1. Dreams

It started when you were five. A repeating nightmare. It always began the same way. With you standing outside the house.

Sometimes you were waiting for someone. But at the end of the dream you never remember who it was you were waiting so patiently for.

Sometimes it was winter. Sometimes it was snowing.

Sometimes it was summer and scorching hot.

But the wind was always blowing. Blowing so hard as if to wipe away your future and everything around you. Howling past your face in withering heat or bitter cold.

Around the time you were thirteen the dreams became lucid. You would know it was a dream. The dream. But you still couldn't do anything to change the outcome.

You didn't always have the dream. But one a week or so it'd happen. Like clockwork. This time is no different.

You're outside the house again, and you know exactly what not to do. It was like an ever expanding puzzle you'd spent most of your life memorizing in the hope of one day solving it. But realistically your brain can invent whatever cop out plot it wanted to end the dream in the same way. Namely, your death.

If you kept waiting without doing anything a huge meteor falls from the sky and crushes the house into the ground. The last thing you'd see is the fiery shockwave from the impact engulf you in a blaze of glory.

The snow is coming down in waves of white. The wind is howling harder than ever. Or maybe not. Experiences are always more visceral in the moment than in memory, whether or not the experiences in question are simulated by your own brain.

You're cold. Your face feels like it's rapidly having all remnants of feeling drained out of it. It doesn't really matter. You could just stand here and see the meteor again. But you don't really feel like it.

The winter dreams are the hardest to predict. Because you can't really see which direction to walk. If you walk toward the distant mountains a giant avalanche happens. If you go towards the river a giant monster comes out and chases you down faster than a hunting dog. If you go into the house many things can happen. If you stay in the kitchen a hooded man comes and shoots you in the face with a rifle. If you lock him out the stove explodes. If you avoid the explosion the roof collapses. If you go into the bedroom your ornamental knife you always keep as a memento from your late father picks itself up and stabs you in the chest. And so on and so forth. This dream is rigged for only one thing.

To kill you.

You decide to go into the house anyway and take your chances. You lock the door behind you and bolt it. If you don't do either the hooded man will come or a cute blonde girl depending on where in the house you go. Both of them shoot you on sight, though.

You decide to change the plot and hide somewhere you'd never tried before. The closet just in front of the front door.

You turn the light on and carefully grab the handle, turning it slowly. You swallow, hard. Anything could jump out of there and eat you. Literally. You know it's futile to fight like this against your own brain, but the stubborn part of your psyche refuses to give up. You yearn to finally win this game. Never give up. Never say die. Let's make it happen, you think.

You hear nothing as you start to slowly open the door. It creaks with an ominous screech. The light starts parting the darkness of the closet like the sun rising over a strange land. You see nothing, nothing. And then, you suddenly slam the door with all your might.

You had seen a glint of something. Eyes. Claws. Who knows. Anything. The door thuds meatily against something and refuses to close. Your eyes jump to the edge of the door. A thin hand, is clutching the door from the inside. You scream, and slam the door harder. You put your back into it and push the door like hell. You hear a groan from inside. Your heart beats a thousand beats a minute like staccato drumbeats in your ears. Your breathing is laboured and panting.

You brace your legs against the floor and push back into the door. Whatever is inside the door starts pushing back with a vengeance. You cuss and yell god only knows what as you pound your fists into the door in desperation. Whatever is in there is god awfully strong. You can't hold on.

Your feet start sliding forward. Your legs ache. Your hands are sweating, your palms are slipping down the door. Your arms are burning. Your hands paw around uselessly trying and failing to find friction on the smooth door. You can't grab the edge, lest whatever it is inside takes your fingers clean off. Or your hand. Or your arm. Maybe pull your head off while it's at it.

Every nerve ending and fibre of your being feels like it's on fire. You scream into the darkness. A second later your legs slip out from under you and the door explodes open, throwing you two meters into the front door. The wind whips out of you as your back collides with a thunderous thud. You probably broke something. But there's no time to think.

You bounce off the door and as your feet hit the ground you pounce with blind despair. You hear nothing but your heartbeat and the blood rushing through your ears. With a roar you put everything into a punch, straight to the head of whatever is slinking its way slowly from the closet door.

You feel your fist collide with a surprisingly soft medium as you give everything you have into the blow. Black eyes and dirty brown hair flash by as the figure collapses onto the floor like a ragdoll. You stand there paralyzed with caged energy and pumping adrenaline. After what feels like a million years the figure moans in pain and pushes back its hair as it tries to stand up. Failing and falling like a mop to the floor. You blink in disbelief.

"Sonya?"