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Authors: Caroline Swart

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Aspen and the Dream Walkers

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Aspen and the Dream
Walkers

by

Caroline Swart

Copyright © 2013 by Caroline Swart

Edited by

Pam Berehulke,
Bulletproof
Editing

 

Smashwords Edition

Second Edition, Revised, September 2014

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please
purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this
book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use
only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.

Without limiting the rights under the copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of
the above author of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the
trademarked status and trademark owners of various products
referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without
permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

Chapter 1

Aspen’s Dream

Aspen stared at the startling lime-green grass that
covered the wide field. White daisies were scattered about,
breaking up the expanse of green, and wisps of puffy clouds floated
high in the pale lemon-colored sky.

“Where am I?

she whispered, but she
couldn’t remember a thing. Her fingertips were cool on her forehead
as she reached up to soothe the dull throbbing between her
eyes.

Birds chirped as a hot breeze caressed her
arms. Enjoying the summery countryside, she breathed in the fresh
smell of grass and watched colorful butterflies flit from flower to
flower.

Soon she began to walk, and her waist-length
hair brushed against her arms while soft blades of grass tickled
her bare feet.

A grouping of enormous weeping willow trees
stood in her path, and she stopped to admire their graceful
branches. Water burbled over smooth pebbles in a small stream that
ran peacefully between them.

Aspen knelt down, and her reflection stared
back at her from the water. Long blond hair framed her thin face,
and an old-fashioned cotton sundress hugged her body. Her lips were
full and soft, and pale blue eyes peered back at her in the heat of
the day.

The water looked inviting, so she stepped
into its coolness, enjoying the gentle current that spilled over
her toes and swirled around her ankles. She dipped her hands into
the sparkling water and touched the multicolored stones that lined
the riverbed.

“I know I’ve been here before,” she murmured.
“If only I could remember.” It hurt to think, and she splashed icy
water on her forehead to ease the pain.

As she watched, the water became murky. The
clear stream darkened, and she looked up to see the sky transform
slowly from lemon to lavender and then to a dark purple. A blast of
cool air replaced the warm breeze and she shivered. The sleeveless
sundress she wore didn’t offer any protection against the cold, and
a rash of gooseflesh prickled her arms.

She heard an odd high-pitched sound behind
her and spun around. Her eyes widened and she screamed in absolute
terror.

Hundreds of spiders crawled out of the
pliable bark of the willow trees, tumbling toward her in a mass of
hairy legs and beady eyes. Differing in size and color, they headed
straight for her on scuttling legs. With a shudder of revulsion,
she screamed as loudly as she could.

More spiders poured out of the surrounding
trees and crawled over one another in clumps. They spun out in a
wave, pouring over the small stones and grass in their hurry to
reach her.

There was only one escape. She had to turn
back and cross the stream to get away from them. The little brook
that, until a moment ago, was tranquil and calm had become a raging
torrent. As she splashed through the water, it dragged at her
skirt, and she struggled to keep from being swept away.

Hundreds of spiders crawled toward her and,
undeterred, sprang across the water to cling to her clothing. She
spun in a circle and beat at her dress, trying to brush them away,
but there were too many of them. The current tugged at her thighs
and she couldn’t escape.

Black eyes gleamed hungrily at her, and she
screamed hysterically as the spiders’ hairy legs skittered quickly
up her body and toward her face.

• • •

“Aspen, Aspen, wake up.”

Her mother shook her shoulders as she spoke
softly to her. “It’s just a dream, honey. You’re all right.”

With a sob, Aspen wrapped her arms around her
mother. “Get them off me, get them off!”

“Get what off, sweetie?”

She lifted her head and risked a quick glance
at her thighs. Her white quilt was the only thing that covered her
legs.

“Where are the spiders?” she wailed.

“There aren’t any spiders, honey. You had a
bad dream.”

After gulping back a final sob, Aspen wiped
at her tearstained face. “Are you sure?” She peered down at the
bottom of the bed.

“Absolutely sure, now lie down and go back to
sleep. You’ve just had a very nasty dream. It’s over, don’t think
about it anymore.”

Reluctantly, she released her grip on her
mother’s shoulders and leaned back on the bed. She glanced at her
legs again in fear. Her mother fluffed the pillow before her head
sank back into it. The quilt fitted snugly under her chin as she
tugged on it.

“Norma, what’s taking so long?” Stephan, her
stepfather, shouted down the hall. “I don’t want you keeping me
awake. Some of us have to get up and work in the morning, you
know.”

She winced and glanced up at her mother. He
was very strict, and Aspen didn’t want to upset him.

“Don’t worry about him,” her mom said softly.
“He’s being ridiculous. If Miriam were having a nightmare, he’d
make me spend the whole night in her room.”

Aspen gave her mother a wan smile. Miriam was
Stephan’s real daughter, and he spoiled her and would do anything
for her. He treated Aspen like an intruder, but Miriam could do
nothing wrong.

Her mom pressed something small and cold into
her hand. “Here, it’s a kinetic flashlight. Shake it, it charges
automatically. Switch it on if you’re scared. I hope the bulb won’t
fuse, but it doesn’t use batteries so you shouldn’t be able to
break it,” she teased.

Reaching out for the plastic flashlight,
Aspen gave her mother a grateful smile. For as long as she could
remember, whenever she touched something electronic, it exploded or
fused, and the flashlight was just what she needed now. She slid
the small device neatly under her pillow.

“Thank you, Mom. And thanks for waking me. I
think you’d better go back to bed before Stephan gets too mad.”

Her mother rolled her eyes and sighed. “I
know. Good night, sweetie. I love you.”

Quickly, her mom placed a kiss on her
forehead and rose from the bed. She switched off the light and
pushed the door slightly ajar behind her as she left.

Aspen ducked her head under the quilt, then
grabbed the blue flashlight and clicked on the power button,
grateful for the faint glow. She held on to it and watched her
breath move tiny dust particles past the bulb. The flashlight was
still clutched firmly in her hand as she fell asleep.

Chapter 2

Meeting Dylan

Aspen knocked on the bathroom door.

“Miriam, I’m going to be late. The bus is
almost here and I need to wash my face.”

“Wait, I’m not done yet!” her stepsister
screamed at her.

With a sigh, she walked back to her room and
pulled on a pair of jeans and a sleeveless cotton top. The quilt
was drawn neatly over the bed a few seconds later, and she folded
her pajamas into the chest of drawers. After slipping her feet into
a pair of sneakers, she ran a brush through her silver-blond hair
and pulled it in its usual ponytail high on her head. There was no
mirror in the room, so she couldn’t see how she looked in the pale
blue top she’d chosen to wear.

The sound of a toilet flushing signaled
Miriam’s departure from the bathroom. Aspen rushed in to wash her
face and brush her teeth, then grabbed her backpack and ran
downstairs.

“Morning, sweetie.”

Her mom smiled as she entered the kitchen.
Norma looked a lot like her daughter—with a petite body and slim
face—but her blond hair was pixie-short whereas Aspen wore hers
long. Her mom’s eyes were cornflower blue, much more vivid than the
silver-blue eyes Aspen had inherited from her father, but they both
had the same wide, bow-shaped mouths.

“I don’t have time to eat, Mom,” she lied.
Because of her nightmare the previous night, she felt sluggish and
didn’t want to have breakfast.

Her mother frowned and pressed a brown paper
bag into her hand. “Here, take this with you, it’s a bagel. It
should tide you over till you get home.” Norma then gave her a hug
before she rushed out the kitchen door.

Once Aspen was outside, she slowed as she
struggled with the straps of her backpack, but paused when her
stepfather’s bike roared behind her.

Stephan rolled his huge motorcycle out of the
garage, and she stopped on the sidewalk in front of their house to
watch him in silence. He looked intimidating with a black
full-faced helmet and leather jacket. Miriam stood waiting for him
near the garage door under the shade of a huge oak tree, her auburn
curls tucked under a helmet of her own.

Her stepfather flipped the throttle and
revved the bike loudly, and Aspen stepped back in fright. After
swinging her leg over the motorbike seat, Miriam tightened the
helmet strap around her chin. The black leather jacket she wore had
been a present from her dad, and she wore it together with designer
jeans and high heels.

Aspen rubbed her hands subconsciously along
the seams of the faded jeans she’d bought at a thrift shop the
previous year. Her mother couldn’t afford new clothes, and Aspen
would never consider asking Stephan for money. So she’d worked
during her summer vacation and had bought a few pairs of jeans with
the extra cash.

As soon as she’d adjusted her backpack,
Miriam wrapped her arms around her father’s waist. She turned back
to smirk at Aspen as the big bike pulled off the curb in a roar of
exhaust fumes.

The two rode away and Aspen watched them pass
a line of vehicles parked along the tree-lined road. Her
neighborhood had many two-story wooden houses that were sandwiched
tightly next to one another. A few had flags flying from their
front porches, lending a splash of bright colors along the
street.

The pneumatic wheeze of the school bus
alerted her as it rounded the corner, and she waited patiently for
it to come to a halt next to her.

Mamma Megs was the bus driver, and she gave
Aspen a big, toothy grin. “C’mon, sugah, you ain’t gonna get to
school if ya don’t climb on up.” Her smooth dark arms gripped the
large steering wheel, and she rested her elbows on ample
thighs.

With a smile, Aspen climbed the steps until
she was level with the older lady. “Thanks, Mamma Megs,” she
whispered, then strode to the back of the vehicle.

There weren’t many kids on the bus, so she
chose an empty bench seat. The bus was her only form of
transportation to school since her family didn’t have a car.
Stephan rode the bike to work and back. He could only carry one
passenger—Miriam—which didn’t really surprise Aspen. This was
because he was saving gas, or so he said, but she knew that he was
too cheap to buy a car.

She didn’t really mind riding the bus. It was
quiet and gave her a chance to think before she got to school in
the morning. Besides, she wouldn’t be able to sit on the back of
Stephan’s bike; she’d be too scared of doing something wrong.

Mamma Megs turned the vehicle into the school
grounds just as his motorcycle growled away down the street, and
she was glad that she wouldn’t be forced to greet her stepdad at
school.

Her stepsister strolled toward her latest
boyfriend, Justin, and Aspen watched her walk past the bus through
the dusty window. Miriam smoothed out her tangled curls and threw
her backpack at him. He hoisted it over his shoulders and pulled
her toward his chest.

Justin was a quarterback on the football team
and was always surrounded by people. Today was no different; half a
dozen kids hovered around him. Miriam spat her pink bubblegum out
onto the grass and slid her hands around Justin’s neck.

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