The night wind blew ceaselessly. Not unusual in this town. Endless plains of desert, interrupted only occasionally by the odd cactus or mesquite trees, did nothing but allow winds to build speed and roar through the small city of Bixby, Oklahoma.
The small girl curled closer into her thin shirt. She was perched lightly on the edge of her bed, poised and ready to leap at the slightest warning. Her feet hovered inches above the ground, not quite reaching the wood panelling that lined the floor of her bedroom. She'd always had to climb onto her bed, not tall enough to slide in as her parents did.
Her eyes were fixed on the clock, watching the blazing green numbers glowing in the darkness even though it stung her eyes. She didn't blink; almost worried she'd miss something devastatingly important if she did.
Her window rattled lightly in the frame as the wind raged past. Cold air seeped through the thin glass making her shiver.
Melissa forced her eyes wide open, staring at the numbers. They were stinging and watering, begging to be closed if just for a moment. More than anything, she wanted to curl into her blankets, clench her eyes tight and hide herself away forever. Away from the noise and the intrusions and the awful tastes that invaded her senses.
Voices arrested her mind, pushing themselves through her head where she should have been safe; should have been alone. She could taste the bitter staleness of the few people still awake at this time. Drunk and stumbling in the streets, or in front of the TV, their minds a dull buzzing of brainwashed mush. Every now and then a sharp prick would jolt her and her mouth would flood with the taste of acid, raw and biting; somewhere in Bixby there was a late night argument, two people hissing under their breaths so not to wake a sleeping child in the next room.
She pushed with all her might at the intruders. Her eyes focused on the clock, she forced the thoughts of the town of Bixby away, and let her own thoughts posses her. So close. It's so close.
She waited. She waited and waited.
The clock clicked over to midnight. It read 12:00 for barely a few seconds – her clock not quite on time. And then it came.
The wild wind died. Not slowly. It didn't fade away in the ebbs and flows it usually did, only to return in full force. It just died. Ended. Disappeared.
In an instant all was silent.
The wind vanished, and the cold air transformed into warmth.
Melissa sighed. Her mind became clearer. Her fingers probed her temples lightly as if trying to assure herself her brain hadn't finally melted away inside her skull. The voices were gone. She cared so little for the lives of those in Bixby. She had learnt after years of confusion that that's what it was she was hearing. Somehow she could hear it. The mindless roar of life. Meaningless. Dull and inconsequential. So insipid and utterly, utterly wrong.
Everything about what Melissa heard was wrong. She didn't want to hear it nor should she be supposed to. She knew she was different. No one else had to put up with this...this...horror. Or if they did they hid it well, because no one felt like she did. No one dreaded morning like she did. No one trembled at the thought of going anywhere populous. The mere idea of school revolted her. Yet everyone else managed. They lived normal lives and thrived on the companionship of others.
If Melissa had it her way she'd be the only resident in Bixby. How wonderful life would be.
And she knew what it would be like. It would be just like this.
The wave of blue light washed over her, draining the world of colour and sound and movement. It was perfectly still. It was hers.
Was it a dream? A beautiful dream where everything was calm and blue, silence and darkness? She didn't know. She'd been visited by this dream her whole life. She didn't know how long it lasted; her clocks never worked in this dream. Never as long as she wished it would, though. She imagined it was about an hour. A perfect beautiful hour. Where all was still and hushed and everything glowed that beautiful blue.
Melissa had forever loved this moment of clarity in a world of murk. For her every day was like living at the bottom of a muddy swamp, unable to clear her vision, her senses smothered and pained. And then, for one glorious hour every night, the water cleared; the crystalline liquid washing away everything, and leaving her clean and pure. Every person was silenced by the perfect blue.
Almost every person.
Melissa felt the voice in her mind. No, not a voice...it was more of a tremor that formed the sounds. A hint of a feeling that wrapped itself into those words.
She'd heard this voice since she could remember. Since before she could talk. When the murky world would be washed away and replaced with a world of blue light, and all that would be left was him.
Melissa's feet were tensed, toes pointed down just barely brushing the wood. She'd been preparing for this. Tonight was the night, she'd told herself in the hour before midnight. She'd sat on her bed, and listened as her parents settled themselves down for the night, unaware their only daughter was still wide awake and planning to leave their house in an hour's time. She'd stared at the clock psyching herself into it. Tonight was the night.
He is real.
He's real, I'm not crazy.
Okay, so she was definitely crazy, but Melissa was certain this tiny pinprick of hope that called to her from somewhere else in Bixby was not just her craziness seeping into her favourite dream.
He is real.
It had taken years for Melissa to think perhaps it wasn't imaginary. This one voice in her precious blue silence. But then perhaps she was just hoping that she wasn't really infecting this hour with her craziness. Perhaps it was all wishful thinking.
He is real.
Melissa shuddered as her feet hit the wood floor. She could do this. Tonight was the night.
Maybe this other person, because he was a person, shared her pain. Shared this world of sound and taste and sick. She'd been at this point for a year. Finding herself poised to run. To find him. But she'd lost her nerve. She was scared that maybe he wasn't real. Maybe she really was crazy.
No! She clenched her eyes shut finally, mercifully, the water pooling and releasing like tears, glad to finally have the relief of blinking. She shook her head angrily trying to free her mind of those thoughts. He was real and tonight she was going to find him. She wasn't thinking about it a second longer.
Her feet padded softly across her floor, brushing gently against the smooth rug that covered the middle of her room. She went to the window, not the door. She couldn't help avoiding the inside of her house, quiet and alien. She recoiled from the memory of her seeing parents, stiff and waxy, frozen by the unearthliness of the midnight blue.
She pushed the window open and crawled through it, passing through what had once been a gale of wind, and was now warm blue stillness. Her bare feet met cool grass, as she dropped lightly from the window ledge.
Her mind sought the voice, relieved and scared all at once. She could hear the fear in her distant friend's mind. Fear of this blue, not sure what it meant. But relief to be alone at last.
Melissa's thoughts wavered between surety that this could only mean he was real, and worry that maybe she was making him up him and casting her own fears into the imaginary friend.
Her steps were tentative at first, carrying her slowly across her front lawn, but by the time her feet reached the road, she was running.
Her clothes rustled loudly in the silent night, her bare feet slapping against the asphalt. Her mind was obsessed with finding this elusive boy – the one who shared her secret hour – and she hadn't even thought about shoes or better clothes than her cowgirl pyjamas.
She ran on, unsure of where she was going, just looking for the boy, his thoughts her only guide. She ran and ran, wanting to make it before her blue world vanished from her, slipping away between her fingers; ungraspable. Irreclaimable.
His mind was leading her who knew where, but still she ran, until she knew she was lost. She still ran. Eyes glinted violet in the shadows as the creepy snake-like creatures that inhabited her dream watched on. They'd never bothered her before, they were unthreatening, but they creeped her out. She still ran. The moon that stole away the night sky with its indigo mass moved swiftly through the black, counting away her precious moments of blue. She still ran.
It felt like she was running down and endless hallway. No exits lined the walls, her only form of escape the single door at the end, calling to her. But no matter how fast or long she ran it never grew closer.
She started to panic. She didn't know how long she'd been running for. It didn't feel like long but time slipped away so quickly here, and she feared she'd lose this dream. If it was a dream. She didn't know how she was going to get home, if it wasn't. Didn't know what she'd do if she was found by the police, miles from home, after curfew.
Maybe she'd claim she had sleepwalked. Then her parents would probably send her back to that doctor. The one they'd sent her to when she told them about her voices. The one who's mind was plagued with thoughts about money and how her, one insignificant small child, was worthless to him apart from an easy cash flow. He'd diagnosed her as aphephobic and having Schizophrenic Psychosis (which Melissa's parents had eaten up but Melissa swore was just two vaguely similar diseases mixed together). He'd prescribed her drugs that had made her dizzy and sick, and only made the voices louder. She'd flushed the meds down the toilet after the first night of restlessness. That night's midnight silence had been more wonderful a refuge to her than any predecessor.
Ever since that horrible turn of events, Melissa had never told anyone about her voices again. She'd hidden it all deep inside her, shied away from everyone. She was even afraid to touch people. Horrified at the thought of delving into the minds of those who so much as brushed her lightly, her mind flooded with every writhing, agonistic thought that had ever possessed them. Most people even shied away from her, having felt the horrible ache of Melissa's pain through her thoughts as they in turn flooded into their mind. They, of course hadn't known what it was – as if anyone would believe that they were hearing her thoughts. Everyone stayed away from Melissa anyway, even her parents. Which is how she preferred it.
Melissa ran on, determined not to be forced to return to that horrid doctor. Determined to make it to the boy. Determined to prove it was all real.
Running became a blur; Melissa's mind, plagued with her own thoughts, almost harder to ignore than the thoughts of others of a day. Her feet carried her onwards, her eyes no longer leading her, but her mind. Her brains swirled with images that accosted her, which explained why she didn't see the gutter looming up under her small feet. She caught her right foot roughly against the cement and found herself sprawled on dying grass. The images of her blue dream, seen from a new perspective churned around inside her head. A new house she'd never seen before. A man she didn't know, chalky and frozen as Melissa had seen her own parents during this dream. And then herself, lying on the dead grass. The surprise that seemed to roil in eddies all around her, tasting powdery in her mouth.
She raised her head and saw him. He looked down on her, the source of the taste in her mouth. He was shocked and scared and awed and relieved all at once. His thoughts and emotions would have bowled her over if she'd been on her feet.
She climbed unsteadily into an upright position, her foot stinging from where it scraped against the gutter, and her soles burning from the long run on the asphalt road.
"You're real." She sputtered, her breath ragged, only just realising how hard her heart was pounding from exertion and anticipation. "I'm really, really glad I'm not crazy."
"Hi," he said. "I'm Rex...I'm glad you're not crazy either. It means...maybe I'm not either."
She shook her head wildly, her body flooding with happiness and relief that she was right. He was real. A smile stretched on her lips. Something that hadn't happened in a long time.
Her hands curled around her pyjama shirt, and she tugged on it unable to stay still. She wanted to leap with joy, that she finally had a friend. Someone who could help her with her suffering. She wasn't alone.
"Let's be sane together, okay?"
Rex smiled at the restless girl, her face crystal clear in this blue time, like everything was for him; his glasses rendered useless. The girl was bouncing on her toes and biting her lip as if ready to burst into a tirade. The girl who's bouncing defied all he'd come to learn of this blue world. That everything was frozen, and that he was alone.
Together, she'd said. He liked that. They could brave this blue world alone, together.
And so when she said to her "okay, cowgirl", he meant it.
Because being alone together, was still better than being alone.