HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAREST KALLISTA :D
Kallista, you have- and always will- a special place in my heart, right next to my love of Butterbeer and lots of hugs.
In the last couple of years that I've known you, I've seen a brilliant sister that has proved herself time and time again despite struggles that seem insurmountable. You push on always, and seem to have a smile for each and every member of Blogland that you meet.
You're a shining light among the dark, Kal, a beacon that never dims and gives the kind of friendship I'd die for.
...Plus, you're like, fantastically kind to new people, something which I don't think I'll ever be able to do XD
Alright, enough rambling from me :P
Oh hey! How could I forget? Like Lenka said, Lizzy had this great idea to make happy birthday videos from us to you. So here's mine- enjoy 20 odd seconds of me singing :P
OH GOD SO MUCH PIXELATION
SORRY FOR THE QUALITY IT LOOKED FINE ON MY COMP :(
Here's your Birthday Story, Kal :)
The girl gasped in delight as the forests spread right before her very eyes, trees popping and snapping as they pushed themselves from the ground. As they did, grass sprouted and raced across the hills that were slowly raising themselves to the sky.
The forest lay beautiful and quiet, then. And the girl stood right in the heart of it.
And it was all hers.
Time didn't seem to affect this place, but the girl had a watch strapped to her wrist anyway. She kept glancing back at it, and watched as the numbers crept slowly forward, moving from 6:28 to 6:29 and then seeming to stop. There was no way to properly define the watch, of course. Every time she tried to look closely at it, the watch face would become impossibly unfocused and swirl around, and she would somehow see the numbers among the mess.
That was the problem with this world. If she focused too long on something, it would become fuzzy and indistinct. And yet, if she only saw something out of the corner of her eye, it would seem completely real...
She was crouching in a little nook of the pine tree when she saw him. The moment she glimpsed his figure, she struggled to turn her head towards him. Time came and went and slowed down just for her, as if it was playing a game. But it was a dangerous game, and it was with the Queen of this world...
She forced her neck to turn properly, and suddenly she had him in her sights. Her mind couldn't figure out the figure, and tried identifying him at a thousand miles per minute instead.
Slender- a teache- Dementor-
Hello, Michelle, he said.
His lips didn't move but they were definitely his words. She went to respond but suddenly her watch was crawling again, and moved from 6:29 to 6:30. Her eyes widened in surprise to the size of dinner-plates and then kept widening, and all the trees melted away in a rush of scratched records and nails on a blackboard... A boat arose out of the mist that curled by her feet- which were now trees- and blared its foghorn, once, twice, and on the third time-
She slapped her hand down onto the alarm's snooze button and lay there for a moment, eyes staring out the window. She tried to remember her dream. She really did. But all that came to her mind of her dream and then sudden nightmare, was a large brown overcoat of some kind...
An intruder her dreams. That had never happened before.
A yelling from downstairs halted her from drifting to sleep again. She sighed and tugged her quilt back. Her feet touched the cold floor and led her to the kitchen, where her hands moved of their own accord and made herself some breakfast. She stared numbly at the TV and munched down on her toast. All in all, it was a very boring morning.
So was walking to school.
Sitting in school.
"Learning" at school.
Walking home from school.
And lastly, looking blankly at the homework she had brought with her.
5:42pm. The homework denied any creativity, and stubbornly made her work for the next two hours before she gave up and threw it across the room.
8:01pm. No-where near the time that she normally went to sleep. But she didn't need another hour awake. Not here. Not in this world.
She changed clothes and flicked the lights off. The covers were pulled up.
All in all, a boring day. She stared at the roof in darkness and the words suddenly floated up to her mind, just as she was falling asleep.
She sat bolt-upright in bed. She had said them aloud. But it wasn't her voice. She put a hand to her throat, worried and scared, and searched the darkness. But no-one was there. It was just her.
Someone had said that to her earlier today. She was sure of it. Well, a couple of people had said those words, or different variations of it, anyway. But that wasn't what her mind was trying to tell herself. It was trying to tell her about the dream...
And suddenly, she understood. The man in the brown coat.The imposter. Her mind raced again, asking all sorts of questions of herself. She struggled to keep herself calm, though. She fought down the dual feelings of excitement and of anxiety from rising up. A clear head. That's what she needed. A clear head, and then-
Her head hit the pillow, and sleep dragged her under...
Her eyes closed in the real world and opened in the other. The trees popped and snapped and brought her to the sky. When the world stopped forming, she gazed around at the beautiful forests and perfect mountains at the perfect distance away from her forests. She sat atop the tallest pine in the whole lot, and smiled.
There was a rustling in the tree next to her. A head with purple streaks peeked out from behind a branch, and large, bright eyes peered like luminous orbs.
"Skyril!" Michelle called to her, and helped her up to the highest branch.
Skyril gave Michelle one of her rare smiles. Skyril was a quiet girl, and Michelle's faithful companion in the dream world.
Michelle had created Skyril one day out of loneliness. It had taken a lot of her time, but she finally managed to do it. She never had quite gotten emotion to show through Skyril's voice, however.
"Hi, Micky," Skyril said flatly.
Skyril was like an extension of Michelle. But she had her own thoughts and morals and was just as good as any other friend. Her best companion.Her only companion.
They sat, swinging slightly on the branch high above her world. Skyril pulled sandwiches out of a backpack that wasn't there moments before and handed a couple to Michelle.
"Skyril," Michelle said, after what seemed like an hour, although probably wasn't long at all. "Were you here yesterday?"
"I'm always here, Mic."
"No, but... did you see... did you hear..." Michelle struggled to form words to explain. "The Imposter. Do you know of him?"
Skyril cocked her head to the side, puzzled. "Imposter...?"
"He was here yesterday-" Michelle began.
"-Last night," Skyril corrected.
Michelle shook her head. "It was right before I woke up. I saw him and... he wasn't from here. I don't know how he got in. This is my dream. My world.My trees.All of it. Mine."
Skyril gave a rare smile. "You're so immature."
Michelle laughed and tried to reply. But she couldn't. She frowned suddenly, and spoke several words, but none of them had sound. Beside her, Skyril also frowned, and let off a sentence to find that her words had been silenced, too.
In fact, Michelle couldn't hear anything. The sounds of the wildlife, almost a backing track that ran on a loop in the forest, had ceased. The wind pushed the trees violently, but there was no sound. Nothing.
It scared her.
Michelle tried to change it. It was her world, and it was upheld by her rules. So, she changed the rules. But they held stubbornly. Something was holding them. And it wasn't her.
The wind pushed the trees violently and Michelle cried out silently as she fell straight out of the tree. Branches cut into her but the last few turned to pillows and softened her fall.
She peered up at Skyril, who waved from the top of the trees and rapidly climbed down.
Michelle gave her the thumbs up and Skyril returned it. Skyril pointed to her mouth and spoke some muted words, most likely asking what had happened to the sound. Michelle just gave a shrug. She beckoned Skyril over, but the dream-girl halted immediately.
What's wrong? Michelle mouthed to Skyril.
Look,Skyril mouthed back, and pointed over Michelle's shoulder.
He was standing in the corner of her eye. She couldn't see him. But she knew he was there.
He had a brown coat, like before. It fell to his shins and stayed there, covered in dusty patches. His hair was brown and messy, his beard was surprisingly clean-cut and his leather boots were heavy and pressed firmly into the forest floor.
Everything about him was wrong. This whole thing. It was all wrong, and Michelle couldn't stop the man as he walked closer, closer until he was standing only a few metres away. His features burned themselves into her subconscious.
The Imposter spoke, but his words weren't muted. As it was the only sound Michelle could hear, it was crisp and clear.
"Run," he said, and then more urgently; "It will be here soon. It's already muted all sound. We need to get out of here."
What will be here? Michelle asked, or at least tried to. And who are you?
There was silence.
And then, with an eerie ringing and popping noise, sound returned to her world. Almost instantaneously, the ground in front of her buckled and crawled and became alive with movement. The Imposter strode forward but roots snapped and snarled around his feet, holding him still. He shouted but Michelle's eyes were focused forward, gazing at the bubbling mass of horror before her.
It constantly changed shape as it pushed itself from the earth. It grew the spindly legs of spiders and the scaly skin of snakes. The clawed arm of a stone Angel reached out and grasped at the hem of Michelle's dress, but withered away once it touched her. The sound of tires screeching and skidding and gut-wrenching screams emanated from the nightmare before her, but they were all chopped up and spliced into another. Dogs barking, glass smashing and the very essence of terror wound itself around her head and creeped in through her ears, shutting down everything. She sobbed and collapsed and held her arms tight over her head, trying to block the assault. But it was too late, the fear had lumbered through her mind and she was nothing, nothing in her own world, her own sanctuary compared to the-
"NO!" came a shout from above her, and her eyes cracked open. The Imposter stood next to her, shouting into the heart of the impossible creature that had spawned in her dream. Wind whipped around them fiercely. A small hand tapped her on the shoulder and Michelle looked up to see Skyril crawling towards her. They grabbed each other’s hands, and Skyril began to drag them slowly away.
The Imposter continued to shout and yell at nightmare. It had grown to the size of some of the smaller trees, towering over the man in the brown trench-coat. It rose like a wave and dived, beginning a new assault on him, but halted almost instantly. He just laughed maniacally and pulled an odd-looking charm from around his neck.
"Oh," he said, a grin spread across his face as the wind threw his hair wildly around his head. "You recognize this?"
The creature formed many mouths in the space of a second and screamed at him, but he was unaffected. The mouths melted away and became hands, arms that tried to grab him and pull him to pieces. But they never reached him, not a single one even touched his coat.
"That's right," the Imposter said, holding the charm and walking confidently forward. "You're not the first Nightmare I've faced."
As he strode forward, the creature of horror screeched and fell backwards in its haste to retreat. Wave upon wave of bubbling sludge solidified into hard stone and eventually stopped completely. The nightmare was nothing but pure stone. The claws and scarred faces were now frozen in an eternal sleep.
The wind died down. Skyril stopped dragging Michelle and both of them sat up warily.
"Didn't I tell you to run?" The man with the brown coat said. He walked towards them and Michelle stood up suddenly, Skyril right behind her.
"Stop!" she cried. "Give me some answers right now! Who are you? How did you get in here? And what is that?!" She pointed towards the statue of the nightmare not ten metres away.
The man stopped walking and sighed. "My name is Israel. Weird, I know. It's about to get weirder." He gestured behind Michelle and Skyril. "That... thing was a Nightmare."
Michelle turned to look at it again, but it had disappeared. All that was left was a strange black splotch on the grass. "Where'd it go?" she asked him, starting to walk closer to the place where it had been.
"It had been defeated, so it left. Stop walking! Do not go near the black mark. In fact, try and give it some space."
"What is it?" Skyril asked, tilting her head to the side. "It's like there's...nothing there."
"That's because there isn't. The Nightmare, it's going to try and erase everything. It started to take away sound, but stopped once it arrived. That black mark right there is what happens when it starts erasing things. That black mark is pure nothingness. You fall through that and you'll keep falling."
"A Nightmare..." Michelle began. "But I've never even had one of those before... not since I was at most five years old."
"It's because of you," Israel said. "Haven't you noticed yet? This dream, this world. It's so lifelike." He knelt down and picked a few blades of grass from the lush forest floor. "No-one should be able to do this. It's impossible. No-one should be able to create life so realistic-" He gestured to Skyril, who remained impassive as ever "-or have this much control at all times. And yet... we do."
"We?" Michelle asked.
"I'm a frightfully good day-dreamer," Israel replied with a smile. "I used to have dreams like this all the time." His face turned grim. "But that's the problem. It shouldn't be like this. You became so good that you've even stopped general Nightmares from attacking you. So, they bid their time. Because that's what evil does; it waits. A thousand nights are but the blink of the eye for Nightmares."
"So you're saying that every Nightmare I should have ever had, but didn't because I was all-powerful and had control of my dreams, has now joined together to become some super-Nightmare and try to erase everything?" Michelle shook her head. "This is crazy. I'm sorry, but this is crazy. How the hell did you get in here, anyway?"
There was a roar in the distance that echoed through the trees. When it sounded all three of them spun around to face it.
"Come on!" Israel said, and grabbed both Skyril and Michelle's hands. "I won't be able to stop it so easily next time. We need to get to my boat."
"You brought a boat?" Skyril shouted over the sudden wind that was picking up.
"Not just any boat," Israel said, grinning.
They burst out of the treeline and beheld a fantastic sight. Before them was a huge lake that spread for what must have been a thousand metres. And on the edge of that lake proudly sat a magnificent ship, an old galleon with polished brass headpieces and recently lacquered wooden beams. It flew a blue flag upon the mast and simply glowed with brilliance.
Michelle gasped in awe, but Israel wasn't paying attention. He sprinted the last few metres to the lake's bank and leapt with an inhuman ability. He landed safely on the deck of the galleon and quickly swung a rope ladder down the ship's flanks.
Skyril reached the ladder first and climbed it almost mechanically. Her arms moved like pistons and by the time Michelle grabbed held of the first rung, Skyril was on the eighth.
There was another roar from the forest and it was much closer now. Panicked, Michelle shot up the ladder as fast as she could. On deck, Israel climbed up to the helm and grabbed a lever next to the ship's wooden steering wheel. He pulled it and the cream sails unfurled from the three masts and instantly billowed on the wild wind. He ran to the chain that secured the anchor and untangled it, then threw the entire thing into the lake and ran to the next task. By this time, Skyril had reached the top of the ladder and pulled herself to her feet.
"Pull Michelle up!" Israel shouted, and then sprang back up to the helm. The ship had finally begun to move forward at a steady pace, but Israel knew it wouldn't be anywhere near fast enough to escape the Nightmare. He span the wheel regardless, and slowly the galleon tilted to the right and out towards the smooth surface of the lake.
The rope ladder that Michelle was climbing up suddenly was yanked upwards by Skyril. She almost lost her grip on the rungs but managed to hold tight as Skyril pulled her upwards to the ship's deck. She clambered up the last few rungs with the help of her friend and looked in wonder at the beauty of the ship.
"How did you even...?" Her voice trailed off.
"You ask way too many questions," Israel said, and pulled a lever towards himself forcefully. The boat lurched forward and Israel smiled. "You hear that? All we need now is, what...sixty seconds?"
He pulled another lever and heaved on a rope that sent him swinging across to the other side of the ship. He grabbed two more ropes on his way back and threw their ends to Skyril and Michelle.
"Grab hold-" he said as he swung past them to the helm again. "-and pull tight!" he finished on his swing back to the bow.
The boat was moving at a steady pace now and was at least a hundred metres away from the banks of the lake. As Skyril, Michelle and Israel pulled down on the three ropes, three separate sails slid from compartments on the ship; one on each side of the hold and one extending outwards from the galleon's rudder.
There was another roar, now.
Israel alighted onto the helm of the ship with Michelle and Skyril. They watched as the treeline burst apart in a shower of fallen leaves and upturned roots.
The Nightmare snarled in anger at its fast-escaping prey. It was large, now, much bigger than it had been when it faced them earlier. It towered above the few trees left standing from its rage, and seemed to have a more definitive shape. Apelike arms and legs extended from a muscled and scarred torso, and a head shaped like a squashed loaf of bread sat on a stubby neck. Even from her place on the helm of the ship, Michelle could clearly see the disproportionate canine teeth that forced themselves from bloodied and torn gums in the Nightmare's mouth.
Even as she watched, bits of the Nightmare bubbled and boiled and were constantly changing, building the creature into something more horrifying than before.
"Ten seconds," Israel said, turning his back to the monster on the lake's shore. When he did, he missed the beast as it flexed its leg muscles and sprang, gliding over the lake and landing fifty metres closer to them. Where it landed was unsure; the clawed feet of the beast clutched strangely at the surface of the lake and somehow used it to spring another fifty metres.
"Israel..." Michelle said, watching the Nightmare. It only needed one more bound and it would be upon them.
"I know," Israel replied without looking back. "But watch this."
There was a lever that hadn't been there before with a polished brass handle instead of a wooden one. The captain of the ship smiled and pulled the lever right down.
The entire boat shot forward across the water with sudden speed and urgency. The Nightmare made a final lunge but landed too short from its target. The ship sped away and began to bounce along the surface of the water, moving so fast that it was like a stone skipped from one side of the lake to the other.
With every bounce the boat jumped higher and higher until the huge wing-like sails that were on the side of the boat caught the wind and the entire boat lifted like a feather on the wind. It moved surprisingly fast for such a huge object and faster still it flew as it gained altitude and soared out to the further reaches of the dream world.
Israel broke out in maniacal laughter and Michelle couldn't help but join in. The wind threatened to push them all over the railings of the boat but nothing could deter the excitement that was bubbling inside of her. They were flying! Sure, she had done it before while dreaming, but this was ten times better.
"Things aren't usually this realistic," Michelle shouted over to Israel. "Things are mostly unfocused."
"It's because I'm here," Israel replied. "I told you; I'm quite the day-dreamer myself. Flying was one of the first things I wanted to do once I realised how easy it was for me to dream. And once I started flying, I never stopped."
Skyril rapped her knuckles onto a wooden beam and it gave a sturdy knocking back to her. "How'd you even get this boat into the dream?"
"It's all up here," Israel tapped his temple with his forefinger. "Took me an age to think up the technical parts. Everything had to work properly, you see." He cranked another lever by the steering wheel and stepped back. The ship flew of its own accord, keeping a steady pace. "It's called the Albatross. Come on inside, I'll get you a drink."
Skyril wandered to the railings and peered over to the ground rushing four hundred metres below. "I'm going to stay here for a while. It's...calming. I'll tell you if the Nightmare comes back."
"Thanks," Israel called to her, before descending down the steps into the hold of the ship with Michelle behind him. She shut the large wooden door and turned to see the boat's belly.
The hold had been split into several sections by wooden walls that also supported the frame of the galleon. Michelle glimpsed a bedroom behind an open door and part of a kitchen behind another. Israel and Michelle disappeared into the latter, and Israel dove straight into the cooler that was chained to the floorboards. Michelle sat down at the small round table unsurely and Israel's head reappeared from the cooler and lobbed her a brown bottle.
Michelle laughed when she saw the name on the bottle. "Butterbeer? You're kidding me."
"Hey, it's all a dream," Israel said, smiling back at her and breaking the seal on his own drink as he sat down too. "Alright.Question time; go!"
Michelle drank a few sips of Butterbeer first and thought to herself. It was like liquid gold and was by far the best drink she'd ever tasted. She wondered how he'd made it in the dreamworld. Did he just imagine the Butterbeer straight out of the Harry Potter books, or did he try coming up with the flavour himself?
She took another gulp and decided that he had probably just imagined it as it was from the books. Israel was still waiting. She studied twin streaks of faded ink running down his cheeks, starting from the corners of his eyes and ending at his chin. With a start, Michelle realized she was still silent and apologized to him for keeping him waiting.
"Sorry, I just kinda...drifted off for a second there," she said sheepishly.
Israel frowned immediately. "You're sleepy." It wasn't a question.
"I guess...Why, what's wrong?"
"I'm not sure, yet. I don't know of anyone that's fallen asleep within a dream. I'm guessing that it's bad, very bad. Try to stay awake, and tell me if you're feeling sleepy again." Suddenly, there was a glass of water in his hand and he splashed it directly into her face.
"Hey!" she shook droplets of water from her face. "Brrr. Don't do that again."
"I'll throw you off the boat and into the lake if it means you'll stay awake."
His face was grim, and Michelle realized that he wasn't kidding.
"Alright...First question." Michelle looked around the kitchen in thought, and all of a sudden it was right in front of her. "Ok; what's that charm thing, the necklace you used against the Nightmare?"
"Good question." Israel pulled it out of his jacket and threw it to her. She caught it and was surprised to find that it was stone cold. Upon close inspection, she was almost horrified by it, and she quickly dropped it to the table. It was a rough piece of leather that looped to become the necklace part of the charm. The bit connected to the end of the leather was hard to explain. It could be described as a sort of shrivelled and shrunken heart. It appeared to have all of the correct valves and the four main sections, although, to be honest, Michelle had fallen asleep during that lesson in school. It was the deepest black in colour, and... throbbed with mini heart-beats, as if it was still alive. She turned away in disgust, feeling queasy.
"It's the heart of another Nightmare," Israel explained. "The Nightmare used to be in my dreamworld. I was just like you; I made the mistake of letting it grow."
"How did you kill it?" Michelle said, taking care not to look at the shrivelled heart.
"To be honest... I don't remember." He scratched the back of his head absently. "I think I made myself forget. I had too much control of my dreamworld, you see, just like you do. And power corrupts. If I kept that power in my own world, all it would do is brew Nightmares.
"So I made myself forget. I think the process is easy enough. I get nightmares every so often in my dreams, but they're normal nightmares now." He averted his gaze. "Some of them give me glimpses into what I had forgotten. And I think that for a moment, I'll remember everything. Then the nightmare will end and I'll forget again..."
"Only through your nightmares you can see your past..." Michelle shook her head. "That's terrible."
"Yeah." He grabbed the charm and lowered it around his neck. "Next question."
"How'd you get in here?"
"Honestly? I was walking by and thought I might drop in."
She scoffed. "Bull. Why should I trust you?"
"Because it's me or it's the Nightmare."
"How do we kill the Nightmare?"
He paused and she smiled. She had caught him off guard.
"I...I don't entirely know, yet. I told you, I can't remember how I did it. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Michelle finished the last of her drink and put the bottle on the table in front of her. She yawned and Israel gave her an odd look.
"What happens when we die here?" Michelle asked.
He studied her face for a moment before answering. "The body cannot survive without the mind. If you die here, you die in the real world."
She tried to hide her fear but Israel grunted and saw it. Suddenly, there was the thudding of shoes on the wooden stairs and Skyril burst forward into the kitchen.
"The ship's rising," she said flatly, and Israel stood up.
The three of them rushed out of the ship's belly and out onto the deck. Instantly, they were buffeted by the winds that were once again speeding up. The sails were filled and gloriously illuminated by the shining sun as the ship soared across the dreamworld. The ground was now far, far below them and sped by at twice the pace it had been before.
Israel was at the wheel of the galleon and checking some ancient gauges set beside it. His forehead creased in worry and he kept looking back up at the sails and the sky.
"This isn't good," he muttered aloud. There was sudden thunder and they looked upwards and to the front to see steel clouds gathering. The rain fell in sheets within seconds, soaking the three.
"It's the Nightmare!" Israel shouted over the thunder and rain. "It's messing with everything it can!" He called Skyril over and got her to hold onto a lever and stop it from springing back up again. "It's cancelled the gravity; we're going to fly straight through that storm!"
The dark clouds loomed ahead, infecting the once-blue sky that had been the playground of many a good dream. Now, as it menacingly waited to swallow them whole, Michelle was beginning to feel that there was no way they could win.
And then they met with the clouds and the world seemed to change.
Darkness, at first, and then they cleared the first cloud and were thrust into a sea of grey forms and crackling energy. Thunder boomed and wind whistled, and rather more dangerously, lightning danced around the hull of the Albatross and dared to skip onto the deck before skipping away again.
Michelle scrambled up the stairs that lead to the helm and held the railing for dear life as the boat rocked and groaned through the Nightmare's storm. Israel was shouting but there was no noise. He pointed to Michelle and Skyril and then pointed to the sails. "Choose a mast and cut the sails! We're rising too fast!"
He ran off and chose the farthest one from the helm. Skyril chose the middle mast, leaving Michelle to handle the last one. She looked up at the towering wooden beam and gave a sigh that was lost with the wind. There were sturdy bronze railings that formed a ladder and she climbed these as fast as she could with the strong gales pushing the Albatross to and fro. She had almost reached the crossbeam that held the sail when lightning started to play around her. It came with deafening thunderclaps that shook her to the very bones as she scaled the mast, scared and trying to remember quieter times. Shaking, her arms finally hoisted herself onto the crossbeam and there she clung to it. Looking over to Skyril on the other mast, she saw that her friend had already cut her sail down and was nimbly descending back to the deck. Skyril pulled something shiny from her belt and threw it with practised ease to Michelle. The silver knife thudded into the crossbeam centimetres from her elbow, startling her. She pulled the knife free and got to work sawing through the main rope that held the sail.
The sail was held by several ropes that all tied to onto a main one about as thick as Michelle's wrist. It was this main rope that she steadily cut away at while the lightning crackled around her.
Finally, the rope snapped apart and the sail came free, whipping instantly away and into the storm.
Triumphant, Michelle grinned and started climbing back down the mast. Her arms moved mechanically but already she was feeling tired...
She reached the deck and stumbled all of a sudden. Her hands found the railing of the ship's starboard side and clutched them with sweaty palms.
Her friends were calling her, she knew, but their voices were easily lost in the thunder and wind. She gazed over the edge and into the heart of the storm, and a tiny voice told her, no, urged her to just...fall.
She could see herself falling already. Gliding. She was so tired. How easy it would be, to just...slip away...
Time slowed down just for her and she watched in wonder as a bolt of lightning crackled past and ignited a part of the deck near her. Michelle smiled and simply let go of the railing, toppling over the edge of the Albatross's side.
A metre over the edge and she was jolted to a halt. She felt a hand grasping her own and she opened her eyes to peer up at the face looking down at her. Skyril wordlessly pulled her back onto the deck and calmly slapped her in the face.
"Stay awake," she said. "I don't know what'll happen if you fall asleep."
Michelle shook her head side to side. "I'm so sorry. Thanks, Sky."
"You two!" Israel called. He chucked a heavy rope to each of them, and started tying one of his own around his waist. "That can't happen again. Tie the rope around your waist, and hurry!" He fixed all three ropes around the main mast and knotted them tight.
Israel stumbled over and hurriedly pushed them up to the stairs to the helm, where he grabbed the wheel and spun it to the right. The Albatross banked with the wheel and narrowly missed two bolts of lightning. But the deck was already alight and fire was racing up the masts to create enormous crucifixes of flame. At any other time, Michelle would have been in awe. But it was fear that filled her instead. Fear of dying in a crazy dream and never waking up again, fear of never regaining control over her own dreams. Fear of the Nightmare.
"We're not going down!" Israel shouted. "We're being pulled up!"
It was true. The Albatross groaned as the nose lifted upwards and they renewed their ascent. Lightning flashed brilliantly across the shrouded sky and illuminated the fearful faces of the three on the deck. Fire was still raging and raced quickly up to the helm.
And then, they were clear of the clouds.
The yellow sun blinded them with its glare, but the sound of the thunderstorm was gone now, and all that was left was the blue sky stretching around them infinitely. The fire vanished the moment they cleared the storm but left giant patches of blackened planks on the galleon's deck. The view was even more spectacular from all the way up here. Glancing over the edge, Michelle saw that the storm and the hills were already far, far below them. And they kept growing smaller.
"What's it trying to do?" Israel thought aloud. "We're rising, fast. But we cleared the storm. Why do we keep rising? What's up?"
Michelle frowned. "The sky?"
"Yeah, but..." Israel squinted upwards. "Huh. Almost looks painted. Like, with a huge brush. Are you an artist, Michelle?"
"I've painted a few blue skies," she replied sheepishly.
"Oh," Israel said. "No. Really? That's not good. Not good at all." He pulled the charm out from around his neck and gripped it with his left hand, holding the boat's steering wheel in the other.
"What's wrong?" She eyed the Nightmare's heart warily. It still creeped her out.
"The bleeding effect, right?"Skyril answered for her. "Happens to everyone. Well, not me. Things you do in real life 'bleed' through to the dreamworld. Happens with subconscious thoughts frequently."
Michelle squinted at Skyril. "How do you know?"
"I am the subconscious," Skyril replied. "I painted the skies. And the hillsides, and the great seas and lakes. You may uphold the world, but your subconscious created it."
"She's right," Israel confirmed, grunting in effort and pulling a lever towards himself. "The subconscious builds the world, paints it and designs it based on your thoughts and memories and even skills. But the dreamer pulls it all together and holds it there."
The question arose on Michelle's mind but Skyril asked it first. Her head tilted slightly to the side.
"Where's your subconscious? Your companion?"
The man in the brown coat didn't answer. He stared for a moment at the sky. His gaze appeared unfocused but then sharpened and he started in fright. "I can see the brush strokes clearer, now. We're not slowing down, we're going to hit the sky!"
He gathered Skyril and Michelle next to the wheel and clasped their hands around the heart of the Nightmare. "We have to act fast. I'm going to siphon off a little of the heart's power for you to use. It's your world, so you have to take control. I'll try bringing the ship down, you two focus on creating more sky. You have to only concentrate on the sky. Even the tiniest doubt will mess it up. Ready?"
Michelle took a breath, clearing her mind of all the nagging little thoughts threatening to force their way into queries and out of her mouth. She dismissed the doubts and the fears and throughout it all, one tiny voice rang clear.
Do you trust him?
She stole a glance at the man laughing crazily at the helm of the Albatross, great-coat flying around his shoulders. He span the wheel with a swing of his arm and the boat tipped to the right along with it. She still didn't know how he even got here. "I said, are you ready?" He called to them both.
Yes, she answered to the voice in her head.
"Yes!" she shouted back to Israel. Skyril nodded.
"Brilliant!" Israel grinned.
Michelle placed her hands over Skyrils' and it was as if a great shadow was placed over the world. She frowned and looked up at Skyril. Her companion's eyes flitted around the place and struggled to stay focused. The pupils, once piercing blue, had darkened and were black and grey, tiny ebony veins of plague crawling out to cover the rest of the eye...
Michelle yanked her hand off of the heart, but the tiny black tendrils still spread out to cover the white orbs inside Skyril's head.
"It's ok," Israel said from the helm. "Let it happen. It'll just make things a little darker, that's all. You'll get used to it." Israel's own eyes were seemed bloodshot and stared frantically at the heart, as if he was at any moment about to leap forward and snatch it back.
Tentatively, Michelle reached forward again and clasped the heart. Skyril's eyes were covered by the inky substance fully now. Then the inky blackness dripped like tears and ran down Skyril's cheeks, leaving faded black streaks set there. Michelle recognized them instantly; they were the same lines that she had noticed on Israel's own face earlier. While she was studying her companion's eyes, her own vision was dimming rapidly. It got to the point where it appeared she was looking through thick sunglasses. And then her vision brightened a bit and she felt tears welling in the ducts of her eyes and threatening to spill over. They did, and she cried out as they burned and seemed to carve trenches down her cheeks. She went to wipe them away but they had already dried onto her face.
Skyril was staring intently at the Nightmare's heart. "We can use it now," she commented.
Michelle gazed at the heart herself and found that it was on fire with darkness, burning for eternity with flames black as sin. They were hazy and did not hurt her. But they whispered horrors and strange, alien words.
"Focus!" Israel shouted at them from the wheel.
Michelle gazed upwards at the sky. They were really close, now. The sky definitely seemed painted on with some giant's brush. She focused on a point in the sky and it groaned with an almighty sound. The clouds rippled and bulged and swallowed themselves whole, and the skin of the sky buckled and split and spewed forth more of itself. She didn't know how she did it; her thoughts were completely focused on making more sky. But there was one voice that spoke up, the voice of reason that raised its head and refused to lower it.
You can't do this, the voice told her. You can't 'make more sky'. We both know that's not how it works. You can't do this.
Michelle tried to silence it, she really did. But the voice just got louder and louder until it was almost shouting at her.
You can't do this! No-one can, and this isn't possible! Because we both know what happens in the real world if you get too high. We both know that the sky doesn't just keep going; it has to end sometime, and in its place is-
The blue sky vanished even as the voice of reason was speaking in her mind.
Tiny pinpricks of white light shone in the distance, tiny stars all burning ten thousand miles away. Black emptiness stretched away in every direction.
"The Nightmare's changed it to night-time!" Skyril said.
"No..." Israel looked around, and then ran to the edge of the ship and looked over. "Oh God, no... it's not night. We're in sp-"
His voice cut out and he gasped for a breath that wasn't there. He clutched at his throat but Michelle already knew it was no good. Because he was right; it wasn't just night.
They were in space.
If she had looked over the edge of the ship, she would have seen the dreamworld stretch out beneath them, remarkably similar to the earth. She would have seen the strangely shaped continents and the islands and the swirling clouds.
If she had time to, she could have tried focusing on the lake they had lifted off from, or anywhere else in the dreamworld but here, where there was no air and no salvation and nothing but emptiness and the promise of distant stars...
But she couldn't think of anything other than space. Israel passed out, still clutching the wheel of the ship, and Skyril tried crying out but couldn't. Michelle's mind raced as she still held the Nightmare's heart. She knew something was missing but even at a hundred miles a minute, she couldn't work it out. A huge white sphere, her mind offered, pockmarked with thousands of scars from the work of asteroids.
The air left her and she didn't try to keep it. Her body began to convulse and shudder for the need of oxygen, and suddenly, her mind focused that tiny bit more and she remembered what was missing.
And with a whumpf of sound that shouldn't be there, a moon just bigger than their ship appeared before the Albatross and seemed to grin wickedly. Was it their doom, or their salvation?
Michelle's vision faded. Before it went completely, she saw the bow of the boat splinter as it collided with the moon. She felt herself jolt forward and then jolt backward again; the rope she had tied around her waist earlier kept her close to the deck of the ship, and safe.
The ship fell away from the miniature moon slowly, drifting towards the huge blue world below. Michelle looked up at the stars, and the faintest of smiles showed on her lips.
Her eyes closed, and the world went black beyond them.
To be continued...