Elemental

Four
Crushed

Everywhere is pitch black. Not a skerrick of light is allowed to pierce into the sheer black of the cave. I can here nothing but my own breathing and my heart, thumping with expectations of what I know I will find here. Although I can not see past my eyelashes, I know exactly where I am going. I trip over no stones, sprain my ankle in no ditches. I know the path by heart.

A glow appears around the next corner. It is only a faint glow, a soft brown light reflecting off the jagged walls and roof of the cave. I grin, knowing exactly what the glow is coming from. Not the exit to the cave, not torchlight or a candle. This wonderful glow emanates from my goal.

The doll. I turn the corner to be greeted by a long passage, at the end of which is the doll, hovering at eye level above the uneven cave floor. Its rich brown light is cast out over the walls, ceiling and floor of the cave, casting shadows that would appear eerie if the doll’s luminosity was white. But the amber glow makes the doll even more enticing, more welcoming.

A grin breaks out over my face, and I run forward to claim my prize. I’m so close now, I can feel the auburn gleam on my face. I stumble on a rock I had not seen and fall, grazing my knee, but I pull myself to my feet and keep going.

Suddenly, in the dead silence of the mountain’s interior, I hear a crash in the distance. I spin around to stare at the opposite end of the passage, where I had first come in. A small cloud of dust wafts in, the particles lit up by the light of the doll. Another rumble, closer this time, and another cloud of dust. A third sounds, much closer. It seems as though it is just around the corner.

I sneeze, the dust having reached me. My heart is beating even more rapidly, my lungs taking in more of the still cave air. I blink the dust out of my eyes. A small stone clatters to the floor just behind me. My eyes fearfully stare up at the ceiling. A new ditch had formed where the stone had fallen. Just by it, another stone drops, followed by a sprinkle of dirt.

Even as I watch, the ceiling begins to slowly slide closer to the floor, until finally, a massive boulder thunders from the cave’s roof, shaking the very earth I am standing on. The small quake brings a fifth boulder down behind me. The air is filled with dust now, dust that seems to glow from the russet colourings of my only source of light.

Another crash cuts it off, blocking off my access to the object I came here for. The whole cave is suddenly filled with the thundering boulders, dropping from the cave roof all through the corridor. I spin around, wildly trying to see anything, a way out, a way to safety, a way to the doll. I feel a sudden pain in the back of my head. I collapsed to the cave floor and everything became silent once more. My last thoughts were that I was being buried, buried alive…

For the fourth night in a row, Michelle awoke to the intense pain in the back of her head. The first night, she figured she’d bumped it on her bed head and it had therefore caused her to have the dream, but having woken up on Sunday morning with glistening brown jewels embedded into her flesh, she was convinced that the dream had caused her pain, not the other way around.

Six forty three, right on schedule. She wondered why she even bothered to keep the alarm on. The dream always woke her up two minutes before it went off anyway, and it was certainly a more effective way of waking her up. Alarm clocks merely beep; turn them off and returning to the dream world was easy. But this nightmare was guaranteed to wake her up, and what’s more it kept her from wanting to go back to sleep again for fear of it returning.

Michelle dragged herself out of bed to get ready for school. As she had done yesterday and the day before, she again paused to finger at the amber jewels, gleaming out of her dark skin. At least there weren’t any new ones this morning.

The round one to the right of her belly button had scars around its edges, in Michelle’s skin. This was the one she had picked at on Sunday morning, trying vainly to get the things off, but they weren’t just stuck on her skin, they were well and truly a part of her, their roots deep in her waist line.

She smoothed her hand over her waist, still not really believing they were really there, then gave an annoyed ‘hmph’ and threw her blue school dress over her head to cover up the jewels.

The string of hot summer days continued with yet another scorcher. The weather report stated while Michelle was having breakfast that today was going to be pushing the 35-degree mark. What made it worse was the humidity. Summer wasn’t usually humid; the heat tended to be very dry, but there had been a slight drizzle overnight, making the morning air annoyingly sticky and the ten minute walk to school less than pleasant.

Michelle grunted as she swung her heavy schoolbag onto the bag rack. It had left a soppy mark on her back which she was definitely not happy with. She hated summer; it was too hot, too sticky, too sweaty. There was the bonus of long holidays, but they had been and gone and the students were forced to return to school, in the hottest month of the year.

“You all right there, Shelly?” It was her best friend Kristen, her face slightly flushed even this early in the day.

“Yeah, just getting sick of the heat.”

Kristen grinned. “Fair enough. Hey, uh, did you do the maths homework last night? I seriously couldn’t get the answer to three A. Tried it four times before I gave up.”

And so the day continued, gradually heating up and refusing to cool down. Michelle wasn’t looking forward to going to bed, for more reasons than one. It would be a hot, uncomfortable night, during which she would for the fifth time running be buried alive and woken up at six forty three the next morning.

During Art, Michelle and Kristen’s conversation somehow turned to dreams.

“I had a really weird dream last night,” Kristen started, “I was in some fancy hotel, like the Hyatt or something like that, and some famous guy was there. No idea who, but in the dream he was the cutest thing since the guy on the pizza ad. Anyway, he came up to me and asked me to dance. I almost died right there, but then my alarm went off and I didn’t get to dance. Really annoying too.”

“I’ve been having this really freaky recurring dream for the past four nights,” Michelle started uneasily. As she retold her dream, her hands subconsciously moved to her waist, picking absent-mindedly at the jewels.

“You died for the sake of a glowing doll?” Kristen mocked, her eyebrows raised.

“Yup,” Michelle stated simply, nodding as though it didn’t matter.

“So has it been the same every night?”

Michelle nodded again. “Even woken me up at six forty three every morning. Freaky, eh?”

“I’ll say. Couldn’t you, like, change it, so you get the doll? Then maybe it’ll stop,” Kristen offered.

Michelle shrugged. “Thing is, it feels so real when I’m in it, not like a dream at all. Everything seems perfectly normal, even the floating glowing doll thing.”

“Weird.”

You don’t know how weird it really is, Michelle thought to herself, her mind again returning to the underground.

At the end of the lesson as everyone was packing their books up to head off for lunch, a small piece of paper fluttered onto Michelle’s desk. Unfolding it, Michelle saw a pattern drawn on it that made her eyes widen and her heart skip a beat. It was the same pattern that was now engraved into her flesh forever. Under the pattern, someone had written the words, “If this means anything to you, meet us behind the hall at lunch time. Come alone.” The word ‘alone’ had been underlined three times, making it very clear that whoever ‘us’ was didn’t want to be found out.

Michelle scanned the room of bustling girls in sweaty blue dresses. Nobody was giving away any sign that they had dropped the note. She slipped the note into her pocked and hurried off to lunch, wondering whether or not she should go. It couldn’t just be coincidence, it was too big to be a coincidence. Whoever it was must have overheard her talking about her dream and had made the connection. She was definitely going.

But how was she supposed to come alone? She was part of a substantial group of friends and it would be hard to slip away unnoticed.

“Kristen, I’ve gotta finish the Biology questions,” she lied, “otherwise I’ll get a note in my diary or something, so I’m going to have to skip lunch today. That okay with you?”

“Sure, I’ll tell everyone. Have fun!” Kristen replied.

“Oh goody,” Michelle said, rolling her eyes but grinning at the same time. She took her Biology books out of her locker to make her case seem more believable, then made her way to the hall via the library.

When she got there, nobody had turned up. She was nervous, to say the least, but she couldn’t get the feeling out of her head that this was just a trick to make her look stupid. She could see why ‘us’ had chosen behind the hall. Nobody ever went behind the hall. Now that she thought of it she couldn’t think why, it was a nice secluded spot and no teachers ever walked past on yard duty either.

Eventually she heard voices approaching, and the sources of the voices appeared around the corner. It was Elly, Charlotte and Natasha; Natasha was the only one who was in her Art class. It must have been her who had dropped the note.

“Well, whadya know?” Elly began, “Another glowing-doll-girl. Wonder how many of us there are?”

“Huh?”

“Your dream,” Charlotte answered, “You died trying to get a glowing doll, am I right?”

“How’d you know?”

“I overheard you in Art,” Natasha replied. “I’ve given Elly and Charlie the basic outline but I haven’t filled in any details, so would you—”

“Just a sec,” Michelle cut in, “What’s going on, exactly?”

The three other girls exchanged glances. Elly was the one to answer. “We’ve all been having dreams about dying to get a glowing doll which has woken us up at six forty three every morning since Sunday. And then there are the jewels, which I’m sure you’ve got a set of yourself, judging by how your hands are at your waist right now.”

Michelle whipped her hands away from her waist and looked at the ground, a million thoughts spinning around in her head. She sighed and sat down in the grass and told her dream, this time omitting no detail. She was shocked to hear the similarities between her story and those of her three intent listeners.

“So how many of us are there?” Michelle wondered out loud.

“Wouldn’t have the faintest,” Elly replied. “Someone new’s turning up every day.”

“This is just too freaky,” Charlotte stated, shaking her head, “It can’t be real.”

“But it is,” Michelle answered regretfully. “I tried picking one of the jewels off on Monday, but it didn’t come off. Plus, it hurt. You can’t get hurt in dreams. Well, except these ones,” she added as an afterthought.

The four girls sat in silence, staring at the ground, each thinking the same thing. Just before the bell went, Natasha voiced their thoughts.

“What the hell is happening to us?”

Unfortunately, not one of them had an answer.

five