“I suddenly have a tingly feeling over my entire body, and I grow very hot and dizzy. I find myself too weak to stay sitting up. I see my phone on the bedside table turn to 12:00 A.M.. Thursday, October 11. This isn’t what I thought turning 18 would feel like.”
“We need to find her.”
“Sir, which girl?”
“The girl, Zira. She’s one of the last ones. We won’t stop until we get what we need — her blood.”
The man stood in front of the committee and swore to do whatever they asked. Immediately, he started to work on finding her in the other world, Earth.
I’m concentrating on my comic submission, due next week. Music plays loudly on the radio in my room, but it sounds like background noise to me. The ink flows on my paper freely. I quickly glance at the clock. 11:46 P.M.. New page. Just as I start to draw a new box, my phone rings.
I jump, then scramble to find my phone under the mess on my desk. It’s only my friend, Kyla. I hit the green button and answer with a dry, “Hello?”
She answers much too enthusiastically for this time of the night. “Hey! I’m out right now, so what do you want for your birthday?”
I can’t help but chuckle. “Kyla, why are you out this late? And my birthday is technically in 14 minutes.”
“I know, but I’m getting you something right now anyway. How do you feel about — ”
“It’s okay, I don’t care what you get,” I interrupt. “I’m busy with something. See you tomorrow,” I say and press the “end call” button just as she was about to protest.
I go back to focusing on the comic. I had three pages written already, of my protagonist battling monsters and whatnot. Where I’d left off, my protagonist was standing in front of the biggest, scariest monster of all.
I don’t know what to draw next. I switch my lamp off and go to sleep.
“I’ve come to take you back.”
I shoot up from my bed. I suddenly have a tingly feeling over my entire body, and I grow very hot and dizzy. I find myself too weak to stay sitting up. I see my phone on the bedside table turn to 12:00 A.M.. Thursday, October 11. This isn’t what I thought turning 18 would feel like.
“You’ve been in this other world for much too long and need to get back to your people.”
The view of my window becomes blurred as I drift back to sleep, or faint. I can’t remember.
When I wake up, I’m only confused.
Am I still dreaming? I don’t know what time it is, but it’s dark. I don’t know what day it is. I check my phone. Friday, October 12. 10:45 P.M.. How? What happened?
I’m not in bed. Still confused, I start to feel scared. I’m as good as paralyzed. Terrified.
Why am I in a fancy dress? I hesitantly stand up and realize that I’m in a classroom. I walk out to the hallway. Empty.
School at night is eerie to begin with. Every sound from outside feels louder than it should be, and everything seems bigger than it is during the day. I struggle to remember why I was here in the first place.
There’s a gash on my thigh, bleeding underneath my dress. I hold the muddy ruffles tight in my fist. Not only am I scared and wondering how I ended up here, but an overwhelming, unexplainable grim feeling consumes me. My spirit had been brought down.
Then, a creak.
Lockers line the entire hallway, but one creaked open behind me. A chill goes down my spine. I’m not turning around.
I stay completely still. My body is cold. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
“Who’s there?” I ask again. My breaths were heavy. Nobody’s there.
I squeeze my eyes shut, the way you do when you get a shot at the doctor’s office and you just want it to be over. I spin around and open my eyes.
Nothing. I had a sinking feeling there was nothing there. It wasn’t a draft. The hallway is spotless. No garbage, or bugs, or even a single dust mite. If only I could see a dust mite.
I step gingerly towards the exit. I keep walking, stiff.
Why am I here? Why am I here? I ask myself over and over, as if it would give me the answer. The last thing I remember is drawing, the night before my birthday. I realize I don’t remember what happened on my birthday, which was also homecoming. That’s right, this is my homecoming dress.
I push hard on the exit door to open it. It doesn’t budge. Locked. I’m beginning to feel lightheaded. I’m trapped.
“Is there anyone there?” I call out through the door.
The gash on my thigh is the only injury I can see. It had started partly scabbing over. The rest of my body is just covered in dirt. The horrible, ominous aura wouldn’t go away.
What happened? I rub my eyes, hoping maybe it was a bad dream. Mascara smudges onto my hand.
As I start to lean on the door and cry, it swings open. My heart feels like it dropped to my stomach and is pounding from there.
I look eye to eye with a guy standing in front of me. I recognize him. I can’t put a name to his face at the moment, but surely I’ve spoken to him before.
“Um, are you okay? What are you doing here?” he asks.
“Help me.” I say it in the weakest voice, but the guy helps me out of the building.
Next, there are thick, dark clouds. Purple, black. They surround me. It’s cold. Something is talking to me.
“Come,” they say. “Come to the other side… ” Over and over. The echo is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I turn; the voices and the clouds are all that exist in this moment. I can’t escape.
“No,” I say. “No!”
I wake up in an unfamiliar place, with the same guy by my side. What is his name? I still have a sick feeling. “Where am I? How did I get here?”
He holds a glass of water. “Shh, it was just a dream,” he says. “I brought you here. This is my house. I would have driven you home, but I didn’t know where you lived, and I’m right around the corner from school.” I sit up straight, abruptly. He tries to hold eye contact with me, but I’m flustered. He gives me the water.
“Do you remember anything from last night?” he asks softly.
“I remember last night. I know I was at school, but I don’t… I don’t know why… or what happened before that,” I stutter.
“Okay, well, it’s me, Tyler,” the guy says. Tyler. Right. “Last night was homecoming night.”
“I figured that out from my dress,” I say, gesturing to it. I’m still wearing it.
“Your parents are probably really worried,” Tyler points out. “Do you, like, need help or something?”
“They probably aren’t.” Actually, I bet my dad is. It’s not like I told either of them that I was sleeping over at someone’s house. I just didn’t come home. “And I don’t think you can help me. Something’s going on,”
“Well… yeah, I think that’s safe to assume,” Tyler answers. He looks down at his feet. He kind of looks like he wants to say something but decides against it.
I roll my eyes. “No, I mean… I don’t know. Like, it’s not over.”
“Do you want to talk more after you change clothes? There’s a guest room that no one goes in. There’s clothes there,” he offers. I don’t know Tyler that well, but somehow I trust him. There seems to be a connection. I can’t tell what it is.
I nod, and he tells me to go to the room on the left. I follow his instruction and leave the door the slightest bit open.
The room is painted a subdued red. There are eight pieces of artwork, two on each wall. They’re all overwhelmingly dark, depicting graphic pictures of wars and monsters. There’s one portrait. The girl in the portrait cries dark tears.
I quickly find a T-shirt and shorts in the dresser under the portrait. My mind was clouded with sounds. I need an aspirin or something.
My perception of time is completely messed up. I close my eyes and try to imagine myself in school. A normal day, before yesterday. I imagine myself on the field, running endlessly. It all seems so far. Whatever happened, I want it to stop. I want them to stop torturing me. I wish I knew who “them” was. If they want to kill me, then why not just do it?
Tyler is sitting with his back turned toward me. He seems to be taking some sort of pill, but his cup holds a dark liquid, like grape juice or something, rather than water. He groans in pain.
“Hey,” I say. “Are you good?”
Tyler looks up now. The light in this room is off, but it’s still bright from the daylight coming through the window. He stands up.
“I’m fine. Hi,” he says.
Ignoring the incident, I ask, “Why do you have those paintings?”
“They’re… ” he pauses. “Memories.”
I sit down on the hard wooden chair. “Where’s your family?” I asked. “Are they their paintings?”
“Yes, but I won’t say anything further than that.”
“What does that mean? Are you, like, adopted? You know, I’m adopted.” Why did I say that? He doesn’t care.
“That’s not quite it,” Tyler says. “I don’t know how to explain them.”
“Can you try?” I want to know more.
“I brought them with me when I came here. They’re, uh, otherworldly, I suppose. We had them in my home when I was younger. I can’t go back, though,” he says.
“It’s just not… here,” he says.
We look at each other for a long moment. Now that I can really look at him, it’s the first time I notice that he’s actually attractive, even though I was acquaintances with him for a while. I look away and focus on an area where the paint is peeling off on the ceiling.
“You should go home and rest. Let’s talk more another time,” Tyler says.
I look back at him. “Okay.” I know he would keep to that. Or at least, I hope.
He drives me home. I stand in front of my house for a few seconds before I walk in. It’s the same. Why wouldn’t it be?
My parents sit together on the couch. My dad looks me up and down, a stern look on his face. “Hannah, how did you get that?” he asks, pointing to my thigh.
“Oh, this… it was, uh, an accident. Someone hit it by accident. ‘Cause it was dark and stuff… ” I decide to shut up before my lies become obvious.
“And why are you still wearing your dress? Are you okay?” my mom asks.
“You just fell? Sober?” Dad comments. Ouch. That stings.
“No, I wasn’t drinking. I was at a friend’s house, that’s all. We were really tired after the party, and I slept over,” I answer. He doesn’t seem convinced.
Mom nods her head. “Okay honey.”
I go upstairs. There’s not much else I can tell them. There’s not much else I know.
My bedroom hadn’t been touched since the night before. The comic book pages were still sprawled on my desk. I picked the first one up. There was a drawing of a thick cloud, similar to the one I found myself in while sleeping.
I feel uncomfortable, so I turn it over.
Down the hallway, I turn on the water for a shower. I stand under the water for a bit, just feeling it run down my face. After I’m done, I don’t know what else to do. I sit on my bed and look out the window.
“Hannah,” I hear my mom call from downstairs. “Dinner’s ready!”
I don’t want to eat. I snuggle under my blanket and face the wall. As soon as I hear her footsteps on the stairs, I close my eyes. I hear my room door open.
“Oh, you’re asleep,” she says. “Alright then. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the monsters bite.”
My eyes fly open. I’m still facing the wall, so my mom doesn’t notice. She leaves the room innocently. Did I mishear “bed bugs?”
At first, I think I won’t be able to sleep at all. But I drift to an in-between state — both sleeping and awake. Again, I find myself stuck within these dark clouds. It almost feels as if I am falling. A person emerges from the fog. At least it looks like a person. He’s tall and skinny and wears an all black suit. He sports a thin purple scar across his cheek.
“Hannah,” he says. His voice is raspy and intimidating.
“What do you want?”
“Come back to us. This is where you belong.”
“Where are you?”
“Come back to us… ” he hisses.
“Why? Why are you torturing me?” It feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs as I say it. I’m filled with anger, passionate anger. Before this happened, I remember that everything was fine, that I was so excited to be turning 18. And now I don’t know what’s going on.
The person disappears with one gust of wind. The echoing of voices uttering incoherent things makes the setting all the more unsettling.
I wake up out of breath. I check the time. It’s completely dark out. 12:34 A.M.. How?
My family must be sound asleep. I turn on the lamp on my desk and rummage for a post-it note. On it, I write “out for a morning jog, be back soon.” If they wake up while I’m still out, they won’t get worried. And they won’t assume I left this early.
Carefully, I stick it to the outside of my door and then proceed to climb out my window.
Once I reach the ground, I pull my hoodie on and walk twenty minutes to Tyler’s house. I don’t know why. I’m not sure what I really wanted to do outside in the first place. It’s cold. Going to his house just seems natural.
It’s not, of course.
I hesitate for a moment in front of his door. Knock, or don’t. I knock once, pause, and knock again. What am I doing? My heart is racing. What will I even say? It’s the middle of the night; would he even —
The door swings open.
“I really wasn’t expecting you to answer,” I say, kind of shocked and out of breath.
“I really wasn’t expecting you to knock on my door at one in the morning,” Tyler deadpans.
Tyler steps back to let me in. “So… why are you here? I mean, not to be rude, but this is one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me.”
“I don’t know why I’m here either,” I say. “I just wanted to, I guess.”
Tyler nods, but his facial expression shows confusion more than anything else. I debate whether or not I should get into my dream. It seems a bit much to walk all the way to his house just to talk about a bad dream. Talk about being needy.
“I can leave,” I say.
“No, no. Don’t worry about it. Are you sure you don’t want to… talk about something?” Yes. I would like to talk to him about something. Those damn clouds.
He sits down on the couch, but I stay standing in front of him.
“No, it’s not like talking would help.” I pace back and forth a few times.
He’s facing the ground. “So, what do you want?”
“What do I want?” What a loaded question. I wish the clouds would leave me alone. I wish I knew why or even what was happening to me. “I want a regular life back. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I’m scared all the time, and I can’t sleep anymore. I turned 18 yesterday, and I can’t even remember it. And this, this thing won’t leave me alone!” I cry.
Tyler doesn’t speak immediately after. I burst into tears. He stands up and wraps his arms around me. He hugs me tight, and the warmth makes me feel safer.
“Hannah, I think I know why this is happening,” he whispers to me.
“What do you mean?” I pull back and look at his face. He sighs. He looks down at his feet and avoids eye contact.
“Remember when I said my home isn’t here?” he asks. I nod. “It’s in a parallel universe.”
At first I’m speechless. Nothing. “Am I supposed to play along?”
Tyler drops his head, like he knew I wouldn’t believe him. But who would? “Can I tell you how I came? It’ll help you.”
I roll my eyes slightly. I don’t know where he’s getting at, but I’ll listen.
“I’m sorry, it sounds stupid. But when you leave that world, you automatically lose every memory of it. And some there are special, valuable. They have gold blood, and that’s why they’re always in danger.”
“Okay, wait,” I interrupt. “Out of every explanation you could’ve possibly given me, this one is the most unbelievable. This isn’t even useful.”
“I promise I’m not messing with you. Just listen. You’re one of the special ones. That’s why the smoke or whatever is in your dreams. Because your memory was automatically lost. And you’re valuable to them, so they need you back.”
“Yeah, okay, sure.”
Tyler is obviously frustrated. He puts both hands on my shoulders and moves me out of his way. He leans over to grab the scissors on the table. I become tense. “Tyler, what are you doing?”
He pulls up his sleeve, not answering me. With the scissors, he cuts his hand. Dark purple liquid oozes from the cut. I suddenly think of the portrait. Dark tears. Dark blood.
“Give me your hand.”
I hesitate, holding my clenched fist to my chest.
“Hannah, I need your hand. Please,” Tyler pleads. I slowly open my hand and give it to him, almost against my will. He grabs it and cuts it in one swift motion, too fast for me to react. I don’t pay attention if it hurts.
I stare at my hand. The blood is gold.
“W-why… why wasn’t my blood gold before? And why do you know this? What am I?”
“Are you joking? Calm down?”
Tyler puts his hands on my shoulders again. “Yes, I’ll tell you everything. Let me continue.” He makes me sit down and takes a deep breath.
All I could do was stare at my trembling hand. Where did it come from? How did nobody notice, not even me?
“I don’t even know where to start but — ”
“You better start somewhere,” I warn.
Tyler leans back, half sitting on the arm of the couch in the living room. He put his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, but his fingers were still fidgeting.
“So,” he begins. “First of all, I’m the only one who can remember here in this world. I figured out a concoction that kept my memory in place despite going through the portal. The regular purple bloods need the gold-bloods for the gold. And so when they leave, by whatever reason, they need to find a way to get the gold-bloods back. I guess it’s also a punishment for anyone who leaves.
“The portal between our two worlds is the clouds that you’ve been seeing,” he says. “The blood is disguised on Earth until they are discovered, and eventually what they want is to bring you back. So this is what you’re experiencing.”
I stay silent for a few minutes. We sit across from each other, not making a sound or moving one bit. “So… What now?” I say softly. This isn’t what I expected when I came.
“Well now you know. So, it’s up to you what you do next.”
“I’m going home,” I say. “I’ll… see you on Monday, I guess.”
“Do you want me to drive you again?” He starts to get up, but I stop him.
“No, I’m going to run home. Thanks.”
I step outside on the street, and the wind hits me in the face. I don’t know how I’m able to leave so easily with all this new information. I still have so many questions. So many thoughts.
I sneak back to my room without my parents noticing. It’s still dark out.
I’m exhausted. Exhaustion is the least of what I was feeling at the moment, though. I lean against the closed door, ready to just give up.
A thick stream of smoke wafts in through the window. It moves as if it has a brain of its own, and it’s coming straight to my face. It curls around me, but not encompassing me. “Hello… ” it whispers.
“Is this a dream? What are you?”
“I think you’re imagining me. Don’t you, smart girl?” the smoke says to me.
“No. This is real.”
The smoke curls around my feet, and slowly makes its way around my body. “You belong with us. You have a place… ” it hisses.
“You were destined for things greater than this weak planet. There’s a set place for you, a rare good under our empire. You’re supposed to come back… you shouldn’t have left. You need to be under our control,” the smoke provokes.
“What if I like it here?” I respond.
“You’re a difficult one.” The smoke curls up around my chest and behind my neck. It feels like breath as it speaks. “Aren’t you looking for something more? An identity, perhaps. A true identity?”
“You aren’t even a real person,” I say bitterly. “You are only a soul.”
The smoke laughs, sending a chill down my spine. “That’s what makes me powerful, dear golden-blood. You can’t hurt me, but I can hurt you.” The smoke nears my face, threatening to suffocate me as I pull away.
I clench my fists hard. “You already have. I know you won’t kill me if you need me back.”
The smoke loosens. “This won’t be the last time we meet. Don’t doubt that we will have it our way.” The smoke vanishes, out my window where it came from. I rush to close the window immediately after.
I breathe heavily. I change my clothes, shaking.
The person I see in the mirror is unrecognizable. There are huge dark circles under my eyes.
I know that I’m becoming a tense and anxious person, something I’d never been before. I close my eyes for a moment to think. What should I do? Inhale, exhale. I think back to when I was happy and carefree. I didn’t know things could change so instantly.
My comic still lay unfinished on my desk. The submission date was fast approaching. Maybe it would take my mind off things. I crack my door open to let in some fresh air. No way was I going to open the window.
Where did I leave off?
The protagonist was fiercely fighting off her antagonists. If the drawing can do it, why can’t I do it? I continue to fill in the background and started a new square.
The sun starts to rise, and before I know it, it becomes complete daytime with the sun streaming into my room. Somebody knocks on my door.
I jump. Mom walks in. “Relax, it’s just me. What’s up? Why so jumpy all of a sudden?”
“I know, I’m just… I’m fine.”
“Come eat with us,” Mom asks. I look at the deep creases in her eyes. She’s so happy and oblivious to my nightmare. I love her. I could never leave her, especially for something like smoke and nightmares.
I say nothing as I sit across both of them. I eat small bites and avoid looking at them. They talk about mundane things. Work, switching the lights, laundry. I zone out into my thoughts. What can I do? How did this all even happen?
“Are you alright?” Dad asks. “You seem really out of it.”
“No,” I say reflexively.
“What’s wrong?” they both ask.
I don’t know how to respond. They don’t even know. I stay quiet.
“Hannah, you can tell us what’s bothering you. We love you,” Mom says. I start formulating what I want to say. They stare at me, very concerned.
“I just… ” I finally begin, cautiously giving the rest of my answer. “I don’t have some information that could help me. Like, I don’t know what happened at homecoming. And… I don’t know who I really am, and I don’t have what I need to figure it out. Where am I from?”
My parents exchange a glance.
“Hannah,” my dad says, “This conversation was a long time coming.” I bet. “I wish I could share your origins with you. But we don’t know anything about before we adopted you either. There’s no information about your birth parents, birthplace, or anything like that.”
There’s no forms. It clicked when he said that. There was my proof that I wasn’t born here. “Absolutely nothing?” I ask.
My parents shake their heads. “You were all alone when we took you in. You weren’t at an orphanage. You were a year old or something, and you were in the street,” Dad says.
“What about the legal stuff? School, doctors… ” I say. Nobody must’ve realized that I had gold blood. Heck, I didn’t know until last night. How did the purple-bloods get away with it? It’s interesting to hear my parents speak about this when I’m referring to drastically different things.
There are still a lot of holes in my story. I sit there, half blanked out, half listening. My parents share about the loopholes they were able to get through, like my birth certificate. I was born “at home,” it seems. My head is spinning.
There was still a big “why?” hanging over me. I understand that I’m obviously from somewhere else, but why did I end up here? Why do I matter so much? Why won’t it go away?
“Thank you, Dad.” I give him a quick hug and rush to my room.
I’m weirdly excited. I feel anticipation for the answers I’ll receive tomorrow. It’s the closest to happiness I’ve felt in a while. Something to look forward to rather than to fear.
I try to sleep. There are too many things on my mind. I sit up. It won’t be long before I speak to Tyler. I tap my leg lightly with my finger, thinking of something to do.
Visually lay it out. Get my thoughts on paper.
I jump out of bed and flip on the lights. I get an empty notebook floating around on my desk and open up to the first page. Just like drawing a story. Except this one is real.
I take a deep breath.
I draw and write furiously. A baby, adopted and moved around, a determined runner, and homecoming night. Arrows and little comments cover the piece.
I drop my pencil and massage my wrist. It’s very late, and it’s been a few hours since I’ve eaten with my parents. I sneak out of my room to get a snack.
The kitchen lights are still on even though both of my parents are sleeping. I grab an apple and slowly make my way back up the stairs. I shut my door gently. I sit back at my desk, ready to keep working.
The drawings were now in color.
I drop my apple and it rolls under my desk.
All of the pictures of me were all colored gold, even though none of them had blood. There was also smoke added. Clearly I wasn’t alone.
I step back and look at the filled up pages. I feel scared once again, just as I was starting to get over it. Just as it was dying down, just as I was about to get answers.
Disregarding the time yet again, I decide to call Tyler.
Should I call again? I click on the call button one more time. And again, he doesn’t pick up his phone. I throw my phone on my bed.
I want to show him the pictures. But I don’t want to touch them. I don’t know what’s been done to them. I don’t know if they’re hiding somewhere in my room.
I don’t feel safe.