[Prompt: It came from our dreams ]
They called us dreamers. They meant it as an insult, but we took it to heart and adopted the name. When we gained in numbers and began to build our own society, they started to question if dismissing us as a non-threat was the right decision. In truth we were never a threat. Not then. We wanted only the best for the world. Peace began to replace war, food found it way to the hungry, and cures healed the damned. The cautious had the right idea to not fully trust the dawning of what the optimistic were deeming the Golden Age. It was too good to be true, they said among themselves, and they were right. The world had to strike a balance, for there to be good, there had to be an equal amount of bad. Thus they appeared among us, the dreamers, and like one rotten apple spoils a bunch, they brought ruin to our good intentions.
“Hurry! It’s coming!”
I looked up from where I knelt in front of the lock keeping us from inside the warehouse. I hadn’t grown up knowing how to pick locks, but as the world rapid declined around us, we either adapted or perished. I watched Star, one of the youngest among us, run toward us from the corner she was watching. Her gray hood slid off as she came, revealing her strawberry-blonde hair that clashed with the shades of gray that made up the world now ruled by eternal darkness. It was difficult not to stare at the vivid color. As one of the eldest among us, I still recalled the days when the world was filled with the colors of life, but it was such a distant memory. We all stared at her, until she seemed to notice the attention and quickly pulled the hood back over her hair.
“Sorry,” she whispered while crouching next to me. “I think it’s looking for us.”
She was one of the good kids, one that dared to dream of a better world. In a world wrought with fear, people lost the ability to imagine. They focused on surviving the horrors of the night and turned away from the light of hope. False hope, they called it, and they were not going to be taken in again by something that sounded too promising. They accepted their doomed existence as the only realistic option of life.
I refused to accept it because we had Star.
The lock popped open and the others helped me to quietly remove the chains and push the door open. Our group of gray swept into the shadows of the warehouse and shut the door behind us. Light bars were brought out, casting a ghostly pallor over our faces. Their ghoulish faces stared at me, waiting for me to lead them through the gloom. One of the men, Vince, handed me his light. “Are you sure it’s here?”
As much as I had grown accustom to the doubt that shadowed the world, it annoyed me to hear it from those within the group. We fought every day to keep the darkness from our hearts. I would have to deal with Vince later because I couldn’t have his dour attitude infect the others. I decided to keep him close for the time being. Perhaps my words could brighten his outlook. “Yes, it’s only a prototype but it was the first working prototype.”
“And why would it be here instead of locked away in some sort of military base?”
“Because,” I paused a moment to find the calm within myself, “We never presented this model to the public. It was large, awkward, and we knew we could improve the design before we sought out backers for the project.”
Vince didn’t look convinced, but he stopped asking questions and fell into line with the others. It had been a long time since I last been in the warehouse and there were more crates that I remembered. The rows seemed to stand a little taller and I wasn’t entirely sure where we had left the prototype. My hesitation must have shown, because Vince loomed next to me with the doubt etched more deeply into his expression. He reached for the light and I responded by moving it behind me and placing my friend hand on Vince’s chest to stop his approach.
“What has gotten into you,” I demanded in a low tone in attempt to keep our dispute a private affair.
Whatever reply Vince might have given me was halted by a warning shout from the rear, “Lights out!”
I hesitated while others heeded the advice and turned off their lights. My hand was still holding Vince back and I could feel him pressing against the palm. Our eyes met and I knew he wasn’t going to yield to my leadership. I narrowed my eyes in warning before my thumb found the switch and cast us into the darkness. Vince didn’t waste anytime, his hand closed on my arm and I fought to keep my ground. The others had taken refuge in the gaps between the stacked crates and I wondered if they took any notice of my struggle or if their own fears had made them oblivious to anything but the darkness around them. The temperature began to drop and air somehow became more still.
Vince had me on the floor. He was younger and stronger than me but I continued to vie against him while we both remained quiet to not draw it to our location. I didn’t know if Vince intended to kill me, but I didn’t want to risk it by finding out. I managed to jerk my knee into his groin and he responded by angrily shoving my head against the hard floor. The light bar fell from my hands as the world swayed around me. In the blur I saw them. They were darker than the night, in comparison the shadows around them became gray in contrast. They were everywhere and I absently wondered how we managed to pass by them without notice? Were the shades real? Did they come from it?
Hands closed in around my neck and I knew the answer to Vince’s intentions. I tried to break his hold with my arms but he pressed down with more force. I bucked against his weight as I lost my ability to think rationally and responded in panic. He was too heavy, I couldn’t get my legs underneath me to even roll him off. Instead my legs kick useless across the concrete. My right foot caught against the discarded light bar and sent it skittering noisily across the floor. It struck against one of the crates, catching the switch and flooding us all in light.
Vince’s hold on me loosened in response. Each heavy exhale into the cold air was caught in the light and the fear I saw on his face must have been similar to the look on mine. There was good reasoning behind having shut the lights off in the first place. The lights were a double-edge sword in these times, while it cut a path for us to see in the everlasting dark, it also attracted that which sought to snuff out the light. We knew it was close, the chilling air a prelude to its approach. Now we felt it shifting unseen through the air, it’s physical body pressing against the doors of the warehouse until the metal screeched in protest.
The light moved, someone had picked it up and was trying to turn it off. As the light bounced around us I saw Star’s panicked face as she fumbled for the switch. No! I tried to yell out but I could scarcely catch my breathe after Vince’s attempt at my life. I was still trapped beneath him, but I still reached a hand out to the child, willing her to drop the light and retreat to safety. She was our only hope, our shining star sent to guide us from this nightmare.
We all heard the doors break under the strain of the dark. It would be on us at an moment and I was powerless to stop it. Vince chose then to respond. He abandoned his motivation to snuff the life from me and ran towards Star. Even he knew the importance of the child. Losing her would mean that everything any of them had ever strove to achieve in this dark world be lost. He pulled the light from her hands, and as the glow illuminated them both, I saw the anger on his face, but also the helplessness. He shifted the ire in my direction before he ran.
I managed to push myself back onto my feet and I scrambled towards Star. I gathered the child up in my arms and brought her to the safety of the group. She was crying but did well to do it silently. I kissed the top of her head and smoothed the hair from her face. Vince may have tried to kill me, but I felt no ill will against him. He had his reasons, even if they were cultivated with the seeds of doubt. Vince always meant to protect the group. His willingness to lure the beast away at the risk of his own life was proof enough to me of his loyalty to the cause.
“We need to move,” My voice was hoarse and barely managed the whisper.
I heard crates topple in the distance and didn’t know how much time we would have to complete our objective. If we abandoned the cause now, we had no guarantee would would make it out alive to try again another day. The beast of the night was with us, and even if Vince lured it far enough away from us, we couldn’t know whether or not it would circle back.
The group didn’t budge, it was up to me to make the first move. With Star nestled in my arms, I took the lead. Our pace was slow, guided by hands against the crates since we couldn’t risk the light. When the wood under my head gave away to metal I knew we were in the right spot. I rapped my knuckles against the exterior, glad to not hear an echo within. It meant it was still filled with water. “Here. This is it. Check the crates around it.”
I urged Star to climb to the top of the tank before I followed. As I worked to open the hatch I noticed my hands were shaking. Star saw it too and her large eyes turned to me with concerned. Putting my hands back to word, I eased her worries with a gentle smile. “Do you remember how this works?”
Star’s attention shifted to the hatch, “I go in the water.”
“After we put on the gear and sync you to the amplifier then yes, you go into the water.”
“It’ll be dark..”
I couldn’t fault the waver to her voice. We all had a healthy fear of the dark. “It will be safe inside. The dark is to keep your mind free of distractions.”
Star stared into the hatch after it was open. I’ll admit, the dark water inside did not look inviting. It was shallow enough to allow her to stand, and he had instructed her that floating would help her dream even as she was awake. They had practiced breathing exercises to remain calm and as the finale drew near, I could only hold on to hope that she would be brave enough to see it through. I was asking a lot of a child, but children possessed a larger capacity for hope than adults. Her imagination was not yet dampened by the realities around them. I had first taken notice of her when I caught her drawing a picture of a sun and trees. I asked her about it and she said she had read about it in a book and that one day she hoped to see them.
One of the women handed me the neuron netting for the child. I brushed aside Star’s gray hood and once again smoothed her colorful hair from her young face. I fit the netting over her head and rest my hands on her small shoulders. “My twinkling star, how bright you.”
She smiled, my brave granddaughter, and reached to hug me. A scream from the far end of the warehouse interrupted the moment. Vince’s charade had come to and end. I urged Star into the tank. “It is time. Remember all that I’ve taught you. You must dream, Star. Dream of the sun. Dream of summer.”
The child shivered as the water lapped against her stomach. Star crossed her arms to warm herself before gazing up at me. “Sing to me, Papa.”
My hand gripped the hatch and began to push it to a close, “Twinkle, twinkle, little Star..”