“For chimeras, we’ll have Jay with rocks for the poison, and a short pole that we’ll pretend can cut you like claws or teeth,” Jace explained, speaking abnormally loudly. “As for the pixies, we’ll have Tyler with a blanker to shoot…whatever pixies shoot.”
Roman, Treaver, and Renaldo, who had brought two metallic spiders and a knife, were standing to the right side of the football and soccer field. They had named their team the Racers. The other team, with Chris, Jacob, and Millo, were the Napoleons.
“All right!” Jace announced, “The finish line is the smaller lake in that direction!” Jace indicated over his shoulder. “All of your team must reach the lake to win. If one team is partially there and the other team arrives with all of its members, then the second team to arrive will be awarded first place. Try not to hurt yourselves. The Racers will be going into that side of the bayou,” he gestured behind Roman, Treaver, and Renaldo, “And the Napoleons to the other side. You are not to cross to the other team’s side, or your team will be disqualified. Any questions?”
No one raised their hands or spoke out.
“Okay, then. The teams will have a two minute head start before I send in the wild animals, also known as the teenagers. Once they find you, you can be killed. Metaphorically, of course, Roman. If one of the Napoleons is knocked off their feet by a blanker, they’re out! If one of the Racers is hit by a stone, or hit with the pole, then they’re out! On your mark…get set… GO!”
Treaver immediately sped off into the forest with Renaldo helping him along. Roman had to run at full speed, gripping his sword tightly, to catch up. By the time he had, they were a good way inside of the bayou. Roman was panting already. There wasn’t much water around them, only a few ponds. He couldn’t see the clearing through all of the ferns and trees that steadily twisted in all directions. There was a smell like freshly cut grass that hung near the water, so mixed with sediment and dirt that it was a brownish color. The ground was an unorganized mesh of grass, dirt, mud, tree roots, and fallen leaves. Roman looked up. He could see the sky beyond the trees, dull and grey. It was so late that small patches of orange stained the clouds and cast shadows as vibrant as the sun itself would have. Ahead of him, Renaldo and Treaver came to a halt.
“ What’s the plan?” he asked Treaver, whose gray-blond hair looked nearly black in the shadowed foliage.
“Well, we don’t know where the finish is exactly, but it’s in that direction.” Treaver pointed off to his left. “So I’d suggest going that way.”
“And quickly,” Renaldo added, starting Treaver off, “Because every second counts. Now Roman,” he said as they started off at a trot, “don’t swallow. You can make the motion, but don’t actually swallow. Breathe only through your nose, and keep your head up when you run. Watch where you’re going while looking out for everything else. Got it?”
“How’s that supposed to help?”
“You’re not properly trained. Just do it and it’ll help. Oh, and stay on flat ground if you can. All right, let’s go!” He and Treaver broke out into a much faster pace. Roman tried to keep up, but inadvertently maintained a steady three yards behind them. There was no wind that could breach this thick area of plants, but Roman heard the air whistling past his ears as he ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He tried to keep his eyes on the ground while keeping his head level and concentrating on his surroundings while focusing on not swallowing and staying on the dry patches of ground. Since it had recently snowed, there were more mud patches deeper in the forest than usual. Roman could hear Treaver’s chair brushing against the leaves and occasionally cracking a twig or the collection of weapons bouncing in Treaver’s lap very slightly over the wind that froze his ears. The ends of Roman’s jacket flailed behind him, sometimes snapping back and hitting him. The zipper made an annoying clicking sound.
And things went wrong almost immediately.
Roman took the risk of slowing down to zip his jacket shut. But without concentrating on staying on the dry parts of the ground, his foot sunk into a particularly sparse patch of mud.
He tripped and his hands were swallowed by the ground. His sword skidded away, stopping by a tree. He had to first haul his hands, then his foot out of the mud that had sucked in his ankle. He jumped to his feet and grabbed his sword. His foot, clumsy in his desperation not to be left behind, caught in a rabbit hole. Roman lost his balance and hit his head on the tree.
Roman had to handle his foot delicately so as not to twist his ankle. He could no longer hear the sound of Treaver and Renaldo crashing through the forest. He glanced in the direction they had gone, with no sign of them. The shadows that now made up the majority of the forest deluded Roman’s sight. Roman dared not use his flashlight, lest Jill be nearby. Roman checked that his zipper was done up and that his shoe was on straight before running after Treaver and Renaldo.
Treaver had said that Roman would be too slow, even traveling light, leaving Roman to only hope that they would realize he was missing and come back for him. He had ruined their chances of winning, and it wasn’t even five minutes into the game.
Roman’s breath was starting to show in front of him in the dim light. He had to slow now to keep track of where to step in the dark. Roman dug his arm into his jacket pocket to take out his flashlight, which would be easier to use in the fading light because it was colored snow-white. But the flashlight was not in his pocket. He searched his other pocket and checked vainly whether his pants had pockets or not.
It must’ve rolled out when I tripped! Way to go. I hope that the zipped jacket was worth it. Roman could do nothing but scold himself as the darkness grew and the shadows fused together.
Roman started to grope around for protruding tree branches. He was also trying his best not to make any noise, though he had much less experience in doing so than the other Talismen. He was just thinking about how things couldn’t have been worse when he heard it. A few feet back, a small branch blowing in the wind, bouncing and reseeding, had caught him in the hair. But this time, he heard a twig snap.
Knowing that simply looking would do him no good, Roman immediately jumped, catlike in posture, out of the way and onto a nearby fallen log that smelled suspiciously like skunk. A rock about half the size of his fist hit the spot where he had been a moment before. Roman didn’t need a flashlight to see the shadow looming through the trees to his left.
It’s like Marco-Polo, Roman thought, Jill won’t have a flashlight because he’s an animal.
Almost as soon as Roman thought this, a small white light appeared, flickering over where the rock had just hit.
Oh, right, lions are cats. They can see in the dark. Roman would’ve groaned out loud and smacked himself on the forehead comically if he wasn’t trying to be silent. Roman was certain that Jill could hear his heart beating, it was pounding so hard. The hairs stood on Roman’s arms when he heard a scuffling behind him. Roman stole a glance, knowing perfectly well that Jill could easily get him in the split-second it took him to divert his attention.
It was not completely dark, and though Roman could hardly see the shadows of the trees, he recognized a small reflection of white amongst the black and deep gray. Judging from the pattern of its steps, and the increase of a smell that made him want to gag, it was a skunk.
At the same moment it appeared that the skunk was coming towards him, the flashlight found its way to Roman’s leg. When Roman jumped out of the way, the wind from the rock blowing against him, he heard a sort of squealing sound on contact of wherever the rock had hit. As Roman was running away, not rarely stumbling, he heard Jill holler.
Roman imagined that he could smell the spray of the skunk. He thought that Jill had found him when another flashlight came from his front, until he spotted a second one nearby.
“Shh!” Roman recognized Treaver’s voice.
“Don’t worry about Jill; he’s not coming back for a while.”
“What?” Renaldo demanded skeptically. “What could you have done to him?”
“Not me. A skunk.”
Treaver laughed so hard Roman thought that Jill would be able to hear him. “Let’s hurry up. We made it past the boulders before we realized that you weren’t following.”
Roman saw their shadows turn around and set out at a slightly slower pace than before. Roman followed their shadows’ movements. Occasionally Treaver would call out, not afraid for Jill to hear, something about where a rock was or where a tree branch was hanging off to the side.
It wasn’t long before Roman heard a splash up ahead.
“We made it!” Treaver cheered before, “Aw man! My chair!”
Roman felt the ankle-deep water sink into his shoes as they crossed the thin part that branched off of the lake, signaling that they had made it to the finish line. Renaldo quickly pulled Treaver out of the water.
“And we have our winners!” Jace shouted from somewhere up ahead. A set of lights were suddenly turned on, illuminating the clearing where the lake spread through. Jace was sitting in a blue-striped beach chair with a pitcher of iced-water, a small plate of cinnamon cookies, and a few magazines on a small, plastic table next to the chair. The lights were underneath the table and Jace’s chair. He was applauding them.
Roman was bewildered. Surely he was faking their victory and then the other team would surprise them from the trees? But after a moment, longer than Roman would have been able to keep from bragging, a small flutter of hope started quavering in his stomach.
“Did—Did we win?” Roman asked.
“No, I’m just clapping because it’s a new hand-exercise.” Jace must’ve been rolling his eyes, even though he was still wearing sunglasses in the darkness, “Yes you won. And impressive, too, with a new person on your team.”
“We won?” Treaver chocked disbelievingly, “But I hardly ever win RAA’s!”
“Yes, good for you,” Jace congratulated them, standing up. “And guess w—”
Jace was cut short from the mad-scrambling through the bushes off to Roman’s left. Jacob, Millo, Chris, and Tyler stepped out of the darkness, squinting.
“Guess who I caught!” Tyler boasted, holding up his blanker.
“It’s not fair!” Chris complained, “We never practice dodging blankers!”
“Actually, you did just now,” Jace argued. “You just didn’t succeed in getting here in one piece before the other team did.”
“Wait, they all got here before us?” Chris repeated disbelievingly. “No offense, of course, to Roman,” he added apologetically.
“Yup,” Renaldo boasted proudly, straightening his back and holding his head high. “It’s called teamwork. No newbie left behind.” Right, this coming from Renaldo, Roman thought irritably. “We’ve been here quite a while and Jay hasn’t even shown his face yet.”
“You haven’t been here that long,” Jace mumbled, back to his usual reserved tone. “Where is Jay, anyways? You didn’t meet him along the way?”
“I did,” Roman said tentatively.
“And you didn’t get out?” Chris challenged.
“Jay hit a skunk by mistake,” Roman could now hardly suppress a laugh. Neither could most of the other people in the clearing.
“Well, that counts as being distracted and not technically defeating it,” Jace concluded. “So the victory is legal.”
Jacob congratulated the Racers. Jacob’s voice, which Roman had expected to be strong, was deep but suppressed. He seemed almost as shy as Millo when he talked.
“It must have been quick dodging,” Millo added bashfully to Roman.
“Not really,” Roman said. “But thanks, anyways.”
“But there might not be skunks on the Island!” Chris complained.
“Yeah, there might be something that would eat the chimera, instead of just spraying it.” Jace smiled.
“Don’t mind him,” Jacob told Roman. “Chris can be a bit of a sore loser.”
“Looks like our newest member has some special talents.” Mr. Garretson came out of the shadows behind Jace. “That quick thinking of yours could prove useful. All of you to the infirmary to get checked by Jace and Roman. And congratulations, Roman,” he added. “You’ve won your first training session for your team.”
Roman helped Jace check all of the minor cuts and scrapes. He couldn’t believe how easily all of it came to him. He knew exactly what brand of medicineto put on each injury, even though he didn’t know the names of most. He knew exactly what angle to put a band aid on, and would correct every one that Jace, still wearing his sunglasses, put on. After a while, Jace just sat back and watched Roman work.
When everyone else was sent off, Jace stood up and walked over to Roman. “What was your power again?”
Roman sneered, trying not to smile. “Can’t remember.”
“One thing I actually do want to know is how you, a new kid on his first training session, managed to win it for your team. Most new kids fail miserably on their first go, whether they have a skunk or not. They would’ve been hit by that first rock.”
“Dunno,” Roman answered. “But how come we have training sessions at night, anyways?”
“We can’t guarantee that it’ll be constant light on the Island,” Jace chuckled, as if this was completely obvious. When Roman realized that normally there wasn’t even constant light, he realized that it was obvious.
That night Roman had one of his strangest dreams. It was a rare dream where he was aware that he was dreaming. He was standing outside the mansion, but it looked different. There were only three garages in the parking area, and without the helicopter in the center. The very air seemed different. Roman’s dreams normally came to him in flashes, but here he could’ve studied every minuscule line in the grass. He couldn’t smell anything, like he did in most dreams. Without having smell while his eyesight was so vivid, it felt almost like he was deaf.
“Heads up!” someone yelled, which meant that he wasn’t deaf. Roman jumped when he saw a football about to hit him in the face. It went right through his neck, and hit the ground behind him with a thud. Then a small child ran right through him to pick it up and throw it back towards a few others as if Roman was nothing more than an apparition.
Roman didn’t recognize any of the children that were suddenly there, playing in the field, even though the boy who had retrieved the ball looked strangely familiar. He was wearing a shirt with red and white stripes, similar to the one Caleb sometimes wore, ragged blue pants, and he looked about eight. He had beaming blue eyes, brown hair, and very pale skin. Roman had a sort of feeling that he couldn’t place. He knew that the feeling was of where he had seen the face before, but he still couldn’t place it.
As the boy ran towards the other kids, Roman heard a wisp of a familiar voice, but couldn’t make out whose it was. “Trent, don’t go that way!” It sounded almost like it was constricted; like somehow it was being restrained by something.
Roman scanned the scene to find where the voice was coming from. He spotted what looked like wind in the shape of a person running in slow motion toward the kids. It was just the background of grass and brick swirling together, though it had an outline. Roman looked away when he heard the kids screaming. They all ran straight past and through him and the wind specter. Everything froze for a moment, even the swirling specter. Another child that Roman thought he should recognize was about to run into him. It was a boy with sun-tanned skin, slightly older than the first. He had shaggy black hair and impossible purple eyes.
“I don’t know this kid, but he looks so familiar. Maybe as much as the first one,” Roman muttered to himself in confusion.
Roman glanced back to the strange whirlwind figure. It was facing towards the ferns surrounding the perimeter of the mansion.
Roman saw the first child cowering before something in the bushes. A lean man with eyes like sapphires and jet-black hair was emerging in front of him, looking intently at the boy.
“Leave him alone!” Roman yelled and ran toward them. Roman passed right through the man when he tried to tackle him, falling harmlessly into a patch of bushes. Then the dream unfroze.
Roman lifted his head to listen to what the man was now telling the child.
“Bad times are coming, kid.” His voice was no more than a whispered growl. “Your entire home, your family, and the world as you know it will be ours.” The man removed a knife from his pocket and put it to the boy’s neck. Roman’s heart skipped a beat. “But you can avoid it. You are going to be very powerful indeed, little one. I know that you’ve seen it. You will help us, or everything, including the thing closest to you, will be destroyed completely.”
A tear dripped down the child’s cheek. The man with sapphire eyes chuckled, “You have seen what you will do! My scout was right, eh? You can see into the future, but not change it. It’s the only way to avoid the worst. Think on that.”
When the man disappeared back into the forest, Roman started breathing again.
He looked to the man made of air. It was still running at them, but wasn’t making much progress. Then, everything started to slowly melt away, almost like paint dripping.
Roman heard the wind-man scream, “No, not now! Trent!” The last word was slowly dragged out.
Roman was in his room, only recognizable from the wall, floor coloring, and structure. It wasn’t how he’d left it. His computer was replaced by a pile of board games with ribbons tied in bows attached to them. Another trunk was nearly empty, and what had been in it was spilled out onto the floor.
He was still dreaming.
Another boy, about Treaver’s age, was sitting on the bed, staring at the ground with a contemplative expression. He had smooth brown hair and dark blue eyes. Roman realized with a jolt that he was the first boy he had seen before. The calendar on the wall read:
He was dreaming about something that happened in the past, an entire generation ago. Roman searched for the wind-shaped person that he had seen before, but there was no sign of it.
Someone knocked on the door. “Trent! Quit skulking and get your lazy butt in gear for a HHC!” That’d be…hand-to-hand combat. Yes, that’s it.
The boy, Trent, glanced up from his feet.
“Be right there, Jaycee.” he answered gloomily.
Jaycee? Trent started mulling around in his spilt-over trunk for something. This was almost twenty years ago, before Mr. Garretson’s brother had destroyed most of the old Talismen.
Mr. Garretson was thirty-four in the present, where Roman lay, sleeping. Around this time, he would be fourteen. Jace was thirty-five, and would be fifteen.
Trent was leaving with a brick in his hand, so Roman followed him out of the room. The boy that had been knocking on the door was gone. Many things were different in the hallway, the carpet brown, the tables gone, the extra storage closet that marked the third floor instead had the same one-way glass on Mr. Garretson’s door, except it had someone else’s name;
Another thing that Roman noticed as they made their way out was that the stairs leading up to the fourth story were gone completely.
He followed Trent down the stairs to the first floor. The red rug he was used to was black, and the walls were colored a nasty brown instead of white, missing the sketches of predatory animals. The part of the kitchen that he could see had the same floor and wall, but there were more chairs that were smaller, and only one stove that had a burner underneath it.
Trent walked over to the storage closet and grabbed two swords, something that looked like an electric cattle prod, and a blanker-gun that had a bag full of something suspiciously similar to paintballs strapped to its side. He didn’t look at all happy to be out in the open, frowning with bleary, narrowed eyes.
He dragged the swords along the floor, making a tear here and there, and through the entrance. Roman crept out behind him, seeing that the front yard looked just like the previous dream.
“Hey, don’t drag them on the carpet.” A girl with curly blond hair in a ponytail and green eyes appeared from nowhere. “Martinez’ll probably have your head if he has to pay another fifty dollars for another floor change.”
“And you should probably stop wearing jeans that look like they were shredded by a dog,” he sneered. He shoved past Rita, and she had to side-step to keep from being cut by the trailing blade.
Okay, Roman thought, So…sweet little kid to very anxiety-depressed teenager. What happened to him?
Roman’s question wasn’t answered, because before he could follow Trent to the training clearing, the dream changed yet again.
This time, he was in Mr. Garretson’s room, which branched off of his office. Roman had never been in here before; the only thing that gave it away were the papers stacked on the desk and plaques for medical degrees, along with the fact that Mr. Garretson was in the bed.
Before Roman could do anything, the Talisman leader sighed and sat up in his bed. He saw Roman.
“Did you have the same dream I just had?” he asked warily. “I thought I saw you.”
“Um, we’re still asleep…I think.” Roman knitted his eyebrows. “But why are we having the same dream?”
If he really was with me…He must’ve been the wind person!
“There’s no way to tell. There was one part of the vision where you were at one side of the lawn, but then all of the sudden you were at the other. What happened to you?”
“I’m not sure what happened. Time just sort of…froze. And I walked over to the man talking to Trent.”
“You knew that was Trent?”
“Um, I just heard his name in the second dream. Who was Trent anyway?”
“What second dream?” Mr. Garretson either hadn’t heard or didn’t care about the separate question.
“There was a second dream where he was sitting in his room, moping, and then he went out for a training session.”
“Hmm,” Mr. Garretson rubbed his chin. “Apparently you’ve been seeing some of my past dreams. The one that we were in together I’ve had for several nights in a row, now.”
“Why?” was the only way Roman could summarize his ever-growing list of questions.
“I can only think of one explanation. And if I’m right, then there’s one more dream that I want to show you.”
“You control which dreams you have?”
“I’m consciously awake, aren’t I? All I have to do is think it.”
“What if it’s my dream and not yours?”
“It’s obviously both of our dreams.”
Roman sighed. “Whatever.”
Once again, the dream shimmered and melted to liquid, and repainted itself into another. This one wasn’t at the mansion, though.
Roman had no idea whatsoever of their location. They were both floating in mid-air like the gravity only existed in the middle of the sky, except there was no sky. In all directions were the colors from dark purple to black and every shade in between swirling together, apart the small, spherical, transparent open space where they were hovering.
“Dreams are supposed to be suppressed memories. And I don’t exactly remember coming here. Exactly where are we?” Roman asked Mr. Garretson, trying not to sound panicked.
“Not all dreams are memories,” Mr. Garretson said, unperturbed.
“What the hell does that mean?” Roman demanded, losing his temper.
“You might just find out one day. In the meantime, just watch.”
“What’s there to watch?”
Mr. Garretson flicked his head. Roman looked to where he was indicating. Part of the space in front of them was shimmering more than the rest. The purple part started to brighten into different shades and colors, and the black parts started to blend into shadows.
Mr. Garretson seemed to be waiting for him to react, but Roman still couldn’t make out what the outlines were forming. Every time they came close to almost taking shape, it deformed again.
“What exactly is supposed to happen?” Roman asked, still trying to control his terror.
“You can’t see it?”
That was the first time Roman had ever seen Mr. Garretson look surprised and confused.
“I see swirling purple and black. But the purple keeps changing color…A little.”
“Hmm.” Mr. Garretson didn’t look too disappointed. “I guess only I can see it.”
“See what?” Roman repeated.
“You might not be meant to see it,” Mr. Garretson continued. “I thought you were, since you appeared in my dream. I guess not.”
“So, you aren’t going to tell me what you saw?”
“Maybe they’ll show you some day, but not now.”
“They?” Roman felt his voice raising a few octaves.
“Oh, well. It’s probably almost dawn. I’ll just wake up about now.”
“You can control when you wake up?” Roman didn’t want to be left alone, wherever they were, floating in midair, waiting to wake up.
“Only when I have odd dreams like this,” he said calmly.
“You have these dreams often?”
“Millo claims that it’s my first power. Having dreams with meaning, otherwise called visions.”
Roman wanted to ask him another question besides the ones that he wouldn’t answer, but the questions of where they were overwhelmed his mind. Mr. Garretson took that as an end to the conversation, because he started to shimmer as a sunrise on a river. Slowly, his body turned back into the swirling air, blending into its background, and then disappeared entirely.
Roman was about to scream but he felt like his eyes and mouth were closed, and his warm sheets were around him. He opened his eyes. They felt as if they’d never been open in the first place.
He was in his bed, facing the wall. Relief chocked him, and felt almost as bad as the fear. Roman knew he should’ve felt as if he, his teacher, or both, were crazy. But he knew that if he wasn’t insane, and he did have the dream, then Millo must’ve been right about Mr. Garretson’s power.
Once he stopped the uncontrollable shaking, he glanced at his alarm clock. It said 8:36. Roman pushed the confusing thoughts to the back of his mind until he could think clearly. He shouldn’t be in bed; it was a Monday. The immediate confusion disappeared when Roman remembered that they had this Monday off from school. He felt like going back to sleep, but was afraid of what other dreams lay in store for him.