Riley opened her eyes to find herself in her living room, Suzy also waking up. Bruce, Patty and Cat were already awake and sitting on the couch, all of them looking shaken by what had just happened. Standing over all of them in the center of the room, her fiery gaze burrowing in Riley, stood her Aunt Alice.
“Just what do you think you were doing?” She snapped.
Riley tried to answer, but she was still groggy from having been pulled out from the dream so suddenly. Her head was pounding with a headache like she had never felt before. It was like she could feel every pounding of her heart beating through her temples. She swore should feel her hair rising up and down in time with it.
“Your head pounding?” her aunt asked. Riley nodded and instantly regretted it as it felt like her head was ready to roll off her neck.
“Lie back.” Alice said and left the room towards the kitchen.
Suzy pulled herself away from Riley and sat with her back against the leather chair in the corner of the room. Her dad’s comfy chair for when he was home trying to relax. Though Riley could never explain it, the chair smelled of cigarette smoke even though her dad was not a smoker. She didn’t know why they had such a terrible piece of furniture.
“You okay?” Cat asked. Riley looked at her and saw that she was looking at Suzy who now pulled her knees up to her chest and was rocking back and forth. Tears were just beginning to roll down her cheek.
“What was that?” Suzy said. Her voice quite and shaken. Riley couldn’t remember a time when her friend had been so shaken up.
“A dream wraith.” Saber said.
“Un uh. No way. I’ve never seen one that strong.” Bruce said, shaking his head. Riley remembered the dream, the cut on his shoulder, and she noticed how he was keeping his arm low and making sure not to rub up against Cat who was sitting next to him.
Alice came back into the room with a white towel. She held it to Riley’s forehead and Riley could feel the coolness of the icepack underneath. It was already quieting the drumbeat going through her brain.
“Please girls, give us a minute.” Aunt Alice send nicely to the group around Riley. Riley looked to Bruce who she could tell was going to say something, but Cat reached out and gently nudged him along. Her hand touched his arm and she could see him wince.
Riley felt her own heart twist and already the moisture was touching the corner of her eye. What had she done? They could have gotten hurt in there. Bruce had gotten hurt. This was all her fault.
They all shuffled out of the room. Suzy was the last to go, still sitting on the floor and shaken by what she had experienced. Alice had started to help her up, gently caressing her arm while saying soothing things to her helped her to move, but Saber had to take over and lead her out of the room.
When they were gone, Riley couldn’t hold back the floodgate of tears that had been storing up inside of her.
Alice turned back to her, and Riley felt her stomach flip, expecting the onslaught of words at how stupid she had been. She lowered her head, trying to hide the tears, though her aunt would have to be blind not to see them. The sniffling came next, and Riley thought she was going to just pull her own knees up and curl into a ball. It’s all she wanted to do. Curl up and hide, maybe even die so she could be away from of it she.
She never wanted to see her friends again. How could see. She had put all of them in danger. That thing could have killed them. All because she had wanted to show off. She had been stupid. How could she have been so dumb?
Riley was surprised when she felt her aunts arms fold around her and lift her so she was standing. Riley wanted to crash back down to the floor, she didn’t have the energy to stand. Instead, she was pulled closer to the woman until she felt her head resting on her aunt’s shoulder.
“Its going to be okay. You are all okay. All of you made it out safe.” Alice said, her voice gentle as she spoke.
Riley sniffed and nodded, though she didn’t feel like they were all okay.
“I want you to know something.” Alice said, but she paused as Riley continued to cry into her shoulder. Finally, Riley wanted to know what she was going to say and pulled back so she could look up at her.
Alice met her eyes and pulled her over so that they were both sitting on the couch.
“What?” Riley said, wiping away at her tears as they sat on the soft cloth of the old, tattered couch.
“What you did tonight. It was foolish.”
“You say you know, but you don’t. You don’t know what you are getting yourself into. None of you do. This game you are playing, its dangerous, and they should not be using kids like you to fight these creatures.”
“Why do they?”
“Use kids. I mean, we’re not babies, we can handle it, but why us?”
“Its complicated, and I can’t tell you much.”
Riley was getting tired. She tried to focus on what Alice was saying, but her eyes were growing heavy. As the pounding in her head faded, an overwhelming sense of exhaustion was taking over and she felt like she was drugged, her arms feeling like they were tied to weights pulling them down.
“Why?” Riley said, but she could tell her voice was trailing off.
“Well, one thing, you’re not going to remember much of this conversation. Being ripped out of the dreamscape like that, it takes a hefty toll on the body. I doubt you’ll be able to stay awake for more than another minute.”
“Okay.” Riley said, not able to grasp the concept of saying much more than that.
“For another reason, there is a lot to tell you. Much you need to know, and we don’t have the time for that right now. I don’t know how to tell you much of it. Some of it, I’ve been wanting to tell you for some time as it concerns my best friend in the whole world and what happened to her.”
“Mom…” Riley said.
“Yes, your mother. I loved her like a sister and promised her I would always look out for you.”
Aunt Alice helped Riley lie back onto the couch. She grabbed one of the blankets.
Riley could feel herself slipping away. She had to struggle just to keep herself listening to her aunt. She could no longer focus on the words. Most of what she was saying seemed to fly over Riley’s head and Riley was unable to grasp them. She barely caught it when her aunt told her she would be gone for a few days.
“Your dad is going to be back tomorrow, and it sounds like he will be actually home for a while. That man needs to learn how to take some time off and I told him so. Maybe now he will listen, but he’s going to be here. You don’t do anything stupid while he’s around. Stay out of the dreamscape. There’s something in there and I think it’s trying to target you.”
“It was you…” Riley gasped, recalling the black armored woman that had grabbed them off the bike.
“Yes.” Riley heard, before she slipped back into sleep. This time, she slept without the dreamscape.