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James woke up in a field of yellow flowers. His mind was a jumble of buzzing, frantic thoughts. ‘What happened to the car? What happened to my mother? Where am I?’ But his mind slowed down, becoming rational again. ‘You’re fine. You were just napping. What in the world is a car? And you’re mother died in child birth.’
A sweet, melodic voice from behind James called out. “Sorrel! Sorrel! What are you doing lying down?” The voice giggled, and the head of a grinning girl appeared above James. No, above Sorrel. Why was he calling himself James? Sorrel shook his head and struggled to his feet, wiping flower petals off his wool vest and deerskin pants.
Ori punched his shoulder. “Sleeping on the watch, eh soldier?” Yes, that’s right. The nap must have addled his brain. He had been waiting for Ori, and fell asleep.
Sorrel grinned. “It’s not my fault. You could have tried to get here a little earlier.”
“Yeah, but I’m here now!” Ori cried, skipping around. She was always hyper. Sorrel wondered if she ever slept, and he couldn’t imagine her lying down for that long. The hems of her blue dress were already muddy, her red hair frizzy and tangled. “So, you ready to go?” She gestured up at the mountain looming nearby. The fields that littered the Kingdom of Arran, the fourth kingdom of Sorinthia, did very little to obscure the kingdom’s only mountain. Sorrel picked up the knapsack that had been on the ground next to him and hoisted it over his shoulder.
“Yup.” They headed off through the suncatcher field, leaving a trail of broken suncatcher behind them, their bright yellow leaves quickly turning brown. Ori chattered on and on as they started to climb, and she was still chattering as they came back down, the sun now orange and sagging behind the hills.
They were both red-faced, it had been a hard hike, but their eyes were bright and their faces smiling. “Okay, Ori, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Sorrel said, waving, and plodded off to his aunt’s cottage on the side of the field. Ori headed up the road to Arran Castle, occasionally breaking into a run or skip. She was the magistrate’s daughter, but it was a role she was only forced to assume at night.
Sorrel gave a cursory greeting to his aunt, who was washing the dishes from a dinner he had missed, and headed up the rickety stairs to his bed. Within seconds, he was sleeping, his exhausted body finally giving in. And the dream came, unchecked.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
James’ mom looked over her shoulder from where she was driving. “James, could you please look up from that game for at least a little?”
“But Mom, it’s Kingdoms of Sorinthia! It’s educational!” James protested.
It was then that the old, beat-up pickup truck smashed into the back of their Honda as it crossed an intersection. The Honda spun around and around, flipping over onto its back and finally curving itself around a streetlight. Airbags erupted from the dashboard, cushioning James’s mom as she crumbled unconscious, a piece of metal having crunched inwards and hit her head. James was still awake, but broken metal had lacerated his right side, blood rushing from cuts that still had metal imbedded in them. His back was broken. A siren wailed in the distance.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
James woke up with a gasp, sitting up in his bead and banging his head painfully against the cottages’ low roof. James. Where did that name come from? Sorrel shook his head. That was the name he had called himself in the fields yesterday. And what was a Honda? Or a pickup truck? And the woman in the car. That wasn’t his mother, his mother was dead. What a weird dream. Sorrel shook his head again, trying to clear all those strange thoughts, and settled back into sleep. But the odd, terrible dream returned, along with its foreign sounds of screeching metal, and the awful pain of his back braking against the seat.
The day passed as usual. He met Ori in the fields, and they explored the woods lining the foothills of the mountain. Sorrel passed other boys going out to work the field, some of them looking enviously at Ori. Even as dirty and unkempt as she was, Ori was quite beautiful. Sorrel wondered why his aunt didn’t make him work in the fields, but forgot about it quickly.
The woods were nice and pretty, with chirping birds and screeching squirrels. He and Ori stopped at a steam to eat lunch. Sorrel rolled up the sleeves of his pants, the same ones as yesterday, and prepared to go wading.
“No, Sorrel!” Ori cried out, suddenly, realizing his intentions.
Sorrel stopped, surprised. “Why?”
Ori hesitated, unsure, as if her outburst had surprised her as well. “Uh, I don’t know. It’s dangerous. You could hurt yourself.”
“Yeah, right,” Sorrel said, and stepped into the water. He heard Ori cry wait, but then…
James’s eyes flickered open. He was lying on a table in a hospital room. Doctors rushed about, shouting. Machines beeped frantically. He saw his mother, sobbing in relief. A nurse with foofy red hair shouted, “He’s waking up! He’s waking up!”. But then, he felt his eyes start to close, he tried to keep them open, but it was too hard. His mother cried out. “You’re losing him again! You’re losing my James!” And then James’s eyes closed, and Sorrel woke up in the green forests of Sorinthia.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Ori cried. She was crouching next to him, a hand on his shoulder. “You slipped and hit your head. I thought you were gone for good!” She had dragged Sorrel out of the water and laid him out on the riverbank, on a bed of moss between two trees.
Sorrel put his hand to his head, and rubbed. It didn’t hurt. At all. “Are you sure?” He asked Ori suspiciously. “Because for a second I was in this white room with people shouting, and my mother was there, too.”
“Your mother?” Ori asked, puzzled. “Your mother’s dead.”
“But she wasn’t! I think I have to go back there! Back to the white room.” Sorrel struggle to get up, Ori pushed him back down.
“The hospital doesn’t exist.” Ori said.
“Hospital. What’s a hospital? Is that what I saw?” Sorrel’s eyes narrowed. “Ori, what are you hiding from me?” He tried to get up again, and again Ori stopped him.
“No.” Ori protested. “No hospital. You’re in Sorinthia. This is your home. Stay here.”
“Ori, what is a car?”
“Cars don’t exist.” Ori said.
“I think they do. Where am I, Ori?”
“I don’t believe you.” James said, finally managing to stand up. Ori stood up with him. “There was a car accident, wasn’t there. I broke my back, and now I’m in a hospital. In a coma. In a place called Earth. Sorinthia doesn’t exist. You don’t exist. This is a dream. This is a dream, isn’t it, Ori?”
“Yes.” Ori said, quietly, her head sagging.
James began to walk back towards the river, and then stopped. “What am I doing?” Sorrel asked, turning back around. James struggled to return to the forefront of Sorrel’s mind, but Sorrel was too powerful right then. “Ori, let’s head back. I want to go back to the cottage.”
“Okay, Sorrel,” Ori agreed, sounding very chipper, with no hint of how morose she had just sounded.
“No!” James cried. “I have to get back to my mother!”
“Come on, Ori, let’s go!” Sorrel said.
James sunk to his knees. “The dream is too powerful! I can’t leave!”
Sorrel stood back up. “What are you waiting for?”
But James tried one, last desperate time. He flung himself towards the river. Ori caught his shoulder, stopping him.
“Sorrel. Your name is Sorrel,” She said, staring into his eyes.
“Yes. Yes it is.” Sorrel replied.
“No! It’s not!” James shouted.
“Yes it is.” Ori said, and leaned in and kissed him. Hard. Fiercely. Sorrel kissed her back, matching her intensity.
Ori broke away and said, “Stay in the dream, Sorrel.”
“Yes. Stay in the dream.” Sorrel agreed, and Ori kissed him again. And deep within the recesses of his consciousness, James gave up and died.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
James’s mother sat on a hard plastic chair, watching her child. James was laid out flat on a hospital bed, his eyes closed. His torso was wrapped in a cast. The doctors said he was comatose, but there was a good chance of him coming out of it a second time.
A nurse, her nametag read Krista, placed her hand on James’s mother’s shoulder. “Don’t fret, Mrs. Smith, he’ll wake up again.”
A tear rolled down James’s mothers face. “But what if he doesn’t?” She looked up at Krista, pleading. Krista’s red hair and large earrings were somehow comfortable. Krista bent down on one knee.
“He will, Mrs. Smith. Don’t worry.”
“I know what the doctors said. But I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve lost my son forever.”