James woke up in a field of yellow flowers. His mind was a jumble of buzzing, frantic thoughts. âWhat happened to the car? What happened to my mother? Where am I?â But his mind slowed down, becoming rational again. âYouâre fine. You were just napping. What in the world is a car? And youâre mother died in child birth.â
A sweet, melodic voice from behind James called out. âSorrel! Sorrel! What are you doing lying down?â 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. âSleeping on the watch, eh soldier?â Yes, thatâs right. The nap must have addled his brain. He had been waiting for Ori, and fell asleep.
Sorrel grinned. âItâs not my fault. You could have tried to get here a little earlier.â
âYeah, but Iâm here now!â Ori cried, skipping around. She was always hyper. Sorrel wondered if she ever slept, and he couldnât imagine her lying down for that long. The hems of her blue dress were already muddy, her red hair frizzy and tangled.Â âSo, you ready to go?â 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 kingdomâs only mountain. Sorrel picked up the knapsack that had been on the ground next to him and hoisted it over his shoulder.
âYup.â 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. âOkay, Ori, Iâll see you tomorrow.â Sorrel said, waving, and plodded off to his auntâs 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 magistrateâs 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.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamesâ mom looked over her shoulder from where she was driving. âJames, could you please look up from that game for at least a little?â
âBut Mom, itâs Kingdoms of Sorinthia! Itâs educational!â 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 Jamesâs 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 cottagesâ 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 wasnât 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 didnât 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.
âNo, Sorrel!â Ori cried out, suddenly, realizing his intentions.
Sorrel stopped, surprised. âWhy?â
Ori hesitated, unsure, as if her outburst had surprised her as well. âUh, I donât know. Itâs dangerous. You could hurt yourself.â
âYeah, right,â Sorrel said, and stepped into the water. He heard Ori cry wait, but thenâŚ
Jamesâs 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, âHeâs waking up! Heâs waking up!â. But then, he felt his eyes start to close, he tried to keep them open, but it was too hard. His mother cried out. âYouâre losing him again! Youâre losing my James!â And then Jamesâs eyes closed, and Sorrel woke up in the green forests of Sorinthia.
âOh, thank goodness!â Ori cried.Â She was crouching next to him, a hand on his shoulder. âYou slipped and hit your head. I thought you were gone for good!â 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 didnât hurt. At all. âAre you sure?â He asked Ori suspiciously. âBecause for a second I was in this white room with people shouting, and my mother was there, too.â
âYour mother?â Ori asked, puzzled. âYour motherâs dead.â
âBut she wasnât! I think I have to go back there! Back to the white room.â Sorrel struggle to get up, Ori pushed him back down.
âThe hospital doesnât exist.â Ori said.
âHospital. Whatâs a hospital? Is that what I saw?â Sorrelâs eyes narrowed. âOri, what are you hiding from me?â He tried to get up again, and again Ori stopped him.
âNo.â Ori protested. âNo hospital. Youâre in Sorinthia. This is your home. Stay here.â
âOri, what is a car?â
âCars donât exist.â Ori said.
âI think they do. Where am I, Ori?â
âI donât believe you.â James said, finally managing to stand up. Ori stood up with him. âThere was a car accident, wasnât there. I broke my back, and now Iâm in a hospital. In a coma. In a place called Earth. Sorinthia doesnât exist. You donât exist. This is a dream. This is a dream, isnât it, Ori?â
âYes.â Ori said, quietly, her head sagging.
James began to walk back towards the river, and then stopped. âWhat am I doing?â Sorrel asked, turning back around. James struggled to return to the forefront of Sorrelâs mind, but Sorrel was too powerful right then. âOri, letâs head back. I want to go back to the cottage.â
âOkay, Sorrel,â Ori agreed, sounding very chipper, with no hint of how morose she had just sounded.
âNo!â James cried. âI have to get back to my mother!â
âCome on, Ori, letâs go!â Sorrel said.
James sunk to his knees. âThe dream is too powerful! I canât leave!â
Sorrel stood back up. âWhat are you waiting for?â
But James tried one, last desperate time. He flung himself towards the river. Ori caught his shoulder, stopping him.
âSorrel. Your name is Sorrel,â She said, staring into his eyes.
âYes. Yes it is.â Sorrel replied.
âNo! Itâs not!â James shouted.
âYes it is.â Ori said, and leaned in and kissed him. Hard. Fiercely. Sorrel kissed her back, matching her intensity.
Ori broke away and said, âStay in the dream, Sorrel.â
âYes. Stay in the dream.â Sorrel agreed, and Ori kissed him again. And deep within the recesses of his consciousness, James gave up and died.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamesâs 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 Jamesâs motherâs shoulder. âDonât fret, Mrs. Smith, heâll wake up again.â
A tear rolled down Jamesâs mothers face. âBut what if he doesnât?â She looked up at Krista, pleading. Kristaâs red hair and large earrings were somehow comfortable. Krista bent down on one knee.
âHe will, Mrs. Smith. Donât worry.â
âI know what the doctors said. But I just canât shake the feeling that Iâve lost my son forever.â