This story is by Rachel Rheam and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Shimmering snowflakes floated around her face, landing on her knitted cap, her frozen nose, her down jacket, and her clenched fists. In the back of Aurora’s mind she saw each tiny snowflake, as the dawn spread out across the mountain tops, making the ground, trees, and roads jump to life in a blanket of glitter. She stared down the hill, through the trees, to the town that was waking up below. It began with one or two tendrils of smoke climbing out of early chimneys, but as the sun rose, the valley quickly filled with a smoke bank above the houses. The smell of burning pine reached her and she inhaled deeply.
Her mother would always put three, slender white candles in the center of the table, encircling them with a plastic wreath composed of golden balls, white poinsettia leaves, and silver snowflakes. The flames from the fireplace facing the table would dance across the golden balls of the wreath, matching the white candles when lit at Christmas dinner. Christmas had been three days ago. Beneath her jacket, around her throat lay a golden chain with a small rose at the end, a present from her mother.
Aurora let out a gasping sob, as the endless stream of tears lay frozen tracks across her cheeks. She almost fell to her knees, but stopped herself. She had a long journey ahead of her.
I can do this!
Her older brother and his fiance would be packing their bags, getting ready to return to the city for his final year in medical school. In middle school, she would be out in the fields playing with her friends while her brother would be at home studying. Always studying. When his nose wasn’t in a book, he’d be out in the park, playing soccer or running laps. A small smile stretched across her frozen face, as she remembered how he had always been on the move. Even as he was getting ready to leave medical school, he was preparing for his residency as a future cardiologist.
She saw an old, light blue truck rumble down main street to the Mountain High Cafe, the local favorite. Her throat tightened even further and once again she had to catch herself from falling to her knees. In the back of her parent’s house was a wooden garage where a similar old trunk sat, lovingly and being rebuilt by her father. Memories of running across their back yard, to the garage that smelled so strongly of grease, paint, and gas, to get her father for dinner, flooded her. Working as the local computer technician, her dad had worked long hours saving up college money for his children.
Their success was his success. The harder they worked, the harder he worked. His children were his life. Aurora had just spent her last fall semester at high school as a senior filling out application after application to the top schools with the dream of becoming a lawyer. The acceptance letters would begin to roll in around March and April, although she wouldn’t be there to open them.
Life had been normal, peaceful, and full of so much love. Then, one month ago, everything got turned upside down. It started with the dreams. They were filled with strange voices yelling at each, followed by bright lights, as if explosions were taking place. She’d wake up in a panic, drenched in sweat, her heart thudding. A desire to fight back, to stop the damage was so over powering she wanted to scream. But she didn’t. It was just a dream after all.
Then they changed. She dreamed of random numbers that would repeat over and over. A deep, haunting voice would tell her that she must remember the numbers. Then one night the dreams combined. There were yelling voices followed by explosions, then a cool, calm voice asking her for the numbers. She found herself staring at a vast hologram showing a war breaking out. Beside her stood a tall man with pale blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Again, he asked her for the numbers. A small hologram with hieroglyphics hovered above a number pad, his hand waiting. She suddenly remembered the numbers. They were access codes to activate their defense system.
The dreams stopped. School was out for winter break and Lucas asked her if she wanted to go to the city’s ice rink. A lake north of town would freeze over every winter creating a natural ice rink. Five years ago, their water had been diverted to the cities, causing the lake to shrink and gradually disappear, an event that had caused Aurora great distress, given her love of ice skating.
Lucas. Tall, black hair, brown eyes, big smile and gentlemanly manners. They had grown up together and flirted throughout the years. Ever the gentleman, he waited until Homecoming their Junior year to finally ask her out. Over summer they had gone on long trips with each others’ families. Lucas had filled out the same applications she had.
Two buildings down from the Mountain High Cafe was Ruby’s Book Corner. Two weeks before Christmas, Aurora had gone in to look for books for her mother and her brother’s fiance. In the back section, she felt someone walk up behind her. As she started to turn, she heard a voice in her head, Don’t scream. It’s me. You remember me, right? As the voice gently wafted through her mind like steam wafting over tea, a loving presence suddenly surrounded her. Nothing was touching her, yet she felt something embrace her. All the tension left her body and she smiled. Dreamily, she turned around and found herself staring up into crystal blue eyes topped by pale blonde hair.
Without knowing how, she did remember him. Not just from her dream, but someone she had known for a long, long time. In that moment, she knew that her dreams had not been dreams at all, but real events. For a brief moment, her mind was coexisting in two completely different worlds.
She inhaled deeply as he caressed her left cheek.
She had closed her eyes as she pressed her cheek into his hand, feeling an indescribable warmth spread through her. When she opened her eyes, he was gone. She was standing in the back of the bookstore, blushing at her illusion, while feeling tears burn her eyes as she deeply yearned for the man who had caressed her so softly.
The next two weeks flew by in a haze. Memories of ice breaking, ear-piercing screaming followed by gurgling haunted her dreams. She asked her parents about it, one week before Christmas. When she was six, the ice on the lake had broken. She had been air-lifted to a trauma center where they resuscitated her. She had had no memory of this event until now. The question had startled her parents. Listening to them, she remembered more than just the near-death experience.
When her heart had stopped mid-flight, a transition had taken place on a soul-level. The soul of the little girl left and the soul that is Aurora now, entered. Over the next week leading to Christmas, Aurora began to dream her memories back. She was part of a defense fleet in a nearby star system working to protect the Earth, a planet being targeted for its resources. She had volunteered to work on Earth from its surface, as one of its inhabitants.
They will be safe. The snowflakes continued to lazily fall to the ground as she once again felt herself being embraced. It was the man with pale blue eyes and blonde hair, someone she now knew to be her partner. He wasn’t able to manifest physically, but the two of them shared a deep bond, in which they could touch and communicate.
I know, she replied, as tears slid down her cheeks, but I love them. They are my family. They will have no idea what happened to me. The fear and grief they will feel. . .
Shh. She felt the sensation of arms tightening around her and a non-physical brush against her cheek, We will do what we can to alleviate the pain and suffering. But you need to leave. It’s time.
She closed her eyes, blocking out the peaceful winter image below, and her inner vision was suddenly filled with numbers, the hieroglyphs that she now recognized as her native language, and the weapons of their enemy. She swallowed in a thick throat, squared her shoulders, and opened her eyes. I know. Let’s go.
She turned away from the image below, once again finding herself alone in the tall forest blanketed in white. She was going north, to find a group of other volunteers who were serving the same mission. Together, they would begin to weaken the hold the enemy was gaining on the population of this planet through its chosen leadership.
I’m with you all the way, her partner whispered.