Chapter 2: Papa's Dreams

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Maxine found herself standing in one of her father's war dreams, the kind he'd had almost nightly since he returned from his last deployment abroad in the army. This one looked more like a scene from a movie than anything she could let herself believe might once have been real. 

It was dark and cold with a steady wind that whistled through the concrete buildings and blew sand into her eyes. Papa's squad was in position behind an abandoned market stall on an empty dirt road. It looked like the sort of market that would have been loud and busy, with vendors and street players trying to be heard over the crowd. The dream warped things. Now the stalls looked to be in disrepair, with their signs askew and their wooden frames rotting. The only space for cars on this road were narrow alleyways with sharp twists and turns. It only added to the cramped, dank, and unpleasant feel of the situation.

Maxine herself took the form she always did in the dreams. It was a sort of perfected, polished version of how she imagined herself: big brown eyes with long lashes and straight brown hair, bangs clipped back out of her eyes. Even in the dreams, she wore no makeup. Her blush came easy against her pale, freckled skin.

Her outfit was what made her stand out against the dreamscape. Her bright long-sleeved shirt and tight-fitting jeans were a contrast to the dark, crumbly atmosphere. 

Feeling too visible, Max tucked herself away behind one of the market stalls. She settled into a position where she could see everything. Her father and his people didn't seem to take any notice of her at all. That was exactly how she liked it.

Not for the first time, Max marveled at how clear and detailed dreams could be when they weren't hers. In her own dreams, the details were always foggy and hard to focus on. They were even more difficult to remember. But when she was dancing among other people's dreams, she found that she could remember each and every detail as clearly as if she'd been awake all along.

That wasn't to say the details were accurate; often, elements of the dream were mis-remembered or invented by the dreamer. Sometimes, the same dream would even be contradictory to itself. She'd seen rivers flow uphill while the fish swam down, and trees moving as if a terrible wind blew with no wind to be felt. Sometimes the details were just too smooth and perfect, with no evidence of the wear and tear of reality. 

Here, it seemed that the open-air market was in a foreign country because all the signs bore marks in another language. But instead of a real, remembered country that Papa had seen on tour, the letters looked more like chicken scrawl than symbols with any real meaning. 

Papa was crouched behind a stall on the far end, just before the turn in the road. He wore his army uniform but otherwise looked exactly as he had yesterday in the waking realm. Each time Max had seen him in that uniform, his hair had been buzzed short in preparation for duty. Now his hair was a dark brown mop that he'd let grow long enough to get in his eyes. His face was round and pale like Max's, with laugh lines around his eyes. Keeping in shape was the one thing he'd stayed on top of since he'd come home. Even the bullet-proof vest and long sleeves couldn't hide it.

The dream had been utterly silent since Max arrived. She held her breath in anticipation.

Papa gestured to his men with two fingers, sending them in pairs to dart out past the open and hide behind the shops and stalls. The enemy, Max realized, was doing the same across the broken road. Dark shapes flitted between the gaps in the shops; unfriendly shadows.

Crack! Max flinched hard and dropped low even though she knew the gunshot wasn't anywhere near her position. She'd died in dreams before, but it made her feel sick for days afterward. 

Her father's dreams usually didn't have much sound, though she'd visited plenty of others that did. It seemed Papa didn't need sound to play out the scenes in his mind.

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