See Chapter 1.
The school year had started out in its traditional fashion for Fann. She had hoped that her senior year would be better but as the school year began things didn't seem like they would be any different than the previous year. Living with her Gran on the social fringes of their small town, she'd always been treated as something of an outsider by most of her class, but while her Gran was alive it hadn't seemed to matter too much. In the past she'd somehow managed to find a few students with similar interests that she thought of as friends to spend her free time with.
But now that she was living with her Gran's older friends, and after the rumours about her nightmares started, her former acquaintances left her alone and everyone else seemed to be staring at her as if waiting for her to explode messily in front of them in some expression of teenage angst. Feeling isolated Fann began keeping to herself and even more withdrawn than before.
Classes that autumn were only marginally more difficult than she'd expected that summer when thinking about how her classes had ended the previous year. But it wasn't the work itself that was a problem, it was the caring.
With her dreams being flooded nightly with constant violence and death Fann just couldn't bring herself to care about the things her teachers taught. Her algebra and science classes couldn't erase from her mind visions of girls her age or younger dying horrible deaths or the frightening creatures they fought as she watched, unable to intervene. And the books they were reading in her English classes seemed too tame and even less relevant than they had the year before.
The only bright spot during her week was the hour or two she spent every other day in the school councilor's office. She didn't have to talk. The councilor made no demands and had no expectations. She could just sit there and relax in the calm silence of the sound proofed office, away from her classmates and their constant staring.
The relative calm that had enveloped the rest of her time outside of school, since the auction, ended on a cool evening late in October. Fann had just finished her homework for the evening and had joined Alice and Willa out on the porch for a few minutes, before heading to her room for the night. They weren't doing anything special, just enjoying the unseasonably warm autumn weather and talking about the different things they'd done all or seen that day.
Willa and Alice were curled up in their favorite rockers and Fann was sitting on the top porch step, her back against the porch railing, playing with the ends of her long, braided hair. She was absentmindedly threading a piece of thick red yarn through her raven colored hair when she suddenly had the strangest feeling. She didn't know how but she knew that something bad was about to happen. Pulling herself hesitantly to her feet, she interrupted Willa's amusing description of a particularly annoying person she'd dealt with that day at work.
"Did you feel that?" She asked the two women.
"Feel what?" Willa asked and Alice echoed.
"I don't know." Fann said with an agonized tone. "Something's wrong." She looked around but didn't see anything to explain her feeling. She could feel herself starting to panic and started to hyperventilate. Standing on the edge of the porch, she felt a very unpleasant sensation in the pit of he stomach. Slightly unbalanced, she turned blindly in the direction the feeling seemed to be coming from. Willa and Alice followed her actions with their eyes, watching her worriedly.
The feeling was followed by a screeching sound in her head, like a thousand owls crying at once. She moaned and desperately tried to cover her ears with her hands to protect herself from the intense noise. She didn't know what Willa and Alice were doing; she couldn't think; she couldn't look. "Make it stop. Make it stop! Make... it... stop!" she moaned, stumbling backwards.
She could hear Willa calling to her but she didn't have the strength to answer. All of her attention was on the sound and getting away from it. She kept unconsciously backing away from where it seemed to be coming from. She heard her name called again and that and the sudden sensation of free falling were the last things she remembered as she tumbled backwards off of the porch onto the front walkway, hitting her head on the ground.
The nightmare that woke her up was a new one. Lying face down on her bed she was consumed by a horrifyingly claustrophobic feeling. But for the first time since the dreams had started she didn't wake to the sound of her own moaning or screaming. Groaning in pain, she rolled over, trying to remember how she'd ended up there. She could feel something on her head but her room was too dark for her to see what it was. Reaching towards her bedside table, and shielding her eyes, she flicked on the small light and cautiously looked around. Looking across her room, she could see the edges of a large white bandage on the back of her head in her dresser mirror. Although her head ached, the spot where the bandage was poking out of her hair seemed to be fine.
Not seeing anything else to explain how she'd gotten there, she dug in the night-stand next to her bed for her journal to write down the dream before she forgot any of it. Frowning, she recorded the impression she'd had of waking up in a small rectangular box, unable to breath. In her dream she'd recognized that she was in a coffin but had no idea how she'd gotten there. Her dream persona had clawed upward, digging and punching to get out. The dream had ended when she'd reached freedom and had taken a shaky breath in the cold crisp air. She'd had just enough time to look around, only seeing vague shapes, one of which resembled a tombstone. The writing hadn't been clear enough to read and before she could get closer to examine it she'd woken up.
As soon as she'd finished writing down the details she lay back, exhausted, onto her bed. Someone must have heard her moving about. A few minutes later, Alice appeared with a tray containing a clear glass of water and a small bottle of something.
Propping herself up on her elbows and rubbing her aching head, Fann asked her "What happened?"
"You fell off the porch and hit your head," Alice told her with a worried frown.
"And before that?" Fann asked, trying to remember the hazy events from earlier.
"We don't know." Alice looked at her closely, sitting down on her bed and placing the tray between them. "You said something I couldn't understand and screamed at us to 'make it stop.' And then you fainted."
"Oh." Fann rubbed her eyes in frustration at her inability to remember.
"We promised the ambulance person that we would take you to the emergency room or your doctor tomorrow," Alice told her.
"Oh," Fann repeated, looking at her in surprise. "Ambulance?"
"You were unconscious. We were worried," Willa told her, entering her room and standing next to Alice. "Fann, this needs to stop. Whatever the school councilor is doing to help you with things isn't working."
"I'm okay," Fann protested. "I've gotten used to it. I sleep more now, don't I?"
"Yes. You now sleep three hours instead of one every night," Alice acknowledged with a tinge of sarcasm. "But you're still wasting away. A strong breath could knock you over."
"And when we told your Gran we would be your guardians if something happened to her, we promised her we would take care of you," Willa added. "And this isn't taking care of you enough."
"And, besides that, Social Services won't let you stay here any more if they think you're having problems living with us," Alice told her, reaching over and lightly rubbing Fann's hand. "We had to do some fast talking to get them to let you stay here in the first place."
"I know. I'm really sorry you got dragged into whatever this is," Fann apologized as she pulled her long legs up to her chest, wrapping her thin arms around them before resting her chin on her knees. "I really miss my Gran," she mumbled, trying not to sound as pathetic as she knew she must look. "She would have known how to fix this."
"I know dear. We aren't her but we'll figure it out," Alice said, giving her a sad smile. "Why don't you drink this and take these for your head." She handed the glass of water and several pills from the bottle to Fann. "It'll help you sleep. I'll call your doctor in the morning. Hopefully I can take you to see her tomorrow."
"Thanks," Fann mumbled, taking the pills and quickly washing them down. The two older women left her room and she curled up around her favorite pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
Keeping her promise, Alice accompanied Fann to her doctor right after school. "How did it go?" she asked, as Fann emerged back into the waiting room with a sigh of relief.
"I'm okay." She noticed the other people in the waiting room looking at her curiously. "She wants to talk with you. Can I go outside?" she asked, feeling nervous in the small crowded room and wanting desperately to escape.
"Sure. Why don't we meet at the Coffee Haven?" Alice told her as she picked up her purse, stopping to ask "Do you need any money?"
"No, I'm okay. Thanks," Fann said, before giving her a small smile and hurrying out of the doctor's office.
Fann normally tried to avoid drinking a lot of coffee. Since she'd started having the nightmares anything with caffeine in it tended to make her overly jumpy. But today she felt she deserved the slight comfort it offered. The doctor had spent what had felt like hours poking and prodding her in an attempt to find any explanation for her collapse the previous day, with little success.
Lost in thought, occasionally taking a sip from her steaming coffee, she was startled when Willa sat down across from her in the small cafe.
"It's been a long time since I was a teenager myself," Alice commented absently. "Dr. Olsen seems to think you behave very maturely for your age."
"What'd she say?" Fann asked nervously.
"She says you are actually in very good health. She thinks you need to eat more but other than that she couldn't find anything wrong. She was surprised that the bump on your head was gone already." Alice sighed. "She has to send your blood off for some tests but she doesn't think they'll find anything. She thinks it was just stress."
"Stress?" Fann exclaimed loudly. She blushed at the sudden attention the other Coffee Haven patrons briefly gave her at her outburst.
Alice raised an eyebrow at her reaction. "She's upset with Willa and me for letting you pack up your Gran's stuff and dealing with her house on your own." She reached over and squeezed Fann's hand. "I'm sorry. You act so grown up I think we forgot you are really only seventeen."
"I'm okay," Fann told her gruffly, trying to keep her emotions in check. "I needed to do it. She was my Gran. It would have been like you letting someone else go through Willa's things if she had died."
"Let's get you home. Willa probably has dinner all ready for us," Alice said, getting up from the table and heading for the door, Fann trailing in her wake.
For the next week dinner every night was a very subdued event. Fann spent each meal nervously picking at her heavily laden plate, trying to pretend that she didn't notice that the sisters kept looking at her like she was going to collapse any minute. She would then spend the evening doing her homework in the kitchen under their watchful gaze before heading to bed and pretending to sleep for a couple hours until they went to bed themselves.
With the coast clear she would escape from the house and spend an hour or two wandering around the town, attempting to satisfy the part of her that now craved the darkness. Eventually she would end up back in her room tired enough to sleep until she had to get up for school in the morning.
The dreams had started to take on a distinctly different tone after her fainting episode. While she couldn't really remember them as clearly as the earlier nightmares, they were no longer so scary that she was afraid to go to sleep at night. But she woke up every morning feeling more and more depressed and sad. It was like she was having to relive the day her Gran died over and over again. She knew Alice and Willa had noticed how out of it she was becoming. They seemed to becoming more concerned and started watching her even closer every day.
It was on Halloween that she finally broke free and ran. She'd always loved dressing up, becoming someone else for just a little while. Going from house to house with her small group of schoolmates had been thrilling. Her class had decided for the second year in a row to have a party, but with no one to go with this time around, she couldn't find any enthusiasm for the idea of watching others having fun when she wasn't. She sat in her room, staring at her homework and listening as Alice and Willa took turns answering the door to hand out candy to the costumed neighborhood children.
She fell asleep at her desk, waking up several hours later with the intense desire to go somewhere, anywhere. To get away from her life. There was something out there that she desperately needed. She wasn't sure what it was but it was pulling her away from home. And right now it was much more intense than the feelings that normally drove her into the darkness every night. There was a pressure, a feeling in her head. And she couldn't deny it.
She sat for a few minutes, staring out into the woods from her bedroom window and gathering her thoughts. It was a big step, running away from the safety of her home. She didn't know where she was going to go or even why. She just knew that she had to do it.
It only took her several minutes to pack the few things she wasn't willing to leave behind. She had just enough room in the small bags she packed for a week's worth of clothes, her journals, and a few other personal possessions. And that was the easy part. The harder one was leaving a note for Willa and Alice. She knew they would be upset but she hoped they would eventually forgive her and not try to send someone after her.
She looked at the brief note that had taken her a long time to write, rereading it one last time before sealing it in an envelope, memorizing the brief message, knowing that it really wasn't enough:
Alice and Willa,
I'm sorry. I can't take it anymore. Something is going on in my head and I need to get away from here and think things through. I'll be back when I work it out. Do whatever you think needs to be done with Gran's house. Please don't look for me.
Placing the envelope in a prominent place in the kitchen where they couldn't miss it, Fann walked out of the house and down the street to her Gran's house, stopping only to remove as much money as she could from her bank account at the first ATM she passed. She didn't have a lot in it. Most of her money from the auction was put away in an account she couldn't touch until she was older and out of school. Hopefully they wouldn't close her account. She thought she had enough in it to live on for the next few months but she couldn't be sure of that.
Silently opening the garage door, she went over to her mother's motorcycle in the dim light of a small flashlight. After checking for the knife and stakes she'd hidden there that summer, Fann stuffed her two bags into its saddlebags, grabbed her mother's helmet and pushed the bike out of the garage and down into the street with only a streetlight for company, glad for her increased strength. Six months earlier she would have struggled to move the heavy vehicle.
Once in the street she settled herself onto the bike, the tips of her feet just barely touching the ground, the helmet on her head. Starting it up, she put it into gear and without looking back headed down the quiet street away from her home in the early morning dawn. She wasn't sure where she was going but felt something pulling her in a westward direction.