Authors: Ryan Potter
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2013 Ryan Potter
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He first appears late at night in a dream. Except “appears”
is the wrong word. In the beginning there is no physical presence. That takes
time. That takes trust. It’s simply a feeling, innocent and unlike anything
I’ve ever felt before, an awareness of a male presence my age.
Soft and cloudy white light as far as I can see. I feel like
I’m floating through a sea of illuminated cotton. Part of me wonders if I’ve
died in my sleep.
Moving forward through the warm light now, getting closer to
his presence. It’s attractive in a way that suddenly worries me, and panic sets
in when I look down and don’t see my body. Like the presence, I’m here, but not
physically. Rather, I’m a human soul encapsulated within an orb of light.
Danger and uncertainty now trump curiosity. I want out.
Please let me awaken and get ready for my school day. Nothing good can come
from this experience. Somehow I know this. Somehow I know he has intentions
that threaten everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve.
But he won’t let go. He’s like an otherworldly magnet, an
opposite force drawing me closer. It’s as if he has some invisible leash around
me, and he’s using it to pull me toward him. I fight the feelings and
sensations rushing through me in the moments before he communicates. I want
nothing to do with him, yet I want everything to do with him. I try screaming
myself awake but no sound comes out.
What does he look like? Why is he here? What does he want? And
most importantly, why me? Why Alix Keener?
A flaring blast of white light blinds me. I’m moving faster
now, on a direct course with him. A sense of helplessness forces me to stop
resisting. This is about as far from my comfort zone as I can get. I’m a puppet
in this world. I have no control here. I’m forced to give in and see it through.
Events in my life have made me strong and independent, so I despise playing
such a passive role.
Anger. Fear. Frustration. And yes, attraction—I can’t deny
that. An attraction to something or somebody I haven’t even seen, a fact that
only fuels my anger.
He knows all of this. I can feel it.
Stop. There it is. A sudden stop and a clearing through the
cloudy light. It’s still bright, white, and warm, but a crisp clarity surrounds
me now. Silence. I’m hovering. We’re closer now. He’s right here. I can’t see
him, but I feel him—stronger, more intense. It’s like I’m underwater with my
eyes closed as he swims around me without physically touching me.
And that’s when the messaging begins.
A frustrating series of inaudible voices inside my head. The
water analogy again—it’s like I’m trying to understand a group of people
speaking to me underwater. The garbled chorus quickly narrows to one voice,
still indecipherable, and I sense him struggling to adapt to our surroundings
in order to communicate with me. This is new for him as well, I realize. He’s
never attempted this sort of thing, and before I know what I’m doing, I find
myself mentally encouraging him to message me something I can actually
understand. I’ve rationalized this strange dream as a learning experience,
meaning I need more details if I expect to interpret it upon awakening.
There’s not much time left. Finally, his long strings of
meaningless and gurgled sounds tighten and transform into an understandable but
fragmentary chain of words and phrases. What I hear sends terror snaking
Help me, Alix.
Perennial is all around
The encounter ends with the slightest invisible touch,
barely perceptible, a simple brush of what feels like a warm fingertip against
the right side of my face. I should be furious with such an advance, but what
actually enrages me is the fact that I’m receptive to it, closing my eyes and,
deep down, not wanting it to end.
Another brilliant explosion of white light, this time
followed by a deafening blast of what sounds like one of those firework test
booms you hear before the real show begins.
“Stay away from me!”
I’m shouting the four words as I finally awaken sitting bolt
upright in bed, body and pajamas damp with sweat, chest rising and falling
rapidly as I try to catch my breath. It’s quiet and semidark in here. Why is my
right hand balled into a tight fist?
I glance at the clock on the bedside table. The blue digits
are blurry smudges. My glasses. I unclench my fist and reach for the same
thick, black, chunky frames I’ve had since freshman year. It’s 2:30 a.m. Good.
Still more than three hours of sleep before my first day as a senior.
I take a deep breath and stare across the room, lowering my
gaze to an area where the wood floor meets the wall opposite me. Something
isn’t right there. Small, glistening objects reflect the dull and annoying
yellow light slicing in from the streetlight across from our front yard. I roll
out of bed, stumble toward the door, and flick on the bedroom light, shielding
my eyes from the sudden brightness.
The remains of my water glass lie in several jagged pieces
along the base of the far wall. The knifelike shards look like abstract ice cubes
resting in the spilled puddle of water. The booming sound just before I awoke.
That must have been the glass shattering against the wall after I threw it. I’ve
had my share of nightmares, but I’ve never done anything like this before.
“Good riddance, Dream Guy,” I say, shaking my head and raking
a hand through my short, spiky hair as I cross the room to retrieve the broken
glass. “Good riddance forever.”
But the fear returns as I remember his final two sentences:
Help me, Alix.
Perennial is all around
I don’t even notice the glass shard cut my fingertip. The
sharp pain of the slice makes me wince. I instinctively draw the wounded index
finger toward my glasses for a better view. The cut is harmless—just a dash of
crimson spreading slowly from what amounts to nothing more than a scrape—but
for some reason the blood makes me remember his touch.
I place my finger between my lips and press the tip of my
tongue over the cut. The blood tastes tinny. I close my eyes and admit to
myself that all the “good riddances” in the world won’t hide the fact that
there’s a part of me—an unknown part I fear—that longs to have contact with
Dream Guy again.
Tuesday, September 4
My father is a police officer,
and I’ve long been a master at reading his moods. One look at Clint Keener’s
face as he steps through the door after work tells me how his day or night
went. I always think about what I’m going to say before I speak to him—especially
at night. Although he doesn’t drink much, he becomes silent and distant when
he’s had too much alcohol. I suppose we all have demons and fight them in our
own ways, but Dad loves me and wants the best for me.
Mornings are the best time to be
around him, and today is no different. I’m sitting at the new, white kitchen
table, studying my class schedule, finishing a banana protein shake and a fried
egg topped with Trader Joe’s kimchi. Dad enters from the spacious living room
full of new furniture and heads straight for the coffee beans and fancy
high-end grinder he recently bought.
“Good Lord, Alix,” he says,
eyeing the brownish-red kimchi and scrunching his nose as he passes. “What died
on your egg?”
“Very funny,” I say. “Nothing
died. It’s vegetarian kimchi. I saw it on TV and decided to try it. It’s really
good. Want some?”
“If I can’t spell it, I don’t eat
it, so no,” he says, scooping the dark, shiny beans into the grinder. “You
definitely have your mother’s taste buds. She liked taking me to
hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurants in and around Detroit when we first started
dating. I finally had to break it to her that I’m a lot happier in a Burger
King than I am in a Vietnamese diner.”
He looks at me and winks and
smiles as the hum of the grinder fills the house. Dad rarely talks about work
and never talks about his time as a Marine during the 1991 Gulf War. I respect
this and never ask about either topic, knowing from my own research and from
Mom that it’s often difficult for cops and combat veterans to discuss their
Still, there are things I know
about his law-enforcement life, mainly through observation. For example, I know
he’s been doing undercover work the past six months or so. His long hair and
almost-mountain-man-like beard make that clear. Mom hated it when Dad worked
undercover. She used to joke that it was in his best interest to work a regular
patrol shift because she refused to kiss him until he shaved and got a decent
“Are you used to the house yet?”
He empties the ground beans into a paper filter as he waits for water in the
electric kettle to boil. Dad might not be a food snob, but he sure is a coffee
geek, and I love smelling the different aromas from the beans that fill the
house every morning.
“It’s a big house,” I say. “But
yeah, I guess I’m good with it.”
“It’s big but we deserve it,” he
says. “Your mother would say the same. How’d you sleep?”
“Not great. Bad dream.” I pause.
“Well, bad in parts.”
He gives me a concerned look,
walks over, and sits across from me. “Look, Alix. I know it’s only been a year,
and I know I’ve made some bad decisions, but we needed to move away. You said
so yourself. We talked long and hard about this, and you said you didn’t mind
spending your senior year in a new school. I couldn’t take it in that house or
that city anymore. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I went, everybody I saw—it all
reminded me of her. It was torture.” He massages his temples with his
fingertips. “I know people say I’m running from reality, but this seemed like
the right thing to do. If you’ve changed your mind, I’m sorry. I can’t change
the past, but I can give us a fresh start without forgetting about the past.”
“Dad, relax,” I say. “I’m fine.
The dream wasn’t about Mom.”
He closes his eyes and shakes his
head. “Right,” he says, eyes opening. “Sorry about that. I’m just trying to do
the right things for you.” He exhales deeply. “For us.”
“I know,” I say. “But try not to
worry about me so much.”
“Easier said than done,” he says.
“Care to tell me about the dream?”
“It was nothing,” I say,
pocketing my schedule and checking my phone for texts. As usual there are none.
I take the last bite of my breakfast, gather my dishes, and head for the
Dad follows and says, “How does
it feel to be a senior?”
“I’m relieved but annoyed,” I
say. “I’m more comfortable around adults. You know that.” I close the
dishwasher and grab my car keys from the hook in the side foyer. “I wish I
could just skip the next nine months. I mean, U of M’s basically already said
“I love your confidence, Alix,
but don’t get cocky.” Dad pours boiling water over the ground beans and into the
pot. “All I ask is that you do what you’ve always done: stay focused and keep
your nose clean. And it’s okay to have friends as long as they’re not boys.”
“God,” I say, rolling my eyes, “you’re
such a cop.”
A series of three loud beeps we
both know well. It’s his work phone and the most annoying ringtone ever
created. I’m about to leave, but Dad raises an index finger, says, “Wait. Hang
on a sec,” and takes the call.
This isn’t unusual. He answers
work calls in front of me often, and if it’s private he simply goes into his
office. So over the next minute, as I watch his face grow increasingly
concerned, I wonder why he’s staying within earshot of me as he says things
like, “Okay … I’m not sure … the last name again … I’ll be there as
soon as I can,” and so on.
He ends the call and studies me,
Dad thinking hard about something.
“What is it?” I say. “What’s
“You said you have some sort of
advanced history class, right?”
“It’s called Independent Study in
American History,” I say, nodding. “I had to take a test to get into it,
remember? It counts for college credit and is one of the best classes at
“Who’s the teacher?”
“Why?” I say, squinting. “Does it
he says, all serious and cop-like now. “And yes, it does matter.”
“It’s Mr. Watkins,” I say without
having to check my schedule. “Marc Watkins. He teaches history and chemistry. I
end my day with him. Sixth hour. I researched him before picking the class. He
went to U of M and is an incredible teacher. His reviews online are amazing.”
Dad glances down for a moment
before meeting my gaze. “I’m not supposed to tell you this yet, but there’s
something you need to know.” He clears his throat. “Honey, I’m afraid Mr.
Watkins won’t be your teacher.”
“What?” I say, swallowing hard.
“Why not? Did he do something wrong?”
“That’s a good question,” he
says. “I don’t know the answer yet.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Dad mulls it over for a few
seconds and says, “The problem is he’s dead, Alix. Murdered. They found his
body yesterday. Multiple gunshot wounds.” He pauses. “I’m sorry.”
“What?” I say, covering my ears
and fighting back a wave of nausea. “Jesus, Dad, why are you even telling me
this? It’s the first day of school!”
Despite the initial shock, I
lower my hands and try not to overreact, telling myself to breathe calmly and
deeply. I pride myself on the self-discipline Mom and Dad taught me from a
young age, so I tend to hate myself when I allow drama or gossip to get the
best of me. Dad doesn’t like me this way either, so he doesn’t say another word
until he thinks I can handle it.
“That’s better,” he finally says.
“And you asked another good question. I’m telling you because I’d rather you
hear the truth from me than some rumor at school. The family’s been notified,
and they’re releasing his name today. I’m sure it’ll be in the news before
noon, but don’t say anything until it’s public. Got it?”
“Are you okay?”
There’s a long silence.
“Yeah, I guess,” I say. “It’s
just creepy. I never met the guy, but like I said, the students who posted
—him.” I adjust my glasses and scratch my head.
“What a freaky way to start my senior year.”
“I know,” he says. “This might
sound strange, but try to have a good day, okay?” He pauses. “I love you,
“Love you too, Dad.”
I’m halfway out the side door
when he says, “Hey, what happened to your finger?”
“Huh?” I turn in the open
doorway. “What are you talking about?”
“The cut on your right index
finger. It wasn’t there yesterday.”
“Oh that,” I say, raising the
wounded digit I’d nearly forgotten about. “It’s nothing. I broke a glass in my
room and nicked it. It’s like a centimeter long. How’d you even notice?”
“Because I’m a cop,” he says.
“And your dad.”
He forces a smile and takes his
first sip of steamy black coffee as I leave the house.