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Cause and effect. Seems simple to understand, right? Well, I know more than a few people that have a problem making the connection. Some days, I was even one of those poor sons of bitches.

See, it's hard to determine the consequences of your actions in the moment. You're absorbed in the moment, after all. With all of it's passion and drama unfolding in seconds. How could you possibly guess that something you said and forgot three seconds later would bite you in the ass a few more years down the road?

Then there are those people that astound you with the things they hold back. They have every reason to unload and all of the ammunition their tongue could possibly desire. But they hold back. Save the choicest, juiciest remonstrances for when they really need it. For those moments where it will dig deepest, stab hardest, and tear through your innards like a hook.

Those are the people that are scariest to deal with. Those are the people that see every consequence for every action. Every cause and effect.

In the world of Before, I didn't understand anything beyond my own little bubble. I had questions, so I sought answers.

In that same world, he was already planning the After.


"But what does that mean?" Orenda demanded. "What was that crock about not knowing everything you could do?"

Unconsciously, I rubbed my wrists, staring out over the stars from the view of the moon. "I think he means that I could do what he's done. Make things come out of the dreams."

"Like actual objects?"

"Like consequences," I murmured again.

The marks that I brought back with me were the result of my choices. My decisions. If I had never taken him into my dream, he would have never dragged me into the nightmare. Tit for tat. And if I had never fought against the restraints, I would not now have the faint white lines in my skin that marked where I had cut myself on them.

"How are you supposed to test consequences?" she scoffed.

"I'm not sure yet. But I have some idea."

"Care to share?"

I smiled at her for a minute before I asked, "Want a popsicle?"

Before she could answer, one appeared in her hand. She stared at it and me for a moment before she shrugged her shoulders and started to eat it. "Okay, what's this about?"

"If I can learn to do what he does, the theory is that when you wake up, you'll still be able to taste that. You'll still feel it melting on your tongue."

She paused and looked between me and the half-devoured cherry popsicle. Then she shrugged and bit off another chunk of flavored ice. "Okay. So now you just need to figure out how to make it so real that it follows me into reality. Interesting."

"That's the plan," I sighed, running my hands over my face.

"How long before you figure out how to do that?"

"I don't know."

"Who'll be your guinea pig?"

"Me. Obviously."

"And me."

"No. Not yet," I amended, knowing which argument was coming. "When I figure out how to get it to work through me, I'll move onto you, Sarah, and Dasan. Promise."

"Good. Because you don't have to go through this alone. And, y'know, if you figure out how to make orgasms transfer into the waking world, I don't think a single person on this planet will complain."

Oh yes. Because that was the entire purpose. How could that not have been my first thought?

I rolled my eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, sis."

"You're welcome. And in the meantime, what're you going to do about oh nameless one?"

I chuckled. It really irked her that he knew my name but I didn't know his. But that much I could blame on Google. Whenever we got a wifi connection, D was on his laptop updating my website. Currently all online orders were on hold and he was forced to tell several people a week—many longtime customers that were addicted to my dreams—that we wouldn't be opening online commissions again until November. But people are pigheaded and refuse to listen. Plus there was that whole entitlement complex. Like, yes, I'll drop my entire touring schedule to make you a thirty inch dreamcraft of rosewood and silk filled with the greatest heroic adventure of your life culminating in hot sex with someone who looks absolutely nothing like your husband. Not that you look like anything less than a supermodel, either.

Those were the kinds of people I always turned down. I knew the dangers of living for the dreams all too well. Missed almost my entire sophomore year of high school because my dreams were far more important to me than my reality. When you can make your life perfect in your sleep, why bother waking up?

O saved me from that. Because I was eating banquets in my dream, my body had suffered from lack of nutrients. It got so bad that I was hospitalized for severe dehydration and then I had to see a therapist for an eating disorder I didn't have. If O hadn't started bawling like a baby saying she didn't want me to end up like Mom, I don't think I would have survived to age seventeen. But she did, and I pulled back from the dreams. And I refused to aid in the degradation of a human life with something just as addictive as drugs.

Anyway, all the shadow man had to do was look up 'dreamcrafter' in a search engine and my site would be the first to appear. It was tastefully done with an 'Artisan Biography' page, my touring schedule, the commissions page, and the gallery filled with expert storytelling on Sarah's part as to the contents of each dreamcraft. D had even made a community page where customers could leave pictures and reviews of their own, while also commenting with one another. It was an impressive setup and I knew I was lucky to have such talented friends.

Either the shadow man wasn't as lucky with his companions, or he didn't advertise creating nightmares for people. Somehow I didn't think it was the former. It still lingered in my mind the way he said 'unleashed' about the dreamcrafts. As if he was always holding something back. Like he was a living wall that barred all of the atrocities our minds had to offer from running over the world.

Honestly, I was grateful for it. If I wasn't a Dreamcrafter, would my bad days warp into even worse nights? Instead of soothing myself with a pleasant reality, would I be chained to that wall again and be forced to watch my sister die? That was a nightmare I never wanted to experience ever again. He could hit me with just about anything else in the world, but if O was hurt, I'd put a bullet through my own brain. She was the reason I woke up every day. The only one.

"You're brooding again," she reminded me in a low tone.

"How can you tell?" I asked, forcing a smile.

"Because I know you. What's going on?"

I shook my head. "Nothing. Just thinking about nightmares."

"So? What are you going to do about nightmare boy?"

Now she was just trying things out that would stick. "I don't know. He said to find him when I began to test my limits. I'll try it on my own for a while. If I hit a roadblock, I'll go looking for him again."

"Why are you playing his game? Why not go after him again right away?"

"Because I know what I'm capable of and I've seen what he's capable of. I can't hold him, O. And I can't draw him. Believe me, I've tried. He's better at this than I am, and if I want answers, I have to either play his game or take myself off the board entirely. So I'm going to play."

As soon as I said it, I knew that I might one day regret it.

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