His eyes struggled to adjust to the searing heat and blinding light. The intense white horizon was all he could make out; the desert landscape swallowed him. Silvery sand, bright skies, and waves of heat obscured everything that lay beyond where he stood.
Hotan’s ears pounded; his heartbeat deafened him. His chest ached as panic filled him.
It’s the dream again.
Frantic, he searched all around.
Where was he? He always comes for me. I never-
His nerves felt as though they were unraveling in his joints. Turning, his gaze fell on a disrupted blackened figure approaching him. It vibrated and wiggled as it advanced, as if this single element of his dream had poor reception. He could never make out who this man or demon was, yet he knew him instinctively.
Not again… That voice and the aura… I know him. I know that I know him, but… why do I also feel as if I have never met him?
“Hotan! I shall take my revenge.” The animosity in the voice gripped Hotan’s soul.
“Revenge?” His mind flooded with questions as it attempted to decipher the familiar voice. “Who are you? Why do I feel like I should know you?”
“You know what blood runs in our hearts! This will be the last time you hide from me. The last time you will hide from what you have done!” A long sword appeared out of the wavering blackness. Unlike the man who held it, this element of the dream was clear as it reflected the blinding sun down upon him like a spotlight shining on its kill. “I wish to thank you for my tortured life for all these centuries! I’ll send you to a lonely darkness equal to the one you gave me!”
Hotan felt his heels scrape against something hard and fell backwards. No matter how many times he changed his direction, he always fell back into the emptiness of this place. The blade rose high, racing at him with astonishing speed. Its edge ripped across his arms, and once more, he released a blood-curdling scream. The fuzzy black shadow laughed the same maddening laugh he’d heard a million times. Wild eyes and a wide grin became clear on the shadow’s vibrating face which was covered with splatters of Hotan’s blood. Wet crimson astounded him as he felt the coldness of his oncoming death. Darkness hid the blinding landscape and all he could feel was the thud-
“Hotan!” Pushing her glasses back on her nose, the haughty teacher snorted in his direction. He jerked his head up off his desk, breathing hard after his nightmare. Sweat covered his face.
“I would appreciate it if you stayed awake during my class.” Scoffing, she turned back to the blackboard to continue the math lesson on sine versus cosine.
“Feh.” Rubbing the sweat off his forehead, he ignored the warning.
Of all places to fall asleep…
“Psst. Are you okay?” Wide-eyed, the light-haired girl in the desk next to him leaned closer. “You’re looking rather pale today. Are you sick?”
“I’m fine.” Annoyed that she had noticed how distraught he was, he cracked his neck before glaring out the window.
Great, now everyone thinks there is something else wrong with me.
Seeing that he was not in the mood to talk, the girl returned to her notes. It was not uncommon for him to be unsociable to his classmates. He spent most of his time in class looking out windows, waiting for the bell to ring. Despite the lack of focus, he was passing his courses without any difficulties.
Hotan watched a gym class finish its last round of a basketball game. The view from the second-story window was nice and the perfect escape from his math teacher’s monotonous lecture. As the last of the kids disappeared from sight, he shifted his focus to a pair of mourning doves sitting on the tennis court fence. A few more landed next to them, joining the line as the morning sun rose higher in the sky. The sun warmed his face as it pushed through the glass, a comforting sensation compared to the echoes of cold that still rattled him.
Strange that the birds should be so clear to him, so distinct from the rest of the gray landscape. Though he had been born completely color blind, there were occasionally strange moments where an object would appear in color. Despite having never seen colors before, he knew their names and how to describe them. One doctor had labeled him as a classic case of cerebral achromatopsia, some fancy term that means he does see colors since he describes the world around him in shades of gray.
The doctor pointed out that the truly color blind have no recognition of what gray is. It didn’t matter; he couldn’t tell you what color anyone around him wore, let alone the school’s colors. Then again, he had other things to focus on than school pride. Screw team spirit.
Who was that man?
His thoughts reeled as the sounds of the classroom faded. Closing his eyes, the dark figure reappeared in his mind; it was the same dream over and over again.
This year has been the worst. It was hitting me once a month. Now I am falling asleep in class and having the dream. What does it mean? It must mean something…
“Class dismissed!” The teacher cleared her throat as students rushed the door. “Hotan Samuels, I need to speak with you.”
Grabbing his book bag, Hotan met her at her desk as the last student departed, leaving them alone. “Yes, Mrs. Bothirsen? Is there a problem?”
“Hotan…” She paused, waiting for the door to click shut before returning her gaze to him. “I know you are passing the exams with straight A’s, but please, stay awake in my class. Just because you’re smarter than the other students, it doesn’t mean you get special privileges and it doesn’t mean you can nap in class. You’ll never pass if you continue to just sit here staring out the window. You need to start participating.”
“Sorry- I haven’t been sleeping well.” He turned away, his face blank as he headed for the hall with no reaction on his face. Stopping a few steps short of the door, he glared back at her. She opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted her. “Plus, who said I had special privileges? If that was the case, I wouldn’t even bother showing up.” Smirking, he glided out of the door, leaving her speechless.
The hallways undulated before him, a churning of greys like that of boiling water in a silver pot. He kept his head low; his silver bangs aided his efforts to ignore unwanted eye contact, especially after the debacle in math class. He just wanted to finish this last year of high school and move on with his life.
Unlike the kids surrounding him, he had no choice but to grow up. Memories of his mom made him bite his cheek as he continued the silent march down the stairs to the first floor.
I am here because I promised her I would graduate high school.
He sighed, passing through the mayhem like a phantom in a cemetery. The students around him seemed to fall silent as he lost himself to sour thoughts and memories. Unlike the panicked kids rushing past him, he felt no urgency to get out of the school.
He paused in front of his locker. Tossing the math book on top of the stack, he huffed to himself. He smirked as he shut the door on the pile of textbooks. He hadn’t opened any of them, yet he was passing with straight A’s. Information came to him as if he had studied them in a past life and the knowledge had never left his soul. Carrying the books to his classes had been a way to show his teachers his respect for the material and to appear less intimidating to other students. At least bringing a book appeared as if he studied.
“Hey there…” The deep voice rang in Hotan’s ears. Chills ran across the back of his neck as if Death himself had whispered the words. “I heard you were looking for me?”
“Hisota.” Hotan turned and shoved the skinny, dark eyed boy. “You haven’t been to band practice. Are you going to play at the club tonight? Or are you finally quitting?”
With a coy smile, Hisota flicked his long, black ponytail off his shoulders. After a moment, he shrugged, increasing Hotan’s ire.
“I need to know.” Hotan had a hard time considering Hisota a friend at the moment. They had met back in elementary school, and Hisota had followed him ever since. “Cut the crap, Hisota. Are you leaving the band, yes or no?”
“If I say no, are you going to bully me into going tonight? Or would you prefer I say yes so your cheerleader-wannabe girlfriend can take my place?” Twisting his face into a vinegary look, it was clear Hisota had a jealous streak when it came to Hotan’s relationship. “I hope you know pretty girls like that look like whores on grungy rocker boys like you. She’s not-”
Hisota yelped as Hotan gripped him by the shirt and slammed him into the lockers. “Leave her out of this! Everyone knows you’re jealous of her- knock it off and grow up already!”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” Hisota jerked out of Hotan’s grip and stomped off into the wall of eyes.
Ignoring the chatter and giggles, Hotan pushed his way out the front doors of the old brick school. Aggravated, he tuned out the world and people around him as he made his way past the bus loop, pacing silently down the sidewalk. He stopped suddenly about a block down from the school; a strangely shaped shadow caught his attention and he looked up to see an old, broken church.