I used to think nightmares were like memories, tactile but harmless, the fear confined to that place inside me I could never reach with my eyes open. They would steel me to the bed in panic, turning my thoughts and muscles against me. But all it took was that first breath back into consciousness and the darkness would let go of me. I could count on that, on the morning always rescuing me.
But now I was standing in a room full of bodies, some filled with nothing but air, some filled with nothing at all. All dreaming. All wading through darkness waiting for morning.
But I was not a beacon of light. I was not the sun. I was the moon, the night in all its darkness, and the moment I touched them, the moment I woke them that’s all they would know. I knew I had no choice but the thought of finding the Dreamers was nothing more than a light nudge. Because despite their closeness, empty faces all turned up, limp bodies breathing in unison, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the one that belonged to me.
I could see a sliver of it through the hall and the half-closed door. Celia and Dani circled it as if there was nothing but a silent sickness inside that could be chased out. They couldn’t feel what I felt—unsettled and unbound—a strange current casting me adrift now that there was no flesh and bone to tie me down.
But I let them tend to my corpse the same way I’d let Roman carry it inside. Celia had managed to stay hidden from the shadows for almost four decades and I couldn’t imagine a safer place for the Dreamers to finally wake up. We’d covered the floors of the spare bedrooms in quilts and pillows, moonlight shining in through the lace curtains. It inched across the Dreamers’ skin, streaking shapes and shadows that made it easy to pretend there was still life inside some of them.
When Roman carried in my body I’d kept my back turned, that tug towards sleep, towards giving up, illuminating like a beacon from behind. I forced myself not to look even when I heard Roman whisper something to Celia about keeping it safe. Even though the request made me bristle. Even though I could smell the blood from this far away.
I’d breathed hard through my nose until the air wasn’t trying to strangle me. All I wanted was to hurl myself at Roman. At something. Because I was dead. I was dead and I wasn’t and being stuck in that in-between where it wasn’t blood pumping through my veins but something stronger didn’t make me feel weak or sad or even afraid. Thinking about the permanence of it, the freedom, I was relieved.
And Roman could never know.
*This excerpt is from a WIP and is subject to change*