She screamed in agony as the flames consumed her, pain wracking every nerve in her body. Fire, roared over her, burning her face, razing the hair from her skull. Through liquefying eyes she saw the ocean ablaze, waves of fire soaring and crashing before her.
How can the sea be on fire?
From the rooftop, where she stood, Isobel could see faint shapes at sea, moving slowly in the fiery waves. Whales and dolphins on fire! She could hear their agonised moans from here! The smell of burning flesh made her retch, bile rising like acid in her throat. She gasped, trying to suck in air; instead fire burned down her throat, eating her insides.
She could hardly think through the pain!
What was left of her deep red hair whipped her as she looked around, streaking tiny flames across her face. She saw buildings on fire, collapsing into rubble and ash with a deafening roar. Everywhere she looked people writhed in pain, screaming as they burned alive. Others ran madly, crashing into each other as they were eaten by flames. All around her people became bellowing, tortured pillars of heat and liquid fat. Agonised screams rent the air, innocents crying as they burned, dying in the howling flames. She felt her blackened skin cracking, splitting apart, chunks forming as the dehydrated flesh charred, contracted and shrunk exposing veins and sinew.
God, the pain!
Her boiling eyes burst and she couldn’t hold on any longer, she screamed. With fire tearing into her burning lungs, she screamed...
* * *
Isobel woke, screaming into the night, clutching frantically at herself. For the briefest moment she thought she was still on fire. Shrieking in fear and horror she slapped wildly at herself, trying to extinguish the flames. Her panic subsided as she realised she was in her bedroom. Her skin was slick with sweat, the silk of her night dress soaked through and stuck to her body. The sheets were drenched with sweat. She could still smell burning flesh, the scent of it made her gag and Isobel ran for the bathroom, bile rising in her throat.
She barely made it.
Sick flew out of her, splashing back into her face. She gripped the basin edges so tightly she felt her nails bend painfully back. The pain just fed the nausea and she threw up again.
When she was finally done her legs gave out and she collapsed to her knees, one hand still loosely gripping the edge of the sink. Leaning her wet forehead against her arm, Isobel sat regaining her breath for a while, anchored to the world only by her hand clutching the basin.
In none of her previous dreams had Isobel smelt anything like that. The memory of charring bodies almost made her heave again, but she pushed the urge down.
The nightmares were getting worse.
Wearily she rose to her feet, legs shaking beneath her and looked in the mirror.
Her eyes were jet black.
She screamed a wordless sound of rage and terror at her reflection and ran back to her bedroom. Flinging herself face down on the cooling, sweaty sheets, she pulled the covers over herself, buried her face in the pillow and began screaming wordlessly over and over into the cotton. When her voice finally gave out she sobbed silently, her shoulders aching from heaving so much, her throat ragged and sore. Gradually conscious, coherent thought returned to her.
Good thing I don’t live with anyone, she mused and smiled bitterly to herself. Who’d want a freak like me anyway? With that, she crawled over to the other, dryer side of the bed and tried to get some more sleep.
* * *
Isobel was partially successful. Although her few hours rest were fitful and punctuated by bouts of wakefulness, she didn’t have any more nightmares. When her alarm went at nine o clock she got up with a weary groan and twenty minutes later than she should have. Thankfully it was only a ten minute walk to work, where she was on the day shift.
“You look like crap,” Dave observed when Isobel appeared behind the bar. “Rough night?”
“Something like that,” she sighed. “You really know how to make a girl feel good Dave.”
“I’m a charmer,” he replied with a grin. “Maybe that’s why I’m divorced.”
Isobel gave him a wan, tired smile.
The Black Swallow was quiet this morning, a few early drinkers were nursing the first pint of the day and in some cases a fry up as well. Robbie, the cook, always did a mean fry up in the pub’s small kitchen.
“Seriously, are you okay?” Dave asked, concern lacing his voice. When her eyes flicked away under his scrutiny, he gently prompted, “Isobel?”
“I used to think I would be,” she replied. “Now I just don’t know.” She shrugged, “Maybe I never will be, maybe this thing will just...” she trailed off, not wanting to vocalise her thoughts, to give them substance.
“This thing will just what?” Dave persisted.
“Finish me.” Her angry eyes locked on his. “Maybe this thing will just finish me, Dave. Not that I give a fuck!”
“You sure about that?” Dave asked softly.
“Sure,” Isobel lied, her eyes trailing across the bar. “There’s an empty.” She darted off towards the empty glass like it was the last driftwood in a turbulent ocean. Her hand seized it so tightly the glass cracked in her grasp. She turned to see Dave watching her, a strange mix of frustration and concern on his face. His greying eyebrows knitted together as they did when he was worried. There was no way to avoid a discussion now.
“Bollocks,” she muttered and headed back to the bar.
“You’re not okay,” he stated, noticing the cracked glass as Isobel brushed past. “You hurt?”
“I’m fine,” she growled storming into the kitchen towards the empty dishwasher.
“What’s up with you?” Dave asked following her back into the kitchen.
“Nothing!” she snapped, whirling on him, “I’m just tired! Forget about it.”
“Didn’t sleep well?” Dave asked.
Isobel glared at him.
“Seems to be a recurring problem with you lately.”
“I’m fine,” she repeated without conviction, pushing dark hair back with her free hand.
“So what’s this thing that’s going to finish you?”
“Nothing! God, what fucking business is it of yours!?” she slammed the glass into a dishwasher hole. The crack she’d made grew, splintering outwards. “Shit.” She withdrew the glass and held it out to Dave. “Sorry.”
He snatched the glass from her and dropped it into the bin without even a glance.
“Fuck the glass,” he said, eyes boring into hers. “Tell me what’s going on Isobel. If anything you’re grumpier than usual and you’re spouting nonsense about something ‘finishing’ you whatever the hell that means.”
“Well, what do you think it means?” she cried, “and it’s not nonsense!” She looked down, examining the worn linoleum of the floor. She wanted to talk about it, but how much to say? She didn’t want to sound like a lunatic. “It’s nothing,” she repeated.
“Right.” Dave stayed with his arms folded across his broad chest, a pillar of frustrated strength. “Come on Isobel, talk to me. In five years you’ve never been late, until today. On top of which you look… scared.”
“Yeah, okay.” she looked up defiantly. “It’s private, Dave.”
“No,” Isobel blinked in surprise. “No, not her. This is something else.”
“Okay,” Dave nodded calmly, glad Isobel was starting to open up. He stayed silent, giving her time to compose herself.
When she spoke she did so quietly, all her bravado gone. “You know I haven’t been sleeping well…” she began. Just then she was interrupted.
“What the hell is with the meeting here?” Robbie called in irritation from the bar on the other side of the kitchen, “I’m trying to cook and serve drinks here. It don’t work.”
Isobel glared at his interruption, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Exasperated, Robbie looked to Dave for support.
“Just give us a minute.”
Robbie shook his head at them and disappeared back to the bar, grumbling under his breath.
“Sorry,” Isobel gave him a weak anxious smile, “I’m ruining your business.”
“No you aren’t,” Dave told her. “Isobel, what’s going on?”
She sighed and glanced down before meeting his eyes again. “Sometimes I have bad dreams.”
“We all do.”
“Not like these. These dreams, nightmares are... they’re so real, so much more vivid than any others. They feel more like... prophecy. Like they’re portents of things to come.”
“What happens in these dreams?”
She bit her lip to keep it from trembling. “We all die,” she told him quietly. “We all burn.” A single tear coursed a lonely trail down her cheek, her voice beginning to shake. “Everything burns. Everything! Including me! I feel myself burn alive, over and over again!”
“That’s not the worst.”
“No.” She shook her head. “The worst part is they’re becoming more frequent, more intense! I feel like my mind is eroding... What?”
Dave had become distracted, his eyes staring past her, his frown deepening. “This reminds me of something someone said the other night.” He tapped his finger on the steel counter, “Someone else said they were having...” he looked at her, searching for the right term, “recurring nightmares. Who was it?” He snapped his fingers as he remembered, making Isobel jump. “Jake!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly.
“Jake?” Isobel said, not grasping his meaning.
“Yeah, Jake,” Dave continued. “You know Jake, you were talking to him the other night.”
“Jake?” Isobel exclaimed, “Weird Jake? He has nightmares?”
“He ain’t weird.”
“Good looking guy, drinks alone,” Isobel commented, “always drinks alone? It’s a bit strange.”
“You think he’s good looking?” Dave raised an eyebrow.
Isobel shrugged, “He has a certain charm.” She couldn’t quite keep the smile she was suppressing out of her voice, “But he is odd.”
Dave shrugged, “Man likes his own company is all.”
“No one likes their own company that much Dave,” Isobel said. “Believe me I know.”
Dave just shrugged again. “All I know is he mentioned something about recurring nightmares the other night. Said ‘no amount of alcohol could dim them’ or some such thing. Might be worth talking to him. Maybe he knows some coping technique or something.”
“Hey,” Dave reached out and squeezed her arm. “Don’t let them get to you. They’re only dreams.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Talk to Jake. He might be able to help. It’s worth a shot isn’t it?”
She smiled, “I guess so. Thanks Dave. Do you know if he’ll be in later?”
* * *
Jake wandered into the Black Swallow a little before six that evening and was immediately accosted by Isobel. “I want to talk to you after work,” she said urgently, the moment he got to the bar.
“What about?” He looked genuinely bemused, like he couldn’t remotely fathom what Isobel could want to discuss.
“Tell you later,” was all she cryptically said.
Now they sat together on a corner table, nursing pints of dark ale. She couldn’t quite seem to meet his eyes and kept diverting her gaze. What she had said earlier about Jake being attractive kept coming back to her. Had Dave been secretly playing cupid? It hadn’t felt like it at the time, but now her meeting with Jake felt almost like a date.
After a few minutes of her avoiding eye contact, Jake put his glass down and looked at her levelly, “What gives Izzy?”
“I told you not to call me that.”
“You said you wanted to talk.”
Isobel sighed. It seemed to be her day for uncomfortable conversations, but if Jake could help she needed him. Besides it wasn’t as if he was hard to look at. She glanced up at him, imploring her with those beautiful dark eyes of his and looked away again, suddenly not feeling very confident. She really didn’t want to make a fool of herself in front of him.
“I’m trying to find the words,” she said and glanced up. “This is hard for me okay?”
“What, talking to some ‘weird’” he made quotation marks with his fingers, “guy you serve beer to a few times a week?”
“You’re very good about that you know,” she smiled. “And just so you know, I don’t think you’re weird.”
“I’d have said idiosyncratic,”
He laughed. “I can live with that.” He sipped his beer.
Isobel smiled uncertainly. She still wasn’t sure whether to trust him with her secret. If the rest of the staff thought he was weird what the hell would they say about her if word of her condition got around? Memories of past conversations whispered behind her back came to her. Isobel scowled at the thoughts, she spent too much living in the past. She looked again at Jake and decided to take the plunge.
“Dave said you had nightmares.” She cringed inside as a hard look formed on his face. Hard and… spooked. Like some of the colour had disappeared, drained away.
“So?” He said, showing only a shadow of his previous bravado.
“So do I.” She took a hearty swig of her beer, “Bad ones.” She smiled, a humourless gallows smile. “You couldn’t believe how bad.”
“It’s the end of the world,” she said, “over and over again. And it burns, God how it burns. Everything burns Jake, everything… its awful. Last night I dreamt the sea was on fire! How the fuck can the sea be on fire!? The dolphins were screaming and I… I…” tears were welling in her eyes.
“Burnt.” Jake said with quiet authority.
“Yeah,” A single tear fell down her cheek, “I burned.”
“Yeah.” Another tear fell and she quickly wiped it away with her hand. Wiping her hand on her jeans, she sniffed and fought back more tears. When she was confident she wasn’t going to cry anymore she looked back at Jake, not sure what to expect, but fearing the worst.
His gaze was fixed on her.
“What?” she said, ready to go on the defensive.
“Those are my nightmares too.”
She blinked and looked at him in stunned silence for a full minute before replying, “What?”
“I’ve had the same nightmares,” he said. “Since I was a kid.” He laughed, a small sound and smiled. “Wow. How fucking weird is that?”
“Yeah,” Isobel blinked again, “Yeah that is weird.” She took another sip of her beer, considering. Jake had nightmares where the world burned, nightmares like hers. She wondered if he got black eyes too, but was hesitant to ask. Her own mother had ridiculed her when she’d spoken about the Taint and she wasn’t the only one. It was a lot to trust someone with, maybe too much and she desperately didn’t want Jake to reject her. Anxiety flooded her mind and she tried to quell it with another sip of beer.
“Last night I felt fire burn down my throat,” Jake confessed quietly.
Isobel’s eyes went wide. She remembered the sensation from her own dream all too well.
“People were burning all around me Isobel, I… I could hear them… their screams…”
“God,” Isobel sounded breathless when she spoke, shock temporarily stealing her voice. “That sounds so familiar.”
“Oh thank God.” Jake let out a heavy breath and visibly relaxed.
Isobel swore she could see the tension slide off his shoulders. She only wished it was that easy for her. Despite the similarities in their dreams, Isobel was still worried about telling him the rest. She stared into her drink for a long moment, wrestling with the decision. “There’s something else as well.”
“Yeah.” Isobel blew out her breath, heart pounding against her chest. Her hands shook with nervous adrenaline as her eyes rose to meet his. “Do your eyes turn black afterwards?”
The humour disappeared completely from his face and for an awful second Isobel thought she’d made a mistake; that Jake thought she was mocking him.
Her jaw fell at his response. She’d hoped for, but hadn’t really expected this. It seemed too much.
“Really?” She held his haunted gaze, there was no doubting the sincerity in his eyes.
“Jesus.” Isobel glanced away and took another hearty swig of her beer before speaking again. “You’re not making this up are you? I mean, you’re not pretending?”
“No. Why the hell would I pretend about this Izzy? For a start I can see it’s upsetting you.”
“Some people work hard to upset me,” she said softly.
She looked at him for a long moment, weighing the sincerity in his eyes. He seemed genuine. Isobel sighed, “Last night I felt myself burn alive, Jake. Of course I’m fucking upset!”
“Yeah, well you’re not the only one. I’m still looking for a drink that’ll stop the dreams.”
Isobel smiled at that, “Any luck?”
He returned the smile, “Not yet. I thought Mr Jack did the trick for a while, but they always come back.”
“How often does it happen to you? The nightmares, the eyes?”
“Used to be once in a blue moon, now…” he looked away, his cheeks twitched. Instinctively Isobel reached a hand across the pitted wood of the table. His eyes came back to hers, not strong as she’d expected, but frightened. “Every night.”
She felt her eyes widen, her lips part in horror. “Every night?”
“Only the days that end in y.”
“Hasn’t helped me yet.” Jake swallowed the rest of his beer in one go. “You want another?” he asked holding up his glass. Isobel looked down surprised to see she’d nearly finished her own drink.
That disappeared quick.
“Please,” she smiled. He smiled back and walked to the bar, leaving Isobel to chew over the revelations of their talk.
It made sense that Jake shared her… problem. He’d always been taciturn and drank as if he was trying to forget some undefined trouble. Now of course, the trouble was very much defined. It made sense too, that he’d never spoken about it. Apocalypse dreams that turned your eyes black weren’t exactly a normal problem. She was relieved, though, to not be alone with it anymore, to not have to carry the burden on her own and wondered how similar their dreams were. Were they exactly the same or were there only general similarities between them?
She also wondered if the dreams were the only reason Jake was so obviously single.
A glass of ale thunked down in front of her, jolting her out of her reverie. She looked up as Jake resumed his seat opposite her. For the first time she really noticed how gaunt he looked, his cheeks were thin and he had purple semi-circles under his eyes. He also seemed dishevelled and unkempt with his messy hair and stubble, but she guessed that was at least partially just his image. After all he did drink in a rock pub.
“You said you were a kid when it started,” she said, leaning forward over her folded arms. “How old were you the first time?”
His eyes flicked down before he answered and Isobel realised she’d flashed a little more cleavage than she’d intended. She shrugged internally and smiled to herself, I don’t mind if you look.
“Nine.” He said, taking a long sip of ale.
“Nine?” She was shocked. It was very young to witness such horrors.
“Nine.” He nodded once to confirm.
“God, that’s young. What on Earth did you do?”
“What any self-respecting nine year old does,” he said, “ran crying to my mum.”
Isobel couldn’t help but laugh at this, “Mummy’s boy,” she grinned.
“Fuck you,” he replied.
“You wish,” she purred, leaning forward again, giving him her best eye contact.
He just smiled. “My mum told me it was just a nightmare and I believed her. Had no reason not to. I didn’t have another dream like that for nearly three years after.”
“Wait,” Isobel said. “You ran straight to your mum?”
“Far as I can remember, yeah.”
“You didn’t stop anywhere first?”
“I was scared out of my fucking mind, Isobel, I remember that much. Why?”
“Well if you went straight to her, didn’t she think it odd you had pitch black eyes?”
“She made no comment about it,” he said slowly. “I never looked in a mirror. I guess they either went quick or I didn’t have them that first time.”
“I had them the first time,” Isobel said. “Maybe she didn’t want to upset you any more than you already were?”
“I think she still would’ve mentioned it. It would’ve freaked her out too.” He shrugged, “Maybe it was just too dark to see them.” He shrugged again and drank. “What about you. When did it first happen to you?”
“I was fifteen,” she smiled. “It was the first night I was with my then boyfriend.”
She gave him a knowing smile, “You know what I mean.” Her smile faded, gradually disappearing altogether. “I woke up at four AM from the most terrifying nightmare I’d ever had; the world consumed by flames and me wandering through it, lost, looking for something, I don’t know what. Anyway, I woke up from this horrible dream and yanked on the bedside light. I saw my eyes in the mirror, black as night and I screamed. Matt, my boyfriend, woke up of course. I looked round at him and when I looked back at the mirror… my eyes were normal. For months I thought I imagined it. Hallucination brought on by the nightmare. Then I forgot about it completely until a year later, when it happened again. Poor Matt thought I’d lost the plot. He was good about it though, reassuring. More than I can I say for my mum.”
Jake laughed, “She didn’t burst in did she?”
Isobel couldn’t help smiling a little. “Yep. She didn’t see Matt though, he ducked out of sight behind the bed. She would have killed me.”
Jake laughed lightly, “What happened to him?”
“We broke up soon after.”
“Yeah,” she noticed his penetrating stare and sighed, “He cheated on me with a girl who was apparently a better lay, okay?”
“Bastard,” Jake said.
“Well I was a ginge,” she smiled, trying to lighten the tone.
“Ginger.” Her smile widened a little, “I’m naturally a red head, I dye my hair. Don’t tell me you never noticed.”
“I never noticed.”
“Wow. Even for a man you are spectacularly unobservant.”
Jake shrugged, appraising her hair as he sipped his beer. “You do a good job of it,” he said finally, “I’ve never seen any roots on you, I always thought you were naturally dark.”
“You’re a bloke,” she teased. “You just weren’t looking.”
“Oh I was looking pretty hard.”
Isobel glanced away,, feeling a slight flush come into her cheeks. “See that’s another thing I don’t understand. In the dreams I’m always red haired, I revert back to my natural hair colour, even though I’ve been dying it black for years. Why is that?”
He shrugged. “Fucked if I know. None of this makes any sense to me.” He smiled at her, “Still at least we’re not alone with it anymore. We’ve got each other.”
“We have,” Isobel favoured him with a smile, “Cheers.” She raised her glass.
Jake copied, “Cheers” he echoed, not taking his eyes off her as they clinked.
* * *
Over the course of the next few drinks they agreed that they should both go back to Isobel’s nearby flat and try an experiment to see how similar their nightmares were. They would sleep, side by side and when they woke from their nightmares they would compare notes. Isobel too was having them every night now and wasn’t worried about not dreaming. Although, if they were going to be absent, tonight would be the night and although she needed a good night’s sleep, Isobel for the first time ever, hoped the nightmares came.
When they reached Isobel’s flat she fixed them both a drink and gave Jake the guided tour. One expansive gesture was sufficient to encompass both the living room and tiny kitchen. A few steps down the short hall were enough to show both the bedroom and the bathroom. It took all of thirty seconds.
“Cosy,” Jake commented sipping his beer.
“Pokey, you mean,” Isobel said with a wry twist of the lips.
“It might not be much Jake, but its mine,” Isobel sipped her red wine. “That counts for something. If only ‘cause I’m away from my godforsaken mother.”
“You guys don’t get on?”
“She’s a bitch.”
“I can see how that would be a problem.” Jake wandered across the living room to admire the vistas the tall windows offered over the last few rooftops and the sea beyond. “Views nice,” he observed.
“Yeah,” she said crossing the room to join him. Silently they looked out, admiring the ocean through their semi-opaque reflections. “Last year when there were fireworks over the sea I didn’t even have to leave the house to watch,” Isobel told him. “I could see it all from here. Same with new years.”
“You didn’t go out new years eve?” Jake was a little surprised.
She shook her head, “No.” She took a long sip of wine, savouring the taste of spices on her tongue, “I don’t really go out a whole lot anymore. The odd gig, that’s about it.” She gave a mirthless chuckle, “I’ve not even had a date in God knows how long.”
“Jesus Jake, why do you think?” she said sharply. “What do you say to someone when you habitually wake up screaming? And the eyes?” She shook her head, sighed and took a long drink, staring through her reflection at the darkened sea. It was a while before she spoke again. “You’re the first person I’ve ever brought home.”
Isobel didn’t return Jake’s smile.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked
“Five years,” she replied, her voice soft.
“That’s a long time not to have any visitors.”
“What can I say?” Her eyes flicked to him, “You’re privileged.”
“You want to get on with this experiment?”
“I think its time.” Jake shot her an exaggerated seductive look. “Show me to your bedroom.”
Isobel laughed lightly, her spirits lifted by his banter. “Oh, it has been a long time since you seduced someone.” With a sultry smile, she turned to leave the room. When she looked back a second later Jake was hesitating, standing where she’d left him rather than following her. “What?” she asked, clearly entertained. “You nervous?”
“Then come on.” She nodded down the hall, “Bedroom’s this way.” She didn’t look back a second time, although she did put some sway into her walk, smiling to herself as she moved.
* * *
In her bedroom they both lay down on Isobel’s double bed more or less fully clothed. Jake shed the checked shirt he’d been wearing over his faded t-shirt and emptied his pockets before lying down.
Isobel lay next to him, tense. He was the first man in her bed for a long time and even though it wasn’t entirely sexual, the possibility of sex hung in the air, making her nervous.
Jake, on the other hand, seemed totally relaxed and it didn’t take long for him to fall asleep. He was soon sprawled on his back snoring noisily away beside her, occupying more than his share of the bed.
Isobel cursed him while she lay rigid, staring up at the ceiling unable to sleep. The curtains were closed and the room was in near pitch darkness. A ship blew its horn far out at sea, the noise sounding lonely and forlorn.
She glanced at Jake, snoring next to her and smiled.
He mumbled something in his sleep and smacked his lips. Isobel tried not to laugh, affection warming her heart. She rolled over onto her side to watch him as he slept. His chest rose and fell with his breathing. It was almost hypnotic, Isobel felt herself growing drowsy watching his heart’s slow, peaceful rhythm. The muscles under his black t-shirt were well defined and she wondered what it would be like to touch them, to feel his warm, smooth skin under her fingers, to taste him on her tongue.
She blinked, pushing the thoughts away and then with a smile and a growing warmth beginning in her stomach, welcomed them back. It wasn’t as if she was going to act on them, at least not now.
So what if I did? she thought. Hell, he’d probably love it. Her smile broadened. She flirted with the idea of reaching a hand out to him, the desire to touch his warm flesh growing inside her as her eyelids drifted closed.
* * *
Isobel stared at a sky full of fire, her eyes following the barely distinguishable shapes moving amongst the flames. She realised as she watched that the shapes were sailing between burning buildings, but the great fire gave everything a uniformity, casting flickering shadows that played tricks on her hot eyes. As she stared, Isobel saw wings forming, as the strange, huge shapes emerged from the towering pyre.
The creatures twirled slowly, their rippling shapes, gradually solidifying before her eyes. The sight strangely beautiful and terrifying to behold. Isobel found herself becoming hypnotized by the steady rhythmic flap of the great fiery wings.
Fire dragons she thought, they look like fire dragons.
Isobel counted five of the beasts turning in a slow, loose circle, far above her head. She knew they were far away, but their gigantic wingspans made them seem closer, as if a single flap of their great flaming wings would engulf her, swallowing her in flames. Pillars of fire burned all around her, the air stank of charred earth and burnt flesh. She knew the ends of her red hair were on fire, but she couldn’t feel it.
One of the dragons noticed her and braying a deep, hoarse roar to its brethren, swooped down towards her, gaining speed as it closed. As it hurtled towards her, Isobel opened her mouth to scream, but before she got past the first syllable, the dragon’s breath roared from its throat engulfing her in an inferno. For the briefest moment Isobel felt the terrible agony of her flesh burning and blackening in the monstrous heat…
* * *
She woke up screaming, arms flailing about her. As she sat, trying to regain her breath a strange movement startled her.
It was only a light twitching at first, but grew more violent. His legs kicked at the covers, digging into the duvet beneath him, tearing it from the bed. His arms flailed wildly, one hand whacking Isobel in her side hard enough to bruise. Urgent noises of distress came from his throat.
“Jake?” she asked cautiously as the noises became more frantic. Her heart was racing now. She wanted to clutch the covers to her chest, but couldn’t get enough of them. Jake let out a scream of anguish and jerked upright, limbs flying and kicking in all directions.
“Jake!” she cried, terrified even though she knew what was happening. She’d never been on this side of the dream curtain before.
His eyes flew open and he clutched at the covers, as if to anchor himself to reality. He was gasping, taking in ragged breaths of air. Isobel could see the sweat standing out on his forehead and arms, could feel the damp heat coming off him. “Jake?” she asked tentatively as his breathing slowed.
He nodded, a single bead of sweat dripped from his forehead onto the bedclothes as he did. “Yeah,” he sounded out of breath.
She smiled a little, reassured. “You okay?”
He shook his head, hair plastered to his sweaty brow. “Are you ever okay after one of those fucking dreams?”
Her smile widened. “No. No, I suppose not.”
He turned his head to look at her and she gasped. His eyes were pitch black ovals, perfect in their absolute darkness.
“Your eyes,” she said, breathlessly. “They’re black.”
“Weird seeing it in another face.” Instinctively she reached out and stroked his stubbled cheek, relishing the feel of the rough hair under her fingernails. “What did you see?”
“A building,” he said. “A tall one. It was on fire. Obviously.” He smiled wanly, “Just once I’d love one of these dreams not to be fiery you know? Why not an ice apocalypse? I mean it was good enough for the dinosaurs, right?”
She laughed at that, “I guess it was.” She smiled and, close to tears, grabbed him, pulling him into a hug. He wrapped his hot arms around her, holding her close. After a moment she started crying, sobbing into his shoulder. The sight of the Taint darkening his eyes proved that he was like her. Her body wracked with big, shaking tremors of relief as she realised she was no longer alone.