viii. nightmares

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Sidra POV

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"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music"

- Friedrich Nietzsche

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"Sidra!!!" an angry voice leapt up out of the depths of the house. I climbed up into the attic, and sat down, wrapping my arms around my knees, waiting. Waiting for the imminent disaster. Footsteps approached, growing louder and louder. I squeezed my eyes shut, and a blindingly bright white flash assailed my eyes under their closed lids. 'oh no, not again' I sighed, as images came rushing into my head - footsteps - a woman - mountains - a mansion -

"There you are, you little devil" I was jolted out of the visions by a screech I knew all too well. "You will be the death of me!! Your father should've drowned you when he had the chance." she came closer and bent down to me, lifting my face up to hers. A strong lavender fragrance hit me full in the face, making my nostrils burn.

"Why did you not go to school today??" the question was posed. No matter how much I explained myself, no one would ever understand.

"I can't. The kids are bad to me. They beat me, and pull my hair, and call me a freak" I spat out, tears leaking out of the cage I had tried to build around them.

"A freak. And what's wrong with that? You are one. Just like your dead mother." She straightened up. "a witch. I should burn you. But I don't. I slave hard every day. For you. To send you to school. To make clothes for you. And yet, you don't give me an ounce of gratitude. You and your... your...dreams and your nightmares and your fainting fits. You're lucky I love your father too much to hurt him." She turned on her heel and swept off.

Once she disappeared downstairs, I relaxed, and stretched out on the dust-caked floor. My heart burst, and sobbing, and finally, like all children with broken hearts, I found repose in sleep. I wish. Sleep was troubled with dreams, all featuring the same thing - mountains, and a mansion. But this time, something else slipped in. a storm - a river - a tree - a bridge - and an ominous cloud of loss hanging over everything.

Not long after, I felt a hand on my cheek. "Hey Sid, look what I got ya" a gentle voice prodded me awake. I opened my eyes to a laughing face, splattered over with freckles, and fire engine red hair. Immediately I felt happiness creeping into me, like a drug. "Sage!" I smiled and sat up. Sage. My brother. And the golden child of the household. We were polar opposites, but he was the only person in my life I actually loved. I would do anything for him. I loved him more than I loved my own self.

He offered me an apple. "Come on! Let's go out." He grabbed my hand, and ignoring my protests, dragged me out into the street. "Where d'ya wanna go?" now we were outside, I caught his spirit. "The river. Last one there is a rotten egg!" I laughed and ran, closely followed by him.

We ran and ran, and I threw my troubles to the wind.

By the time we reached the river, the sky was graying, and clouds had gathered low and menacing. The fast-flowing river furiously lashed at the banks, throwing itself against the flimsy wooden bridge that lay across it. Across the water, something caught my eye. A tree, with the most beautiful golden flowers I had ever seen. Mesmerized, I started to walk onto the bridge, oblivious to the wild play of the water and the winds. Sage was smarter. He ran up to me and stopped me. "Where are you going, Sid?" I pointed to the flowers. pulling me back, he ordered "You stay here. I'll get those for you". I tried to protest, but he wouldn't hear another word. "Be careful" I told him.

Happy, I seated myself on the waving grass, and watched him. he quickly ran across, climbed the tree, and returned triumphant, flower clutched tight in his hand. He was halfway across the bridge, and soaked to the skin, looking like a young water god amidst the raging froth, when the river, like a mad enraged animal clawing at the wood brought it down, and Sage disappeared amidst the wooden splinters and the frothy water.

I jumped up, heart hammering at my ribs. "Sage! Sage!" I called out, my voice half lost in the wind. Rushing down to the river's edge, I peered into the water, looking, hunting for any sign of him. the clouds broke apart and rain slammed against the earth, pounding, with an ever-increasing intensity. All through it I sat, searching for any sign of him. hoping against hope that he would swim out like nothing ever happened.

I don't know how long I sat there, weeping. Finally, the sky cleared, and the water calmed down. It gently lapped against my feet, as if in apology for its earlier ferocity. The golden flower came floating to my feet. I picked it up, and held it against my chest. Right then, I saw him floating, surrounded by wood splinters; like Ophelia and her water lilies. I pulled him out to the bank, with a strength I barely knew I possessed; and desperately felt for a heartbeat. The steady beat wasn't there. I sat stupefied for a second, as the impact of what I had done sunk in upon me. I looked down at his soaking red hair, and tears flowed down my face and dripped on to his freckles. I threw myself down and cried for all I was worth. Sage. Brother.

Soon after, I heard our names. People had come out looking for us. I glanced up to see a group of people coming towards us. Among them were father and stepmother. They saw his motionless figure lying next to me and rushed towards us. They looked at me, demanding an explanation and saw the golden flower in my hand. They looked across the river, at the tree, and noticed that the bridge was gone. No words were exchanged. They knew. They knew I had killed him.

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I woke up with a jolt, swallowing a half-formed scream. My hair, damp with sweat, stuck to the sides of my face, and uncomfortable wet droplets clung to the back of my neck, despite the cool night breeze blowing in through the open window. Puzzled, I wondered where I was. I sat up and gazed out. Realization dawned upon me. The kind lady, everything came back.

A couple of stars twinkled in the great midnight blue ocean above my head, competing with the streetlights on the road. Outcasts, like me. All my steely resolve vanished. Sobbing, I covered my face with my hands and leaned on the windowsill. Sage. It was all my fault. Why did I ever want that dastardly flower? I missed him terribly. He was the only thing that made home a home. I raised my head and looked out again. In the distance, I could see mountains, cloaked in the midnight mist. An old line from a long-forgotten movie came to mind. Something that tasted bitterly of a happy childhood clothed in laughter and love.

"The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it". The lesson had been learnt. Never again would I give my heart so freely to another person. Love, can only be a disadvantage in the losing side. It can only destroy. I couldn't allow anyone else to suffer the same fate as Sage. I mustn't -

All went black. I fell back, and a hand closed around my throat. I was sinking, drowning. Suddenly, the hand left, and a landscape formed in front of me - a tall white building, on a large grassy lawn, littered with trees. A large fjord lay beside it, its waters making small ripples near the bank. I recognized the building at once. This was it. The image changed, and two words took the place of the landscape - Exemplar Academy.

My eyes flew open, and I sat up once again, gasping for breath. Relieved, I swallowed large gulps of air. The clock showed three. Four more hours and I could leave to resume the search. I lay back, and waited for sleep, hoping against hope that no more dreams would torture my slumber.

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