Monday, March 7, 2011
FD#15: Out of the Pan Part One
False Dawn #15: Out of the Pan
Part One of Five: Dreams
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
I expected to wake up in darkness, perhaps with a little flames, but this is not what I had in mind.
The crackling, red fire of the hearth helps to receive my shivering body. There’s not much in the room at first glance. A table, weapons, a rickety bed. As my eyes adjust to the shadows of the room, so does my ears.
I’ve seen enough Lethal Weapons movies to know what those carnal noises, the amount of skin, and the blue-tinted woman on top of my uncle means.
Lasantra’s ice eyes whirl to greet me, but I’m not looking at THOSE. I jump at the roaring scolding.
“RAL!” Connor admonishes, and the shock jerks me to the throne room, where Mom sits next to the Skadoian Lord, one hand on the arm of the diamond chair, the other cupped in his. Her eyes glow a surreal ice-blue, and they’re not staring at me. They’re not staring at anything.
“Well, well, well.” The Skadoian Lord’s tongue clicks the roof of his mouth. “You’ve survived after all.”
“Your mother can’t hear you now, Child. She’s locked in her own prison, fighting the shadows that wish to consume her light.”
“Why are you doing this?” I demand. “She’s done nothing to you.”
“Adeline is a means to an end. So are you. Skadoia has suffered enough for the crimes of Zenith’s Rise and Knightsdale. It is time for retribution.” He waves a hand, and blue fire swirls about my body, engulfing me the cold flames I’ve become accustomed to. This time, they burn so cold they sear. “The Day of Reckoning is coming, Dawson. If you wish to spare your mother, bring me Durant of First Light. You, however, lost the moment you were conceived. A child of three worlds cannot live to see the end of the war. The victor will not allow it.”
A shadow trident soars toward my chest.
“AGH!” I shoot up in bed, then cringe at the pain burning my midsection. It races up my chest and flows down my shoulders, shaking my arms. I wrap one around my stomach and press the other hand into the mattress to stay erect. At least it’s light in here. Finally.
“Oh, good. You’re awake. I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.”
My eyes, half-lidded from exhaustion and pain, lift to see a cheerleader trapped in a business man’s suit—minus the tie—with a ponytail and dark glasses.
“Hello, Raleigh. I am Agent Holly Skylar. We’ve never met, but I’m a huge fan.”
“Uh…what?” I hiss, and it’s not all from the pain.
I suddenly feel the urge to pull my jacket tighter when the draft brushes across my bare chest…hey, where’d my clothes go? My shirt’s missing, and thick bandages wrap my shoulder, my torso, and—with the stabbing ache in my leg—my thigh, too. At least I have snap-up pants there.
“My partner and I have been searching for you for a while.” Holly comes forward, resting a black zip-up hoodie across my shoulder before rearranging the blanket up to my waist. The blanket isn’t much—flimsy hospital-issued, but then again, I’m in a white, sterile ICU room. An IV sticks my hand and is hooked to a hanging bag of clear stuff.
“There we go,” Holly warms and ruffles my hair. “After all the time and energy it took to save you, we wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, would we?”
“Save me?” I echo. As soon as the shock wears off, something worse than pain stabs my stomach. “Where’re Lance and Casia?”
“Lance?” she repeats. “You mean, Sterling?”
Whatever. “WHERE ARE THEY?” I yell, and a loud beeping pounds my already thumping head. Two ordeals race into the room, but Holly simply puts up a hand. They turn and leave as she hits a few buttons on the heart monitor next to my head.
“Mr. Sterling and Ms. LaCroax are not of your concern right now. What you need to do is rest. Gain your strength back.” By the tone in her voice, I know she’s practiced this speech, has given it to others before me. I guess a lot of people don’t come here willingly.
“Why am I here? What do you want from me?”
Holly injects a blue liquid into my IV, and a cool rush of relief soars up my arm. “You are here to learn how to control your powers. What we want, in return, is your loyalty, but for now, all we need is for you to rest.”
And I do—and I hate her for it.
I’ve got to stop waking up like this.
“Hey, I know you can hear me, man. Don’t be rude like this. It’s totally not cool, all-ite?”
When my eyes finally decide to let me drive, I see a dark-skinned guy, maybe a little older me, with dreadlocks and Orlando Bloom’s smile. His purple eyes burn with knowledge and mischievousness.
“Oh, now you’re just being annoying, and I can’t be here too long before they realize. ‘Kay?”
The dude in jeans and a red hoodie sips his coffee as he stands next to my bed. His dreads bounce when he shakes his head. “Look, man, listen to me. The eggs are okay, but stay away from the bacon.”
“Blue’s good; black’s unknown.”
“ ‘cuse me?”
“Red’s not dangerous, but that’s just ‘cuz they don’t know.”
“Are you ill?”
“Green’s against and will eventually perish, so we take care of them first.”
He goes to grab my hand—hard. His voice falls to a pleading whisper. “Orange will kill you, so don’t go near. What they don’t know, they can’t use. The corners kill. Silence is your friend. And if you believe, believe in nothing but the Founding Fathers.”
And my eyes snap open. It was a dream? Dreadlocks and colors and…T.J. and John Adams? What do they have to do with anything…or her?
“Ooh, looks like the tardy bloke decides to show up for his own party.”
She sounds like the guy from the Outback commercials. Her shimmering silver body blinds in the light, and a ponytail of golden hair sweeps about her neck to rest on her shoulder. Her golden eyes shine in a warm smile.
“Hello, Raleigh Dawson. Do you remember me?”
Could I ever be lucky enough to forget? “Sierra.”
“Very good.” She chucks a T-shirt at me and places a pair of Adias sandals at my bed. “Get up. Time for orientation.”
Throwing off the blanket, I hiss, working the T-shirt over my head. When it’s finally settled over my torso, a golden eagle and purple lightning bolt rest on my left breast. I push my arms through the black hoodie’s sleeves, and the guy’s words flutter through my mind.
I press down on my left leg and cringe as the pain shoots back with vengeance.
Sierra tsks and hands me two crutches. “Had some nasty tendon damage there, I’m afraid. Your shoulder has healed up quite nicely, and well, your insides are doing their best.”
“How’s that possible?” I finally ask, following her out the door. “It’s only been—”
I stop next to her and blink. “W—What! Lady, I did not get my passport stamped for Slumberland.”
“No, most of that was induced, so you would heal faster.”
Sierra motions for me to follow as we make our way through the sterile halls of the hospital. Medical personnel of all kinds flutter back and forth between rooms, and as we pass, I see a doctor use a fire extinguisher on a burning patient. Another room’s filled like a fish tank with a mermaid—or merman—swimming about, and in a third—hey, wait. Is that girl flying?
And everyone is wearing a hoodie.
“What—What’s going on here? Who—or What—are you people, and just where the hell am I?”
And that’s when we leave the hospital corridor and enter the atrium.
“Welcome to Project Avatar,” Sierra announces.
I don’t have a fear of heights, but the freakishly high ceilings creep me out. The atrium’s circular and about ten stories high, each floor open to the middle with golden railings and scooping green fire garland. I mean, the garland’s actually burning. The ceiling appears transparent with the sun pouring down upon my face, but its heat feels fake, unlike true sunlight. Carved into the marble floor under my feet is the eagle and lightning bolt insignia like the one on my shirt. A cacophony whirls about me as kids my age—some younger, some older—flock about the area, some with electricity zapping between their fingers or fire about their shoulders or fur in places it doesn’t belong or with golden skin or gills or wings…or…
Is that person lifting a couch with their mind?
Sierra touches my shoulder, and I flinch. She smiles a tolerant grin and motions down a corridor. “Come. You must want a little breakie.”
“So where does Holly fit into all this?”
“Holly?” she echoes and when we enter the mess hall—which looks an awful like a prison dining area—she shrugs. “Sorry, mate. No Holly here.”
Sierra steers me toward a table where a kid, a little older than me, with dreadlocks and a red hoodie sits with one leg hitched up. He’s the same one who was in my dream last night, and he’s all alone.
“Jayden, I have someone I’d like you to meet.”
Jayden picks at his bacon but doesn’t look up from his meal.
Sierra continues as if he’s smiling and putting out a hand. “Raleigh, I’d like to you meet Jayden Jackson. You two are going to be roommates.”
“Hey, man. Should I stay away from the bacon or what?” I struggle to hold my crutch and put out a hand, but he ignores me as well.
Then it hits me. “Silence is my friend.”
“Hey, Sierra? My leg kinda hurts. Would you mind getting me some eggs, no bacon?”
“Sure, kiddo. No problem.”
I flop down into the seat and send Jayden a wry gaze. “Founding Fathers? What’s that about?”
His fork scraps along the plate.
I swipe my hand in front of his face. “Hel-lo! Anybody in—?”
A hard hand clamps down upon my bicep, and a Latino kid younger than me by a half-decade or so glares his chocolate orbs through me. For a moment, a glimmer of white shines in his dark eyes, which are framed by the raven bangs clawing at his tan cheeks. His hungry gaze never wavers. “Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.”
With that, he leaves.
Yeah, this place is weird.
“So this is the library.”
Sierra takes me on the grand tour, and with my hurt leg and the prison décor, it’s pretty much a miserable experience.
“And this is the education wing.”
The rooms just blur into one another.
“This stairwell leads to dorms. Jayden may be a proper toff, but you two will make it work.”
A proper—what? “The guy who doesn’t talk? Yeah, right.”
“Give ‘im a fair crack at the whip.” Sierra ruffles my hair. “He talks, mate. Maybe just not in the traditional sense.”
We finally walk down a narrow corridor with granite-like walls. A silver door pretty much like the rest with a glowing eagle on it catches my attention, and Sierra doesn’t stop to explain.
So I bang my crutch against it. “Hey, Sierra. What’s beyond this?”
Her face becomes hard and serious, and she puts an arm about my shoulders to lead me past it. “That’s the Director’s office. Only the most prestigious students are invited for a repast.” She beams. “Now come. Allow me to show you the gym.”
She jerks when I don’t move.
“I’m not a student here. I’m not enrolled, and I don’t want to be. I want to go home.”
“Home?” Sierra echoed, and despite everything I just spurted, anger remains absent in her eyes. All I see is sympathy. “Raleigh, your mother and uncle have disappeared. Two suspects held you captive for a year.”
“I’m not their captive! They’re my family.”
Pity flashes, and she clasps my forearm. “I know they seemed like that, but they weren’t, Sweetie.”
“Yes, they are!”
“No, they weren’t. They were two people who have extorted you for their own wants.”
“Like you?” I try to crutch out of her hold, but in this condition, I don’t have the strength.
She shakes her head, and her ponytail flashes like gold. “No. Project Avatar is a sanctioned division of the U.S. government, where we help those with ‘gifts’ develop in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Why does that sound rehearsed, too? “Powers?! What powers do I have?”
“Your parents. They are immortals.”
She doesn’t know. THEY don’t know I’m an Ashling.
Jayden’s flitter through my head. “What they don’t know, they can’t use.”
“But I’m not immortal,” I tell her. “You can’t keep me here. I know my rights.”
Sierra’s hold upon me tightens. “Actually, both your legal guardians are missing. Casia LaCroax and Joshua Sterling are suspects in their disappearance, so you are now a ward of the state, Raleigh. And the state has given custody to Project Avatar.”
She smiles, too wide to be real. “You ARE home.”
I told Sierra I was tired, and she led me to Jayden’s and my bunk. It’s nothing like a normal house with cinder blocks painted red and blue for walls, bricks for beds (or at least, that’s what they feel like), and an open closet. Jayden’s shelf over his bed has cool books (Percy Jackson!), some comics (Soulfire!), and a Union Army cap, but not much more.
I don’t wait up for him, but I wake up to his Newark-accented voice.
“ ‘ey, man. Come on. Time for the real tour.”
My eyes flutter open, and I whirl toward Jayden, who’s sitting on his bed with one leg hitched up. He still has his hoodie on.
“You took my advice. Smart kid. There might be hope for you.”
“Jayden?” I ask. “What—
“No real names. Call me T.J. for now. You’re Benji.”
“The Founding Fathers,” I deadpan.
He throws up his hands. “Not my choice, but while we’re connected, we can’t have anyone overhearing us.”
I slowly sit up, taking in his presence. It’s…weird. Almost real but when I look at the clock, the numbers are backwards. The bed—I see it. Can touch it, but I can’t FEEL it.
“Haven’t you guessed yet?” Jayden laughed. “My power is mental. I can dreamwalk—enter people’s dreams and see what they see, communicate with them. I can even travel in this state.”
“So I’m in your dream? Or in mine?”
“A little of both,” he smirks and taps his temple. “I merged ours, and since your shadow powers come with a dash of scrying, it allows us a smidge more leeway. But enough about me!” He hops off his bed and grabs my crutches. “We’ll have to avoid a few of the more power ‘teachers,’ but this should be okay.”
“Where’re we going?”
“Where else? Where we’re forbidden!”
He opens my door and allowed me exit. The moment I see a security guard dressed in black with a gun strapped to his right thigh, I almost die. Jayden continued like it was nothing, motioning me to follow.
“No worries, Kid. One man with courage is a majority, and one security guard with telekinesis is oblivious to two teens with telepathy.”
He puts out a hand, and the security guard drops to the floor, unconscious.
Jayden smirks. “Thanks, but if you think that was cool, wait ‘til you see my behind-the-back moves.”
We move quietly from then on, Jayden mostly ducking behind people, and when we’re close to being caught, I manipulate the shadows about us.
Jayden laughs. “Shadows and heightened healing. You’re just a smorgasbord of powers, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, Will Rogers told me something about you being able to heal quicker than others. No worries about the leg, though. We’ll get John Adams to look at it. He’ll help.”
“Will Who and John—”
We come to the Director’s door, and Jayden takes in the keypad with the right combination. It’s dark when we enter, but Jayden quickly rectifies that with a flick of a switch. Incredibly, the place is empty.
“But—But isn’t this the Director’s office?” I mutter. “Sierra said—”
“Sierra’s a traitor to her kind and an enforcer for the project. This isn’t the Director’s office. That’s BELOW us.” Jayden touches his hand to a panel, and the back wall hisses, then opens to reveal a small, catwalk-like stairwell. He enters first and taking a deep breath, I follow. Since we dreamwalk, our feet make no noise against the metal. We crouch down under the railing and look through metal webbing. Below us is a lab set-up with semi-circle computer consoles surrounding a subject in the very middle of the platform. Lights blink upon the consoles, and miscellaneous beeps tense the muscles in my neck. Darkness sits upon the edges of the area with a single-lit doorway just beyond the lab.
Once Jayden makes sure we’re alone—save the project’s subject—we creep down the stairs.
I’m not sure what I’m going to see. I’m not sure I want to, but something pushes me forward, and it’s not Jayden.
“I can’t get down here,” Jayden explains. “My powers—they only allow me to travel in dreams, and if I step one foot in that empty room in reality, the guards will know.”
“So you can. You and your shadow powers can.”
And then I’m standing in front of the subject. Metal plates attach his hands and wrists, feet and ankles, to a metal holder behind him in an X-formation. Shimmering blue bangs cup the tanned cheeks, and a blue hoodie warms the tight muscles of a wide-receiver. Jeans run down his legs, and he looks normal, an upperclassman in high school.
I mean, save the blue hair, of course, and the metal plate that covers his mouth like Scandal Savage.
Then his eyes snap open, and I’m entrapped by those bright, blue orbs—and I see my uncle kissing Lasantra. I see the Skadoian Lord fighting a man all in white with a golden sword. I see my college graduation. I see the sky filled with were-phoenixes, and I see Kadias when I was kid, torturing me for nothing more than my screams.
I see my past and my future, but I’m just looking into those otherworldly blue orbs in the present.
I feel Jayden’s hand on my shoulder. “You can save Destiny. You can save all our Destinies.”
To Be Continued…