“Girls, this is the third time I’ve had to come in here. It’s way past your bedtime and you need to get to sleep,” Jennifer Brooks reminds us in a tone that is intended to be a demand, but her passive nature makes it sound like more of a suggestion. Denali quickly throws herself under the flowered covers of her bed and curls up tightly, shooting Jennifer a beaming smile.
“Sorry Ms. Brooks, we are going to bed this time. I promise,” Denali responds in a highly apologetic tone. Jennifer props herself up in the door frame of the room and peers at us with a loving smile on her face as I begin to tuck myself into bed as well.
“Good, you two have school in the morning so sleep well,” Jennifer reiterates one more time before turning off the light and closing the door to our bedroom with a click. As soon as she leaves the room, I hear the rustling of blankets as Denali turns herself around to face me. Even through the darkness, her bright blue irises pop in contrast against her mocha skin.
“Seriously Blair, please be careful tonight,” she whispers through the veil of night.
“You know I always am Dani, don’t worry about me,” I confidently respond. She lets out a sigh and before long, the familiar soft sound of Dani’s snores consumes our tiny bedroom. I close my emerald eyes and comb my fingers through my long, bleach blonde hair. I softly smile to myself while I prepare my mind for travel, anxious to participate in my usual form of escaping reality.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to travel into some sort of alternate world. I don’t exactly know where I go, but everything is almost identical to the town of Denver, Colorado except that it is foggy and often inhabited by the spirits of people who have passed away. It sounds weird when I try to explain it out loud, but nothing bad has happened since I’ve been traveling to my dream world and the spirits don’t bother me. I’ve never felt scared and I honestly don’t think most of them know that they are dead or I’m alive. Dani always has a million concerns about my ‘dream-walking’ because she is curious how it works, but I don’t have many answers for her. I’ve never met another person who can do what I do, so it’s not like I have any relevant information to offer. When I dream walk, I usually just wander around on the streets outside and explore until I get bored or decide that I want to wake up. I never go very far from where I’m sleeping, only about half a mile or so. When I do decide it’s time to face reality again, I just walk back to my body, lie down on top of it, and boom! I’m awake. Dani is the only other person besides myself that knows about what I can do, but she isn’t nearly as fascinated as I am. She is far more concerned for my safety whereas I think the whole concept is intriguing. My ability to dream walk sets me apart from everyone else and makes me feel like I have a bigger purpose in life that isn’t just becoming some statistic child in foster care.
Dani was surrendered as an infant at the Denver Regional Hospital, so she has been a part of the foster care system since she was born. I, on the other hand, was found wandering around near the woods in Windsor, Colorado when I about 7 years old. I had no belongings and no memories of who I was before the police found me. The only evidence of who I used to be consisted of a gold bracelet with my name printed onto the front. So, you could say Dani and I have both been shuffled around from home to home quite a few times in our brief 10 years of life. We moved into the foster home of Jennifer Brooks about a year ago with four other kids who are also 10 years old and we have been inseparable ever since. We bonded over the fact that we are loners and don’t particularly care for anyone else living here. Neither of us fit in at school, in this home, or with any potential adopters since no one has jumped at the opportunity to take either of us permanently.
Honestly, none of this bothers me in the slightest. I’m basically just counting down the years until Dani and I can escape the American foster care system and never look back. We already have a plan for our lives once we leave this place: she and I will pack up our things and move to Florida, get jobs, go to college, and live together like the sisters we’ve become. Things will fall into place and we will have a sense of normalcy when we aren’t bouncing from home to home and have a place to call our own.
It will be she and I against the world like it has been since we met.
Slowly but surely, I feel myself beginning to drift off into a peaceful slumber. I quell my mind’s natural desire to dream until it feels like a blank slate, consumed with nothing else besides detachment. I become completely surrounded by pitch-black darkness that’s devoid of all sound. For a few minutes, I hear nothing but the sound of my own pulse and the shadows lull me to sleep. Most people might feel terrified by the concept of being swallowed whole by an empty void, but I don’t. It feels peaceful to me and the complacency confirms that this is where I’m meant to be.
I open my eyes and grin as I stare up at the same popcorn ceiling as before, except this time there is a thin layer of fog that lightly glows, filling the room. The fog always makes it seem more eerie in the stillness, but I’m not afraid. I’m just excited to get up and explore the neighborhood. I sit up in my bed and stretch out before climbing over the edge and dropping to the floor. I straighten out my purple nightgown with my hands and turn back to take a look at my physical body lying peacefully on the bed. Even after doing this countless times, it’s always strange to look at myself from an outside perspective. But, it just means that I am now in my alternate world and I can do whatever I please.
I smirk down at myself and quickly sigh before turning around to face the bedroom door, skipping barefoot over to it. I pull it open and casually cross through the center of the green carpeted living room which houses a glass top coffee table, worn red faux leather sofa and matching loveseat. Compared to some of my previous foster homes it’s actually a pretty nice set up. The only strange thing is that there’s no TV. Jennifer always worries that our young minds rely too much on false visual stimulation, so she would rather us interact with one another instead of polluting our brains with nonsense. Some of the other kids whine and complain about it, but it doesn’t bother me because I’ve got something better than any television. I’ve got a real way to escape my life whenever I want.
I squeeze in between the sofa and love seat, taking a few extra steps until I reach the front door. I extend my hand down and place it on the doorknob, twisting and pulling it open as I reveal a silent world consumed by mist. I excitedly jump up and down, beaming while I prance across the blackened grass and into the deserted road. I glance left to right at the sea of houses as I anxiously try to determine which direction I’d like to go tonight. I begin casually humming this random tune from a lullaby Jennifer sometimes sings before deciding to take my usual path to the right. I typically choose to take a right since I know there is a park about quarter mile away that I can sit in, but this time something captures my attention on the left hand side.
A singular silhouette devoured by the iridescent haze.
Off in the distance through the sheen of fog, I can barely make out the shape of a person. A man to be exact. Normally this wouldn’t raise any concerns for me because I sometimes run into wandering spirits, but they never interact with me and this time is different. The man appeared out of nowhere and is just standing there, observing me from afar. I stop humming and slowly turn my body around to face him. I furrow my brow and tilt my head slightly to the left, narrowing my eyes while I try to figure out what he is doing. He tilts his head to the left in unison with me, and my blood immediately runs cold by his clear attempt at mimicking my actions.
For a moment, my own pulse hammers away in my eardrums until a tiny breath grazes my left ear. It sounds as if a moth is fluttering just next to my face, the breeze from its paper thin wings ever so slightly brushing my earlobe. The whisper is barely audible, but the words are clear as day:
I abruptly straighten myself back out and nervously glance over my left shoulder to see absolutely nothing. I quickly turn my head back in the direction of the man only to find that he is gone. Something about this situation makes me feel uncomfortable, but curious at the same time. Maybe it is the fact that I’ve never had a spirit talk to me before, maybe it’s because he disappeared without a trace, or maybe it’s that he knows my name. Either way, some unknown force is drawing me in the direction that he is in. A thin cord of curiosity attached to my waist begins to pull me down the street to the left, beaconing me to investigate. As my legs propel me closer and closer to the spot where he once stood, I faintly hear the man’s voice humming the exact same lullaby that I was only a few moments earlier.
My mind is screaming that this doesn’t feel right and the rational part of my brain is begging me to go back to my body even though I won’t. I slowly reach the place in the dead center of the road where I first saw the man and I spin in a circle, carefully observing my surroundings. I’m hoping that I will see him again somewhere but the sound of his humming seems to be engulfing me from all angles and I can’t pinpoint it. I make one final rotation before I stop dead in my tracks and narrow my eyes even further down the foggy street as the humming ceases. About 100 feet ahead of myself, I see that same silhouette standing in the road again.
Still staring, still waiting.
He turns on his heel and walks further down the road before his humming transforms into words.
“Hush little children, Now please close your eyes.
Your loved ones are waiting,
Filled with joy and pride.
But be careful you must,
For darkness does lie.
Stray not from the path,
Once slumber you find."
His deep voice drifts effortlessly through the fog and I instinctively begin to follow him again even though I have no idea why. We walk like this for a long time with me trailing at a constant 100 feet behind him, following like a lost puppy. I’m not sure how far I’ve gone from my body at this point, but I do know that it’s further than I’ve ever traveled before. Despite my instincts telling me to turn around and get back to my body, I don’t stop walking. I barely even realize that we are now completely out of the suburbs and strolling through downtown Denver, blurrily passing various buildings on my left and right.
The mystery man unexpectedly hangs a right hand turn and ducks off into a brick alleyway up ahead until he disappears from sight. I should take this as my window of opportunity to turn around and run back to my body, but that urge still feels like a fleeting voice in my head that’s barely audible. It’s easy to ignore. Some aspect of this man has me in a trance and my curiosity to learn who he is and how he knows my name trumps all reason. I slowly arrive at the entrance to the alleyway, peering down at the man who is now only about 50 feet away from me. I still can’t make out any of his facial features through the fog, only his ensemble consisting of a dark grey button down shirt neatly tucked into matching slacks and black leather shoes is visible. He faces me as I approach, casually observing my movements’ one step at a time. I bite my bottom lip and anxiously fidget with my fingers while shuffling in his direction. The closer I get, the more about his physique I can see. He is tall, probably about 6′2". He’s got light skin, dark brown slicked back hair and a smile that is full of pearly white teeth. But the most important feature I notice are his eyes.
His irises are dark black pools that make you feel like you are stuck in quicksand with no hope of escape. Nothing ever terrifies me and I don’t scare easily, but those bottomless voids petrify me with a hopeless fear that I’ve never experienced. I feel cold and uneasy, like I shouldn’t be here with him at all.
I suddenly realize that my legs have placed me directly in front of him with only a few feet of space between us. I swallow the lump in my throat and stare up at him, not daring to say a word. Meanwhile, he just grins at me with a sinister smile, his hands loosely shoved in his front pockets. He towers over my short 10 year old frame like a predator trapping its prey, patiently waiting for the opportune moment to sink his teeth in and claim me as his next victim.
“Hello, Blair,” he coos, the words from his dark voice dripping like honey. As soon as he says my name, my stomach begins churning with indescribable anxiety and my heart thumps furiously in my chest.
“Who are you?” I ask, hoping that he won’t know how scared I really am. He lets out a deep chuckle, looking up at the pitch black sky before his eyes meet mine once more.
“You can call me Orias, little one. We haven’t formally met and you don’t know me yet, but you will,” he grins at me. I anxiously chew on my lip without saying a word as I develop more and more questions in my mind.
Who is this man, and why will I know him? How does he know me when I don’t even know myself?
“You should really watch how far you travel from your body. It’s not safe for children here in the Astral Plane,” he recites with a smirk.
“Should I be afraid of you Orias?” I question while tugging on the bottom of my nightgown. He ponders over this question for a moment, nodding his head as he thinks.
“Good question. 10 years old and you’re already as observant and smart as I hoped you’d be. Don’t worry child, you are far too valuable for me to harm right now. But, in time, I will come for you and you’ll follow me willingly. It won’t be a choice,” he grins from ear to ear and I shake my head.
“I’ll never go anywhere with you. I can tell you’re a bad person,” I retort with a sudden burst of confidence, hoping that I can mask my fear.
“We’ll see,” he sighs, smiling with his head cocked slightly to the side. For a few moments, he says nothing. His eyes bore holes into mine with such intensity that it makes me feel as if he is literally probing and invading my mind. The emptiness of his stare is a bottomless pit; a dripping, soulless cavern that’s never been graced by any form of light.
His eyes are the underworld; they are death.
“Are you the devil?” I inquire, breaking the chilling silence between us. He lets out a loud, bellowing laugh with a formidable smirk plastered to his face.
“Contrary to the cultural beliefs of humans, the devil doesn’t exist. Yet I am all and one, old and new. I am as close as you can get to the idea of Lucifer himself, little one. I am the one who haunts dreams and steals innocence. I am your version of the boogeyman,” he coldly responds. In an instant, the smile drops from his face and he stares deep into my soul. My breath begins coming out in short gasps as crippling fear wraps its icy hands around my heart, threatening to stop beating right here and now. The black of his irises begins to spread, covering the entirety of his eyes until they are completely devoid of any other color. He peers down at me with a frigid charcoal gaze while fine, inky lines begin branching out from his pupils and across his face. At this moment, I am paralyzed with dread, unable to move or do anything.
“Now run along, little one,” he hisses. I slowly begin to stumble backwards and away from him, never once breaking eye contact. As soon as I’m out of his reach, I whip my body around and begin running away from him as fast as my legs will take me. I hear the eerie humming of the lullaby radiating from behind me once again, but I refuse to turn back. I pump my legs even faster than I thought possible, rounding the corner of the alleyway and hanging a sharp left back towards the suburbs. I dart down the blur of misty streets while breathing heavily, never once looking over my shoulder to see if I am being followed. I am too terrified that I’ll look back and see something I’m not prepared for. I am petrified I’ll see Orias following me.
I finally reach the familiar rows of the one story, cookie cutter houses lining Amber Falls Road and I’m flushed with an overwhelming sense of comfort. As soon as I see the home of Jennifer Brooks coming into frame, I push myself even harder to get there. I sprint across the yard, hurtling myself over the short, blackened shrubbery lining the walkway. I skid towards the door and throw it open, rushing inside before slamming it securely closed and twisting the lock behind me. I rest my back against the hard wood, panting with exhaustion. I seriously doubt that a locked door will keep Orias the boogeyman at bay in a world where logic doesn’t apply, but the barrier provides a tiny sliver of repose.
I quickly push myself off of the door and fly down the hallway, sighing with relief as I see my body safely lying in bed just where I left it. Without a second thought, I jump onto my mattress and lower myself down onto my physical body, slowly feeling as we become one fused piece again. I focus all of my energy on leaving this place, my eyes tightly closed as the darkness begins to fade out. I gradually become aware of the typical sounds in my bedroom; the faint ticking of our alarm clock and muffled snoring of Dani as she slumbers peacefully. My eyes shoot open and I take a deep ecstatic breath, gripping my palms onto the blue sheets, my knuckles white with tension. I don’t waste a single second before I launch my sweat-laden body out of my bed and onto Dani’s, embracing her as hard as I can. My body is shaking from the mixture of adrenaline and panic as she jerks awake, cautiously hugging me in return.
“Blair, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” she inquires in a sleepy but concerned fashion.
I don’t answer her question because no words are able to form in my mouth. I can’t even manage to speak right now. The surge of fear and emotions rushing through my mind have hindered my ability to articulate anything at all, so I stay silent. I hear her sigh, pulling the covers to the side as I slide under the sheets and curl up next to her. She gradually begins drifting back off to sleep, probably thinking that I just had a nightmare, but I know the truth. I know who’s waiting on the other side of consciousness because my eyes are open and I’m wide awake.
I don’t know who Orias is or how he knows my name. The only thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that he’s the embodiment of pure evil and I can’t risk ever running into him again. The way he looked at me was like a dark clairvoyant waiting for some grave, sinister premonition to come true. He said that one day, he’d come back for me and I don’t want to give him that chance. The Astral Plane is not as safe for me as I thought it was.
Not while the boogeyman is patiently biding his time.