" You exist in a stacked deck, you look in a mirror at your young face, the face your sister carries, and you know it's the only leverage you've got." -Cornelius Eady

I, Reagan Sally Keyes, am a fervent optimist.

Well, mostly.

Except that, when I dream, I dream of blood red skies and blacked out sunsets, blotted, imperceptible ceilings on my world that do an impressive job to conceal my mother's madness. There are no stars, and the weighted one I wear around my neck, have worn, since time out of mind, isn't there to choke the living out of me.

When I wake, I wake to find myself moving. It takes moments to adjust to the burden of being conscious and the sunlight streaming through the broad, lidless windows. When my eyes adjust to the new levels of light intensity, I promptly wish I'd never opened my eyes in the first place. This mouth of mine feels of cotton wool, tongue seems to have ballooned in the night and my clothes carry a distinct stench of yesterday.

A glance around the aged and damp riddled RV confirms that the van is moving too, thank God for his smaller miracles, eating the empty dirt road like it's going out of fashion. My mother in the driving seat gnaws on her lower lip, stares from behind bloodshot, hollow eyes and runs a hand through a mass of unruly red locks.

I cough a little into my hand, an icebreaker, if you will, but the hooded eyes don't even flinch, choosing instead to burn holes of intensity into the upcoming horizon. Lying back down on the creaking cot, I put my finger to work tracing the edges of a faded photograph tacked to the van wall, a picture of my mother, father and me, cracked and creased, and impossible to see unless you wanted to. Unless you'd looked at it so many times it was etched into your memory. I stared at it until my eyelids slid shut again, and thought about it even after I had fallen back into my sky-less pessimism.

We stop at a diner in Bakersfield, Arizona, a run down stone slab of a building that could just as easily be a block of public toilets. I sit groggily in our corner booth and contemplate the appearance of my hair, simultaneously casting glances toward my mother. She was sitting on the edge of my cot when I woke for a second time, which, aside from being decidedly creepy and unsettling, signalled the beginning of something better.

It only occurred to me a solid ten minutes later that, if there ever was a right time to ask why we were going in the opposite direction to our plotted destination- that might've been it.

She lightly threads a paper napkin through her fingers, ignoring the untouched cup of coffee beside her left hand and the concerned daughter radiating helplessness from across the scarred tabletop. I shouldn't ask her, it'd make her more intense, right? Oh, to hell with it.

"Where are we going, mom? What happened to Seattle? I mean Idaho's.pretty, but."

Immense green eyes met my own dark pools and I saw for the first time that behind the seeming desperation and solitude, there was a glint of anticipation in my mother's expression. She was excited about something and I refused to allow myself to entertain the notion that it might be that. No. No way. No how.

"Well, sweetheart, there have been some, um, exciting new developments. Lights, Reag, lots of lights, too many to ignore."

I barely contain the eye-roll that threatens, but I do, and clench my jaw in disbelief. I take a few moments to stop the oncoming hiss fit; breathing through my nose and spitting air back out through gritted teeth. Mother dearest, showing the first signs of common sense since the terrible error in judgement that led to being here, attempts to neither mollify me nor further justify her actions.

"You promised dad you wouldn't. Not this time. You lied to him- every minute we sit here you're lying- and what's worse, you've made me a co- conspirator!"

"Sweetie, I didn't intend for this too."

".You never do, mom, you never do."

She studies the floor and chews on that one for a while. After taking an overblown sip of her now twenty-minute-old coffee, she lets out an almost imperceptible sigh and wrings her hands, massaging her naked wedding ring finger with nervous digits.

"You think I should give him a call, don't you?"

I've never met Lisa Clarke the decisive, spunky and independent young woman. I've seen pictures, and aunt Nina assures me that she did indeed exist, but the Lisa I've known, Lisa Keyes, is a complete and utter wreck of indecisiveness. Unless, of course, the matter is lights or sightings or abductions, then she's all action.

"Uh- yeah." She nods, takes another impossibly large to swallow gulp of caffeine, and then wearily makes her way across to the line of greasy payphones. I block her voice out, try to concentrate on the lull inside the boiling hot restaurant, but words reach me in the gaps of surrounding conversation. A quick look reveals a small, hunch-shouldered, redhead clinging to a phone receiver like a life raft.

I begin to ponder the possibility of another murky mug of tea when I hear my name being called and slide out of the rough vinyl seat to join her. She doesn't say anything, just hands the handset to me. Her eyes are glistened over, but I'm not too concerned, my parents have always held too much passion and emotion for their own good.

"Hey?"

"Hey, Reagan, what- what happened?"

My father sounded a little hazed. I could imagine him now; worry clouding his eyes and his brow creased in an effort to evaluate the situation. Dammit, mom, I love you but you never think of other people, not when you've caught the scent of.of other things.

"I have no idea. One minute we're on our way through Oregon, the next thing I know, we've down a three hundred mile u-turn into Idaho. I'm sorry dad."

"No sweetie, no. It's ok. Just.just put your mother on again, please. Take care, ok. I love you, sweetie, I'll see you soon."

The tide of emotions endangered my blank face, so I waited outside until the phone call finished.

My mother came out after five minutes and, though almost impossible, looked more shattered than before. She looked at me and I could tell she wanted to apologise, but couldn't see the reasoning for why, so I kissed her on the forehead and hugged her tight.

I've always done that, since I was little, and I have no idea why it affects them so much, but when I do, my mother and father never fail to sob uncontrollably.