Daniel Wittiker is a loser. Daniel Wittiker is the most important human in the world. Opinions may vary.
I’ve died for the seventh time now. I’ve had that nightmare where that giant whale drowns me, again. It’s eyes: so human, so hungry, enjoyed watching me die. Brandon’s Dreams and the Human Brain book said everyone we ever dream of is someone we’ve seen in real life. The thing is, I met this strange, beautiful girl today with no name. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I know her from somewhere. But where? She claims she’s not from Earth, and she needs my help getting back home. Honestly, I would have dismissed the incident as another stupid prank by Tommy Haddock, if it weren’t for those familiar eyes.
I died for the eighth time last night. Now I know why her eyes were so familiar. That beautiful stranger is my killer. Now, she’s threatened to kill the person that matters most to me if I don’t cooperate with her sick plan to take over every mind in the human race. Cassidy Evans, I would have married you, if I didn’t already plan on dying for you.
Enjoy a sneak peek, read chapter one today!:
“Did you know that in your dreams you only ever see people you’ve actually seen in real life? Like, background people and everything? Every single person is someone you’ve seen before.”
“Why are you telling me this, Brandon?” Daniel dropped his spoon, a splash of milk and Cheerios dousing the table. He had that terrible nightmare again last night. He had drowned for the seventh time now. He awoke in a bed of sheets drenched with sweat. Again.
“I just read it in my new Dreams and the Human Brain book. Isn’t that neat, Daniel?” The toaster rejected two slices of burnt toast stuffed in its gut. Brandon snatched them in anticipation. “That means even Alice could make an appearance in my dream!”
There was something about that whale from his dream. It turned the water into blood. It pushed him under water with one giant fin. It enjoyed watching Daniel drown. It enjoyed it. Daniel would never forget those eyes; so strangely human. To whom did they belong? To Alice? Maybe they were Tommy Haddock’s targeting eyes.
Brandon snatched his backpack from the arm of the chair, whirling around for the door. “Did you know that giraffes give birth standing up? The baby falls seven feet to the ground when it’s born.” He hiked his canvas backpack further up his shoulder. “Dan- Daniel. What if we were born like that? Like- having to survive a seven-foot drop before we even take our first breath? How crazy would that be?”
“I think you did.” Daniel mumbled, pushing his beanie further up a massive thicket of auburn hair. His tongue fidgeted with the new piercing in his lip, just over a month old. It still stung; his lip still ached. Maybe the lady had pierced it wrong? He wasn’t sure if he liked it, but he wanted to. He wanted to be the person who wore a lip piercing convincingly.
The bus screeched to a stop before their road. It was the last week of school. Daniel sighed. Maybe Tommy wouldn’t see him today. Maybe Katie Harris would. But she never did, and Tommy had an impeccable radar. His stomach burned on. But it didn’t burn as much as his lip did.
The bus door swung open with a concentrated smack. “Mornin’ boys.” Alice muttered. A pungent cloud of Marlboro and Hennessy welcomed the boys. It was her preferred perfume over every other woman’s Chanel No. 5.
“Good morning Alice!” Brandon’s short legs lurched over every step, eager to stare his secret crush in the eyes. “Alice, did you know that the people you see in your dreams are people you’ve seen before in everyday life? Every single person is someone you’ve seen- even just for five seconds. Not a single face is made up. That means you could be in one of my dreams! Did you know that?”
Her caked-on blue eyeliner darted up as her eyes bulged. “Am I driving you to school in your dreams too?”
“Ha, ha, uh- did you know that baby giraffes— ”
“God, Brandon, come on.” Daniel snatched the handle of his little brother’s backpack and shoved him down the cramped isle. The morning ritual began. Daniel kept his head bowed and eyes focused. He felt the countless eyes glaring over brown, ripped pleather seats heavy with graffiti and curse words. He stared at his brother’s initials stitched into his blue backpack like he’d never seen such incredible runes before; like he wasn’t reading them for the millionth time: BRW. BRW. BRW. Sweat moistened his beanie.
“I heard he does drugs.”
“His mom’s a hooker.”
“His dad’s in jail.”
Daniel swallowed hard. Just get to your seat. Just get to your seat.
One eager red-head jumped up, giant grin ready to swallow Daniel whole. “Hey, Wittiker! How many guys did your mom sleep with last night?”
Daniel kept his eyes focused despite his face burning red. It wasn’t true; mom wasn’t a hooker. She was a dancer. Perhaps she had slept around in the past, but that was common. That’s what girls do. At least, that’s what mom told him.
Daniel pushed his brother faster down the aisle. But Tommy reached over and snatched Daniel’s book out of his hands. “Whatchya’ readin’, little girl?”
“Hey, come on.”
Tommy cackled as he elbowed Daniel’s hands away. He examined the cover, smacking his gum. “Outcast of Redwall?” Tommy shook his head, “What the hell is this? A book about furry little animals in capes? What a woman.” He jeered, friends cackling behind him in tune.
“It’s not – it’s a war story. Just give it back, please.”
Tommy blew a bubble, tapping the book in his palm. “If you want your chick lit back so badly, then work for it, Danny boy.” He raised it high above his head. Tommy was the tallest kid in class and Daniel was no match for his reach.
“Come on man.” He stared at Tommy, not even trying.
Tommy popped another giant bubble in Daniel’s face, holding the book up high, “Work for it, Wittiker.”
“Hey- hey Tommy!” Brandon pushed Daniel away. “Did you know a naked mole rat lives its whole life underground?” Brandon was blissfully ignorant of middle school classes. Social classes. He was in his last year of elementary school, after all, so what did he know?
“Shut up Brandon.” Daniel mumbled, palms sweating, staring at his cherished possession in Tommy’s greasy fingers.
Tommy leaned down, placing the book under his arm. Great, now his favorite book stunk of Tommy’s unwashed armpits. “Is that so, Brandon? Why don’t you tell us some more fun facts, huh?” Tommy antagonized. Laughter broke out, stroking Tommy’s ego (an altogether shaky infrastructure).
Daniel’s face was on fire. “Come on Brandon.” He shoved his brother farther away from ground zero. He figured he’d never get the book back at this point.
“Hey don’t you want your chick lit, woman?” Tommy took out his wad of gum and pasted it between the pages of the book. Daniel turned, horrified, as Tommy threw the book at him.
Daniel opened the book in disgust, watermelon big league chew stretching across the pages of his favorite book. “What the hell man?”
Tommy smiled, “What? I saved your place for you.” He cackled, turning back down in his seat with fellow pirates.
Daniel and Brandon retreated to their regular seat in the back, and Daniel suctioned his forehead to the smudged-up window. He ripped out his walkman and shoved the headphones over his ears. Nirvana. Highest possible volume. He tucked his book back into his bag, closed his eyes, and hoped the whole world might vanish around him. But there was no escape for Daniel. Those hideous eyes of the great whale taunted him again. But they did not belong to Tommy. So, to whom did they belong?
The school bus vomited Daniel off early. Like some sort of cosmic blessing, the school had received a bomb threat and so South Lincoln Middle School had early dismissal. Daniel survived another day (if survival was the word for it). But his book had an altogether different ending. Daniel stared at the sticky remains of one of his favorite books yet. Daniel burned. It was the second book Tommy left his trademark in this month.
Kicking a stone, he walked passionless toward home. His inner autopilot told him to go inside. Empty house, empty fridge. One eight-year-old television. One five-year-old stereo. Routine told him to ignore homework until the final hour and instead drown himself in a sea of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, maybe even a little Stone Temple Pilots, and a stack of Brian Jacques novels untouched by the greasy hands of Tommy Haddock. Perhaps he’d even finish learning “Pennyroyal Tea” on his bass today. Daniel fidgeted with his lip piercing, staring at his apartment complex. The piercing scolded him like his history teacher, Mrs. Fleming, had. The lady had definitely pierced it wrong.
“Hey. Hey, you. Kid.”
Daniel glowered over his shoulder. A young girl stood there. She was his age, surely. But he had never seen her before. He took off his headphones. “Yeah?”
“What’s your name?”
“Are you deaf? I asked you your name.”
He blinked. “Daniel.”
“Daniel? Ugh. That’s- that’s so common.”
“Okay?” Daniel put his damaged book into his backpack.
She placed her hands on her hips. “Were you born here?”
Daniel studied her. Short, platinum white hair boasted a unique shimmer. Giant, strange-colored eyes sat far apart on a perfectly round face like two islands in a great ocean. They were permanent, resolute, like a fish’s lidless stare. Thick, full lips pouted in disappointment. She was a beautiful stranger. “Was I born here? Do you mean, like, in this apartment complex? Or, like, in this town?”
White eye brows shot up as she tapped her tiny foot.
“I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital three miles away. Why? Who are you?”
She studied him for a moment. She pointed at her face, “Do you recognize me?”
Strange, long ears came to an odd point at the ends. Abnormally small hands. “No. Should I? Who are you?”
She crossed her arms, nostrils flaring, “Blisters! I thought you were the one.”
“What do you mean? Who exactly are you looking for?” He glanced back at the apartment complex, “I know everyone here. I can bring you to their apartment if that’s what you need.” Her intimidatingly pretty face would make him do anything. He was sure of it.
She walked up to him slowly, full lips twisting together. Giant eyes sparkled like a stone he had seen in Brandon’s Discovery book. She leaned over, staring him dead in the eyes.
Nervous, he backed away.
“You don’t have any idea who I am?”
“If you need help finding someone I can— ”
“Did you have any dreams last night?”
The whale flashed across his mind again. He swallowed hard. Why would she ask such a question?
She cocked her head, smile appearing, “You did.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“What did you dream about last night?”
“Uh…” He wanted to forget and only forget that nightmare, “…A whale.” He glanced down, embarrassed, “It was huge. Massive. Like… the size of the whole ocean.” He swallowed hard. Why was he telling this stranger his reoccurring nightmare? “And I was swimming next to it. It’s giant eyes stared at me. It was like the moon was staring at me. The whale became angry, so angry that the water turned hot and boiled like a pot of water. It turned into blood. The whale pushed me under water with its giant fin. It knew I was drowning but it didn’t care.” Daniel’s heart pounded in his chest, “And I was boiled alive like a lobster.”
A smile flashed across her face. She stood tall before him, “Look at me, Daniel.”
He swallowed hard. Never before had a girl wanted Daniel to stare at him, never mind command him to do so.
“You do recognize me, don’t you?”
This time he studied her. Her face: so round, so pure; it glowed like the pearls on his grandma’s necklace. Her frame was full, hips mature like a woman, feet compact like a girl. His eyes strolled upward from her feet to her hips. Then there was those eyes; there was something about them. Some glow within them seemed to lull him into a comfort he found only in books or music. Now that he truly examined her, there was something strangely familiar about her.
“Daniel,” She whispered, warm fingers touching his arm, “You do know me, don’t you?”
“Yeah… I- I think so.” He admitted in disbelief. But he didn’t. He had never, ever seen her before. So why was she familiar?
Her shockingly strong fingers gripped his forearm. “Do you have any siblings?”
“Yeah. A little brother. And one older half-sister; but she’s in California, and she’s like twenty-three.”
“Your brother… he lives with you?”
“Yeah. Brandon. His name’s Brandon.”
“Brandon,” she whispered like it was a forbidden secret. “He too was born here?”
“Where is he?”
“Okay.” Rushing passed him, she snatched his arm, “Take me there.”
“What?” Daniel dug his heels into the ground. But she was too strong; she had to be even more powerful than Tommy. “We can’t go now!”
“We have to go now.”
“Why? What’s happening? Who are you?” He dug his old combat boots deeper into the thirsty earth, in vain.
“I need to be certain.”
“Ugh! Your kind asks too many questions!”
Your kind? “Look, even if I did take you to Brandon now there’s no way you’d be able to talk to him. He’s in class still. And come on- who the hell are you anyway?”
Her head fell as she released an impatient sigh. Turning around, her eyes flashed like a thousand glittering stars, “I’m going to try to put this in terms your kind will understand.”
There was that phrase again.
Her fingers laced together, face softening as though she were entertaining a puppy. “Have you ever seen a fish in a pond swimming right at the water’s edge?”
She batted thick eyelashes, straining to remain patient, “Have you ever tried to snatch it with your bare hands because you were so certain you could?”
His dad took him fishing once when he was eight. That was his only memory of his dad, and it was so awkward, so uncomfortable, that he pledged to forget the day altogether and conclude it to be a bad dream.
“I’m that fish. And someone has snatched me out of my pond.”
“Wait, what? Are you saying you’ve been kidnapped or something?”
She busted out in hysterical laughter, kneeling on her legs for support and everything. “Oh, my Dessians! Your kind is simpler than I thought!” She gasped for air, studying his weak frame once more, “How old are you? Fifteen, maybe eighteen thousand years old?”
“Thousand? What? I’m fifteen!”
“You’re only fifteen thousand years old?”
“No! I’m fifteen years old! Only fifteen years! My God, are you kidding me? I mean, really, is this some kind of joke or something?”
Her tiny hand covered her mouth as she released another chuckle, “Dessians above. So you’re only fifteen years old?You’ve only just learned to walk then, haven’t you?”
His head jerked back, brow furling in confusion.
“How long does your kind live for again?”
Daniel pursed his mouth, eyes studying her every detail once more. Had Tommy paid this random girl to prank him too? Or maybe this was a middle finger from Liam. Daniel’s hand came over his chin, wiping all the way up to his beanie. He sighed. “Look, I know this is probably hilarious for you but I’ve had a really long day. So just tell whoever paid you to do this that you got me good.” Daniel turned, shoulders hunched under the weight of embarrassment. God, I hate my life.
“Paid me?” She echoed over his shoulder, “What does that mean?”
Good God, is she kidding me? Daniel stomped onward, head down, toward apartment twenty-one. But he was flung around violently. He stumbled to regain his footing. The girl was but inches from his nose, “Listen to me Daniel. I’m not from here, okay? I need to get back home. And I’m dead certain you’re my ticket back.” Her eyes fell away from his and she whispered, “I’m going to get what’s owed to me.”
Daniel stared at her. Her features seemed less and less human all the time. Was this even really happening? Whatever this was, it was better than the reality waiting for him at home. Daniel sighed, “okay. I have no clue what the hell any of that means, but I’ll help you. What do you need from me?”
She pushed her shoulders back as her hands situated themselves on curvaceous hips, “Okay, take a good look at me again. Do you have a scroll? Oh, sorry I mean a notebook? Right? That’s the term your kind uses nowadays, isn’t it? A wide stack of paper all hooped together? That’s a notebook, right?”
“Yes. I have a notebook.”
“Okay, I need you to draw me.”
His brow knit together. “You want me to draw you?”
“Sketch every detail. Go on, then.” She waved him on.
Daniel swung his messenger bag around, yanked out a bent up notepad packed with band pictures, lyrics, and overdue homework. He grabbed a pencil and knelt down. Time passed rather quickly, as Daniel was not fond of sketching. “Okay… now what?”
She ripped the pad out of his hand, eyes scouring the image. “What? What is this? This is garbage.” she ripped the picture out and crumpled it up.
“Hey, come on, I really tried! Sorry I’m no Van Gogh but what did you expect?”
“No Van Gogh is right. That man was a genius with a thrilling dark side. Now his mind was an incredibly fun place to— ” she stopped short, glancing at Daniel, “Okay well, there’s still one other way. Do you have one of those things- it’s like a small, rectangular thing,” Her fingers desperately made a shape in the air, “Your kind loves to smile at it and make odd faces at it. Do you have one of those?”
He shook his head, scoffing. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She stomped her foot, groaning. “Okay, it’s like a gadget of some sort. It’s one of your kind’s higher-end inventions. Like, okay, so you put it to this mandible-” Her fingers snatched Daniel’s ear and the tug made his heart skip a beat “-And you talk into it. What is that thing? You should have one. All your kind does.”
Daniel laughed out loud this time. “Seriously? You’re talking about a mobile phone? How do you not know the name of a mobile phone?” He whipped his out of his back pocket. It was a scuffed-up Nokia with a cracked screen. Mom got it for a great price at the pawn shop. “What do you want with it?”
“Okay, so those things take copies of your faces, right? Take a copy of mine with it.”
He raised it up. “Smile or whatever.” Daniel snapped the shot.
She snatched the phone from his hands and glanced reluctantly, “ It’ll do,” her fingers closed his around the phone, “Okay now study this image all day if you have to.”
Gladly, he thought. “Why?” He asked.
“You need to remember it when you go to sleep tonight.”
I will regardless, he thought. “Why?” He repeated.
“Oh, and you need to show this picture to Brandon too. Make sure he studies it.”
“And one last thing.” She gripped Daniel’s fingers tighter. She could have asked him to jump off a building and he was sure he’d enjoy the flight down, “You must sleep beside your brother tonight.”
Daniel blinked. “What.”
“Yes, you must. You have to. And you must hold hands when you go to sleep.”
“What?” He yelped. “Why ever do I have to do that?“
“Explaining it would go right over your fifteen-thousand-year-old little head.” She dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. “Now remember if you or your brother sees me in your dreams tonight, you must remember to repeat these words.” She raised Daniel’s arm and snatched the pen from his messenger bag. Rolling up his plaid checked shirt, she wrote the words Felite Ara Finis Staros on his wrist. Daniel repeated it back, confused as ever.
“Yes very good. You’re a good reader.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Okay so if Brandon or I see you in our dreams tonight, we must say this?” He realized just how insane (and naive) he sounded.
She smiled for the first time. It was gorgeous. “Yes. Now promise me you’ll do all that I asked of you, tonight.”
Daniel sighed, swallowing his pride. Both went down like a horse pill. She was so pretty and Daniel hadn’t had this long of a conversation with any girl before, ever. He wanted it to happen again. “Okay yes, I- we will. Promise.”
“Okay, and every night too.”
He deflated. “Oh come on now I have to do this every night?”
“Yes! I’m not sure when I will see you again in this realm. The timing here and in my realm are so vastly different, it’s hard to determine a minute later from a century later. So you must do this every night until you see me again. Chances are you may see me in your dreams again first so you must say this phrase or I won’t see you and it won’t work.”
“It won’t work? What won’t work?”
“We cannot risk losing a single night, so please just promise me, Daniel. Do this every night.”
Daniel finally remembered the gem her eyes looked like from Brandon’s Discovery book. They were like two glistening opals. “I promise. Every night.”
“Okay, Daniel Wittiker, until next time… sweet dreams!” She smacked a kiss on his cheek, and darted into the forest surrounding the apartment complex. Daniel froze, incapable of processing what just happened. His hand came over his cheek.
”Oh and don’t drink anything blue- or – or orange!” She yelled desperately over a thicket.
“Okay!” Daniel replied, waving. But how did she know his last name?