I read in books, my favorite romantic adventure kinds, that sometimes you were aware of someone in a way that was compelling, haunting and became a need that could not be ignored. Of course I understood what those writers were talking about. Sixteen year old me was all too aware of stuff like that.
Anyways…So Aiden Montgomery, my school’s star athlete and my star crush forever, used to bring out such feelings of intense want inside me that sometimes it became a little too hard to not look his way in class, or in the corridor, or across the cafeteria, or wherever I could ogle actually. Oh yes, we shared most classes. Also, I am pretty sure he had no idea that humans like me existed in that dimension of the universe. I might as well have not!
I mean, there was this awkward nerdy non-cool fashionably challenged me. And then there were Gods like Aiden.
Tall, at least a foot taller (and growing with each passing year) than my frustratingly meager five feet nothing. Blonde, the best kind. Built like a dude should be, IF, he was a medieval knight. Dreamy green eyes! He couldn’t have been more perfect.
I loved him. I was in love with him. In my special secret scrap book, hidden under my clothes back at home, he had five pages dedicated to his pictures I regularly pilfered from the school magazines, local newspapers and Facebook (Yes! I stalked him on Facebook), all stuck around with glitter and doodle hearts. I took my love affair seriously.
Oh and he was a straight A student too. I mean c’mon God! Why couldn’t he fail a few tests? Or have had a few freckles? Or dandruff? Or maybe spilled his drink on himself once in a while? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d still love him if he was all of the above. But then maybe I wouldn’t have had to share his fangirl queue with a hundred other wannabes…At the time, I was not bothered by the queue though. Not Much at least.
Apart from Aiden, my life was pretty tame. No boyfriends (I blame lack of social skill and not the lack of wholehearted will). No partying because my parents were the over disciplinary, over involved kinds. My sister and I had to follow strict rules on non alcoholism, responsible church days, study hours, curfew and such. Straight B’s and an unusual A once in a while was what my academic life summed up to. The few A’s were courtesy my study buddy and best friend, the class nerd Clark <3, who happened to be the second most weird person at school, having lost the title to who else but MOI.
Nothing overly exciting happened in my life.
Well nothing apart from my occasional mysterious dreams. Most of them were nightmares I actively tried to forget as soon as I woke up. However, despite my best efforts, a few stuck around in my head.
One of those few, changed my life.
It started innocently, with dream me wondering the school grounds. I saw a few other students, doing random stuff, waved at my sister flying overhead and headed in the direction of the school fare area. It looked strangely deserted. I reached my booth, the Science Booth, that I was putting up with Clark. He was already there and we’ll come back to him at a later point because at that moment I was not looking at Clark. I was looking at the Cheerleader’s booth across from us, where Samantha Anders, new junior and the sexiest skirt of the school for pigs **cough** guys to chase, was sitting prettily beside Aiden.
He whispered something in her ear. She giggled and batted her eyes.
Aiden put his arm around her shoulder and she shifted closer to him.
Ten feet away, inside the lame and deserted class science booth, I stood staring daggers at the two while my heart broke into a million pieces. I walked around the partition, with the intention of physically removing the witch Samantha from anywhere near my Aiden. I didn’t stop to consider how I would accomplish that feet. It was a nightmare after all and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t go far though. Clark Kent, my best friend and booth partner, caught my wrist, effectively stopping my progress, and started explaining the ‘genesis of the universe’ to me.
‘Did I mention it was a nightmare?’
I tried to pull away but his hold was like an iron manacle. I pulled some more.
“Let go!” I yelled. Clark shook his head in a no. Bugger didn’t budge.
I turned to look at Aiden and came face to face with my ultimate fear. My one and only true love Aiden, slowly leaned towards Samantha and kissed her. I screamed, bloody murder perhaps. Aiden broke the kiss, looked at me and winked. ‘He fucking winked’. Samantha turned towards me too and giggled.
“Owww no one kisses poor Alexis!” she mocked in a little girl’s voice.
A chorus of voices rose around us, each repeating again and again.
‘No one kisses Alexis.’
‘No one kisses Alexis.’
‘No one kisses Alexis.’
Dream me just lost her ‘ever loving shite’!
I turned to look back at Clark. He had a weird expression on his face. His jaw ticked like when he was angry. He was frowning as if in confusion. But his eyes, shining sapphire blue hidden behind thick glasses, were shining with something. Understanding maybe? I grabbed Clark by his shirt collars, yes my nerdy oily haired bespectacled sweet friend Clark, pulled him close and with my eyes now locked with Aiden’s, planted one hell of a kiss right on his lips.
I felt something strangely warm as soon as my lips touched his. It was gone in a moment and I didn’t get the time to think about what the fuck it was. Because in the same instant, an earsplitting explosion from somewhere behind my back made me suddenly jump and break the kiss. Clark looked behind me and his eyes went hard. He pulled me flush against his chest and rushed us inside the booth tent. I heard screams and crashes of things getting turned over, followed by more loud cracks. Suddenly we were falling just as something went right by my ear with a loud whoosh.
‘Bullets’. There were bullets being fired.
‘In the middle of the school fare.’
Clark took the brunt of the fall and I landed on him. Our eyes met again, wide with shock and fear. He gathered me in his arms and shuffled behind the tables of the booth.
More shots were fired. More screams. And the air started smelling of burnt smoke.
Clark began to pull away but I clutched him as hard as I could with my trembling hands. Something fell on the other side of the table we were hiding behind. He looked to the side and winced, as if he could see whatever, or whoever, had fallen against the table. Clark hugged me fiercely and whispered in my ear.
“I’ve got this. You’ll be safe. Let go Alex…”
I pulled back and what did I see? Clark was not Clark. He was something else.
Something I could not comprehend or stomach when I woke up with a start, drenched in sweat and shaking in fear. I could still hear the screams. The thunderclap like explosions of bullets being fired. The smell…
It was four in the morning but try as I did, I couldn’t go back to sleep. And I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread building in the pit of my stomach. It was the feeling that accompanied the more “special” of my weird dreams; the ones that had a way to come true.
Three hours and a surreptitiously disposed-off-to-the-trash breakfast later, I sat at the kitchen counter with my parents and elder sister, obsessing over whether to go to the school fare or not. After all, I WAS assigned to man the science booth. I WAS sharing the booth with Clark. Aiden, with the rest of the football team, WAS expected to visit the cheerleaders’ booth across from us at some point during the day. Did I want to risk witnessing the other part of the nightmare?
Should I pretend sickness and remain at home? Stop my sister from going too? Text Clark to skip? Tell the authorities?
Tell them what, exactly?
My sister Shirley slapped me upside down the head.
“Hey!! Wake up!”
“I asked are you ready to leave?” she said with the what-the-fuck clear in her eyes.
“Leave for school you comatose zombie!” she rolled her eyes.
“Umm yes. I’ll go grab my bag.” I mumbled and hurried to get my bag. I could literally feel my sister’s eyes on my back as I left the table without any argument or a good comeback.
I grabbed my bag from where it lay by the bed and took a last look at myself in the mirror before leaving my room. I had worn my favorite cobalt blue cotton blouse, favorite not because it was fancy but because it was loose enough to not draw attention to my chest but still looked smart on me, with sky blue fitted jeans. My short black hair that hardly covered the tops of my ears was curling outward in a not attractive way, just like everyday. Absentmindedly, I made another useless attempt to smooth the curls down. They went right back up like a dog’s tale.
“DID YOU FALL ASLEEP AGAIN?”
Shirley yelled from the bottom of the steps.
“NO” I yelled back and hurried down.
We hurriedly kissed our parents good bye and rushed out. Shirley drove and I flipped the channels of the radio with terminal velocity, not settling on anything. My sister grabbed my wrist.
“What’s up with you squirt?” she asked without taking her eyes of the road.
She gave me a sideways look, her pretty green eyes dripping disbelief, and turned back to the road. We were silent for a few seconds before I couldn’t take it any more. If I was going to make it through the day, through the possible horror waiting to possibly happen, I needed to get my head straight and the only person I could confide in was my sister.
“I had a dream last night.”
“I thought so. Good or bad?”
“Bad. Very bad.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“It’s just that…I think…I mean, I’m scared this one will come true and I reeealllly don’t want that.”
“Can you do something about whatever is gonna happen?”
And that right there was what made my big sister the only person I could share my freaky dream thingies with. We might tear each other’s hair off on anything and everything. We might constantly argue and throw mildly insulting insults at each other all the time. But she never once made fun of me for the freaky shit I claimed I occasionally saw in dreams. If I told her I saw something before it happened she always believed me, no questions asked. Sometimes I used to feel that if she had not believed me when I first started seeing things, I would have gone half crazy in my head and ended up in a padded cell somewhere.
“You know they have a way to happen however much I try otherwise.”
Shirley glanced at me and gave me a small smile.
“Maybe this one means something else and nothing bad would actually happen?”
“Maybe.” I whispered, not quite sure whether I believed it would happen or not.
“Don’t ask why, but…ummmm…if you hear screaming, or ummm loud shots, just run…Just run ok? Don’t stop to find me. Don’t stop to look whats happening. Get to the car as fast as you can and drive. Promise me ok?”
She was quite for another minute.
“What exactly are you saying Alex?” This time, her calm voice shook a little.
I felt tears beginning to form in the corners of my eyes.
Shit shit shit!
What was I going to do? I mean, my dreams were mostly vague and stuff appeared in symbols, open for interpretation. I read books on dream interpretation but they hadn’t been much help. The only straightforward things I saw were little day to day things, like reading a passage from a book I had yet to read or wearing a dress my mom would get for me two days later or falling from my bike.
My dream from last night had been something else. I hadn’t ever seen something so unambiguous. It left little to interpretation. And if by small chance it came true, people were going to be in mortal danger or get hurt. Many people. My own sister was going to be there along with most of the student body.
I clutched the seat, my knuckles white with the pressure.
I had to do something. Anything. Even if there was a chance it was just another nightmare, like the ones other people dealt with, I couldn’t ignore it. Question was, what could I do and who would believe me?
I looked at Shirley. She would believe. Yes. I could start with telling her.
“A shooting happened. In school near the fare booths. I didn’t see you around but I was there with Clark and a lot of other kids. Everyone was screaming and running and things were blowing up…”
As I said the words aloud, everything started becoming real. If I had been afraid before, the sight of the school building coming up ahead scared me shitless. Suddenly, everything I saw in my nightmare passed in front of my eyes, in detailed high def. My hands started to shake and I felt a weight dropping on my chest.
“Shirley? Big sis we can’t go to in there….No one can go in there….”
Shirley entered the parking lot and parked our car. She brought out her phone and turned to me. As soon as she saw my face she dropped her phone and cupped my cheeks in her hands.
“ALEX! STOP IT…You can’t panic. If what you saw is going to happen then we can’t panic. We have to warn the authorities.”
“But what will we say?” I snapped, “I had a dream that someone is going to go on a rampage in the middle of the school fare? So cancel and send everyone home? Because of a fucking dream? I can see how well that’ll go!”
Shirley narrowed her eyes angrily and dropped her hands.
“Save the attitude. I am trying to help ok?”
“Ok…ok…sorry…what were you thinking?”
“We can call in an anonymous tip.”
“Yeah? And they wouldn’t be able to track our number? If the attack actually happens, then we’ll be the first ones the police would come after! And they would certainly want to know how WE fucking KNEW someone was going to go all evil Green Goblin in the school fare! They wouldn’t believe I dreamed it up. They would think we knew something of the plan.”
“Ughhhh!” Shirley pulled at her long hair, “There must be something we could frikkin do without looking like co-conspirators!”
I took a deep breath and made an effort to relax.
“Look…We can’t use a phone. What if we write it down and slide under the principal’s door?”
Shirley looked at me, chewing her lip thoughtfully.
“Alright give me some clean sheets of paper.”
When I got to the science booth, I was surprised to see most games and activities already set up. Clark my lifesaver, must have come early and done this, although now, he was nowhere in sight. After that dream, I didn’t want him anywhere near too. Staying alert to each and every movement around, I went to sit behind the tables and carefully looked out.
The cheerleaders were singing and prancing around in their school color outfits, hanging banners and putting up the blown-up Styrofoam team mascot. They were also going to organize a car wash later, as said one of the banners. Valerie, the cheer-captain, sat prettily on an upturned box in front of their booth, barking out orders to the others and topping up her tan. The other girls, worked and covertly flirted with the guys stopping by to admire **cough cough** their upcoming booth.
On our right, Viv, president of the Art society, was directing the set up of spot portrait kiosks. Kyle from my math and art class was spray painting their white paper covered tables. He caught my eyes and waved before going back to his spray paints. Viv brought out her phone and started reminding someone about coal pencils.
Towards the left was the ever popular ‘secret’ messaging kiosk, manned by Howard Willis, the school goth. He sat there sporting a black T-shirt, black pants, black shoes and black sunglasses. I was sure he also wore black nail paint. Clearly, he was taking secret messaging to CIA levels today.
As I sat and looked over the grounds, at all the kids setting up their booths, laughing, joking and generally jerking around, I couldn’t help feeling the panic take over again. Shirley and I had written a few hasty notes and slipped them in the principal’s and most teachers’ offices under the cover of collecting supplies for the fare, praying that they would read them and take the words seriously. Maybe someone had already called the police and backup was coming. There was still a half hour before the event was kicked off. Maybe they would cancel the fare altogether. I mean, that sometimes happened with bomb scares right?
However, I had yet to see a policeman or a police vehicle or even hear a siren for that matter. Even the usual school guards, however lame they might be, were nowhere around.
What if no one had read the notes?
I was out of my booth before I even thought about moving. I saw Shirley in a far corner, right by the school building doors, talking to her friends Charlotte and Jamie. She turned to look at me. She must have noted my panicked face too because when Jamie nudged her and said something, my sister ignored him and started hurrying towards me. She couldn’t have taken more than five steps when loud whoops from the side distracted me. The football team had arrived. And they went straight to the cheerleaders.
My heart dropped a few more miles when I saw Aiden Montgomery with them. He was looking at something. Intently.
I followed his gaze. There!
He was staring at Samantha Anders, who had magically appeared, sitting beside Valerie on the boxes in the sun. I swear she wasn’t there like two seconds ago. Aiden broke off from the group and approached them. Valerie made a show of getting off the box and winked at Samantha. Aiden went to sit there and Samantha scooted closer, giving him a come hither smile.
Oh HELL no!
My worst nightmare was coming to life in front of my eyes. And it didn’t even have to do with Aiden flirting with Samantha ten feet away.
“Alex?” I jumped as Clark materialized beside me and touched my elbow. “What are you-” he frowned and adjusted his glasses, “You look as if you just saw a ghost!”
Oh hell to the power to the ‘n’ no!
The scene was complete now- Aiden and Samantha. Clark and I. School fare and the Science Booth.
I took a step back.
“Everyone needs to get out of here! Someone is going to attack us. I saw it in my dream.” I whispered, too distracted to notice what I was saying in front of Clark. He gasped.
“We have to get everyone out of here! An attack-“
I didn’t get a chance to explain. Because right then, BAANNGG went an explosion behind me. Someone screamed. Before I could turn to look back, Clark roughly grabbed me and darted inside our booth. More screams started around us. And then came a horrifying series of shots being fired.
One. Two. Three and four. In quick succession.
I struggled against Clark’s iron hold but he just wouldn’t let go.
“Shhhh! Whatever happens, stay down and run when you can.” he whispered in my ear as we crouched behind the tables. My head was pressed against Clark’s plaid shirt and he was holding a hand behind my head to keep me firmly at his side. His heart thudded loudly in my ears. It felt as like my own heart had thudded out of my chest and now lay somewhere between us; feeding on each other’s fears.
More shots were fired.
All around us, I heard mad confusion and terror take over. Tables being turned. Pushing and shoving. People screaming and running. Things falling apart…A dull thud that sounded like someone falling nearby. Too near to where we hid.
I pulled back and looked at Clark. Desperation shone in his eyes. He looked at me and shook his head in a signal for me to remain quite. He shoved me farther inside the small tent and pointed towards a small open flap in the back corner. That corner was near to the low back wall of the school. I quickly nodded, understanding that he wanted us to run through there. I started crawling towards it. And then I stopped.
How could I run?
My sister was out there. And all of my friends. And Aiden! I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I ran to safety and something happened to them because I had known this could happen and still did nothing. The guilt of not doing anything literally crashed on me and tore my insides. I couldn’t go on to the flap to escape. Even if I didn’t know what I could do against guns and people bent on shooting them, I just couldn’t make my body move. Maybe I was numb with shock and fear.
I was not a superhero but that was the time I really truly wanted to be one with every particle of my body.
Something on our left was overturned with a crash. Maybe it was the messaging booth. Howard had been sitting there a minute ago when I was still looking around. That minute now seemed like hours ago.
We heard a whimper and a plea, followed by two loud shots. The whimpers stopped. Bile rose in my mouth. I bit down the terrified scream building in my throat. Those whimpers and two shots kept ringing in my ears.
Close. The shots had been too close. Strange how they sound nothing like those on TV.
I caught the telltale acrid smell of smoke and dust. Another reminder of my horrible nightmare.
Apart from things overturning and the ringing gunshots, everything else went eerily quite. I hoped against hope that everyone had gotten away and hidden themselves because I knew that the impact of each shot, each person hurt, would be haunting me for a long time.
Clark must have noticed the guilty despair growing in my eyes, because he caught hold of my hands in both of his and kissed them gently, his hands steady and warm on me. I suddenly noticed that Clark’s eyes showed more guilt than I’m sure was etched in mine. I didn’t understand why he was feeling guilty. He again nodded towards the flap, silently mouthing for me to go first.
The gunmen shot again and we froze. Once. Twice. Thrice. They went on and on…We heard more thuds of things falling. Or were they people?
A set of footsteps crunched close by and a shadow appeared on the back of the tent. A shadow with a long thing protruding from one hand. We didn’t have to guess what the protuberance was.
My eyes found Clark’s. In that moment, we knew without a doubt that one more step would bring the attacker inside the booth and then we were both dead. It was too late for fear.
Something like determination replaced the anguish I saw in Clark’s face earlier. His hands left mine as he pushed me down, flat against the grass.
“Sorry dad! But I can’t sit this one out.” he mumbled under his breath and stood up, revealing himself to the attacker.
What was the idiot doing?
The table hiding us was savagely pushed aside. Clark pushed it. In a way that I remained hidden behind it. It’s iron leg hit my head and my sight became fuzzy. I didn’t know whether the fuzz was from the hit or from my sudden tears.
Clark Kent. My best friend…Stood in front of the gunman.
And he was going to get killed. My shot-to-hell brain saw a red cape on his back as he stood straight, with a set jaw. He was not afraid anymore. Stupid bastard was going to get killed for me and he wasn’t scared anymore!
I didn’t think. Or pause. I pushed the table as hard as I could, right where the gunman’s stomach would be. The table overturned and I saw a masked man with a big fucking gun stumble back. Before he fell, he shot again. I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. Clark cried out and launched himself at the gunman.
My body registered that I had been shot. My brain was yet to catch up though. I clutched at the wound and got up on my feet. Maybe I was hallucinating from of the pain, because I saw my attacker suddenly fly back twenty feet in the air, before landing unconscious on the ground. Someone shouted a curse on our right and the second gunman appeared, his gun pointed at Clark. He raised his arms to shoot, but his arm that held the gun contorted and he dropped the gun with another flurry of curses. The second gunman dropped to his knees and clutched his hand with the other, his glove smoking as if it was caught on fire.
My eyesight blurred and I blinked to clear my vision. In a split second, Clark was beside the second masked man, picked his gun and threw it far. Far enough that I couldn’t see where it landed.
What the fuck was that?!
I blinked again in disbelief. But this time my eyes refused to open again. Muffled shouts started sounding from all around me. They rang in my head just like the bullet shots had. I was falling. I was going farther away than where it hurt like hell.
Warm hands caught me. I was cradled in strong, sure arms as I heard a soft voice calling my name. I recognized that voice.
“Cl…Clark…” I croaked out.
“Shh…shhhh…I got you! You’ll be fine. I can hear the sirens. The medics are coming. Don’t give up now.”
His voice was gentle. His hands, gentler. I felt safe in them.
I tried to open my eyes and heard a sigh of relief as a pair of sapphire blue eyes came into my sight.
“Good girl…Amazing stupid mind blowing girl…” he said and shook his head, his eyes brimming too. “Why did you push that damn table? I told you to stay down!”
There was something I needed to say. A thought forming in the corners of my barely conscious mind.
“You’re a … sorta…” I took a ragged breath, slightly choking on it, “…freaking…” another gasp, “…superhero…” I paused to collect some breath, “You did… something to the…” pause, “other one too…his hand…”
He bent and pressed his lips to my forehead. I shut my eyes again. His chest rumbled. His breathing was ragged too. My ears registered the sound of sirens from afar. Clark had heard them much before I did.
He pulled back and cupped my face. I made the effort to open my eyes again.
“And you freaking knew exactly what was going to happen before it did, you oracle of Delphi! Keep my secret and I’ll keep yours.” he smirked.
I snorted. It came out as a weak sniff.
“I bet lots…lots of people…saw your bad…uhh…assery!”
“No one saw what exactly happened. They were all hiding. Too bad if they did though. I bet the police won’t believe. I am more concerned about dad!” Clark chuckled, “I am so grounded for this stunt.”
“She’s fine. I can see her.”
I nodded and shut my eyes to concentrate on pulling air in my lungs.
I’d freak out later. Ask questions later… Right then it was safe to shut my eyes and just keep breathing. Clark would see to everything else.