The Condemning Dream

I’ve been having an issue coming up with something to write about because I’ve been editing my book, and apparently my brain likes to only focus on one writing topic at a time. I’ve excerpted a bit here and here, but I haven’t gotten too into actually posting anything from it because I’ve been too scared. I’m finally, after five years of painstaking editing, happy with my introduction. Perhaps it’s not perfect, but I’m now fully content with it. So I’m going to post it. If you read it, any comment or feedback at all would be greatly appreciated, just don’t be too harsh — this is still my baby. If you’re not a WordPress user, I’m pretty sure you can still comment, but if not feel free to tweet or e-mail me or something of the like. Apart from that, please enjoy!

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Prologue

The night air was cold against his flesh. The brawny man pulled his hood up as he shivered against the snow, wrapping his cloak closer around his body. He noticed a hill nearby, one that he recognized from some distant part of his memory, and he knew he was close. As he ascended the hill he strained his eyes, urging them to see through the thickness of the trees for the hidden village he sought.

Fear took him. Something would soon happen to the people of this village, and no one could prevent the malignant agony that would soon overtake them. He didn’t care about them, necessarily, because he had forgotten what it was like to love anyone; still, he would never wish the pain that was about to befall them.

His pace quickened, his footsteps crunching the frozen snow beneath him. The night grew even darker as he pushed himself further into the depths of the forest. He knew he had to be close, but his memory began to fail him as he looked for the companions who were supposed to be waiting for him on the outskirts of the hamlet. His breathing became labored, hot breath steaming around him in the piercing cold. The mixture of evil and natural frigidness made his bones feel like the slightest touch would break them.

He was met with no interruptions as he searched the trees for his awaiting comrades. He continued to strain his ears, hoping he could hear someone else before they found him.

“There you are.”

It was a woman’s voice, one he both knew and loved. He jumped and turned to the location of the voice, but the speaker remained hidden in the shadows. Her outline was faint at first, but a smile twitched the top of his lips as he recognized her.

“Isabelle,” he said, keeping his voice hushed so as not to attract any unwanted attention. “How nice to see you.”

A patch of clouds thinned and a stream of moonlight illuminated her pale face, confirming her identity. The newfound effulgence bounced off her green eyes, igniting a feeling he thought had passed long ago.

She raised an eyebrow and leaned her head forward into the motion of a respectable bow, yet made it known she only did so out of common courtesy. While he always had a fondness for her, she never cared for him more than she cared for a cuticle on her finger.

“You as well, Jonathan,” she said. Her voice continued to give him chills. It was soft and soothing, like the voice of a mother trying to lull her baby to sleep. He had seen her voice lose the softness and become filled with rage before as well, but it was a side of her that was not easily brought out.

“Where is everyone else?”

“You’ve just missed them,” she snapped, some of the softness dissipating as her irritation for his presence came forth. “We’ve had a long day and they all went to sleep, but I thought it best to wait for you.”

“How considerate.”

She wrapped her arms around her chest as a breeze sifted through the forest, sending an icy interruption onto their reunion. “I figured someone might as well wait for you.”

“It’s freezing; you should have stayed inside.”

“You’re welcome.” Her voice continued to lose the softness, and he knew he had to choose his words carefully before she left him standing alone in the forest.

“I appreciate your gestures, Isabelle. I only meant I don’t want any harm to come to you, and staying in this forest alone could do just that.”

She shifted her weight to her right leg. Without giving him another opportunity to speak and not saying anything herself, she began to return to her village, her dress making a trail through the snow that beckoned him. They had known each other for a few years, but somehow he felt as if he knew her more than he knew himself. When he was first discovering his magical abilities, he had come across her at a peddler’s market, where she was discovering her own abilities as well. It was her beauty, however, that captivated him more than her talents. Her long, wavy red hair hung down just past her shoulder blades, the captivating green eyes of hers locking him into her spirit almost instantaneously, her face devoid of any blemish or scars, bearing innocence and youth. She walked with confidence and held her head high as she weaved her way through crowds, and her mere existence made him want to stay by her side for the rest of his life. She never looked at him the same way he looked at her. His face was more rugged, a bumpy nose hovering over thin lips, small brown eyes that were only intoxicating in a certain light, scraggly brown hair that ran down the side of his face. He was strong and handsome in his own unique way, but he had yet to find the charm to win her over.

They soon came to an outcropping where a cluster of houses were built in a long, single row. All the fires had diminished and lanterns blown out for the night; the diminutive village lingered with ghost-like ubiquity in the overcast darkness. He wished more than anything his own friends had made it this far with him. A recent persecution of magicians took over Salem, and his friends were not lucky enough to survive the nightmarish trials. A raid struck Isabelle’s community as well, but a handful of them had been able to escape and ensconce themselves.

He was the only survivor from his community. After managing to get to safety, he found a way to contact Isabelle through a trustworthy messenger from her village. He asked her if he would be able to burden himself on them long enough to find his path once again. After he received acceptance, he began to search for answers about what their powers could do, seeking advice from other magicians. Isabelle inquired of his whereabouts when he never showed up after the messenger gave him the approval, and he explained his tardiness was due to finding out what they were capable of. She had a few questions of her own, and he now came to the village to let her and the other magicians know what was in their destiny.

And for the majority of them, it was death.

“We are here,” said Isabelle, her breath engrossing the sides of her face with each word. “I do not know where you will stay, though. There are not an abundance of options since the raids.”

Excitement rose inside of him as he took a step closer to her, putting a hand on her waist. “Why don’t I just stay here with you?” he whispered in her ear.

She pushed him away and took a few steps back. “If I agree to let you stay here, you will have to mind your hands.”

He smiled, hoping if she was able to see it she wouldn’t take it as provocative. He wanted to stay there more than she was aware of, but he acknowledged her seriousness.

“Agreed. If I keep my hands to myself, may I stay with you for the night?”

She shifted uncomfortably, but looked him up and down as she considered his offer. Her arms were still crossed to keep her warm, but it seemed as though now she was using them to block access. “I am only allowing this so you do not have to stay out here and freeze to death.”

It was difficult to tell if she didn’t want him there because she actually did want him, or if she was as off-put by him as she acted. Either way, her unyielding tone as she formulated the words was evident.

A rumble of joy sloshed in his stomach, and he found himself chuckling shyly. “Understood. I am grateful for the opportunity to allow us a chance to – catch up, if you will.”

If it were possible for looks to bring the temperature down, hers would have made the already frosty air borderline arctic.

“I told you to mind yourself,” she repeated tersely. “If you aren’t going to do so you may as well make your bed in the snow.”

The joy turned to nervous anxiety, and made his chuckle turn into an uncomfortable chortle. She may say these things at the doorway, but there was no telling what may occur once they entered the house. She pushed the door open quietly and grabbed a candlestick she had left for herself on the other side of the door frame.

Faint embers were still burning dimly in the fireplace, and he averted his eyes from her perfectly curved body as she sat down to inflame a candlestick she’d left nearby. As it caught, shadowed light stretched across the room, following her as she went to a basket bearing kindling. She bent down again and it was more difficult for him to look away as she placed a few small pieces gently on top of the cinders. She moved briskly around the room, the hem of her dress swishing softly with each step, putting the candle in various lanterns so the room was able to light up. He sat next to the fireplace and put his hands palm-out, warming himself up and happy to avoid the fresh batch of snow that had begun to cover the ground outside.

Isabelle sat down in a chair to take off her wet boots. “It’s not much,” she said, a hint of bitterness tracing her sweet voice. “You’ll have to sleep on the floor by the fireplace, if you want to keep warm.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” he said. He glanced around the house now that there was enough light, and noticed it was much bigger than it looked from the outside. A long, narrow hallway stood to the right of the fireplace with a stairwell hanging above it. His eyes followed the stairs all the way to a dark room at the top, where he assumed Isabelle slept. As soon as they walked into the house, the kitchen was immediately to the right, directly across from the fireplace. His eyes continued to adjust the light, and he noticed another room at the end of the hallway. He walked curiously around the house to get a closer look at everything, and maybe find a washroom as well. As he approached the bottom of the stairs, a whimper from the dark room at the top made his spine tingle. He was not aware they were not alone.

Isabelle noticed his discomfort and shifted awkwardly, crossing her arms again and turning her eyes to the ground. “That’s my father,” she said quietly. There was no sweetness in her voice. No anger. No happiness. Just a sadness that came when someone knew they were going to lose someone they loved. “He’s ill with something and he’s been confined to that cursed room for days. It seems to only be getting worse, and now it seems to be spreading rapidly through the rest of the village. I’m lucky I haven’t yet caught it, but I suppose for that I should be grateful.”

Pain twisted in his stomach as she spoke. This was what he had come to warn them about. This was the result of their power. Death, torment, plagues – they were not all meant to have power beyond their mortal capabilities.

Trying to remain as casual and oblivious as he could, he asked, “What’s wrong with them?”

She shook her head, rubbing her hands up and down the top of her arms as if she’d been met with a chill. “No one knows for sure. There have been a handful of deaths recently and we can’t seem to find a way to stop it. There are only eighteen of us left now, and it seems like we might not all last very long anyway. Some of our best healers have already been taken with this, and the rest of us have had no luck finding a cure, obviously. I just –” Her voice trailed off as she exhaled softly. Isabelle was always a strong woman. She never liked to show any sign of weakness, because she didn’t want anyone to ever take advantage of her. When it came to her father, though, her own flesh and blood, there was no way she could hide her true feelings. “I hope father will be all right.”

Her pain continued to tweak at his heartstrings, and he couldn’t bring himself to say anything back to her.

After a long pause, he sat down at the table, inviting Isabelle to join him. As she sat, the flames from the surrounding candles flickered across her face, and it became more apparent what kind of stress she had been dealing with. Her lips pointed down into a frown, faint wrinkles beginning to indent themselves into her cheeks and surrounding her eyes. It seemed she was allowing herself some more freedom with her emotions, like she trusted him more than she was willing to admit. He had never seen her anything but happy or enraged – sadness was an emotion that never took her.

“What have you discovered?” she asked abruptly, catching him off guard at the change of subject.

“Isabelle, I do not think now is the opportune time to discuss this,” he said. He knew she was on the edge of anger, and he was afraid if he didn’t tell her anything she wanted to hear she would kick him out. She looked at him with her grief-stricken eyes and a lump swelled in his throat. Tears started to brim in his eyes as well, and he realized then how much he cared for her. Her pain brought him pain, and if she continued this he knew he would succumb to anything she asked of him.

She seemed to know his weaknesses. Perhaps she knew him better than he realized she did. She slid her hand on top of his, interlocking a few fingers seductively. He felt like he could fly for a moment as their hands touched. He knew she didn’t mean anything the way he perceived it. She was lonely, sad, curious, and looking for all the answers in all the wrong places. He knew if he gave her what she wanted she wouldn’t return the favor, yet he was powerless under her touch.

Before he could answer, another cry came from upstairs. Her hand instantly shot back to her own side of the table, leaving a cold patch where her warmth had been a moment ago. She seemed to snap herself back into their reality, groaning as she recognized the cry of anguish.

“I think he’s getting worse,” she said. He was happy she had forgotten their conversation, but she slid her hand across the table again and gripped his tightly. This time it wasn’t out of playful seduction, but out of fear and helplessness.

“Everything will unfold as it should,” was all he could think to say.

Her father’s wails began to grow louder and morphed into a more highly pitched shriek. Isabelle drew in a short breath and a tear dripped down her cheek as her hand became limp. For a moment it seemed as though she had just given up all hope.

“What am I going to do?” she whispered. She looked at him and didn’t make any attempt to hide her sadness. “I’m not ready to lose my father.”

A bloodcurdling scream emphatically resonated around her small house. Isabelle flung her chair back and instantly ran for the stairs without another word. He followed her slowly, knowing the one thing she didn’t want to admit – her father wasn’t going to live to see the next morning.

He almost vomited at the sight of the old man. Blood oozed out of his ears and mouth, spurting up as he gagged on it. A dark, sticky pool surrounded him, weeping off the edges of the bed frame. His eyes popped out of his head, clinging to the strings of skin that held them. His screams disappeared as the blood collected in his throat. He started to seize uncontrollably, seeming like he was about to explode. Isabelle and Jonathan watched in horror, unable to move themselves to help him, not willing to admit this was real. With a final heave of his chest, blood avalanched from his mouth, leaving him motionless on his bed.

His instant death snapped Isabelle out of her trance. “Father!” she screamed. She ran to the side of his bed, her wailing sobs matching the pitch of his screams. When she noticed she was sitting in his pool of blood, she gasped and scooted away from the bed, pulling herself into fetal position and putting her head between her legs as she whimpered.

Jonathan sat next to her, pulling her away from the blood and putting his arms around her. He couldn’t cry. He could barely even breathe. He knew these people were going to die, but he didn’t expect it to be like that.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.” His voice caught in his throat, but didn’t stop him from saying the words he had been taught, the phrase he was meant to pass down to Isabelle and the remaining survivors of the village. “Immortality awaits those without mercy.

Isabelle wrapped her arms around him and he held her for the remainder of the night as her sorrow echoed around the room.

 

***

The dream left Donovan with an empty feeling in his stomach. When he opened his eyes, his room was still covered in darkness, his forehead drenched with sweat. His mouth was dry as he sat up. He clicked his tongue a few times, helping his saliva find its way back. As he pulled the sheets from over his legs, his pajamas clung to him tighter than a baby feeding off its mother.

He dragged himself out of bed and fumbled around his room, dodging piles of clothes and books and other various things he liked to leave on the floor as he searched for a light switch. The images of the dream refused to leave as he sat in welcomed light. It felt more of a memory than a dream that haunted his sleep. It wasn’t exactly scary, it was just so real. His heart pounded against his chest like it was demanding to break free of the cage his ribs made for it as he looked around his room. Even though he was awake and back in his own reality, he felt like someone was in here with him.

He crossed his room and opened his window to let the cool air wash over his damp face. He noticed the trees outside his window had begun to turn an orange-red, and he knew autumn was rapidly approaching. By the looks of the already frosty wind, it was going to be a cold winter.

His phone started to vibrate, startling him. As the penetrating tingles of fear dissipated down his back, he realized his alarm was going off. Six o’clock. Time to get up and get ready for work.

The sun was creeping up, pushing its way onto the horizon slowly and silently as if it were playing a game of peek-a-boo with the world. Doing everything he could to push the dream to the back of his mind, he rummaged through his closet to start preparing himself for another day’s work.

He pulled out his clothes and headed for the kitchen to iron them. As he turned on the lights and pulled the ironing board out, his roommate, Logan, emerged from his room as well.

“Another early morning for the both of us?” he asked.

“Unfortunately so,” said Donovan.

Logan pushed some of his long black hair out of his face and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Donovan kept telling him he needed to cut it because men shouldn’t have hair longer than their chins, but Logan’s girlfriend, Gabrielle, seemed to be really fond of it. He reminded Donovan of a gothic rock singer, his pitch black long hair surrounding his near-pale face with beady brown-black eyes. Looking at Logan for the first time could be intimidating, but Donovan had known him since high school and he knew there was far more to him under his looks.

“Are you all right?” Logan asked as he ate breakfast and watched Donovan finish ironing his clothes.

“I’m fine, why?”

“You know, the most commonly told lie in the world is ‘I’m fine.’ What’s up? You look like you just saw someone die.”

Donovan chose to ignore his statement as he pulled his clothes on. He threw his pajamas back into his room and grabbed his car keys.

“You know ignoring me isn’t helping your case any,” Logan prodded as Donovan headed for the front door.

“Are you going to be home for the game tonight?” Donovan asked off-handedly.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Besides, I can get three shots of Jack into you and find out what’s wrong before you even realize you’ve told me.”

He shot Logan an annoyed glance as he smiled bravely. He knew Donovan so well.

As Donovan got into his car, he thought he saw that woman, Isabelle, from his dream staring at him from across the street. When he shook his head and adjusted his eyes, he found that no one was there.

“You’re just acting weird,” he told himself. “It must be the way the sun’s rising today. No matter how vivid it was, it was only a dream.”

He continued to tell himself that as he drove to work.

//

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