You know when you are in a moment so bizarre, so fundamentally wrong that you just know that it must be a dream? Well, I was caught up in the most intensely real “dream” of my life. I was chasing my mind-reading crush down the hall, after single-handedly persuading the teacher with powers of my own that I still could barely comprehend.
It wasn’t right. This was real. All of it. The most sick, twisted part of it all? That it was me. I was just Vivian Rose, an unremarkable school girl. Decent grades. Average beauty. Not overly striking, personality-wise or skill wise. Sure, I had some charm. Sometimes I could convince my brother to give me the bigger piece of pizza, but nothing like what James was suggesting. Mind control.
The moment I had caught up to James, the teacher bellowed through the door. The torrent of thoughts and questions whirling in my mind screeched to a halt. Blankness blanketed my mind like a screen, masking any rational idea and freezing me in my place.
“Vivian! James! You little imbeciles! How dare you cut my class?” He accentuated the word “my,“ as if his class was the most interesting thing in the world when in fact those hours had been the dullest of my life.
Vivian! Move it! We’re going to get caught! James’ husky voice echoed in my mind, snapping me out of my haze. But my feet refused to move, like cement blocks dragging me under the waves. Even then I knew something was wrong. Not the teacher, or James, or broken rules. Those thoughts were lost in seconds as it began.
Everything was painfully sharp all at once. The fluorescents overhead seemed to blaze, burning my eyes, James’ rich scent of sandalwood and cinnamon pummeled my nose, the soft squeak of the teacher’s shoes on tile seemed to shriek like nails on a chalkboard. James whispered to me, urging me to keep going, even trying futilely to control my mind, but each word of his soft honey voice I had fawned over for so long sent stabbing pains through my ears, a million nails slamming into my head all at once. His touch was like knives, the usually-subtle sandalwood musk suffocating me with scent.
The sensory overload plastered me to my spot. My knees buckled. I felt an overwhelming panic setting in, something beyond the hallway and the teacher. Why can’t I move? Why can’t I breathe? Another wave of dread and confusion crashed through my veins, making me both hot and cold at the same time. A burning cold. So hot it was cool, so cool it was hot, ice and flame searing my skin.
The world flickered black. Noises cycled between being painfully loud to distant and quiet, a jumble of James’ concerned voice and the screech of shoes, students’ feverish speculations and the pounding of my own heart. My head hit the tile with a crack, and everything went black.
It was hardly a second that passed before the black swam with a vision. The sensations of my body crumpled against the cold tile melted away, and in moments I was standing upright in the middle of a dark, dank corridor. Pains and icy hot pin pricks that had tormented me fell away and my vision cleared. A tall man stood in front of me, barely illuminated by the weak lights. He was scrawny, so gaunt and pale that he seemed ghostlike in the dimness. The glow of the bulbs glinted off his bald head, made his watery hazel eyes gleam; he reminded me of a hairless rat. Something about his broad, malicious sneer chilled me to the bones.
“Who are you?” I asked, stepping forward. My footsteps thundered in the deathly silent hall. Distantly, I noticed rows of green lockers lining the walls. My brow wrinkled in confusion, and I glanced back at him and his knowing smirk. Am I… at school?
“Nobody you know. Not yet,” he fiddled with his impeccable black suit, flicking off an almost imperceptibly small piece of lint before adding, “but I know who you are now. You’ve made quite the impression today… Vivian.” The slimy, smug way he said it sent shivers down my spine and I staggered back. I’d never seen this man in my life, but everything about him screamed pure evil, from the glint in his pale hazel eyes to the ratty, gaunt appearance. I have to wake up. I have to wake up.
“I… what are you doing to me? Why am I here?” I stammered, picturing my limp body back in the hall. I focused all my energy on there, on my lifeless form, and I could faintly feel James’ calloused hands on my back. He must be carrying me somewhere… I let the thought slip away as the man spoke again.
“It’s simple, really. I’ve spent years seeking out James. My biological son.” A disgusting slimy pride coated the word. Son.
“The most valuable asset on Earth. Control over someone capable of such destruction. And now you come along, with a similar skill set.” His voice is hungry, as though the thought of it fills him with twisted longing.
“My power will be limitless once I have both, will it not? Imagine the riches, the control of having the whole world at your disposal. Mass mind control. I’m sure you understand the draw.”
“I’d never do that! I don’t… no. Not me. This is all one big mistake, I don’t have powers. I’m just an ordinary schoolgirl. I’m not anything!” I pleaded, willing myself to go back to my real body. Come on, come on! I could distantly hear the echo of James’ voice, growing stronger as I strained.
“Ah, well. Can’t you see that your normalcy makes you the perfect candidate for this gift? That unremarkableness that you so cling to, Ms. Rose, just shows me that you yearn for more in your heart. I see the strongest desire in you, stronger than I ever have in James or anyone else. Wouldn’t you like to be special? I can give you that, and so much more. Wouldn’t you like to be powerful, to have James on your arm… forever?” His words lured me in, and the overwhelming desire that had been locked away for so long bursting at the seams. It took all my strength to resist the offer.
“No! I can’t do it that way. It’s not right!” He grabbed my arm, preparing to shout something, and I thrashed as hard as I could, screaming and thrusting myself into reality.
The world rushed back. James’ concerned face flooded with relief, beautiful brown eyes gazing down. I didn’t need to ask where I was, I had been there once before. The musty, dank scent, darkness, a lone window and mounds of boxes… it was the school’s basement.
“What happened?” He asked, and I gasped for air, trying to calm my racing heart.
“A- a vision,” I paused, panting and trying to collect my thoughts. “A pale, scrawny guy. Said he was-” The jagged, broken words caught in my throat; I inhaled sharply. “Your father. He wants to control us, James. I’m scared.”
He drew me close, surprising me with the ferocity of the hug. He was warm, and the creamy sandalwood musk washed over me. Butterflies soared in my stomach, and I suppressed them as best I could. This was no time for that. We were in danger.
“It’s okay. I’m here, we’re in this together now. I hoped you wouldn’t say that. Where were you, in the vision?” James asked, pulling away almost reluctantly. I narrowed my eyes in thought, trying to remember. Green lockers…
“Here! The school.” His face went deathly white, and he helped me up, fear written across his face.
“He’s coming for us. He’s in the school. If he catches us, he’ll tempt us, but in the end we will always be puppets if we give in. We have to leave. Now.”
Time was a blur for the next minute. Him yanking my hand, dragging me, urging me onward. Racing up the steps, running through the school, the eerie echo of shoes on tiles, the distant yells of teachers the only other sound to be heard. We were being watched. I could feel it, could feel the man’s slimy, malicious gaze on my back as we ran into the parking lot.
“Here! Get in!” James gestured to a nearby truck with a woman inside, jamming to music. I did a double-take.
“Are you insane? Can you drive?” His eyes were wild, and he ran an exasperated hand through his tousled black hair before shaking his head. Desperation was scrawled across his face, lines of tension and fading hope etching themselves in his forehead. This was our only option. The sensation of the man’s presence was getting stronger each second that we stalled. There was no time for logic or laws. Without missing a beat, I flung myself into action.
“Get out!” I screamed at the woman through the open window, projecting so much of my power into those two words that the ground shook. She practically threw herself out the door, and I scrambled into the seat, flicking the key. The truck roared to life, quaking under my sneakers. James had barely slammed his door before I thrust my foot down onto the pedal, careening forward and plowing through the carefully landscaped lawn.
“Vivian! Do you know how to work th-” His sentence was cut off as the wheels screeched on the asphalt, screaming in protest as I sped north on the (thankfully) empty road. The speedometer leapt up, further and further. 80. 90. Maximum speed. James let out a guttural whoop, caught somewhere between a fearful scream and an excited cry.
He said something that I couldn’t hear, drowned out by the roar of the engine. The sensation of James’ “father” was fading, growing more distant with each passing second on the open road. I was driving. On an adventure. Perhaps the man was right about the desire to be special, but I knew he wasn’t right with his methods. Tracking down his own son and an innocent to control them wouldn’t make you special or powerful. It wouldn’t make you happy. But the bravery I felt right now? That would make me happier than all the control in the world. I let myself relax for a while, taking in the open road and fresh air. I could only pray there were no cops around, because I was almost certain a minor (without a license) going 90 on a road with a 30 mile per hour speed limit was quite illegal.
“So, what do we do now?” I flopped down on the freshly made bed next to James, letting myself sink into the plush mattress. My body still felt like I was speeding down the highway, and I could feel the trembling roar of the engine even now as I sprawled on the hotel bed.
“I don’t know. But we can’t stay here long. My… father-” he spat the word like a curse, “has been hunting me for years. It was one day.” He sighed, running a hand through his messy black hair. A spark of trauma and pain flashed across his eyes briefly before fading again.
“One day that I gave in, let him use me for his sick, twisted game. I guess that’s all it takes. One moment. One day,” he trailed off, burying his face in his hands. I placed a tentative hand on his back. His muscles were hard as rock, taut as a rope in a ferocious game of tug-of-war.
“And now I’ve gotten you dragged into it too. He’s so powerful, I just have no idea his capabilities. But- but I thought I was careful…” his voice broke and he stared numbly at a wall, eyes downturned with regret, twinkling with guilt. Any anger that I had felt at him for the shy facade and dragging me into danger dissipated with the pangs of sympathy. I could barely fathom how the shy, smart kid I had adored could harbor so many secrets. How did those large brown eyes hide such a strong soul and an unimaginably painful past?
“It’s not your fault,” I said, lifting my hand from his back, “How could you have known he was watching us?” He opened his mouth to protest and I held up a silencing finger.
“You couldn’t have known. There was no way. But we’re hundreds of miles from the school now, and we’ve convinced the clerk to give us this room. For free! We’ll lie low for a day or two, then move out again. I’m just as panicked as you, but we have to stay calm. Formulate a plan,” I twirled a strand of ash brown hair around my fingertip in thought before adding, “Do me a favor. Try and get some sleep.”
He looked up and gave me a weak smile; I could have sworn I saw his hunched back relax slightly. I got up from the bed and walked to the bathroom, looking over my shoulder to find him sitting there, the light, hopeful smile still tugging at the corners of his lips.
Fog clouded the mirror in the humid room. My hair was still soaking wet from the shower, dripping down my back and peppering my shirt with water stains. I ran a comb vigorously through my silky hair, still soft from the shower. Whatever brand of conditioner this hotel uses is amazing, I thought, looking over to the mirror to see my reflection but only to be met by a foggy haze from the steam.
Just before I could reach over to wipe it off, the lights flickered off. I screamed in surprise, stumbling back into the rim of the tub and smashing my heel. With a yelp, I staggered forward in the dark, feeling blindly for the lightswitch. After half a minute of jamming my fingers into the towel rack, mirror, and just the wall in general, I finally found it and flicked on the lights. The bulbs blazed and illuminated the room.
Terror struck hot in my veins as I surveyed the room. Scrawled in the fog of the mirror was a message. It said, simply, eerily… “I’m coming.” I shrieked and rushed out the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. Footsteps thunked in the hall, racing in time with my wildly beating heart. I flung myself across the room.
“James! James, wake up!” I screamed, shaking him feverishly. He jolted upright, eyes wild and dazed. I slapped him across the face, feeling a pang of guilt but knowing the sting would help. There was no time to coddle him awake. Not now.
“Ow! What is it, Vivian?” I yanked the comforter off him, grabbing his arm and dragging him out of bed. “Have you lost your mind? What is it?!?” James yelped. I twirled around, pushing my hair out of my eyes frantically. The deep, nauseous feeling in my gut strengthened. The footsteps outside got louder and louder. My reflection in James’ pupils was that of a mad woman, with wild blue eyes and wet hair dripping, covering me in speckling drops.
“We have to go. Now. He’s here.”