The first time she woke, she found herself trapped in a box. A lonely, small box with one door and no windows. Only vents pumped fresh air at an even temperature to the left and the right. One small cot was affixed to the wall, which she rolled off of onto the floor. The impact jarred her fully awake, and panic rushed in.
Where am I? What is this place?
Her hands slapped against her face, feeling over the thin contours of her cheeks and pointed chin. Wide lips felt natural. Her nose was pointed and arched slightly downward. Her face hurt, bruised, and aching. She lowered her hands, looking at her orange shirt and pants.
A hospital, maybe? These clothes feel like scrubs, but the color? Am I in jail?
Another rush of panic sent her heartbeat pounding. She scrambled to her feet in socks that were soft and warm, at least. Her hands hit the hard, unforgiving door before her body did. She banged her fists upon it twice, hearing the metal ring. She pulled at the handle, but it did not budge.
“HELP ME!! PLEASE!” screamed the terrified girl. She yanked at the handle over and over again, putting all her force into it. Her shoulder-length black hair tossed with each whole body jerk, falling into her face. Someone answered her call and the voice she heard stiffened her spine. A fluttering heartbeat sped faster.
She knew that voice. Fear wrapped its cruel hands around her throat, stifling her breath. Tears welled in her almond-shaped eyes. She closed them. She wouldn’t cry. Not for him.
That’s a good girl…back to sleep.
The tone, those words, they made her skin crawl. Every inch of her felt like spiders skittered over her flesh. That horrid voice penetrated her mind. She remembered the first time she’d heard it. Sickly sweet among the hurricane of voices in her head. It was kind back then, back before it took her over.
I won’t! This is MY mind! Get out!
You have no control, Sara. You never did. Now, go back to bed. Sleeeeeeeeeep.
Her crying eyes felt heavy, no matter how hard she fought the word. It permeated her thoughts, slowing her sensitive heart. She tried to stay awake. She tried to stay in control. Her limbs felt heavy, and her mouth opened wide in a yawn.
Please…please, don’t make me sleep again.
Trust me, doll. You don’t want to be awake for this.
And then she was gone. Her body sauntered back to the cot and rolled gently onto it on her back. She whistled, propping one leg up on her knee. Her foot swayed back and forth to the beat of the tune without a care in the world.
The next time she woke, her hair was hanging down her back when she sat up. Her hands touched her face, and felt no bruises. Her lips were dry and cracked, dehydrated. Her cheeks felt hollow, the skin tight without the chubbiness of fat. She remembered, though. She remembered him forcing her back to sleep.
She scrambled to find something to leave a message with, eventually prying a screw from the cot frame under her. Hastily, she carved words into the wall beside her cot. ‘Fight Him,’ they said. She stared at the words with pride until his voice broke into her thoughts again.
You never could. Why start now?
“SHUT UP!” she screamed aloud, closing her hands into a fist to pound against her temples.
Oh, stop it. This is boring. Sleeeeeeeeeeeeep.
She felt something in her mind’s roar of defiance. The single, powerful thought pushed his presence out. Yet he clung to her brain like a leech, digging harder for control. She unleashed her anger, fighting to survive. To not sleep again. To never lose time or control ever.
His mind surged over hers like a tidal wave of force, wrapping around her thoughts and wrestling them away from her. The more she struggled, the harder he pulled. Once again, she was gone. Her body scoffed, stretched, and tossed the screw into the toilet across the tiny box they lived in.
She huffed, crossed her arms over her unbound breasts under the orange shirt, and flopped back against the wall where the words ‘Fight Him’ were scrawled. A sour look crossed her face. Lips pursed and nose scrunched up.
“Maybe I should let you go. You’re stuck in here. No longer useful to me. A shame. I really enjoyed your power.” She said to herself. It had been weeks since she was placed here after the heist.
Damn that girl, Amy, Shriek, Crescendo. Whatever she called herself now. Henry failed to set his plan in motion. Leaving him and his pal, Tragedy, to make a quick buck and try to get out of the city. The capes showed up, and Amy mopped the floor with both of them before he even had a chance to turn the tide.
Now, his favorite toy was locked away in a cell with no contact. Fed through a hatch at the bottom of the door that only opened long enough to push the tray of food through. No human contact, no opportunity to snare a guard’s mind and free them. It was all so tedious. He’d tried to pass the time with perversions, touching her body to amuse himself. That sick excitement turned listless quickly.
Still, she was such a useful toy til now. It seemed a shame to give her up.
The third time she woke up, it felt like rousing from a dream instead of a sudden awareness. She stretched out on the cot. Her mind pushed the drowsiness of rest aside and began to think things freely. Freely? Her eyes shot open.
She frowned at the orange pants pushed down to her knees, hauling them up over herself modestly. She tied them as tight as she could to her hollow belly, which growled as soon as she noticed it. She was starving. How long had it been since she’d eaten? Sitting up, she tried to finger comb through her hair. It hung down her chest. She’d been here a long time.
Her hair felt gross to the touch, slimy with body sweat and yet brittle and dry. She sniffed and gagged at her own scent. Mixed with body odor came another smell. Food. Her wild eyes darted around the room, locking on four trays of rotting meals on the floor by the door. He must’ve thought about killing her through starvation.
She climbed off the cot on shaky, weak legs and stumbled to the trays. None of it smelled good, but it was also food, and she was so, so hungry. She considered eating what didn’t look spoiled. After picking up a slice of white bread that was hard as a rock, she thought better of it. Noticing the slot for the trays to be dumped through when done, she lifted each and pushed them past the flap.
That one human act satisfied her. A clean room, even if it wasn’t a room she wanted to be in. It felt good to tidy up, so she turned toward the toilet. A small sink was built into the top of it, so she stripped her orange top off and folded it. Setting it aside, she scrubbed the sweat off her putrid upper body with the hand soap. Not smelling of hot garbage brightened her thoughts even more, and she spent time cleansing her lower half next.
Before she realized it, an hour had passed, and He didn’t come to put her to sleep again. Slipping the stinky clothes back on to cover herself, she moved to the center of the room and stood there, listening. His thoughts were nowhere. He wasn’t there, needling the back of her mind. A smile spread her cracked lips.
I’m free? I’m FREE!
Tears spilled from her eyes. Gasps of joyous crying escaped her dry mouth. She hugged her arms around herself and wept as long as she wanted. No one was coming. No one would interrupt her. She was truly free.
The hatch clanked open. The sound startled her, and she jumped back. Her mind struggled to find words that could be quick enough to express her strange situation. Still, when she saw the tray of food slide through the slot atop a fresh set of folded clothes, the girl dove for the opening.
“IT’SME! I’MNOTHIMANYMORE! HE’SGONE. PLEASELISTEN! MY NAME IS SARA MARIA SANDERS!”
The hatch snapped closed with a finality that left her hopeless. Sara dropped her head to the cold, hard floor before the tray. She sobbed forever, hands clasped over the back of her shaggy head. She prayed someone would come and save her, hear her at least.
Emotionally spent but hungry beyond measure, she sat up and devoured the tray’s contents. Food felt like a treasure in her mouth. Bland mac and government cheese sauce. Two slices of sandwich ham. Two pieces of white bread. Canned green beans. She ate it all. And then, she peeled the cover off a cup of green jello.
She remembered green jello from when she was a child. Long before he took her body from her. The cup was put to her lips. Her hands squeezed the plastic until the whole mold of gooey green sugar filled her mouth. Cheeks puffed, she closed her eyes and savored the odd, tart sweetness. Green Jello. Who knew it could taste so good?
Even that singular moment of beauty only lasted a short while. Soon, the tray was empty, and the lingering saccharine left her tongue. Sara sat there, legs bent under her on the floor, and recognized the weight of minutes that turned into hours. After two, she went exploring. Just not without leaving her cell.
The prison staff wasn’t certain how or why it was happening. There were always rumors that places like this were haunted. Fill a building up with enough evil, and it’s bound to rub off on the people there. No one expected this, though.
Guards noticed a serial murderer ballet-dancing in his cell to no music. The shirtless man, his body littered in prison ink, pirouetted and plie’ with the practiced skill of a lifelong dancer. He finished with an arabesque flourish, then seemed to wake from a nap. His furious roars were heard for hours when he noticed the guards watching him through the bars.
Hours later, a chow line inmate asked how everyone’s day was going. He was so uncharacteristically chatty and excited that two other inmates threatened his life. The kitchen inmate, named Steve, for clarity, simply smiled and told them they were going to be okay.
“I promise,” he’d said.
Two days later, both inmates miraculously changed. County psych records indicate a bizarre shift of personality attributed to dreams each had that satisfied some defect in their minds. Their traumas resolved, their minds and hearts seemingly mended. Still, it didn’t stay within the prison populace.
More than once, a guard on yard duty stopped and turned his face to the sunshine with such unabashed serenity. When questioned by their teammates, each reported getting lost in a daydream. So deeply that they no longer felt like themselves. On a rainy day, a perimeter guard was caught on camera puddle stomping.
At the center of it all was Sara, quietly and peacefully sitting in her sealed cell. For days, her mind explored the people around her. In turn, she experienced the world through them. She danced. She felt the sunshine. She frolicked in the rain. She painted with prisoners. She read books she’d never read before and many she had long before He dominated her.
She ate when the food was delivered. She washed when fresh clothes and soap were given. She spent hours exercising and more hours moving from mind to mind within her reach. Happy to be free. Despite the physical solitude, she didn’t feel alone. She knew everyone. The monsters, the forlorn, the desperate, the wrongfully accused, and the truly mad. She knew the guards, too, the good ones and the corrupt ones. She knew them like family. She had sifted through their brains.
Then one day, a new mind arrived. Sara felt her coming. Strong. Independent. She was proud of herself in such a positive way that it made the telepathic girl curious. She slipped deeper into this mind and found images that startled and amazed her. Images of a red, white, and blue costume and a black boy smiling at her when he wore it. Images of a girl in silver and black who screamed with power and soared through the air.
There was something about them. Something familiar. Old forgotten friends? No. She felt a lingering hatred for the two. It was alien. Unconnected. A sick thought penetrated her mind. He must’ve despised them, and his imprint left residual anger behind. If He hated them, they must have stopped Him.
Good, she thought. There were good people in the world.
Lastly, she found a boy in this woman’s mind. A boy that made her heart beat fast. He was dark and handsome. He had soulful brown eyes and a pain he wore on his sleeve. Sara liked him very much, even when her probing found more. The handsome boy with soulful eyes wore a costume too. She latched onto a memory, watching it unfold.
“You have the right to remain crazy,” Paragon said as he dragged the torn and bloody vigilante out into the open air.
“Anything you say can and will get your a-,” James added. She looked up from being tended to by EMS out in the park. It had been a helluva fight, but it was over now. Henry Devonshire was captured by the handsome boy and his friend, Paragon.
“HEY. I know you did not just do my job for me!” She heard herself say. Her head hurt from where she’d been struck. She held a gauze pad to the spot while yelling at the two boys. “And you’re butchering his Miranda Rights! Are you trying to get him a mistrial?”
They wandered away to see others getting tended to. She watched the handsome boy as much as she could, but the woman’s memories kept shifting towards giving out orders. Eventually, she walked back towards the two heroes again. They talked with the girl hero and an old black man tending to her.
“Henry Devonshire will pay for what he did. All of it. I promise you that.” She heard herself say.
“Comedy and Tragedy?” The handsome boy asked, leaning against the back door with his arms folded over his chest.
Sara’s eyes shot open, her mind retreating away from those three terrible words. Fear engulfed her. Comedy. That’s what they were. He had taken over her body and made her do all those horrible things to people. She manipulated others. She stole and made men and women, cops, act like puppets. All with a touch.
She drew her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She felt physically weak still, though eating regularly put weight on her boney frame again. All she could think about was that nightmare, Comedy, using her. She struggled to come to terms with it. With how long he’d kept her locked away.
Years. He’d kept her as a living doll for years.
The door to her cell began to make noises. Cranks and clanks, mostly. Soon, it pried open with a scream of frustrated metal, and a woman stepped into the archway. Not just any woman, THE woman. The one with superheroes and villains in her memories.
She was pretty. Smooth, dark skin with thick, full lips. Modestly accentuated with makeup. She stood before Sara in a power suit and hot pink blouse under the buttoned gray jacket. Her eyes were sharp and hard, uncompromising. This woman’s style matched her vibe. Professional. He carried a computer tablet in her hands.
“Prisoner 8210A-S1. Known alias: Comedy. You got my attention. Who is Sara Maria Sanders?”
“I am,” Sara said, her tone sheepish and shy. She’d been inside this woman’s mind. It seemed dangerous to push her.
“No,” said the woman in her doorway. “You are Comedy. One half of a former pain in my backside I’m glad to be rid of.”
Sara frowned. Bile rose in her throat. The very thought that she was Him disgusted her. She put her knees down and sat up straight. Her chin was raised defiantly. Never again.
“No,” said Sara in the same short way the woman across from her did. “My name is Sara Maria Sanders. I’m nineteen years old. I live at 3181 Old Court Road. My mom’s name is Ruth. My dad’s name is Luis. Comedy is a monster, a real, living monster. He took control of me.”
The woman stiffened. She looked down at the tablet and then up at Sara more than a few times. Her cheeks smoothed. She must have been clenching her jaw this whole time. If this woman knew Comedy, thought Sara, no wonder she was coiled like a wound spring. A moment later, the woman in the doorway shifted her slacks and lowered slowly to a crouch.
“Police Captain Garnet Gaines. HSU.” She said, introducing herself. Her tone changed too, warmer, more casual. “It’s nice to meet you, Sara.”
“You believe me?” Sara asked, hunching her shoulders yet clearly hopeful. She felt the woman’s mind as clearly as others heard each other speak, yet trust wasn’t easy to come by.
“I’ve seen some stuff,” Garnet answered with a grin.
“What’s HSU stand for?”
“Hero Support Unit. I work with the heroes who captured y…” Garnet paused, correcting herself. Sara appreciated it. “...Comedy and Tragedy. If what you say is true, you both might be victims here.”
Sara’s head shook fervently. “He took me because of my powers. He can’t just control anyone he wants. He has to touch people through me to feel their minds, to manipulate them.”
Garnet’s cheek twitched. Sara saw it. She hadn’t found that memory, but it was there now. She read it like a book left open. Garnet and her friends, all cops, were forced under Comedy’s sway in a warehouse. The heroes were there. They protected everyone, though the screaming girl was injured. The handsome boy and his monster nearly died from Garnet’s perspective. Guilt swelled.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Sara told the woman, surprising her.
“What wasn’t my fault?”
“What He did to you in the warehouse? Forcing you to shoot at your friends. It’s what he does. I know you think you should’ve been able to stop it, but you can’t. Trust me.”
Garnet’s thoughts turned into a storm. Insecurities. Curiosities. Possibilities. Each swirled together, and Sara surfed the waves of emotional, psychological, and personal pain and fear. She wasn’t afraid of the woman’s mind.
“It’s okay. You’re not in any danger. I just want to help.” Sara added, trying to reassure the Captain.
“How are you…Is this your power?”
“Mhm. I can read minds,” Sara said, watching this glorious woman struggle to comprehend. “Yeah, right now.” She answered the questions in Garnet’s mind. “No. I won’t. I’ll never be like Him. And no, that boy, Tragedy or whatever his name is…he’s not under Comedy’s control. Oh! Uh. Because of my powers, our minds connected, and it gave him enough access to control me without physical touch.”
“Well damn, girl. Make the whole interview process easier, huh?” Garnet said out loud. Inside, she was in a rush of fear and distrust. “Let’s keep our thoughts to ourselves, okay? More comfortable that way.”
“Thank you. So here’s what’s gonna happen.” Garnet stated, brushing her beautiful hair over her shoulder. “I’m gonna check your information out, confer with my team about what we should do, and I’ll visit with you next week. Okay? We’ll talk more then. In the meantime, no more wandering thoughts, please.” She stood, pausing to peer down at the girl on the floor. A hand raised. Manicured and gleaming purple fingertip waved about. “Assuming all the weirdness goin’ down around here is you.”
Sara giggled, nodding. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Just exploring. Trying to help where she could.
“Oh.” Garnet stood still, thinking long before she spoke it. Sara wasn’t listening to her mind. “Thank you for not reading my mind. Look. It’s…two thousand twenty-two. I didn’t know how else to say it. You’re not nineteen, Sara. You’re twenty-three.”
Sara forgot to breathe. Four years. For four years, he’d held her captive and asleep in her own head. She sat very still, thinking all to herself. He’d stolen years from her. Years.
“I’m gonna instruct the guards to contact me if you request it. And…for what it’s worth? I’m sorry.” Garnet offered as a farewell, walking away from the brightly lit doorway. It groaned closed, clanked, and hissed as it sealed. The room fell quiet again. Quiet and alone.
Isn’t she a peach? I really hate her. Well and truly. Next time, I’ll make sure to destroy her mind before I force her off a roof. He said, distant but present like a phone call. Maybe I’ll have her perform for me. We could have so-OW OW! Stop it! STOP!
Sara scowled, imagining herself beating the voice with a baseball bat. In full control of herself now, she could defend against His influence. Yet a part of her wanted vengeance; she wanted to fight, to take a pound or two of psychic flesh for each year he’d stolen.
He laughed at her like the sicko he was, enduring the simple pain.
C’mon, don’t be like that. You were my favorite. I couldn’t have done half of what we did without you.
It had nothing to do with me. I was asleep.
Of course, you were, dear. That doesn’t mean you weren’t involved. It was your hand that touched all those lives, after all. You and me, together forev-aghk…what….
What are you…stop…you…HOW…
I’m awake now, you bastard. I’m awake and free. You let me go. You’ll never touch me again. Do you hear me? If I hear your thoughts, if I sense your mind…I’ll boil your brain. Go. Away.
She was alone again. He’d fled from her psychic assault. All the raw, intense pain she felt turned on him. Sara sat in her cell, her face twisted with anger and her walls raised high. She knew now to keep her guard up.
He was waiting for his chance. Any weakness that might let him in again. Sara glanced at the wall. The words ‘Fight Him’ were now a constant reminder to be strong. Crawling away from the wall, she sat down in the center of her cell. She practiced breathing exercises and meditation, strengthening her mind. He’d come for her again, and she would be ready.
He came into her sleep like a juggernaut. She knew he would. Insidiously, his projection tried to overpower her. She fought him off, rallying her dreams against the nightmare king. Fairies and Dragons, Angels and Crusaders, warred with His apparition until the hours passed, and she was able to wake again.
Every day now, she ate and exercised her body and her mind. Every day, she grew stronger, and she won the dream war more and more steadily every night. His apparition grew more desperate. Hers grew more powerful. She had always been stronger than Him, it seemed.
Back then, she was just a mousey college girl. Catholic. Innocent. She was given a gift from God that she delighted in but never used wrong. She liked to watch people in the quads and parks when she studied. As she began to hear their minds, she observed those, too, with a guilty pleasure. Deep thoughts, dark secrets, and personal passions.
The girl, afraid to make friends, knew everyone, all about them. They were all her friends now, and she adored them. She grieved with the couple at the park who broke up, misunderstanding each other. She cried with the old woman who fed the pigeons when her husband of forty years was gone. She cheered with the boy who played catch with his Father, so proud of him.
And one day, a mind reached back out when she touched it. It seemed kind, willing to hear and be heard, unlike all the rest. She welcomed it when it spoke to her. They talked for days, getting to “know” each other. The more their minds connected, the more comfortable she felt. The more comfortable she felt, the more she opened up. Before she knew it, His mind overwhelmed hers, and she was gone. It was all a beautiful lie.
What’s worse? No one seemed to notice. She’d left no mark on the world then. The old widow didn’t know her. The boy and his Daddy didn’t see her. The couple wasn’t her friend. None of them knew she existed.
Now, she was free to take back her life, such as it were. She would never suffer under the oppression of His mind again. Never let another being control her. She chose to live.
He came for her that night. After she had exhausted her body with pushups, sit-ups, squats, and any other exercise, she could think to do. She crawled onto the small cot and set her head on its flat, pointless pillow. Her eyes drifted closed, and her mind relaxed.
The dreamscape manifested as a dark forest, hauntingly beautiful and savage. Tall, brown trees surrounded her, their canopies blending into the starless sky. The moon hung in the air like a dinner plate, white but lackluster. It shared no light with the land below. In the darkness around her, she heard the crack and topple of trees. Something massive came for her.
It was Him. She knew. He’d manifested as some eldritch horror meant to terrify her into submission. The Jabberwocky. The Frumious Bandersnatch. A terrible troll full of knotty muscle and grotesquerie. The devil, perhaps.
Cracking sounds drew closer. The sound of splintering wood creaking and groaning before relenting to some awesome, unseen might echoed in her ears. Panic crept into her thoughts. Instead of heeding its warning, she drew in a deep breath and found her center.
The dark forest brightened as wisps of bluish-white light surged from the shadows, dancing around her dream form. Faerie fires lit at the four corners surrounding her position. A faint music rose, wood tapping wood in rhythm. Joining the natural percussion, the chanting of child-like voices began.
From the faerie fires around her, soldiers of woodland fantasy arrived. Centaur warriors in armor of molded bark strode forth, forming lines of cavalry to the east with spears at the ready. From the west, hairy-legged satyrs bounded forth as infantry with nutshell shields and ironbark swords. Behind her, at the northern flame, came beautiful elves in supple green leathers, carrying bows and quivers of arrows. An army of dreams stood to defend her.
The horror crashed through the tree line, a roiling mass of flesh filled with wicked eyes, terrible mouths, and sharply clawed violent hands. From its mouths wailed her name, begging, jeering, and roaring to drown out the fae drumbeat and chant. It rolled over itself, hands raking the grass and dirt to propel the fleshy invertebrate forward.
With a war cry, the satyr infantry charged first. A phalanx of goat-men pounded their hooves in the dirt to propel forward, heads down and curling horns leading the way. They struck head-first into the quivering nightmare mass, followed by the next line with swords chopping and shields pushing the ugly beast.
Its clawed hands reacted, swiping across the line. More formed, grasping single satyrs one by one to pull into any of the vicious mouths nearby. Teeth rent their flesh, spilling bright red gore down its malformed body to the grass below. All the while, those mouths not feasting on her defenses called her name.
She shuddered, unprepared for the gruesome scene. Her arms curled around her middle, resolve faltering. The centaur cavalry surged forward while the elves behind her raised their bows and loosed a hail of arrows into the top of the nightmare. Their shafts struck true, sticking up like porcupine quills, yet even this did not stop Him.
The centaur cavalry drove their spears into the flesh mound, driving it back with all their might. The nightmare relented only a few feet while its hands and mouths broke and bit the spears. More grasping hands appeared to fight off the horse-men and the satyrs on the other side. In this, Sara found an opening.
With the growth of more arms, there were fewer eyes in the blubbery, cancerous mass. All things below God had their limits. Her mind found His. Sara’s arms lowered and her back straightened, her eyes set upon the creature in all its evil glory as he fought off her army. She reached for it with her mind, laying a psychic assault on the overwhelmed nightmare form.
Amidst arrows raining down, spears and swords hacking and piercing into it, the nightmare howled when her psyche invaded it. She felt His mind recoil in surprise, but there was little He could do. She was in, digging through His memories. Burrowing like an insect, searching for weakness.
Furious, the nightmare mass quaked. Her armies overpowered it. Black blood spilled from its shape where ironbark swords and spears struck true. Suddenly, it exploded.
The force of the explosion threw Sara backward, and waves of psychic energy obliterated the Faerie host. The east, west, and northern fires guttered out, dissipating like smoke. The night grew still. Silent.
Scrambling to her feet, Sara faced where the nightmare had been and instead found a handsome, ashen-skinned God staring back at her. His eyes were black, his features beautiful and terrible like Dracula and Elrond rolled into one. The widow's peak at his forehead was night black, and the length of the hair spilled straight and silky over his scalp and down his neck. He looked upon her like an annoyed King, towering twenty feet tall in blood-red robes accented with silver.
“All that you are is mine.”
Those words filled her with unbridled rage. Her lips peeled back, revealing her teeth in a defiant sneer. The Nightmare King smirked. She felt his mind try to force her out, using the flash of anger to destabilize her connection. She used that anger to force herself deeper and latch onto a memory. No. Not a memory. The thread she pulled on was stronger, emotional. Fear.
The last faerie fire shuddered, its blue flames wobbling from side to side. The Nightmare King’s black gaze wavered, glancing at the dancing fire. His eyes widened when the flame blazed bright and released a new champion.
From the flames strode a teenage boy, shaggy brown hair resting atop his head with errant strands hanging over a black facemask over his eyes and nose. His body armor was sleek, black like the mask, and accented with lines of red on the torso. The boy’s angry brown eyes stared like daggers at The Nightmare King.
“My turn,” the black armored boy said through grit teeth.
Behind him, the faerie fire blazed again, releasing another young man of a darker complexion than the first. He strode out of the fire and to the left of the first teen, standing tall and proud in a blue costume lined with white stars that matched the single large star on his muscular chest. Red gloves, like the boots on his feet, lifted and set in fists against his hips.
“You got nothin’, G.” said the superhero. Lips grinning up from under the line of his half-head blue mask.
Sara blinked at the memories she’d pulled from His mind. Either He was super racist, or that hero was really lame. She turned her attention to The Nightmare King, watching his hesitation dissolve the mask of superiority. Yet, the faerie flame blazed a third time.
From the fire came a young woman. Elegant and dazzling despite her strange outfit. She wore a long black coat, the hint of black shorts peaking from the bottom hem of the tightly bound pea coat, and this all was worn over a silver bodysuit with an attached mask. It surrounded her youthful face and neck but left her mouth and surrounding cheeks uncovered. A mass of voluminous, perfectly styled blonde hair cascaded down from the top of her head, settling on the shoulders of her coat.
“Like…didn’t I arrest you already?” said the blonde girl, lifting a hand to flip one side of her hair over her shoulder in a very exaggerated fashion.
Sara’s mind could only capture His impressions of these three, peripherally aware of them purely from His memories. The blue one was called Paragon. The silver one seemed to be both Shriek and Crescendo. The pretty boy in black had no name she could find, but The Nightmare King feared him most. She liked that; just as much as he intrigued her. The reason for that fear manifested soon after.
The darkness surrounding their confrontation deepened, encroaching on the bluish-white light of the faerie fire. From those depths came a palpable sense of dread. A feeling that wafted from the shadows like fog. It promised pain and suffering. Pain and suffering focused on Sara’s enemy. Him.
Faced with the three, The Nightmare King glowered, but Sara could feel his resolve faltering. When the shadows deepened, she felt him shrink long before his size reduced from twenty feet in height to ten. His handsome features twitched, trying to hide his discomfort.
“This isn’t over, Sara.”
She raised her chin. “Yes. It is. I know what you fear now. You can come for me every night if you want, but they will be here. Waiting.”
The darkness howled, cruelly pleased. Two large, burning red eyes appeared in the black veil behind Sara. With a snarl, The Nightmare King vanished. She felt his mind slink away from hers, closing the connection.
With their psychic link severed, the three manifestations faded away. She was left alone in the dark woods, less darkened now than they were moments ago. Only the single faerie fire remained, flickering before her. Sitting down on the soft grass beneath her, Sara took a slow, deep breath and smiled.
What else was there to do when her dreams were free too? Simple. She recalled that pretty boy in black from the faerie fire. She watched him step from the blazing flame and stand before her, arms down at his sides.
She liked him. His silent strength. His simmering, noble anger. Something about it made her feel safe as if a boy like him would fight to protect her in some fantastical, romantic way. She gazed up at his face, ruggedly handsome. Her smile widened.
“I wish we could talk. Just you and me. It’s been so long since I could talk. But you’re just an illusion. He’s terrified of you, but he doesn’t know you, so I can’t know you either.”
Sara sighed, pressing her elbow into her bent knee. She tucked her fist under her chin and watched the imaginary protector stand there.
“Would it be okay if I kept you here with me? Just for tonight…maybe.”
She giggled, rolling her eyes. Her lips pursed tight, blowing out another sigh from between them.
“Listen to me. Talking to a glimpse like you’re real.” She paused, her features twisting and pinching as she mulled over her thoughts.
“I hope you’re real. Out there, somewhere.”
For the first time since he let her go, Sara slept peacefully. When she woke, she rolled over and lifted from the cot to sit up with a refreshed stretch. In her dreams, she spent the whole night with that boy. Safe and sound. Defended.
Her day began with exercise, as it always did now, but just before she expected her meal delivery, the door to her little cell clanked unlocked. The sound caught her attention, and she stared as it was slowly drawn back with a groan. She stood up, hands out visible to each side.
Garnet Gaines stood in her doorway once more. Instead of the power suit, she wore a dark navy jumpsuit with a tactical belt cinched to her waist from which her holstered gun hung. On her chest to the left was a badge, HSU emblazoned in the golden metal over an eagle in front of a shield. Under that was a badge number and beneath that number was a word: Captain.
Garnet’s hair was pulled back in a conservative ponytail, and a few of her bangs were styled free to curl at her forehead, which Sara thought looked quite nice against her complexion. A tablet was tucked under her right arm. The woman let her eyes wander over Sara, assessing her.
“Okay, Sara. Let’s talk. Thought you might like some sunshine, so I arranged private yard time.”
Sara smiled fully, excited to see the sun and the world outside her little cell. “Can I ask you a question first?”
“Sure,’ said Garnet.
“So…who is the boy in the black armor?” Sara asked coyly.
Garnet’s back stiffened. Her eyes narrowed. “Girl, I thought you weren’t reading my mind!”
“I didn’t -try- to. If I did, I’d already know.”
Garnet’s lips thinned, and her skeptical gaze leveled like a weight on Sara. “Mhm. That’s for me to know and you to find out on your own, like a normal person who can’t rummage around people’s thoughts. Okay? From now on, right now on, this head?” She raised her free hand, waving a primly manicured fingertip in a circle around her face. “Off limits. I will not hesitate to shoot you.”
Sara’s smile turned to a grin. She liked Garnet too. Most of the woman’s thoughts genuinely came out of her mouth. She couldn’t explain that she wasn’t consciously reading Garnet’s mind. She was always aware of surface thoughts. Things that are actively being thought about.
“I promise!” She lied.
Still skeptical, Garnet held her rigid, heavy stance for a moment longer. “...I’m trustin’ you. C’mon out.” She finally said, beckoning with a wave. “Inmate 8210A-S1! Coming out!”