“Arve? Aijun? What is going on?”
“We’re trapped in a dreamscape by sirens. They create dreams based on your memories and thoughts, and then wait for the perfect moment to devour you.” Arve caught Emma up as she stalked over to them. The sword was heavy in her hands. She couldn’t remember when she’d picked it off the ground.
“Then how have we woken up, and not them?” Emma pointed at Adrik to make her point. Adrik sunk again, and the sea hag neared closer and closer to him each time he drowned. Aijun wouldn’t stop banging on the barrier separating them.
“That’s just it. We are all still asleep. Once you realized it was a dream, you became aware. We are lucid dreaming while they are in a dream-state.” Arve turned back to see Adrik sitting under the apple tree again with his friend.
If the siren wanted to speed up the process of making Adrik happy, it would need to change something eventually. Hopefully, that change will wake Adrik’s consciousness up.
“So what now? We sit around and hope he wakes up?” Emma was raw from her memories and the dream that the siren gave her. Her voice still quivered and the pain of the dreams gnawed at her. Even the siren recognized how hopeless she was at ever being happy.
“Maybe. I don’t know. Has anyone checked on Finn?” Aijun looked from Arve to Emma.
“He is probably immune.” Arve scratched the back of his head. Aijun and Emma both waited for a better explanation than that. “Finn’s curse might make him immune. Not because he can’t hear the siren’s song, but because he can’t dream.” Arve looked a little distracted. He watched as Adrik attempted to drown himself again.
“Since when does Finn not have dreams? Everyone has dreams.” Emma bubbled with misdirected anger. She wasn’t annoyed with Arve but she didn’t know what to do with how she felt. Those dreams were a manipulation… and yet that creature still felt sorry for her.
“Not when you don’t sleep.” Arve mumbled back. He stared distractedly at Adrik. Any other time, Arve would have taken Emma’s tone as a challenge. An idea sparked in Arve’s mind. If he was right, he might be able to help Adrik. Arve turned his back to the window, and leaned against it.
He closed his eyes. He needed to slow his heart rate down. Aijun grabbed a hold of Arve’s jacket.
“What are you doing? Stop messing around!” Aijun shook Arve back and forth by his jacket collar. Aijun was afraid Adrik… he couldn’t lose him after so little time knowing him. Arve was the only one who really understood anything about this dreamscape and even if he was a little kid right now, he was the only one who could really do something.
Arve was able to black himself out despite Aijun’s irritating demeanor. Arve faded out of Aijun’s hands, and appeared under an apple tree next to Adrik. Naren dropped an apple down, and Arve caught it instead of Adrik.
“You? How are you here?” A younger version of Adrik stared at him.
“Show me the day he dies.” Arve took a bite of the fake apple. For it all being a dream, the apple tasted so sweet. So perfect, just like a fresh apple from the northern hemisphere. Arve let himself relax into the changing of scenes. His apple disappeared before he even swallowed it.
Around him, people crowded around the sandy beaches of a warm beach. It was the same lake, Arve was sure, but it was spring now. The green buds grew on the barren branches of the winter trees, and the birds sang their lovely songs.
“It’s him!” A man yelled. The man was cradling a pale body. It was Naren, but his body was withering, and preserved by the frozen lake water. The crowd whispered conspiratorially. Their theories grew by the minute.
“He died of a curse that was passed down in his family. The first boy in each generation dies on their twelfth birthday.”
Adrik looks away as the atmosphere around them changes from the soft spring day to the ocean. The waves lap over both of their faces. Arve’s body struggles to keep him above the water.
Adrik let go of whatever held him above the choppy waves, and sank toward the bottom again.
“Oh no you don’t!” Arve dived under after him.
Arve was stronger than a normal eleven year old boy. He had the strength of a twenty three year old, and then some. But he could only do so much in the water. Strength didn’t equal swimming ability, and Arve knew it.
He grabbed a hold of Adrik’s limp hand and tugged, but he was kidding himself if he thought he could drag a full grown adult and himself back to the surface. His body was just too small this way. Arve reached for the surface with his hand and pulled the water down and simultaneously kicked himself up. But the energy only dragged them further down.
On the other side of the window, Aijun watched in horror. Adrik was drowning, and he was taking Arve with him this time. Arve was clearly trying to pull Adrik toward the surface but his short skinny stature did almost nothing to the gravity pulling them down.
“I have to do something.” Adrik lowered himself against the glass like Arve had before. He counted his breaths and listened for the beat of his heart. Sleep. He needed to sleep again. Aijun needed to find peace while freaking out about both Adrik and Arve.
“Aijun… he’s doing it. He got Adrik to swim toward the surface.” Emma’s voice was soft as she shook Aijun’s shoulder.
Aijun’s eyes snapped open and he turned to see Adrik and Arve both fighting to find the surface. What had Arve done to make Adrik realize what was happening? What had he missed? Arve broke the surface first, and gasped for air. Adrik lifted himself above the waves next with the same desperate gasp of air.
Arve was face to face with the siren. It’s wrinkled skin and ugly complexion had nothing on the smell of burnt and rotting flesh coming from the creature. Arve pulled out his short dagger from his jacket and held it to the siren’s neck.
The siren screeched violently. Arve brought his hands up to cover his ears, and accidentally dropped the knife into the infinite ocean below. The screech was ear-splittingly painful. Painful enough that Arve’s ears felt like they were bleeding.
For Adrik, the scream seemed to wake him out of a suspended haze. Before, he had swam to the surface because Arve had basically been drowning himself to save Adrik, and he refused to be the cause of an eleven year old’s death. But hearing that scream did whatever he had been trying to do for what felt like an eternity.
Adrik faced the creature and Arve slunk back in pain. It’s skin was wrinkled and tied to the shell of bone holding it up. The smell was so rank that Adrik couldn’t explain not being able to smell it before then. How could he have missed it?
He grabbed his gun from his holster and held it toward the monster. The revolver was soaked in salt water, and had no reason to actually work. But he cocked the gun, and aimed. Taking fire, the creature screeched again and the water tremured. The bullet lodged itself in the creatures skull, and it sunk into the water.
Blood leaked from Arve’s ears and was washed away by the lapping waves. Adrik was awake. This was a dream and Arve was in his dream with him. Arve was in his dream? Adrik’s mind flashed back to Arve asking Adrik to show him the day the boy dies. How had Adrik not realized that this was a siren attack?
“Come on, let’s go.” Arve’s voice sounded weird, but Adrik didn’t question it. He followed Arve as he swam through a hole. A hole in the ocean? A hole in the world itself. Arve climbed through and then helped Adrik through.
Aijun was the first to crush Adrik in a bone breaking hug. He didn’t say anything, and was too afraid to say anything, but Adrik understood.
“What now? How do we wake ourselves up from a dreamscape situation?” Emma asked. She was detached from the others, and refused to acknowledge much of anything. Her mind was still on the moment the monster took pity on her. What kind of a monster, who desires eating her soul, takes pity on its prey?
“I suppose we just wait to wake up. There’s nothing keeping us asleep anymore.” Arve’s voice was rough. His hearing was still fluctuating between bad and really bad. His voice sounded loud to his own ears which forced him to speak quieter. It would be one hell of a headache when he woke up.
“What if Finn is here? We should go look for him.” Aijun told the group. If he were right, there probably wasn’t much they could do.
“Go on ahead, I need to rest for a while.” Arve leaned against a wall and slid down it. He cradled his head in his hands. It was clear that the siren’s song was still getting to him. Emma nodded and guided the others down the hall.
“If we’re not back in twenty, come look for us.” Emma instructed Arve before she and the others turned the corner.
Arve didn’t even get the chance to tell them that dream time is relative.