Dream Me - FIRST LOOK
He thought about the girl again. The dark red color of her hair reminded him of the flaming sun at the very second it dropped out of sight. Such an odd color, really. And the mass of hair on her head. So silly and useless. What would it feel like to have that growth sprouting from your head? Hot, undoubtedly. What would it feel like to touch it? To run your fingers through it? He knew there were differences in the quality of hair, from coarse and thick, like rubbing sand between the palms of your hands, to smooth and slippery, like the inside of the juicy cactus plant. But which would hers feel like? He couldn’t tell from the looks of it. He could never tell. He would never know. His uncle’s chest rose and fell, and Zat could hear a heaviness in his breath that signified sleep. His uncle slept most of the time these days. All the older ones did, the ones who were staying behind. Zat knew he should sleep more. Rest to be strong enough for what lay ahead. But he couldn’t quiet his mind. He had so many questions that wouldn’t leave him alone. He leaned back against the wall and brought the lids down over his eyes, trying to force a dream. Outside the wind whined and moaned like a wounded beast but inside his head he could retreat to the images of that long ago, almost mythical Earth. The words, written by a man people were no longer interested in—they’d inspired Zat to make the difficult choice of separating from his family, chasing a future they believed impossible, foolish . . . even suicidal. Now he called on those words to calm his nerves and boost his sagging courage. The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line . . . He forced his mind to a place where clouds once filled the sky. As high as mountains above him. What would that be like? The water was dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple . . . A sea of rolling waves so vast it changed colors depending on the sun and the moon and the presence or absence of clouds. Now the deeply salted, toxic sea had only two colors. Slate gray and black. At sunrise and sunset an orange glaze spread across its surface. But it had been many years since Zat had seen the sea. Nobody went there anymore. Nobody had any use for it apart from the greasy, lurking monsters which inhabited its depths. “Zat?” his uncle turned and Zat wasn’t sure for a moment if he’d woken or was just mumbling as he often did while he slept. “Yes, Uncle?” “You’re still here?” “Yes, Uncle.” “Isn’t there a gathering? It’s not night yet, is it?” “No, Uncle. It’s not night. I didn’t go.” “Why not go? You should be with other young people while you still can.” “There’s no point. Everyone’s leaving, and anyway, none of them want to have anything to do with me. They all think I’m crazy.” “And maybe you are . . . maybe you are. There’s still time to change your mind.” “And what? Leave here hoping to find a planet that may or may not be hospitable to life? That may or may not even exist? At least I know for sure where I’m going.” “I meant to stay here. With me. We can care for each other until the end.” A hard stone formed in the place where Zat’s heart beat in his chest. He hated to leave his uncle. He was the last remaining member of his family on Earth. Zat’s three older brothers left years ago, the early scouts. There had been no good news, barely any news at all. And then his parents and younger sister left to follow in his brothers’ path. That was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, to say goodbye to them. But this would be worse. His uncle had always watched out for Zat—being childless, he was almost like a father. Leaving him felt like the ultimate betrayal. But he had a dream so beautiful it caused him physical pain whenever he allowed himself to think of it. He would settle for just a dream, if you could even call it settling. It was everything to Zat. Everything. Before he could answer, he heard the tell-tale deep breaths of sleep and knew his uncle was gone once more. A life like this? It wasn’t a life, it was just preserving the last reserves of energy and fuel until they were both gone for good. Then once the roaches and vipers were done with their flesh, their bones would wither and turn to dust under the blazing orange sun. And then he thought about the girl again. And her inexplicable hair.