The Dreamer

The Dreamer

The Whole Dream So Far…

by John Andreula


Back in the spring of this year I began writing a work of fiction. It was called The Dreamer. Before writing the story I had been avoiding writing fiction. It was either too personal, too difficult, or both. Then I had a dream…

Fiction is amazing in all its forms—movies, TV, video games, comics strips, and especially books, are all so incredibly fantastic! They inspire so much imagination and creativity in those who exposed to them.

The following is the my ongoing fiction epic The Dreamer. There are more chapters in the works, but I wanted to give those who missed any of the story a chance to catch up.

This is the first time any of these works appear together in one place. I truly hope you enjoy what you read.

Chapter 1:

The Dreamer

Part 1

Dreams are strange.

Some dreams transport dreamers to faraway and exotic places. Some create the world in which the dream is set. Others occur in everyday and familiar surroundings.

A young girl sat on the grass just in front of a suburban townhouse. This home was a middle unit sandwiched in between two very similar town-homes on either side. The building was one of six that made up the fenced-in court, all nearly identical.

The houses had red brick facades with gray asphalt roof shingles. The gutters were white years ago when they were installed, but had long since faded to a grayish brown. The windows of every unit were surrounded by faux shutters, each were painted dark red or blue. Neither of the colors really flowed with the rest, but for some strange reason the townhouses were still cute.

It wasn’t a wealthy neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination, but to the young girl playing quietly on the green grass lawn, it was home.

The girl had long straight golden hair that went exactly halfway down her back to the center of her white shirt. Her olive skin was in deep contrast with the bright white of her long sleeved tee. There was a gray kitten face wearing pearls and a bow decorating the front of her shirt.

A ladybug with four spots was climbing a thick blade of grass. This blade had popped up a day ago, after the lawn care people had done their most recent mowing service. Sierra pondered the bug and the abnormally long piece of grass silently to herself. The air still smelled slightly of clippings. It was a perfect smell for a late summer afternoon.

“Sierra, baby?” a voice called from up the four stone stairs and behind the white half-glass storm door. The girl didn’t move her eyes from the ladybug, let alone acknowledge her mother’s loving but firm communication from inside. “Sweetie, come inside and wash up for dinner.”

Still as a statue, the girl was apparently uninterested in dinner or going inside. She remained in lotus, continuing her concentration and deep observation of the bug crawling up the blade of grass. “What an odd creature,” Sierra thought to herself.

Slowly, she reached out her hand. Her index and middle fingers extended outward. They rested just in front of the red beetle’s head. The ladybug’s antennae wiggled, near-imperceptibly before it climbed onto the girl’s fingers.

The other neighborhood children were playing in the large grass circle just in front of her house. Sierra ignored them, as always. She was never interested in kickball, tag, or whatever game one of the older kids brought home from their school’s playground. Sierra never showed any interest in other kids. It was much of the same with mostly anybody, with the notable exceptions of her father and her mother, the latter of which was currently attempting to rouse her attention.

Sierra smiled slightly, just enough for her dimples to appear on the outside of her lips. She stood up and shifted her gaze in the direction of the impending sunset that would conclude in approximately two hours.

“Sierra!” her mother’s voice called again from inside. This time there was less patience and more force to the command.

The girl’s jeans had grass stains on both knees and the seat. There was a new hole on the left knee. Mother would wash and patch the pants using a scrap piece from a pair she had outgrown or ruined previously.

Sierra didn’t notice the grass stains on her knee, or the hole. She noticed other seemingly insignificant details, like the one long blade of grass on her lawn, or the number of cars that had returned home to the cul-de-sac since she had headed outside (that was fifteen). Her father referred to it as selective attention.

She didn’t need to look to be on alert for her father’s Mazda crossover. She could tell by the sun’s position over the neighborhood’s boundary fence that he was running late. She stood for a moment with her outstretched hand and distant gaze.

A brief moment longer and she clambered up the stairs with her new friend crawling along the tops of her outstretched fingers. She opened the storm door with her other hand before one final glance in the direction from which her father would enter the street. Then she went inside.

Just inside the door, Sierra kicked her sandals off onto the floor mat. Once again, she ignored the adjacent shoe rack. She’d hear about this in a few minutes when Dad arrived, but he never stayed annoyed with her for long. So, her habit was never altered.

Off to the left was the kitchen. A twenty-something woman stood with her back to the foyer where Sierra stood. She stopped her toil at the oven for a moment to listen or sense the young girl. The woman’s hair was the same color as the girls. She had lengthy locks with a bit more wave.

The woman turned toward her daughter, who was standing silently and waiting for some response in regard to her new friend. Her facial features were similar to Sierra’s, especially as they softened from their evident impatience into a smirk at her precocious, but silent, daughter. Sierra’s mother could have been an older version of Sierra, except for a few lines from age and an abject weariness in her eyes.

She too wore jeans and a t-shirt. Her jeans were clean and without the wear of Sierra’s. The t-shirt was short sleeved and was baby blue, with no imagery or branding on it.

The sound of Sierra father’s car pulling into their space out front filled the air of the room. Sierra turned her head to the window to peer out and confirm her recognition. Her dad was home. Sierra’s mom stepped over and looked out also. She stood next to her daughter and softly put a hand on her shoulder.

The two took a moment to watch Dad do his normal car disembarkment shuffle. He reached into the rear and passenger seats and filled his arm with all his accoutrements from the day. There was a jacket, a briefcase, a lunch bag, a thermos, and a shopping bag of some sort. The man finally stepped from the car and closed the door just before stopping in mid-stride. An obvious awareness crossed his face. He had missed something he had meant to bring inside.

“Coffee cup,” stated Sierra’s mother, more matter-of-fact than emotive in any way.

Sierra’s father used one finger to pull the door handle, and then his foot to swing the door open. He leaned into the car, pulling the stack into his chin to brace his pile of things. He grabbed his cup, stood back out, and gently kicked the car door shut. He considered for a moment if he had left anything else. Convinced he hadn’t, he made his way up the stairs and past the front porch.

The ladybug had crawled to the inside of Sierra’s elbow. She had ceased interest in the bug for the moment. Her face did not show it, but she was excited that her dad was home. She always got excited when she had her whole family with her, she just did not communicate it externally in the way most others did.

Sierra was a beautiful girl. She was part of a beautiful young family. Despite her being unusual in relation to other children, her parents loved her tremendously. They did as much as they could to make Sierra’s life comfortable. Most kids her age didn’t realize the sacrifice and effort required to take care of them. Sierra knew.

Despite the amazing and abundant love her parents showered upon her, they did not share similar feelings toward each other. They put on a decent show of loving one another in front of the girl’s sharp eyes, but once she was thought to be asleep, or perceived out of earshot, the arguments ensued.

Her parents bickered over how to parent Sierra, what kind of therapy they would seek out next, and worst of all, how they were going to afford the care they were seeking out for their beloved child.

They already had incurred tens of thousands of dollars of debt for testing for autism, psychoanalysis, as well as attempting holistic methods of development. None of these achieved the ends the parents desired. They just wanted their baby to be able to lead a normal functional life.

But Sierra was anything but normal. She saw things differently than you or I. She was distinctly different from everyone else.

Once Sierra fell and scraped her knee badly. The cut had hurt, but the girl’s deep focus on the dove that flew overhead did not even break for a second as she lay there on the sidewalk craning her neck to watch the bird fly out of sight. Blood was streaming down her leg, staining her white lace-hemmed sock and sneaker. Spots of blood could still be seen on the laces, tongue, and toe-cap.

Sierra was about to turn five. She was of the age when it was expected to enter kindergarten at the neighborhood public elementary, like all the other kids. However, after visiting the school and observing the special needs program, Sierra’s parents knew that there would be no easy solution to such a special girl’s education. Sierra’s mother would have to home school her. Her mom and dad fought a few nights about this as well.

“Janice? Cici? I’m home!”

The two girls turned toward the foyer. Janice stepped out to the door to open it.

“Stephen, I missed you so much.” The two kissed on the lips, quickly and dispassionately.

“You look like a million bucks!” Stephen replied, “And you too, you look like a million and one. What have you got there, pumpkin?”

Sierra took a second and then seemed to come back to her body. She looked down at the ladybug crawling around to the back side of her arm and she smiled. Stephen walked over to her, still standing in the kitchen. He reached a hand down and picked up the bug. His technique was strikingly similar to the one Sierra had used earlier to retrieve the insect from the grass.

Her father lifted the bug up to his face and placed the little fellow on the tip of his nose. He crossed his eyes to look at the bug on the center of his face. The Janice rolled her eyes. She couldn’t help but smirk. Then she turned back into the kitchen to resume her dinner preparations.

Sierra stared at her father with her ladybug friend sitting on his nose for a moment before taking a step closer to him. As she reached towards her father, he bent down at his waist so his face was just at his daughter’s eye level. She reached up and took her bug back, then turned and disappeared deeper into the house.

Stephen watched his daughter for a second and then kept his gaze in place after the girl had disappeared from view. “They’re making more cuts at work. They fired Nairy today, and expecting me to shoulder his load. I’ll end up working later everyday; probably needing to go in on Saturdays as well.”

“Great,” Janice supplied with an air of detachment. “Did you tell them you need more money? Did you tell them we need more money?”

“I’m trying, J. I’m doing everything I can.”

“Well, right now, everything isn’t enough!”

Yelling ensued, followed by some choice words and name calling. Sierra could hear everything from her room upstairs, despite having the door mostly shut. She hated when her parents fought. Again, no one would have been able to read that on her face, but regardless, that hate existed behind her eyes and her stoic countenance. Although she didn’t vocalize it, even at five, she understood all of it.

A moment ago, her father was glad to be home, but the present reality and responsibility of parenting a child as special and unusual as Sierra weighed heavily on Stephen. Likewise, the burden of having to be available to her daughter twenty-four hours a day drained Janice. These pressures always seemed to release in an explosive response towards each other. Eventually, Stephen and Janice would cool down and exchange stories of each of their days. They would connect, thanks to the shared bond of each feeling that they couldn’t connect with their baby girl.

dreamer laying

What Stephen and Janice Stewart didn’t know was that their efforts did reach their daughter. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel. On the contrary, she just didn’t know how to, or didn’t want to, show her emotions. Sierra was smarter than other kids her age. She was reading fourth and fifth grade level books on her own. She just lacked social intelligence.

Sierra never spoke. She didn’t make any sounds as a baby. She didn’t cry when she was wet, hungry, or tired. She kind of just was.

Sierra had decided to stay in her bedroom instead of doing as her mother requested and going to the bathroom to wash up. She gently placed the bug on her windowsill and watched it in deep concentration, trying to ignore the argument below, despite hearing and understanding everything her parents said.

She lay down in her bed, continuing to stare at the ladybug. With her head on the pillow she had a ninety degree inverted viewpoint of her new friend. She watched the ladybug for a few minutes. Her eyes blinked once, slowly. A few seconds later they did again. The next time her eyelids closed they stayed shut. Sierra had fallen asleep.

In the dream Sierra glided forward. Her hem dragged against the ground, hiding her feet. Her dress was white. It shined more than the white of her real world t-shirt. There was some blue and pink within the tone of the dress’s color, which gave it the subtle effect of shimmering.

Sierra’s hair was longer in the dream. It was more like her mothers, but instead of waves, she had large ringlet curls. Her hands were longer as well, more like that of an adult. In fact, Sierra was taller; a stretched out version of the girl who had just exited the real world and entered this strange land of dream.

Around her, trees of the same white with blue and pink as her dress stood and waved. They didn’t wave like aspens in the wind, instead they swayed like a mirage on a desert horizon. The path on the ground was white as well. Only the exposed skin of her hands and face had any color resembling that from the real world.

Sierra glided briskly further down the path. Rolling hills approached on either side. Some of the hills were topped with groves of trees, some were covered with balds of grass in the same unusual white color. The soft road she was traveling on began to climb into a hill. The hill she was on was flanked by similar hills on either side. Her visibility was limited above and behind the path she was traversing.

She crested the hill. Just past the top stood a figure that was new, yet eerily familiar. It was a six foot tall ladybug-man standing on its hindmost legs. Both front and middle legs were crossed in front of the red bug’s abdomen, as if it were trying to convey a defensive or closed-off body language.

Despite standing like, and being the size of a man, the ladybug maintained all its features of being a bug. The ladybug noticed the girl in white climbing the hill. It regarded Sierra silently with both eyes. The insect-man tilted its head slightly to the left side. It repeated this movement switching to the right side.

A normal person would have been freaking out. The unusual nature of this dream might have shook the most fearless person’s foundation, but not Sierra. Unusual dreams were commonplace for her. Sierra’s dreams were a bit more unusual than a man-sized ladybug. Somehow, Sierra could affect reality outside of her dreams from within. She didn’t know how, or even understand where this ability came from, but it happened often.

The emotions Sierra brought into her sleep typically dictated the nature of her powers’ manifestations. Occasionally, she would fall asleep with pleasant thoughts and feelings.

Once, she dreamed of beautiful flowers sprouting from her arms, legs, stomach, and chest. When she awoke the following morning and gazed out her kitchen window, the lawn had been covered by a blanket of wild flowers in many different colors and varieties. Some may not have even been recognizable to the keen eye of a trained botanist.

This dream she was having now was more typical. She carried with her the emotional unrest brought on from the sounds of her parents yelling and fighting with one another. These dreams brought on dark consequences.

The ladybug leaned out of its defensive posture. It crouched as if preparing to pounce, or flee. The large beetle-man sensed mortal threat from the woman-sized child.

The bug tilted its head at the girl one final time and started toward her, using all six of its legs. It approached Sierra and opened its mouth to reveal sharp black teeth and a midnight black tongue.

Sierra tiled her head now. She did not blink. She did not flinch. She stood her ground and stared at the huge insect.

Then Sierra opened her mouth, a little at first. She widened her lips and opened her mouth wider, as if to yell. Her faced turned red. It gave off the look of a person screaming, but no sound came out.

The bug tried to push through whatever was psychically, or psionically, happening. But the girl’s strength was just too much. The ladybug leaned backwards onto one hind leg. It placed both its front and middle legs across its midsection, and then it fell over to one side. The bug, round as it was, rolled over onto its back and kicked its hind legs twice, before laying still.

“Sierra! Sierra, wake up, honey. It’s time for dinner.” A voice yelled from downstairs. She pushed herself up to sitting position and looked at the ladybug on the windowsill. The bug was on its back, dead.

Sierra reflected from her seat at the edge of the bed. Sadness filled her heart, yet it couldn’t be seen on her face. She was aware instinctively of the connection between her dream and her ladybug’s death.

Despite her youth, Sierra knew she must gain a greater understanding of what was happening between her mind and the real world while she slept. If she did not, she would end up hurting others, especially those she cared for.

She wanted more for herself, so she resolved to learn about what she could do. She just didn’t know how yet.

Chapter 2

The Dreamer

Part 2

Few people have figured out how to harness the vast potential of dreams. Those who have, have done so by controlling their consciousness as they enter dream-state. This process is called lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is when dreamers find an anchor somewhere within the story of their dream as it is unfolding. This anchor signals that they are inside of a dream and not in the real world. They then use that signal to take control of the events and happenings within their dream-state.

The most well-know example of this is when someone pinches their arm in their dream to wake themself up.

A man once decided he was going to master the skill of lucid dreaming. Every time he found himself inside a doorway he would reach out his arms and push outward against the door frame. Most of the time he felt the cold, solid rigidity of the door.

When he didn’t receive a realistic level of resistance from the frame he would immediately recognize he was dreaming. Then, regardless of the story that was unfolding in his dream, he would go on any amazing adventure that he desired, instead of the one born of pure chance.

That fellow sure must have looked quite awkward to others as he pushed against all those door frames in the real world.

Sierra used her left hand to gently sweep the stiff remains of the tiny ladybug into her right.

She peered at it for a moment before opening the top drawer of her flower-painted nightstand. Inside was the small wooden box where Sierra kept a few things that she had randomly found intriguing. She placed the ladybug lightly on the leaves of a four leaf clover she had discovered in the grass near her house.

Afterwards she went downstairs and ate dinner quietly with her parents. Stephen spoke of small, seemingly superficial details of his day. He recounted his interactions with friendly coworkers from his office at his large technology firm. He went on to spend extra time complaining and condemning his boss for not appreciating his efforts.

Janice chewed her food and nodded occasionally. Every now and again she would speak directions to Sierra between bites. “Swallow what’s in your mouth before you take another bite…Please use your napkin to wipe your hands and not the tablecloth, sweetie.”

Sierra’s typical response was to not respond. Once in awhile she would look up for a moment at whoever was speaking before returning her attention inward. The same scene replayed itself nightly. Some nights, like tonight, Stephen was there. Other nights he wouldn’t be, due to the many work projects that required his presence in the lab late into the night.

Tonight she was especially distracted by her thoughts. It wouldn’t be evident on her emotionless face, but the ladybug and her dream had her quite unsettled.

Sierra finished her cauliflower, potatoes, and the chicken Janice had cut down into bite-size chunks. She rose from her seat at the table without a glance at either parent. Janice and Stephen shared an uneasy look as their daughter left the dining room.

Sierra went down the stairs to the house’s furnished basement. She rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs and made her way over to the cheaply stained wooden bookshelf. She could hear her parents’ voices up the stairs, coming out from the door that she didn’t close behind her. The voices began to raise as respective responses became more and more sharp. Sierra did her best to ignore her parents bickering.

The bookshelf was large compared to the five year old. The bottom two shelves held the books that were purchased for Sierra as gifts. There was Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears, and a large selection of pop-up and board books. Sierra wasn’t interested in any of these. They were useful when she had rapidly learned her letters, her reading, and her writing; but she never formed an attachment to the stories held within. She was long past such juvenile choices. What she was after was on the top shelf.

Sierra dragged over one of the spare dining room chairs that were stored downstairs, awaiting guests that came over less and less frequently these days. She clambered onto the chair and grabbed the middle shelf to brace herself as she stood on her tiptoes.

Her eyes fixed on the row of reference books situated on the topmost shelf. Before Sierra was born, Janice had toyed with the idea of a career in psychology or personal therapy. She had long since abandoned that idea.

Still, every now and again, Janice purchased or acquired tomes relevant to the science of the human brain and relationships. Occasionally she felt the need to scratch that old itch, especially now that she had a daughter that she could not understand or connect with. This fact seemed to becoming increasingly more evident.

Sierra had never been interested in these reference books before, but now she was experiencing an unfamiliar drive. It was a need she had not previously felt.

She located two books in the stack that she thought may be relevant to her current predicament. One was TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN; the other, EXPLORING THE WORLD OF LUCID DREAMING.

Neither book was age appropriate for the typical five year old, but Sierra Stewart was very much not a typical five year old. No one understood the inner-workings of her mind or her development, much less her own self.

Sierra was sharp, but people had to look really closely to notice it. Upon first glance, strangers, even some neighbors and family members, perceived her as dull or slow. Her parents felt the looks, often becoming offended by others’ murmurs and whispers. At times even they succumbed to the idea that something was wrong with their beautiful, beloved, but unusual daughter.

It wasn’t uncommon for others to think the girl had problems or an intellectual disability. This wasn’t the case though.

On the whole, Sierra’s parents knew the truth. Sierra Stewart was special. She was perceived as different from other children her age because she was different. She just wasn’t the different that other people had assumed she was.

Sierra never complained, even when being hungry, cold, or frustrated; behavior common to most young children. She did occasionally feel these things. She just never showed it and definitely didn’t communicate it to either of the primary adults in her life.

Stephen and Janice believed they could feel Sierra communicating with them once in awhile, despite the girl’s general casual coldness. They told themselves that they felt her speaking to them in their hearts and minds. They were mostly telling themselves these things to ease the unenviable disappointment built up from the lack of response to their love and efforts.

Sierra laid the books on the floor just in front of the chair and old wooden bookshelf. She settled herself prone and proceeded to read the books to gain insight on the inner-workings of her mind and subconscious.

Her father came down the stairs fifteen minutes later. He discovered his little girl with her eyes transfixed inside the book on dreaming. He thought to himself how cute it was that his five year old was looking at the pictures inside of one of mommy’s books. He had no idea that she was easily absorbing the book’s concepts and teachings.

So Stephen left his silent and stoic daughter to her “play” and went off into his basement office. He would continue some private business project that consumed the majority of his time at home.

A few hours later Janice came down the stairs looking groggy. She had fallen asleep on the couch again, reading some novel. She knocked on the office door and informed Stephen of the late hour.

She then went over to Sierra who was entrenched in her old book on lucid dreams. In her sleepy state, Janice thought to herself, What an odd child.

She stood and watched her beautiful daughter for a moment before informing her, “Sierra, baby, it’s late. Time to get ready for bed.” Sierra remained reading, again ignoring another command and request from one of her progenitors.

Janice bent down and said, “Let’s go, hon.” She lifted the girl with ease and placed her on her left hip. The girl kept the book in front of her, not even slightly averting her gaze from the pages.

Janice carried Sierra up the first flight stairs, and again up the second, to their destination on the top level of their home. She took Sierra to the girl’s room, which was in the front of the house. Janice gently pulled the book away from Sierra and placed it on the nightstand before drawing the blinds closed.

She helped Sierra undress, and then into her pajamas. It was the light gray set with cartoon alligators wearing sunglasses and pearl necklaces patterned throughout. These pj’s always made Janice smile.

The two girls retreated to the bathroom. Janice brushed out the day’s knots from Sierra’s beautiful golden hair. Then she brushed her teeth before taking her back into the bedroom.

Janice laid Sierra in her bed and pulled the blankets up snugly to the girl’s sides. She kissed her three times lightly on her forehead before walking to the door. Janice flipped the light switch off and said “Goodnight, baby,” and closed the door almost fully.

Sierra lay there in the dark for some time before the silence throughout the house was total and complete. Then she sat up in her bed and exited the warm security of her soft covers. She padded over to the door and closed it completely, careful not to let it click when the handle latched. She flipped the light back on, pulled the book from her nightstand, and placed it onto her bed. She sat down to read more.

Two hours later she had completed reading the textbook. She had not arrived at an answer as to what had happened earlier that night within her nap’s dream. Nor had she begun to understand the unlikely circumstance of the ladybug and her reach between the two worlds. But she was feeling somewhat empowered to approach the next dream differently.

She placed the closed book back on her nightstand and laid back against her pillows. She lay still for a while with her eyes open. They were affixed on the nothing on the ceiling above her.

Tiredness arrived and she did not resist it. Her eyes closed and Sierra let her dream come.

purple eye

Again Sierra had become the heightened, ringlet-curled version of herself. And again she stood on the path in the mirage-like forest.

There were, however, subtle differences this time. The prismatic white hue of the trees and her long dress had shifted into a light, bright blue, with tinges of green and yellows sparkling here and there.

At the foot of the trees, bunnies stood en masse on the roots and the small spaces between each trunk. Each bunny had fuzzy wings tucked to either side. They stood very still, staring with their beady eyes at Sierra. It was as if they were appraising her.

One bunny’s nose twitched. The other bunnies’ noses did the same, all in unison. Sierra tipped her head ever-so slightly to the left. The bunnies simultaneously matched the girl’s head movement. They tensed up their rear legs as if preparing to flee if they detected any threat from this strange interloper in their world.

A slight rustling came from just up the path. Sierra looked in the direction of the sound. The bunnies did as well. A lone chipmunk was jaunting towards the small clearing where Sierra now stood. The many bunny eyes followed in unison as the chipmunk halted just in front of Sierra.

The chipmunk rested for a moment before rearing up on its hind legs. “It’s good you’ve returned,” a voice addressed Sierra. It seemed to have come from the chipmunk, but it’s mouth did not move. It was using its mind to communicate with the currently elongated girl.

“That wasn’t a good thing you did to the red shell though. Not at all. Not at all.”

Sierra and the bunnies stared on. She did not know what to think, but she felt a sadness to the small rodent’s voice. She waited for the chipmunk to speak again.

“Why did you end the red shell?”

The girl’s eyebrows raised. She strained for a moment as if deciding whether she could speak to the chipmunk. She took another moment to decide if she would.

Then a soft voice seemed to come from between the trees. “I…”

It wasn’t obvious where the second voice was coming from, but when the chipmunk or the bunny horde turned to focus on it it seemed as if it were coming from somewhere else hidden in the wood.

“I…I was scared. It lunged at me,” the voice strained to project, “It…it was trying to hurt me.”

The chipmunk rounded its head back toward Sierra. The bunnies did as well. The chipmunk’s voice returned, “It knew you were dangerous. It sensed you were here to harm us. It assumed correctly.”

“I never meant to…to…I didn’t mean to kill it,” the voice in the trees responded. ” I just wanted to stop it from hurting me.”

The chipmunk pondered the girl for a moment before coming to a determination. “Come with me.”

The chipmunk turned and dropped back down on all fours. It returned down the path from whence it had come. It stopped at the crest of the hill and stood up again to look back at Sierra. She was bewildered by the current events. She hadn’t moved yet.

“Come along,” it called out. Sierra felt the small rodent’s mind-voice as if it still stood just in front of her.

She decided to trust the chipmunk, or at least to see where it would lead her. After all, her need and curiosity were still yet unanswered.

Sierra glided off after the chipmunk, her long dress flowing on the ground behind. A pack of the bunnies followed a few meters behind Sierra, hopping along in near unison. Others stayed in their places and continued to watch Sierra move back in the familiar direction she had traveled earlier.

The path was the one she had traversed in her nap dream, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Some trees had budded at the ends of their branches. The buds were pink, golden yellow, and orange. Others trees had wilted, appearing sick. Many had dropped polychromatic leaves to the ground around their bases.

The unlikely pack climbed the familiar hill Sierra had passed over earlier. They arrived just beyond the summit, where she had downed the ladybug man. She could see its corpse laid out across a bed of clovers.

The chipmunk approached its body. The bunnies fell in just past. They took up their positions as winged sentries of this most unusual scene.

Sierra hesitated. Her voice penetrated the air once more, “What is it you want from me?”

The chipmunk trembled for a brief moment as it looked upon the large fallen body of the insect. It stood up and strode over to Sierra. “We want you to make this right. We want you to do what you have undone.”

Sierra’s lengthened face betrayed a rare glimpse of feeling. It showed mild bewilderment. “I can’t…I don’t… I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“You have power within you, girl. Look what you did to this poor it. Humans–you take and ravage so much of your world. You have no right to come into this and start destroying and taking here as well. You fix this.”

Sierra slowly floated over until she was next to the chipmunk looking down upon the insect. She knelt beside it and spoke with her mind-voice, mouth still as ever, “I’m sorry you were threatened by me. I’m sorry I hurt you.”

She turned her head to the chipmunk. It’s eyes were moist with sadness. “What am I supposed to do?”

The chipmunk replied, “How did girl work it earlier?”

Sierra thought for a moment. She remembered her fear. She could clearly recall what had transpired and how she responded in her own memory. That wouldn’t do now.

Luckily, a chapter in Sierra’s mother’s book on lucid dreams came to her mind. She had understood much of what she had read on lucid dreaming. Now it was time to test what she had learned.

The ladybug died in the real world because of her silent scream here in the dream world. She certainly held some the power to affect reality from inside this strange dream. By proxy, she should have no problem affecting the world of this dream with her mind as well.

She reached out her right hand toward the still bug. As if on its own accord, the sleeve slid up her arm to her elbow. She rested her fingers on the front of the insect’s black head. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

First, she thought of life. Then, she thought of the love she felt toward nature and the joy she felt sharing those moments with her ladybug friend on the outside. She sent those feelings, as well as her wish to make her wrong right, through her fingertips and into the beast’s hard, rough head. Sierra could feel a sensation pulse down her arm, into her hand, and finally out her fingertips into the ladybug’s cold face.

She felt a slight brush against her hand. She opened up her eyes. The ladybug’s long dark antenna moved slightly. The other antenna did as well. The enlarged ladybug tilted its head toward Sierra and regarded her from where it lay on its clover bed.

Sierra stood up slowly and backed away a few paces. She was uncertain if the bug would come after her again. She was also in awe of the moment and what she had just done.

The chipmunk skirted a bit closer to the ladybug. “Red Shell, you are again? This girl has brought you back with us. She means you no harm. ”

The ladybug rose gradually to one knee on its hind leg. With some effort it pushed off the other leg and stood full upright. Large black markings remained on the clover patch below it.

The bug appraised Sierra for a moment longer and then subtly bowed its head.

The girl’s voice returned from the background, “I’m so sorry.”

The ladybug nodded its antennae once in a subtle gesture of approval and the turned away. Sierra could see its hard red wing covers no longer retained their dark spots. She realized that’s where the black stains on the clovers had come from. The ladybug’s red pseudo-wings spread and revealed the insect’s translucent wings of flight beneath. The wings beat quickly and made a reverberating buzzing.

The insect-man lifted off the ground and flew off. The eyes of all those present followed the insect across the sky until it disappeared into the bluish haze of the sky.

The chipmunk broke the silence of the moment. “You did well, young one. When you return, please take care as you use your mind-strength.” It skirted off back down the path. The bunnies followed. Two flew low, a few feet above the ground, their wings flapping like a hawk.

Sierra stood there for a moment, processing what had happened here and now, as well the events from earlier. She seemed pleased with herself as she continued to stare distantly at her dream’s sky.

Then lightning as black as night tore across the sky in the direction Sierra was gazing. As it struck, a line of purple remained across a large portion of the blue background of the strange world.

The line slowly parted. As it opened, Sierra distinctly saw the sclera, iris, and the pupil of a human eye. The eye searched the sky, seemingly taking in this most abstract setting. Its attention settled over onto Sierra.

An unfamiliar voice seemed to come from its direction, “I’ve found you, dreamer. Your power will be mine.” The call was followed by a deep, dark, throaty chuckle that echoed throughout the skyscape.

Sierra then experienced yet another new sensation. It was fear. She closed her eyes tightly and willed herself awake.


Back in the little girl’s bedroom everything was as she left it.

The overhead light was still on. Her unadjusted eyes strained against the momentary shock of the brightness of the room. Sierra squinted and averted her head toward the window. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and brought her heavy breathing back to its normal, moderate rate.

She could tell by the light sneaking in through the tan horizontal blinds that the sun was rising outside. Darkness was giving way to the light.

Sierra eased off her bed and went directly over to the drawer of her nightstand. She hesitated for a moment before pulling it open.

She opened the small wooden box and peered inside. Her ladybug friend was crawling along the stem of the clover. The ladybug’s back was now solid red. It too had lost its spots. The clover leaves had wilted. Large black spots stained much of the green.

The ladybug rose up into its slow buzzing flight and settled itself down on the girl’s right shoulder. Sierra sighed lightly. She had alleviated the burden of her regret, bringing back the beetle, but she couldn’t shake the image of the eye in the sky and that wicked voice.

Sierra wasn’t quite done with that most peculiar world that resided inside of her dreams.

Or perhaps the girl’s dreams weren’t quite done with her.

Chapter 3:

Bad Dreams

Part 1

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Bad dreams happen.

About fifty percent of people experience nightmares. They occur more often in the young than in adults, and more with girls than boys.

These negative dreams have many apparent causes. Bad dreams are commonly a reported side-effect of disrupted sleep patterns and trouble breathing while sleeping. They can also be a result of consuming alcohol, drugs, and even eating too close to bedtime.

Most commonly, nightmares are brought on by stress, anxiety, and experiences of trauma.

The things that happen in the real world can have significant effects on dreams.

Long ago there was a young man named Seth Stanton.

He was an ambitious fellow with limited social skills, but he had an incredible propensity for learning. What he lacked in his ability to connect with others he more than made up for in his meticulous effort, diligence, and thirst for knowledge.

When other boys his age spent their waking hours causing mischief and chasing girls, Stanton spent his days instead in libraries. His nose and eyes were consistently pointed down into books.

At first he learned of humanities and the arts, but he quickly grew bored with those subjects, due to his perceiving them as impractical and unnecessary. He redirected his attention toward the sciences and mathematics.

He was much more fulfilled by the new knowledge he gained therein. These new subjects opened new doors. They provided him abstract thinking and capabilities.

Algebra and biology gave way to calculus, chemistry, and physics. He quickly expanded into engineering, programming, and complex algorithm. Although he was quite savvy with creating and repairing instruments of technology, he always maintained a passion for studies of the human body; specifically the mind.

Naturally, he gravitated toward psychology and the various neurosciences. He always brought forth with him the vast knowledge he had previously acquired. The more Stanton learned, however, the more he realized yearned for that which was still out of his reach.

He pondered questions like, Why does the mind work as it does? and, What are the limits of human potential?

By now he understood the traditionally accepted sciences clearly, but learning from books could only take him so far. Stanton decided it was time to discover what was outside of his books. He felt a new urge to do some practical analysis on people around him. For the time being, he would settle on doing experimentation on himself.

His explorations began in the field of human biohacking; the practice of achieving the largest possible set of results with the least amount of effort within a biological entity. Stanton had not a broad interest in all lifeforms. He was only interested in the gains he could uncover within himself.

He effortlessly mastered speed reading, acquisition of languages, and even developed a variation of photographic memory. He found additional success in the domain of physical capability, but quickly grew bored with these newfound abilities.

Being faster, stronger, and more flexible was amusing at first, but a desire for more profound meaning and results replaced the satisfaction found in such superficial gains. His true desire within his self-improvement resided locked away beyond the limits of his knowledge and understanding.

Stanton consistently asked himself what was next. He would move on to each new subject only to be disappointed with the inevitable pinnacle he would discover just as quickly. What he did learn to be incontrovertibly true was that there was something behind and beyond human beings’ limitations and their ingrained ability to learn and evolve.

Still Stanton continued his quest as he aged. Seasons came and went. Inevitably, the young man was no longer a young man anymore.

Over the course of yet another overnight session scouring the modern marvel that was internet, Seth Stanton unearthed what would become his life’s dream. He was sixty-three pages into one of his countless keyword searches of the term “abilities” when he discovered Dr. Stefani Wilkins and her Effected.

The Effected was the term Stefani Wilkins, PhD, had designated to those special humans who had lucked upon an evolutionary advancement, causing abilities only previously conceived of in comic books and science fiction stories.

The first of these was a school teacher in Canada who discovered she had the ability to create a frequency with her voice that destroyed cancer cells. She used her power freely to diminish the degenerative disease from her community.

Despite her desire to keep her ability discreet, she had people coming to see her from miles around. She retired from her teaching duties to dedicate her life to a different type of service. Many brought gifts of food, clothing, and even money, allowing her to continue her new life’s work of healing others. She became a modern-day Canadian messiah.

Upon some preliminary research, Stanton had determined there was a concerted effort to quiet the doctor, derived from a multitude of angles. Religious leaders claimed the Effected were a media created hoax, conjured in an effort to discredit their God and his teachings by the world’s atheists. The ultra-rich silenced the coverage on their vast multimedia networks. Stanton could only assume this was due to the overwhelming financial and power implications such an ability would provide.

Considering the minimal sources of information Stanton could initially uncover regarding Wilkins and her subjects, there was an exponential flow of alternative viewpoints suggesting that Wilkins was a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. He certainly saw through the thin veil of disinformation, even if the masses did not.

From what Stanton could determine, Wilkins located and observed the Effected. She made contact with them, and in turn, transcribed detailed records of her resulting data and discoveries.

What he had found held within the doctor’s research was utterly unbelievable. It was precisely what he had been searching for this entire time. It was literally what he had been dreaming of. Stanton couldn’t help but become obsessed with the idea of elevating his own physical and mental capabilities.

Stanton felt that Wilkins coining the term “Effected” was thoroughly ironic. The doctor obviously had not achieved any true understanding of where or how her subjects’ abilities had derived. Still, he couldn’t help but agree that they were effected by something unexplained by modern science.

Stanton was enamored with her ideology, but he certainly saw things from an alternatively more self-centered perspective. To Wilkins it was all about them, the Effected. To Stanton it was all about him and what he could gain in terms of overcoming his own biological limitations. How would he uncover and master these inherent inner-abilities within himself? And, if failing that, how could he seize these powers for himself?

Although Stanton’s desired outcome was not altruistic like Wilkins’ motive, her research and methods would prove invaluable to his own ambition. Their goals overlapped and intersected. She was essential to him realizing his dream.

He decided he needed to connect with the good Dr. Wilkins. Beyond that, he would need to make himself valuable to her, even necessary, if he was going to gain the exclusive access to the data and information he required.

She held the key to a greater understanding that was not yet contained within books or the internet. If she didn’t hold the key, she may be the doorway itself.

Despite the value it would have presented in establishing any credentials with Wilkins, Stanton was not an accredited doctor or scientist. He had never taken the time to acquire an MD, PhD, or any other certified specializations. She would not see him as a peer, therefore she would not see any reason to share her life’s work with him.

Stanton did indeed have vast knowledge and understanding of the human body, particularly of the mind. All had been gained by his own inherent tenacity and compulsive curiosity. This would not prove enough to penetrate the doctor’s paranoid guard. Wilkins was neither fool, nor personable enough for the the feat to be accomplished with ease, so he began to design an approach to his dilemma creatively.

Like Stanton, Wilkins was enthusiastic about the implications and potential she had discovered through her research. Her discoveries proved beyond any doubt that human DNA had evolved in unique ways. Inexplicable abilities were developing within many people around the globe.

Stanton learned that although the doctor had an incredible knack for finding these evolutionarily advanced subjects, her entire field of study was dedicated to theory. He would use his technological expertise to push her research toward more practical application.

Stanton located and approached the doctor. He attempted to qualify himself with his background and offered his assistance and dedication to be applied toward her work. Additionally, he promised unquestioned service and loyalty. He put on quite the display of humility and reverence, despite his authentic contemptuous demeanor.

Wilkins was a strong, independent person in her own right. She was not impressed. Additionally, she did not trust the man’s precariously conceived reasons for wanting to get involved in her ongoing campaign.

And, frankly, she just didn’t like him, nor his obnoxiously arrogant personality. Stanton was obviously a savant, but he annoyed her. She refused his help and companionship outright.

Like the stubborn would-be acolyte attempting to learn from a reluctant mentor he was, Stanton persisted in his attempts of proving himself indispensable to the doctor’s cause. Despite his gifts of uncovered information and technology of his own invention, he was rebuffed many more times.

This game of cat and mouse continued for several years. When all seemed hopeless, Stanton returned to his home near Boston. He decided to return to doing what he had done best before his obsession with Dr. Stefani Wilkins had consumed him. He would create to further his own potential.

He continued following the doctor’s work with new perspective and fervor. As more and more data reached him via the internet he searched for patterns in the brain-wave activity and vitals of the Effected she was studying.

He compared DNA samples, blood types, and even many details that proved inconsequential such as hair color, race, and age. He spent extensive time sifting through decades of data. Luckily, he had worked diligently increasing his overall efficiency in data processing when he was younger. In a year and a half he accomplished what most would have needed a lifetime for. Despite spending so much time on seemingly arbitrary information processing, he finally found what he was needing.

One cold night, that could have been considered lonely if Stanton ever felt the feeling, he stared blankly at his notes and crowded cork board. The data finally arranged itself correctly in his mind.

His understanding of the Effected and their powers began to make sense. He now had the answer to the how part of the equation; he had long since moved past the question of why.

The image of a device formed within Stanton’s head, one which he would build. He knew how to find these Effected on his own.

He went on to build a machine. It used complex algorithms, and a type of artificial intelligence that was capable of predicting the occurrences of the Effected realizing their powers to a near-perfect degree of accuracy. He called the machine his Postuant.

Stanton still believed he had insights to gain from Dr. Wilkins; either that or he continued to harbor some perverted infatuation toward the woman and her work. Despite his many failed attempts to befriend and partner with her, he would make one final attempt.

Upon multiple successful tests of his Postuant, he brought his prototype to Wilkins as a last ditch effort at a partnership. Of course he built a second version of the machine for himself with some “improvements”, but that was hidden away for when his whims demanded its use.

Wilkins, perturbed by the incessant persistence of Stanton, reluctantly agreed to a demonstration of the Postuant machine. The demonstration was an indubitable success.

This was no surprise to Stanton, after all it was his creation, but Wilkins was ecstatic with the gift and the possibilities of major breakthroughs. She had not realized that Stanton had such technical skill.

In her elation she embraced Stanton. The moment was awkward, but it had sealed a victory within the self-taught scientist’s mind.

They went on to locate five Effected within a twenty mile radius of New York City. It only took a mere fraction of the time it had previously taken her to find even one.

Of course, the determination Stanton had shown Wilkins was grown purely of his selfishness, but to the doctor that no longer mattered. What damage could he possibly do?

Stanton’s goal of getting close to the most preeminent intellectual in the field of psychic and metaphysical activity had been accomplished. Wilkins had let down her previously impenetrable guard. Now harboring a clear understanding of his genius and its necessity to her work, she proceeded to welcome the scientist’s expertise and companionship into her life and research.

Together they located many new Effected throughout the world, most of which had powers Wilkins had already observed and documented. However, a few were quite novel and unusual indeed.

They found a child in Africa capable of communicating with animals. The two made their way to Kenya, to the boy’s home. The tin-walled shanty was surrounded by baboons, bushbabies, a cheetah, among other animals of the night. They were sitting content, as if holding vigil. Inside the shack, the boy was communicating with two crocodiles using only his mind. Wilkins perceived that the boy was commanding the animals, but the boy insisted he just made requests. The animals acted upon their own free will.

A woman in Taiwan could change the temperature of the air surrounding her within approximately a nine yard radius. She could fluctuate the climate hotter and colder by about fifty degrees depending on the moisture in the air.

A construction worker in Boston, Massachusetts found he was able to shape specific metals and minerals with his mind. He was reinventing himself by creating intricate and artistic sculptures, leaving his many followers and customers wondering how he had achieved such unique forms in his medium.

Now, the sharp scientist was the necessary apprentice. The two would spend the next twelve years together. Stanton absorbed, learned, and interpreted Wilkins’ findings efficiently and relentlessly.

Wilkins was pleased to have a companion with whom to share her excitement and findings. Their relationship remained platonic, but they appeared closer than any married couple.

Stanton predicted and met the doctor’s needs well. He made himself indispensable to both her life and her research. As was the course with his manner, he eventually grew bored with the limitations of Wilkins’ style of “wait and watch” research. They were both growing older, and Stanton never forgot his desire to actualize powers within himself. Wilkins’ methods were not moving him towards this goal by any means.

Driven by this realization, the scientist crafted additional tools and technology that allowed the pair to dive deeper into their passions and curiosity for that which resided within the Effected’s minds. To do so, however, these new means required a more invasive nature.

Wilkins was reluctant at first, but by now she had grown to trust her partner and friend. Deep down, she knew he was still the same warily ambitious man he was when she had met him, but her excitement from each revelation after amazing revelation allowed her to push that ingrained knowledge to the side.

Stanton’s creations became more spectacular and intricate. However, many had the potential of causing intense pain and possible permanent damage to the subjects’ bodies and minds. He was as reticent about those aspects as Wilkins had become willing to turn a blind eye.

Stefani had never wanted to compromise her conscience by allowing anything to harm her effected, but slowly Stanton’s ambitions seemed to poison her own.

Stanton consistently cited the greater good and the bigger picture as justifications for a more expedited version of their work. He cited compelling reasons why diving deeper was worthy of the potential costs.

Wilkins recognized the error in her complicity. Their relationship became strained, as they began disagreeing more and more often. The two, who had become as close as any notable partners in history, had developed an irreparable schism between them.

Stanton didn’t dwell long on the negative. He kept himself busy and driven. He was far too dedicated to his purpose to allow such weakness to affect his work and progress thus far. In those brief moments when he was taken aback by anger he swallowed it down, allowing the rage to quietly boil up inside of his body. When Wilkins was no longer in his presence his face would redden and the veins at the side of his neck bulged out as if he were holding his breath. Then the rage expired and seemed to pass. He would move on anew.

Stanton stayed in his lab working while Wilkins continued to visit the Effected out in the field. The two ceased communicating their individual progresses to one another.

Wilkins attempted to travel without informing Stanton of where she was going and who she was visiting, but Stanton’s prowess with technology prevented her from keeping anything secret from him for long. Stanton had successfully accessed everything Wilkins would ever have wished hidden from the scientist’s dark reach.

Stanton continued his charade of obedience to the Doctor’s whims and boundaries, but he too was taking his own trips to visit the Effected surreptitiously.

Always a few days behind Dr. Wilkins, Stanton would visit the subjects and test out his new gear. He would inevitably gain much deeper insights than anything the doctor could ever hope to achieve through his newly devised methods.

Wilkins had instinctually determined that something was awry, as Effected she had recently worked with gradually became unreachable by communication. Many had seemed to disappear.

Wilkins had located and visited a wonderful boy who could fly in the Philippines. After concluding her time with him she purchased an airplane ticket to visit another Effected in Nagasaki, Japan.

There was no Effected to visit in Nagasaki. She never boarded the airplane in Manila for which she had bought the ticket.

Wilkins was waiting for Stanton. She hid in the boy’s village in attempt to see what her partner was planning.

Stanton arrived in the modest farming village with an assistant of his own two days hence. They each pulled behind them large metallic rolling suitcases.

The scientist paid one of the poverty-stricken families of the village fifty US dollars to vacate their farm hut for three days. He conversed in Filipino as if he were a native speaker. The family accepted the money and didn’t ask any questions.

Stanton and his college-aged pug-faced female assistant donned their white lab coats and went to work setting up their makeshift operating room within the hut. Although Wilkins didn’t recognize much of what they unpacked, one particular device the assistant placed at the head of the table was familiar to her.

It was a large domed helmet he had called his Exasberator.. He had shown it to Wilkins once before. She would never forget the resulting interaction.

The helmet required direct input into a patient’s spinal column. It had many functions. Stanton even fitted himself with input plates on his neck and back for testing and observational use.

Regardless of Stanton’s promises of the many benefits of using his “perfectly safe” Exasberator, Wilkins immediately and incontrovertibly understood the risks. Manipulating the spine and nervous system could cause paralyzation and death, whether accidentally or intentionally.

Wilkins had immediately objected to Stanton creating this perverse machine. She demanded he destroy the helmet and never build another one like it. Stanton reluctantly acquiesced and incinerated the device while she was there to witness.

The rift remained even after the helmet did not. That was the moment the doctor had determined to no longer be complicit in her partner’s wanton destructive tendencies. In her eyes, that was the moment their partnership ended.

That memory was from two years prior. She had little doubt that the second suitcase held another near-identical machine. Only he knew how many more there were.

Stanton had no fear of being overheard in this poor village. None of the locals spoke English, so he spoke freely. He informed his assistant that he was going to use a surgical technique to determine the exact location in the cerebral cortex that the flying boy’s ability had derived from. He continued with instructions on what he would require of her during the procedure.

Wilkins deciding she could not sit idly by while Stanton did harm to this beautiful boy. She had just connected with him, and she had earned his trust. She was already too much an accomplice in the scientist’s madness. She had allowed Stanton access to everything she had worked so hard for. Her labors were heart and soul.

Wilkins confronted her partner. She was afraid to ask how many of her Effected he had visited after her, but she had an idea based on her many futile attempts at communication with them recently. She felt ill at the idea of her fault in aiding his exploits.

Dr. Stefani Wilkins has not been seen since that day.

Seth Stanton, on the other hand, went on to partner with several billionaires who created a mega-corporation that would fund more of his research into Wilkins’ Effected.

The company provided him with everything and anything he desired to achieve his ends. He had unlimited funding, guarded laboratories with full staffing, and any other resources Stanton would ever deem necessary.

In their eyes, his ends would justify their means. After all, he would be weaponizing the Effected. He kept up the air of these shared goals with his benefactors, but he still remained covertly self-centric about his exploits. He never forgot his dream.

He fed his partners technology and information that would allow them to exploit or destroy their competition. They could gain unimaginable riches as well, but that was only half of the story.

No one knew what Seth Stanton, now known as the Controller to his employees and partners, truly desired. He had more than any army or the richest first world nation could ever possibly imagine, but it would never be enough.

More than immortality, legacy, and riches, the Controller still lusted for power for himself. He wanted that power within himself.

The Controller understood from all his exploits with the Effected that there were powers out in the world that were far beyond his wildest imagination. Making those powers his was still his dream.

At least now he was on his way…

Chapter 4

Bad Dreams

Part 2

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Dreams aren’t predicated on sleep.

A vision of what one is meant for is a dream too.

Reflections on what one could possibly become are, as well.

Some include becoming rich, powerful, famous, or the top in one’s field.

Others want a beautiful partner, hence the phrase, “She’s the girl of my dreams.”

These dreams are just a another way to refer to one’s wishes.

Seth Stanton still wore the same lab coat and pocket protector he had worn in the years when he had worked with Dr. Stefani Wilkins. He still wore the same gunmetal titanium-framed spectacles with round clear lenses that were about an inch in diameter. His former colleague and friend had helped pick the glasses out.

Ever since Wilkins and Stanton had parted ways, a profound coldness formed deep inside of him. He had never cared for anyone in his life more than minimally, besides her. Now there was no one. He was alone once again, with just his thoughts and his ambition. He had only his work, and his dreams of the power it would produce.

The pain of losing Wilkins had long since ceased, or so he told himself whenever he reminisced over their time together. He didn’t realize how much she had actually meant to him until after she had gone. While with her, he had assumed any of his feelings were in relation to their shared work and his incessant lust for the power she had exposed him to. After all, she was the gatekeeper to his understanding of the evolutionarily advanced human beings she had referred to as the Effected.

He still continued experiencing some feeling he couldn’t quite place whenever he reminisced over their shared time. He missed her. He longed for her smell, or one of those brief meaningless glancing touches she would bestow on him when they worked in close proximity. Nonetheless, he would have never a similar experience again.

Instead of dwelling on such worthless feelings, he cauterized the wound through his continual efforts to understand the abilities exhibited in the Effected. He didn’t just move on, he amplified his efforts. Stanton would spend stretches of entire days in one of his now-lavish laboratories. He would take only the occasional breaks for a night spent in one of his homes, where he slept in a bed in cold, utilitarian surroundings.

He went on to establish superficial associations as he packaged his research, data, and findings, to sell to a hungry community of entrepreneurs and investors. They provided him with money, real estate and any other material or corporate support he required. He had gained the attention of many.

Stanton built a corporate structure around himself and his research with ease. He had no shortage of funds or personnel to do so. He maintained ultimate jurisdiction and supervision over his new innovative science, as he was the only person with the knowledge and expertise to head the swiftly-growing enterprise.

Stanton knew people’s affection and their desire could be an asset to him, so he decided he would exploit the opportunity. The scientist carved out additional time studying human relations, management, and personality manipulation. Compared to cerebral modification and engineering, these were elementary; no more difficult than learning another foreign language.

Stanton was confident taking his findings public, unlike the doctor who had always treated any exposure with apprehension. He frequently and vehemently claimed that powered beings existed. They were the indisputable next step in the evolution of humanity.

First came the notice of the high-tech community. The technologically savvy never want to miss the inevitable next wave. Many got behind Stanton’s cause and young science. A mass of developers, analysts, scientists, and researchers abandoned their lucrative careers with well-known and established corporations to be a part of this obvious next big thing. Most even accepted a fraction of what they were making at their previous conglomerates and start-ups in hopes of being on the ground floor of the colossal biological and technological breakthrough driven by the powers of the Effected.

All who worked for Stanton felt satisfied to be employed by a modern-day innovator and genius. They had entered a new frontier in this world of the evolved human with him; but it was a world Seth Stanton controlled.

On the surface, Stanton sought feedback, input, and critique from those he worked with, and those he had allowed to see themselves as his peers. He seemed to welcome discussion in the interest of continually moving forward and improving his results. He manufactured charisma whenever it was called for in order to fend off critics and those who might dig deep into his methods and elusive past.

Privately, Stanton enjoyed the autonomous unilateral domination over the world’s flow of information on the Effected, as well as his technological innovations and, of course, the power resulting from the two.

Stanton wasn’t a recluse, but he wasn’t freely accessible either. While attending to the executive leadership of his company, VIM Inc., he oversaw the day to day operations of VIM’s research and development as well. He remained exclusively dedicated to his work. His passion and his dreams were his only true companions.

What once were dingy labs and tiny offices became complexes of buildings that were staffed with a technical support staff that rivaled the scope of small armies. Each employee was vetted thoroughly. They either believed in Stanton’s publicly-communicated vision of a future with VIM produced power for all people, or they weren’t brought on. He had inspired a cult-like following.

A high profile magazine even ran a multi-issue cover feature on Stanton and the Effected. That was where Stanton was originally dubbed The Controller of a Brave New World. The title seemed to fit well. People started referring to him by this new moniker. Of course, few were brave enough to do so to Stanton’s face. Ironically, he actually liked the nickname. It encompassed what he dreamed in regards to the newly-discovered powers of the world.

Stanton never objected or shied away from the pseudonym. In fact, he encouraged it by not responding when press or others called him by that name. He felt it appropriately described himself and his unspoken goals for his work. He took pride in the world recognizing what he saw as his own greatest character trait. He decided the Controller was what he would be called.

Despite his abundant arrogance, the Controller had concerns about having his darker dealings discovered, so he borrowed from the playbook of many weapons and technology companies’ previously established precedents. He enacted the standard of keeping each employee’s role and production narrow and isolated. Everyone’s work was to be interdependent and separate. Each would design and develop parts that on their own told no clue to intended totality, and when VIM released its products to the world they didn’t just make a splash, they made tidal waves.

The most notable of VIM’s technology releases was a device called Protrekter. This new machine was based on the design of the original Exasberator. Of course, only Stanton and Wilkins new about that grisly tool.

Protrekter resembled a reclining doctor’s table. Each had spinal and cortex cable connections down the center of the table. It connected the user to the internet and a variety of other devices. The machine allowed for an advanced level of cerebral observation and data interpretation through three-dimensional imaging.

In Layman’s terms, Protrekter could recreate a user’s thoughts from the earthly world into the form of a hologram. Despite the necessary alterations users had to impose on their bodies, millions sought out VIM’s coveted device.

The popularity of Stanton’s creation wasn’t just due to its capabilities, it was also owed to its accessibility. Protrekter was offered at a price anyone with a middle class income could afford. Much to the consternation of VIM’s investors who felt a premium should be charged for the innovative toys they were providing the world, the Controller launched the machine for less than the world’s best-selling laptops.

With Protrekter’s release, home entertainment and communication were reinvented. The world fell in love with VIM and its “Controller.”

Media, social advocates, and activists pressed as to where the technological developments had come from. They also inquired about the bewildering concept of offering such large and impressive technology for so cheap. Stanton always sighted his keen and meticulous observation of the Effected, in addition to the complex technologies of blockchain and quantum computing, as giving him insights others couldn’t possibly fathom.

Aside from the odd marginalized conspiracy theorist, almost all accepted Stanton’s words at face value. As always, the public desired what was new and next. Regardless of the human rights violations of VIM’s factory workers in China and elsewhere, the consumeristic masses were willing to overlook much of it in the interest of this wonderful new mode of entertainment.

In truth, Stanton’s scientific advancements had come from what he done beneath the protective cloaking of his company. While the world ate out of Stanton’s palm, the Controller continued much of his efforts underground. He proceeded with capturing and experimenting on various Effected surreptitiously. He wanted to achieve the highest possible level of understanding of the powered. He needed to. It became an addiction that only new insights would quell.

His endeavors were worthless without the clandestine experimentation on the Effected he performed. Their powers were what had truly inspired his inventive mind. It opened the doors that allowed him to visualize and build his new and grand technologies.

Stanton had long since gained understanding as to where the differences in the Effected’s physiology had arisen. In one of his secluded labs he created an enhanced and updated version of his Exasberator machine to take his research further. His original machine was lost the night of the incident in the Philippines. He named the second version “EX-2.”

In addition to all the original applications of its predecessor, the chrome helmet device could interface with non-Effected individuals as well. The Controller decided it was time to begin tests on non-powered humans to see if he could introduce Effected powers into their minds. He would refer to these test subjects as “Pre’s.”

Once connected to the neural cortex of a Pre, the EX-2 allowed the Controller to tinker with a subject’s neural make-up. This jump from the functionality of the original Exasberator allowed for various enhancements to learning and cognitive ability. Most significantly, it allowed him to replicate the powers of any Effected he had previously observed and lobotomized.

Volunteer Pre’s were sourced from prisons, paramilitary and mercenary organizations, and poor communities spanning the globe. Each were paid to participate in the Controller’s experiments. They were told the trials could potentially lead to them having Effected abilities installed within them. To most, this was more valuable than any money they were offered.

The Controller rarely had to pay out though. Test subject after test subject would briefly exhibit the abilities the EX-2 provided, but in turn each would expire within twelve to fourteen hours from the initial cerebral adjustment. The Controller could extend the time within some of the test subjects by completing additional procedures to the subject’s brain, but the clock counted down regardless of the adjustments he made. It appeared those who did not naturally manifest abilities were not meant to have them at all.

These results frustrated the Controller immensely. Something was missing beyond the futurist’s understanding of where and how the powers had derived. Despite all the fantastic breakthroughs resulting in deconstructing various Effecteds’ minds, the Controller was impeded by his limitations regarding synthesizing powers. Ultimately, this was what he was after. The Controller wanted to imbue himself with the superior abilities he had collected.

He then understood he would need to discover new powers in Effected the he had not been exposed to. Or, he would have to find a way to manufacture new abilities.

Despite the ease the Postulant made in locating the Effected, capturing them remained a tiresome chore. Powered people were often scared by the Controller’s teams of operatives. They weren’t exceedingly gentle either. The Effected would oftentimes lash out in order to defend themselves or in attempts to seek refuge. With what the Controller had planned for their minds and bodies, they were correct to be afraid.

The Controller had no objections to forcefully restraining the Effected and taking what he needed, but the intensity of some of the Effected’s powers required new tactics. He lacked the time or the vitality to subdue them in the field himself, and his teams were frequently outgunned and outmatched by the powers held by those they went after. Causalities were far too common on both sides.

Perhaps manufacturing and discovering new powers could be accomplished simultaneously, the Controller thought to himself as he worked under the blue of the fluorescent overhead lights in one his secret laboratories.

He had just received more disappointing news in the form of a phone call from one of his field team leaders. Another Effected had escaped his top retrieval team. He recognized a need to try a different approach.

His current situation required an adjustment in how he approached his work on the Effected. If he would have any chance of finding a person with the necessary power he required, he would need the assistance of some Effected to do so. He needed to proceed in an intelligent and dynamically more gentle way. His typical modus operandi of taking what he needed from the Effected’s mind and then disposing of them would no longer serve. The Controller reflected on those who’s powers would have been useful to him. Many had possessed the necessary disposition and drive to join his new cause if only the thought had occurred to him earlier.

The Controller knew some would be inspired by money, drugs, or power. Some just had an inherent need to be accepted. The scientist knew he could attend to any of these basic necessities in the future. It was as simple as inviting them into his world with promises of greatness. He would exhibit a willingness to assist them in understanding their powers, and then entice them with the possibility of attaining more power. He was reminded of his own drive; he would use theirs wants and need for his own ends.

The Controller returned to his Postulant. It found his first recruit located in the Midwest of the US. The machine’s readings were similar to ones the man had seen before, but the readings were much stronger. He would have to investigate.

What the Controller found was a twenty-something diminutive Caucasian man with a shaved head. The scientist spent three days shadowing him and assessing if his personality and demeanor were a correct fit for the function he required.

The man the machine found was a carny. It would seem he was impervious to burns by fire or chemicals, and he could withstand extreme temperatures of heat. He used his ability to make a meager living from show after show in spectacular displays that crowd after crowd just wrote off as illusory performances.

The carny set logs ablaze in barrels and held his arms inside for extended periods. He removed his arms unmarked; not so much as a spot of red, black, or brown. Afterwards the man climbed into the barrel for an encore. He closed the show by laying on large blocks of dry ice. The Controller almost felt for the young man.

After some eavesdropping, the Controller discovered the man was known only by the name James. Apparently, James had no last name. James had been travelling around North America as a carny for much of his life.

After the final show on the third night, the Controller addressed young James. When pressed about his powers, James claimed they were just tricks he used to perform and make a living. The Controller smiled at the twenty-something who already had lines about his face as if he were in his forties. “You’re meant for so much more than this pitiful ‘living’ you’re earning. You are considerably greater than you could possibly know.”

Not one to stay current on world events, James was unaware that there were others like him. Despite his surprise at the young man’s naivety and ignorance, the Controller continued his pitch. He inputted a few commands on his smart phone and placed it on the dirt ground between them. The phone’s screen lit up brightly and an image rose into the air about two feet above the gunmetal casing.

The image was a hologram. It showed James a recording of a middle-aged man bending steel beams floating in the air in front of him with no more than his bare hands. The clip ended and immediately another began. The second showed an Asian boy in a jungle that leapt gently off the ground and floated in mid air. The boy pressed smoothly back down to the earth and jumped off again. The second jump was more forceful. The image of the boy shot up into the air above them and disappeared into the clouds of the night’s sky.

James stared into the air where the hologram had just vanished for a few moments. “Holy shit.”

The Controller smirked. He knew he had already won over young James. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

James brought his gaze back down from the sky and looked directly at the Controller. “What do you want with me?”

“Excellent question, my friend. Now that I’ve seen what you can do, I want to learn more about your abilities, so I can help you harness and improve them. Then, I want you to help me find more people like you. Together we’re going to build a family, James. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“No freak shows? No more people pointing and laughing at me?”

“We’ll never let them again, James. How’s that sound?”

“What’s the catch?”

“There’s no catch, James. You learn, and I learn. We find others and do it all over again.”

James appeared apprehensive for a moment as he processed all he had seen and heard from this strange older man. The man’s warm smile seem to sooth his concerns. He presumed he had nothing more to lose. “I’m in. What’s your name anyway?”

“You can call me the Controller, and what would you like to be called?” James never knew his parents. They had abandoned him when he could barely walk and talk. He had little memory of them or the night they left him. He was given the name James by his first carnival ringleader at the age of six.

James cherished this idea that he had innate superior abilities. He decided he should a superior name as well. He came to a decision. “Swelter. You can call me Swelter.”

The two shook hands. This was the beginning of a new way of being for the both of them. Swelter accepted his new position and name graciously. The Controller accepted he would have to choke back his urge to subject the young man to his tests.

The scientist recognized the strangeness of the moment. He needed someone again. Besides, if the boy failed, he could always return to his traditional methods.

Chapter 5:

Dreams of the Past

Part 1

A dream can be repetitive and monotonous.

Sometimes the same dream may occur night, after night, after night.

Oftentimes dreams like these involve repetitive, menial tasks, like standing in front of a copy machine watching the flashing lights of the scanner passing from left to right, over and over and over again…

Some time ago there was a iron miner. The miner had two sons; Ty, and E.J., the elder of the two.

To say the miner worked a considerable amount would be a considerable understatement of how much he actually labored. His working hours had him leaving before sunrise everyday, often keeping him at the mine until supper or later.

The miner had a propensity for acquiring debt. The only thing that matched his ability to accrue debt was his insatiable thirst for alcohol. The more money he came to owe, the more he would drink to push his cares away.

The miner wasn’t a violent drunk. Imbibing was just his preferred method of numbing the world and his responsibilities. It was both a way to detach himself from his world’s harsh realities, as well as being his chosen form of decompression after long shifts of toil, sweat, & soot.

Luckily for his sons, the alcohol never made him abusive to the boys. Unfortunately, his mounting interest payments on his loans, along with his alcohol consumption habits, didn’t make him very pleasant to be around much of the time.

This was felt utmost by the boys’ mother, the miner’s wife. On many nights she would have to abide his complaints and attitude, but to her even this wasn’t as bad as what she felt she was missing out on with such a loser for a husband. Despite the long hours the miner worked, the family didn’t have money for extras or luxuries such as dining out, fine clothing, or vacation trips. The miner’s wife felt these were her due.

When E.J. and Ty were quite young, the impoverished miner’s wife spent many nights yelling at her husband. She frequently and vehemently reminded him how much of a loser he was. She informed him time and again that they were never going to have the proper means she deserved and expected.

Doors got slammed regularly. This would often be followed by more raised voices shouting back and forth across the small house. E.J. and Ty would stay in their shared bedroom, the older holding and comforting the younger until the noises ceased and sleep could finally come.

At the end of an evening of these familiar circumstances, the front door slammed with more heft and impact than usual. Most nights when the front door slammed and the boys’ mother stormed off into the night, the next morning would follow with her home asleep in bed, or up early, preparing the boys’ breakfast and lunches for their day.

This night had a different feel. At least that’s how E.J. remembered it. Their cramped home seemed more silent than the boy had been accustomed to. Whether his memory painted a different picture than the night’s actual events, this night and the following morning were indeed distinctive.

The empty silence that was felt throughout the modest dwelling that evening would be repeated the following morning as well, and for much of the next couple years. When the boys’ mother left that night, she never returned.

The miner’s wife had finally had enough. She was through with her life of poverty and their shared, pitiful, empty future. She was finished with being expected to do everything for the boys. It truly wasn’t their fault, but life isn’t fair most of the time. They never saw or heard from her again.

What happened to the miner’s wife out in the world is unknown and irrelevant, but the boys’ mother did leave behind one valuable possession: her beloved draft horse, Charity. The miner never cared for or about the horse. To him, it just was. He never held any emotional attachment to the animal whatsoever.

After his wife had been gone for a few weeks the man had decided she wouldn’t be returning. As it were, despite all his working hours, the miner continued to stay broke. The mare had always cost loads of money to feed and care for. That was money he no longer saw fit to spend on her.

The miner concluded he would sell the horse. Charity was a strong and well-behaved mare. She would probably fetch quite a sum from some local farmer or rancher.

One rare sober evening the man informed the boys of his plan to part with the mare. E.J. and Ty expressed their extreme displeasure at the idea. They were well-aware how much their mother had cared for the horse. They did not wish to disappoint her upon her expected eventual return. The boys lacked the man’s realism towards the situation. They had not quite comprehended or accepted that their mother wouldn’t be returning.

The boys fought with their father. E.J. yelled in anger while Ty cried in hysterics. That horse was all they had left of their mother now, besides their memories. They would not accept their father’s plan.

Despite the continual animosity and resentment between the man and his wife over the years, the children never caused him trouble. They didn’t argue or tussle much. The miner was well aware that his sons were good boys.

The man knew it was his fault that his wife had left them, so he eventually agreed to keeping the horse. Somewhere deep inside the miner had hoped to make up for his lack of physical and emotional presence through yet another financial sabotage of his family.

Like most of his prior poor financial decisions, he came to this conclusion before thoroughly considering his options. How would he make enough money to continue owning the horse? Horses cost an abundant amount of money to own. That was money he didn’t have, and he never seemed to have an easy time coming by more.

He didn’t want to disappoint his boys further, so he determined to figure out some way to make owning Charity work. When she was still around, his wife had worked at a local restaurant waiting tables and tending bar to afford her own luxuries. These included her clothing, jewelry, and most especially her horse. This wasn’t an option for him. Working more wouldn’t work. His current load had his body and his mind long past healthy capacity. The man’s income was all already spoken for in terms of bills, food, and out-standing debt. He would have to find another way.

Through a coworker at the mine, the miner heard about a local farmer on the outskirts of the town that leased horses to pull hay and carts, and work the land. The miner contacted the farmer and the two planned to meet. The horse would need to be inspected and terms of the lease would have to be agreed upon.

The miner figured he could negotiate a rate that would cover the horse’s normal expenses and even put a couple extra dollars in the his pocket. Unfortunately for him, this wouldn’t be the case. The farmer was a shrewd businessman. He understood money and horses far better than the uneducated miner.

Had the poor man truly understood the actual costs of owning and feeding a horse, he would have immediately recognized that the amount the farmer and he had agreed upon would barely cover his base ownership costs. There would be no extra income, and he would struggle tremendously if the horse took ill, or needed any surprise maintenance he wasn’t planning for.

Still, the man was satisfied with his deal. Being able to keep the horse and please his boys felt like a victory. After such a long run of poor decisions and bad news, he finally felt like he was doing something right by his family and himself.

The miner told his boys the news that very evening. They were ecstatic with the knowledge that they would be keeping their mother’s beloved horse.

The following day the man set out earlier than usual to deliver Charity to the farmer. The boys rode on the brown mare’s back. E.J. held the reigns in his hands, with his arms around his younger brother. The three walked the horse down the quiet dirt county roads, under the dark sky before the sunrise. Finally they approached the farmer’s property just outside of their sleeping mining town.

The group reached the farmer’s house just as the sky was turning orange and pink. It was a beautiful sky that felt ominous of many better memories to come.

Once down the gravel driveway, the miner walked up to the wooden porch, leaving his boys and the horse behind him. The man climbed the three gray steps and proceeded to knock on the door frame to the right of the red door.

A thick grizzled man wearing overalls and a trucker’s hat came to the door and pulled the curtains back to see who was there. He looked at the miner in his jacket and hat, and then down to the horse with the two young boys mounted on her saddle. His expression didn’t change. He let the curtains back down and opened the door.

The two men shook hands and spoke for a bit. The miner’s boys waited patiently, quietly. Their eyes scanned the vast farm property. A young boy and girl came to the window of the farmhouse, just to the side of the front door where the two men conversed. The girl knocked on the glass in an attempt to get the miner’s sons’ attention.

The boys looked up at the sound of the rapping on the glass. Eight pairs of eyes met. E.J. and Ty smiled at the kids at the window. The boy at the window scrunched up his face, and then proceeded to stick his tongue out at them.

The little girl laughed. The two boys hesitated for a moment, but then began chuckling as well. Finally, the boy at the window transformed his frown to a large smile. Then the girl and the boy left the window and headed in the direction of the front door.

The farmer’s kids ran past their father’s leg, down to the horse and boys at the end of the walkway. The little girl put her hand out for Charity to smell, before petting her nose gently. The farmer paused in mid-sentence. He sighed, and then went back to his discussion with the miner.

The farmer’s kids greeted the boys on the horse with hey’s. E.J. climbed down Charity’s side before helping his brother down as well. All four introduced themselves in turn. The girl immediately suggested that they all play chase.

The four children commenced running around the grass lawn in between the house and barn. They laughed and hooted at one another. Instantly hitting it off, they had all become friends.

The miner and the farmer concluded their discussion and shook hands once more. The farmer then called to his kids, “James & Ginny, come inside and get ready for school.”

He turned to face the miner, “They haven’t had many friends since their ma passed on…” he trailed off for a moment, lost in thought, and then proceeded, “It’s nice to see them smiling again. Listen, Gene, please bring the boys by anytime. They’re welcome here to play whenever it suits them. I reckon it will be best to have them kids laughing again, me being so tied up with the farm all the time.”

The miner nodded his head, “Alright.” He hollered out to the boys, “Let’s get you two off to school as well.” The boys knew that meant E.J. would see to Ty while the man went off to the mine for the day.

The boys returned that afternoon after school to play with their new friends . And so they did many, many more afternoons, and Saturdays and Sundays as well, after that.

Chapter 6

Dreams of the Past

Part 2

Dreams can offer strange and unique perspective of reality.

Oftentimes, what appears in a dream as one thing may, in actuality, signify another entirely.

The contents of dreams can offer understanding that, while awake, the dreamer may miss.

Dreams make people aware of life stresses, situations that need addressed, and many other signals that something is awry.

But it’s not really about the dream, is it? The real story is in what the dreamer does to address the information that those dreams are attempting to communicate to them.

The miner’s boys returned that afternoon after school let out; this time Ty was on E.J.’s shoulders. E.J. was nine years old back then. Ty was six. Ginny was the same age as E.J. and James was a year and a half older than them.

Those days the farmer’s children required a lot of attention and energy. Despite his many financial blessings, those were both things he did not have in excess.

If it weren’t for that fact, he would have been more reticent to let the miner’s sons around his children as much. However, due to his heavy work demands, the miner’s boys turned out to be quite the blessing. Ty and E.J. kept his children occupied, so he was able to work the land uninterrupted.

While he worked the four kids played. They ran in the fields. They played around the house, and they climbed trees in the orchard. The farm was substantial. There was no shortage of things for the children to do as long as they had each other to keep them company.

The kids also played down by the brook, near where the horses were stabled and watered. Down the path from the farm-house there was a small wooden bridge that crossed the brook to the where the steeds and mares rested at the end of long days working the fields.

Charity was always last to leave at the end of the day, as the boys stayed and relished in their kinship with the farmer’s two children, Ginny and James. On most evenings, E.J. would lead the faithful horse to the miner’s humble home with Ty on her back.

boys playing in field

A handful of years passed by in what seemed a blink. The older three children were now teenagers; Ty would soon be one as well. The four kids grew up close friends. They knew each other as well as they knew their own sibling. It was almost as if all four were in fact siblings.

While the quiet country mining town slowly welcomed the future, not much changed in the farmer’s or miner’s families’ lives.

The miner still worked below ground. He had since been promoted to foreman. Even so, the improvement in status and title only modestly improved his pay. The meager additional money he earned would be squandered much the same as any other he had previously received. Unfortunately for the miner and his sons, that was just his way.

The farmer still ran his vast farm. He had acquired some extra land and hired on more employees, and he still continued his business dealing with the miner for the use of Charity, his horse.

The farmer never truly cared for the miner’s sons, or even liked them much, but he tolerated them. He enjoyed the cheap labor Charity provided him. The farmer was as shrewd a businessman as the miner was not. The farmer knew the miner was spending as much or more as he consigned the horse for to feed and board her at home.

The farmer never made any attempts to hide his subtle condescension of the miner or his boys when he spoke to E.J. or Ty. He spoke more overtly when he speaking about them to his own brood.

In the ensuing years, a wealthy out of state family purchased the land up the road from the farmer’s estate. They didn’t buy their land to run a farm, as the farmer did. To them it was just a symbol of their prosperity and status. They just wanted to own the land. There was a lot of this societal transition happening in these parts. Whether or not the town and the men resisted, the future was approaching.

The new family up the road had twin boys. They were a few months younger than the farmer’s son, James. The twins were not nice to the poorer miner’s sons. They felt E.J. and Ty were beneath them, a fact they were not shy in sharing with James, Ginny, and the miner’s sons themselves.

The twins attempted to exclude E.J. and Ty from play. They teased them about their financial situation, as well as the fact that their mother had walked out on them. Occasionally, they even threw stones and brandished sticks at them in imperious games of their own creation.

Ginny resisted the twins’ consistent pushes to pick on E.J. and Ty. She regularly defended her close friends. Countless times in the past they had proven themselves to the girl, so she stood up against the twins’ incursions. She would suggest that she and the miner’s sons abandon play with James and his two bully friends.

James, however, took to the twins immediately. They were speaking his language. He had grown bored of babysitting his younger sister and the miner’s boys, as he put it. The twins were shiny and new, and that was the way the world was becoming off the farm, away from the children’s time together. The twins gave James glimpses of a life outside of his own on the farm through their lavish material possessions and constant reminders of their elevated status.

James grew apart from his sister and the miner’s boys after the twins came on the scene. He and the twins would go off to shoot pellet guns and .22’s at the wildlife around the estate. Sometimes they even shot the pellet guns at each other. Yelps could be heard from a distance as one or the other would get a BB to his buttocks or some other random limb.

On occasion the three would turn their barrels toward the miner’s boys. Again they pretended it was in jest, but it was obvious the behavior was derived out of maliciousness. They mocked it as just another game, but the twins and James were the only ones enjoying the action.

James continued to grow increasingly distant and callous as the kids all grew older together. He seemed to take his father’s apathy and disregard of the poor boys as permission to treat them cruelly. Be that as it may, James was much worse than his father, especially when no one but the kids were around. His treatment was only exacerbated and encouraged in the presence of his newer friends.

E.J. and Ty would have abandoned the farmstead long ago, had it not been for their their affinity towards Ginny, and their attachment to the horse their mother had loved so dearly.

An ever-increasing fondness grew between E.J. and the girl he had known and grown up with for so long. The two were no longer seeing each other as brother and sister. Their friendship had grown into something else entirely. Their connections had become more flirtatious and much less platonic, although their feelings toward each other were never vocalized.

James inevitably became irritated and angry at his sister choosing the side of the poor boys. But he would always stop just short of becoming physical towards her, or in her presence. He cared about his sister. Plus, if he ever laid hands on her, he would feel his father’s wrath, as he had many times prior for far smaller infractions.

School let out one muggy afternoon and the six adolescents returned to the farm as usual. James and the twins walked ahead, snickering amongst themselves. Ginny, E.J., and Ty ambled behind, enjoying each others’ company and the fall day.

When back to the farm, the farmer’s daughter and the miner’s sons decided on throwing stones into the brook from the farmhouse-side. James and twins loaded their .22 rifles, deciding to hunt some rabbits that had been eating the fruit crop. James’ father had recently been complaining about losing some of the fruit to the vermin. The boys brought their guns to the top of the hill between the brook and the farm-house.

At first the twins and James kept to themselves. One would point to something out of view and the three would proceed to pull triggers and hoot and laugh until they had struck or missed whatever it was they had struck or missed.

One of the twins grew bored. He stared off in the direction of the rented horses that were resting on the other side of the stream down the hill. He raised the barrel of his gun in the direction he had been looking and pulled his trigger. The bullet clipped the roof of the open-air stable and ricocheted off in some random direction. His brother and James guffawed encouragingly.

Ty, E.J., and Ginny’s eyes shot up in the direction of the stable, where the sound had emanated. Then they glanced up the hill to the three other boys, malicious smirks on each of their face. The twin who fired the shot stared directly at them, unapologetic. His eyes dared them to say something to him.

Ty was first to react. “Hey!” he yelled, “What you trying to do?”

The young man raised his gun again and settled into his aim a bit more than before. Ty sensed he was going to hurt one of the horses and took off at a sprint across the small bridge toward the stable.

E.J. concurrently took aim with the rock he was holding in his hand. He pulled his hand behind his head and pitched the stone in the twin’s direction. Seconds later the rock struck the side of the offending twin’s neck and his gun flew from his hands just as he pulled the trigger. The small caliber bullet fired into nothing in the distance.

The boy let out a yelp. He grabbed his neck where the rock had struck and howled again. He let out a stream of cuss-words that were not uncommon within his vernacular. However, they were pronounced in a much different tone this time.

James decided to act in defense of his buddy. He lifted his own rifle in the direction of the stable as well. He gun aimed directly at Charity.

Ty was just reaching the pen, and he stopped in front of his horse. The youngest boy threw out his arms and legs wide to block any further incoming shots at his treasured mare. “Don’t shoot her!” he called out. His face was furious, but tears were filling the bottoms of his eyes. “She’s all we have of our ma,” He continued, much quieter than before.

“I don’t even have a memory of her anymore…” his voice got even lower at this. Salty-water ran down both his cheeks at his thoughts and the rush of emotions.

James pointed his gun lower slightly. The barrel was pointed lazily at the ground in between them. He and the second twin guffawed at the youngest boy and his foolish heroism. James raised the gun again in the direction of boy and the horse. Ty held his ground, and his rage.

E.J. and Ginny ran up the hill toward the three boys. E.J. didn’t think, and he didn’t hesitate. He ran full-out up to the boys on the hillside. When he reached them he cocked his arm back and punched the second twin in the side of his face. This caused him to drop his lowered rifle to the ground.

James attempted to round his barrel in E.J.’s direction, but the miner’s son was too fast. E.J. grabbed the rifle with one hand by the end of the barrel. He yanked it with ease from the farmer’s son’s relaxed grip. James attempted to resist and hang on to it, but his footing slipped. He then fell forward face-first into the grass.

E.J. repositioned the rifle in his hands as the twins each went after their expelled guns. E.J. pointed his sight at one and then the other and said, “Don’t even,” thoroughly menacingly.

As James was getting up to his knees, E.J. booted him cleanly in the center of his chest. He fell over backwards, this time with significantly more force.

“Ty, c’mere!” E.J. hollered down to his brother by the stables. He was now moving the barrel of the rifle from one to the others of each of the three boys’ heads.

“Step away from those, you two.” he said coolly to the twins. The twins backed away from the guns on the ground slowly, one held his hands high above his head.

“Git!” E.J. bellowed as he sent a warning shot into the sky above the boys’ heads. The twin who fired the first shot at the stable took off toward the road without looking back. The other hesitated for a brief moment, considering the situation. He looked down at James before running off in the direction of the farmhouse.

“E.J.!” Ginny cried out to her friend, taking in the gravity of the moment, “they were just playing. Don’t shoot him!”

Ty arrived up on the hillside. Struggling between short breaths he said, “Thanks, E.”

“Grab those rifles there,” E.J. nodded towards the guns on the grass. His concentration and gun stayed steadily on James. “You were going to shoot,” he stated to his ex-friend. It wasn’t a question. It was a conclusive statement.

For once, Ginny was forced to her brother’s aid and defense. “E.J., let him go. Please.”

Ty got to E.J.’s side after retrieving the guns. He held the rifles awkwardly across his chest. “Here,” E.J. said as he placed the last rifle on the top of the others. Ty had to adjust the arm over the top. “Go stash these.”

Ty ran off back down the hill and across the bridge towards the stable. James, Ginny, and E.J. were all alone on the hillside. James felt emboldened now that he didn’t have a loaded gun pointed in his face. “You think I don’t know about you and her. You’re not worthy of her. You and your brother are nothing!” he continued, but turned his head toward Ginny. “She’s slumming…the slut.”

Ginny’s face went beet red. All the sisterly defensive emotion of just seconds ago escaped her. She walked up to her brother, who was still clutching a hand over his chest where he had been kicked. Ginny raised a hand to her side and swung it into a cracking slap across her brother’s face.

James didn’t flinch. He had hardened against the strike. Despite the obvious force and hatred within it, he pretended not to feel the blow. He immediately raised his own hand and swung a backhand across the face of his younger sister. His strike was louder and much more violent than Ginny’s. The girl let out a whimper and fell to the ground. Silent tears followed for the girl.

Enraged further, E.J. dove at James. He wrapped his arms around the older boy’s midsection. The two tumbled to the ground. E.J.’s eyes went blank as he mounted James and proceeded to pound the farmer’s son. He clobbered the boy’s face with alternating fists. One after another of E.J.’s punches landed. A few went wild and missed James, merely grazing his face, but the majority were on their mark.

After a few strikes James was dazed, recognition had fled from his eyes. A few more punches and his face was bloodied and battered. The farmer’s son went unconscious.

Ginny got to her feet and regained her senses. She was witnessing the boy she had such deep affection towards pummeling her older brother. She called out to E.J. to cease his assault, but he could not hear her through his frenzied fury.

Ginny attempted to restrain E.J. from behind before he could harm her brother any further. She got hit in the face by his arm as it cocked back to rain down more blows. She ignored the new pain in her face from the punch as she wrapped her arms around her friend.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. You can stop now.” The girl’s voice was low, defeated, beaten, but her closest friend in the world inside of this berserk young man had heard her as his left hand rose for yet another hammer-fist.

E.J. held his hand in the air for a moment before dropping it limply to his side. He sighed, exhaling deeply. Blood had covered the face of the unconscious James below. Ginny’s arms stayed wrapped around E.J.

Tears were in the miner’s son’s eyes as well. Regret and guilt settled into the home inside him where the rage had just left. E.J. went still.

Ginny attempted to send love into her friend, but the gesture was as empty as the emotions now inside of the young man. She was too worried about James’s state. She left go of E.J. and they just sat there for another moment.

Acceptance arose to replace the regret inside E.J. He rose to his feet and used his blood-covered forearm to wipe the tears from his eyes. James’ residual blood burned more than the tears had moments ago.

“Ty!” E.J. called out without looking in the direction of his brother. He knew his younger brother had been watching from behind the hay stacks near the horses. “Grab Charity. We’re leaving.”

Ginny exhaled then and began to sob. She tried inhale deeply, but her breath was choked by her anguish. Acceptance of the situation entered her body with the weight of the humid late spring air. The two knew their relationship would never again be the same.

With fists sore from the beating he had just doled out, E.J. slowly rose to his feet. “I won’t be coming back, Gin. I can’t…not after this. Come with me, please?”

“I can’t,” the girl replied between sobs. “They need me here.”

“Please…,” the miner’s elder son pleaded again, but this time much more weakly. He already knew her answer. “We care way more about you than they ever will.” His last words were spoken with a dried blood covered finger pointing down towards the red and swollen face of the girl’s brother below.

“They’re…they’re all I’ve got…”

“You’ve got me…You’ve got us, me and Ty.”

“No…I can’t…I won’t.”

James knew the girl didn’t see things as he did in this moment. They were no longer on the same page, as they had been for so long before.

He turned his back on his old friends and clambered slowly down the hill in the direction of the bridge, his brother and horse on the other side. E.J. was confused, and lost in his thoughts. His mind had become a jumbled mess. He didn’t hear the farmer running down the hill from his house to where his son now layed. His daughter was kneeling over his boy, a few steps away.

The grizzled man paused briefly, appraising the situation. The twin who had run toward the house had informed the farmer of the altercation. He was arriving much slower, walking simpering behind him.

The farmer looked down upon his bloodied son on the ground, and his daughter with her swollen, bruised face. Rage boiled in his veins and his face went red. He went to go after the miner’s son who was just arriving at the small wooden bridge below. Ginny grabbed his arm. “Let him go, pa. James and them started this.”

The farmer yanked his arm free of his daughter’s weak grip. “And I’m here to finish it.”

E.J. had just reached the bridge when he realized the old man was coming down the hill behind him with a larger rifle of his own in his hands. “Ty, go hide yourself.” The miner’s son turned toward the farmer and put his hands out in front of him.

Ty did as his brother bid for a fourth time that afternoon. He returned to hide behind the stacked up hay, a mere twenty-five yards past the bridge.

“You!” the farmer yelled after him, “Look what ya did to my boy!” E.J. backed slowly onto the bridge’s old weather-beaten planks.

The farmer stopped and raised his barrel to the sky and fired a shot into the air. It made the sound of thunder that wasn’t thunder as it blast overhead. Some black birds yelped in protest. They batted their wings and scattered from the treetops. E.J. ceased his backpedaling. He lacked the energy to fight anymore. He was completely drained

The farmer lowered his barrel and pointed it directly at the boy’s head. Anger still covered his visage. “Sir, I meant no quarrel. Yer boy hit…” The thunder that wasn’t thunder interrupted the boy mid-sentence, as the farmer pulled the trigger of his shotgun again.

The back of James head blast apart. Brain, skull, and blood shot out in all directions behind him. E.J.’s body sank to its knees before falling over sideways. It slumped lifeless off the bridge and into the brook.

Ty was peering out from around the side of the stacked up hay, barely hidden. He witnessed his brother’s murder and couldn’t contain himself. He let out a yelp. He had caught himself by putting a fist into his mouth, but it was too late. The farmer heard him. Now the man was looking right at the spot where Ty’s head was just a moment ago, peeking out from behind the stacked hay.

“Hey you, boy! C’mere.” the farmer called, attempting to sound calm.

Ty stayed put. His eyes refilled with salty water. He quickly reviewed the previous moment in his head. The boy knew his brother was dead.

The man crossed the bridge, stepping past E.J.’s face-down floating body. The back of his head no longer resembled anything like a human head after the close-range buckshot impact. The old man proceeded towards the hay bales.

As the farmer rounded the corner of the stacks another loud crack pierced the air of the farm. The farmer dropped his shotgun to the ground. He lifted his hand to the hole that had just appeared in his sternum. Blood immediately spurted out of it.

Ty had grabbed one of the boys’ guns that he had stashed earlier between in the hay as the man was coming after him. A look of surprise came across the farmer’s face briefly before he dropped to his knees. The surprise was immediately followed by the look of grief as the farmer recognized he was dying.

The farmer opened his mouth to say something, but no words escaped his mouth, only a stream of blood. It cascaded down the side of his face and into the collar of his plaid shirt. He fell against the hay stacks just before his life exited his body abruptly.

Despite his young age, Ty was aware he needed to act quickly. He picked up the farmer’s shotgun and one of the .22’s, and placed them in the bag already slung behind his horse’s saddle. The horse had been spooked by the gunshots, but the boy’s presence had calmed her just enough to not run off.

Ty ran over to the fence gate, unlatched it, and flung it open. He ran back to Charity, grabbed the reigns and slung himself over the old mare’s side and onto the saddle. It was the first time he done so without the assistance of his brother or his father. The boy rode out of the farm and away from the town.

Ty rode for two whole days before stopping. He didn’t break to eat, or drink, or even piss. On the night of the second day he finally stopped; partly due to his falling asleep from exhaustion while riding, and partly because he knew Charity was spent as well. She had been such an amazing, obedient, and good horse to him.

Ty saw to Charity getting some water. He nicked some carrots from a farm they had just passed. He gave a couple to Charity before sitting against the fence with the last carrot, uninterested in eating it. For the first time since he watched E.J. get shot, he cried again.

Ty’s crotch was sore from riding for so long. It had become red and raw. However, it didn’t hurt him near as much as his recollection of losing his brother. Nothing would ever hurt him as much seeing E.J.’s head blown apart.

After their rest, Ty and Charity traveled on some more. They survived off the food Ty dug out of trash cans, as well as what he could steal without getting caught. The two rode for another year. The horse had already lived for many years, and had become weak and weary from the many miles. She couldn’t travel with him any further.

Ty buried the last remnant of his family, and his past, and continued on. No matter how far the young man traveled to escape his memories, he could never evade his recurring dreams of that day. The nighttime recollections of that scene from the farm played out over and over again when he drifted to sleep.

Ty wouldn’t sleep much after that day. He knew he would never escape those dreams of his past.

Chapter 7:


Dreams come and go.

Yet sometimes, dreams linger long after the dreamer awakens.

Some people think dreams send messages the conscious mind will not otherwise see.

Others believe the dream itself is the message, in its entirety.

The message communicated through these types of dreams is considered prophetic.

It’s vision most people cannot see.

A subtle breeze swept across the makeshift campsite. The embers of the dying fire flickered and popped.

Ty peered through his drowsy eyelids. The light from the modest campfire had begun to fizzle and fade. Night was about to give way to the oncoming day.

A few times throughout the night Ty considered letting the fire die and giving in to his ever-escalating exhaustion. But he didn’t want to sleep.

Each time, the drifter instead threw another log or two onto the fire.

Ty was many things, but he was not unrealistic. He would succumb and fall asleep for a couple hours tomorrow night or the next, but not tonight. He would sleep eventually, but sleep meant dreams.

Ty’s dreams weren’t pleasant. A brother shot in the face, silently judging him, a murder committed a lifetime ago, and many other miscellaneous losses of innocence from throughout his life all turned up eventually; whenever the young traveler decided to let the impulsive need to recharge through unconscious rest win over.

The young vagrant stirred while he lay on his side. As always, this night had been a long one. Yet, this past evening was incredibly peaceful. It seemed different from many of the others on the road. It was near time to get up and move on.

The moment Ty arrived at his decision to break camp an ethereal wind passed through the meadow, hiding deep within this rural forest. A charred log crackled, reinvigorating the moribund fire. The gust was just strong enough to stoke the flames back to life. The blaze rose far too high, considering just the one blackened log was all that fueled it.

Ty’s consciousness snapped back into his body. He rose lazily into a sitting position.

The orange-red flame coiled and twisted in the air. Ty wondered whether he was actually awake, or if he was just having a rare dream that didn’t involve the details from the worst memories of his life.

The fire seemed to stretch and fold over upon itself. Lengths of it fell and settled on the ground below. Each section layered on top of the one before, forming a stack. The longest strands of flame lay on the bottom, each above shorter than the last, until a pyramid formed inside the ashen fire-pit.

The tip of the newly constructed pyramid of blaze rose from its coiled base below. It rounded into an oblong shape and stretched upward. The lengthy inferno began to sway somewhat. Then it folded over into a point and unmistakably faced Ty, who sat cross-legged in the dirt and weeds.

The swaying tip of the flame formed into a serpent’s head. The snake had midnight black eyes. Only the reflection of the flame body below showed.

The flame-beast pivoted its ophidian head slightly as if it were stretching its neck. The snake yawned, revealing four fangs the same black as its eyes. A yellow-orange bifurcated tongue rose from the gaping depth that was the back of its throat.

It closed its mouth as if the fire animal had been corporeal the entire time. The tongue exited and reentered the mouth as if in some unheard rhythm. The tip of the flame-snake’s tail rose from behind itself. A moment later it appeared to Ty to be a rattle, the next second the form blurred in the inferno.

The snake stared into Ty’s cold brown eyes, and Ty stared back, unflinching and unafraid.

The young man shifted in his seat. He was uneasy around snakes. It was obvious to him that this snake was either a figment of his imagination, or an odd dream.

The flame-snake emitted a low, but deep, echoing hiss. As if it were momentarily a normal fire, the flames of its body shook as the next breeze rolled through it.

Then, as if inhaling while forming its words, the snake spoke to Ty. “You…” It struggled, as though it were learning to use its serpent mouth to make human sounds.

“Sssshe will need you…” the snake hissed on. “You mussst go to her…Find her…You will need her asssss well…”

The snake’s voice echoed off into the distant edge of the woods. Ty processed what he was seeing, and what he had just heard. He continued to stare unblinking, and non-emotive. The flames flickered. For a moment it was more fire than snake.

After a few seconds passed Ty finally replied to the fire snake, “Is this real?..Are you…real?”

“I am,” the echo-hiss acknowledged.

“Am I dreaming?”

“You are…” it went on, “Thisss isss a true dream, and at once-ssss, no dream.”

The snake hesitated. It’s head glanced some point in the distance. Ty continued listening, and watching.

“Heed thessse words, traveler…The girl needsss you…You mussst ssssave her…Sssshe issss in danger…Only sssshe can ssssave you…Only sssshe can ssssave ussss.”

The flame snake looked off in the distance again, and then, instantaneously, the charred log burst apart. The blaze petered off into sparks and smoke.

The flame snake was no more. The remains of the fire spread into a final choking gasp of oxygen. Only dim orange embers remained in the pale of the breaking daylight.

“I don’t understand.” Ty spoke impatiently into the gray-white smoke that remained. The snake had been there just a moment before.

Ty stood up and peered off through the trees. The sun’s fingernail edge was rising in the east. “Leave me be, dreams.” Ty spoke into the sunrise. “Go bother someone else.”

Chapter 8:


Is this real?

Dreams have a peculiar means of getting dreamers to ask that very question.

The simple answer is yes.

Although dreams do not have mass, they are indeed experiences, and experiences are tangible.

Dreams can also become memories, and memories are real as well.

Dreams are as real as anything else in the world.

Gigi was right, of course. The traveler was at the exact coordinates the woman had said he would be at. Glitch found the clearing deep in that forest with relative ease. All he had to do was be there and wait.

The traveler nearly spotted Glitch too. Luckily Gigi had warned him about the kid, and his propensity to not be seen by other people. Thanks to her tutelage, his increasing comfort in his ability gave him the confidence to use his skill to hide himself from the young man’s paranoid eyes.

The tall, slender man stood sat not sixty yards from the campfire, and the young traveler. Internally, a great battle ensued between his boredom and thirst. Still, he stood there and stayed silent, just as his mentor had told him to.

It had to be just before sunrise, Gigi had expressed. As usual, he didn’t know why it had to be a certain way or at a certain time, but he had seen more than enough to trust her implicitly.

As he watched from between the trees at a distance, Glitch didn’t see anything impressive about the boy. For some reason Gigi thought this kid was special. He didn’t exhibit any powers though, and that was unusual for her. All Glitch saw was the traveler brood, and grumble at the sunrise.

The campfire was days ago. He would be contacted again soon for his next assignment if he didn’t return to Refuge on his own volition. Right now he would drink. He wasn’t quite sure when he would get around to going back.

Things used to be different. Gigi used to be so passionate about helping people like Glitch learn about themselves and their powers. It didn’t seem like that anymore, not since they found the writer. Everything’s been a mission since then, and that wasn’t what Glitch had signed on for.

Glitch shifted his weight on the cracked vinyl seat of the bar stool. He had spent the last few hours feeling like he needed a drink. He was happier now, having one in his hand. Glitch took another sip of his clear Ron Junio tequila.

The dark brown wood of the bar was sticky. It was grimy where the flat top of the bar met the curved, downward-sloping accents. It probably hadn’t been cleaned in years, but they were serving, so this was Glitch’s kind of place.

The volumes on the TVs above the bar were turned up high. They blared over the boisterous, drunken locals. Having the televisions turned up so much only caused the other patrons to raise their voices even more. Human psychology was certainly funny like that. It surprised Glitch how little of it bartenders understood, considering their ability to milk sizable tips from the many suckers that bought drinks off them each evening.

Until recently, Glitch had just seen his ability as a neat parlor trick. Sometimes it even allowed him to grift a few bucks, or an occasional meal, but now his power was growing into something far greater. The asp had crushed his preconception of what he thought he was capable of. The fire snake was on a whole other level. Gigi seemed right about his potential as well.

Glitch took another pull from his tequila.

The man called Glitch used to be a regular Joe. In fact, his parents had named him the most generic name he had ever heard, Joseph Johnson. He hadn’t used that name since he was discovered by his comrades.

With the very few exceptional moments, Glitch saw himself as he was, a loser. He felt if anyone looked up normal, plain, or undesirable in the dictionary, there would be his picture right next to the definition.

Every now and again Glitch snuck a glance over at the group of belligerent girls further down the bar. They wore very revealing clothing, and he didn’t mind the show. They didn’t pay him any mind though.

Twice now Glitch made eye contact with the barkeep when his drinks got low. This time he ordered his third drink, before losing himself again in the thoughts of the previous evening and his stake-out of the drifter.

The fire snake was all his own doing. He was felt proud of himself for producing such an intricate projection. He now knew that he was capable of accomplishing feats previously only imagined in science fiction.

It was too bad he couldn’t do more than visually bring the fire snake to life. As was expected and inevitable, Glitch’s disappointment in himself pushed out the short-lived celebratory emotions. It was just too easy to slip back into his comfortable state of melancholy.

His job was done for now. Glitch would have to return to Refuge soon. Gigi would want to brief him on the state of the powered peoples’ world, before sending him out on his next super-human mission. He had little interest in orders and plans at the moment though.

For now his drink would suffice. He downed a generous gulp. Keeping the glass up by his mouth, he looked at the last bit of liquid at the bottom of the glass. Then he set it on the sticky bar in front of him.

The bartender wore a dark blue T-shirt that was a size too small for his muscular frame. The shirt featured the image of some ridiculous superhero wearing a cape, and posing with his fists on his hips. Above the picture it read “Who else is EFFECTED?” Slurred curse words and fake laughter came from the group of girls down the bar. Glitch sucked his teeth in contempt.

He kept thinking about the campfire, and of the traveler. Glitch picked up his glass and downed the last few drops. It was time to put on another show.

The soccer match on the television closest to Glitch had just ended. The customary post-match commercials began.

The mega-corporation VIM Inc.’s red, white, and blue logo took over the screen. The logo and music was followed by a clip of billionaire inventor, Seth Stanton, VIM’s controller, holding onto some elaborate tech. He was supposedly teaching some hand-selected under-served youths. They were all smiling. Stanton’s smile seemed curiously hollow somehow.

Glitch didn’t know what any of the devices in the commercial did. He wasn’t even interested in the advert. Yet, something about the billionaire’s presence on the screen kept his attention glued to the monitor.

Glitch stared blankly as the screen. Then Stanton looked directly into the camera, as if back at him behind the bar.

The controller stood there silently for a moment longer. He tapped the side of his head twice, above his ear, before bringing his index finger up to his lips and made the ubiquitous gesture of don’t tell anyone. The feed returned to the post-game pundits’ commentary.

What the fuck? Glitch thought to himself. He must have gotten himself drunker than he realized. That third drink was obviously affecting him.

Glitch made eye-contact with the bartender a final time that evening, and asked “Can I get the check?”

The young man tapped some keys on his POS screen before a white receipt printed noisily appeared from its slot. The man placed the check on a small shiny black tray with one of a credit card company’s logo on it. He slid it across the bar to Glitch with a nod.

Maybe it’s all for the better, Glitch thought to himself. After all, he used to be plain old Joseph Johnson. He was a fucking nobody. He used to pump gas, sell lottery tickets, and clean graffiti and shit off of gas station bathroom walls. He hadn’t used that name in a long time, and now, as Glitch, he wrote his own checks, so-to-speak.

Glitch squeezed his eyes shut tightly. Then he reopened them and stared ahead.

A shrill scream filled the establishment’s dingy interior. The shriek was followed by the sound of a dropped beer bottle braking as it hit the floor. Both came from the drunk girls he had been watching before.

The lushes jumped back from the bar, revealing what had scared them so abruptly. An abnormally large rat ambled on top of the bar. It twitched its whiskers and ate from a spilled bowl of stale bar snacks.

The bartender stood dumbfounded for a moment before jumping into action. He snatched up his small broom from behind the bar, in the corner, and began swatting it at the large rodent on the bar, yelling Shoo! repeatedly.

The rat hissed at him and bared its teeth. The bartender jumped back. The rat then did the same towards the scattering drunk girls.

Glitch squeezed his eyes closed once more, and again reopened them. A fifty dollar bill appeared on the top to the black tray in front of him. Glitch stood up, grabbed his dirty brown coat off the stool next to him, and walked out of the bar.

The heavy black door slammed shut behind him. There were white graffiti tags on the building’s front windows. The place was a dump. He was surely going to miss it.

Glitch headed down the quiet street on foot. The bar’s door flung open behind him. He pressed on, bracing himself for the familiar yell of the confused, yet equally stiffed bartender. No yelling followed. He ignored the hurried footsteps behind him.

“That was a cute trick you pulled in there,” spoke a man’s raspy voice as he tried to keep up with Glitch’s long strides. Glitch just kept on walking.

“Seriously, that’s was cool. You’re going to have to show me how you did that sometime. I’d even pay for your drinks to see that trick again.” The man’s voice trailed off, it was replaced by a cold chuckling. Glitch ignored the man and continued down the road.

The man stopped his attempt to keep up. “Joseph Johnson, I’m talking to you. Damn! Don’t be rude.”

Hearing his old, unused name gave him pause. Glitch ceased walking. He finally turned to face the man.

The man was very short, about half of Glitch’s height. He had tattoos of flames all over his face and hands.

“My name used to be James. Now they call me Swelter.”

Chapter 9:

In Dream

purple hand

For much of the past several weeks Sierra Stewart had been avoiding sleep. Her mother, Janice, hadn’t failed to notice the dark circles under her silent daughter’s eyes when she entered Sierra’s room.

As she always did after she had woken up, Janice showered and then had her first cup of coffee in the silence downstairs. Stephen, her husband and Sierra’s father, had left for work before Janice had awoke.

Sierra’s eyelids twitched and then drooped lazily. The girl was awake, but in an obviously exhausted daze. Sierra had been desperately avoiding sleep because sleep meant dreams. Dreams hadn’t been very good to her since that creep had infiltrated them.

Every time Sierra slept she dreamed, and every time she dreamed she couldn’t resist the urge and impulse to use her dream and reality altering ability. Each time she chose to use her power since that night when she resurrected the ladybug, the purple figure had penetrated her dream, and each time a bit more deeply than the last. It always threatened and teased the quiet girl inside her dreams.

This morning Janice got Sierra dressed as they normally did. Janice brushed the sleep out of her daughter’s eyes, brushed the knots from her hair, and brushed her teeth.

The two then went downstairs to the kitchen. Sierra sat at the round wooden kitchen table with her back to the windows that looked out at the street in front, as she did most mornings. She would bring a different book each morning from off Janice’s bookshelf in the basement. This morning it was Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman. Sierra read quietly from the large tome.

Janice was always somewhere between amused and curious if Sierra was actually absorbing anything from the words on the pages she stared at. After all, the girl had just turned five, and Janice read to her plenty, but Sierra never spoke, so the girl’s mother could never be quite sure.

Janice put on her white lace apron and hummed while she made some scrambled eggs and toast as she did most mornings. She flipped the eggs and buttered the toast before placing them on hers’ and her daughter’s plates. She squirted a dollop of ketchup on Sierra’s eggs. The air coming out of the bottle sounding like flatulence. Janice chuckled as she looked over to Sierra. She expected to see the girl amused. The girl didn’t bat an eyelash, let alone raise her eyes from the page they were set on. Janice sighed heavily.

Shortly after the two set out for their daily trip across town. Janice was caretaker for an elderly couple. She was lucky that the couple was pleasant enough around Sierra and willing to let her stay while Janice cooked and helped the two into and out of their chairs in the living room or bedroom. It didn’t hurt that Sierra was so quiet. Most days the couple’s growing senility made it that they didn’t even notice the girl was there at all.

Janice and Sierra had to take the bus back across town to get to the Macarthurs. The bus stop wasn’t far from the Stewarts’ residence, so Janice and Sierra walked to it each morning that the weather wasn’t outrageous.

The girls put on their fall coats and sneakers. Janice grabbed an umbrella just in case that ominous gray sky meant rain. She place the umbrella under her arm and fumbled to get her key in the door knob, before locking the front door.

The two climbed down the four stairs from their house and set out to cross the quiet cul-de-sac. They rounded the grassy circle where the other neighborhood kids would play after school and on days off. Sierra and Janice walked leisurely past the several other identical townhouse buildings before they arrived at the paved hill at the end. They climbed it and turned left down the street at the top.

Two houses down from the end of the girls’ street they arrived as always at a mid-height chain link fence. Janice breathed deeply as she prepared to pass the house and yard beyond it. Sierra glanced up at her mother for a brief moment.

Janice instinctively and reactively clutched her free hand to her chest and prepared herself. They hadn’t gone three paces along the fence when a familiar growling came from the far side of the house just beyond. A large brown bull mastiff rounded the corner of the small gray-walled two story. It began barking as it ran right in their direction.

Aside from this house and its dog, the community was quiet and peaceful. Their walk would have been as well, however each morning, and again in the afternoon, the girls would be accosted by this large canine beast.

Janice’s mind would fill with terror as she recalled previous incidents as well as the unrelated past dog attacks from her youth. The large brown beast would bound at them, as it did right now. Each time Janice would instinctively jump back in a defensive panic.

As the mastiff reached the fence it violently slammed its front paws against the wire fence. It reached high enough that Janice assumed it could leap over it if it really desired to.

Thankfully the heavy dog never did, but the loud sound it made as its weight slammed against the metal links only served to make her imagine what the weight of the dog would be like if it jumped on her.

Janice couldn’t decide what was worse, the fright she received from the large dog and its enmity, or the presence of its aging overweight owners, sitting idly by in witness. The two sat in their ugly white and blue patio chairs in the front of the house, underneath the second floor overhang. The man and woman seemed to relish the spooked reaction Janice produce each time she had to pass.

This morning Janice murmured to herself and ambled on. Sierra stopped her gait and just stood staring at the barking dog up against the fence. The bull continued its bombardment of barks and growls in attempt to threaten the little girl. Sierra was unmoved.

The girl moved her gaze past the jumping and barking mastiff to the fat owners smugly chuckling on the cement patio. Sierra stood for a long moment, statuesque.

The woman stopped laughing first, and contorted her face into a wrinkled frown. The man stopped laughing just after. From their body language it was obvious that the two were uncomfortable by the ensuing silence.

“She’s a creepy little thing. Ain’t she, Harold?” the fat woman intoned. Harold nodded his head slowly, and just stared back at the small girl.

“C’mon, baby.” Janice had only just realized that Sierra had stopped following her. Her daughter was still near the angry animal. “Leave that dog alone, ‘fore it eats you.”

She doubled back and approached Sierra. The mother reached out her fingers and tickled Sierra’s belly and growled. Sierra looked up at her mother with that typical impassive expression.

Janice took one final look at the dog. “Jeez!” she said, more to herself than to Sierra or the dog. The bull was still growling, but it had run out of the energy it needed to continue jumping and barking. Janice gently grabbed Sierra’s arm and pulled her along.

That afternoon the obese couple was nowhere to be found, but the dog still accosted Sierra and Janice. They hurried past the fenced-in yard.

The girls arrived back at their home and had an uneventful afternoon. There were chores and cooking for Janice, and quiet playtime in the townhouse’s grassy backyard for Sierra.

Janice had brought up Sierra’s lack of sleep to Stephen over dinner. Stephen agreed. He recognized that he couldn’t miss the fact that Sierra had consistently been awake when he decided to call it quits for the night, despite the long off-hours he had spent in his basement workshop,. It didn’t matter whether it was 1:00, 3:00, or 5:00 AM.

Janice voiced her unease at the situation, “It’s not healthy for her not to sleep. Her little body needs rest. It cannot regenerate itself without sleep.” Stephen nodded, but his mind was elsewhere. Janice shot a disappointed look at her husband. She knew he was in his own world.

Stephen distantly responded moments later, “We’ll take her to see Dr. Feld…Maybe a sleep specialist as well…And VIM might have something that can help her as well. I’ll ask around tomorrow”

“You know how I feel about too much tech in this house, Steve,” Janice answered back. She had already moved past her prior disappointment, “especially around a growing and developing child.”

Stephen didn’t respond. He just picked up another bite of Janice’s baked ziti and chewed it thoughtfully. Janice sighed deeply. All three finished the pasta and salad in thick silence.

After dinner Stephen got Sierra ready for bed. He helped her change into her unicorn print pajama pants and her “Every day is a gift!” tank top. He sat on the edge of the bed and guided Sierra in between his legs facing away and brushed her long, beautiful golden hair.

The two went into the bathroom and brushed the young girl’s teeth. Stephen pulled something out of the medicine cabinet. He peered down the hall outside the bathroom door in both directions. Once he had decided Janice was not within earshot he ducked back inside and filled a glass with water from the bathroom sink. He then opened a small orange tube and dropped something inside the glass. It quickly dissolved as bubbles rose to the surface at the top.

Stephen grabbed Sierra’s hand and walked her back to her bedroom holding the glass. “Cici, baby, drink this.”

Despite him being unaware of it, Sierra understood what her father had done. The girl was so very worn out. She felt her body telling her that she needed the rest. She hoped whatever he had dropped in the water would send her into a deep enough sleep that she couldn’t possibly dream. She drank the whole glass down without pause.

“Good job, sweetie.” Stephen commended his daughter. “Now lay down and go to sleep. Have pleasant dreams.”

Sierra was wrong. She would not sleep deep enough to avoid a dream this evening. She would sleep, and she would dream…

And Stephen was wrong. Sierra wouldn’t have pleasant dreams either…


Similar to most recent nights, Sierra tried to resist the pull of her exhaustion and sleep. The pill her father had dropped into her water was just too strong though. A few minutes after he had turned the light out and left, she began to do the repetitive dance of dozing and shaking herself awake. Eventually her tiredness won out and the girl fell into a deep drowsing slumber.

This night Sierra dreamed of her home. She was on her front porch. Everything seemed so familiar. Except it wasn’t. The backgrounds blurred along her peripheral vision as she rotated to take in the scene. Everything was black, white, and shades of gray.

Her neighborhood was usually quiet during the day, but now it was eerily silent. There were no birds singing in the trees beyond the fence. There were no cars zooming past the end of her street up the hill above. Everything was still, vacant.

Sierra recognized that she was in dream. She immediately resisted the impulse to effect the dream with her mind. She knew that the purple figure would come if she gave in to her urge. She decided to just go along and see where the flow of the dream took her.

Sierra instinctively knew she was meant to walk up the street and up the hill, as she and her mother often did, so she did. Step after step, the girl allowed her feet to carry her along. The townhouses, landscaping, and trees in the background moved by at an atypical, sluggish pace.

Sierra made her usual left toward the bus stop a block down the road. She arrived at the familiar chain link fence and the large mastiff was there awaiting her. It was now a hue of dark gray, instead of its normal shade of brown. The dog was silent and still as it watched the approaching young girl. The dog stared through cold, blank eyes at Sierra as she stopped and stared curiously back at it.

Just as Sierra decided to continue on, the dog opened a huge, gaping mouth and bellowed a loud, deep, echoing bark. Sierra cold almost make out the air vibrating around each bark as they escaped the dog’s open mouth.

After another snarl, she decided she definitely could see the ripples in this reality. Interesting, the young girl thought to herself. She stopped mid-stride to observe the monstrous animal. The now gray mastiff ambled up to the fence, seemingly in slow motion. It raised to its hind quarter and slowly slammed its front paws against the wire. The fence bowed out towards the girl.

The dog continued its slow, low forceful barrage of barking. Sierra felt the waves in the air as they struck her face, neck, and chest. Each were transparent, but they were also as solid as any pane of glass she had ever placed her hand against. The force of the barks didn’t hurt, but Sierra could feel the threatening intent in each. Sierra knew the huge dog would hurt her if it got its chance. She was unafraid regardless, as she knew what she was capable of here in her dream.

Sierra continued to stare as she did earlier during the day. Despite its surreal unmoving pace the dog still looked quite ferocious. More barks and rigid intention shot from the dog’s mouth at the young dreamer. Sierra remembered the fear her mother had felt. She felt a sensation inside herself that was unfamiliar. She felt something similar to when she harmed the ladybug in one of her previous dreams. Sierra was torn between not wanting to hurt the large dog, and the thought that she should protect her mother from future assaults from the animal. She arrived at a decision.

Sierra close her eyes tightly. Wrinkles appeared around her eyelids, cheeks, and forehead. She reopened them an sent a look more malicious than any that the dog had sent back at the animal. The bull mastiff closed its mouth and let out a low, soft, echoing whimper. It dropped its paws off the fence and landed on all fours. It turned slowly away from Sierra.

The animal moved as if a scene in a flip book, one moment at a time, until it was about three yards away. Then it fell over, still in slow motion, onto its heavy side. The ground shook in ripples around the canine. The dog went still. the dream world had become silent again.

The silence shattered as pink-purple lightning shot across the gray sky above the row of houses in front of Sierra. The girl felt another returning sensation. Tingling flexed throughout the young dreamer’s body. She knew at once what it was happening. She was feeling her fear.

A dark, raspy laugh echoed all around. Another bolt of the lightning struck upwards into the sky from the ground just behind the chain fenced house. A thin purple tear remained where the lightning had ascended to. The tear hung in the air in front of the swaying sky in the background. Another laugh collapsed across the dream scenery.

At once Sierra felt the urge to run, but her body did not respond to the impulse. Sierra stayed frozen in place. The downed mastiff was prone just beyond the diamond-shaped fence links. A familiar slit opened slightly in the sky, like the twisted smile on a sideways mouth. Sierra had seen this image before. Each time the experience was worse than the last.

This time the slit became wider, and larger than she had seen previously. She knew before she could see, that that familiar eye was just beyond the tear. The hole opened and Sierra could see the familiar purple face just beyond. the face had purple irises and white sclera within its eyes.

The face emitted another creepy laugh. Sierra could make its still white teeth and purple tongue and tonsils inside that dark smile. Before now she had only seen just its eyes and mouth. Now the entire face was clear as it pushed through the boundary of her dream world. It stretched the tear and squeezed in attempt to squeeze its face through. Fingers squeezed around the face and pushed outward, stretching the sky’s tear further. Quickly the fingers became full hands. Sierra could make out the dirty brown fingernails as they turned inward, and tried to force the sky open further.

The figure beyond became forced its whole head through the opening. It had clumps of gray hair scattered around its scalp that looked like the coat on a mangy mutt. Sierra stared up at the figure. It looked back down on her. The purple man’s mouth didn’t move, but another throaty laugh permeated the space around. The purple hands continued to push outward. Sierra could just make out darkness and smoke past the head and its now exposed bare purple chest coming through.

“Hello girl,” the void spoke to her. It was the same voice that had produced the laughs. The girl could tell it was emanating from the purple man. “Hello. Hello. Hello, my sweeeEEETT!!!!” it broke into more of the maniacal laughing. It began pushing its shoulder and torso through the torn border of the dream.

Sierra’s fear became manic as the purple interloper was starting to cross over. It was through all the way to the burlap shorts it wore covering it’s waist. Sierra automatically squeezed her eyes shut once more. She opened them again and shot one of her intense gazes up at the purple man. It winced in agony, then flinched backwards through the opening, and buckled over to one side.

The purple being casually rose back upright and held its hands at the edge of the tear. A more cautious, frenetic look appeared upon its face. The face twitched three times in succession, each with a different pained expression. “Whoa, girl!” the voice spoke again, without moving its lips. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” It laughed some more, failing to mask its apparent discomfort.

It had decided against another attempt at crossing into the dream. “That stung!” he went on. A mischievous smile overtook the face. “You almost killed me…Your power is so exquisite…So succulent!…I must have it!”

Sierra wasn’t sure how to process her power not doing what it did with this scary purple man who invaded her dreams. It had never not worked when she tried it before! The being pointed its long, slender index finger, with its ugly brown fingernail down at the frightened girl below.

More raucous laughter filled the dream, and then the voice returned. “Pretty sure you’d have done me in if I’d have crossed over completely. That’s new. I must see how you did that, little girl.” The chuckle of an insane person filled the air again.

The purple man considered for a moment, and then shifted its gaze over to its outstretched hand and index finger. The arm started to grow and stretch out in length. Its eyes followed the hand as it stretched further and further. It was reaching down towards the frightened girl below.

Sierra tried to jolt the figure again. The body outside the tear was unaffected. The arm on shivered slightly, but continuing to grow out onward. “You are mine, my sweet dreamer!”

Sierra’s eyes betrayed the fear behind, but she reacted in the moment. Her body carried her back toward her street and down the hill in the direction of her house. The outstretched purple arm rose above the trees and townhouses and followed as close as it was able.

Sierra ran without looking back at the crazed purple face smiling down from the sky. The girl reached her front stoop at a full run and bound up the four cement steps. Just as the hand swiped out to grab her she flung the screen door opened and slammed it shut behind her.

The exaggeratedly outstretched hand balled into a fist and slammed against the dream version of the metallic door in an earth-shattering thud. Then it banged on the door next to the glass as if it were about to invite Sierra outside to play. Sierra watched in terror.

The purple hand clumsily grabbed for the black metal handle, and then pressed the latch button at the top. More laughter. Sierra slammed the wooden door inside and the monochrome world of her dream faded into dark nothing.

Sierra awoke sticky and wet with sweat. She lay there for a few moments. The girl thought of her dream, and of the dog, and the purple man and its laugh. The girl rubbed her eyes with balled up fists and sat up in her bed.

She climbed down the stairs all the way to the basement. She pulled over the old chair and grabbed another of Janice’s books from the top shelf. She sat down and read. It was all she could do to distract herself from the disturbing memory of her dream.

Just before the sun came up Stephen arose from his workshop and quietly locked the door behind him. He turned around and jumped back, startled at the sight of his daughter sitting hunched over a book on the floor a few steps away. Stephen had expected his daughter to sleep soundly for at least a few more hours. Janice had been right. Something was seriously wrong with the girl.

Stephen picked up his silent daughter. She was unusually warm to his touch. He carried her upstairs to her room as she clung onto the book she was staring into. He entered her bedroom and pulled the horizontal blinds open. He sat on the edge of the bed with his daughter on his lap, and stared out the window.

Stephen watched the sunrise. Sierra even took a moment to look up from her reading to stare into the disappearing darkness and oncoming daylight. After the sun had fully risen, Stephen laid Sierra back against her pillow and placed the girl’s book on the desk just out of her arm’s reach. “Your mother will be up shortly. I have to leave for work now,” and with that, Stephen left the room.

Minutes later, Sierra could hear her father’s crossover start up and pull away from the house. Ninety more minutes later Janice entered the room prepared to rouse the daughter she thought was still asleep. She wasn’t entirely surprised to see Sierra laying there in bed, unblinking.

Janice dressed Sierra, and then brushed her hair and teeth. The two went downstairs. Sierra took her usual place by the window and read some more. Janice put on her familiar apron and made her familiar eggs and toast. The two ate in familiar silent company. Afterwards they set out on their familiar walk away from their home. Up the hill and out of the familiar cul-de-sac they went.

Two houses down they reached that familiar wire chain fence. Two familiar obese figures were hunched over a brown unmoving mass on the lawn. The fat couple was grieving and crying over their beloved, dead pet. Janice didn’t respond outwardly, but Sierra could see some form of emotion beyond her mother’s stone face. Janice pressed on in silence.

Sierra stayed and observed the teary-eyed elderly couple. She felt that regretful tingling sensation in her chest and mind, but it was mixed with mild satisfaction at the thought that she had protected her mother as well.

The fat woman looked up and used her sleeve to wipe tears from both of her rosy cheeks. She looked at the little blonde girl staring back at her. They held each others’ gaze for a long moment before Janice returned to corral Sierra along the road. The girl averted her gaze and followed her mother down the road toward the familiar bus stop.

Chapter 10:

Dreams Everlasting

mountain lake

The Controller struck the keys on his console to power down his abundantly expensive computer. He then removed his round spectacles and placed them on his dark red mahogany desk.

The blue light of his screen was starting to cause his vision to cross. The image in his optics kept splitting and floating before him. He rubbed his eyes between his thumb and forefinger.

Another migraine was surreptitiously surfacing from somewhere just behind his eyes. He was going to have to find another better quality monitor. He also knew his troubles were far more advanced than his computer screen.

Twenty three hour sessions like this one used to be the par. He just wasn’t the same as the young man he once was. The Controller’s mortality was creeping up on him—more and more each day.

His mortality had been on his mind frequently these days. In those brief moments when he stopped working and rested, or took time to process his work and the subsequent results—or lack there-of—his subconscious would inevitably wander to dark thoughts about choices and decisions he had made, or didn’t make, and the few remaining years he had left in his life.

He could no longer ignore the gray, thinning hair that had replaced his browns on his head and body. I was now even coming out of his ears. Each time he gazed into the bathroom mirror after a shower, as the fog would begin to dissipate, he would stare at the spots and folds all over his body.

Even if it weren’t for the obvious physical symbols of his rapidly advancing age, the aches in his joints and limbs constantly reminded him that he was on borrowed time. A mere fifteen years prior and the soreness and fatigue was only present when he first awoke for the day, or after those long, arduous days on his laboratory’s hard gray-tiled floors.

Regardless of the all the things he’d witnessed, learned, and accomplished, he was still no closer to the one thing he desired more than anything else. In his own conceited opinion, it was the only thing left worthy of accomplishing.

Things used to be so simple. As just Seth Stanton, the Controller had discovered the “Effected.” He observed them while under the tutelage of the good doctor, Stephanie Wilkins.

After their untimely split, he branched off to conduct his own brand of experimentations. His way was much more invasive, much much more painful, and definitively permanent. Such was the cost of harvesting the information hidden within the biology of these powerful people.

Things had become so much more complicated recently.

Now the Controller had his multi-national corporation to run. His research and technological discoveries had led to VIM Inc. becoming the world’s first multi-trillion dollar company.

The work at the corporation was tedious and time consuming. Yet it was well suited to the great scientist’s brilliance and skill-set. Plus, automation allowed much of the work to be delegate to others, or to the many machines of his own creation.

The true complications arose after his decision to curb his experimentation on the Effected, and to attempt to recruit some of them to his cause. He seeked out those with powers that were impressive and impressionable enough to suit his needs..

James, or Swelter as he was now called, had been the first. Despite his capacity and resilience in extreme temperatures, the boy had turned out to be a pain in the ass.

Swelter always pushed, he asked too many questions, and he was incessantly present. It seemed the Controller could not escape the young man. Swelter served in testing the Controller’s resolve to not reach into the young man’s mind and pull out what made his ability tick.

Swelter seemed to be working out his abandonment issues in seeing him as some sort of father figure. Young James’ fearless disposition and cool-blood willingness to follow orders negated his general nuisance—for the most part.

He could always “deal” with Swelter if the boy failed him. For now he served symbolically as being the first member of the Controller’s “Family.”

Each member were tedious and repugnant in their own way, but they were more-so necessary. His initiative of using the person, and not just power, could not fail him. Despite the fortune and power they had produced, his experimentation had produced nothing of true value for the Controller.

The Family, his band of misfits and degenerates, served their own unique purposes in his master-plan. Similar in how he organized the scientists at VIM, as well as the company’s paramilitary security force, none were privy to more than the absolute minimum information the Controller decided they required to carry out their task at hand.

The Family was different from his corporate mercenaries and technicians. He had to allow them deeper into his life and world. They were allowed glimpses of the “real” man. They were as close to the real him as anyone had been since the doctor.

He had set it all up as such. Aside for the flame and cold resistant Swelter, he had also found and recruited Alison Jeffries.

Jeffries was dark and charming. She was striking, It was much more than youthful beauty.

It was her black hair and clothing, which was always sheer, form-fitting, and revealing. It was her tall, muscular physique, which she accentuated by wearing pointed stiletto shoes. Perhaps it was her the metal chains and belt she always wore that jingled like Christmas bells as she walked.

That was her power. Anyone near her would hear the ringing of her accoutrements. They would see her hips bouncing back and forth and become hypnotized. Under Jeffries spell, all were extremely suggestible, regardless of their sex or sexual preference.

The Controller had once witnessed Jeffries walk through a crowded convention hall full of federal agents. Each man and woman fell silent and stared as she passed. She calmly climbed the stairs to the left of the stage and approached the speaker on it.

The man stepped aside and gave Alison the floor. Then, with a few words, all in attendance, in their gray, and black, and blue suits, pulled out their service pistols and pointed them at one another.

The ensuing carnage was art to the Controller’s watching eyes. He witnessed the agents emptying clips into one another until each of the several hundred lay bloodied and still on that hall’s ugly maroon patterned carpet. Stanton became aroused at the potential of such a gifted Effected specimen. He knew at once he had to have her.

Alison had chosen the name Bounce. Despite his outward emotions toward her teetering between plain disregard and mild amusement, she had quickly become hie favorite member of the Family. Bounce was always willing and ready to please her billionaire inventor leader.

Then there was Buckets.

Buckets, formerly Chase Ansel, contained within himself the ability to control air pressure and humidity. He could remove all the air from a room, or remove all the water from within a live human body, and make some very dead human bodies. It was quite disgusting, and beautiful, to witness. Buckets power would be incredibly useful.

Buckets would seem the most normal of the bunch to an outsider. At times he would resist his power’s calling, or the direct orders of the Controller, but Stanton had ways of keeping the waning man in check.

Buckets’ sister Cherise was a VIM executive vice president. She was one of Seth Stanton’s direct reports. Needless to say, Buckets understood the threat the Controller held over his sister and her children, Bucket’s niece and nephew.

This very credible threat to his family held the man firmly in check. The rest were in it for power, reasons of greed, or just for the twisted depravity of what they did, but not Buckets. Stanton knew he needed to keep a most watchful eye on this one; more-so than anyone else.

Finally there was Baby and his caretaker, Agnes.

The Controller didn’t know anything about Baby and his origins. He wasn’t even quite sure Baby was Effected. It was entirely possible that he was just a revolting mutant of some-sort.

A genetic variation caused Baby to never develop physically past the stage of infant, but his mind was that of a fully matured adult genius.

Baby had stubby arms and stumpy, flabby legs. He had a baby’s face, yet it was never what one could describe as cute. Baby’s face consistently wore a scowl, only occasionally betraying a mischievous smirk.

Making matters worse, he wore that god-awful diaper. Stanton understood that the alternative for Baby would to have clothing custom-tailored to his body, or for him to just wear baby clothes off the rack, but Baby wasn’t the least bit concerned with his outward appearance.

The Controller was disgusted by the sight of Baby, but Baby was as indispensable as he was disgusting. The man-child’s intelligence rivaled the Controller’s own. Together the two had improved on much of Stanton and VIM’s technologies and machines. Baby even provided Stanton with a few devices of his own design. They were quite useful in both Stanton’s work on the duplication of the Effected‘s powers, as well as serving to continue to propel VIM forward as the lone standout leader in any industry of technology.

Agnes was Baby’s opposite. Baby spoke a lot. Agnes didn’t speak at all. Baby was small. Agnes was exceedingly tall.

Agnes was Baby’s caretaker. She wheeled Baby around in his—for lack of a better term for the contraption—stroller. She changed Baby’s diapers as needed. He was unable to reach behind himself to wipe with his stubby infant arms. She even prepared his meals. Stanton assumed that huge woman provided Baby with physical security as well.

Agnes wasn’t just huge. She was a giant. She stood about seven feet tall. She was broad shouldered and barrel-chested, and almost masculine in her build. This was only accentuated by the shoulder-padded white nurse’s coat that she wore with her white stockings and shoes.

What made Agnes creepy, however, was not her size. What made the giant woman scary was her face, or lack thereof. Baby’s caretaker didn’t have any face at all. Where her face should have been was only a smooth featureless surface.

Agnes didn’t talk. She didn’t seem to eat. She seemed a mindless automaton that only existed to do Baby’s bidding.

Once the Controller had come around a corner with his eyes completely entrenched on images on his smart phone. Due to him not paying attention to where he was walking, Stanton ran shoulder first into the faceless beast of a woman. As the scientist struck the gargantuan golem he bounced off as he were weightless. He was sent sprawling across the smooth, hard surface of the floor.

Even though the Controller fell so hard Agnes didn’t budge a millimeter. She stood there, stone still. Slowly she tilted her head in the direction of the prone scientist. The Controller rose to his knees and hands and looked up at unscathed Agnes. He’ll never forget the way her featureless face stared directly at him, even without any eyes to see.

Deep down the scientist felt unease and resentment toward Baby and Agnes. Their mysterious presence was something the Controller could not control, but he knew he needed them…for now.

The Controller had assembled quite the extraordinary and powerful crew. What remained now, of course, was to put his menagerie of Effecteds to proper and good use. Like his many tools and inventions, he would learn how each piece fit into its place.

The Controller stared out his office window at the reflection on the surface of the reservoir. He was lost in the brown, purple, green, and gold of the mountains beyond it.

The lab was at VIM’s Summit Park, Colorado laboratory. It was tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. On the surface levels of the lab, everyday VIM technology development went on. It was business as usual.

Below ground, in the building’s covert basement, the Family resided and planned.

The large black leather chair beckoned for the futurist to stay and sleep for a bit. The Controller could feel the bags hanging heavy below his eyes.

He yawned and stood up, and then replaced his glasses on his nose and walked over to the coat rack by the office’s lone door. He grabbed his full-length white lab coat and pulled it over his shoulders, left sleeve first, then right. The Controller fastened the buttons of the coat from the top downward. It was time to return to his task at hand.

The billionaire sighed, as one final thought of his limited mortality finally liberated itself from his consciousness.

There would be no rest now. The ability he required was out there. He was determined to seek it out.

The Controller would rest only when he had achieved his dream of immortality.

Chapter 11:

Dreams Begone

misty forest

Ty couldn’t tell if what he was looking at was a monkey, or a sloth, or some sort of marsupial. He craned his neck and squinted his eyes into the darkness.

He definitely had never seen any animal like this before.

The beast slowly and deliberately clambered across the pine covered branches of the black spruce just ahead of Ty’s gaze.

The animal’s coat mimicked the hues of the tree and the darkness beyond it. Ty could make out the movement amongst the wood and needles, but only glowing eyes on a black face could be clearly interpreted by his vision.

The animal paced across the front face of the tree. Whenever it paused its movement to change directions the dark face appeared to float in midair. Its eyes stayed locked in a stare with Ty’s own.

Ty rubbed his stomach. He wondered if he had eaten some poisonous berries, or some bad meat somewhere along the road. Perhaps it was too many of those seeds he had foraged and had been carrying around in his overstuffed tan ruck stuck.

This was the fourth or fifth vision he’d had since that night with the fire snake.

How many weeks ago was the first? he pondered quizzically.

Ty had experienced some hallucinations in the past, once after eating some strange mushrooms, another time he had come down with a mysterious virus. That trip was awful. He thought he might die, or at the least never mentally recover. Shortly after seeing those visions of horned demons and succubi, his body broke its fever and he recovered.

These recent visions were different than any others in his past. Foremost, they didn’t include his brother, his horse, or the days of his youth. Furthermore, they all seemed bent on communicating with him. Each spoke of some girl, and apparently he was the only one capable of helping her.

This chameleon-primate bounding across the spruce was no different. “What are you?” he spoke to the floating black face. His own was painted with a skeptical expression.

The camouflaged beast paused its repetitive stalking. Its glowing eyes followed a white moth as it fluttered by. For a brief moment Ty could see the moon’s reflection instead of multi-colored reflections. The eyes returned to survey the young man.

“Yoooou’ve beeen out here soooo lonnng…on yoooour ooooown, younnnnng traveeeelerrr.” The animal’s lips didn’t part, much less move. It seemed to be speaking directly into Ty’s mind.

“Yoooou’ve forrrrgotttennn whaaaat it’sss like toooo beeee with peeeeopllle,” it continued, “Yoooou’ve forrrrgotttennn whaaaat it’sss like toooo beeee a perrrrsonnnn.”

He scoffed at the ambiguous animal’s accusation, but he didn’t deny it. “What good are people anyway? They either hurt you…or leave you….or both….” Ty’s voice trailed off at this. His stare remained fixed on the beast, but his expression betrayed that he had become lost in his thoughts, or his memories for the time being.

“Thatttt’s truuuue. Thatttt’s reeeeelaaaationnnnshippppp’s…But withoutttt themmmm yooooou willlll nevvvverrrr knooooow love….Nor pure gooddddnessss.”

It went on, “Yoooou can nevvvverrrr tuuuulyyyy knoooow yourrrrselffff.

Ty rolled his eyes at this apparent creature of his mind’s creation, or whatever it was. “I don’t care about your girl. I don’t want anything to do with you, or whoever, whatever you are.”

“Thattt’s why weeee havvvven’t approoooacheddd yoooou assss our truuuue selvessss. Sheeee saidddd weeee wouldddd scarrrrre yoooou off.”

The primate looked off into the dark woods behind Ty. It took a moment for Ty to realize its gaze had followed the sound of dead pine needles and twigs crunching on the ground. Ty looked off toward the sound as well.

It was too dark to make anything out. He looked back to the animal in the tree. It’s still, black face faded until all that was in Ty’s line of sight was just the branches of the spruce. The sound of the brush crackling returned. Ty jetted behind the tree he was just standing in front of.

“I’m done playing with you, traveler!” a man’s voice called out from the direction of the sounds.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Steps took the sounds closer and closer. The man was approaching the tree Ty had hid behind.

“Come out, coward!” the voice returned, more forcefully this time, “Be a man for once in your life!”

Ty yelled his replied from his cover behind the spruce, “Who’s the coward? You’ve been stalking me…like some….some rabbit!”

“This is ridiculous,” the man said to himself. And then to Ty he said, “Gigi says we need you. The Writer says we need you. I have half a mind to leave you out in these woods to rot. I had you pegged for a loser that second night, with the wolf.”

Apparently the visions weren’t just in Ty’s head. “How do you know about that?”

Silence was the man’s only reply for the moment. He thought about how much more to tell the traveler, then continued, “The snake, the wolf, the bats, this sloth; all of them were me. They were my creations.”

Ty’s eyebrows scrunched up. He considered all he heard. “What are you talking about?”

The man chuckled derisively, “What am I talking about? Sheesh. Kid, you really have been hiding under a rock.” Then a little lower, and to himself the man went on, “I really have no idea what she sees in him…”

Ty poked his head around the side of the tree. He finally faced the lean, tall man. Everything below Ty’s left shoulder and chest remained hidden behind the tree’s thick piney base. “I have a gun! I’ll shoot you!”

“Traveler, I happen to know for a fact that you do not have a gun!” the man replied.

He was wearing a white long sleeved button down dress shirt. It was buttoned all the way up to the top. He wore strange jeweled metal cuff-links on either sleeve. His khaki slacks were an awful shade of tan. They were wrinkled and somewhat dirty, particularly on the knees and seat.

“The writer told me so,” he continued on, “She also told me I might spook you if I confronted you directly. She said you might run. You don’t want to run, do you, traveler?”

Ty continued staring at the man who was dressed in very strange clothing for someone out so deep; here in the woods of Prince Albert National Forrest in Canada. He didn’t move, so the man kept talking, “Listen…I don’t know why you’re on the run, and frankly, kid, I don’t give two shakes.”

Ty waited.

“The name’s Glitch. I’m one of the Effected. Have you heard of my kind?”

Ty stared blankly, and then gave in to his curiosity. He shook his head ever-so slightly to indicate he didn’t.

“This kid is hopeless,” Glitch said softly to his feet. He raised his head and did his best deadpan. “We’re like the fucking X-men; Wolverine, Professor X, those guys. There’s something wrong—different—with our brains. We can—ehhh—do things.”

Ty processed what Glitch was saying. He still said nothing. and then blinked. When he reopened his eyes he was holding an AR15 across his arms.

His mouth opened into an O. He dropped the rifle and jumped back. The gun landed with a thud on the kindling in front of his feet.

“Jesus!” Ty shouted. A owl whoo’d, and then flew off in haste. “Where’d that come from?”

Glitch smirked mischievously. “Unlike that gun, young fella, you sure are dense.”

Ty eyes dropped from the man back down to the gun on the ground, or at least, where it should have been. Nothing was in the spot where the rifle had landed except the dead brush.

“Holy-moly!” It was the only response the younger man felt was apropos for the moment.

“Yeah,” Glitch agreed. “Pretty cool for sure, but my stuff is mere parlor tricks compared to the others. You need to come meet my tribe.”

“Your what?”

“My tribe. There are others like me. Well, that’s not exactly true.” Glitch thought to himself for a moment. “None of them are like me…but they certainly all are special. What is it that you do, traveler…besides running away? What’s your ability?”

“It’s…” Ty clenched his lips shut. He was deciding if he should give Glitch anything. “It’s Ty…and I don’t do anything…At least,” uncertainty crept into his voice and onto his face, “not that I know of.”

“Well that’s just wonderful.” Glitch frowned to express his disappointment. “Anyway, Gigi wants to meet you, and the writer thinks you’re important to our cause.” Then, a bit quieter, and again to himself, Glitch intoned, “I had more ‘n half a mind to let you rot out here in the woods.”

Ty couldn’t make out the man’s mumbling, “What was that?”

“Nothing.” Glitch grimaced as he took another look at this would-be savior. “Shall we get going?”

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Ty resisted. “I’m perfectly content out here in the middle of nowhere. I’m happy being nobody.”

“You’re happy, huh?” Glitch smirked again. “Nobody’s happy. We’re all just trying to survive. The writer gets it wrong sometimes, you know. Sometimes she doesn’t get the whole picture. She is certain you are special—important—somehow.”

Glitch paused and thought about what he had just said to Ty. He rolled his eyes. “I think she’s wrong. I think you’re just another loser.”

Ty ignored the challenge. “Who is this writer?”

Glitch’s demeanor seemed to change. He appeared pleased for the first time during this encounter. “Now you’re asking the right questions, kid. It doesn’t matter though, if you don’t come and meet her.”

Ty hesitantly stepped out from behind his tree. He stood out in full view. His dirty face visible in the moon’s glow. “Alright, I’ll come along. If I even see one uniform, or if I don’t like how you’re looking at me, I’m gone!”

“I believe you, traveler,” Glitch replied.

“Stop calling me that,” Ty refuted the strange moniker.

Glitch doubled down, “Why? It’s what you do. It’s who you are.”

Ty considered this, “Maybe, but it’s still a stupid name.”

“We’ll have to work on it.” Glitch shot a tender smile at the younger man. Maybe he would warm up to the lad. “It’s 1800 miles south to Colorado. We have time for a drink or three before we hit the road.”

“But I don’t drink,” Ty responded.

“Things change,” Glitch said with a look of certainty. Suddenly, his face appeared worn and tired to Ty.

Glitch leaned against a dead aspen trunk and watched while Ty packed up his meager camp.

The two left on foot before the sun rose.

Chapter 12:

Dreaming of the Top

sky pyramid

“Stephen Stewart,” the white speakers overhead buzzed.

“Stephen Stewart, please report to the seventy-third floor immediately.”

Stephen’s eyes pointed upward through his eyebrows. His face remained pointed at the twenty-inch monitor on his desk in front of him. His shoulders sank as he let out a deep exhalation.

“I’ll be right up, Donna,” he spoke into the air.

“Thank you,” the voice replied cooly.

Stephen leaned back in his chair and grabbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Slowly he pulled his hand down his face. His palm covered his cheeks, chin, and finally rested on his neck. He slouched for another few seconds, wishing he was anywhere but here.

What additional shit are they going to pile on my already overfull plate? Triple shifts—on salary, no less—what else? Stephen resigned himself to the fact that when the bosses called him upstairs he had to hop-to.

He stood up, leaned forward over his desk, and logged out of his terminal. After a roll of his shoulders, and then several cracks of his neck, he exited his quaint, windowless office.

He walked past row after row of low-walled cubicles and arrived at the elevator hall. He pressed the dim up arrow between the pair of identical stainless steel double doors. The button illuminated and he let out a deep sigh.

So many techies and scientists were exuberant to be a part of the VIM family. Not Stephen Stuart. He had become jaded by his slow and stalled climb up the corporate ranks.

He knew he should ask for a raise considering the effort and hours he had been investing over the past year. His work anniversary was approaching and the meager raise that would accompany it would be nowhere near what he felt he deserved. VIM Inc. wasn’t known among the technology and sciences communities for its top-tier compensation packages. A sense of pride in being a part of the company, as well as their significant scientific and technological advances drove most to come on-board, and to stay for many years.

The elevator doors to Stephen’s right parted. He stepped into the lift and held up his access card to the screen. Once it accepted his credentials he pressed the button numbered 73. The doors quietly slid closed.

Less than a minute later the elevator came to an effortless halt. The doors opened. The hallway looked the same as the one he had exited moments ago.

Stephen left the elevator hall and entered the executive reception room. A lone bespectacled female sat at the large lone metal desk. Her fingers steadily typed at a wireless keyboard. Her eyes remained locked on her large computer screen. The monitor’s blue light illuminated her pale face.

Without raising her eyes the receptionist spoke. “They will see you now, Mr. Stuart.”

Stephen didn’t voice a reply. The set of glass doors to the woman’s left opened automatically. They led into a foyer with another set of frosted glass doors.

Stephen had only been through these doors once prior. Behind them was the great glass conference room. That time it was at the invitation of his senior vice president. It was for a pep rally held by none other than uber-scientist, inventor, and billionaire, Seth Stanton. The man known as the “Controller” was the owner and executive director of his employer, VIM Incorporated.

Stephen appreciated being included in the event. However, the content of the Controller’s speech seemed just platitudes and rhetoric concerning how fantastic it was to be a part of VIM, and how they would all lead the world into the vast approaching future. He shook off the memory as the first set of glass doors silently shut behind him. The interior set opened into the enormous room beyond.

Despite his uncertainty as to the reason for him being summoned up here, as well as his mounting dispassion toward his company and his position within it, Stephen could not help but be in instantaneous awe of the great conference room upon his entrance.

A colossal round glass table took up the majority of the room. It was surrounded by seventy high-backed black leather chairs. There was a monitor and a a virtual keyboard embedded in the table at each of its seats. Large crystal drinking glasses and pitchers of water were sitting at the five seats closest to him. Three of the seats were already filled by management and executives in his own chain of command. They were engaged in conversation that was just above the level of a whisper. Each wore suits of solid color. Stephen couldn’t help but feel inadequately dressed for this impromptu meeting.

He stood and took in the view from the oblong room’s surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows. It was an unusually clear morning in New Jersey. The New York Bay was in full view to the right. The endless skylines of Newark and Jersey City were to his left. Directly in front of him stood the tallest buildings of New York, New York. Stephen was captivated by the view from up here. For a moment he considered if having regular access to this view was worth becoming one of these stuffy suits in front of him now.

“Stephen, please sit down. Join us.” a familiar voice summoned him back to reality. His direct boss, Todd Redmond was the one that had spoke. Todd was a lifetime middle manager. He wasn’t a bad boss, and he wasn’t a good one either. He was primarily a mouth-piece for the executives above his head.

One of Todd’s bosses, Scott Fruschante, a senior human resources manager, was shuffling papers in a manila file folder to his right. Next to Scott was the very vice president who had summoned Stephen up here to witness the Controller’s pep talk. His name was Ralph Franklin.

Stephen didn’t know much about Franklin, but he was aware of his reputation. Franklin was well-known to be able to fast-track the career paths of his favorite employees. He was also known to jettison those he chose to dislike, or stifle the growth and opportunities of those who crossed him.

Stephen sat in the empty seat in between Todd and Fruschante. Todd began speaking, “Thank you for joining us. You have been showing tremendous results on your production and waste reduction metrics. Thanks for your diligence in those areas.”

“Cut the crap, Redmond.” Franklin cut off Stephen’s manager. “Just get to why we called him up here.”

“Uh…Yes, sir.” Todd stammered on, “You see Stephen we have been made aware of some impropriety on your part.”

“Excuse me?” Stephen had no idea what they were referring to.

“You see,” his boss went on, “the NDAs you signed upon accepting your leadership role allow us an additional level of surveillance that I’m certain you are unaware of.”

Stephen didn’t understand his boss was trying to tell him. He kept his face impassive. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong at work. The only thing he knew blurred the lines was his project at home, locked in his basement workshop.

“Scott, if you will,” Redmond concluded.

Frucshante toggled the screen on the table in front of him. The screen enlarged so it was clearly visible from the prospective of all four men. The video feed was from his home. He was standing at his work table in his locked room in the basement

Frucshante inputted a few more key-strokes and the angle changed to a view from directly behind him. It showed the screen of his computer. The image was stunningly clear. There was none of the lines or distortion typically found on the recorded image of the computer monitor.

His boss’s boss zoomed in further. There was no mistaking what the image displayed. He was busted. There was no way he would have gotten this far without surreptitiously using proprietary company information. Stephen had screwed up. He was about to get fired.

“Well, Stewart, what do you want to tell us about this side proj…,” the V.P.’s voice trailed off as the doors to the room opened. A tall, robust brunette wearing a long black and tall stiletto heals strode into the room. The woman wore black designer eyeglasses. She had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. Despite the look on her face being quite stern, she was striking. She did not acknowledge any of the four men and stepped to the side of the entry.

Behind her was none other than Seth Stanton, the Controller himself. He wore a long gray overcoat and his round wire-framed spectacles. He removed his coat and draped it over the back of the one of the chairs. He had a white long-sleeved button-down shirt on underneath. The shirt’s cuff-links were the same color as his eye-wear. Stephen had never seen any like them.

The four men all stood up from their chairs in deferential solidarity. The Controller greeted the men, “Good morning, gentlemen. May I sit on this meeting?”

Redmond was silent. Fruschante looked to Franklin. Franklin responded in a way that was reminiscent to how Redmond spoke only moments ago, “No, sir. Of course not.” Franklin went on, “Can I get you or…your friend…anything?”

The mysterious woman stood at the windows looking out onto Jersey City. She didn’t respond to the vice president’s gesture. She appeared deep in thought. Stanton replied on her behalf, “This is Allison. She is my assistant. Allison, do you require anything?”

The woman continued gazing out the windows. She walked along the wall of glass toward the opposing view of Manhattan. She ran her finger tips gently across the glass without saying a word. The Controller went on, “Gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt. Please, please continue.”

The managers and the vice president had at once become bewildered by their chief executive’s appearance. Franklin broke the silence, “Sir, we, uh…we were just discussing some surveillance footage acquired of Mr. Stewart at home using VIM proprietary information for an unsanctioned experiment. We were just about to discuss the terms of his termination.”

“Well…,” the Controller paused. He seemed to swish his words around in his mouth before speaking. “Proprietary information…unsanctioned…that doesn’t sound good…” He trailed off as his eyes followed the beautiful woman progressing toward the view of the bay. His silence lasted an eternity.

“Stephen Stewart, I am familiar with your work. Are you familiar with my nickname?” the Controller inquired. The question was strange.

“Yes, sir. I did not expect my work would have been of any interest to you.” Stephen knew he had to address the thirty ton elephant in the room. “I had the best intentions for the work I’m doing at home…”

The Controller interrupted, “At home with Janice and—what was it?—little Sierra, am I correct?”

Stephen cut his explanation short. He paused. “My family, sir?”

“How do you think Janice will react to your getting fired today, Stephen?” the Controller looked directly in the man’s eyes as he spoke. His face was devoid of emotion. “Don’t answer that.”

The Controller let out a stiff chuckle. The laugh did not sound natural. It was as if he had rehearsed the laugh in an attempt to appear cordial.

“Sir,” Franklin interjected, “We have termination documents prepared. I can assure you that your attention is better directed elsewhere.”

The Controller swung his head on his vice president. Rage flashed in his eyes, but his facial features did not betray him. “Thank you kindly, Ralph. I can assure you that I will determine where my attention is best spent.” He continued to peer through his specs at his senior-most employee in the conference room. The message had been received. “You three, please leave me with Mr. Stewart. I will handle his disciplinary action.”

“Thank you, sir,” Fruschante and Redmond said in unison as they stood. The two appeared elated to be excused from this awkward, possibly career threatening situation.

Franklin hesitated for a moment. He looked at Stephen, then over at the leisurely woman. He eyes wandered to the windows. The man finally looked toward his boss, “Thank you, sir.” He rose slower than the other two. He looked as if he suffered a significant blow to his ego. He followed the others, slumping out of the room.

Stephen Stewart stared down at the enlarged image of himself frozen on the table. He felt exposed and alone in the moment. The Controller watched him for a few long seconds before breaking the silence. “It’s okay, Stephen. Ms. Jeffries, a moment?”

The tall, slender woman finally looked at Stephen. A chill went down his spine. The only look he had seen darker was the one he had just witnessed the Controller shoot at the V.P. “Stephen, please excuse us for a moment.” The Controller rose from his chair and made his way over to the woman standing beside the windows. The sun reflected off her necklace and belt and blinded him. He had to turn his face away.

Stanton spoke in a hushed tone to the woman as she continued to stare at Stephen. She smirked as her employer spoke. There was no relief for him in her smile. Her eyes maintained their coldness, despite her lips turning slightly upward.

The Controller finished telling Allison whatever he had said she exited the room without a word. The great scientist returned to his seat at the conference table. “It’s kind of ludicrous having such a large conference room and only the two of us in it,” the Controller spoke his thought out loud, as if to lighten the mood. “Anyway…Where were we? You’ve shown impressive potential in your work so far, Stephen.”

He paused again for a moment, seeming to gather up what he would say next. “I’m willing to overlook your indiscretion. I want to relieve you of your current position here at VIM.”

Stephen did not understand. Was this man from another planet? It sounded like the Controller was going to give him a pass, but then it sounded like he had just been fired. Confused, Stephen furrowed his brow.

“I can see that did not come out correctly. I want you to continue your home project for me full time. I will keep you on the VIM payroll, but I no longer wish you to be a business analyst.”

Stephen felt relieved. He would not be bringing any bad news home tonight. In fact, he was feeling quite victorious. The Controller continued, “You remind me a lot of me, you know?. You’re creative, you’re willing to take risks, and you appreciate science and technology. I’m going to give you a big bump in pay. I’ve also paid off the mortgage on your town-home. I’ve cleared up the debt with your daughter’s doctors and therapists as well.”

Stephen didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Thank you, sir.”

“Call me Seth, Stephen. I look forward to an ongoing friendship and partnership. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you make of that creation of yours.”

Stephen knew his work wasn’t near completion, but now he would have the time and resources to dedicate to it. “Thanks again, sir…uh…Seth. I cannot begin to thank you enough.”

“It is my pleasure, Stephen.” The Controller then changed the subject, “Tell me, Stephen, what do you know about the Effected?”

A few hours later Stephen had packed up his few belongings from his tiny office. He was actually going to get a shot to do what he really wanted to. It wasn’t going to be on the terms he hadn’t originally hoped for, but it would do for now. He closed the office door for the final time and let out the first sigh of relief he had had in this building for what seemed like years. Stephen Stewart was a man reborn.

The ex-analyst felt fifteen pounds lighter as he made one final pass of the low-walled cubicles. He reached the end of the row as two interns were conversing.

“Did you hear? Ralph Franklin jumped from his window today,” the first intern stated matter-of-factly. Stephen stopped dead in his paces. He had just seen the man.

“What? That’s insane!” commented the second.

“I know,” the first responded, “I guess there’s an opening on the executive floor.”

The second intern rolled his eyes. “See, that’s why I don’t talk to you. You have no filter.”

Stephen couldn’t believe the day he was having.

broken glass.jpg

Ladies & Gentlemen, that’s the story as of now. Thank you for reading it. Creating this work has been the most fulfilling artistic endeavor of my life.

I want to thank for graciously publishing it. I want to thank Kodid Laraque-Two Elk for editing much of the story. You both have been incredibly supportive through my writing process.

I plan to continue The Dreamer for many more chapters. There will even be closure for Sierra, Ty, and The Controller. Here’s a teaser: their stories will all be interwoven.

Look out for the next chapter of The Dreamer exclusively on

Until then, watch out for the purple man in your dreams and the family in the real world.

controllers specs

John Andreula is an epic fiction writer and a dreamer residing in the foothills of Colorado.

Reach him for commission work or media requests at:

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