Melee Taria doesn't know why she dreams of death or why she can make her hands glow.
That evening my nightmares paid me a visit. My fingers tore into the pillows as I watched my dream-Mother’s death again. I ground my teeth and prepared to relive the green-eyed man’s death when to my surprise, something new happened.
In my new dream, I stand alone in a massive domed room made of white marble. There are open windows spaced out at precise intervals that are angled in such a way to let sunlight stream in arched triangles across the sparkling stone. Around the room lay thick, lush pillows of all colors, carved stools and woven wicker chairs--nothing matches and it’s as though dozens of individuals dragged their own seat into a giant circle. The only break in the circle is a carved wooden chair on a raised platform that sits at the north side of the room under the largest of the windows. Through the window, a raised hill with a flat top is visible.
On the opposite wall of the chair hangs a dark purple portrait that contrasts against the white marble. The woman in the painting is middle-aged with a creamy coffee skin tone, dark hair slicked into a bun, and piercing violet-grey eyes that bore into me as though she was flesh-and-blood. Her face looks serious and there is no hint of a smile or joy. She wears a dark purple fitted top edged with white and a white sash off her shoulder. Under the portrait rests a plaque with the same scripted writing I use in my journals. It read, "Do not let the mistakes of the past guide the mistakes of the future."
In this new dream, I'm not sure what to expect. I am stuck studying the portrait for a long time as though it holds all my answers. Through the windows I hear distant sounds that come and go like a mountain stream. I sense a bustling city outside.
The door opens. A thin-boned man with a wrinkled face glides in. Startled, I recognize him as the same man who murders me in my third nightmare. Now he appears younger, less defeated, and there are no traces of war on his features, although the deep blue bags under his eyes give away his exhaustion. He wears a strange blue hat that is tilted cock-eyed on his head. It tips back and has cloth trailing down his back...or his shoulder, in this case.
"The choice has always been yours," He rumbled. I am surprised by his deep, firm voice that harbors none of the exhaustion hinted at by his hunched frame "But once you make it, everything will change. This is one choice that cannot be undone."
I glance back at the firm woman’s portrait. She appears as grim as the old man. "I know."
"Then decide wisely," He says sagely. His trembling arms hoist an ancient-looking book towards me. The spine is cracked and the pages black in age. "But to do so, you shall need to seek out the truth. But quickly. You won't have much time."
I've never seen such a swallowing gaze before. He seems to be peering through the dream right to me. "You can change the path," He advises. "Choose very wisely."
I woke up with my arms extended outward as though reaching for the book. I’ve completely skipped the last two nightmares. Disoriented and fighting my racing heart, the bed became too hot for me. I threw off the covers, dashed across the room and flung open the window to gasp in the cool early autumn air.
At first I tried writing the new dream down in my journal, but my hands trembled with each stroke. Giving up, I changed to my next tactic: I slipped on my running shoes and snuck downstairs. As the moon slowly set in the sky, I sprinted around the empty streets. I made sure to jump aside when the rare car glided by. I headed toward my favorite park--an isolated patch of trees half a mile from my house. After running the circuit of trails and feeling sufficiently tired, I turned home and made it up the stairs just minutes before my parent’s alarm buzzed off.
After showering, I waited until the last possible moment to dash downstairs. My real Mother, not the long-haired beauty from my dreams, had pancakes sitting at my place at the kitchen table. She vainly smiled at me before turning on the juicer. My brother has always prefered freshly made juice in the morning of his games, so she makes it for him before he comes down to eat.
Just as I began shoveling the first bite, she hit the button. A whine pierced the air. The juicer sparked and popped. She hopped back as a small stream of smoke puffed out the back.
"Must have shorted out," She murmured before pulling the plug. "Jeremiah will just have to settle for orange juice."
Mom dumped the pieces of fruit down the garbage disposal and I finished breakfast. Ready to go, I grabbed my lunch box and made for the door.
"Amanda," Mom stopped me. "Remember your brother has a game this evening. We're all going."
"Fine," I snapped. I slammed the door just to prove my displeasure and began pounding the pavement towards the school. I felt much calmer by the time I rounded the final corner leading downhill towards the school building.
Social-behavior class passed quietly. I am the only girl in the small class of four boys who have spent more time arguing with each other than accomplishing any real work. The teacher wanted us to draw pictures of things that made us angry. Normally I choose not to indulge the adults in my life, but today I drew two stick figures representing my parents.
In English class, laptops sat on our desks. I poked mine tentatively.
"Today you're going to take an online reading assessment," Mrs. McCullough explained to the class. "Please turn on your computers, access the Internet, and type in the address that is on the board."
I'd never used a computer before. My stepfather has one in his office that he uses frequently and Jeremiah has a laptop in his room, but as I rule, I don’t mess with them. I glanced around the room to see what everyone else was doing. I followed along as the guy next to me flipped up the lid and pressed a button near the screen.
The button blinked green before the computer emitted a loud buzz followed by a sizzling pop. Sparks flew out from the bottom. Someone shrieked and the guy next to me scooted out of his seat. Twenty pairs of eyes jerked around to the back to stare at me as a cloud of sharp-smelling smoke floated around my desk.
"Sit down. Sit!" Mrs. McCullough commanded, tapping her way towards me. "Now, that's strange. It must have shorted out." She cautiously closed the lid while waving off the smoke with her other hand. "I'll get you another one."
"Can I just take it on paper?" I asked, thoroughly confused. The morning's incident with the blender had resurfaced in my thoughts.
"Unfortunately, there are no paper copies. I'll just get you another laptop," Mrs. McCullough tried to smile at me reassuringly. The class continued staring at me as she shuffled her way back to the laptop cart. I sighed in defeat and buried my face in my hands. I wanted nothing to do with the computers this morning.
Another buzz erupted from the desk next to me. The boy bounded out of his seat completely and just in time. His screen lit up with criss-crossed lines of different colors before it shrieked and shut down. The desks in the front of me began to emit their own noises, causing several shrieking students to dash from their seats to the front of their room.
I sat helpless. Mrs. McCullough raised her voice to tell everyone to calm down. The dusty-haired student next to me looked me right in the eye and asked, "What are you doing?" "I'm not doing anything," I snapped back. "I'm just sitting here."
"Michael!" Mrs. McCullough chastised. "That's enough!" And then one of the boxes atop the computer cart crackled and sparked. Mrs. McCullough yelped and shot out of her shoes.
"Well," she trembled. "Amanda, maybe it's best you go to student services."
"I didn't do anything!" I insisted. "I know, I know...but just go." She jerked her head towards the door. I sighed, but yanked up my backpack and stormed out the door.
The assistant principal, Mr. Shinedown, didn't seem surprised to see me signing my name to the list of delinquents sent to student services atop the secretary's desk. He folded his pudgy arms and leaned against the door frame.
"What did you do now?"
"Nothing," I retorted.
He stared long and hard at me with one eyebrow reaching for the sky. When I didn’t offer anything else, he closed the door to his office. I could see through the window in the wall as he picked up the phone and punched some numbers. The conversation was brief. When he swung the door back open, he resumed his previous stance against the door jamb. I could see from the hard set of his jaw that he didn't believe Mrs. McCullough.
"When the bell rings, go to your next class. Make sure I don't see you up here again today." With that, he retreated back into his office.
I was relieved to go to gym class. If running was allowed in the hallways, I would have sprinted there. I dressed out quickly and jumped into the attendance line before any of the other girls.
My schedule change meant a new gym period, but my reputation preceded me. Today the coaches announced we'd be undergoing fitness tests, including the timed mile run. I jumped to the front of the pack and no one bothered to argue. After they blew the starting whistle, I exploded forward.
As my feet pounded the pavement, the previous class vanished from my mind. This was my element--air rushing around me, deep breaths of air, sweat, and my racing heart all pushing me forward faster and faster. As I quickly began to catch the back of the walking pack, they jumped sideways out of my way. My whole world focused down on me and the path. If not for the asphalt, I could have imagined that in the heat and bright sunlight that I was back in Africa, running with the Sumi tribe.
"Stop, Amanda! Stop running! You're done!"
The voice shattered my focus. I dropped from my run into a walk. I'd ran halfway into the first curve. The coaches were shouting and waving their arms at me. Seeing that I had stopped, they did, too. Coach Mark jogged his way towards me while the other gym coach, Coach Gonzalez, stayed at the finish line calling times for the red-faced boys who'd been chasing me.
"Did you hear your time?" He asked me. Coach Mark was one of those imposing guys with a thick neck and boulders for shoulders, but right now with his grin stretching from ear to ear he looked ridiculous.
I shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter?" He asked in surprise. "Doesn't matter! You just shattered the girls' school mile record!"
"It's just a number."
"5:54," Coach Mark continued. "And you kept running! Look at you. You're not even winded!"
I stared at him. My lack of care flustered him as he waved his hands in the air. "I'm going to get water," I decided, leaving him standing there.
The water fountain stood between two tall pine trees and in front of a growing line of girls who'd broken a sweat from walking in the sunshine.
"It's too hot out here," someone in the front of me whined. "We should go inside."
"Totally," another high-pitched voice agreed.
A shorter girl with bushy auburn hair turned around to look at me. A wilted smiley face sticker peeled off her freckled cheek. Her t-shirt read "Mitchell Middle Cheerleading" and her plushy white sneakers scarcely had a speck of dust on them. She sported bright pink fingernails and a rainbow-beaded necklace.
"Why do you run so fast?" She asked me. “Is it true that you run to school? Lauren said she sees you on the way home.” She jerked her thumb at her mortified blonde-haired friend. I shrugged and looked away to stare at the pine trees.
"Your locker's right next to mine," The redhead continued. "In the locker room. Why do you always wear the same thing to school? Don't you think it's a little weird? Do you even wash your clothes?"
"Dora!" Another one of her blonde friends hissed. Dora waved her hand to shush her friend up.
"It's true!" Dora retorted. "You know you all think it!”
Another of her friends, also in a cheer leading t-shirt, slid up from behind her and began whispering urgently in her ear. They all stared at me like I'd suddenly turned green and grown an extra set of arms.
"Look--Amanda, Melee Taria, whatever you want to be called--everyone wants to know--is it true that you run to school and back home again?"
"Yes, I run," I answered. "I'm not lazy like you weak, spoiled girls."
"Hey!" Dora protested, but at that point, I'd given up on the water and had stormed away back into line for the next fitness test. Coach Gonzalez was lining everyone up in rows across the soccer field. I found a place in the back at the end of a line.
"On your backs! Sit ups!" She shouted over the groans. "Make sure you go all the way up and down. As many as you can in 30 seconds. Keep your hands behind your neck! Quit whining!"
Something blue flashed in the corner of my vision. I turned to look but saw nothing but rippling grass all the way across the field and over the fence line that protected the soccer field from the agriculture land lab area. There were no classes out there. I wrote it off as a trick of light from the greenhouse as Coach Gonzalez's whistle blared to get started.
"Up-down-up-down, don't give up! Talvor, quit daydreaming and get started! Macondo, no cheating! All the way down!"
The coaches split us in half for the rest of class to alternate between pull-ups (eight) and push-ups (28, regular style) followed by a 100m dash. By the last whistle, most of my classmates were all too glad to be shuffling back into the air conditioning. I found myself being followed by Dora and the cheerleading crew.
"Is it true that you used to live in Africa?" Dora asked from behind my heels. "Is that why you are fit and act all weird and stuff like that?”
I ignored her and lengthened my stride.
"What about the scars on your wrists? Did something bite you? Some kind of African ritual? Lindsey heard they pierced you with sticks."
"Dora! Leave me out of this!" The taller blonde hissed.
"Yeah, leave her alone. You remember what happened to Jordan?" Lauren, the shorter of the two blondes, said desperately.
"Jordan deserved what he got. Right?" She sped up to come around side of me. During class she'd barely managed one pull-up, but here she was, racing down the hill towards the locker rooms just to keep pace with me.
"Dora!" Lindsey hissed again. I watched her from the corner of my eye as she drew a circle in the air around her ear.
"I'm just being nice," Dora insisted.
"No, you're being weird. Remember what Jennifer said--" another one of her friends broke off as she caught me looking back at her.
By now we'd reached the locker rooms. I hopped over a bench to reach my locker before her, to grab my clean clothes and dash for the bathroom to evade her questions while we changed. Somehow Dora still managed to slide beside me.
"Why is it you want to be called Melee Taria?" Dora asked. "It's kind of a strange name. A little random. Is that what they called you over there?"
I sucked in a deep breath and stepped into her personal space bubble. She had to lean back to look up at me. I poked my hand into the center of her chest, causing her to lean back more.
"Coach Gonzalez!" Someone shouted--I think it was her friend Lauren.
"I would listen to your friends," I hissed. "Leave me alone."
I could see surprise on Dora's friend's faces as I hopped back over the bench and stormed away from their red-headed friend without harming one hair on her head. I'd already vanished into the bathroom by the time Coach Gonzalez stuck her head out of her office to see what the shouts had been about.
* * * * * *
I'd hoped the strangeness of the day ended with the one class that normally relaxed me. I made it through lunch, sitting by myself safely in a corner, and into a computer-free, Dora-less math class without any further oddness. Ms. Johns faced the white board and was writing an equation from our textbook in blue ink when a strong sense of deja vu overwhelmed me. It was the oddest sensation--I could see Ms. Johns and the class around me, but I could also see another room, with other students facing forward just like I was. The second room was built of sandstone brick and the teacher wrote with her finger across a smooth, blackened portion of the wall. Red shimmered from where her finger traced, mapping out the same exact equation.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I opened them, the double-vision had vanished. Only Ms. Johns called on someone to try and solve the problem at the board. I looked down at the open textbook on my desk. On the left lay all the examples of how to solve the equations and on the right were the practice problems. I blinked--why did I already know how to do this? Unsure, I discreetly began working on the homework. When Ms. Johns finally turned back around, I whipped to the back of the book to check the odd problems.
They were all correct.
I flipped to tomorrow's lesson, and the day after that, and still...I already knew how to do it.
I sat frozen in my desk, absolutely flummoxed. What was happening to me?