At the Edge of Dreams
Aurora pressed her back against the clock tower wall, clutching the stolen scroll to her chest. The whine of clicking machinery from the surrounding buildings tapped like a metronome in her head, beating out the rhythmic heartbeat of The Briar. She squeezed her eyes shut listening for the signal she’d been detected. But nothing came. Aurora’s chest fluttered when she peeked around the corner to Main Street.
Steam hissed from arterial pipes and veiny downspouts protruding from faceless citadels. Aurora searched through shadows for yellow-orange eyes. Mist clouded the alleyways wedged between the buildings, cloaking any Huntsman hiding from view, but she couldn’t see any patrolling the street.
Aurora didn’t hesitate. She bounded away from behind the wall and ran, not looking back. Alarms blared as she passed the city limits and met the lip of Spindlewood Forest.
Her thighs burned. Puffs of strained breath came in uncontrolled spurts, but the dissonant sound drove Aurora harder. She crashed through the threshold of trees and fought her way up the steep hill into the woodland’s heart.
Aurora pulled herself over the summit and crawled to the nearest bush, wheezing through pursed lips, clutching the stitch in her side. A twig snapped. The sound rode on a whisper of dank smoky air from the grove of trees two feet away.
Something was close.
The hair on Aurora’s neck rose, and she narrowed her eyes, peeking around the shrub. She gripped her piecemeal knife in one shaking hand, the scroll in the other, waiting for the metal minion to show himself.
Where are you?
Several cracks echoed in different directions around her. Blood rushed from Aurora’s face into her stomach. She whipped around, her head darting every which way, ears perked. Aurora crouched, knife out, ready to jab anything that came close.
A skeletal metal face peered at Aurora from behind a large tree trunk five feet in front of her. It’s lifeless eyes twisted and whirred, yellow pupils fixating on her location. Aurora froze. The Huntsman stepped out from behind the tree and brandished a long bronze pistol.
I was going to explode. A restless energy had been building inside me for months now. There were times when it felt like my skin was the only thing keeping me from flying apart. There was no good reason for it. Frustration continued to grow and everything I’d done to ignore it and tamp it down seemed to only feed the impotent ire simmering beneath the surface.
When my coworker, Ben, had asked me out for the third time tonight, I’d lost it. I mean, yelled and came pretty close to slapping him. While he may have been annoying, he hadn’t deserved my freak out.
My phone played Sound of Silence to let me know it was ringing. All I wanted was to take a shower and wash the smell of coffee and baked goods off, but when I saw it was Nana, I answered. “Hey.” I put the speaker on so I could grab some water while I spoke. I tossed my keys on the counter and placed my phone next to them.
“What’s wrong?” Her confident voice flitted through my tiny apartment as if she were in the room.
My shoulders tensed and my defenses kicked in. “Why does something have to be wrong?”
“It’s in your tone. I can tell. What are you so mad about?”
That was the question I’d been asking myself for weeks. I glared at the phone as I drank. The cold water felt nice on my throat, but it was not enough to calm me.
“Dawn?” Nana called, her voice louder. “Don’t you give me that look.”
Rolling my eyes, I huffed. “You can’t see my face. You have no idea what look I may or may not be giving you.”
“I know you. You’re glaring a hot laser at the phone right now.”
It was all too easy to imagine her grey eyes meeting mine in challenge, never backing down. I’d bet anything she was folding her arms across her chest and that her lips were pulled into a stubborn line. “It’s a boy, isn’t it?” she asked.
Grinding my teeth, I picked the phone up from the counter and headed to the bathroom. “I don’t date, Nana. Why would you think it’s a boy?”
“What happened?” Her tone had softened and the concern I heard broke through the barrier I’d had up all evening.
My shoulders slumped and I put the phone down again to pull my long, blonde hair out of its ponytail. Nana didn’t say anything. She always knew when to wait. “Ben asked me out again,” I finally admitted.
“Why do you say that like it’s a horrible thing?”
I was positive that her brows were drawn together and that her thin lips were pulled down into a frown that showcased little wrinkles. It’s how she always looked when we approached this topic.
An image of a man with brown hair and brown skin entered my mind. He wasn’t real – just a man from my dreams that no one knew about. I couldn’t tell Nana he was the reason.