I can’t see anything to worry about.”
“Check her hands,” Colbie said.
And Ceclia opened a water bottle and poured water over her hands, washing out the blood. “Nothing.”
“Really, nothing at all?” Colbie said.
“Not a thing.” Celia placed her palm over the girl’s stomach, and a seal with pink roses appeared, encompassing the girl’s entire body, and her face turned grim. “Her astral body isn’t affected, but her mind’s really messed up.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not kidding,” Celia said. “This girl’s got some serious mental and emotional trauma going on. She might . . . I think she might have a split personalty, even.”
“Are you serious?”
“Guys,” Kendra said.
“Later,” Celia said. “I’m trying to figure this out.”
“Guys, listen to me,” Kendra said, and when both girls faced her, she showed them a kodachi with blood on the blade. “I found this in her hands when I saw her. She might’ve tried to kill herself.”
“Keep that away from her,” Colbie ordered, and a new stab of worry pulsed through her heart, as she muttered under her breath, “I’ll keep her from doing it again, if I have to.”
Kendra nodded and was about to dispose of it in another room when the girl began rousing from a dreamless sleep, first shifting to her side and squinting, then shifting to her other side, as if struggling into the consciousness of dreams.
“She’s waking up!” Kendra said.
All three girl leaned in to see her wake.
“Hey, wake up,” Colbie said, reaching over and clearing the bangs from the girl’s eyes, then wiping the sweat off of her forehead, as the girl roused from sleep and opened her eyes.
Colbie breathed a sigh of relief, saying under her breath, “Thank God.”
Then the atmosphere changed, and psychic waves began flooding into the room in torrents, churning up the space with dark emotions: fear, disgust, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, guilt, self-loathing, masochism, sadism, sadness, grief, sorrow, disappointment, disempowerment, discontentment, apathy, and more besides—all of them differing shades of the same agony, all of them expressed in the void of no happiness, no hope, no love, no life, and even no soul—
All of these emotions expressed in the girl screaming out, “THERE IS NO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!”
A scream that shook the house to its foundations, rattling doors in their door frames, blowing out windows, breaking the floor boards, sending psychic pressure waves from the epicenter of her scream, and threatening to send all three girls flying in opposite directions and slamming against the walls.
First it was Kendra. Then it was Celia. Both girls lost their footing and got slammed against opposite walls, Kendra smashing through a shoji screen door, Celia slamming against the wall and collapsing to the floor.
Only Colbie was left standing, struggling to keep her concentration amid the myriad emotions cutting through her resolve and slicing at her soul, till she couldn’t take anymore. She lost her footing and was thrown across the room towards the back wall, bracing herself for impact as she dug in deep—
And summoned a hurricane blast roaring through the room, breaking the doors from their frames, sending splinter and tatami mats flying, and caving in the back wall to keep her from slamming into it.
The scream continued for some moments, then dissipated into echoes of phantom screams of anguish. The pressure waves ceased, yet waves of psychic energy were still pulsing through the house, pulsing with the heartbeat of that broken girl at the center of it all.
Colbie doubled over, clamping on her knees to keep herself standing, taking massive gulps of air through raspy breaths. Her kimono was ruined, ripped and scraped in several places, her sleeves torn along the shoulders, and her sash nearly shredded. Her hair was a mess, her twin tails undone and hanging limp past her shoulders. And her soul was in complete disarray, still fighting off the torrents of emotions eating away at her like a dying martyr’s last breath.
With everything she had, she pulled herself up and viewed the wake of the girl’s devastating power in the ruins of her dream house. Celia lay motionless against the wall, and Kendra was only just beginning to move from the shattered heap of the door frame. And at the center of it all lay the girl, her eyes wide but not recognizing anything around her, her body now levitating off the ground and back to her feet, stock-still like a statue.
Colbie just stood there, looking at the girl with the kodachi in her hand, the weapon she had used to end her own life, still stained in the girl’s own blood, still stained in her own LIVING blood.
In that moment of recognition, Colbie knew she had to act. She knew the next attempt would truly end the girl’s life. She said, now on the brink of tears, “Don’t do it! It doesn’t have to end that way!”
Her psychic waves renewed the onslaught in the room, as the girl faced Colbie down with a demonic glare blazing into her soul. “You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIIIIIIIIIIIIKE!”
And the whole house shook with her scream, pulsing through the space with the anguish of her voice, with the fury in her eyes, with the hatred in her soul, with the beating of her heart that was slowly breaking . . .
And shattering . . .
And dying . . .
And dissipating into nothing.
And in that solemn void, another voice, a different voice, rang out across the Astral Plane and said, Mara, please, you have to listen to her. Stop it! You have to stop!
And all at once, the girl’s rage dissipated, and the psychic waves subsided, just enough for Kendra to gain her bearings and get up and see Celia still lying motionless again the opposite wall. Rage flared through Kendra’s body, and her muscle’s tensed in her right hand, manifesting a gun there ready to shoot.
“B-but, why?” Mara said, breaking her demonic presence over the entire house. “Don’t you wanna see me again?”
Of course I do, but I want you to live, the voice said. Don’t die for me or anyone else. I want you to move on with your life!
“But I can’t! I don’t wanna live anymore,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes, as the kodachi faltered in her grip. “Everyone’s been taken away from me. I just wanna be with you, sis. That’s all I want!”
Their words tore at Colbie’s soul, like none of Mara’s previous psychic attacks ever could, for words had the power to hurt as well as heal, to denounce as well as accept, to damn as well as save. Words sharpened the emotions of the human heart into swords, and like swords they could be wielded for good and for ill, to protect those you love and cut down your monsters.
So Colbie walked towards Mara, saying, “Mara, it’s okay. You’re not alone anymore, so—”
“Get away from me!” Mara started backing away, pointing the kodachi at Colbie, but she kept on advancing towards her. “I said, Get away from me!” And she swung the sword at her would-be rescuer, slicing the air with another psychic attack that almost took Colbie’s head off and left an enormous gash on the back wall.
“Colbie, be careful!” Kendra said, gripping her gun in both hands, keeping it aimed at Mara’s head as she moved along the side wall. “I feel for this chick, but she’s fucking messed up!”
“I’m aware of that. Just go check on Celia.”
Kendra cursed, then darted to the opposite wall where Celia still lay motionless, and shook the girl frantically with one hand while keeping the gun in her other hand, as well as her eyes, trained on Mara, praying to God Colbie won’t get hurt. “Come on, come on, come on, wake up already! Wake up!”
After several frantic shakes, Celia broke through her dreamless sleep and roused, groaning on the floor, raising her hands to the back of her head, where she blacked out on impact. “Oh, man, what’s going on?”
While Kendra kept shaking her friend and keeping her own sights on Mara, the voice rang through the astral plane, saying, Give them a chance, Mara! I know it’s hard to believe, but they’re here to help you, not hurt you!
But Mara wasn’t having any of it, pointing her weapon at Colbie, still advancing, and backing away as visions of her sister’s death flooded her mind. Tears she tried desperately to hold back began trailing down her face. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t! I just wanna see you again, sis. Don’t leave me alone!”
“You’re not alone anymore!” Colbie said, feeling Mara’s words digging into her soul like knives. “I’ll be you’re sister. Just put the sword down. I’m here for you!”
“JUST LEAVE ME ALOOOOOOONE!” Mara screamed in a rage of insanity, plunging the sword into Colbie’s stomach and through the small of her back.
Right in front of Kendra and Celia.
“COLBIIIIIIIIE!” both girls screamed, as Colbie collapsed to the ground.
Celia sprinted towards Colbie’s prone body, now bleeding out a spreading pool of crimson onto the floor—“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my GOD! Please no, please no, please no! No, no, no . . .”
While Kendra rushed towards her attacker in a blind rage—“You fucking BIIIIIIITCH!” And landed a superman punch on Mara’s jaw.
A percussive shock shook the whole house, blasting part of the wall into splinters and shreds of plaster and dust, and sending Mara slamming into the outside garden, turning up flowers and soil and clay, quaking the ground beneath.
Now Mara lay motionless in a shallow crater, but Kendra wasn’t done yet. She stalked towards Colbie’s murderer to finish the job, manifesting the same gun in her right hand. Rage consumed her, and waves of searing heat swirled around her like a tornado of malice, all of her hatred directed at Mara.
She stood over the unconscious girl and aimed her gun at her head at point-blank range, her finger on the trigger, ready to pull, ready to shoot, ready to avenge Colbie’s death—
But something within her could not let her shoot, something deep and sacred standing in the swirl of her darkest emotions, like a beacon of light in the storm of her fury. She screamed in her rage and screamed at Mara, saying, “I hate you, I hate you, I fucking hate you! I hope you—”
But she just couldn’t say it. Even in the blinding storm of her hatred, she couldn’t shed the blood of the innocent, not even this pitiful specimen of humanity, this tormented soul lying there, battered and bruised, her shirt soiled and shredded, her face a picture of repose in a dreamless sleep.
So Kendra turned and ran towards her friends, tears in her eyes, vowing to never become a monster, not even for Colbie’s sake.
Which left Mara’s astral body unmolested in the shallow crater, her conscious mind submerged in a dreamless sleep, leaving a void for her sister’s ghost to possess for the time being. As Mara’s loving sister, she needed to give Mara another chance at life before it was too late—
(with 3 minutes left)
To set things right. So she picked herself up and followed Kendra’s path towards the house, almost gliding as she walked, for she was a ghost in the astral body of a sleeping human being. She was a ghost within a ghost, an intangible possessing the intangible form of someone else, someone of her flesh and blood, someone she loved more than life itself.
When she reached the hole in the side of the house, she saw Kendra and Celia crying over their fallen friend in the middle of the room, with the pool of blood absorbing into the tatami mats. The scene sent tears to her eyes, for she remembered Mara crying over her own dead body, crying as her own life-giving blood spread on the stage floor from a self-inflicted bullet wound to her head. While an audience laughed and jeered, applauding the twin sisters for putting on a jolly good show of Russian roulette. While their parents screamed and strained against their restraints, mother and father crying in agony at seeing one of their beloved children dying by her hand, dying by chance, dying by the pull of the trigger.
She sympathized with those two, for when this dream ends in but a short while, they would never again see their friend with living eyes. She walked up to them, but when they saw her approaching, Celia threw up several protective seals against her, holding Colbie’s lifeless astral body close to her, and Kendra stood up and aimed her gun at her, rousing the last embers of anger left in her after mourning the death of her friend.
Yet onward she walked, passing through Celia’s protective seals like a phantasm, like a nightmare come true.
So Celia hugged Colbie’s body close to herself, tight as death’s embrace, saying, “Why can’t you just leave us alone? Just leave us alooooooone!” And she sobbed into Coblie’s blood-stained kimono, refusing to let her go, even in death.
“Why are you doing this?” Kendra screamed, adjusting her aim as the phantasm moved closer and closer in silent steps, tears trailing her cheeks in despair. “Please, please, I’m begging you. I don’t wanna shoot you. I don’t wanna see another person die!”
Now losing her nerve and dropping her aim, Kendra let go of her gun, letting it drop to the floor with a thud, like the thud of the casket over the dearly departed, never again for living eyes to see. Kendra dropped to her knees to be close to her friends, hugging Colbie’s lifeless form close to herself, squinting her eyes shut of yet more tears.
Mara’s sister then dropped to her knees, reaching out to the girls with compassionate hands, only for them to pass through their faces. She said, her own spectral tears trailing her cheeks, “I wish I could wipe your tears, but I can’t.”
Celia and Kendra looked up at her through bleary eyes, red from crying over the dead.
Kendra said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Nico, Mara’s sister. All three of you heard my voice when I was talking to my sister, but I couldn’t save her.” With tears now trailing her cheeks, she said, “I couldn’t save her in life, and now I can’t save her in death!”
And like kindred souls, connected in mutual grief, Kendra and Celia reached out their hands to touch her face, to wipe the tears from her eyes, but their hands passed through.
“Listen to me,” Nico said. “Please, try to understand her. She never used to be so violent. She’s been through more than you could imagine, but I can’t save her anymore. Mara needs you. She needs you more than she could ever need me.”
“But . . .” Celia said. “But why?”
“Because Mara is alive. I know she’s alive. As long as she’s alive, I know you can save her.”
“But why us?” Kendra said.
“Because you three showed more courage than anyone I have ever known. You,” turning to Celia, “cared for Mara and worried over her. You,” turning to Kendra, “could’ve killed her, but you never did. And this poor soul here,” turning to Colbie’s lifeless body, “never gave up on my sister, even at her worst.”
Kendra said, “But she’s—”
“No,” Nico said. “She’s not dead. Promise me, both of you, promise me you’ll save my sister!” And now she lost her composure, sobbing as she said, “Promise me, because this is the last thing I can do for my own flesh and blood!”
And so as one, as if Colbie were still with them in body and soul, each of them said, as one and all, “I promise.”
With their renewed courage, Nico placed her hand over Colbie’s wound and said, “My God, my God, please hear my prayer. The living save the living, but help me save the dead!”
And all at once, a blast of light shot through her hand and into Colbie’s wound, as Nico herself began dissolving away into nothing.
Her last words were these: “When you meet my sister, tell her I love . . .” And her words and her voice and her spirit drifted away into the void of forgotten memories, forgotten to all except Kendra and Celia and Colbie and Mara and God, the Keeper of dreams from now till the end of all dreams—
(with 0 minutes left)
When the timer beeped on Colbie Amame’s dressing drawer, rousing her from a tumultuous sleep, and she reached for her watch right next to the lamp, put it on, and glanced at the dial: 5:15 a.m. The first morning light streamed through the blinds and fell on her sleepy eyes. It took her several moments for the meaning of the time to compute through her head, because the last five minutes of her dream dive got submerged in the death-like static of unconscious and dreamless sleep when she got stabbed through the stomach and died in her dream.
She then scrambled out of bed, throwing off layers of sheets, and saw a large patch of dried blood caked on the fabric of her top over her stomach. And she fingered at the hole in the center of the patch, where the blade had entered her astral form. So she raised up her shirt, but saw no gash on her stomach, or even the faintest trace of a scar. Then she pulled off her shirt over her shoulders and saw a larger spread of dried blood on the back of her shirt, then fingered at the hole in that spread, where the blade had run through the small of her back. But when she turned towards her bed, she saw a pool of dried blood on the bedsheets of her dorm room, and that’s when she realized the worst of her dreams, a dream she couldn’t wake up from.
That’s when she screamed and screamed and screamed, waking up half of the students in her side of the dorm building.
That’s when the door to her dorm room burst open, and in flew her friends with panicked expressions and tears in their eyes, both Kendra and Celia tackling their friend to the ground. They wrapped their arms around her shoulders, and hugged her and kissed her, holding her close to their bodies, never wanting to let go of the friend they loved and so very nearly lost.
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