One more thing that had changed, for Sadja, was she learned how to recognize when she was dreaming.
Before, everything was confused. She went through her days like flipping book pages, most of them flowing before her eyes without really taking to memory what happened in each of them, and every one quite similar.
Wake up, get fed, get shot through with needles, medical exam, caring words and a smile from Verna, and then go to sleep for more uneasy dreams, in an endless cycle that often had her push her fingers deep into her palm to understand when she was dreaming and when she was awake.
For a given definition of awake. Everything felt blurry – every time. And every time, Verna’s starry grin lurked behind the corner.
So how could she say she was dreaming?
She had to learn to recognize reality first. Even pain was welcome to her. That time the monster bit into her arms, she had cried and felt awful for days, but it was her pain still. It belonged to her because that was her decision and something that actually happened to her. Not something that had to be put into her mind to keep her docile.
When she ate the decades-old cans of food, full of preserves (whatever they might be), with the Hunter, she had felt such blessing on her tongue! Better than any fruit or soup of injected food she had been given before.
And when she had decided to come back and use her blood that way, she had done so out of her own will. She had felt every moment. The crisp snow under her naked feet, the cool air passing its finger throw her hair, the scabs stretching over her skin… each of these had been thanks to her own choices.
She had been alive, for the first time since she could remember.
This was a bit different.
She stood in the middle of a forest. At first she had believed it to be the same she’d been running through for weeks, but certain things were different. She did not feel like she was breathing and there was no white puff coming out of her mouth. Colors were slightly duller and to her trained nose, smells came mute. Plus, if she looked down, she couldn’t count the number of her fingers and if she pressed them over her palm, she felt it more in her head than on her skin.
Hence, this was a dream.
Or something like it.
She couldn’t exactly remember how she came here. A dark presence loomed over her mind, a faceless anxiety that told her this wasn’t the right place for her and she should really wake up and escape, once again.
But she was a bit tired.
And this place, whatever it was, did look nice.
Safer than most.
The same grey pines sipping red like the blood from her own wounds, but there were no dark creatures moving from branch to branch, or trying to make take a snip at her calves.
She sat on a moss-covered rock, not unlike those she found when she threw herself down the waterfall. It even showed the same weird brambles growing over the stone arch.
As she sat she pulled her tail against her chest and gently stroked it. It had a nice scent, like it was supposed to. She hated it when she smelled like wet dog, after the rain or getting wet.
“Aren’t you going to wake up?” Asked a female voice.
It seemed to come next to her ear.
It was different from those of Verna, or the woman who had shot the Hunter, or even the hisses and clicks of the moth-people. She couldn’t put her finger on how old it was. But it sounded gently curious and benevolent enough.
Besides, this was a dream.
It would only polite to reply.
“I don’t know.” She stroked her tail, as if looking for an answer between her hairs. “I like it here.”
“You’re free to stay as much as you want,” the voice replied. “But I am not sure that’s going to be good for you in the long run.”
Another girl walked through the pines.
She had long, beautiful red hair and wore a blindfold.
She had a nice white robe that reminded her a bit too much of Verna’s clothing, which made Sadja jolt with attention even in a dream.
But the redhead did not seem to notice her.
She waked ahead, advancing through the trees and stumbling over and over. She seemed to be looking for something.
“Who is that girl?” She asked.
“Someone who got lost. Do you wish to help her?”
“I do not know how. I don’t even know who she is.”
She did remember seeing someone like that in the forest. In the actual forest. Once or twice. But she had always thought… they were hallucinations, or something like that. Pieces of the dream falling into reality.
She did not know her.
But she did look lost.
Sadja stood up from the rock and took an hesitant step towards the other.
She had disappeared.
Sadja stretched her neck to see through the woods.
“Where did she go?”
“Maybe she just found what she was looking for.”
“Would you have liked to help her?”
“Would have liked to at least try.”
“I see. And did you think what’s going to happen when you wake up?”
That gave her pause.
The forest loomed over her. She followed a blade of golden light falling from the sky, but she couldn’t really see the sun beneath the canopy of red leaves. It fell on the dark brown, almost-black soil, lightning up a few blades of thin grass.
“I feel like it’s going to be something bad.”
“Then why not to stay here forever?”
Sadja frowned. She did not like this dream.
She was not sure it was her own dream anymore. The voice did not sound like Verna, and she’d made the dream far more pleasant. Also, each of them always featured some kind of machinery. Oil, wires.
This was just the forest.
And yet the question persisted.
The ghost of the blond girl stalked her thoughts.
“I don’t want to disappear,” she replied in a whisper.
“That’s a good answer.” The voice seemed pleased.
Sadja felt a hand touch her shoulders.
She did not turn.
A part of her, the same part that got lost in the smells of the world, the part that kicked at her guts when she was in doubt, that same instinctual part told her that if she had turned, if she had looked at who or what that hand belonged to, she’d been destroyed in a million white fragments like scattered fresh snow.
So she did not look.
“Remember this feeling. When you do go back, remember what it felt. You do not want to disappear. I very much understand that.”
“Who are you?”
The voice smiled.
She did not speak anymore.
The hand left her shoulder.
And she was alone.
Sadja hunched over, stroking her tail.
I don’t want to disappear.
She held onto that thought.
The Hunter had freed her in the end. And when he told her about bringing her to his town – and that she could go wherever she wanted as Spring came, she had felt very much like this.
I don’t want to disappear.
Like she had learned how to breath all over.
I don’t want to disappear.
Sadja jumped off the rock and ran through the forest.
Pic by NFWarAuthor’s Notes: not much to say about this I’m afraid. Glad to see Sadja again. Thanks for reading.