*A warning before proceeding...there are spoilers afoot. READ BOOK ONE!
Death haunted my dreamless sleep every night. Each time I closed my eyes, the image of his ethereal hand stuck in her head flashed through my mind. Even after I had fallen asleep and stood over my body, the screams from that day still echoed. The image and sounds would replay in my head over and over again. Despite the noise, I tried to put it behind me and move forward. What was done was done.
Freshman year of college was still in the forefront of my mind. It had only been four months—four months since I witnessed a girl almost die. What haunted me the most was Wilson—it was his eyes—the eyes of a boy who believed that what he was doing was right. He was fixing his mistake. He was creating his replacement Dead Dreamer. His belief was what frightened me. At the time, my only option was to expel him from the room and use my own energy to restart her heart. None of us knew if Wilson ever got what he wanted.
Ashley’s family kept her in the Nephesburg local hospital for the majority of the summer. Damon’s mother made a habit of visiting her frequently. Each time, he would ask to join her, but she only allowed it a couple of times. According to him, Ashley seemed normal and he never saw her enter the Fade. Although it helped to hear, that still wasn’t enough for me. I had to see it for myself; I had to see her fall asleep and stay alive. Stay in her body.
At one point he overheard the doctors mention that she was at risk of having a brain aneurism now, but it was highly unlikely that it would ever rupture. Considering what Wilson had done, I expected there to be far more damage. If that was all that resulted from the experience, then she was lucky.
While at home for summer break, I kept my promise and did not go searching for doorways—sealed shut or not. The doorways: the gateways to the demons and the fairies. The one place I couldn’t go despite my ability to become a spirit and travel in the Fade. And the one thing causing all of my problems.
I was tempted from time to time. There were nights spent pacing around my home and the land surrounding it, trying to keep myself occupied or at least entertained. Deep down, there was always this itch to go and find them; both the doors and the creatures.
However, one thing always stopped me: Maura—my own soul that threatened to kill me any time I acquired extra energy from the seals. The subsequent lack of power kept her quiet enough for the summer, but now that it was the last night before I was moving back to the dorms at college, my anxiety was beginning to surface.
Campus was full of dangers—more than your average school; full of nut jobs working to seal away the demons because they were supposedly of the biblical nature. Nut jobs who didn’t realize those seals were created using trapped souls. And it was those souls whose pain would echo through me until I set them free. It was unnatural. Something that was so malevolent, it gave my own demon power.
It was those seals that unleashed Maura. I would never have known my soul had separated from my spirit had it not been for them. Those stupid seals gave us an energy boost, and it was enough for Maura to rise to the surface; to try to kill me and anyone close to me.
All of it imploded the day I attempted to set them free. She found an opening and dragged me down; so far, I was lost within myself for weeks. Because of that, everyone wanted to know what would cause a supposedly normal teenage girl to fall into a coma. I couldn’t very well reveal the truth to them: I touched a tree and my soul sucked me in, so she could kill me. Oh, you don’t know her? Her name is Maura and it’s her life’s goal to have us commit suicide.
All I could do was continue to play dumb and avoid giving them a straight answer. It was probably something they would never let go of. But if I was being fair, I couldn’t blame them. It wasn’t normal to just suddenly fall into a coma with no reasonable explanation; not a physical one, anyway.
I had never experienced anxiety until now, but the act of leaving the peace of home for the chaos of college was nerve-racking. I could count on one hand how many times I had ever felt scared, and this was one of those times—scared of what I’d find, scared of being discovered, and scared of what the seals were doing.
But despite that nauseous feeling that never seemed to vanish, I had to keep myself busy. Between batting off questions from the parents and working a part-time job as a hostess for the summer, I researched any oddities that were happening around the college. What was interesting was that my search led me to a myth surrounding the small town of Nephesburg:
If you set foot in the woods on the night of a new or quarter moon, you leave yourself vulnerable to the creature’s claws. Should you survive the night without a scratch, you will be blessed. But should you be marked, you will perish within a year.
Some of the locals had brought in famous paranormal investigators at one point to try and search the forest for this creature. They even dedicated an episode of their television show to that very myth. I wasn’t surprised to learn their search had yielded little results.
Even so, there were still those who were brave enough to take the challenge. Most ended up lucky…others did not. But there were those who returned, covered with deep claw marks from head to toe. Thankfully, the claw marks causing death was extremely rare, but there were some who bled out before they could reach help or before they were found. The police speculated it was either a wild animal or someone trying to give the myth some ground. I’m not even certain if those who survived passed away within the timeframe the myth foretold.
When the events were originally happening, the stories were hyped up by the news, but the police called it nothing but a criminal on the loose who would soon be brought to justice. A few were arrested, but the charges never stuck. So, the police would send PSAs out frequently, telling the public to always be aware of their surroundings and to not travel into the woods at night.
Based on the moon cycles and the timing of the events, it sounded as though the fairies were involved, but I couldn’t know for sure. It wouldn’t surprise me; just being around them made me feel uneasy—especially now that the demons were sealed away. Ironically, I preferred their company.
The demons were always peaceful creatures. Sure, they weren’t the prettiest things to look at, but they never caused any harm. On the nights of the full moon, their doors would open, allowing them the freedom to explore the Fade. They would play pranks, laugh, and even dance as they explored. From my experience, they were harmless.
The fairies were a different story. Their doors would open on the nights of the quarter and new moons, giving them a turn within the Fade. Even when I knew they were out, they were always extremely difficult to find. Whenever I did find one, they were extremely hostile—willing to bite or scratch at anything that got in their way or too close. Beautiful or not, they were assholes.
The thought of the demons reminded me of the Gatekeepers. My teeth clenched together at the mere mention of them. They were so ignorant to think they were making a difference by blocking the demons. They truly believed these were biblical demonic creatures that needed to be sealed away to protect humanity. It was ridiculous. From what I knew, the Gatekeepers were nothing but a group of fanatics, following God only knew what kind of teachings to disrupt the balance in the Fade, using my kind to do it—Dead Dreamers, those who could cross the veil into the Fade when asleep, to trap souls and use their energy to create seals.
Two books flew across the room with the tightening of my fist. Sighing, my hand waved as I used my telekinetic ability to put them back. Being a Dead Dreamer did have a perk: although I couldn’t dream, I could at least move things with my mind. Mind, energy, whatever. Even now as I stood next to my sleeping body, it felt very cool to move the books. I just couldn’t always control it when I lost my temper.
Glancing at the clock on my nightstand, I realized it was already midnight, which meant today was the day I was moving back to school. I had only fallen asleep an hour ago, which was difficult for once. My worries constantly circled in my mind, keeping me awake longer than I anticipated. Normally, I never had trouble falling asleep.
Feeling annoyed at the stack of boxes sitting by my door, I decided it was time to leave my room. Phasing through the wall, I found Sam breathing heavily as she slept in her childhood bed. Even though she had her own apartment, she thought it would be best to stay the night here. We were leaving early the next morning to take me back to Nephesburg, and she wanted to tag along.
Her body twitched as I approached the bed until she rolled over, her body facing me—as if she could sense my presence. I tilted my head to the side. Growing up, she used to tell me stories of how our house was haunted and how the spirits liked to play pranks on her from time to time. A puff of air released from me as I stifled back laughter at the memory. Though a hazy memory, it seemed ironic now. But she wasn’t wrong.
From downstairs, I could hear laughter that echoed through the halls. It was coming from the kitchen. As quietly as a spirit could be, I crept down the stairs and through the hallway to see the two of them together. In the darkness, they stood close as they spoke, one leaning an arm onto the kitchen counter. They were chuckling and conversing about something I couldn’t hear. Seeing them together reminded me of the time I had caught all three of them playing cards at the dining room table. They had enough energy to move objects on the mortal plane, and it entertained me to watch from afar.
Unwilling to expose my presence, I floated closer, but stayed behind the partially closed door to the hallway.
“We should just leave this place. He won’t let us do anything anymore.”
The shortest soldier in the blue uniform barely reached the taller man’s shoulders. “You know we can’t. She might still need us.”
The taller man shifted, fidgeting to adjust his gray uniform, as if it were too small. “That’s what we all want, but we can’t interfere. My brother made that clear. He wants them both back more than anything, but it might never happen. We still don’t know what happened that day.”
I assumed they were discussing the girl they had questioned me about the day I had come home from the hospital after the accident. It was the first night I had ever woken up outside of my body. The experience was jarring enough, but to have the three of them hover over me and ask too many questions freaked me out. When they realized I had no answers for them, the eldest man’s face had grown grave before he pulled the other two away. They chose to avoid me ever since.
My curiosity overrode my desire to hide as I let my feet pull me forward, through the door to confront them.
“Who are you talking about?”
I heard them curse under their breath. The union soldier walked towards me. Although he was glaring, and his lips were pressed firmly together in frustration, I couldn’t sense any hatred. Instead, I felt a sadness. “It’s none of your concern.”
I kept my ground, showing no fear of his attempt to intimidate me. “If it’s the same woman you asked me about four years ago, then maybe it does concern me.”
Suddenly the third soldier materialized behind me, and the other two took a step back, their heads lowering in respect. I, instead, turned to face him. His eyes lowered to meet mine in frustration.
“You didn’t know what we were talking about then and you don’t know now. Therefore, it is none of your concern,” he said, his voice hard.
He was taller than the other two with a salt-and-pepper beard that had grown to his chest. His gray uniform matched that of his brother’s. The main difference was his face. He was older and tired. Even through his beard, I could see the lines in his face and the exhaustion in his eyes. He was sad. They all were. But I didn’t know why.
We both stood our ground, waiting for the other to back down. He did his best to glare and intimidate me, but I wasn’t bothered. His presence didn’t frighten me in the slightest. Rather, it comforted me, though I couldn’t explain why. “Why do you guys hate me so much? I’m sorry I don’t know who you’re talking about, but that isn’t my fault.”
All three of them glanced at each other, with agonized expressions on their faces. It was enough to make me flinch at the harsh tone I had used.
The union soldier lifted his head to speak up. “You should! This is—”
Quickly, the eldest confederate grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Enough!”
I stared at them in disbelief. They thought I was hiding some kind of secret involving this woman. “No! Wait! What was he going to say?”
When the older confederate turned to look at me again, I knew they were leaving. He reached to grip their arms and pulled them through the walls. I watched in annoyance as they walked towards the woods behind my house. Four years ago, I became a Dead Dreamer; and in all of that time, not once had I seen a female spirit in this house. It was possible they were confusing me with someone else, but that seemed unlikely. Either way, the conversation only increased my anxiety. I wasn’t welcome anywhere, not even in my own home.
“Brenna! Come on! Grab the last box and let’s get going!” Sam yelled from downstairs.
Picking up the last box containing my videogames, I reached to turn the light off in my room. It was bittersweet. This was the home I had grown up in; you would think that I’d be sad to leave it for the next few months. But considering the exchange from last night, it felt like a good idea to leave. I wasn’t sure which was worse: experiencing the cold shoulder from everything dead in this house or dealing with an idiotic cult. Each had its pros and cons.
Attempting to appease my sister, I jumped down the stairs, nearly dropping the box of games as I landed. “I’m coming!”
Tossing the last box into the back of my RAV4, I slammed the trunk shut. The hairs on the back of my neck stood when I moved towards the front door. Shifting my eyes up, I stared at my sister’s bedroom window on the second floor of the house. There was no one there. But I could still feel them—watching.
Snapping herself free, Sam leaned out of the passenger’s seat towards me. “You okay?”
My nose twitched at her question. Biting my tongue, I pulled the door open and fell into the driver’s seat. “Yeah, I just hate leaving home.”
She chuckled. “I know. I was the same way. Hell, I still have a problem leaving home, but I have that apartment I’m paying for. Only three more years, then it’s the real world for you.”
“That’s if I make it that far,” I mumbled under my breath. Hearing my comment, she chuckled. Sad part was, I wasn’t being sarcastic.
As we followed my parents on the highway, Sam spent the majority of the trip telling me the same stories over and over again about her trip to Spain last year. It wasn’t until the end of the drive when she decided it was time to ask. “So, were you just lying to Mom and Dad about what might have caused your coma?”
My eyes left the road as they rolled to the back of my head. “I’m not lying. I legitimately don’t know what caused it. If I did, I would have said something. It’s stupid to lie to a doctor, let alone our parents.”
She shrugged before opening her bottle of Diet Mountain Dew to take a swig. “I guess that’s a good point. Mom would kick your ass to next Tuesday if you even thought of lying.”
“Exactly. I wish I could remember. It would help explain some things, but unfortunately, I don’t. Aeria guessed that I could have been drugged or something. Who knows,” I lied as convincingly as possible.
Surprisingly, Sam seemed to accept my answer. “I guess we’ll never know. Just promise you’ll be a little more careful this year. Make sure Aeria defends your dumb ass.”
I scoffed. “One bad moment, and suddenly I can’t take care of myself. I’ll be fine.”
Sam grinned. “Exactly. It will stay with you for life.”
“Hah!” I snorted. Although she was chuckling with me, Sam didn’t quite understand the accuracy of her comment.
When we pulled into the school parking lot, my parents decided to wait with the cars while Sam and I went to check in. Walking into the Dower building, Leo was sitting at one of the check-in computers. It made sense—he was the type to volunteer. “Hey Brenna! You checking in?”
I walked up to him with Sam in tow. “Yeah. Is anyone else back yet?”
He shrugged. “So far, I just know of Damon, Marie, and now, you. What’s your last name? I can’t find you in here.”
“Sorry, it’s Whit. Brenna Whit.”
His eyes lit up when he found my name. “Here you are.” He pulled out an envelope and put a sticker onto the front before handing it to me. “Just take this and go upstairs to get the pass for your car and get your room key.”
I grabbed Sam’s wrist and started to drag her towards the stairs. “Thanks, Leo!”
Sam poked my side. “So, who’s Leo?”
Slapping her hand away, I groaned. “Just a friend from that Ghost Hunting Club I’m in. He’s dating my other friend Marie.”
Her smile widened. “I find it ironic that you joined that club when you used to be so scared whenever I told you my ghost stories.”
“Well, now I find it all interesting,” I said, exasperated as we walked into a classroom.
A girl with two French braids hanging on either side of her head approached me. “Are you here to check in?”
Sam patted my shoulder before turning to wait outside.
I nodded as I turned back towards the girl with the braids. “Yes. I also need to get a pass for my car.”
She pointed to the long line that was going around the entire room. “Just stand here, and you will get your room key, laundry card, and the pass for your car.” She handed me a small form. “If you fill this out now, it will go a lot faster.”
I grabbed a pen from my side-sling purse and began to fill out the form for my car. By the time I had finished filling it out, the line had already taken me to the front. I had to give them credit, they were efficient.
A tall girl with hair that was so blonde it was almost gray glanced at me through her thick glasses. “Okay. Can I see your ID?”
“Oh! Right, sorry,” I said, as I quickly fumbled through my purse to grab my wallet.
She flashed her perfectly white teeth. “It’s okay, sweetie. A lot of people forget.” She looked at my ID to confirm who I was. “All right, Brenna. You will be in Vega Hall, room 310. And here is your laundry card.”
I took my key and put it in the small envelope that held my laundry card. “Thanks.”
A movement in my peripheral vision caught my eye. I turned to see Ashley standing only a few feet away from me. She was at the car registration section of the room. Standing in her jeans and oversized sweatshirt, she allowed the hood to cover her face, barely revealing the dark sunglasses still on her face. The image shouldn’t have been alarming—most of us were dressed the same. But for Ashley it was strange. In the past, she was normally with Erica and always dressed to impress. Never wearing jeans, and always put together. But now, with hair hidden beneath a hood and jeans loosely hanging from her legs, something was off.
I was so distracted in thought, I hadn’t realized a hand was trying to pull the papers from my grip. “I’m sorry, here you go.”
The man standing in front of me smiled. But it wasn’t real. It was fake—he was clearly done with all of the students. His lip ring peaked as he sucked on it for a second before responding to me. “You’re fine. Let me enter your information into the system and get you your pass. Then you’re done in here.”
A few minutes of awkward silence went by before he handed me a green sticker for my car. “Here you go. Welcome back.”
“Thanks,” I said with enthusiasm to match his own.
Noticing the crowd beginning to form, I quickly pushed my way through the room. Sam was leaning against the wall on the other side of the hallway, away from the madness of check-in. “Hey, sorry. It took longer than I thought.”
She grabbed her oversized tan purse from the floor as she walked towards me. “It’s fine. People kept asking me if I needed any help with checking in. Apparently I still look like a student. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. Do we need to do anything else?”
I jerked my head backwards to another set of stairs. “Yeah, we just have to go downstairs to the last table. I have to grab my agenda book and then we can head over to the dorms.”
Sam sighed heavily when she saw the room number assigned to me for my dorm, nearly tripping down the stairs in the process. “Why do you have to be on the third floor? That’s going to be a pain in the ass.”
Ignoring her, I walked up to my final table. “Hi. I’m Brenna Whit.”
The man behind the table nodded as he took my ID without even glancing up. As soon as he had verified my name, he quickly pulled out an agenda book from underneath the table and stood. “Here is your agenda book. You are now officially checked in and done. All you have to do now is move in.”
I took the book and grinned. Again, my enthusiasm was so fake, my eyes nearly twitched at the sound of my own voice. “Thank you. Have a nice day.”
Sam grabbed for the agenda book with the howling wolf on the front. “You know, sometimes I think you chose this school purely for the mascot.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “The wolf being a mascot was just a coincidence. I chose this school because it’s the only one that chose me, remember?”
Reaching behind me, she wrapped an arm around my shoulders before squeezing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. Maybe it was meant to happen. You met some of your best friends here or at least that’s how it sounds. Rae would be jealous.”
I grinned at the mention of my only childhood friend from home. “She knows she’s always first.”
As we approached the car, my Dad lifted an eyebrow as his head tilted slightly to the side. Immediately I jerked away from Sam’s arm, realizing it was still around me. “Okay, I’m in Vega Hall on the third floor.”
Mom nodded. “All right, we’ll follow you to the dorm.”
I stuck the green sticker parking pass onto my car’s back window before driving around campus until we pulled up to the large brick building. The parking lot behind the dorm was already filling up, but we were lucky enough to get two spaces by the entrance. Dad was already grabbing boxes when Sam and I climbed out of my car. “It’s room 310, Dad!”
It only took us half an hour to unload and move everything into the room. Thankfully I didn’t travel with much. The majority of my stuff consisted of videogames and clothes. But compared to my roommate’s collection of clothes, that wasn’t saying much. Her stash would put mine to shame.
This time I wasn’t dreading the roommate’s arrival. This time, there would be no secrets. At least, I hoped not. Aeria and I both knew everything about each other. Well, everything that involved our darkest secrets, anyway.
Thirty minutes of cursing and slamming furniture was beginning to give me a headache until Dad was finally able to lift my mattress to the highest post. My mother had taken herself away from it all by unpacking my closet while I, instead, watched with sarcastic comments. He was already anxious to leave as he moved to help Sam move the dresser to the other side of my desk. The last thing he wanted was to get stuck in traffic on the way home.
Reaching as far as she could, Mom finally gave in and climbed on top of the air conditioner by the window to reach the other end of the bed with the fitted sheet. “Why do you want the bed up so high? You might as well have lofted it.”
My tongue licked my front teeth in frustration before I answered. It was a reflex that stopped me from rolling my eyes in front of my Mom. “I don’t know. I just like something about the height. Plus, it gives me more storage space.”
Mulling it over for a few seconds, she finally nodded. There was no arguing when it came to storage space in a dorm room. Especially with these tiny dorm rooms. Leaving my bed unlofted was a survival tactic as well. The last thing we needed was a certain someone rolling me onto the floor in the middle of the night. Unlikely, but always a risk.
It wasn’t long before Dad’s anxiety got the better of him. He began grunting more and more as he moved boxes around. My patience was beginning to run out with his grunts. “If y’all want to go home, go for it. All I have to do is finish putting my clothes away. Thanks for helping me set everything up though.”
He nodded, grateful for the release. “Okay. We’re going to go ahead and head home. Here’s some money for food.”
I took the money and Sam saw an opening. She instantly came up from behind and wrapped her arms around my waist before lifting me into the air. “We’re going to miss you! Be a good girl and work hard!”
Squirming, I squeezed my way out of her constricting arms. “Stop! Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
My parents glanced at each other, smiles dropping, before turning back to me. “Are you sure you’re going to be all right?”
I suppressed a groan. No, I’m going to go cult hunting and might end up dead again. No biggie. Calm down. “I’ll be fine. Nothing stupid will happen like last year...whatever did happen, anyway.”
The three of them trapped me in another hug before finally leaving. Alone at last, my gaze ran over the half set up dorm room. Nearly everything was put together, which would make life easier for both of us when Aeria arrived. I could only sigh as I pictured her with the crap ton of boxes full of clothes.
Jumping onto my bed, I texted Damon to let him know I was on campus and where Aeria and I would be living. He answered quickly, saying he was on his way over.
On the television stand in front of the sliding doors of the closet was the box of unopened videogames and DVDs that were left untouched. Deciding I should be productive, my feet hit the ground before I began to sort through the box. It was probably a good thing my parents didn’t open it. If my mother knew how much I had spent on videogames with my allowance over the years, she would be pissed. She hated them.
Once or twice, my mind wandered, and I glanced towards the window. Just outside those thin plates of glass was the forest that contained the demon doorway. I wondered if those were the same woods the local legend was talking about. The paranormal investigators went to various locations to try and find the creatures. This could have been one of them. Maybe.
I wasn’t sure how long I stared out the window. Someone slamming their fist against the door was what pulled me out of my trance. “It’s open!”
Damon opened the door with a grin. His scraggly long hair hid the hazel eyes that stared at me. Awkwardly, he reached up to push his black hair away from his face I had the strongest urge to take my scissors and cut it.
“Hey. How was the drive up here?” His gaze dropped to the floor the moment he realized I was sitting on the floor. “You suck! You guys get carpet, while I get that stupid cheap linoleum.”
“Guess we win. The drive was fine,” I remarked with a grin. The interaction reminded me of the first time I met Damon. Considering how rude I had been, it still shocked me that he was one of my friends, let alone dating my best friend. Shaking the grin away, I continued. “I’m honestly not sure how I feel about being back.”
His eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. “Why? I thought you liked being away from home. You literally only went home for breaks last year.” I glowered at him and he quickly rolled his eyes and added, “Okay, well, last winter break doesn’t count.”
I pushed the box of DVDs and games towards him. “Ha-ha, very funny. Organize these alphabetically, please. I need to organize my desk. If I get rid of all these boxes now, it will make my life easier when Aeria brings her stuff in.”
He began working on my request but didn’t let the topic drop. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You sound like Aeria,” I said.
He grinned at my comparison.
I, however, grimaced. “There was a weird moment with the Civil War guys last night. They talked to me, but only for a second before vanishing again.”
He froze as his eyes met mine. “Really? I thought they made it a point to avoid you?”
“They do. I was eavesdropping on them last night and couldn’t help myself. Ended up blowing my cover,” I admitted.
Damon’s lips pinched as he pictured it. “Sounds about right. Did they say anything interesting?”
I shook my head. “No, not really.”
His lips tugged to the side as he nodded. “They would be more useful if they’d just talk to you instead of fleeing every chance they got. You seem to have that effect on the living and the dead.”
I flipped him off despite the fact that he was right.
He chuckled before continuing with the organizing. “I talked to my mom about you. She told me that she had spoken with housing to make sure you and Mike wouldn’t be in the same building.”
That would have been a complicated event to have to explain again. The fact that Mike attacked me was shocking enough for the campus. What made it more unbelievable was the fact that he only did it because Maura had possessed him by imprinting. The memory of it still aggravated me. Not that he attacked, but that Maura had that kind of power.
Thinking back on the conversation I had had with his mother last year, it made sense that she would take action. “I guess it’s out of the question to say my soul merely possessed him and that’s why he tried to kill me?”
His eyebrow raised in question, but with a smile. “I mean, I’m all for it. I say we put it in the paper to tell everyone.”
I couldn’t help but scoff. “The media would be here in an instant. And probably your mom’s cult so they could either restrain me or kill me. I can see the headlines now, ‘Dead girl possesses innocent student to cause her own death!’”
Although the subject of his mother was still a touchy one, he still grinned at my imagination. “You never know these days.”
The image of Ashley standing in line at the check-in flashed through my mind. “Did anything happen with Ashley?”
He shrugged. “Not really, but I’d rather wait to discuss it until Aeria gets here. I don’t want to have to keep repeating myself. It seems to be a habit forming around here.”
The binders in my hands found their way to my foot as I fumbled and dropped them. “Shit!”
“Clumsy,” he said.
“Shut up. And it’s not my fault Aeria can’t hear me when I’m asleep.”
He pointed to me. “Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just wake up to tell us things. You just get too impatient.”
“You’re not my type, dead girl,” he joked.
Making gagging sounds, I held my hand up. “Disgusting even to think about.”
I was pretty sure my entertainment stand would collapse with how hard he laughed. The entire thing shook. After a few seconds, he finally cleared his throat. “Seriously though, what did the Civil War guys want from you?”
Sighing, I leaned against my dresser with my head hanging back so I could stare at the ceiling. “Hell if I know. Ever since I first became what I am, they’ve been asking about another spirit. I assume she used to be there with them.”
He made a sound to suggest he was listening. For a few minutes all you could hear were plastic DVD cases being opened and closed as he made sure they were put away correctly. Finally, he spoke his mind. “Maybe she’s a spirit who was in the house with you when you grew up. Maybe she watched over you or something.”
His train of thought caught me off guard. “What? Like some kind of guardian angel or something?”
“Or something. It would make sense as to why they assumed you would know where she was,” he suggested.
Damon’s words made a tiny bit of sense, though to an outsider this entire conversation would be enough to have us both committed. “I’m not sure if that’s it, but it is something to ponder, I guess. It’s just all so strange.”
He tilted his head sideways as he shrugged. “True. But if we’re being fair, we’re all a little strange around here.”
As he set the last of the DVDs onto the stand, his phone pinged. “Aeria texted me. It doesn’t look like she’ll be here for a while. Want to get some food? I’m starving.”
Feeling satisfied with the work we had completed, I nodded. “Yeah, sure. Can we get some tacos? I’m craving tacos!”
Damon shook his head. “Fine, fatty. Let’s go.”
As we walked out the door, I punched his arm. It must have been harder than I intended, because he stumbled backwards and rubbed where the punch had landed. Thankfully, he was still laughing. This meant we weren’t going to start off bickering like last year.
My initial disdain of Damon had waned as the year went by. Although something in my gut told me to be cautious of him, he’d proven himself many times. The way he treated Aeria, how he pulled me out of my coma, and saved Ashley, it was hard to continue to hate him for some unknown reason.
Either way, once Aeria got here, we’d need to discuss the Ashley situation. I, more than either of them, needed to know if Ashley was like me now. We needed to know if she was working with the Gatekeepers as well. The fact that Damon’s mother had been visiting her all summer did not bode well for me. This year was already going to be difficult enough. Having another Dead Dreamer on campus would only complicate matters. Hopefully I was wrong, and she was just the average bitch on campus. Not a dead one.
Aeria didn’t arrive until two in the morning. Her fiery hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, yet still reached the middle of her back when she stood up. As she glanced up to see if I was still asleep, her skin glowed in the low light, revealing the small number of freckles on her nose. Her eyes widened slightly as she nodded before reaching for another box in the hallway.
She tried to be quiet with her boxes, but with Damon helping, it wasn’t working well. Tired of simply watching them, I woke up, back in my body, instead of making Damon translate. I sat up to look at them. “Weren’t you supposed to be here two hours ago?”
She heaved a sigh of guilt, flipping the lights on. My entire body flinched at the bright light. Aeria grinned. “I’m sorry. I left the house later than I wanted to and got stuck in traffic. We’ll try to be quick, so you can go back to wandering.”
I climbed down from the bed and put on some pants while Damon was in the hallway. “Very funny. Are there any more boxes in your car?”
She shook her head. “No, Damon and I got all of them when I first got here. I’m surprised you weren’t watching. Damon said you were nearby.”
Leaning back against my bedframe, I shrugged. “I didn’t want to risk running into Ashley. Even though we still aren’t sure if she is a Dreamer, I don’t want to chance it. Especially if she’s working for the Gatekeepers. For now, I’ll stick close to home until we know more. Damon wouldn’t tell me anything until you got here.”
She placed a heavy box on her desk. “I bet you hate not knowing.”
Damon walked inside, laughing as he handed me a box. “You,” I pointed towards him, “Shut up.” Leaving him to his laughing, I turned my attention back to Aeria, “And yes, I do hate it. It’s driving me insane. Being a spirit used to mean freedom. Now it’s like I’m stuck to my body.”
Aeria, who had been trying to keep her voice down, began laughing. “Oh yes, because that’s just an awful thing! We don’t know what that’s like at all.”
I found the box labeled bedding and pulled out her sheets. “Shush. You know what I mean. It’s just so frustrating.”
Damon threw me Aeria’s mattress pad. “Put this down first. I know it is, but hopefully we’ll know more once school starts. I don’t think she’s a Dreamer, but that’s my opinion. I have a feeling only you are going to be able to tell. Not unless I suddenly see her wandering campus naked.”
He had a point. She might not be a Dreamer, and I could be worried for nothing. “Do you think I should wander around? Carefully?”
Aeria pointed to my bed. “Go to sleep. We’ll finish unpacking quietly, and you can see what’s going on. Just make sure to look around before going through any physical objects. Maybe you’ll find her wandering around, maybe not. Won’t know until you look for her.” She was about to turn to continue unpacking before looking back at me. “Just pray she’s figured out how to create clothes if she is like you.”
The thought made me flinch as I climbed back into bed. “I didn’t need that mental image in my head. If I do find her wandering around naked, I’d need to burn my eyes out.”
“Seeing you naked was enough. Teach her your ways,” Damon chuckled.
Aeria nudged his shoulder but giggled. “Let us know what you find in the morning.”
Already asleep, I nodded before disappearing through the window. “Pray I find nothing interesting.”
Damon jerked his head up to acknowledge my words before continuing to weave his way through Aeria’s stuff. It would probably take them the rest of the night to finish unpacking. The woman was prepared for any emergency with the amount of crap she always brought with her.
As I floated towards the ground, there was no one around. It was almost as if we were still on summer break. Near the center of campus, a few students wandered around, pointing towards the buildings and back down at the paper in their hands.
Probably freshmen. I resented their innocence. To them, this was their fresh start: a place to earn their diploma, meet new friends, and have new experiences. It was how I had wanted to feel when I first came to Nephesburg College a year ago. But their new experiences would be far different from mine. I envied them.
I followed a few of them out of curiosity, but still stayed on alert. For all I knew, Ashley was the one watching me. What an unsettling thought.
“I can’t find the cafeteria!”
“The campus is literally one big circle. What do you mean you can’t find the cafeteria?”
A girl shorter than me with a reddish-brown ponytail groaned. She waved her arms in the air, her oversized hoodie exaggerating the movement. “I can’t help it. I don’t have a sense of direction. You know this.”
Her friend laughed, causing her glasses to slide down just a touch. She wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. “True. But I love you anyway.”
The shorter girl giggled at her girlfriend’s words. “I love you, too. Come on, let’s get back. I’m starving and I’m pretty sure it’s closed anyway.”
“It’s two in the morning, of course it’s closed.” Her black hair was pulled into a messy bun, revealing a few piercings lining the edge of both ears. As she reached to tug at one of the rings, her ebony skin reflected the moonlight. Leaving her rings, she encircled her arm around her girlfriend’s waist to guide her back.
Had they walked another few feet, around another dorm building, they would have found their original destination. I was fairly certain the taller girl knew it, too, as she grinned when they turned to go back. They were a cute couple. If they were high school sweethearts, I wondered if they’d last through college. It was hard to have faith in anything anymore, but I hoped they would. This campus couldn’t be all death and sadness.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement on the other side of campus. Without hesitation, I pushed off the ground to find the source of the movement. Only when I was close enough to peer around the business building did I pause. The last thing I wanted was for the source to be Ashley and have her see me in the Fade.
Slowly, I peeked around the corner of the building to see Wilson staring at the quarter moon. His spirit was partially faded, and his eyes were milky as he gazed up. His once blond hair now seemed almost white as it laid across his forehead. Against my better judgement, it made me pity him. “What are you still doing here?”
He turned to face me. His expression didn’t change. “You know, living as a Dreamer was hard enough. But this—this is cruel. Now I’m truly dead and stuck here. In purgatory. And for what? For what purpose am I still here? I always followed orders. Even after death I followed orders. Yet, here we are. Still here. Where is the judgement day I was promised?”
No matter how many times I had faced Wilson, he never seemed to realize I wasn’t dead. At least, not the permanent kind. “Are you sure everything you did in life was good?”
He dropped his gaze to the ground and began to pace back and forth. “Hebrews 9:27: ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement.’”
“You died twice,” I said, completely emotionless.
“I did,” he said, “And yet I used my second life to redeem myself. To redeem my soul after it became that creature—that Dead Dreamer. I served His will despite it all. I was promised my redemption.”
I sat down in the grass as Wilson continued to pace before me, his eyes never lifting from the ground. “You killed someone, Wilson. Isn’t that in the Ten Commandments? Thou shalt not kill? And yet you did it anyway. That has to override whatever edict you were following.” Although I hadn’t been to church in years, I still remembered the basics—enough to hopefully grab his attention.
He froze mid-step, and his eyes met mine. “She isn’t dead. She’s alive. I’ve been following her ever since. I am helping her through this transition. The girl is going to continue where I left off, so her soul can be redeemed. That commandment doesn’t count when your goal isn’t to permanently kill someone. It was only temporary.”
I guess that answered my question. Sighing, I pressed him. “You may be right. Maybe it doesn’t count when it’s not absolute death. So, I’ll ask another question: Who told you your soul would be redeemed if it sealed those doorways? Who told you it would be redeemed if you killed someone before bringing them back?”
Confusion flooded his features. His eyes, which were a milky-white before, were now beginning to clear, but only slightly. “I don’t understand.”
I stood up to face him. “Who wrote the laws saying that doorways must be sealed? Who told you to create another one of you?”
He was silent. For once, he had no answer. He merely stared at me—not blinking or unwavering as his eyes locked on mine. I thought I had him; nowhere in the Bible did it say to interfere with the dead or the other side. In fact, the Scripture scorned it. If I remembered correctly, that would border on witchcraft and necromancy, which was forbidden. So, if Wilson were the type to follow the Bible no matter what, then these questions just pushed his logic out the window. Even if the church said he had to do those things, who was to say they were right? How could they know God’s will better than anyone else?
Finally, he broke his silence with a smug grin. “There are demons on the other side of those doors. When our ancestors discovered what was happening within the Fade, they chose to fight the demons in His name. The only way it could be done was through the work of Dead Dreamers, like myself. The fact that you’re questioning this shows your delusion from being here too long.”
We were entering into a theological discussion I wasn’t ready for. “Wilson, I don’t know what those edicts say, I don’t even know what the demons or fae are here for—or why those doors are in the Fade—but I do know one thing: sealing them away isn’t the answer. They’ve been here longer than any of us, and they’ll continue to be here long after us. You’re messing with things we were never meant to mess with.”
His milky eyes began to darken. “You did this. You caused all of this.”
“What?” My feet involuntarily took me a step backwards, sensing his rage.
“You destroyed my work. You let those demons go. I’m being punished because I let you get away with what you’ve done. You’re the reason why I’m trapped here. I should have had you trapped in that orb the moment I saw you.”
Regaining control over my instincts, I stepped back into his face. “You’re insane. Besides, how could I, a lowly spirit, do that kind of damage? Tell me that.”
He seemed taken aback by my question. “I-I don’t know. But you can be sure I’m going to find out. And I’ll make sure Ashley knows what to do with you.”
Feeling cocky, my lips lifted into a smirk. “Then you’re screwed. Because if you’re relying on Ashley to do things for you, you’re going to be very disappointed.”
The eyes that had been lifeless before now burned red with rage, but not enough to intimidate me. “You’re a demon. I’m going to destroy you,” he hissed.
Looking up at the quarter moon, I noticed the sky was beginning to brighten. “Maybe so. But I won’t be taken down so easily.”
Wilson had no response. He just simply looked at the sky as I had. “One way or another, Ashley will succeed where I failed.”
By this point, we were merely exchanging threats. There was nothing more to be said. Except, “Good luck.”
With one last glare, he disappeared.
I was hoping he would take the questions I had asked and mull them over while on his own, but the chances of that happening were slim. Even in death he was stuck in his extremist beliefs. The fact that our ancestors wrote something down centuries ago didn’t mean they were right—or had been right all this time—but they would never see it that way.
It was times like this when I really missed the old woman from last year. No matter what President Spire did when she was alive, she was always trying to help me work against the Gatekeepers in death—not to mention saving me from myself. But ever since she helped Damon bring me out of my coma, there was no trace of her. It was possible that she had moved on, but it would have been polite to at least have said goodbye.
The sun was beginning to rise when I turned to walk back to the dorm. But for a moment, I paused. Across the parking lot, behind one of the office buildings, was the forest. It was a quarter moon, but I hadn’t seen one fairy. It wasn’t surprising since they always hid from me well enough in the past.
“You leave yourself vulnerable to the creature’s claws,” I mumbled.
In the blink of an eye, I was standing on the edge of the forest, staring into the shadows of the trees. The breeze blew through them, shifting the leaves and branches, waking the birds and animals for the new day. A small black bird was beginning its song on the tree right above me before it was suddenly silenced.
I jerked my head up in the direction the sound had been coming from. The black bird fell to the ground—through me. Had I been awake, the blood would have been all over my head. The body of the bird lay at my feet, while its head dropped an inch farther away. Looking back up, I saw it: a thin creature, with its silvery skin glinting in the sunlight. Its body looked like the fairies from the fairytales in pop culture, but this one had no defining features; none except for the teeth.
There were no eyes, but something told me it was looking at me. The razor wings on its back jerked open as it dropped to hover in front of me. I wasn’t sure how it was possible, but I could smell it. Smell the death that followed it and the blood on its rotten teeth.
It seemed intrigued by my presence. But when the sun lifted over the horizon, my energy suddenly waned, and the creature hissed violently, fleeing from the oncoming light. Before I allowed myself to be pulled back to my body, I reached my ghostly hand towards the bird. But my time was up, and everything went dark.