Smokeless Fire

Page 12


Her eyes were just closing when she heard the creak of her door. Her heart spluttered and she looked up, squinting into the dark. “Ms. Maggie?” she whispered, watching as the dark shape of a person appeared in the doorway. “Who’s there?” She scrambled up into a sitting position, her heart pounding. An image of the creepy genie guy Rabir flashed across her eyes and she tried in her panic to remember where she’d put her baseball bat.
“Ari,” a familiar deep voice croaked and her eyes widened as her eyes adjusted to the lack of light and a shape formed before her, moving closer to her bed.
He gazed down at her, his hair all over the place, his clothes in desperate need of an iron. Ari felt the ache in her chest spread when she took in the haunted look in his eyes. They glimmered with unshed tears, blazing with the agony of his grief. Ari felt the choking sensation in her throat and tried to breathe through it. Somehow, everything that had happened up until that point disappeared and all Ari saw was the boy she loved… needing her. Silently she moved over to make room for him, watching quietly as he climbed onto the bed, stretching out beside her. Charlie’s head rested against the pillow and he turned on his side to meet her eyes. A tear slid down his cheek. He made a rough choking sound and his body began to shudder with wracking sobs. Without making a sound, Ari slipped her hand across the comforter to grasp his. She felt his fingers curl around her hand, squeezing it tight. It was only when the sounds of his deep sobbing quieted and the echoes of them finally drew still, that Ari relaxed, watching as his chest stopped shuddering, easing in and out slowly as he slept. Assured his grief had been momentarily eased by slumber, Ari finally closed her own eyes, letting her conscious do the same for her, their warm hands anchoring one to the other.
Wishes are for Dreamers. I’m Not a Dreamer
“Charlie, stop it,” she mumbled, refusing to open her eyes. She was so tired. The tingling in her hand, the one that Charlie still clasped in his sleep, grew sharper until the uncomfortable numbness of it accelerated into acute pain. “Charlie.” Ari tugged her hand from his, opening her eyes. Shifting her head on her pillow she was surprised to find her best friend still completely passed out. Ari flexed her hand, willing the needle-like pain away, but instead it began to swim up her arm, nipping at muscle and agitating blood. She hissed, reaching out to clasp the arm with her other hand. A slight panic began to build as the pain escalated into her other arm.
“What the…” she trembled now, pushing herself up into a sitting position. “Charlie,” she whispered, wanting to wake him up but reluctant to unearth him from his peaceful sleep when he so clearly needed it.
The tingling started in her feet now.
Her heart began banging in her chest.
Cold sweat broke out under her arms.
What the hell was going on with her? Was this some kind of food poisoning? That chicken at lunch had looked a little pink in a certain light.
As the pain grew steadily worse, Ari knew she needed to wake Charlie up. Something was seriously wrong with her. Holding in her panic, she reached over to shake him awake and bit back a scream.
Her hand.
Her hand was gone!
Ari watched in horror as the limb began to disappear, like some invisible mouse had come along and was Photoshopping her body out of the picture.
The organ in her chest slammed so hard and so fast Ari was sure it was going to explode. “Charlie,” she squeaked as the fading began to accelerate around her body. “Char—”
Her body was no longer cushioned against the soft comforter and mattress on her bed. Cold seeped into her bones, blanketed by a hard surface that may as well have been a slab of Antarctic ice.
Had she fallen out of bed?
A sharp memory of her limbs disappearing before her very eyes sliced across her closed eyelids and Ari lifted an arm, patting her chest where her heart still raced.
It had been a dream.
Just a dream.
Thank the ever loving gods.
Groaning, Ari shifted her head and her neck complained with a crick, her hair sliding across a slippery surface.
What the…?
OK. I am definitely not in my bed.
Afraid to open her eyes, Ari took a minute, breathing slowly in and out, trying to calm her heartbeat, a heartbeat that was racing so hard she was close to throwing up. Another shock of icy chill slithered up and along her body from the floor. Ari’s eyes popped open.
Her chest instantly tightened, feeling the familiar symptoms of an oncoming panic attack. Letting go of a shaky breath, Ari pushed herself up, glancing down at the cold mirrored floor beneath her. Her shadowy reflection, mottled by the artistic bubbling of the mirror, flickered back at her like a stranger waving a friendly hello. Patting herself down as she drew to her feet, ignoring the bout of dizziness determined to lay her flat out back on the floor, Ari realized she was still wearing the same clothes she had been wearing at the party. Raising her head, her eyes took in her alien surroundings and she shook it, trying to rationalize, trying to stay calm. She was dreaming. Clearly she was dreaming.
She pinched herself and winced in pain.
“Doesn’t mean anything,” she whispered, her eyes catching on the stone walls that glittered and sparkled in the romantic candlelight. She peered closer, realizing the twinkling flash of color here and there could be attributed to the small precious stones inset into the stone walls. They looked like emeralds. “I’m just dreaming.” She nodded. “People have really vivid dreams like this. I’ve read about it. Maybe someone spiked my drink at the party and I’m on some kind of ‘trip’.” She exhaled heavily, glancing over the huge four poster bed with its billowing silk canopy made up of entirely fire colors. There was no comforter on the bed, which surprised her considering how cold the air in here was, but there was a decorative velvet blanket placed perfectly across the bottom of it, and millions of jewel-toned silk cushions scattered all over. The bed was the only splash of color in the entire place. The sparse furniture was as chilly as the atmosphere, cut and shaped from what looked like glass. “Must have been some drug,” she murmured, confused by the lack of electricity in the room. There wasn’t even a light switch.
So… what did one do on a drug trip? She glanced around. There was no one else here to entertain her. No TV, no laptop, no mus—
A purple vase on the nightstand drew her attention. Heat seemed to radiate from it, making the vase appear as if it were pulsing with life. Intrigued, Ari moved tentatively towards it, her bare feet freezing on the mirrored floor. As she moved, the air cut around her and this musky, exotic scent tickled her olfactory senses, the floral headiness of it somehow familiar. It smelled like jasmine.
So she was dreaming in 3D IMAX with a scratch & sniff on the complimentary 3D glasses. Didn’t mean anything. “This is just a dream,” she whispered, reaching a hand out to the vase, sighing at the rush of heat that clambered happily up her arm when she placed her fingertips against the thick glass. Ari squinted. It really was unlike any vase she’d ever seen before. It was solid purple in color with a round fat bottom and a long thin flute of a neck. It reminded her of a genie’s bottle.
“No.” Ari shook her head, stepping back. Creepy genie guy didn’t do this. It was a dream. Just a dream. In fact she was probably dreaming about this crap because of creepy genie guy. Rachel was going to pay for that little surprise. A gimmick genie at an eighteenth birthday party… what had she been thinking? And not just any genie. Hot genie. With evil, soulless eyes. Rachel was such a pa—
What was that?
Ari pricked her ears, straining to hear it again.
There it is!
Heart pounding, she turned, almost slipping on the floor in her hurry to follow the sound of voices. Voices calling in the distance. Ari shot off across the room towards a door buried deep in the shadows. Wooden and medieval in appearance, Ari wondered what the hell she had been watching or reading in the last few days to make her dream this stuff up. Grasping the iron handle that looked more like a door knocker than a knob, Ari pulled the wooden door inwards and gasped at the blast of cold air that sliced across her skin.
Her chest tightened. “OK. That was pretty real for a dream.”
Eyes watering from the sudden rush of oxygen, Ari blinked and tentatively stepped outside. Her feet were beginning to feel stiff and numb from the cold and the black flagstones beneath them weren’t helping wake them up. As her eyes stopped tearing, they took in the long stretch of flagstones before her. She was on some kind of huge balcony. The roof arched above her in stunning architecture, swirls and patterns carved into the stone, almost Middle Eastern in appearance. The roof curved down to a halt on her right side, held up by carved columns interspersed evenly along a waist high wall. Ari’s eyes drank in the colorful mosaic on the inside of the wall, mosaics depicting people and acts, almost like a story being told. It was like those ancient architectural reliefs her history teacher was always going on about. She followed the picture of a man on fire as his head reached the top of the wall and her eyes automatically looked out and over.
“Holy macaroons…” she gasped, stepping forward unconsciously. Beyond her perch in the balcony of this insanely amazing building, Ari took in the towering stone mountains that surrounded her, mountains that winked green under a winter sun. She squinted, trying to work out the flash and spark and realized the mountains were made out of the same stone and green gems as the walls of the room she’d been in. “Amazing.” Built into the mountains were elaborate homes that reminded Ari of the pictures she’d seen of Morocco, architecture that favored curves and color and arabesques. The homes grew steadily more modest the further they were located down a spiral into a valley hidden by a sea of foggy clouds. Ari’s eyes widened as she saw people in the distance, walking casually along rough-hewn paths teetering on the edges of the mountains. Just the thought of traversing those roads terrified the bejesus out of her. The voices she heard appeared to have been these colorful figures, who strolled back and forth, descending up and out of the fog in brightly colored, loose fitting robes and pants. In this weather? She shivered again, rubbing the goosebumps from her arms. These people were crazy.