[I challenged myself to write for an hour a day. The aim is just to write whatever, and put it out there for accountability purposes. Not to make anything super polished or 100% what I would do given more time. I did slightly cheat today because I spent 10 extra minutes finishing and rereading once.]
The day started like any other.
Quietly groaning as the alarm pierced through an enjoyable dream. Opening the curtains and glancing through condensation on the window over golden rooftops to the misty fields at the edge of town. Showering and dressing in a hurry. Crossing the quad for a full English in the canteen, alone, ten minutes before they stopped serving.
‘Circling it’ might be a better word. If you so much as wet a toe in the dew settled over the oval lawn, you were in for a fight with the Porters. The broken sign warning of this fate evinced its usual chuckle as she jogged past in a shiver. It had once read
KEEP OFF THE
But the ‘PL’, ‘KEEP’ and ‘GR’ had been knocked off.
Rushing into the canteen. The usual smirk from the kitchen manager. “In the nick of time as always!” Sitting down at the end of a long, empty table with the last of the mushrooms and some slightly congealed baked beans. Washing down cold toast with mouthfuls of tea. She’d overdone the sugar again.
Her dream had been unusually vivid. Unusually for the last year, that is. Not unusually for her twenty-one years of life. Almost back to the pre-Ambien days of walking and talking and attacking pillows and conversing with dresses in the wardrobe and climbing out of windows and waking up thrashing and screaming – the days of genuinely confusing conversations she’d had in dreams with real ones, remembering dreams as if they had truly occurred, and controlling them with all the free will she had in the ‘real world’. Sometimes unpleasant, but able to be dealt with when you live with a mother who can barely stay awake during waking hours, let alone the dark ones. Less so when you’re separated from twenty other undergraduates by walls that might as well be cardboard. And when you’re six floors up. That had nearly ended very badly.
It came back to her as the last of the late breakfasters swished by, her professor’s robe leaving a draught. A spiky grey rock in the sea. No, an island, with a white-sands beach. Multiple islands, in fact, dotted around a patch of turquoise shallows. A settlement, camp fires, frying fish, some kids playing catch with the waves, everyone dark-haired. One tawny-haired boy (around her age?) sitting slightly apart hammering some planks together.
She had understood (with the intuition you seem to have in dreams) that he was a bit of a loner. Clearly not part of the clan, with that hair! He wasn’t fishing or cooking, like the adults. He alternated between intense focus on his wooden creation, and moments of daydream, his eyes fixed on the horizon. They were the same colour as the sea.
Those blue eyes stayed with her as she skipped down the stairs out of the hall and made her way back to her room through a slight drizzle. Why this dream, now, after months of black nothingness?
Perhaps she had forgotten her sleeping pill. It would make sense after last night, she reflected, picking up a gin bottle, half-empty wine glass, and worse-for-wear fancy dress outfit from the floor. At least this time there had been no nightmares – and no cohort of concerned but slightly irritated neighbours banging on the door with a Porter in tow at 3am to check she wasn’t being brutally attacked.
It was a struggle to focus during class that day. She kept seeing those turquoise eyes, and the curved horizon reflected in them, shut out briefly as he blinked and then reappearing. The rocky island and everyone he knew was behind him, and the whole rest of the world, beyond the horizon she saw in his eyes, was ahead. He wanted to get away – that was it.
It wasn’t until she trooped up the canteen stairs for dinner with a couple of friends that the day became unordinary.
The panelling in the canteen was dark, but the setting sun glared through the windows in shafts. “God rays”, one of her friends called them. The tiny bits of dust in the air, normally invisible, were glowing in the rays, constantly churning and fermenting as people walked through them to get to their places.
They were sitting down waiting for dinner to be served. Dishes were clanking and they were surrounded by lively conversations – the new iPhone on one side, philosophy on the other. She’d just been handed her plate of guinea fowl roast. As she glanced up to say thank you to the kitchen staff, she spotted a figure walking up the aisle between the long tables.
He looked disconnected from his surroundings. He was looking into the middle distance; not looking for his friends, not catching eyes with anyone, not watching where he was going.
He stepped into the light. Tawny hair, sea-green eyes.
It was him.
For a second she was distracted. Her plate was too hot, and she let it half-drop onto her place mat. Then she looked up again.
He was gone.
He was not a step further nor a step back; she couldn’t spot him anywhere in the canteen. She looked back to the spot he’d disappeared from. Something was different.
Not only was he gone, but the motes of dust where he had just been standing were continuing their meandering paths undisturbed.
As if he had never been there. He had passed through like a ghost.
Something was going on, and she was curious.
For the next half-hour she kept up a minimal flow of small talk with her companions, while shovelling in as many extra helpings of the roast potatoes as she could. When the port came round afterwards, she took it for the first time. She felt unpleasantly heavy when they got up to leave and, as predicted, horribly drowsy the minute she got back to her room. She flicked off the light, drew the curtains and lay under the covers.
In a moment, sleep took her – back to the island again.