Kiran stared at the ceiling. The fire burned into her vision, the forest a finger’s grasp away from her feet. The woman’s green eyes pierced hers. Kiran blinked. She had slept in later than she had in years. She had likely missed a few early morning finals while gallivanting across the dreamscape. She didn’t care.
When she was a child, her grandmother once explained that strangers you encounter in dreams were those that were close to you in past lives. Kiran had recoiled at the touch of her wrinkly and rough fingers that shook endlessly. Her grandmother had eschewed medical help from what she referred to as the “godless machines” and would tell anyone who challenged her why with a sharp smile. The scent of incense hung heavy in the air and Kiran remembered her eyes watering. She wiped her face and tears stung her lips.
Kiran had dismissed most of what her grandmother had said as the ramblings of an old and dying woman, but the idea of familiarity with those unknown rang in her head ever since the words were spoken in quiet whispers. Despite not believing it wholesale, Kiran often found herself reflecting upon it after waking, imagining herself sailing the seas with the ship captain she danced with at the grocery store, partying with the busdriver who scaled the cliffs of volcanoes while she piloted a helicopter made of sand, and commiserating with the talking cat who insisted that her car be painted with cerulean clouds.
Kiran turned her gaze to the window. Sunlight dripped through the pane of glass and draped itself over crumbled clothes, blankets, and books scattered on the carpet. They all seemed so distant now. Wires poked out of the walls, one for each device that required life. Dust hung suspended in the air. Everything was heavy and lumbered in its own space.
She imagined herself carousing the world with the woman with green and purple hair at the fire. Normally the concept of truly interacting with those she had dreamed up presented itself with whimsy, a fantasy flitting on the nonsensical tail of sleep. The idea would skate across her half-awake subconsciousness and embed itself there to be retrieved when an escape was needed, a smile cracked in a boring lecture, eyes ever distant.
Kiran closed her eyes. She couldn’t place it exactly, but at the edges of her vision a soft green glow comforted her and grounded the memory fully in a reality unbeknownst to her. But she did feel real. The warmth of the fire had barely faded from Kiran’s face. She pulled her comforter up to her chin and then across her cheeks, leaving only her eyes to peer out of the top bunk.
She could sense the impending cold traveling the air toward them, an inexorable chill that would soon envelop the campus. She haphazardly wondered why despite feeling real, the old man in the tree still felt like a stranger, no past life rising up through the murkiness to extend a warm welcome. He felt wholly separate.
Kiran shuddered as a shadow crept across the wall.
“What’re you even doing Kiran?” Duri sauntered into the room, her eyes wet with concern.
Kiran saw her, but she didn’t feel real. She was there, but the edges were too sharp, too precise. There was no warmth exuding out of her presence. She simply was. A snowflake fell from the sky and twirled toward the browning grass. Soon, darkness would settle over the majority of the day. Kiran pulled the comforter over her head. “Just dreaming.”
Duri scoffed, “You know you missed your first two finals this morning, right? Not that I keep you schedule or anything, but come on! I mean, I don’t get it, Kiran. I know we aren’t the closest of roommates or anything, hardly even friends despite us both trying, but damnit you’re worrying me. You’ve always cared about doing well at school. Said it was all you ever dreamed…” Duri cut herself off, shifted on her feet and continued, “...said it was all you had hoped it would be. What the hell gives?”
Kiran blinked rapidly. Sunlight hung suspended in the air, yellow strewn throughout the room. Was it everything she had hoped it would be? She had hoped for a change, a chance to experience the living world away from her dead home, a chance to meet people with a different perspective, a chance to find more answers. And yet what was she actually learning? The problem with school, she speculated, is that it relied so heavily upon being correct, concrete, no room for intuition, the longing of your gut. She felt immobile.
“Are you even hearing me?” Duri stomped. “You need to pull your head out of your ass, Kiran! This is your future we’re talking about. You’re going to throw it all away because of some stupid, weird dream?”
Kiran mumbled through the blanket, her lips moving slowly and deliberately. Talking was a monumental effort. Had the sky ever been so clear before, the blue hue ever so vibrant? Colors stuck out at every angle and slunk into the corners, shimmering.
“What?” Duri growled. “I can’t hear you.”
Kiran pulled the blanket down to her neck and spoke to the room, “She said it wasn’t a dream.” Her voice bounced off of the walls and filled in the silent gaps. The room was full of life unseen, teeth and claws and glimmering eyes slinking around every corner available. Kiran wondered why they just now appeared when they had been here the entire time. Sadness and hope tugged at her chest.
She heard the sound but could not find its origin. Light encapsulated the room. Kiran flinched and closed her eyes. It was so warm here. The others greeted her with newfound aplomb. She sunk into their arms, wings and all.
In the distance words tried to shake the room, “Wait no, I don’t even want to hear about it. Fine. If you don’t care, you can fail and never appreciate the things that brought you to this point in your life.”
It was the funniest goddamn thing that Kiran had ever heard. The laughter started as a low giggle, barely creeping out of from behind the shield of blankets but quickly burst into a full on guffaw and cackle. This point. This point. This point. This life. This life.
Kiran held her eyes closed tight and drifted away on a sea of scales and ethereal dust.
by Dan Diehn