New Ridgewood, 2

Wherever Vree was, she could not see much, just gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath her blankets when she and Zoey used them for tents in her bedroom. But she was not beneath her blankets. The grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and she floated and rolled and swam in it, which made her certain she was dreaming.

There was nothing to look at, only her hands and arms and the rest of her body below her head, though they were almost impossible to see in the grayness. She wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt—the kind she wore as pajamas. She also had a pair of white ankle socks on feet that seemed far away. They floated in and out of sight.

She grew bored with floating, so she sat, surprised to find a plush seat beneath her—a sofa by its size and shape when she stretched out her arms on either side.

“Nice,” she said.

The sofa made a comfortable bed.

“Very nice.”

She floated alone. And she liked it.

She floated with her sofa, going nowhere.

There was no sense of emergency here—no alarm to awaken her to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Chase’s baseball games and Emma’s piano recitals.

She liked that, too.

Except for the infinite grayness. It was like being underwater. She searched for color. She had seen plenty of colorful underwater worlds of coral reefs and tropical fish.

But this was not the ocean.

“Where am I?” she asked a pinpoint of white light far above her, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.

An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed her. Whatever was there was important. Perhaps color was there.

“Hurry,” she said to her sofa, which floated and ignored her requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there. Now.”

“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the seat to her right.

“Daddy?” Vree squealed, delighted to hear his voice.

“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape in the seat next to her. She scrambled from her seat and leapt in his embrace of long arms that wrapped around her and held her close. His Aqua Velva cologne made her grin wide while she snuggled against him.

Sudden white light bathed them as though someone had flicked on a light switch. Vree fell from her father’s embrace but remained snuggled against him. He wore his usual dark work suit and shoes—all business. And her T-shirt was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas.

She smiled a short-lived grin at her father who now wore his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas.

“How did you change clothes so fast?” she asked.

“It’s Christmas,” he said, pointing a long finger at the infinite white space in front of them. Vree looked. She wanted to see a Christmas tree and decorations there, but there was none. No Christmas smells of cookies and cake, and no carols playing in the background. No noise at all.

Someone coughed. A quick, soft cough loud enough that it sent her attention to an armchair that descended from above them. It stopped in front of the sofa and a girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.

“You look like me,” Vree said.

The doppelganger smiled at her, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of skinny leg jeans—Vree’s favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore Vree’s oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her blonde hair—either fastened in a bun or a ponytail in the back—was pulled tight from her face.

Vree noticed her own hair was loose and draped around her neck and shoulders.

“Who is she?” Vree asked her father.

“I’m you,” the doppelganger said.

“This is such a weird dream,” Vree said. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about me before.”

“’Tis no dream, girlfriend,” the other Vree said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.

“Hush,” Charles said to her. Then, to Vree, he said, “She’s your subconscious. She needs to be a part of you, not floating here without you. You must pull her in so you can recover. The two of you need to be one again.”

Vree clutched her father’s arm in a tight embrace. “Recover from what?”

“A coma,” the other Vree called out. “Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, unconscious.”

Vree scowled at the girl. “I don’t like this dream. I wish you’d go away.”

“You’re in denial, girlfriend. But that doesn’t change the facts. You need to wake from this coma.”

“I don’t believe you,” Vree said. “Daddy’s right here. This is just a dream trying to go bad.” She searched her father’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”

Charles met her gaze. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to embrace your subconscious again.”

Vree shook her head.

“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Charles said. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You need your subconscious so you can live.”

Vree let go of his arm and scooted away. She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “This is just a dream.”

No one said anything.

Vree uncrossed her arms and looked down at herself. She no longer wore the Bugs Bunny shirt. Her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt made her think of rain, thunder, and—

“If this isn’t a dream, then where am I?”

“Somewhere between life and death.”

Vree moaned and shook her head.

“Hey-hey, girlfriend,” the other Vree called out, “where’s the love?”

“I don’t love you!”

“Without her, you cannot live,” Charles said.

“If all this is true and you’re dead but I’m not, I don’t wanna live without you.”

“Hush your nonsense, Verawenda Renee. You need to continue living. You need to do important things where you’re going. Now, sit up straight, chin out, and bring your subconscious to you. Think it and it will happen. Accept her and she will come. Let it happen.”

Vree frowned at him. He had moved closer to her. She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. He lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he released it. A white light glowed from her hand, spread up her arm, then over her body until the light bathed her.

Across the short distance, white light bathed the other Vree.

“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go.” Charles’s form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush her interruption. “You can do this.”

He vanished.

The light hurt Vree’s eyes, so she covered them with her hands. She did not see the lights from each body connect and become one.

“Breathe,” the other Vree said, her voice coming from all directions.

“I am breathing.” Vree sucked in a breath. “See?”

“Deeper. I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

Vree uncovered her eyes but kept them closed. Then she took in a deep breath.

The light vanished. So did Vree.

*.*.*