Andy watched Dani run out of his room.
His sister was as strange as anyone he knew, but he loved her for it. Even when she was a foolish child as she so often was. Granted, they were both children, only twelve years old. Still, Andy often wondered if they were truly equal in that regard. It was said that girls were more mature than boys, and Andy had no reason to doubt the source where he’d read that, but no one thing was usually true for all things, and between the two of them, Andy often felt like he needed maturity to spare.
According to Dani, just the current, howling, rain-lashing storm was brewing, she had managed to jump the Gap.
It was both incredible and incredibly foolish. Andy believed her, he had no reason to doubt his sister’s words. Yet that was no comfort, she had risked being injured all over a point of personal pride. It wasn’t even like one of their neighbors had put her up to it, bet her she couldn’t do it, or given her any incentive for doing so.
But in everything she described, there was something else which had caught his attention more. It was the primal feeling that she stated was her motivation for the risk.
After staring out his window for a moment, Andy turned back and walked to his desk. On the other side of his room, across from his bed, his desk was a private refuge of sorts. On it sat a bulky monitor, and inside a chamber meant specifically for it. As fancy as the desk was, the computer itself was decidedly less so. It was a scavenged beast, built up from the parts of other, older computers.
Still, most kids didn’t have their own computers. But it wasn’t the computer that Andy was returning to. He had to push things around to get at what he wanted. It wasn’t as though his desk was a complete disaster, but he definitely needed to clean it soon, it was beginning to get out of hand.
On his desk lay an open sketchbook, and the page it was open to held the outlines of some mammoth beast. Its entire body was furred and its massive shoulders were broad. There was a brief sketch of a mane, but beyond that the rest of the creature was hidden, remaining unformed on the page.
Andy wasn’t sure yet what to say about the beast that he had been drawing, but primal was as good a word as any.
Andy saw it most nights in his dreams. Yet it remained vague and indistinct, not only because the details of dreams were always so elusive. No, in fact, it was surprising how well he could picture it at all, given he had only seen it in those forgetful, fantastic elements that played out in his sleeping mind. Rather, it remained vague because in his dreams he generally saw, at most, its silhouette.
The dreams he had involving the creature were consistently dark. They were heavy, and, admittedly, slightly terrifying. More than once he had woken up, his blankets and sheets tossed aside, his pillows askew, looking as though his bed had been some battleground where he’d fought an unseen demon.
Then again, demon wasn’t the right word.
Perhaps it was better to say that when he woke up suddenly, it was as if Andy had been grappling with some animal. In those heart-pounding moments afterward, he would go searching for his pillows, fix his bed, and do his best to push through breathing exercises in order to calm himself down.
I am the master of my mind. Andy thought to himself, having felt his heart beginning to respond once more, to the mere memory of those terror-soaked moments.
He sat down at his desk once more and turned to a new page. Andy let his hands and fingers work, they seemed to be leading him of their own accord. His fingers grasped an art pencil, the tip was still round with the graphite well-revealed. The fingers of his other hand played with the white, triangle eraser, its corners already showing plenty of gray. He thumbed it and put it back down. Then he began to attack the new page with the ferocious scratching of a sketch.
The form that began to manifest on the page wasn’t the same as the hulking monster that had haunted his dreams. Its form was more lithe, and, as more if it appeared, he could faintly see the outlines of a wolf in its form. However, this creature appeared to have a set of tusks that emerged over the shoulder joints of its forelegs.
Overall, it was even more vague and indistinct than the other creature, for this one wasn’t even one he could remember from his dreams. It had begun to take shape in his thoughts after talking with Dani, and like a persistent itch, had stubbornly refused to take a step back until he’d put pencil to paper.
Now, however, it was gone.
He was left with the most basic silhouette of a creature. It was like a ghost on the page, somehow even more haunting for its lack of detail. When Andy closed his eyes, he could picture a set of animalistic eyes staring back at him. They were far more vivid than even the eyes from his nightmares. In spite of the predatory gleam in them, they were eyes of intelligence and knowing as well.
Quick as the beat of a heart, he opened his eyes once more and began to add the detail to the ominous figure on the page. What he managed to sketch was far from being as vivid as the pair that had stared at him in his thoughts, but they were still the most arresting detail on the page. While the rest of the creature was muted and ghostly, its eyes seemed almost alive, and he could feel its stare even from the facsimile before him.
A shiver passed through Andy and he quickly closed the sketchbook.
Just like that his pulse was racing once more. It was as if he’d just woken up from one of his nightmares in the middle of the day. Breathing exercises weren’t going to be enough, he stumbled from his chair and ran over to his closet.
Andy didn’t close the door, an enclosed space would just heighten his sense of panic. However, surrounded by his clothes, with his back against a wall, it was the secret retreat within his room, the place he could feel safe. And, with the eyes no longer staring at him, he began to feel his heart rate returning to normal.
Dani would have told him he was being a scaredy cat. Maybe he was, but on some level he felt as if there was little he could do about it. Andy’s imagination was vivid and powerful, and he had the curse of thinking through every possible outcome and possibility.
Ms. Sanders had told him that such insight was a strength, not a weakness. She was a teacher, and she knew more than he did, Andy supposed she must have been right on some level, but the paralysis that such thoughts stirred in him certainly didn’t evoke a feeling of strength.
Andy waited until his heart rate matched the rhythm of his breathing before he got up, shakily, to his feet. Stumbling across his room, he grabbed at his sketch book before collapsing backwards into bed.
From the page, the strange wolf-like creature was staring at him once more. But what did it want? What was it looking for?
Andy placed the book down and rolled over, standing up and grabbing his drawing tools once more. He didn’t normally draw in bed, but he did so now. Curled over himself, he let his fingers move themselves, much like they had before. But this time there was more purpose to them. From his pencil he created shaggy fur, multiple tails, and a more textured pair of tusks.
As he drew, he realized that the creature wasn’t as wolf-like as he’d initially assumed. As the details layered upon themselves he could see the influences of a fox, and a hint of influence from deer as well, between the tusks and the sturdy legs that seemed built for loping through the forest brush.
He hardly paused to admire his work as he finished. Instead, Andy flipped back a page, continuing his work on the creature from his nightmares. More shaggy fur, a more clearly defined mane, with a large tuft of a tail.
The other creature, the one who had been haunting him, appeared like some cross between a bear and a lion. But its hulking form seemed more massive than that of an ordinary bear, though its sketch was limited to the size of the page. Only as it finally took shape did Andy stop. Without even a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed at the page and ripped it from the binding, holding it beside the fox-wolf form of the other creature.
Something niggled at him, telling Andy that they were hardly perfect representations. He’d never seen anything like them before, yet the certainty he felt was as sure as solid rock. Nevertheless, he was proud of the result. Now he had images he could use to communicate his dreams. It made the most sense to bring what he’d discovered to Dani first.
Yet, once he was in front of her door, he hesitated.
Dani would understand, surely she would. She and Andy shared something of a bond, or perhaps a twin sense. He hated when other people tried to talk about it, they always got it wrong, but on a fundamental level it was difficult to call it anything else, they simply understood one another. Dani was her own person, with her own path, and in many ways she was so very different from him, yet there was something between them that delved deeper than memory, that made him feel like they were the same person in two different bodies.
It wasn’t just Andy either. Dani agreed, just as she understood, so they were of like mind on the bond that they shared, and the eerie resonance of person it created between them.
Still, that didn’t erase their differences, and there were times when one would describe something to the other, and their understanding failed. Andy was certain he would never have jumped the Gap like his sister did, and she was right, he would have done everything he could to stop her.
Similarly, Andy had once told his sister about a recurring dream, one far more peaceful and idyllic that preceded his recent nightmares. It was a whole different world, but the exact details always fled from his thoughts with the elusiveness of the falseness that were dream memories. It had been so vivid, and so frequent that the sense of it had left an imprint on his mind nonetheless, but when he shared his dream with Dani, she had scoffed at the notion of it as a vision.
“It’s just a dream”, Dani had told him, punching his shoulder, “I’ve never seen pink elephants exist and we’ve dreamt of those too.”
“Pink elephants…” Andy muttered, then he knocked on the door.
It took Dani a minute to answer, she was still rubbing her eyes. Of course she was sleeping, sometimes Andy wondered if that was all she did, other than eat or run wild outside.
“Whaaa?” Dani whispered, her mouth opening in a giant yawn.
Andy frowned as he fought the yawn that wanted to form in his own mouth. He shook his head and glanced aside.
“I have something to show you,” he said.
“Alright.” Dani said after a moment, she opened the door further and stepped aside. “Fine. What is it?”
Dani’s own desk was far neater than his own. Her whole room was. She made more messes than he did, but their father didn’t let either of them get away with being slobs, and Dani had shown herself to be particularly adept at attention to detail and concentration.
However, Andy told himself, part of the reason her desk was so neat was the fact that she hardly used it.
He wandered over to it and placed the loose page and the sketch book, opened to the wolf-fox, down side by side.
“What do you think?”