Actually, she tried.
Her shoulders were stiff as was her neck. That much she could tell. So stiff, in fact, that she feared any movement would cause the muscle fibers in the afflicted areas to snap and roll into knots under her skin.
She winced at the thought.
Cassandra then decided to see if she could try and figure out where she was. Her eyes refused to open, she found, but instead of being filled with panic, something else came to mind. This was normal…for whatever reason. She couldn’t quite place why, but something about the stillness of the air and the vague warm-yet-not-warm-or-cold temperature of wherever she was felt familiar.
Now that was the strange part. Not just strange but now threatening. That word, familiar, flashed in her mind with bright, angry red letters.
Her eyes snapped open at the revelation.
She stared up at an endless, twilight sky. The clouds weren’t still, but they weren’t moving. She looked away, the desire to avoid a headache stronger than wanting to take in the rare sight.
Cassandra cringed. Well, she could move without tearing anything. This was good. But everything seemed to twinge or throb. She would have to move carefully. The girl pulled herself to her feet and took a breath.
Or rather, she tried.
Cassandra gagged, the air slicing through her before settling into her lungs like sticky clumps of clay. She began to cough, her back seizing with pain and panic. The scenery before her began to tip. Strange, the girl couldn’t help but think as she fell to the ground. It hadn’t even occurred to her that there even was scenery to look at. She caught glimpses of a forest, trees too large for her to comprehend. As she fell to her knees, a strange sound danced into her ears.
What a stubborn one!
It was a man’s voice. Young and the image of a tall, dark haired figure filled her narrowing mind.
This has got to be, what, the third time now?
Cassandra rolled to her side, her left shoulder and hip screamed in protest. The ground, though covered with sandy dirt and grass, felt much more like she had fallen into a pile of ground glass and needles.
Yes, yes, this tends to happen as we clean things up. I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. I tried to wake you last time, but you actually managed words! And do you want to know what you told me?
Cassandra rolled onto her back, gasping as her body buckled and snapped with spasms. She stared up at the sky, the clouds gone. A blackness stood right above her. It could have been inches or miles away; she couldn’t tell.
You told me, ‘Don’t!’ You didn’t want me to stop the pain, you wanted to stare and take in as much as you could. Continued the voice. See, the first time you said nothing. It’s not unusual for people to sometimes be stuck. But a second time? No, I was rude. I didn’t listen and woke you up anyway. But this time? I want to, but I can’t.
Stillness oozed out of the black thing that hovered above her. The sky began to turn gray.
Well, you’ve made an impression on me now, little one. I’ll be keeping a close eye on you.
Where the blackness hadn’t gotten to yet began to glow a bright, blinding white.
It’s time to wake up now, Cassandra.
She sat up, but instead of a strange, painful air, Cassandra was met with the usual dust of her room. She looked around. Something had woken her up, but what?
Her phone buzzed again
“Huh?” Cassandra looked down. It was Raphael. “Ah!”
She dove for her phone. “What is–gyah!” She tumbled out of bed.
“Uh, you okay up there?” Raphael asked on the other line.
Cassandra groaned. “Yeah, yeah. Just forgot what gravity was for a second. You still got the key?”
“C’mon in and help yourself to whatever you want.” She grumbled, pulling herself up. “I gotta get dressed. Sorry. Slept in.” She rubbed her lower back. As she shut her phone, she heard the front door swing open.
Cassandra sighed. She leaned back against her bed and stared at the bathroom door. It was ajar, and she could see the soft blue light coming through the rippled privacy glass. Letting out yet another sigh, Cassandra pulled herself up and made her way to her closet. She left the door open. As she pulled on her pants, she could hear the struggling gurgle of the coffee maker. They did need a new one, but nobody in her family seemed to notice or care.
She stepped out to see Raphael leaning against the door frame. “I figured we could use some coffee. Your folks won’t mind if we take their coffee tumblers, will they?”
Cassandra shrugged. “Probably.”
“Ah. Yeah, I guess they would.”
Raphael blinked. “What?”
Cassandra gave him another shrug. “I said whatever. Not that it’d matter. We can just clean them when we get back.”
Her friend stared. Raphael studied her, his dark eyes flicking over her features, trying to find something that wasn’t there.
“Yeah,” he said after a moment. “I guess there is that. Alright. You ready?”
“Okay. Seth, um, already headed out. He wasn’t sure if your folks were home or not.”
Cassandra’s shoulders sagged. “He’s the only one who can visit Liridon right now, right?” She followed Raphael down the stairs.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Not that anyone else seems to be able to see him. He and Nao are–well, were–at different hospitals.”
“Oh, yeah. I heard she got out.” Cassandra stuck her hands in her pockets. She leaned against the wall and watched Raphael move about the kitchen. “Her family doesn’t want her talking to anybody else yet.”
Raphael gave a nod as he grabbed the two tumblers. “Three days out now. Same with Zelde.”
“What about John?”
Raphael held his hands up. “No clue. Seth’ll find out for us.”
Cassandra looked at the fruit bowl on the kitchen table. “Yeah.” Her eyes rested on a McIntosh apple. Like the others, it was waxy and shined in the soft morning light.
“Yo,” a tan hand interrupted her view. “Ready?”
Cassandra blinked and shook her head. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, let’s go.”
Raphael eyed her before he handed her the tumbler. It was warm. Neither of them said anything as they got into the car.
They arrived at the mental hospital.
Raphael pulled his keys out but did not unbuckle his seat belt.
The two sat in the car, staring blankly at the bush in front of them. It had been trimmed into a sad looking cube and was shimmering from a recent blast from the sprinkler.
“Welp,” Raphael popped open his coffee and took a swig.
“Got nothing.” He said, wiping his mouth.
Cassandra leaned back. She popped open the tumbler and took a swig herself.
Raphael glanced at her. “You got that look on your face.”
“That one where your eyebrows get pushed together and make you look like a grumpy old man.”
She rose an eyebrow.
“Well now it’s gone.” Raphael went back to staring ahead. He glanced at her again. “What were you trying to figure out?”
Cassandra took another sip of coffee before answering. “I…don’t know.”
“Wanna try and figure it out?”
She frowned. “I had a really weird dream last night.” She finally said.
Cassandra rubbed the back of her neck. “Nothing, really.”
“A dream about nothing?” Raphael asked.
“It felt real.” She said. “Familiar,” she added after a moment.
Cassandra nodded. “I don’t know how else to describe it. Other than me feeling like I had been there before was bad.”
She shrugged. “No idea. But there was a…person? Entity? Whatever the thing was, he was talking to me and didn’t sound angry.”
“You just said you didn’t know what it was but are calling it a ‘he.’”
“The voice was male.”
“So. Yeah. According to it–him–I was familiar. He had seen me before.”
“Hm.” Raphael put his feet up on the dashboard. “Was that good? You said it felt bad but they weren’t upset. Did they also tell you it was a bad thing?”
“Not…really?” Cassandra shifted in the seat. She took a swig of coffee before continuing. “He sounded more curious. Some kinda clean up. Like, I guess a purge maybe. Some crack I slipped through of some kind? He said something like that. Sometimes people can slip through during cleanups. But I was weird since this was the third time it had happened.”
“What?” Cassandra looked at her friend.
It was Raphael’s turn to frown. “I’m not too sure, actually.” He said. “Something about that dream is off.”
Cassandra snorted. “What’s that supposed to mean? It’s a dream. A weird one but I think it’s a strange to call it off. You didn’t have it.” She paused. “Not like that’s, um, well. You know what I mean.”
Raphael smiled. “No, I know what you mean.” The smile then faded. “No, I agree. It is weird. I didn’t even have this dream but it feels familiar too.”
Cassandra stared. “Huh.”
“Yeah.” She nodded.
Raphael cleared his throat. “We should get going,” he announced.
Cassandra’s shoulders sagged. She finished the coffee. “Yeah. You’re right.”
Raphael unlocked the car doors. “See you in twenty?”
“See you in twenty. Tell Icarus I said hi.”
“Will do. Tell the same to Miro for me.”