Annelise White was a dreamer. Not only in the general sense that is common between all humans, with random firings in the brain during sleep that conjure fantastical and often times nonsensical visions, but in a much more real sense. For dreams had been serious business to Annelise White ever since the night before she turned eight, when she dreamt that her parents gave her a goldfish for her birthday. The following morning, she was shocked to find a goldfish in a star shaped bowl sitting on the table in her usual breakfast spot, waiting for her. Never mind that it only lived for three weeks. She still got it, as her dream had predicted. Then five years later, when she was thirteen and on the knife’s edge between childhood and puberty, she dreamed that she and Rupert Tuttle kissed on their field trip to the local fairy circle. And sure enough, during the field trip, Rupert Tuttle did try to kiss her. Thanks to her dream, however, she was able to turn her head away in time. For Rupert Tuttle, #1: had terrible breath. And #2: had broken up with one of Annelise’s best friends, Dianna, a mere three days prior.
Considering those two dreams, she took the hundreds in between and after very seriously. There was no way to know which dreams were trivial, and which might be the difference between a life of happiness, and a life in which Rupert Tuttle had kissed her. She believed with her whole heart that her dreams had been given to her for a reason, and that one day they would take her somewhere. And five years after her Rupert Tuttle dream, having grown into a beautiful young woman with long, red hair, slender limbs, and striking features, they did.
Annelise glanced around at her surroundings as she walked, trying to figure out where exactly she was. The land on either side of the road she was on was barren, little more than brown dust and dirt. Spiny, hearty bushes and cacti were the only vegetation in sight.
How had she gotten there? And where was she going? Hoping to answer those questions, she gazed up and down the road, but there were no clues in sight. It just stretched on ahead and behind endlessly.
But then, she felt it. It came from inside of her, down deep within her gut.
With the pounding, the rest came back to her. She remembered leaving her home town of Sunnyville and traveling west in the hope of finding the source of that pounding inside of her. For she instinctually knew that it was coming from the west. She remembered walking through the forest that covered the majority of the eastern and southern United States. She remembered crossing mountains, fording rivers, and walking across the Great Plains until she came to wherever it was she was now.
With her confusion leaving her, she kept moving forward, feeling the rough asphalt on the bottoms of her bare feet. She still didn’t know where exactly she was going, but then again she hadn’t in quite a while so that didn’t really bother her anymore. She just continued west, confident that as long as she did she wouldn’t go wrong.
But then, before she realized it, she came to a crossroads. One path led away to the left, and another led away to the right. Unsure of which path to take, she stopped.
She looked down the left fork, and then the right, but neither offered any clue as to which was correct. Dismayed, she looked to the sky as if expecting a sign from God telling her which way to go. But there was no clue for her there either.
While she was still looking at the sky dark, evil clouds rolled in above her. In the distance she saw a streak of lighting shoot out of the sky and strike the ground. Then she heard and felt a crash of thunder. She needed to figure out which way she was going to go fast. She couldn’t stand there for much longer.
Again she looked down the left path, and then the right. And again, she didn’t know what to do.
And then, she woke up.
“Anne,” Athena said to Annelise, trying to get her attention. “Anne!” She said louder.
“What?” Annelise asked, suddenly ripped from her musings on the dream she’d had and thrown back in the crowded, buzzing halls of Sunnyville High, standing at her locker.
“I asked if you’d studied for the North American Fae final,” Athena said.
Athena, like Annelise, was eighteen years old. She had long, blonde hair, a round face, pleasant features, and wore a pair of black plastic rimmed glasses with large, rectangular lenses in front of her bright hazel eyes.
“Oh. No, I’m definitely going to ace that one. Last night I studied for pre-Atlata history instead,” Annelise answered, unable to remember why she’d opened her locker in the first place. After a few seconds of confusion, she gave up and slammed it shut.
“Right, I forgot who I was talking to,” Athena remarked lightly. “What about Dianna? Do you know if she studied for anything, or is she still hoping to be able to flirt her way to passing grades?”
“She studied for the classes that are taught by women, last I heard. Other than Ms. Calendari’s class, that is.”
“And I’m going to pass all of them,” Dianna said, coming up behind them.
Dianna was widely considered, with good reason, to be the prettiest girl in school. Her long hair was so black that it almost looked blue when light hit it, and she had a face and body that were the envy of her female classmates, and the subject of the lustful fantasies of both her male classmates, and a few of her teachers.
“Until they figure out that you’re not going to go out with any of them after graduation,” Athena countered.
“By then I’ll have my diploma, and we’ll be halfway across the country on our ROAD TRIP!” She shouted.
Annelise, who had gone back to pondering her dream, was torn away from her thoughts once again with Diana’s shout.
“What are you yelling about?” She asked.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize that you’d gone all cosmicnaut on us,” Dianna replied.
“It’s cosmonaut. And they were the Russians, not the Americans. And the actual term is being a space cadet,” Athena corrected her friend.
“Whatever. None of that boring old world crap matters anyway,” Dianna said dismissively.
“Right, because why would we need to know about the foundations and history of our society,” Athena replied, her voice thick with sarcasm.
“I know, right? Useless,” Dianna replied. “So what’s got your brain this time?” She asked Annelise.
“Just a dream I had last night,” Annelise answered.
“Oh no,” Dianna moaned. “Never mind. I have to go to…to whatever class Mr. Jenkins teaches,” she said, turning around and hurrying away.
“Algebra II,” Athena called after her.
“Right, thanks!” Dianna called back, before disappearing from sight.
“Why are we friends with her again?” Annelise asked.
“Because we weren’t very discerning about who we hung out with when we were four,” Athena answered.
“So what was your dream?”
“Remember my recurring dreams where I’m walking across the country?”
“Well in this dream, I stopped.”
“It was a crossroads. I looked around, but I didn’t know which way I was supposed to go.”
“And?” Athena asked, expecting more.
“Well, that’s mainly it,” Annelise said with a shrug. “I stopped and waited. I haven’t made it to wherever it is I’m going, though, so something has to show me the way.”
“Yeah, of course something does,” Athena agreed, merely humoring her friend.
“Shut up,” Annelise chuckled. “Go to whatever class Mr. Peters teaches,” she joked.
“It amazes me that she never got held back.”
At that moment Athena and Annelise did indeed get to whatever class Mr. Peters taught, and stepped inside the classroom.
“It’s still hard to believe that we’re done with high school,” Athena remarked later that night, when the three friends were gathered in her bedroom.
“I know. Now it’s onto the real world,” Annelise said.
“Not yet. First we have our ROAD TRIP!” Dianna shouted.
“You know you don’t have to yell that every time every time you say it, right?” Annelise asked, shaking her head, trying to make the ringing in her ears go away.
“Oh Annie, of course I do,” Dianna disagreed.
“At least our trip will give you guys some more time to figure out what you’re going to do with your lives,” Athena remarked.
“I still don’t understand how it makes sense for society to demand that I know what I want to do for the rest of my life by the time I’m 18,” Annelise said, shaking her head. “It’s not like I’m an adult yet, no matter what the law says. I mean, I’m barely out of childhood, and I’m expected to make life defining decisions?”
“I’ve known what I was going to do for years,” Athena said with a shrug.
“More like your dad decided what you were going to do years ago,” Dianna countered.
“Yeah, his influence is one major factor in why I’m going to study structural engineering, but it’s still my choice. Dealing with pre-Atlata ruins is an important job and it pays well. It makes sense for me to go into it.”
“We know. You’ve already told us all that fifteen times.”
“In all honesty, though, can you really tell us that you’re excited about doing that for your entire life?” Annelise asked Athena.
“No, I’m not giddy with excitement over it. But it makes sense, and it will enable me to make a good living for myself. That’s what matters.”
“Doing what makes sense is overrated,” Dianna commented. “There’s no fun in doing what makes sense.”
“Tell us what your plan for the future is, then, and we’ll all decide which way is better,” Athena challenged.
“My plan for the future is to go on our ROAD TRIP!” Dianna yelled again.
“We get it! You’re excited for our trip! Just stop yelling already,” Annelise ordered, sincerely worried about incurring partial hearing loss in her left ear because of Dianna’s screaming.
“What about after our trip?” Athena pressed. “How on earth are you going to make a living?”
“Actually, I have a three part plan on how I’m going to do that,” Dianna informed her friends, to their immense surprise. “#1: Find someone who is rich, single, and in poor health. #2: Marry the rich, half dead person. And #3: Wait for him to die.”
“That’s pretty awful, even for you,” Annelise said, shaking her head.
“It sure beats the alternative,” Dianna shrugged.
“Like actually working for a living?” Athena asked.
“Exactly,” Dianna nodded.
“Wow, you are unbelievable.”
“Why are we even talking about this?” Annelise asked. “We can say what we plan on doing all we want, but it’s not like that means it’s going to happen. For all any of us know, everything could change after we see the Seelie Lights. People do say that it’s a transformative experience.”
“Well I’m pretty sure I’m not going to change my mind just because I see them, no matter how amazing they are,” Athena said.
“Me either,” Dianna agreed.
“We’ll just have to wait and see then,” Annelise said, shrugging her shoulders.
“The Seelie Lights aren’t going to be as cool as Mt. Rushmore and the Devil’s Tower by the way, just so we have that clear,” Athena contended.
“You’re insane. And probably a witch too to get such good grades despite your insanity,” Annelise jested.
“I still don’t get why we’re not going down to Florida,” Dianna said. “The settlements down there look amazing, with beaches that look like something you’d see in one of those old spring break movies where all the people dance and sing. There are even still a few skyscrapers in use down there. And it’s the new movie capital of the world!”
“We’ve already talked about this, and decided that we’re going to see the Seelie Lights in New San Francisco. The west coast is beautiful and fun too, I’m sure,” Athena said.
“The west coast hasn’t been worth anything since Los Angeles collapsed in that earthquake,” Dianna grumbled.
“You’re just scared to see your dad, and finally meet your step-mom,” Annelise said. “But you don’t need to worry. Athena and I are going to be there and have your back, no matter what.”
“You better,” Dianna said seriously.
“We will. Don’t worry,” Athena assured her.
“Thanks guys. Well, I better get going. It’s getting late,” Dianna said, standing up.
“Yeah, I should get home too,” Annelise said, getting up as well.
Athena saw her friends out and told them goodbye. Then Annelise and Dianna started back to their respective homes, which were both only a few blocks away to the east.
Sunnyville at night was quiet and peaceful. As they walked the streets they could see the tall, imposing trees of the forest, which surrounded Sunnyville on three sides, in the distance. The north, treeless side of town was guarded by Lake Erie. The only disruptions to the darkness came from the sparse lamp posts, which were on the corner of every block illuminating the intersections, and what little light spilled out from the homes nearby. Overhead, a vast expanse of stars, more than even Abraham could count, stretched out as far as the eye could see.
The two friends walked in silence for a time, until Dianna broke it.
“Do you ever wish you were born before the Atlata virus?” She asked.
“No. Not even once,” Annelise answered.
“But there were so many more people back then. And there were so many movies coming out all the time that you couldn’t even watch all of them. There were planes all over the sky, and cell phones, and the internet, and Taco Bell.”
“Taco Bell? What the hell was that?”
“My grandpa told me about it. It was this restaurant that was all over the place, and everybody ate there because it was awesome. It was at the very tippy top of the food chain. That’s a thing, right?”
“Yeah. But the food chain doesn’t really have anything to do with restaurants.”
“Whatever. We’re graduating Sunday, so who cares? All I’m saying is that there was so much stuff back then that we’ll never get to have, or do.”
“Yeah, but there was a lot of bad stuff back then too. It was noisy, and smelly, and chaotic. All the trees were gone, and the animals were dying, and the fae were underground. None of that sounds better to me. And anyway, we’ll get to see and experience a lot of stuff that people back then couldn’t even dream of during our-”
“ROAD TRIP!” Dianna shouted at the top of her lungs, interrupting Annelise.
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Annelise said, glancing around and noticing that lights had just flipped on in at least six of the formerly dark houses around them. “I just think that the world is good the way it is now.”
“And if you didn’t think that, you’d just dream up another world and live there the rest of your life,” Dianna joked.
“That’s what’s referred to as insanity Dianna. And I’m not insane.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Annie.”
“Whatever. Go home!” Annelise ordered, jokingly pushing Dianna away.
“Fine. See if I ever talk to you again.”
“You’ll have to when we’re stuck in a van together,” Annelise pointed out.
“ROAD TRIP!” Dianna screamed again.
“I didn’t even use those words!”
“But you basically did.”
With that, they came to the point where their paths diverged.
“See you later,” Dianna said, taking leave of her friend.
“Goodnight,” Annelise called after her.
Annelise stood there watching Dianna go, until she turned around a corner and went out of sight.
Now alone on the dark street, Annelise just stood there as if her feet had grown roots into the ground. Then again, that wasn’t really out of the realm of possibility. She had read about a lot of freaky dryad magic over the years. For all she knew, she could have been the victim of such a spell.
A quick shuffle of her feet proved that she hadn’t been enchanted, though. And that made sense. Dryads are generally good natured, unless provoked. And as she hadn’t cut down any trees lately, she felt sure that she hadn’t done any provoking in her recent past.
Then, through the silence of the street, she caught the sound of waves splashing against rocks just a couple blocks away. As soon as she heard it, she was reminded of her dream. The way the waves sounded when they battered the rocks was surprisingly similar to how the pounding was in her dreams.
Without even taking a moment to think about how late it was and that she needed to get home, Annelise turned and walked to the lake. Then she stood there at the dark shore staring at the water in front of her, smelling the scent of fish, listening to the waves.
The moonlight played across the surface of the otherwise black lake, making the surface glisten with pale, white light. The water was calm, and the waves low. Standing there was the absolute epitome of serenity.
After a moment, though, Annelise shook her head. No, the waves weren’t quite right. They were similar to the pounding, sure, but they weren’t an exact match. Unlike her goldfish and Rupert Tuttle dreams before, her walking dreams refused to be deciphered so easily. Still, Annelise didn’t mind all that much. For she’d know what they meant when she was supposed to know that they meant. Confident in that, she turned her focus away from the lake and looked up at the stars overhead.
She easily located the Big Dipper, Ursa Minor, Orion, and Libra. And as she did, she was reminded of how truly small she was and how huge, wonderful, majestic, and terrifying the universe really is. Here she was, standing on one tiny spot of a planet that was but a grain of sand on the beach of the universe. Compared to the vast expanse out there, she was less than an ant. She was infinitesimal. And yet she was loved and cared for by the creator of it all. She’d truly believed that her entire life. Otherwise, where would her dreams have come from? She was no scientist, she’d barely managed a C in biology, but the thought of her dreams being nothing more than the product of random firings in her sleeping mind seemed abysmal, impossible to her. They had to be something more. They had to be.
Her musings, however, were interrupted when she yawned widely. Suddenly, she felt absolutely exhausted.
She took one last moment to again take in the scene in front of her. Then she turned around and went home.