Candles. Hundreds of them, surrounding him, spread along the floor in no recognizable pattern, some no bigger than those on his last birthday cake, others pillars of pale wax taller than him, and every size in between. There was barely room to stand, and not enough room between them to take a step in any direction.
Jack wondered what it could possibly mean.
The flames stood high and straight, burning steadily without so much as a flicker. They were hot — he’d passed his hand over several. They did not waver as he passed his hand over them. He even tried to blow one out. He felt its heat against his cheek, his nose, his lips. But it was as if his breath simply flowed around the flame.
He lifted a foot, to try to take a step, and the candles suddenly went dark. All of them, snuffed, though there was no hint of smoke from the wicks drifting in the air.
He made to set his foot back down when a sudden, furious wind slammed against him, and he felt himself toppling to the side, his arms windmilling for balance….
The sick, bottomless-stomach feeling of falling jerked him from sleep, and Jack lay gasping, feeling about wildly before he realized that he was in bed, mostly under the covers, and not toppling over sideways. And though it was dark, it was not the inky, complete blackness that had pressed at him in the dream.
He looked over at the clock.11:57.
He sucked in deep breaths, trying to relax. He looked up at the dream catcher, turning lazily in the wash of air from the heating vent.
Jack sat up when the clock turned over to 11:58. He tugged at the blankets and comforter.
The clock turned over to 11:59, and Jack pinched himself. Hard.
When nothing changed, or shifted, and he still found himself sitting on the end of his bed, he got up, slipped on his robe, and opened the door.
The silence drifting up from the staircase almost seemed something physical, and Jack pressed against it as he descended.
The first sharp gasp sounded so loud against the quiet, it nearly caused Jack to miss his footing. He started, grasping at the railing, straining to hear the sound again.
He descended two more steps. And there it was again, below him.
He hurried down, twisting around the corner.
The couch was empty, the blankets in complete disarray.
“I knew it. I knew it was one of those kinds of dreams!” he whispered to himself.
“One of what kind of dreams?” Beth whispered from behind him.
Jack nearly leapt through his skin.
“Geez, Beth, don’t do that!”
“Which would you rather do, Jack, panic because I’m gone, or panic because I’m right here behind you?”
Beth waited, one hand on her hip, the other clutching a steaming mug.
Jack shook his head. “I give up.”
“Well, give up one way or the other.”
Jack stepped to the side, and the girl slid past him, setting the mug down carefully on the coffee table. She sucked in another sharp breath, and didn’t sit so much as fall back on to the couch. She pulled her legs up close, pulling the blankets around herself.
Jack handed her the mug as she began to struggle.
“No, it's—” she closed her eyes, pain fluttering across her features. “Okay, yes it is,” she said, through clenched teeth. She sipped at the tea, and pouted.
“What’s with the lip?”
“I want hot chocolate.”
“No. No way. Mom says that is off limits.”
“I want it.”
“No,” Jack said, crossing his arms.
She took another sip, wrinkling her nose. “What if… you make some, and I just have a few sips?”
Beth hunched down in her blankets. “Some friend you are.”
Jack sighed, then turned and went to the kitchen. He glanced at the counter, at the cup of pills.
“I’m not speaking to you unless you bring me hot chocolate.”
“Did you remember to take your pills after dinner?”
There was a long silence from the other room.
Jack made himself a cup of the raspberry tea, dumped plenty of sugar in it, and took it and the medicine cup out to the couch.
“That doesn’t smell like hot chocolate,” Beth said, leaning towards his cup.
“I thought you weren’t speaking to me?”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
Jack put the first pill on it.
Beth’s eyes nearly crossed as she tried to see what it was.
“Just swallow it.”
“Ah ‘on’t wah ih.”
“It’s not polite to talk with your… uh… tongue full.”
Beth glowered, but sipped the pill down. Jack handed her the next, and the next, until the medicine cup was empty, as was half of Beth’s mug.
“They taste worse than the tea.”
“I could have just left that cup sitting for Mom to find in the morning,” Jack said. He sipped his own tea. “And it’s not that bad.”
Beth leaned over, her shoulder on Jack’s. “There. That’s better,” she purred, with a yawn.
“What are you—”
“Not cramping so much like this.” An arm snaked around his, her elbow locking around his.
Jack sighed. “And what am I supposed to do now?”
“Well, do it quietly. Some of us would like to sleep.”