Slowly, solemnly, we approach our most sacred place. Our feet are ragged from days of reluctant walking. Our breaths are loud and white in the cold air. The sunlight begins to dim as we take step after step down into the dark valley, through the narrowing, heavy trees.
At last. A clearing, up against the hillside. A small trickle of water through the rocks that no one touches. We slump wearily against each other, some stubbornly standing and some on our knees. Nobody looks at anything but the inside of their own thoughts.
Our Eldest wastes no time. He walks right toward the crack in the hillside, then stops several feet away so nothing can grab him. He makes a show of listening for a minute, then nods decisively. I scowl. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is true.
Returning to the group with sharp footsteps, he points. "You."
He points at me.
I am hungry, hung-over, and disoriented. My brain spins slowly, almost imperceptivity inside my skull, un-tethered. I decide not to move my head, to think about nothing, and sink back asleep. My thoughts slowly latch upon the waking world and against my will, my eyes drift open.
A dark room, large shuttered windows. Unfamiliar walls. There was a party, empty beers and traces of powder lines on the coffee table. The rough woven fabric under my cheek is the armrest of a couch. My neck is stiff.
I'm not alone. On the other side of the coffee table is a second couch and another sleeping guy. He looks pretty happy drooling on himself, and he should be. His couch is stacked with cushions. Why do these people have one couch covered with cushions and one without any? Did I really not have the idea to steal one single pillow for the sake of my neck? I must have been plastered.
I can also see that somebody has carefully drawn a monocle around the other guy's eye with a black sharpie. The monocle is paired with sideburns and a small mustache. It's actually pretty well done.
Self-consciously, I touch my face. I need to find a mirror.
Also, where is Kallie?
"Ehhh," I groan as I sit up, pressing my palms to the side of my head to keep my brain from sloshing around. I wait for the room to spin to a stop and get up slowly, making my way to the little bathroom I vaguely remember being by the front door. I manage to pee without puking at the same time.
Blinking into the harsh florescent light, I wash my hands and look at my reflection. The sharpie artist has given me a pair of surprisingly realistic pair of horns, fangs, and angry eyebrows. I look like a monster or a devil. I take a dab of soap and scrub tentatively. The soap smells like chemicals and rotten peaches, and the sharpie barely fades. Fine.
My hunger suddenly spikes. The second I think about food, my stomach growls ferociously, and piece of my dream returns with sudden clarity.
Trudging through deep leaves and muck, barely able to lift my feet, walking endlessly. Walking from death to deception and to the inevitable end. People die all the time, even whole families and entire clans. The weather tears down your crops, the warriors steal your herds. The hunger steals your violence until you can't fight or hunt anymore. Then you die. Everybody has a time, it's only fair that ours comes too.
What the fuck. Usually my dreams are about my days – locking my keys in the car, having conversations, getting the laundry done – and then I wake up, surprised by piles of dirty laundry I thought I already did. I usually manage to sort out what is real pretty quickly, and all it does is make Kallie laugh to watch me stumble around looking for things.
This was a different dream. It felt just as real, maybe even more real, but seriously weird. I can get into slumps sometimes, but this was something else, something beyond desperation and into acceptance, just patient waiting for life to be over. I've never felt that way before, not even for a moment. I hope I don't feel it ever again.
The walking, and the walking, and the water on the mountain that I didn't want to touch, and that crack in the mountain that made me feel sick, like there was a hole in the world that shouldn't be there.
I need a pain pill and some grease, to get my brain running again. I wander into the nice, marble kitchen. Whose house is this? Nobody in their twenties owns a house this nice. It must belong to their parents.
The fridge is empty. There is a bowl of leftover pasta, no sauce. I peel off the saran wrap and try to take a noodle, it breaks off in a concealed chunk. Gross. I slowly chew the flavorless goo, and think at least I finally have something to eat after weeks of starvation.
No. I ate pizza last night with Kallie before the house party. I eat all the time. That was a dream only. This is real life now and I'm hungry because I drank too much. Maybe Kallie will take me out for breakfast. I need to find a new job before I can pay rent, but Kallie always has lots of cash.
I eat most of the cold, plain pasta and put it back. The house is still and quiet, anybody inside in still asleep. As I cross the room toward the back door of the house, I start to hear voices, and open the door to blink into the bright sun.
Four guys are sitting around on dusty patio chairs, and a beautiful dark haired girl lounges in a hammock with one leg delicately hanging down, toes stretched to just almost brush the ground.
There is a long, awkward silence. They stare at me, and frown, and look at my face, glance up at the sharpie marks, then their eyes settle down on my chest. Which is flat, because I'm a guy, but they stare at it confused, and then look back at the girl, who laughs.
"Best reaction ever," she states. "Did I mention I have a twin brother?"
Despite being different genders, me and Kallie both have identical faces. This means Kallie looks like a hot girl with striking features. For me, it means I look vaguely too… pretty. I'm obviously a guy, but a guy that doesn't look very guy-ish. Too pretty to be straight, some people say. Fuck them.
Kallie sits up to make room for me in the hammock, and I sink in next to her with a sigh. She artfully puts her chin on my shoulder, making eyes at the guys as they continue to look amazed. Kallie still gets a kick out of it. I don't.
When Kallie and I were 14, we stole our mother's car.
I don't know how Mom didn't see it coming. Kallie used to sit in the front seat and watch hungrily as Mom turned the key, put the car in gear. She even asked questions.
So one day when Mom and Dad were out for a couple hours, we took the keys. Kallie sat in the drivers seat, moved the seat all the way up as far as it would go, and slowly crept out of the driveway. After a few minutes of experimenting, she had it figured out enough to weave all the way to the mall. We dug some dollars out of the center console and bought ice cream and bright blue hair dye that Kallie wanted to try.
We made it all the way home safe, but our parents had gotten home early and were standing in the driveway, furious.
"You little brat!" Mom screamed at Kallie. "You could have gotten you and your brother killed!" She found the box of hair dye and took it away, sending us to our room for the rest of the day. "You should have stopped her, Kevin! No dinner for either of you!"
Sure. Me, stop Kallie when she wants to do something. Besides, following Kallie around was pretty much my purpose at that age. At any age, kind of.
Finally we got hungry and tried to sneak downstairs, but our parents were in the living room, talking quietly. There's a long hallway on the second floor with a solid railing, we could crawl along and listen without them seeing us.
"I can't take it any more. I know I should love both of my children equally, but sometimes I just can't stand that girl," Mom was saying. "She could have crashed that car. I swear, I just want to shake her."
Father made a noise of agreement. "But what can we do about it?"
"I think we should send her to boarding school. Let them straighten her out. She gets away with too much around here."
"And what about Kevin?"
"You mean her accomplice? I think it's better if they go away for a while, both of them. I just need a little break. Maybe for a year. Then I can focus on my work and actually get something done, and not have to worry about Kallie burning down the house when she's supposed to be doing homework. It will be good for them."
"That's going to be expensive."
"I don't care. It's worth it."
They sent us to boarding school, and Kallie didn't get to dye her hair blue. We finished junior high, and high school, with the occasional trip home for the holidays. They never did decide to bring us back. When we turned 18, we didn't even say goodbye. Kallie bought a car with some of her cash and we drove away, straight into the shitty future.
We get home around 2pm, back to the house that we share with five other people. Kallie has the master suite, but she uses it to work from so I have my own small room that used to be a large pantry. It's not bad, at least I don't have to share a room like most of the others. It gets cold sometimes, but I taped paper over the glass door so no one can see in, and the small bathroom by the kitchen is almost entirely mine.
Life could be worse, right? But it could be better, too.
As we walk toward the front door, it opens and Lucy stands in the doorway in her heeled boots, purse over her shoulder. Off to work or charity dinner or something like that people like her do. Shit.
"Ew," she says loudly, looking us over. "One guess what you've been up to, slut."
Kallie must be super tired too, because she actually doesn't reply, just gives Lucy a death stare and walks into the house.
"I'll pray for you!" Lucy calls after her. Then she turns around, and we both realize I'm still standing in the middle of the walkway.
Lucy gives me a hard look. Even angrily, she's very beautiful. She has silky waist length blond hair, and the kind of blue eyes that are almost silver in the middle/. She's tiny and perfect. Normally I would hit on her, but she's always looked at me like I came out of a dog's butt. Which she does now, and stomps off to her truck.
At least I'm not starving to death in a forest with creepy caves and people staring at me like I was before I woke up. So today has improved.