It was the same dream; it was always the same dream. She was walking along some sugar-white beach in the early evening twilight. She was alone—not by herself, but alone. There wasn’t another human being left on the planet, or perhaps the universe. Either way, she didn’t care. Nothing else had changed. Everywhere she looked, the world was the same; the birds sang as she kicked up the sand, waves lapped at her feet, and the wind blew through her hair. Off in the distance she heard her dog bark. Mittens, her mottled and often mangy mongrel dog from childhood, now a sleek golden retriever in the prime of life, ran towards her with a smile on her face. She had a look of sheer contentment, and Amanda realized that she too was completely content. She bent down to greet Mittens, who lapped at Amanda’s face relentlessly. She was naked, but it didn’t seem to bother Mittens, and as they were the only sentient beings in this entire universe Amanda ignored her nakedness. Besides, Mittens was naked, too. Amanda felt liberated, free from more than just clothes. The worries, the responsibilities that had crushed her all her life were gone. She ran, jumped, and wrestled with Mittens for hours, and the sun never set. She was both child and adult, fused in some strange synergy that only dreams can produce.
Mittens leapt from her grasp and streaked down the beach, running for the absolute joy of it. She crested a dune and jumped far into the sky, snapping at the seagulls as they took to flight. She landed in a heap, rolled over, and came up shaking, sending sand flying in all directions. Amanda laughed, and Mittens’s smile broadened. For the moment, Mittens existed only to make her happy.
A sudden loud drumming noise broke their reverie, and Amanda instinctively covered herself. This wasn’t part of the dream. Mittens stood alert, searching for the source of their interruption. Her fur began to stand on end, and Amanda could hear a low, menacing growl over the surf. Mittens stared up the dune that she had just run down.
Something was over there. More specifically, someone was over there, unseen, but watching. Amanda could feel the curious eyes exploring her, and she felt more naked than she ever had felt in the waking world. Mittens jogged back to her, waiting for the command to destroy the interloper.
“Easy, big girl,” she said, patting Mittens, who seemed to have grown to an unnatural size. Amanda stood, fully clothed, no longer the fragile flower of her youth, but a force of nature, more than capable of defending herself. “Let’s see who it is.” Her mind reached for the intruder, but it slipped her grasp. She chased it, but it kept scurrying away; it was like trying to pin a mouse with a tennis racket. Mittens barked and shot across the sand and over the dune with dreamlike speed. Through her dog’s eyes Amanda first saw him, the intruder, and he saw her.
“Let me kill him,” Mittens whispered, and Amanda was suddenly by her old dog’s side, standing at the crest of the dune, staring at a man dressed all in black. She looked down to see a ferocious wolf where Mittens used to be, her eyes burning with a murderous light. “He’s the killer, and he means to destroy us. Evil runs through his veins. I can smell it.” Mittens the wolf was drooling and licking her chops.
“No, he has answers that I need. Besides, I promised,” she said weakly to her dog. But a part of her, a part beyond Mittens, toyed with the idea. Did she really need answers? Were they as important as stopping him, killing him? It would be so easy. There was no possibility of escape. She could see him, and that was all that was necessary. She felt the old cruel smile cross her face, and the blood lust rose in her chest. Mittens tensed, waiting for release, but Amanda hesitated. She had promised Lisa and Greg, and for seven years she had lived by that promise.
“Aunt Emily said to kill him,” Mittens countered. Amanda looked down at her enormous wolf, but still she hesitated.
The Dark Man started to speak, but Amanda couldn’t hear him. His mouth moved, but she couldn’t understand him. They were closer now, and the sound of the surf had receded, but she just couldn’t make out what he was trying to say. She strained to listen, but all she could hear was an annoying buzzing sound.
“I can’t understand you,” she said over the buzzing. Mittens’s tail brushed her leg, her threatening growl vibrating the sand around them.
The Dark Man started waving his arms, and Mittens jumped to her feet. “No,” Amanda commanded, and Mittens obediently sat. She didn’t feel threatened. It was her dream, her mind, and her turf.
The intruder became more agitated with her lack of response, and he took a step closer, his face registering anger now. Mittens had risen to a crouch, ready to launch at the strange man and tear off one of the waving arms. One more step and Amanda would release her, but the man stopped. He put down his arms and just stared at her, frustration and anger radiating from him.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “What are you?” Authority filled her voice. He didn’t respond, and Amanda wondered if he was having the same difficulty with hearing as she had. “Can you hear me?” she screamed, although she was not really sure why she screamed the words. Dream or not, she was in the realm of thought where screaming only communicated emotion.
Apparently, he had heard something. He took a step back out of surprise, then suddenly screamed and lunged at her. Mittens, now the size of a bear, exploded from her crouch. Amanda was struck by the thought that the Dark Man hadn’t seen Mittens the Bear. She sidestepped their collision as the two tumbled into the sand. Mittens was up first, and she bit deep into the Dark Man’s right shoulder. At that instant, an explosion of blue light blinded Amanda.
She awoke in agony, her face and chest burning from the flash. Her skin was searing, almost as if she had been splashed with a powerful acid. Blindly, she rolled out of bed and stumbled over to the sink, but before she reached it, the pain was gone. She stood over the sink, her chest heaving, and her heart hammering against her ribs. She blinked several times, but all she could see were blue dots. Slowly, her vision returned to normal. She studied her reflection in the mirror, but her skin appeared to be unharmed.
She rubbed her face and chest, and they both felt normal. She looked back at the bed and, instead of finding a pile of smoking, charred linen, there were only rumpled sheets. She had managed to knock over the bedside clock, and its upside-down numbers told her that she had been asleep for less than sixteen minutes.
Brian O’Grady is April’s Story Plant Author of the Month, which means you can get the e-book versions of his novels Amanda’s Story and Hybrid for a great price all month. Read more about it here.