Jack was dreaming. He knew it was a dream, because he was in the endless vault, standing amidst countless steadily-burning candle flames. As many as they were, they still barely kept the darkness of the vault at bay.
A glimmer from the corner of his eye caught Jack’s attention. He frowned, then turned, trying to catch the next flash, but when it reappeared, it was again from the corner of his vision, the faintest of glimmers, golden, like the candle light, but brighter, steadier. Like the sun, shining off of gold.
Another flash, and an echo, from another direction. Or maybe every direction:
“They said once it’s all out of my system, I should be back to normal.”
He knew that voice, but it was faint, so distant, as if it came from the very end of the vault itself….
He turned, trying to catch another of the flashes.
“I don’t like the red ones.”
The same voice, again, trailing the flash of golden light. Was it following it?
Another flash, from the opposite direction.
“This is my problem. I’ll deal with it.”
“You got in trouble, again, because of me. I had to do something.”
“I don’t want it, Jack. I don’t want any of this.”
The flashes seemed to come with every third or fourth breath.
“Maybe this will teach you to get up a little earlier”
“She’s gone, Jack. She won’t come back. She’s not waiting for me.”
“I’m patient. I can wait. I’m good at waiting. Remember?”
Jack closed his eyes, held his breath. Remember. He needed to remember something. He let his breath out, took another. On his third, the light sparked again, even though his eyes were closed. He turned instinctively towards it.
“It was just lonely until you got here.”
“If I dreamed that I saw you die, would you want to know about it?”
“Go back home, Jack. There’s nothing you can do to help.”
“All I wanted was to have a nice, normal life.”
“I feel just fine.”
“They thought I was their Daughter of the Sun, and that if they touched my hair, it would burn them.”
“Jack, I don’t need taking care of.”
“It is a thing of cold and wind and darkness, Jack. The candles will keep it at bay when you’re not around. Fire against air, heat against the cold, light against the dark. And little bits of love against the emptiness.”
He opened his eyes. The candles were still there, still burning. Were they brighter?
“It’s okay, Jack. You can say it’s bad if it’s bad. Not all changes are good. Not all changes are fair.”
“So you’re saying to don’t want to kiss me?”
Jack’s lips tingled. It was as if they remembered something he didn’t. No, he thought. It’s the dream. Or my imagination. There’s no way I’d ever kiss anyone!
“Which would you rather do, Jack, panic because I’m gone, or panic because I’m right here behind you?”
“If I’d known there was going to be dancing, I would have packed my boots.”
“Every time you cross over, you have to pay to get back to this side.”
“You sound disappointed that I’m still here.”
The darting light flared, and this time Jack could see a trail of dancing motes of light behind it, like embers caught up in the swirling thermals of a campfire….
“It happens when you cross back. As the Veil mends, it fades.”
“Jack! Jack, don’t go. Help me down. Please?”
“Go upstairs, go to bed and dream about bunnies and rainbows. That is what you can do to help me.”
“Jack, you can’t just throw my name around like that! Not now. Never during the Witching hour.”
The Witching hour, midnight till dawn. How did he know when that was?
“I don’t know how it happens. It just does. It happens before you can think. Before you can take it back….”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been called ‘buried treasure’ or a ‘fruit of research.’”
“I was afraid. The whole time I was gone, I was afraid you hated me. That… if you did remember me, you wished that you had forgotten like everyone else.”
Forgotten…. He was forgetting something. Something important.
“I didn’t think you’d be this bad a dancer. Next time I’ll know better.”
“Try for bunnies and rainbows next time.”
“Four letter word… for ‘trouble.’”
Four letters. Jack knew them. He knew he did…. Not a word, though. A place? A name?
“Put me down!”
Weight, in his arms, a ghost of a presence…
“I can’t sleep. I’ve never spent the night at somebody else’s place before.”
“‘Pretend’ its haunted? I guess I could see why you would think like that. Of course a place like this is haunted. Thats what makes it so interesting!”
A place. A haunted place. He knew somewhere like that, and there was something about it he felt like he should be remembering….
“I’ll get you in trouble being here, remember?”
Remember. He had to remember something. Something important. How could he forget? How could he possibly forget it?
“They say that knowing something’s name gives you power over it.”
Names. A name. Somebody’s name….
“Dream tonight, and tell me about it at school tomorrow.”
How could he possibly do that? He never dreamed.
But you’re dreaming now, he said to himself.
Dreaming. That was what he was supposed to be doing. But not just that. Something else…
The motes of golden light he’d been chasing all night came back, all at once, from every direction, and hung, suspended, before his eyes, no longer hiding. They glimmered, flashed.
He’d seen them flash like that before, it always happened when she was mad. Sometimes, though, when she was happy. And her smile was infinitely better than her scowl, even though she was cute when she was mad, too.
His arm tingled. It’d done that a few times before. Something was brushing against it, he thought. No, it’d have to be pressing, for him to feel it if it was asleep…
“Jack, let go!”
Something tugged, but Jack remembered what he was supposed to do now, and he tightened his grip. There was no way They were going to take her away.
“Jack, you have to let go!”
He clung tighter. They wouldn’t get her. Wouldn’t take her away.
“John Henry, if you don’t let go of me your alarm clock is going to wake up everybody in this house!”