She woke up screaming, but her ears seemed hollow and the sounds seemed dull. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she tried to shake the images from her head.
A man. A car. A gunshot. Yelling. Some sort of red liquid. . .
Blood, she thought to herself. She almost never saw it, but she knew what it was.
The first person through the door was her older brother Noah. His usual calmness and cheerfulness was replaced with alarm.
"What is it, Halle? Was it another dream?"
Halle nodded in response, choking on the tears that rose to her throat. Normally she would have tried to remain level-headed, desperate to seem strong, but she gave in and collapsed into her brother's arms, sniffling. She couldn't pretend she was all right. She wasn't.
Her parents ran in seconds later and sank to the ground next to her bed. Her little sister Evelyn hurried in last of all, looking disturbed. She buried her head in their mother's arm as she stared at Halle.
After a couple minutes of silence, Noah brushed her bangs out of her eyes gently and looked her in the eye. "Can you tell us about it, Halle?"
He knew it would be hard for her. The nightmares she'd been having were otherworldly and terrifying. Nothing so horrible or painful had ever happened to her in real life - she couldn't remember ever feeling anything remotely close to the fear she felt in her dreams.
"Well, there was a man… and he was chasing me down a dark street…"
Halle swallowed and took another breath. Her father put his hand in hers and her mother and sister looked at her in sympathy. "And he caught up to me as I was getting into a car…"
Halle knew this was another aspect of her dream that made no sense. People weren't allowed to get their licenses and drive until they were 21 years old, so she still had four more years to wait. But in her dream it had made sense.
"He pulled out a gun and…"
Halle couldn't continue as the tears began to surface again. Noah pulled her even closer and squeezed her tightly. "It was just a dream - nothing like that will ever happen to you," he whispered.
After a few moments of letting Halle cry, Noah gently pushed her back and his light blue eyes searched for hers. She finally gazed back at him.
"I know it wasn't real. Nothing like that ever happens," she started, then looked quizzically at her parents and sister. "Why don't you all ever have nightmares like this?"
Her mother sighed and pulled Evelyn into a tighter hug. Her father just shook his head as he sat down beside Halle on her bed.
"We don't know," he said, his voice filed with uncertainty. "We've talked about this before - you're one of the only people we know who has these dreams. And why you do… that's an even bigger mystery."
Halle looked at her brother again in hopes of a different answer. He was more qualified than anyone she knew to answer questions like this. He'd been working in the government's scientific laboratories for three years and had been extremely successful - at least that what Halle had gleaned from his promotions and from what everyone said about him. Her brother would never boast.
But he'd been studying dreams lately just because of her. She wanted to know the answers that he didn't have yet.
"Why is this happening to me?" she whispered, looking at him. Noah stared back at her, unable to conceal the mixture of confusion and helplessness on his face.
"I don't know…at least not yet," he replied. He brushed a lock of dark hair out of her eyes. "But I will - just give me a little more time."
"Don't forget about your real job, though," their mother responded, looking concerned. "Finding out about Halle's problem is fine - if you do it on your own time. But we all know the Republic has no use for those who don't perform to the best of their ability. And they chose you -"
"I know," Noah replied curtly. "I'm not doing anything crazy. But I want to know why Halle is going through this. And I want to stop it. I'm very close to coming up with something to decrease your brainwaves at night. But for now…"
Their father took this cue and produced a small white bottle from his pocket. There were no instructions or words. Noah had procured it from the lab a long time ago when Halle had started experiencing the nightmares.
"Take one of these - you'll feel much better," her father urged. Her mother ran to the kitchen and poured her a glass of water to take with the pill.
Halle took the little white circle of medicine into her hand and swallowed it without hesitation with a swig of water. She needed to forget about her dream - but if that wasn't possible, she needed reassurance. Contentment. Peace.
And that was exactly what she felt. As the warm feelings slowly began to course through her, her mother handed her another tablet with a chalkier consistency.
"To help you sleep," she said with a small smile. "You'll feel so much better tomorrow, Halle."
Halle downed that pill as well and her brother eased her down onto her pillow again.
"Try to forget about it, okay?" Noah said, squeezing her hand. "One day, you will. One day you won't have to be afraid to sleep - you won't dream at all."
Halle gave a faint smile as her eyes clouded and her family's faces slowly turned black and splotchy.
The last thing she saw was her hand and her brother's - both unwavering and unmoving until she fell back into a completely silent sleep.