Finding Respite

Leaning against the railing of the third story balcony, Ellette looked over her view of old town Steinberg. Leeson Avenue roared below with late evening traffic and the people who made up the nightlife were just beginning to gather in the run down Leeson Avenue Park. It was not exactly a heartening view, through the smog, noise and heat that seemed to hang in the air, but Ellette had grown used to, almost fond of it. The traffic noise died down as the night progressed. Music from cheep radios, shouts, arguments, and occasional laughter of the street people, bums, drunks was beginning to drift up from below. They were the "forgotten people", as she had named them. She had lived in their world once, and it still was a part of her, though now she could never imagine going back. She sighed and turned away, cutting short the shout of a drunken wino as she closed the sliding door. She leaned back against the door and looked up at the cracking ceiling. Still, the muffled sounds threatened to breach her sanity.
She went to the stereo and found a cassette. After a couple failed attempts she convinced the fossil to play. Soft and airy music of flutes filled the small apartment quite adequately covering the sounds she'd wanted to drown out. Only the occasional clatter of dishes as her roommate worked wonders in the kitchen interrupted the sweet music. She padded softly on bare feet to the entrance of the tiny kitchen to watch Rand as he slaved over another one of his interesting concoctions. He stood over the stove barefooted, in worn blue jeans, faded tee shirt with the logo of a band no one but he had ever hear of printed on the front. His dark hair hung to his shoulders, long in need of a trim in Ellette's opinion, and his fingers twitched as if fingering the tunes of an imaginary flute. The fluttering of his fingers drew her attention once again to the not so old scars that ran from his fingers all the way up his arms. Despite their unspoken agreement to avoid discussion about the past she could not help but wonder what he could ever possibly have done to aggravate such a brutal attack.
"I assume you have inhaled enough smog for one day?" Rand asked, breaking her sullen thoughts.
"Hhhmmm." She answered. She hadn't thought he'd heard her come into the kitchen, but he always seemed to notice little things like that. Perhaps he'd noticed something he shouldn't have once... She put the thought dutifully aside and pulled a stool up to the counter that served as a table for the two of them. He glanced at her briefly, trying to read her mood.
"How's the job?" He asked, stilling his hands from their almost involuntary animation and wiping them on his pants.
"Money in the bank." She said half hartedly, watching him massage his scarred fingers. She sighed and rested her chin on her folded arms.
"That bad?" She smiled faintly at him.
"No. I'm glad to be working." She ran a hand though her cropped, jet-black hair, fingering out a knot at the base of her neck.
"Why so melancholy then?" He asked. She shook her head, not quite knowing the answer herself. She watched him stir the contents of the pot for a while before answering.
"Watching the street life always seems to have that kind of affect on me." He nodded knowingly, or else in rhythm to the music. "Sometimes it feels like those people down there, the ones the rest of the city have forgotten are the only ones who really know..." She paused, trying to express herself clearly. "Like they're the only ones who know that there is some thing more. Some kind of underlying current to life, and only through what society claims is craziness, are they in touch with it." She flung her hands up in exasperation. "I don't know, something like that." Rand laughed, a soft rumbling sound that always seemed to lift mood. The conversation ended at that, and they moved on to other subjects as the evening wore on. Despite the ease and carefree air, the somber feeling seemed follow her the rest of the evening.

She found it nearly impossible to sleep that night; tossing and turning when her normally vivid and lifelike dreams failed to come. She could partially blame that on the fact that she really didn't want them to. Finally she sat up on the pull out couch where she slept, the shadows hanging across the room like dark, gauzy veils, and listened to the night. Somewhere in the distance a car alarm was sounding, a dull background sound that blended with the chirping of crickets. Closer was the soft rumble of the occasional car and the buzz of the neon lights. Bits of conversations and laughter drifted through the walls from the apartments around her as well as from the street below. In his room, she could hear Rand moving in his sleep and the soft rhythm of his breathing. Above something thudded and laughter followed the sound. Ellette wrapped her arms around her legs, unable to block out the sounds, but not exactly sure how much she really wanted to. A TV droned next door, and some cats engaged in a duel in the ally.
She got up, the cot springs voicing their protest, and stared at the apartment around her, transformed by the night. The shadows seemed to pull at her, rousing childhood fears and nightmares in their depths. Warily she moved through the shadow filled room to the sliding door of the small balcony. The scraping sound of the door as she slid it open seemed to echo through her head, a sound that didn't fit in the dream-like setting. She stepped out side, the heavy night air pressing around her. She stared out at the once manmade world of Old Town. Her heart fluttered in her chest, like a bird trying to escape. She longed for something, something more. The wilds of the night and this ancient part of the city reclaimed by wilderness held that something.
"Ellette?" Rand's inquiring voice shattered the tranquility. She turned slowly, as if the night air had thickened to a restrictive gel. He stood in the dark room, his face eerily obscured by shadows. A cool wind rose up behind her, causing the hair on her arms to rise and the curtain she could not remember being there before, to flutter. She opened her mouth to explain that she just couldn't sleep, but it just fell open once Rand stepped into the light. She failed to hold back her cry of horror and despair as she saw all his scars once again open and oozing, his fingers broken and disfigured. His face was bloodied and bruised, just as it had been that night long ago when he'd been attacked. Only this time there was no life left in his eyes, they stared lifelessly past her, and she backed away. His body like a puppet on strings, limp and inanimate, yet still moving, imitating life. She knew there was nothing she could do for him this time. She felt hot tears of both grief and terror burning trails down her cheeks and backed away once more. The balcony railing stopped short her retreat. She glanced briefly at the street below and the world began to shake. The creature that had once been Rand called her name again through his rotting lifeless lips. She screamed again, her heart thumping wildly and tears streaming down her face. "Ellette...ellette...

"Ellette? Wake up!" She slowly opened her eyes, which she realized were clenched shut to find a concerned, but otherwise normal Rand shaking her awake. She tried to calm her ragged breathing and wiped at her face. She pulled her self into a sitting position and put her face in her hands. The emotions evoked from the dream were still raw, and she couldn't hold back the tears. Rand got up and fetched a box of tissues. "What happened?" He asked gently, handing her one. She wiped her cheeks and shook her head.
"It was just a dream." She muttered, although all too aware that her dreams were rarely 'just dreams'. She took a deep breath, wadding the tissue in her hands.
"More like a nightmare." He suggested, though he too, knew that her dreams were anything but normal. Ellette nodded and looked at him, half expecting to find his eyes once again empty and dead. She struggled to blink back more unbidden tears. Hesitantly, he put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "You going to be all right?"
"Yeah." She said hoarsely, her throat still tight. "I just won't be able to sleep the rest of the night." She tried jokingly. The initial terror had begun to fade, and she knew she'd be fine once she calmed the flutter of her heart and shaking hands. He squeezed her shoulder and pulled away, but didn't get up from the edge of the cot. In the awkward silence, the night noises once again began to fill the air. Ellette pulled her knees up to her chin and shivered slightly. Rand sat, shoulders hunched, gazing over the shadowy room. A gunshot sounded in the distance and the blare of sirens followed a while later. Rand turned to study her, the poor light betraying each hardship he'd endured through time etched across his face.
"What was it... what did you dream that was so terrible?" He asked finally. She just shook her head. Describing the still too vivid image would bring her to tears again. She didn't like to cry.
"It wasn't so much what I dreamt, it was the frightening realness of it. The fact that I can't tell the difference from my dreams and reality anymore is more than just a little disturbing." She stretched her legs out before her. "At least I know this one wasn't real." On impulse she reached out and ran a fingertip along a scar tracing his arm. He flinched slightly self-consciously, his eyes seeming so childlike as he looked at her with uncertainty. "So long as it isn't real, again." Somber understanding filled his dark eyes. She sighed, and turned to look at the sliding door that led to the balcony. There was no curtain, and it stood shut and locked. For once it had only been a dream.
"You going to be all right now?" Rand repeated. He hovered, not wanting to over step his bounds, but not wanting to neglect his duties as a friend. She nodded and he got up. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and went back to his room. She watched him fade into the shadows. Despite her fears, sleep, dreamless this time, overcame her once more.

Though the smelly and usually over crowded bus stopped nearly in front of the old apartment buildings from Rand's apartment, Ellette got off at the stop about two blocks away on the opposite side of Leeson Park. She stood looking down the main path that ran through it. It was the most well kept area of the park, and the safest. Tourists, uptown joggers with their little cans of mace and walkmans, women with children and strollers and probably a little can of mace, and a variety of people with dogs, mace included in a hand bag, wandered along the main path and a few of the other more well patrolled arias through the park. The view from bus stop and bright light of the late afternoon sun made the park look like a cheery, hospitable place. Once night fell, from her Old Town apartment view, she knew that the scene would be much different. She started along the path.
Gravel crunched beneath the tread of her boots and leaves fluttered in the breeze. The trees seemed to crouch over the path, creating a canopy overhead. A woman with a child in tow nodded to Ellette as she passed by. Ellette watched her go, realizing that the woman was as young as she, with a three year old child. Once again she marveled at how quickly time seemed to pass, how much she seemed to miss, as well as how thankful she was that she had what she had. She wandered on, passing the panhandlers and buskers. The shadows were elongating, curving over the land when the shade of the trees didn't hide their existence. Ellette paused at an intersection in the path to let a biker hum by. A busker with a guitar called to her from the foot the aging wooden bridge.
The busker was a tiny woman with a wild mess of auburn curls haloing her head. She was barefooted with corduroy bell-bottoms and a halter-top that revealed much of her fair, freckled and sunburst skin. She sat at the foot of the bridge with a classical guitar in her lap and the case lying open before her. A couple of coins lay in the case, glinting brightly in the late afternoon light. Ellette paused for the briefest of moments to take her in and then started off again.
"Wait!" She called. Ellette turned. The little woman squinted up at Ellette, and nodded her head. "Some dreams you must have."
"Dreams?" Ellette asked, caught off guard. "What...? "How would you know?"
"Ah yes. Dreams." The woman gave her guitar a considering strum. "Dreams as real as waking, for you." Ellette considered the smaller woman, wondering if she was insane, high, or perhaps serious.
"Who are you?" Ellette demanded.
"Jessie, I am called." She leapt to her feet. "Though who I am only I know for sure." The woman held her guitar by the neck and thrust the other hand forward for Ellette to shake. Ellette took her hand, and for the first time caught a glimpse of Jessie's perfectly sane, startling green eyes.
"My name's Ellette." She replied.
"Hmmm. Fey woman." Jessie nodded again, her nest of hair bouncing with the movement.
"What are you talking about?"
"You're very fey. If not in blood, inspirit. Even your name says so. You know that, though. You have dreams. Wild, real, frightening dreams." Jessie grinned, flashing a set of perfect, white teeth. "By the way, you should never give your true name." She said grimly. "It holds power, but don't worry, I won't tell anyone."
"How would you know? I mean about the dreams." Ellette asked, the woman had definitely caught her attention. She was intrigued to say the least, though she wished she knew what the word fey meant exactly.
"It's obvious in your aura." Jessie answered with a bob of her head. Childlike energy seemed to radiate from her and yet she had a graveness about her. "Yep. Very fey."
"Can you tell me anything about these dreams, why I have them?"
"Simple. The answer is within yourself." Ellette had begun to lose her patience. She wasn't so much irritated with her as she was at herself for being drawn in in the first place.
"Oh, sure that helps. Well, Jessie, it was nice meeting you. Lucky guess about the dream thing. Here's a dollar for your efforts." Ellette tossed the money into the case and started off again.
"You have dreams where you help people. Many many people." The little woman shouted. "You were once one of the few that remembered, cared, and could help. You have forgotten them. You have betrayed them! Your nightmares are a manifestation of their suffering." The woman rambled, pointing at Ellette's receding back. Ellette wished she hadn't listened, but she did. She heard every word. The sense they made was frightening, but when turned again, the woman was gone.
"I had a strange encounter on my way home today." Ellette said as she plopped down on the worn couch and began unlacing her shoes. Rand looked up from his book and reached over to the stereo to turn down the music. "I decided to walk through the park on my way, instead of riding that god awful bus the whole way."
"So that's why you're late." Rand dog-eared the page and closed the book.
"I hate it when you do that, ruins the pages." Ellette muttered. Rand just brushed back a lock of his unruly and sinfully thick hair. "You could at least use a book mark, anything will do."
"Who'd you meet in the park, someone else from a dream?" He said, pointedly ignoring her comment. Ellette glared at him and tossed one of her boots at him. He deftly blocked it with the book.
"No. I didn't meet some one else from a dream. You're still the only figment of my imagination come to life." He snorted at that. "I would have rather had that cute guy from Montana I dreamt about come to life, but I guess you'll do." Now it was his turn to toss the boot. She giggled, kicking it away with her other, still booted foot. "Seriously, though." She said, slipping off the other boot. "I had this hippie busker with a guitar stop me and start rambling about me being fey. What ever that is." She sat back and stretched her long, thin legs. "Then she started on about dreams. That caught my attention until I figured that she was just trying for money. I tossed her a couple dollars and started to walk off, then she said something about how real my dreams are and how I help people in them, and how I'm like the only help they have. She said that I have betrayed them. Then she said that was why I was having nightmares." Rand's brow was furrowed in thought after she finished.
"Is that all she said?" He asked, leaning forward, the book on his lap, his elbows propped on the book, and his chin resting his palms.
"Yeah. I had tried to ignore her, and walk off while she said the last bit. When I turned to ask more, she was gone." Ellette explained.
"Are you sure this wasn't just another dream." Rand asked, his head cocked consideringly to one side.
"Rand!" Ellette yelled. He held his hands up, a grin painting his face.
"Sorry, couldn't help it." He apologized quickly before she found something new to hurl in his direction. "All these strange dreams and everything you have are just a little too weird not to make fun of. Really though, I believe you, and I'm very happy it's not me having to deal with it." Ellette sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. She tried to look irritated, but came out looking more like a stubborn, gangly, street kid. Rand got up to put up his book, ruffling her hair. As he put the novel on the shelf, he pulled down another, thicker, older looking book. "The word fey has to do with magic and fairies." He mused. "Here," he said, handing her the book, "this book talks a little about that type of thing."
"She said I had fey blood, or at least fey spirit." Ellette said, running her fingers over the inlaid cover of the book.
"Weird." Rand sat back down in his chair. "You sure she wasn't just high as a kite and you heard what you wanted to hear?"
"I know she wasn't stoned. I know it sounds silly, but her eyes were perfectly sane." Rand rolled his eyes. Ellette didn't see his expression, already thumbing through the book thoughtfully.
"Tomorrow's your day off, right?" Rand asked. Ellette nodded. "Mine too. I think maybe we need to take a nice long walk in the park tomorrow." Ellette nodded again.

The scene in the park was much like it had been the evening before, only the light had reversed. They walked the same path, the shadows of early morning criss crossing the path. Her head down, hands thrust deep into her pockets, Ellette walked a couple of steps ahead of Rand. Her sleep had once again been interrupted by horrifically real dreams, and she ready for some answers. Though he realized her urgency, Rand couldn't help but enjoy the morning, flute in hand, ready for when ever Ellette found her answers.
"Where's the damn bridge!" Ellette grumbled. A yuppie sitting on the grass reading looked up at her, startled. She scowled at him, daring him to pull out that mace he was reaching for. Rand, catching the exchange, upped his pace and steered Ellette ahead by the elbow.
"If I had known you were going to act like this, I would have never let you out of your cage." Rand whispered to her. She jerked out of his grasp.
"Unlike you, I am not a morning person. Also, unlike you, I haven't been able to sleep for the past week with out waking up in the middle of the night from the most horrid dreams you can imagine!"
"You could at least try to be civil. You're not the only one with problems." He snapped back.
"You think I don't know that? I deal with people's problems every night. I can't have a dreamless sleep, or even a pleasant dream without ending up on some kind of crusade for the needy. These are my dreams! Dreams are the one complete escape, and I can't dream." She flung her hands in the air and began walking down the path again, Rand trailing after. She knew people were staring, but she didn't care. They lived in the same city she did, they had surely seen a raving lunatic before. "Now I have nightmares. I just wanted to forget every one else's problems and enjoy my life since I actually have one." She stopped and sat down on the still faintly dewy grass. "It used to be a comfort to go out and save people in my dreams like a super hero or something. It was a comfort to know people were worse off than myself, and to know that I was needed somehow, even if I thought the people I saved were imaginary. It was nice to be able to think that if I ever was in that situation that I could be useful." She put her head in her hands and Rand knelt beside her. "Now I just want to be normal."
"There is no such thing as normal." Rand and Ellette both looked up to find a tiny woman looking down at them, her curly locks ablaze in the sunlight. "Heroes often don't have a choice. You did, and you can't back out now." Ellette looked up at Jessie, squinting at the sun.
"What do you mean I had a choice? I didn't choose to be insane." Ellette said, brushing a few strands of hair from her forehead.
"Not to be insane, to help people. Let me put it this way. You tore down a barrier in you mind willingly to escape your own life. That wall can't be rebuilt. The lives of others will forever touch your own."
"Who are you?" Rand asked. Jessie smiled down at him.
"You may call me Jessie, though that is not the name the fair folk know me by." Rand only blinked, not knowing how to respond.
"I know what's going on." Ellette said, glaring at the woman. "You're a schitzo, the voices who talk to you told you come harass me, right? Why me? I don't need this." To Ellette's surprise, Jessie laughed.
"You're not so far from wrong. Only if I'm schizophrenic, what's your problem? Normal people can tell the difference between dreams and reality."
"I don't know." Ellette whispered, wanting to cry.
"If this conversation doesn't turn constructive very soon, I suggest you leave." Rand rumbled, his normally passiveness turning suddenly defensive of his friend. Ellette couldn't help but feel heartened by his protectiveness.
"I don't want to cause pain to your friend. I only want to help, but as you well know, it hurts to heal." Jessie said, once again stunning both of them by the accuracy of her words.
"What then," Ellette asked, "what do you want me to do? What is it you want to tell me?"
"You must stop denying who you are. You must accept that your dreams are not dreams."
"I know they aren't..."
"Then stop fighting them! You are a hero of the night. What are dreams to you is reality to others. You cannot be hurt or killed, but you must help."
"I'm no hero. I would be living on the streets if it wasn't for Rand." Ellette protested.
"You were a hero for Rand." Jessie said softly. The words hit home, as Jessie knew they would. She began to turn away, having said what she'd needed to.
"Wait." Ellette said, getting to her feet. The little wild haired woman stopped. "Even heroes get a chance to rest, even if only for a night. Do I ever get a rest? All I really wanted was respite. I can't work for a living..."
"Or stay halfway sane." Rand put in. Ellette smiled at him, knowing that he was implying that he'd support her if she couldn't support herself.
"...if I can't sleep properly once in a while." She continued.
"Yes, I know what you mean. No one can live on thanks alone." Jessie said, her attention once again focused on Ellette. "Respite will come with acceptance. Before you began to deny and fight your dreams, did they come every night and disrupt your life?" Ellette couldn't answer, she couldn't remember. "Only when you wanted to be someone else did they began to disturb you." Ellette sighed and looked down. There was never an easy way out. Rand put his hand on her shoulder.
"She's gone." He said. Ellette nodded. She'd half expected her to depart with a cryptic message; something incredible that would end all doubt, like in a storybook. But she knew life wasn't that simple.
"Life is never simple. I don't know why I thought I could change that by changing trying to change myself." Rand put his arm around her shoulders, and she welcomed the reassurance that she wasn't alone.
"It wouldn't be nearly as beautiful if it was simple." He said. They stood in silence for a while, watching the world come to life as the morning progressed.

-By Shannon Jones