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The dream was a good one at first. Zarah sat cross-legged in a field, surrounded by thousands of beautiful white flowers. White, like winter's first snow.
"How strange," Zarah murmured. "I don't think I've ever seen a flower quite like this before." She leaned closer to inspect the one nearest her. Her wild, red hair billowed out behind her with a sudden gust of wind. "I'll take some home with me," she decided, her hand, reaching towards a flower's stem.
As her hand got closer, the flower seemed to lean into it, daring her to touch it. A sharp, golden-edged petal touched her silky skin. Zarah snatched her hand back in surprise. The flower had left a small stroke of blood in its wake. She stuck her injured finger in her mouth and leaned forward again to study the flower, careful not to touch it this time.
This flower, like all the others, was shaped like a pinwheel with five angular petals. Upon closer inspection, Zarah realized that it wasn't a flower at all. "You're made out of paper!" she said to the flower in amazement.
One of the flower's petals held a tiny drop of Zarah's blood on its razor sharp edge. She watched as the blood spread until each petal was dripping with of her blood. Zarah stood and looked around her in confusion. All the flowers were turning a deep, blood red.
Zarah felt faint. She flopped back down, hidden in the tall grasses of the field. The flowers followed her every move. Zarah rubbed her eyes and yawned. How sleepy she was! She lay down among the flowers, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
For just a moment, outside her dream, Zarah's eyes opened. They opened wide in fear and then, the life went out of their liquid green depths.
Some say that if you die in a dream, you die in the waking world as well. I don't think much of that is true. But it would have been better if Zarah had just died. It's just the same. A never-ending sleep.
My father, despite his considerable age, is a rather naïve man. He is convinced that a… daemon holds her soul captive in her dream world and feeds off her aura. Its colour grows duller by the hour. She won't last much longer. Yes, of this my father is certain.
I don't think I believe that at all. All I know is that she's dying. Slowly.
Zarah and I are… were twins. Ever since we were little, we've had this "special connection", you could call it. Somehow, we always seemed to know when the other was hurt or in trouble. Always.
That, I think, is the reason why I sometimes dream about her. And I know what that dream was about. Don't ask me how I know. It's just… a feeling.
A field… A field of flowers made of paper.
I watch her pick the deadly flower. Is it even a flower, really? I want to call out to her, but my lips don't part. I can't seem to control my own mouth. Instead, it twists into a maniacal smile. A laugh erupts from my throat when Zarah disappears beneath the waves of pulsating flowers. Everything moves in slow motion. Again, I want to yell, scream her name, but my mouth is clamped shut by an invisible hand. And all the while, I'm smiling.
And the field is awash in Zarah's blood.
That's where I always wake up. Always.
I open and shut my mouth, just to be sure that it's mine once again. My jaw is stiff. I can tell I've been grinding my teeth in my sleep again. My mother hates it when I do that. She says it wears down the enamel and sounds like gears grinding in machinery. Sometimes, I do it because I know it bothers her so.
I wipe my brow. My comforter feels sickeningly warm. I practically have to peel myself off the sheets. My cat, Arden, looks up with mild interest from her place of honor at the foot of my bed. Seeing that I'm not worth her time, she shifts, then goes back to sleep.
I swing my feet over the edge of the bed and push back the purple mesh canopy. It used to be red. Blood red. Red was mine and Zarah's favourite colour. I made the mistake of telling father about the dream, so it's understandable why he detests the colour now. He took every scrap of red and put it in a big pile in the south courtyard. Then, he lit a match to it. There is no red in the entire castle. I know Zarah would have found that saddening. It is a shame. Red can be such a happy colour.
After what seems like hours of searching, my feet find the cold, wooden floor. I turn over and slide off my bed on my stomach. For the millionth time in all my 13 years I've slept in this bed, I wonder why anyone in his or her right mind would make a bed so bloody high off the ground.
One of my legs is all pins and needles, so I almost fall over as soon as I put my weight on it, but I quickly steady myself. I reach blindly for my bedside table. The moon cuts a slice through my curtains, but it isn't bright enough to light the whole room.
My hand finally reaches the candle and matches. I strike the match on the stone wall above my bed. A little trick taught to Zarah and me by our nanny when we were six or seven, I think. She was fired the next day because of an… "incident". I accidentally set my bed on fire and everyone makes a fuss! I was only six, after all.
The match flared up in a brilliant red plume, and I almost drop it in shock. I could have sworn I saw Zarah's lifeless face in the flame. "Tricks of the light," I mumble and quickly light the candle. I shake the match out and toss it onto my vanity. The maid will get it later, no questions asked. At least none so far. With all the matches she cleans up day after day, I wouldn't be surprised if she suspected something.
My bedroom door creaks as I push against it with my shoulder. I close it silently and tiptoe past my parents' room, covering my candle's quivering flame with my hand.
Father is a heavy sleeper, but mother… She could hear a pin drop in the next town over, I'd wager. As I pass their door, I always listen for stirring. Just to be safe. I hear nothing and continue on.
As I start up the stairs, I finger the skeleton key around my neck. I always wear it. Always. Tucked into the neck of my dress, of course. No one knows I have it. It's my little secret. Mine and Zarah's. I could never keep a secret from her for long. Somehow, she always knew. Always.
I reach the door. The only locked door in the entire castle. And it's a big castle. I lean towards the door and stick the key in the lock. I twist my head as I turn it. When I hear a click, I pull the key out and tuck it back down the front of my nightgown. You can never be too careful. I push open the door and quickly shut it behind me.
I take small, rapid steps to her bedside. The nurse that usually cares for Zarah is asleep in her quarters by this hour, so I'm not as quiet as before. I pull a black, velvet covered armchair and pull it close to her side, as always.
Zarah's hair is white. A pale, ghostly white. And her skin is almost transparent. I can see the tiny blue veins coursing through her arms and her cheeks. Her body hasn't aged a bit in the five years she's been sleeping. She still looks the same as she did when she went to sleep that night. Does that mean I'm her older sister now?
I take her cold hand in my own. How small it is!
"I had the dream again, Zarah." I know she can't hear me, but I keep talking anyway. It makes the room feel less empty and the night not so dead. "I wish you could talk to me. Remember all the nights we would stay awake until dawn, just talking." I sigh and shake my head. "The cat's not too good for conversation. But then again, cats never are… Dogs on the other hand…" I trail off and scoot around in the chair, trying to find a comfortable niche in the rock-hard cushion.
"Guess what? Father found a red napkin while raiding the kitchen this morning," I tell her. "You should have seen him! He started to turn purple and then, now this is the best part, he put it in his mouth and tried to eat it! Isn't that a scream?" I laugh softly and imagine Zarah laughing with me. I sight again and sit silently, just holding her tiny hand.
I must have fallen asleep, fore the next thing I knew, I was dreaming again. That dream.
"Is there anyone out there?" Zarah called. "Please!" she sobbed.
This was new. I'd never seen this part of the dream before. I rushed towards her, my arms outstretched. "I'm here!" I shouted. Another first. I was never able to talk in the dream before.
She turned to me. It was like looking in a mirror. In this dream, Zarah still had vibrant green eyes and shiny red hair. And what's more, she'd aged. "Therin?" she asked, her eyes widening. "Is it really you? Where are you? I…I can't see you!" She groped about like a blind man.
I ran to catch her hand. "I'm here. Right here."
She gripped my hand tightly. "You're warm… I've been cold for so long… Please, take me home!"
I opened my mouth to reply, to tell her how wonderful it was to hear her voice, but a raspy whisper burst from my lips. "Wake up."
Zarah hiccupped. "Don't you think I've tried? I… can't," she screamed at me.
"Let go… Do it now!"
"How?" she whined.
"Lay down," this foreign voice inside me commanded.
Zarah let go of my hand with a final squeeze and lay down in the grass. She looked up at me, her eyes glistening with tears.
I knelt down next to her. "Shhh… Close your eyes." I placed my hand over her eyes. Her eyelashes fluttered on my palm as she obeyed and shut her eyes. My hand ran down her cheek, stroking her fair skin and coming to rest on her delicate neck. What was this… thing making me do?
My grip tightened. I tried to fight it, but I wasn't strong enough. It had total control over me now. Zarah's eyes shot open.
"What are you doing?" she gasped, her hand clutching my sleeve.
"I'm helping, my pet. Just close your eyes. Soon it will all be over." Tears began streaming down my face, blurring my vision. 'Stop!' I screamed inside my head, but it wouldn't listen. It just kept squeezing until Zarah ceased thrashing around and lay still. I glared at her body with teary satisfaction.
"What have I done?" I managed to croak. The beast answered. "You've helped."
It made me pick a paper flower from the ground and hold it before me. My finger slid across its glassy edge with ease, leaving a small line of blood. "Go now," I said. I held my bleeding finger over Zarah's body. "You are of use to me no longer." A single drop of blood fell onto Zarah's cheek and ran down her face like a river.
I snapped back as if I'd been in a trance. I heard a rustling sound from all around. "The flowers," I said to myself. I stood and looked out across the field. All the flowers were turning white once again. I looked back down to Zarah's body, but it was gone.
A whisper, like wind blowing through leaves. "Thank you…"
"Wait!" I yelled, running after the whisper. "Take me with you! Don't leave me!"
A laugh rang out. "You can't escape. You're mine now."
Zarah awoke to find her sister by her side. Her milky eyes staring icily ahead, her hand cold to the touch. And a solitary tear of blood ran down her cheek. Therin was no more.