The paper rustles gently in the breeze, the cool air humming from the vent above my bed. Around me, wolves in various poses watch me with wild eyes, forever frozen behind sheets of paper and plastic. Nine hours of hard work, coupled with five to six hours of sleep, is catching up with me fast. My eyes burn with the effort to stay awake for those extra, torturous moments, yawns frequenting my slumped form.
Trailing along the letters, my mind does not take in the important information. It takes all I can do to keep my straying thoughts from fizzling into dreams. Beyond desperate, I glance at my phone. The least I can do is get another thirty minutes in. Straightening my spine, which aches ominously, I reposition my pillow and pick up my study material anew, rubbing at my eyes harshly.
"Running up that hill, I'll be running up that road…" My phone sings to me gently, nestled in its usual spot on my nightstand. The song, a usual favorite with its upbeat tempo, does not do its usual job.
With another yawn, I give up, tucking my CDCs away for tomorrow. I dispose of my robe, flick off my lights, and climb gratefully between the sheets. The air conditioning gives me a peaceful white noise, the lullaby blocking out the other residents of the dormitory. I can hear them as they stagger up and down the hall outside my door, laughing too loudly and talking over one another; no doubt it is the usual group, drunk off their asses.
I can feel myself slipping into the blessed oblivion, where thoughts become liquid visions that cloud over the mind. I surface at times, drawn out by movements or sounds, before being pulled back beneath the rising tide. Ghostly details of my dorm room filter through the haze of pre-dream hypnotism- the clink of beads from the dream catcher as they plink against my wall, the corners of a poster moving with the artificial wind, the quiet lull of the refrigerator in the corner. All these back noises, so familiar compared to a few months ago, aid in my quest for sleep.
Fog forms in my head, beckoning sweetly, calling seductively for my consciousness to surrender. I am very willing to give myself in, eager for the taste. I can feel myself slipping further and further, my heart rate slowing with my breathing. My body grows heavy, and-
A serious of loud, unavoidable crashes forcibly rips me from my ties of the dream world. My eyes snap open wide, my breath rushing in and out rapidly, as my mind struggles to make sense of the noise. Did I really hear it? Was it a part of the dream?
My body lies motionless beneath the blankets, tense as if, at any moment, something would jump from the shadows to snatch me up and gobble me down. I strain for any additional sound, but all I hear is the common noises of my lifestyle. Convinced, and very annoyed, I prepare myself to fall back into the hole.
But something is nagging in the back of my mind. It pokes and prods, forcing me up and out of my bed. The golden light of my bedside lamp illuminates my messy room, but there isn't any sign that something has fallen over. Mr. Fish, my blue-green beta, is floating contently in his round tank, presumably doing what I was trying so desperately to do. Heavily sighing, I slip on the silken robe and belt it loosely, take the few strides to my door. Nothing is revealed through the peep hole.
I almost give up, but on a hunch, I stick my head out the door. The hallway is void of all living creatures, but the sharply sour tang of alcohol permeates the air. Shaking my head, I go to move, when something catches my attention.
It's at the closest exit outside, a golden glow that rises and falls, almost like fire. Curiosity now having me tight in its claw-like grip, I return to my room and go about the process of throwing on clothes. Bra, which had to be dug out from beneath the day's uniform; khaki shorts; white tube socks; black tank; and to top it all off, I pull on my sage green combat boots. Lacing them up quickly, and getting dressed in such a short amount of time, would have made even my MTI proud. I throw my hair sloppily into a ponytail and stick my CAC card in the front pocket of my shorts. I snatch up my keys on the way out the door, and lock up tight behind me.
I look to the left, noticing that the glow has neither dissipated, nor really grown in intensity. It could be a tow truck's lights, which if it was, I was going to be one very unhappy airman. Wrapping my variety of keys up in my fingers, I make my way outside.
The cooler temperature of the Idaho night kisses my bare skin, but it is nothing unbearable. I look right, searching for the source of the light. It's just beyond the parking lot, near where I had to park my car. Worried about the welfare of my precious Ford, I start out at a brisk pace across the asphalt and rocks, carefully watching my surroundings. It doesn't appear that anyone is outside. I don't hear any voices or sirens warning of an attack or dangerous weather.
Ahead, I can see the silhouette of my dear, silver Luna, the Florida tag catching the light of the streetlamp. Feeling utterly stupid, and more than a little ridiculous, I spin on my heel to return to my bed.
Two steps away, the ground shakes. I brace myself with arms spread, knees bent, trying not to fall as the ground bucks beneath me. I search left and right for the source of the tremor, faintly wondering if it is an earthquake. Being from the peninsula of Florida, we don't experience quakes, more familiar with hurricanes. But surely we are too far away from the edges of the plates to get tremors.
I look to the sky, not recalling any loud evidence of any of our fighter jets. No lights can be seen in the sky, which churns and boils with malice, almost like an angry sea. The warm, orange light of the mysterious source proves how low the cloud mass is, pressing down upon the base like a smothering blanket. The scent of rain is absent in the air, and no wind blows to announce the presence of a storm. Still, the clouds that rage overhead promise a night for no one to forget.
Unusually disturbed, I resume my pace to my room, wanting now more than anything to sink into the false security of my bed, and stay there until forcibly removed. My boots smack against the ground, my keys jingling gaily. My eyes cannot quit scanning the grounds around the dorms and dining facility, convinced I am being followed by some ghostly shadow creature. I reach the sidewalk, and my walk slows slightly as sight of the door comes into view. I chuckle at my antics, feeling like a child afraid of the dark. I make a mental note to tell my mother about this scene the next time we video chat.
With a smile on my lips, I step onto the first step, and freeze.
Something is blocking the light from the water tower, the ever revolving beacon gone. I look up, and can't breathe. It's massive, long and thick. It seems to suspend itself in the air, the wind whistling around its arching form. It begins to drop from the sky, dipping gracefully towards the earth. I have one, clarifying thought before I take off running in the opposite direction…
There is a god of a whale on Mountain Home Air Force Base.
I scream and take off in the opposite direction. My feet beat beneath me, my bad knee locking and fighting against the pace. I dare not look over my shoulder, but like every actress in a horror movie, I catch myself doing just that. It's lower to the ground, almost level with the third story of our dormitory. I trip on my own boots and roll across the asphalt. My hands scrape against the pavement as my knees help in bracing the fall. I stare back in horror as the creature plummets towards the earth, and disappears beneath the surface.
The ground rocks and shakes like a boat on waves. Car horns blare and trees groan in protest. I bound like a ball, much to my aching body's chagrin. I look for it, expecting to see it on the ground, but it is nowhere to be seen. It has vanished beneath the surface of the earth, as if sinking beneath the sea. My mind screams at me to get up, to keep moving.
Training kicks in, and I rise. I have to find someone, anyone. My mind is like a tangled web, trying to figure out what to do first. Do I try to make it to the security forces' base HQ? Do I seek out an officer, call in help?
"Dammit." I throw my head back in annoyance and frustration. I don't have my phone. I eye the dorms, listening. Fire is breaking out in the building, the smoke rising to the sky. Piles of debris lay in heaps, but there is not a peep from anyone. There has to be casualties, injured men and women.
Finally having a heading, I make my way towards the destroyed dorm, careful not to trip over bricks. Something salty fills the air, almost like sea water, though we are miles from the coast. My body is on high alert, every sense hypersensitive; it is like I can see and hear everything, smell things that I never could have before.
"Hello," I yell over the din of fire and rushing water. Pipes burst open and flood the area, flames hissing where the two elements meet. I look where I know rooms used to be, but there is no one. Not a single, mangled body. There has to be someone here. I had just heard Holliman and Hampton out in the hallway before this nightmare began. "Is there anyone there?"
Smoke tangles in my throat, but I stumble my way forward, thankful for my combat boots. I kick through the rubble, careful not to move anything too big, in case someone is beneath it. That's when I find it.
It's a hole, easily able to fit five or six of our fighter jets inside it, and still leave room for some trucks. Deep and dark, it dips into the earth, ripping a gash into her skin. I try to get a better soon inside it, afraid that I might find someone hanging there, but it just dips into now where.
"Help," the shout is feminine, frightened. "Someone, please help me!"
"Hold on." I edge closer, trying to get a read on her location, but she I can't see her. I can hear her crying, her breath sobbing in and out of her chest.
Without warning, rocks slide beneath my feet. I feel myself slipping. My arms flail wildly, wind milling in an effort to keep upright. The giant hole yawns open, ready to swallow me whole. I scream as I fall.
I open my eyes to darkness, the kind that is complete, with no amount of light. No pin pricks, not a dim shadow in sight. It's like my sight has been stolen, and I can feel my rising panic as I try desperately to get my bearings. Beneath me is a solid surface, though wet with about three or four inches of cool water. It laps at my body as I lay on my back, the scent of the ocean thick in the air. There is a breeze blowing lazily, but no trees or grasses to dance with. Only the trickle of the shallows sings to me, especially louder as I sit up. My hair falls around my shoulders, loose of the elastic that held it. The salt water burns palms and knees, wakening me further from the faint.
"What happened?" My head feels odd, almost light, like I am dehydrated.
"You're in my world now, little one."
My head jerks to the left and the right, my eyes trying to track what my hears heard. Only an endless stretch of true black can be seen, but the room has a feel of being massive in size. "Who are you?"
The voice, light and female, laughs, a beautiful rise and fall of notes almost like the sea itself. "They call me Ithica, youngling. And you need not worry. I am no terrorist looking to harm you for your nations secrets."
She speaks really strange, like a character from one of my beloved novels. Youngling? Little one? Sounds really old school to me. "Are you crazy?"
I speak the words without thinking them, and I wince, waiting for some sort of reprimand. Instead, I am greeted by her joy once again. What is she finding so funny?
"They'll come looking for me." I work my way to my feet slowly, unbalanced. My hands stretch out to either side of me, and in an effort to ease my growing panic, I close my eyes. It gets a bit easier, but not much. I don't focus on seeing, instead using my other senses to get a feel of the area.
"They won't," she says gently. "You're where you are supposed to be."
I roll my eyes beneath my eyelids, shaking my head at her vague, riddle-like answer. "So, if you don't want government secrets, which, by the way, I don't have. Then what do you want? I'm by no means rich, and neither is my family. I don't have any real skill set other than cooking and horseback riding."
She grows quiet, and I stop sloshing around in the water. "Open your eyes, little one, and see."
She doesn't feel like she is going to hurt me, but one can never be too sure. I take a couple of steps back, holding my hands up in front of me. Slowly, my lids lift, and my body gasps of its own accord.
Before me, a nebula of purples and blues surround me, as if I have been thrust into the middle of the galaxy. Cloud like arrays of pinks and greens mingle with golden tones, spotted with stars of various sizes.
"So it's NASA that's got me," I breathe, stunned by the beauty before me. "What the hell do they want me for?"
I stare in wonder, turning this way and that. "I am here, little one. Look in this direction, and I told you, my name is not NASA. It is Ithica."
I turn my head, and cease breathing for a moment. Staring me down with eyes made of stars is a whale. Her body is made of transparent clouds of violet and aqua tones. They ripple and wave with each movement of her sinuous body, trailing small wisps of green in her wake.
"What is going on?"
"The spirits have grown angry, Andromeda Harrington." I turn to face the new voice, and star into the golden eyes of a horse. His coat of red and orange is similar in texture to the whale's, see though and whimsical. He walks around me, studying me, leaving behind a trail of fading white prints. "Are you sure she is the one, Ithica. She seems a bit too much like prey to be our Seeker."
"Yes, Icarus, she is the one. Why else did she awaken, when the rest of the human world slept on. The Star of Viracuix called to her."
I felt completely lost. Spirits? Seeker? I have read entirely too many books. "Okay… I can wake up now. This is all a dream, and I can wake up and go into work any moment now."
Panic is definitely beginning to set in. I can feel it rising in my stomach, like acid. My breathing is laborious, my heart rate climbing. I am terrified, and loony, and all I wanted was sleep! I didn't ask for some crackpot dream!
"You are scaring her," a new voice emerges into the nightmare. But this one is different than the others. My fears and panic instantly subside, leaving behind a sense of clarity, of strength. I turn to find its source.
The wolf's head reaches my own, her ice blue eyes watching me carefully, lit with a hundred tiny sparks. Fur of ice blue and silver ripples like grass in the sea scented wind, a series of sky blue paw prints fading atop of the water. "Who are you?"
She seems to smile, her eyes brightening as her ears perk. "They call me Ashira."
"Ashira," I whisper the word quietly, but inside, my body leaps as if a great gong has been rung. "What?"
"I am your spirit guardian, little one. Send to you at your birth by the Gods, to watch over you as you grew. I have been there with your every step of the way. Why do you think you survived your premature birth? Your healers knew you were going to die, there was no hope for you, yet your survived. You were never supposed to use your right arm, yet it is your dominant. I have been there through every stage of your life- your happiness, sadness, frustrations. I was the entity you'd feel in a room when you were alone, the heat beside you on those cold, lonely nights. I was your strength against your ex-fiancé when you believed yourself to be lost to his control. Do you remember?"
The images play through my mind one by one. The stories of my birth, the oppression of my past and only relationship; the helplessness of those nights when I'd lie awake beside him, and think I'd never escape. I'd close my eyes on those nights, and let my mind go elsewhere, while my body took control for me, going through the motions. I still bear the mental and emotional scars from that relationship today.
"I don't understand, I'm so lost, I'm scared."
I crumple in on myself, feeling the despair of my nightmare. I don't know what to do, what I have done to deserve this level of insanity.
"It is going to be alright, my pup." Something soft and gentle rubs itself at the base of my neck. "You will understand, in time. Now sleep, and remember, I am always there beside you."
I jerk away, my body jumping beneath the blankets and sheets. Sweat coats my body, and I kick back the smothering covers to greet the cool fresh air of my room. I can scarcely hear anything through the rush of blood in my ears, and my heart beats so loudly, I can hear it clearly, and see it as it pulses beneath the thin, tan tank top.
I give my face a brisk rubbing, running my fingers through my hair. Like my body, it is damp, sticking to my shoulders and back. Frustrated, I climb from bed and head towards the bathroom. My fae in the mirror is awful. My pallor is like snow, my dark brows bright against my skin. There are shadows beneath my eyes, which are bloodshot and watery.
"Ouch." I grimace as a spot on my neck aches. I reach back feel the area with my fingers, feeling a slight rise in the skin. I lift my hair and turn, trying to see what it is.
It's a weird shaped mark, almost like an eight pointed star. Reddish in color, it reminds me of a birthmark, but I have no such thing. "What is going on?"
"I told you."
I stifle a scream, ramming my knee into my shower as I turn. My body shakes, my heart pounding. Where I am a riot of emotions and terror, she stands the calm in the eye of a storm. Her silver white fur is solid now, though her eyes retain the same icy, wolf blue. Her ears, muzzle, tail, and feet are tipped in a strange shade of blue-gray, while a band of silver a hand's width thing encircles her neck like a collar. From it dangles a star shaped tag, suspiciously like the brand on my neck.
"I think I'm going to be sick," I groan, barely making it to the toilet. As I retch up my dinner and whatever else was in my stomach, I can hear her laughter.
"Don't stay sick too long, Andromeda. We have work to do."