1. Pain, Reinvented
It wasn't fair. What had she done to become like this? How much misery could she have possibly inflicted upon this world to deserve the pain she was exposed to now? She twisted and turned, trying to free herself from the chains, but that only brought a fresh wave of electric shock to her maimed and broken body. She cried out in agony, screaming as the shock coursed through her body, slowly burning away her soul. "Why? Why me? Why!" Her wailing echoed through the halls.
He woke up, shivering and damp with sweat. Where was she? He got up from his pallet, scratching his head, and crawled outside of the tent. He did a quick check of his surroundings, then collapsed his tent and stuffed it in his backpack with the few other things he owned. After he had erased all evidence that he had been there, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and began another day of endless hiking and trekking.
The lair had to be somewhere. Whether it was underground, in the water, or floating above him in the sky, he didn't know. He did know one thing though, and it was that Ember was trapped in the lair, being tortured with an evil device which, if he didn't arrive in time, could kill her. He couldn't bear the thought of losing Ember, because she was the closest person to family after his mother's death. His father had died in an accident when he was only a month old, so he couldn't remember his father at all. Everything he knew about his father had come from his mother. Now even she was dead.
He didn't stop moving for fear that his grief would swallow him up. It was late afternoon before he finally chose to rest. He sat down on a nearby rock and wiped his forehead, which was slick with sweat. He had only rested for what seemed like a minute when he heard the screams again. Ember. They're hurting her. He jumped to his feet, grabbed his backpack, and sprinted towards the direction of the screams. He knew Ember was close, and he had to find her, and fast.
An important-looking official entered the room, and paused for a moment to admire his work. He was flanked by two guards, and both of them were strong and muscular. Ember hung limp from the chains on her wrists and ankles. "See that?" The official said to his guards, "Isn't it gorgeous?" The guards stared at the girl, their faces showing no emotion. "Give me a round of applause for it won't you?" The guards clapped in choppy, disconnected motions. They acted as if they were robots, programmed to their master's will. "Thank you, thank you." The official bowed a few times, very pleased with himself.
"Observe the changes I bestowed upon this little girl. Note that her condition seems much improved since she arrived in this wonderful paradise, and that she is extremely happy to be here. Her personality has improved too, as you can see, because she is no longer the feisty little demon that she used to be. We have seen immense progress in getting rid of her impudence and despicableness since we have relocated her to this room, and this device that she has been attached to has worked miracles for her. We will be ready to implant the microchip into her brain in about three weeks or so."
Ember lifted her head, and moaned at the official. "Sir... may I please drink water? I am so thirsty..." The official snickered, then turned away from the desperate girl to walk out the door. Ember decided to give up on trying to live and move on to plan B—trying to die. It seemed that they were going to use her for some evil deed, or turn her into a robot just like the guards she had just seen. She knew it was right for her to just kill herself than let them turn her into a monster. Ember flailed about, setting off the triggers and electrifying herself. She shrieked in pain, but kept trying to destroy herself. A guard came in, holding a syringe full of a sedative. The guard stabbed the needle into Ember's skin. Ember still thrashed about uncontrollably, unaware of the sedative that was injected. Slowly and gradually, the drug began to pull her under into the black calm of unconsciousness.
In her restless dreams, Ember saw Trem, traveling through the woods in search of her. "It's next to impossible to find me. I'm trapped in another world, Trem." She called out.
Trem jumped, startled by Ember's voice. He looked around, confused, and tried to locate the direction of her voice. When Trem couldn't find out where Ember's voice was coming from, he started breaking down and going into a panic, as if all those weeks of searching for Ember had driven him mad. "Ember! Ember! I need you, Ember, come back to me! Where are you?"
Ember tried to reach through the invisible wall, the barrier that kept the fourth dimension separate from the other three, and hug Trem to reassure him, but it was impossible. Ember called out to Trem, as that seemed like the only method of communication with him.
"Calm down, Trem. It's me, Ember. I'm trapped in a fourth dimension. You can only meet me when we're both dreaming, because the fourth dimension is connected to the first three dimensions by a thin thread of dreams. I wish I could tell you where to find me, but I'm afraid I don't know how I got here. I'm so sorry."
Trem was rolling up into a ball, and he stared blankly off into space. He became unreachable, like he had traveled to distant lands inside his mind. Ember tried talking to him again, but Trem didn't respond. "Tremayne Danen! Listen to me!"
Trem had heard her. He was sure of it. Then why couldn't he figure out where the sound was coming from? Trem rocked back and forth, curled up in a tight ball. It felt like that was the only way to hold himself together at the moment. He started falling into his memories, and got into a flashback of his childhood with Ember.
The day that Trem met Ember was probably the most memorable day of his entire life. Trem had been 5 years old and a little toddler who knew nothing about the strange, sometimes magical things that could happen in the world he lived in. He had just moved into a large, spacious house next to another house that had a mural of nature painted on it. Trem was bored, so he decided to venture out into the backyard of his new house. His mother was busy unpacking and telling the moving crew where to put their furniture, so she didn't notice Trem sneaking away under the fence.
When Trem had crawled up from under the fence, he saw that the backyard was even bigger than the house. The backyard was at least twice the size of it! Trem decided to explore every little inch of the wonderful, huge backyard. He started picking flowers for his mother, sure that she would be pleased with the beautiful colors of the petals. Little did he know that his mother would soon be frantic with worry.
Trem continued to investigate the backyard. He found many insects and often frightened small animals off with his clumsy footsteps. He soon gave up on his attempts to catch any squirrels or rabbits. Trem started climbing a tree to see if he could see his mother from above. As he was climbing, he was disturbed by a bird that kept pecking at his head. He shooed it away, but it persisted and seemed determined to give him a headache.
"Go away, birdy! No one wants you here! I'm trying to see my momma! Shoo!" Trem swatted at the bird, waving both of his arms like a propeller. It was not until he was falling that he noticed he had not been holding on to the tree. As he fell, he saw the bird hovering beside him. Time seemed to warp and slow down to a point where Trem was no longer falling, but drifting and floating in midair.
"Huh?" Trem repositioned himself so that he was sitting upright and stared at the bird. The bird looked like it was melting, or turning itself into goo. Trem watched as the bird gradually reformed into a little girl about his age. Her long hair was a mysterious dark bluish color that seemed to flow and change colors. When Trem met the girl's eyes, he found that he was unable to look away, bound to her beautiful gaze. If he thought her hair was her best feature moments ago, he couldn't have been more wrong. It felt like he was looking into the night sky, admiring the shiny stars. "Who are you?" The girl didn't reply, and after a while, Trem began to feel sleepy. He yawned and fell asleep after thinking that he should probably go back to his mom.
The next thing Trem remembered was waking up in his new room, all bundled up in blankets on his new, fluffy bed. "Momma?"
"I'm right here, sweet. How are you feeling?" His mom looked very concerned.
"I feel fine, momma, nothing's wrong with me. What happened?" Trem sat up in his bed, rubbing his eyes. His hair was tousled from sleeping, and it stuck out in all directions.
"I found you lying on the ground in a pile of leaves. I thought you fell out of the tree and broke your neck! I was so worried about you! I took you to the hospital to see if you were alright, and the doctor said there were no broken bones and no damage to be found! Oh, I was so relieved that you were okay!" His mom hugged him tight as she said this, and a happy smile was on her face.
"But momma," Trem replied, "I did fall out of the tree."
"Please don't joke around about this, sweet. This is a very serious matter."
"No, momma, I'm not joking! I fell out of the tree because I was swatting a bird and then the bird turned into a little girl. I stopped falling and I floated in the air while I was watching the girl, and then I fell asleep thinking that I should come back home." Trem argued.
"Trem, dear, you've been through a lot today. I think you should go back to sleep, sweet."
"Hush, sweet. Rest your head for today, and don't make up foolish stories and insist they are true."
"Trem, please be quiet and go to sleep or else you will not be allowed to play outside for a week. Understand?"
"Yes, momma." Trem answered, a little disappointed.
"Goodnight, sweetheart. Don't let the bedbugs bite!"
Trem's mom left, turning off the lamp and closing the door as she went. As soon as he heard her footsteps fade off into the distance, Trem jumped out of bed and opened his journal. It was a very special journal, because his father had given this to Trem's mom long ago to give to Trem when he was old enough to read. That wasn't the only special thing about it, however, because the journal would listen to what Trem had to say and write the words in itself. But what Trem loved most about the journal was that it listened and wrote down exactly what he said and never criticized him.
"Today was a very weird but cool day. I explored my new backyard, picked flowers for my momma, climbed a tree, and fell out of the tree." The journal wrote as he talked, and the letters appeared instantly on the paper.
"I fell out because I was trying to shoo away a little bird that kept pecking at my head. The bird kept pecking though, and the next thing I knew I fell out of the tree because I forgot to hold on to the tree while shooing the bird." The journal recorded Trem's words, and as it did, it made little marks above certain words as if it were trying to tell him something.
"I started floating while I was falling, then I sat up in midair and stared at the bird because it had followed me. The bird changed into a little girl. The girl had really pretty hair that changed colors every few seconds! Her eyes changed a lot too! Her eyes were the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my life! I could see a mini picture of the sky inside her eyes! It was awesome." This time, the journal added its own words to the end of Trem's last sentence. The girl's name was Ember, it wrote.
Trem was puzzled. Shouldn't the journal always say what he had said and nothing more? He stared at the strange marks and the sentence that the journal wrote by itself. The journal had marked "girl", "hair", "colors", "changed", "life", "sky", and "picture". When Trem had written the words out, it said this: "Girl colors changed life sky pictures". Trem still couldn't figure it out, and he mumbled the words over and over again. To help Trem, the journal once again wrote its own words. Ember's hair colors change according to the future. The picture of the sky you see in her eyes shows you the past.
Trem still didn't get why the journal would be writing by itself and why it would be writing stuff about the girl that he didn't know, but he got the feeling that he would see the girl again someday. "Ember." Trem whispered. "Ember." Trem closed the journal and told it good night. He put the journal back into its secret drawer and burrowed into his covers to sleep.