Chaos by CM Fenn
Book #1 of The Realmwalker Chronicles
The Shades in Chaos have one goal: get to Earth Realm and wreak havoc. For a select group of people called Realmwalkers, sleep is the gateway to another Realm known as Chaos.
When 17-year-old Addy is called to Chaos, she yearns to conquer her crippling fears and prove her mettle by fighting alongside her fellow Realmwalkers. While she hopes to impress their handsome leader, Sam, she’s also keenly driven by the urge to protect the ones she loves on Earth.
The Realmwalkers are baffled, however, when they encounter a powerful and seeminglyinvincible Shade with strange motives and a dark obsession with Addy. As they work to unravel the mystery to defeating this new threat, Addy finds herself at odds with the Walkers. Gut instinct says to put her faith in Mikhail, the black sheep of the group, but she fears losing the respect and friendship of the others.
Addy is willing to die to keep Earth safe, but the Walkers are her new family, and she’s on the verge of falling in love. With Addy coming into her own, death shouldn't be on the horizon. But when the doors of hell are ripped open, there are no guarantees.
“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order- and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.”
American Novelist & Pulitzer Prize Winner
Falling. I’m falling. Again. I’m always falling when my dreams bring me to this place. This time it’s a vast and empty desert that stretches out below me. Last time, it was a dark, angry ocean. There’s no sound but my desperate, uneven gasps while I fight to breathe against the wind rushing past me as I fall out of the sky. I can’t hear the wind, even though it’s so strong that it whips my hair and clothing around violently. I can’t hear the fabric snap and ruffle as it threatens to tear from my body. I can hear only my breath and it’s louder in my ears than it should be.
Color is also absent from this place. Though my eyes sting and tear, I’m able to see that everything is a blurred and muted black and white. As I fall, the details of the desert are at the center of my vision, but the edges of the scene are fuzzy, out of focus. I’m able to view it calmly at first. I’ve experienced this dream so many times that I’m able to push past the initial feeling of terror and take in as much detail as possible. I’m not sure why it’s important for me to do this.
I’ve never experienced this level of clarity in any of my other dreams. In this dream, I know that I am dreaming. I know that I’ll wake up soon and it will all be over. This helps me past the panic.
That is, until the very end.
Right before I am about to slam into the hard earth, the terror rises. My heart hammers in my chest against my ribs. Harder. Faster. My mind tells me it’s only a dream but my body screams. My arms and legs flail, trying to push back against the air. My head and neck arch backward and turn away in an attempt to further distance myself from the solid ground that’s rushing up to meet me all too quickly now.
I gasp for breath desperately. It’s so loud in my ears. I squeeze my eyes closed as tight as I can to hide the sight of the jagged rocks and shrubs littering the hard earth. My mind tries one last desperate attempt to convince myself there is no impending impact.
Stop! Stop! Wake up! It’s too real! I can almost feel the heat from the desert air. Maybe it IS real this time! Maybe I won’t wake up soon enough! I fight the scream climbing up my throat but it’s tearing its way through, up and out and I open my eyes and the ground is—
“ADELAIDE! ADDY! Stop screaming!”
Someone’s shaking me. It’s so dark. Is it over? Is it over now?
“Sheesh, Addy, you scared the crap outta me! You probably woke the neighbors. I wouldn’t be surprised if they call the cops.” Jana reaches above me and snaps on the bedside lamp. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness, but when they do, I see my older sister sitting on the bed in front of me looking very annoyed. My anxious mother suddenly appears in my doorway. She’s in her lavender pajamas and wielding a ... pumice stone?
“What is it? Jana? What’s the matter? I heard a scream! Addy? Is everything all right?” I’ve never seen my mom so wild-eyed and panicked. She clutches the neck of her pajama shirt as she tiptoes into the room, eyes darting to the darkened corners.
“Mom, it’s okay, we’re okay. It was just another bad dream. Sorry,” I apologize sheepishly.
Jana explodes with laughter. “Gee Mom, let’s hope there aren’t any bad guys around with really rough skin. You’d show them who’s boss, wouldn’t you!”
Mom gets an indignant look on her face. “Well, it was the most threatening thing I could grab in a hurry.”
“Oooooo, calluses BEWARE! Bunions cower in fear!”
“It was either this or my loofa!” she says indignantly and turns a shade of pink. Poor Mom, she does her best.
I shove Jana. “Hey, it’s more productive than sitting there shaking and yelling at me.” I realize I’m dripping in sweat. Ugh, even my sheets are soaked. The disgusted look on Jana’s face tells me she’s noticed it too.
“Next time you decide to wake up screaming bloody murder at the crack of dawn, make sure it’s on a day I’m not visiting. A girl’s gotta get her beauty sleep, you know.” She pats me on the head as she gets up to leave. “Anyway, stop reading those books of yours before bed. They give you nightmares,” she says as she walks back down the hall to her room. I glance guiltily at my favorite suspense author’s latest novel on my bedside table, dog-eared two-thirds of the way through.
My mom takes Jana’s place on the bed. She looks really concerned. “Another falling dream?”
My mom and talk a lot about my dreams lately since they’ve gotten worse and more frequent. The lack of sleep has begun to take its toll. She thinks stress at school is causing the dreams. I’m in my last semester of my senior year and I’m swamped, prepping for finals.
“This one was worse than all the others. It felt so real, Mom. I was almost convinced it was, right there at the end. I keep waking up later and later, or in other words, closer to becoming a pancake.” I can’t fight the shiver that runs through me. “This time I must have been just feet from hitting the ground. Maybe inches.”
She notices I’m shaking and motions for me to scoot over so she can sit next to me. She puts an arm around me and pulls me close. I try to shrug away. “No Mom. I’m sweaty and gross.”
“Nonsense. Now tell me about this one, if it helps.”
“Thanks.” Telling her about the dreams does help, as if voicing them makes them less real and almost silly.
“Well, it began a normal dream, like always. We were at Gram’s. Jana and I were younger and we kept asking her if we could swim in her pool, which is weird because Gram doesn’t have a pool. Anyway, she made us wait until you were in your bathing suit. Then I was on the diving board and Jana kept saying, ‘Belly flop! Belly flop!’ I jumped up and shouted, ‘Cannon ball!’ but then there was no water. Instead, I was above a desert. You know the rest.”
My mom sighs heavily. She’s frustrated. She wants so bad to help me, but what can you do when it comes to nightmares? “Maybe there’s some truth to what Jana said. Maybe the book you’re reading is getting to you. Or maybe you’re worried about your physics final and it’s seeping through your subconscious into your dreams.”
Now it’s my turn to sigh. While physics is a difficult class for me, I put in plenty of study time for the final and I know I’m ready for it. I’m too tired to argue the point so I concede. “Maybe Mom. Anyway, I’m already wide awake so I might as well shower and get ready for school. I can even use the extra time to go over my physics stuff again before the final today.” I grin at her, hoping to dispel some of her worry. While she’s not completely fooled, she does seem mollified a little.
“All right, sounds like a good idea. I’ll make your favorite this morning while you’re showering. Maybe blueberry pancakes can chase away any bad feelings the dream left behind. Only ... let’s let Jana think it’s because she’s visiting!” She giggles a bit deviously at me.
“Ooo good plan!” I hug her tightly. “Thanks Momma, you’re the best.”
“I love you, sweetie.” She gets up and kisses me on the cheek before she leaves.
I know my Mom babies me. I know it can appear quite nauseating. I endure it. It’s the least I can do for her after everything she’s gone through. Jana and I are all she has now and she holds us that much closer because of it.
The rest of the morning is typical of the Shepherd home. Jana and I tease each other mercilessly all through breakfast, as is our routine. No one understands our relationship. Fighting is how we get along. It’s when we aren’t giving each other a hard time that you need to worry something’s wrong. I really have missed her. This was her first year away from home. She’s only a few hours north of us, at college in Flagstaff, so she’s still comes home every few weeks.
Home is Queen Creek, Arizona, a desert land much like the one from last night’s dream, only some farmers have tamed the land here enough to raise corn and cotton. Some of my neighbors raise horses, and there’s even a dairy farm a few miles up the road, close enough for a strong wind will to remind you it’s there.
Queen Creek is a quiet place, filled with good, humble, salt-of-the-earth people. Everything is slower here. But travel twenty minutes north and you find yourself in the middle of the bustling, busy, metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona.
Jana comes into the bathroom to do her makeup while I’m brushing my teeth. I watch her put on her eyeliner. She’s concentrating so hard on the task that I’m tempted to bump her, but I think better of it.
She’s focused on what she’s doing, so I take the chance to examine her. We don’t really look like sisters. She got Mom’s petite, girly features: a small, delicate frame; light brown hair; crystal-clear blue eyes. And here she is, flawlessly putting on makeup like a supermodel—like she even needs it! Then there’s me: I can’t tell my eyeliner from lip liner. I never got the whole makeup thing. Heaven knows Jana’s tried to teach me time and time again, but after that last mascara massacre, I feel like she’s finally given up on me.
No, I didn’t inherit my mother’s natural beauty and grace. I follow more after my father. I loved his face so much that, while I’m not a “conventional” beauty, I can’t help but be proud of what I see of him in me. I have his thick, dark brown hair that halfheartedly curls like it can’t make up its mind—curly or straight? We have the same smile and our eyes are the same shape, only different colors. His were a light cucumber green, while mine are a very light golden brown. “Honey eyes” my parents would call them.
I finish getting ready, kiss Mom goodbye, and run out to “Old Blue,” my dad’s old pickup. She really was blue at one time, but the hood is so rusted over it’s hard to tell anymore. Mom’s offered to trade it in for something younger and “cuter,” but I love this old hunk of metal. Even after all this time, I swear the cab still smells like my father’s cologne. The memories that smell stirs up are priceless. I sit there this morning in the pre-dawn light and think of him. It’s been four years since he died. My mind takes me back to that night.
It was mid-August, which for Queen Creek and the surrounding areas is monsoon season. You wouldn’t think a desert could get so much rain. But when it rains here during the monsoons, it pours. For hours. Sometimes for days. I used to love the rain. In the sweltering heat of the desert, rainy days were holidays. But now they’re depressing, like they are to the rest of America.
I was thirteen that August. My dad had picked me up from my friend’s birthday party and we were on our way home. It was dark out and the rain pounded the windshield. Dad was asking me about the party and which friends were there and if I had a good time. He was that kind of dad, one that knew the names of all my friends and how I felt about each of them. He wasn’t only my dad, he was my friend. I remember his favorite country station was playing quietly in the cab of the truck. He was driving slowly because the rain had collected and pooled in the streets, making it difficult to drive. While the rhythmic thumping of the windshield wipers was soothing, they were useless against the constant downpour. Visibility was at a minimum.
Up ahead blurred red and yellow lights blinked on the side of the road. As we got closer, Dad recognized the small black car. It belonged to Patricia Greenwood.
Patty is an older lady, a widow, who lives four houses down from us. Dad never questioned why she decided to go out into a storm. He didn’t call her a crazy old lady, and he didn’t hesitate at all. He pulled over behind her, turned on “Old Blue’s” hazards, and told me to stay in the truck—he’d only be a minute. I remember those green eyes as he smiled at me that last time. So clear, so kind.
RAP RAP RAP! The loud noise startles me and I jump and look out the window. Mom’s waving a brown sack next to her grinning face. I crank the window down and she says, “I didn’t mean to scare you. You were really in the zone, you know? Going over equations in your head?”
“Oh ..., yeah. Just some last-minute stuff to make sure I have it all down,” I lie as I shake the fog from my mind. I can’t tell Mom what I was thinking. I can’t bear to see the heartbreak that’s still so plain on her face whenever she thinks of Dad.
“Well, I’m glad I caught you before you left. I got you a little something for lunch today. For extra good luck! Do your best today, okay sweetie?” She hands me the sack lunch.
I peek in the bag and see my favorite chicken salad sandwich wrapped in cellophane tucked next to a square of last night’s homemade brownies. I smile and thank her. She winks and wishes me good luck as I back out of the driveway.
Instantly I’m back in the land of teenager, where my biggest worries are the test in third hour, and getting the library set up for the end-of-the-year art exhibit, and whether or not I’ll get up the nerve to speak to Kevin Ludlow in fifth hour.
If only I can shake this feeling that my nightmare has left behind. Like something big is coming. That gnawing sensation that something awful is on the way twists my stomach into sour knots. My gut tells me there’s a storm on the horizon, my only question- can I make it through unscathed?
I pull into my usual parking space in the south lot on campus. It’s one of the farthest spots from the buildings but it’s also under a large tree. Parking in the shade at this time of year can mean the difference between getting into a 120-degree car at the end of the day and getting into a 150-degree car.
It’s still pretty early and there are only one or two other students around, so I find a bench next to the lockers and begin studying for the umpteenth time. Submerged in my notes, campus buzzes with the chatter of students before I know it. I look up and scan the crowd for familiar faces. Everyone seems more upbeat than normal. The school year is almost over and the anticipation for lazy summer days is palpable. It doesn’t hurt either that tomorrow is Friday, and for most of the students here, the last day of finals.
I see Kevin about ten yards off and heading in my direction. It’s no coincidence I’m sitting on the bench closest to his locker. His adorable, floppy brown hair bounces in his eyes as he walks. He brushes it away and looks up.
All right, Addy, smile. Just smile at him. It isn’t hard. His eyes travel toward where I’m sitting and my heart does a quick double-beat. There’s a funny fluttering feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I’m deciding how big my smile should be, and what type of smile I should give, and how long I should maintain eye contact, Kevin’s best friend Josh runs up to him and puts his arm across his shoulders, commanding all his attention.
A shrill voice pierces through the crowd noise. “What ... in the hell ... are you wearing?”
I clench my jaw and sigh inwardly. Tori. My best friend. As she stomps over to where I’m sitting, her stilettos clack-clack-clack angrily on the concrete and her earrings and wrist bangles jingle frantically.
“Good morning, Tor!” I smile up at her, hoping to dispel the coming rebuke, but to no avail.
“My gosh, Addy. Why do you do this to me?” She gestures somewhat hysterically at my clothing. “I know you own nice clothes! I bought them for you!” Her voice gets louder and higher in pitch as she goes on. “You’ve had that shirt since the fifth grade, for crying out loud!”
People are beginning to stare. I glance toward Kevin’s locker and find to my horror that he and Josh are watching the scene. I look down into my physics notes on my lap to avoid seeing Kevin’s face. I can’t bear to see if he’s laughing. My cheeks are hot and I know I’m blushing.
“It isn’t that bad, Tor.” I say defensively as I examine my clothing. I’m in a pair of slightly torn and faded jeans and my old black Felix the Cat shirt. They’re both worn thin and as a result have become soft and light and are the most comfortable clothing I own.
“I wanted to be comfy for finals,” I explain.
She rolls her eyes and heaves a sigh as she plops down next to me. As she begins rummaging through her oversized designer purse, she says, “Whatever, Addy. You need to keep in mind you’re almost done with your high school career and you’re going to have to grow up sometime.”
Tori and I have a bizarre relationship. We have absolutely nothing in common and I don’t believe that either of us particularly likes the other. But we continue to call each other friends. We met in third grade and were instantly best friends. We spent every weekend through the school year together playing, and every day in the summertime. Then in the seventh grade, her estranged grandfather died quite suddenly and left an obscene amount of money to her father. It might sound like something straight out of the movies, but it really happened.
At first, I was ecstatic for Tori. They immediately sold their old double-wide trailer and moved into a sprawling, three-story mansion surrounded by acres of horse property. Her parents bought nicer cars for themselves and a thoroughbred for Tori.
They started traveling a lot and went on cruises to exotic places every other month. I hardly saw her anymore. When we were together, we were either bored out of our minds because we couldn’t find a shared interest, or we were at each other’s throats arguing. Suddenly, we couldn’t relate to each other anymore. I couldn’t compete with her expensive toys and exciting new lifestyle. We were on the verge of going our separate ways. Then came that awful day in August and I found myself fatherless and in desperate need of comfort and friendship.
Tori had been my best friend for years, and even though we drifted apart, she knew me better than anyone. I really needed her during that difficult time and she was there for me. Even though we would probably both be happier apart, I believe we’re still friends because of a mutual sense of guilt: She would feel guilty ditching me because my dad died, and I would feel guilty ditching her because she was there for me through the hardest time of my life.
So now we’re “besties” who are nearly complete opposites. She’s a blonde (from a bottle), who has blue eyes (thanks to colored contacts), a figure to die for (yes, she paid for that too), and wears expensive designer clothes and accessories.
I, on the other hand, value comfort over couture, practicality over pretty. And I still have only my natural God-given body parts to work with. I decide not to let the minor public humiliation of her critique on my appearance ruin my day.
“So are you ready for third hour?” I ask, as she perfects her lip gloss in her compact mirror’s reflection.
“I think so. My tutor gave me a practice test yesterday and I aced it. I’m feeling pretty good.”
“This is your last final, isn’t it?” I ask.
She nods her head as she puts her makeup back into her purse. She gets a devious grin on her face and says, “Daddy says if I ace all my finals I can trade in Trixie for next year’s model!”
Trixie is Tori’s cute little red convertible.
“I thought that was going to be your graduation present.”
Her expression gets even more devious, if that’s at all possible. “Nope! My mom finally convinced him to let me go to Paris!” She grabs my shoulders and shakes me. “Avec Jordan!” she squeaks.
“Whoa,” is all I can manage. Jordan is Tori’s older boyfriend. He’s twenty-two and attends the local community college. He doesn’t have a job, or any motivation to get one. Why would he? He still lives at home and his parents pay for his car and schooling and endless partying. He is frequently drunk and reeks of cigarette smoke. Tori’s father hates him.
“I know! I can’t believe it! My mom is an angel!”
I’m thinking to myself how I’m not certain what kind of angel would send their teenage daughter on a trip halfway around the world with someone like Jordan. Since their increase in wealth, Tori’s mother Candice has done everything in her power to regain her youth, which includes being the “cool” mom and allowing her daughter to do basically whatever she wants. I do a mental eye roll as I wonder how “Candi” thinks this couldn’t possibly come back to haunt her.
Tori glows, however, looking rather like the cat that caught the canary. Before I get a chance to discuss the matter more with her, the first bell rings. I cram my notes into my bag and glance up in the direction of my first-hour AP government class, which happens to be located across the hall from Kevin Ludlow’s first-hour Spanish 3 class. I see him ahead of me talking with Josh and watch the back of his head as Tori and I walk. While she rambles on about her plan of attack on the tourist attractions in and around Paris, Kevin looks back over his shoulder and our eyes lock.
He is looking right at me. Blatantly and openly. He smiles. I smile. We hold eye contact for a second before he turns around and disappears through his classroom doorway.
Did that just happen? I’m light-headed and giddy and not even hearing Tori anymore. Her chatter is a distant buzz in the background. Did Kevin really turn and look at me? I can’t stop my smile from turning into a huge grin that spreads across my whole face.
He is so adorable with his sweet brown eyes and crooked smile. But why would he smile at me? I’ve never even talked to him, except to lend him a pencil one time in class. Was my infatuation with him so obvious that he had caught on? That would be so embarrassing! But still, if he didn’t like me, why smile at me?
Then it hits me like a runaway train and my smile disappears. Of course he wasn’t looking at me. I’m walking with Tori, one of the prettiest girls in school. It’s nearly impossible to get noticed in her company. How could I have thought that smile was meant for me? I try not to resent Tori for this. I already have enough of that to fight off.
“So, I was hoping I could get them to let me stay two weeks instead of one but that is going to take some serious charming on my part,” Tori’s still talking away, oblivious to the fact that I’ve not listened to a word she’s said.
“Well, good luck. Knowing your dad, he’ll probably cave in,” I say as we reach my class door. “Hey, have a good morning, Tor. I’ll see you third hour.”
“Yeah, see ya,” she says as she waves over her shoulder and heads off to AP chem.
I duck into class before the warning bell can ring. Today’s an easy day in government. We took the written part of our final on Monday; every day since we’ve spent giving and listening to the oral presentations that make up the other half of our final. Mine isn’t scheduled until tomorrow, so today I sit back and listen. I take notes and try to focus on what the other kids are saying so my mind doesn’t wander back to Kevin and his smile.
Second hour is intermediate art—my favorite class. We’ve been meeting in the library this week trying to set up for the end-of-the-year art exhibit. Each year three students are chosen throughout the art departments (performing and applied) to be showcased as “Tomorrow’s Stars.” They get an entire section of the exhibit for their work. My art teacher, Mrs. McCowen, nominated me this year and I found out last week that I was chosen!
It’s a huge honor and one that I’m sure will look good on my college application- if and when I decide to apply. With money being tight, and mom already paying for Jana's tuition, I haven't decided if I'll even make it to college.
When class starts, I still haven’t made up my mind on which works to display, but by the end of the hour, and with the help of Mrs. McCowen, I’ve finally decided on a lineup for my section of the exhibit.
My third-hour physics final takes almost the whole hour, but when I’m finished I know I’ll earn at least a “B” on it. When class ends, Tori and I walk to our lockers together to drop our stuff off before we go to lunch.
“How do you think you did?” I ask.
“How, you say? Magnifique!” she says in a flawless French accent. She throws her head back and her hands up and shouts, “OH, no more finals! Paris, here I come!”
The rest of the school day goes pretty well. I don’t get up the nerve to speak to Kevin in my fifth-hour class and he doesn’t flash his smile at me, which only confirms my previous suspicions—he’d been smiling at Tori.
I meet her at the lockers when school’s out. She’s talking with some of the other “high-maintenance” girls, so I hang back and wait for her. The sun’s beating down and there’s no breeze today. I’m dreading getting into my truck. The air conditioning usually doesn’t start to kick in until I’m pulling into my driveway. Tori looks like she has news to share when she makes it over my way.
“I got a text from Jordan last hour. He says he’s throwing a party tomorrow night. I was just telling Emily to invite everyone she knows. You should come by. There will be a ton of college boys there!” She smiles and winks at me. I have a moment of complete panic as I search for some valid-sounding excuse not to be there. Then with relief, I remember Jana’s in town and we’re supposed to have a girls’ night out tomorrow, just the two of us.
“Oh shoot. I can’t.” I put on my best bummed-out look. “Jana’s here this weekend and I promised to go shopping with her.” As we walk out to the parking lot, I realize I’m actually looking forward to spending time with Jana.
I say good-bye to Tori and head home. Sure enough, I’m sweating buckets by the time I get there so I take a quick shower. When I’m finished and getting dressed in my room, I hear dishes clinking in the kitchen. Mom must be home from her part-time job at the post office. I head to the kitchen to help her unload the dishwasher.
“Hey!” she greets me with a smile. “Sooooo? How did you do?”
I laugh because I know she’s been wondering all day how my test went. “Great, I think. There were only a few questions I wasn’t positive about. It was multiple-choice answers, though, so I still have a decent chance of getting those right.” I can tell she’s relieved. We talk about her day and she tells me a funny story about a friend of hers at work. As she laughs, her blue eyes sparkle and the lines at the corners of her eyes crinkle up. I can’t help but be so grateful I have her in my life.
Losing a parent can put life into perspective, forcing you to view everything so differently. You cherish and love the ones that remain with you. You recognize moments like this as precious. You study every detail and commit it to your memory so you have it with you always. Hopefully, someday I’ll have enough of these types of memories to fill up the empty space inside.
Jana gets home from visiting a friend and Mom orders delivery pizza. We all sit around the television and watch the news as we eat. Stories about Hurricane Ilsa and all the devastation it’s left behind are everywhere. Rich Bennet, the lead anchor from Channel 5 news, is on site and stands in front of a pile of rubble that used to be a church. He wears a solemn expression as he tells how the estimated death toll has climbed to over three hundred.
I look out our back window and see the sun glaring in the sky. I can almost feel it sucking all the moisture from the dirt and plants and air, and I marvel at the thought that a handful of states east of here, entire towns have been torn apart by storms and floods.
After dinner, I practice my presentation for government a few times with Mom and Jana as my audience. My topic is on creating stricter laws and punishments for repeat domestic abuse offenders. I take their suggestions and tweak a few things until I’m satisfied with it. By the time I finish, it’s only early evening, but last night’s lack of sleep is really kicking in. I get ready for bed, kiss Mom good night, stick my tongue out at Jana, and head to my room. I climb into my queen-sized bed and stare at the shapes that the fading light from my window makes on my ceiling. I put a slow song on my iPhone on repeat. Before it can play through even once, I’m asleep.
Tori and I are at Jordan’s parents’ house. Teenagers and college students are everywhere. Some are talking and laughing; others dance to the booming music. Jordan finds us in the entryway.
“There ya are, babe!” He shoves a cup filled to the brim in each of our hands, sloshing beer all over.
“Ugh, Jordan! Can’t you be more careful!” Tori turns to me, “I’ve got to wash this out of my shirt. Come with me to the bathroom to cleanup.” She pulls me toward the staircase.
I’ve been here before, so I know there’s a closer bathroom than the one upstairs.
“Wait. Let’s use this one. It’s right here.” I start to head to the door at the back of the hall and off the side of the kitchen. Tori jerks me back the other direction, spilling more beer.
“No, the only bathroom is upstairs. Let’s go!”
Her insistence confuses me. “Tori, I’ve been here before, and I know there’s a bathroom right down there. I can see the door.” I point right at it. She follows my gaze then shakes her head. Her grip on my arm gets tighter and she looks angry.
“I think I should know where the bathroom is, Addy. It’s my boyfriend’s house after all.” She starts dragging me toward the stairs.
My stomach rolls uneasily. For some reason Tori doesn’t want me to go into that bathroom. Why? Is there something in there she doesn’t want me to see? All I know is that the farther away she pulls me, the more desperate I am to get through that door. It’s as if something inside is calling to me.
“I don’t want to go upstairs. I want to go in there!” I’m yelling at her now because the music keeps getting louder, making it harder for me to be heard. I don’t know what’s going on with Tori, but I know I have to get to that door. I think my life depends on it. I steel myself and prepare to jerk away from Tori’s grasp, but she must have known my thoughts because she whips her head around to face me.
Her face is distorted and she growls at me viciously, reminding me of a pack of wolves fighting over a kill. She digs her nails into my flesh until I see blood running down my arm and dripping off my elbow onto the white tile floor. Her eyes glow a dull, rusty red, and her face fluctuates between the distorted mask it’s become and something veiled in shadows. I can’t see through the shadows, but somehow I know that underneath them is a face so horrific and evil that seeing it would drive me mad.
All the while the music is getting louder and the room is getting darker and everything seems to be spinning. I look around at the people standing nearby, hoping someone will help me, and I’m horrified. The party guests are faceless, but they watch us with eyeless malevolence. I can sense them laughing; some are pointing. They are gleeful spectators to this frightening ordeal, mocking me, feeding off my terror. I will receive no aid from anyone here. I have never felt so helpless and alone.
“Stay away from that door!” the thing that used to be Tori roars at me. Reflexively, I throw the cup of beer I’m holding with my free hand into its face. There is a loud hiss, like water hitting a burning skillet, and the skin of its face begins to bubble and melt away. It shrieks in agony and lets go of my arm to cradle its wounded face.
I turn and run.
I’m running as fast as I can but I’m hardly getting anywhere. The world is in slow motion. My legs are heavy, like I’m running underwater.
I can hear the thing behind me, snarling in rage. I make it to the hall. I can see the door at the end. It’s cracked open and a bright light shines through. If I can only make it into that light, I know I’ll be safe. The thing’s frantic breathing is right behind me as I run. It’s getting closer. The heat from its breath is on my neck as I reach for the door knob. I won’t make it in time. Any second it will tear into my back with burning razor claws. I get my hand around the knob and pray my sweaty grip will hold as I throw open the door.
Everything is flooded with brilliant white light. I hear a distant and muffled keen of defeat in the background and know that it must be the thing that used to be Tori. I step into the blinding whiteness, not knowing what awaits. As I bring my foot down into the room, it meets only air. I try to grab the doorframe as I’m slipping downward but it’s too late. I’m falling.
I’m tumbling head over feet into the white void. As I try to stabilize myself, I have a moment of clarity. I realize with relief that I’m dreaming. Tori is still Tori. She is not a demonic creature bent on my destruction. It’s difficult to relax, however, while hurtling at full speed toward the ground. My heart pounds loudly in my ears. The only other sound is my gasps as I fight to breathe against the silent wind. I scan the black-and-white world beneath me, trying to figure out where I am.
As I get closer, I see I am plummeting toward a suburban neighborhood. Cookie-cutter houses dot streets in perfect parallel lines, and a few cars are parked outside some of the residences. There are no cars in motion, though, or people walking about. Everything is still—like a black-and-white aerial photograph of an empty town.
As I descend even more, the houses and lawns become clearer and I start to feel that familiar choking sensation of panic. I’m breathing faster and fighting the urge to scream. Down and down I go, nearing the point where it will be too much for me.
I know it’s a dream—it’s always a dream. I can’t get hurt. But how can I feel the wind whipping my hair around my face? I shouldn’t be able to feel anything if I’m really dreaming. That’s what they say, isn’t it? That you can’t feel anything in dreams? Then why are my eyes stinging? No, it’s not a dream. Somehow, I’m really falling and when I slam into the street below me, I’ll really die!
I’m fighting with everything I have now. I kick my legs, flail my arms, grunting with effort. My grunts turn into whimpers as I realize there’s nothing I can do. This is the end of everything. I squeeze my eyes shut so I can’t see the last few seconds of my descent and the hard black street that will claim my life. The last word screaming through my mind is Dad!
And then, it stops. I’m not falling. I’m lying perfectly still and it’s as though I have fallen onto a giant cushion of air. It isn’t painful. My breaths come easier than when I was falling. I peek through squinted eyelids, expecting to see my own bed beneath me and my dark room all around, but I can’t make sense of what I see.
I open my eyes wide and turn my head from side to side, taking in everything. I’m hovering in the air over the neighborhood street, suspended about ten feet off the ground.
Well, this is new.
I’ve never had a falling dream like this before. Everything is still bleached of color and there is still no sound but my breathing.
Before I can contemplate my situation further, I begin to feel a light pressure on my back as though a gentle wind is blowing downwards against me. It steadily picks up strength, and as it grows stronger, the cushion of air below me starts to push up. The competition between the two is uncomfortable, and my hair whips around against the opposing forces of wind. I get the distinct feeling that something or someone is trying to force me through an unseen barrier surrounding this neighborhood. Meanwhile, something or someone on the other side is trying to keep me out.
The pressure builds and I’m having a hard time getting air into my lungs. If this continues much longer, I’ll be squished flat. And what happens if I do make it through the barrier? There will be nothing to catch my fall but the street below me. I’m sure I can survive a drop this high but not without some scrapes and bruises.
I’m in pain now. Everything hurts. I swear I can feel my ribs cracking inside me. Right when I’m certain I can’t take another second of this excruciating pain, something beneath me breaks. I’m through! Only the rushing wind behind me doesn’t let up and I find myself being hurled with extreme force onto the pavement of the street below. I barely manage to get my hands in front of me to break my fall before I slam into the ground.
Searing, red-hot pain. Sharp as a knife and as REAL as it comes. I can’t breathe. The wind must have been knocked out of me. My lungs ache for oxygen as I gasp for air, and I try to stave off the panic that feeling brings. I force myself to relax and settle for the short breaths I’m able to take now.
As I lie in the street waiting for my lungs to regain their functionality, I take note of other painful areas. My head hurts and I’m dizzy. My hands and knees sting. I can tell without looking that my palms are shredded and bleeding. They must have taken the brunt of the impact. Given everything, I think I’ve survived surprisingly well.
My left cheek is resting on the warm road, so I’m able to feel it when the first vibrations start—soft little vibrations, almost soothing, like someone tapping their fingers on a table. Over and over.
My lungs have loosened up so I try for a deeper breath. As I breathe in, a sharp pain shoots through the left side of my rib cage. Something’s broken there.
The scent of tar fills my nostrils. I slowly lift my face off the pavement as far as I comfortably can and feel blood trickle down my cheek and neck. The skin on that side of my face burns when a light breeze touches it.
I’m lying directly in the middle of the road. My feet face a driveway and my head faces another one across the street. I consider calling out for help, but this neighborhood looks completely deserted. I don’t see a single soul. I don’t hear anything—nearby or in the distance. No hum from car engines, no dogs barking. Nothing except for dead leaves scraping crisply down the street in the breeze.
It takes me a second to realize that the scene around me is no longer devoid of color. Instead it looks as though the color had been washed out of the surroundings. Where the trees and grass should be a brilliant green, it’s pale green instead. A faded maroon Volkswagen is parked to the left of the driveway behind me, though it otherwise looks brand new. The house in front of me is pale tan. Even the sky is a weak pastel blue.
I try to sit up using only the sides of my hands, but my arms quiver and balk when I try to support the weight of my upper body on them. I decide to rest another minute and then try again. I lay my face back down on the street and concentrate on breathing. I can feel the vibrations again. They’re stronger than before and I wonder what’s causing them. It suggests there’s someone in this place other than myself. I feel the rhythmic beating through my chest as the vibrations get stronger. Bits of gravel in the street in front of my eyes begin to tremble in time with the vibrations. Soon they are shaking and dancing around.
Something in the distance, beyond the dancing gravel bits, catches my eye. There! At the end of the street is movement. I pick my head up and squint in that direction. Whatever it is, it’s big, and it’s moving this way fast.
The vibrations intensify to a steady thump-thump, thump-thump. It reminds me of the cadence of galloping horses, but the thing at the end of the street doesn’t resemble a horse in any way. Its shape is vaguely human, only it’s at least ten feet tall—far too tall to be any person I’ve ever seen. Its legs and arms are impossibly long and it glides too smoothly—almost fluidly—to be human. As it gets closer, it looks as if it’s wearing a helmet on its stretched out head and are those ... rollerblades on its feet? That would explain the way it moves as well as its speed.
The pounding is so strong now that I begin to shake on the street the way the gravel had only seconds before. Most importantly though, it’s so strong and loud that I realize the rhythm doesn’t match the gait of the stretchy figure heading my way. If this impossible rollerblading creature isn’t responsible for shaking the earth, what is?
I continue to watch Stretch-thing approach and it seems to be gesturing frantically at me. I can’t figure out what it’s trying to say, but I watch in fascination as it puts its head down and pounds the pavement harder to speed up.
Just then, an unbelievably loud roar comes from the other direction. The hairs on my arms lift as I turn my head around to see where it’s coming from.
At the other end of the street, running toward me full tilt, is an incredibly large, unrecognizable beast. It looks like the offspring of a rhinoceros and a bear. It’s as big as a semi-truck and pitch black—a black darker than the deepest shadows on the darkest night. Looking at it makes my flesh crawl and the word abomination screams through my mind.
The beast is closing in fast. It grunts and growls as it pushes down the street, shouldering entire cars off the road and into the houses. I think it wants nothing more than to trample the life out of me.
I whip my head around as I start to get up to run, my previous pains forgotten in my desperation to survive. The stretchy creature has nearly reached me and yells something but I can’t make it out. It motions with its too-long arms for me to lie back down. Frantically I turn my head back and forth, trying to see who will reach me first. I pray it isn’t the beast. As they are both nearly on me, the beast leaps up in the air bellowing victory. In mere seconds, it will crash down on me.
“GET DOWN!” I hear as I turn toward the elongated thing. It dives and forcefully crashes into me. We tumble on the pavement, rolling out from under the dark monster. We roll maybe five or six times and the Stretch-thing maneuvers all the while, taking the brunt of each impact. We are up just as fast and I’m in its arms and it’s carrying me as it glides down the street and away from the beast at breakneck speed.
Clinging desperately to my rescuer, I glance over its shoulder. Through wisps of the creature’s blonde hair whipping around behind us I see the monster skid to a stop as it realizes it’s missed its target. It ricochets off the side of a house and U-turns in our direction. I’m in awe of its agility.
“Hang in there, mate! We’re nearly there!” This thing was talking to me! It was trying to reassure me! It sounded female and oddly enough, Australian? Whatever it is, I am grateful it saved me. I only hope it’s as benign as it seems. I hold on as tightly as I can.
I’m amazed at how easily this being can carry me and still move so swiftly. The houses and cars around us are a blur. I look ahead and see the street ends at a big white house. Behind us, the monster is gaining and will reach us in a matter of seconds. As we get closer to the house at the end of the street, she doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. She’s going to crash right into the garage door!
I bury my face in her neck and wait for the impact—the impact that doesn’t come. She stops moving. Is she crazy? The beast is right behind us! I look up and am shocked to see we’re inside a huge garage-like room, but this garage is way bigger than the one we almost crashed into should have been.
What just happened?
I look up into the face of the stretchy girl. She’s panting slightly but grinning down at me. As I watch her, she slowly begins to shrink. She sets me down gently on the concrete floor and steadies me so I don’t collapse. All the while, she continues to get smaller and smaller.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Could’ve gone a lot worse really. It was lucky for you, being dropped so close to a Calm, wasn’t it?”
She is now a perfectly proportioned girl about my age and height. She sees me glance nervously at the garage door and says, “Oh, no worries, mate, she’ll be apples. Nothing can get in here but us Realmwalkers. I’m Melissa by the way. Mel if ya like.” She tips an imaginary hat. “And let me be the first to say, welcome to Chaos.”