Continued from: Earworm: Part 27 — Son of a Shrink
The moon hung around Hope’s neck. William had called to her, and she welcomed him. They stood atop a high cliff overlooking the calm, alien ocean of William’s dream world. Off to Hope’s right, Hope could see her castle perched on one of the steep cliffs in the distance.
“C’mon.” William tugged on her hand. “You gotta see this, you’ll love it.”
“It’s awesome, wait until…”
“But, William, where’s my Dad?”
“My father? Where is he?”
Confusion betrayed William’s face. “Um… he’s…” His eyes then flickered as if he was hit with an idea. “He’s around. We’ll catch up to him later. C’mon, follow me.”
“Are we going to see him?”
“Yeah, sure. C’mon.”
William began to lead her along the sheer black cliffs. “Below these cliffs,” William said, “are spectacular caves. You know with stalagmites and stalactites.”
“It’s like this huge…”
Hope stopped William and turned him to face her. “But I want see my father,” Hope said, taking his hands. “Please, I need to spend more time with him.”
William looked at his hands in her hands, then he looked at Hope. “But I thought…”
Hope caressed his hands with her thumbs. “You asked me what I wanted more than anything. What I want more than anything is to see my father again,” she said.
William stared at his hands in hers again. His shoulders slumped. “Okay,” he said in his best aw, shucks voice. “I mean, of course you should spend time with your father, that was my idea the whole time. I just wanted to take you…”
“Thank you, William.”
“…to this other…” William’s voice trailed off. He looked at his feet.
A familiar voice came from behind Hope. “Hello, My Hope.”
Hope turned to find her father standing behind her. “Daddy,” she said, falling into his arms.
Her father smiled and said, “Ready to see what William has to show you?”
“What? No,” Hope said, breaking from his embrace. “I want to spend time with you. We have so much to talk about.” She took his hand. “Don’t you want to talk to me?”
“Of course I do, sweetheart.”
“Then c’mon.” Hope pulled him by the hand to follow her.
“But what about William?” her father said.
“He’ll be fine,” Hope said.
William didn’t look like he agreed.
“C’mon,” Hope said to her father, turning her back on William. She and her father strolled toward the edge of the cliff, looking out over the ocean.
William followed some distance behind them.
“So, what do you want to talk about?” her father said, glancing over his shoulder at William walking behind them.
“Everything. There’s so much to talk about. I mean, we lost all those years together.”
“But now, thanks to William, we have a lifetime to catch up,” her father said.
Hope’s eyes filled with tears. “I guess that’s right,” she said.
“The past is gone,” her father said. “Now we have a long future ahead, together, here. You’ve found me. So let’s focus on the present. I have missed a lot in your life, so tell me, what is My Hope up to?”
Hope composed herself, forcing a smile. They strolled along the cliff’s edge. William still following. Hope glanced at the castle in the distance, and then looked up at her father. “Well,” she said, “I’m doing well in school. I’m playing basketball, tennis, and I’m cheerleading…”
“That’s exciting,” her father said. But he didn’t look like he really thought it was all that exciting. He looked a little like William at the moment, impatient and distracted.
“I’m just happy, you know?” Hope looked off at the ocean. She then looked to her left and saw William standing at the cliff’s edge. He was occupying himself by picking up stones and throwing them off into the ocean. Each stone carried from his hand for miles, landing far off in the distant sea. She remembered Joel tossing pebbles into the water’s edge on Demon’s Point, and she said, “Oh, and I’m seeing this really great guy.”
William, about to throw another rock, looked in their direction.
Hope’s father no longer looked impatient or distracted. This seemed to be just the conversation he was looking for, and he nodded with approval. “William,” he said to Hope with a beaming smile.
“William?” Hope said. She shook her head, “No, not William. William is… I don’t know what William is. No, this other guy you’d love, he’s…”
The smile dropped from her father’s face. “Not Joel,” he said. It wasn’t his voice.
“Yes,” Hope said, pulling away from him. Goosebumps spreading across her arms.
“Joel Fitch?” her father said. His eyes turned a cold green.
“Daddy, why are…”
Viscous, black clouds erupted from the horizon and snuffed the sunlight. The sea churned. The wind howled a whistling sound in Hope’s ears.
Hope’s father’s face began to alter. His nose sank between his cheekbones. His eyes narrowed into slits. His mouth sneered. “Not Joel Fitch,” he said.
Hope stumbled away from him, bumping into someone behind her. She turned to find William standing there.
“Hope,” William said, his expression bordering on disbelief and panic. “Is Joel really who you want? He’s who you choose?”
Hope cringed as the clouds unleashed flashes of silver lightning, the wind continuing to scream
The sea was a boiling cauldron, waves cresting and slamming into the rocks, exploding into towers of spray that reached for her.
“Is he?” William said.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean choose?”
“Is Joel your choice?” William demanded.
“What choice?” Hope said, tears racing down her cheeks.
Hope’s father had wandered a small distance along the cliffs. He stood a little ways off, holding his ears and shaking his head as if an animal was trying to hatch from his skull. “Not Joel. Not him,” her father called toward the sea.
“The choice of Joel or me. What about me?” William said to Hope.
The wind howled its call:
“What about all this?” William gestured to the angry sea, the black sky, the imposing cliffs. “What about him?” William pointed at Hope’s father.
But her father was no longer reminiscent of the man she loved—or of a human for that matter. Its face distorted and stretched, twisting, its opened mouth screaming in agony, its jaw dropping impossibly wide.
“This is only a dream, all of it, it’s a dream,” Hope said.
“But I’m not,” William said, stepping toward Hope. “I’m real. I sit behind you in math class, remember?” He took another step toward her.
Hope backed away from him, noticing the closeness of the cliff’s edge.
“And the other night… you kissed me. Don’t you remember?”
He continued to edge Hope toward the cliff’s edge.
“Was that supposed to mean nothing to me? Well, it meant someth—it meant everything.”
“It was a dream,” Hope said, trying to remain calm. She would, after all, soon wake up in her bed, no harm could befall her. But she sensed the churning water behind her, and as always occurs in nightmares, although her intellect knew she was sleeping, her senses demanded she was experiencing actual sights and sounds. And danger.
“Only a dream?” William shouted. He stared at her and then tossed his hands into the air with a grunt. “Everything I gave you was real. You’re the one building illusions. You’re the one living in a world as phony as a card trick.” He opened his mouth as if to say more, but instead, he turned and vanished into an unknown corner of his world.
Behind Hope, the waves crashed against the rocks, their spray almost catching hold of her. She peered over her shoulder, the closeness of the cliff’s edge nauseating her. The sky grew darker, the wind fiercer, the castle in the distance more menacing. The thing that was Hope’s father writhed more franticly, and then its head exploded in a flare of green flame, the rest of its body following with a rapid flashover that reduced it to ash and smoke carried away on the wind. Then there came a rumbling roar. Hope turning to find a wall of water hundreds of feet high surging toward her. It was going to slam into her, sweep her from the cliffs and crush and drown her limp body. What if the myth was true, what if dying in dreams meant death in real life? The water approached, she closed her eyes, sensing it coming, and as she fought to wake up, it was upon her with a crash.
Hope flailed her arms as if swimming for the surface, and she sat upright in her bed, gasping for air. Her hand went to her pounding chest, and for a fleeting moment, she grasped her lunar jewel before it melted away in her fingers. She looked around her room, the darkness outside her windows graying with dawn. She looked at her poster, the castle ominous in the ghostly light.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 29 — A Little Company