David pushes the map away and laughs.
“Of course it is.”
He hadn’t really put much stock in LaFleur’s explanation of “magic,” brief as it was. He hadn’t disbelieved it, exactly, but it was a level of detail he’d considered unnecessary. They already had people who could fly, manipulate the weather, run at impossible speeds… it was all magic, as far as David was concerned. The fact that some magic appeared to come from a complicated jumble of genetic sequences and some came from… well, spells, apparently—he’d considered that tactically irrelevant.
Now he isn’t sure.
He tries to think back on what LaFleur said about it—not much, based on what he remembers. He still can’t remember what happened to him in the few days before he woke up on the island, except for the fragment of the conversation he had with LaFleur on the plane. The only information that puts it in any kind of context is the explanation LaFleur gave when the topic first came up:
It’s power. It’s power that has existed for a very long time. It predates any civilization that we are aware of. It is not found in history books—the people who claimed to be magicians were, by and large, charlatans. The knowledge is not shared freely: the practice of magic is as much a religion as it is a discipline, and the power seems to represent a very specific point of view that is absolutely opposed to any other point of view. The belief system it represents is largely alien to our understanding.
Not a lot to go on. The only other significant thing he can remember is LaFleur’s explanation of why it’s so dangerous:
It harms the soul. The essence of your ‘life force,’ if the term ‘soul’ offends you. Most of us, metahuman or not, are equally vulnerable to it.
Still not entirely useful, but it’s something. Magic isn’t physical—or, at least, it doesn’t start physical. If magic is what keeps the island trapped in a 24 hour loop in 1992, then it obviously becomes physical at some point.
Maybe that’s the problem. All David’s notes are focused on dealing with the island physically—exploring, testing the boundaries of what he can change and what he can’t. Even his attempts to get past the 10 PM barrier were acts of endurance. Maybe he needs to approach this from a different angle—one that’s less physical. Assuming his notes are reliable—and he’s assuming they are—he’s going to fall asleep by 10 PM, whether he wants to or not. If he can’t fight it, maybe he can work around it.
David spends the rest of the day relaxing. He reads through the newspaper, stretches out on the couch, enjoys the sounds of the tropical birds cawing outside, and soaks up the air conditioning: by the time the sun sets, he’s thoroughly relaxed. He eats a light dinner, washes his clothes in the washer, showers, and at about nine in the evening he locks the front door and heads off to bed. He leaves a quick note for himself in the notepad, checks the time on the windup alarm clock by the bed, stretches out, and closes his eyes.
He starts moving the index and middle finger on his right hand: index finger down, middle finger up, then switch, as if he were alternating between two keys on a piano. Gradually the movements grow smaller and smaller, until finally his fingers aren’t moving but his muscles are still contracting, ever so slightly, in that continuous pattern. Index up, middle down. Index down, middle up. Over and over and over, as his breathing grows regular and his eyes grow heavy. Over and over and over, until he finds himself lying down in a field near his parent’s house—a lush, green field, far greener than he ever remembers seeing it. His fingers are still twitching, index up, middle down, index down, middle up, and he stays that way for a few seconds, taking in a clear blue sky and listening to the sound of ducks splashing around in a pond he knows is just behind a copse of trees to his left. Then, very slowly, he raises his left hand and pinches his nose, closing off his nostrils. He tries to inhale and is overpowered by the sweet smell of hay.
He can smell when he shouldn’t be able to. He’s dreaming.
David learned the trick to lucid dreaming while he was in the army. He got the idea listening to an interview with a professional athlete who used it to help her train. When he finally figured it out, he used it the same way: he’d go over whatever he was being trained in as he slept, practicing continuously, and when he woke up he remembered what he'd done. It worked, and he used it almost all the time until his concussion. The concussion made it hard to dream, lucid or otherwise. The concussion is gone now, and the lucid dreaming is back.
He sits up in the field, idly wondering what to do. Usually when he did this he had a specific goal in mind, but the only goal he has at the moment is running out the clock. He has to wait at least an hour before he tries to wake up—an hour to get past the 10 PM barrier at least, then maybe another two to break through into the next day. Would it be enough?
David assumes it all depends on how picky this “sleep wall” is. Right now he is fully in REM sleep, which is as deep as it gets—he just happens to be aware. How will that affect him? Will it affect him at all?
Something ripples in the horizon. David squints, and he sees it again—a momentary darkening of an otherwise clear sky at the edge of what he can see. A moment later he sees a more persistent change: clouds gather at the edges, and a low rumble echoes across the sky.
David stands, frowning as he watches the thin line climb up into the sky, now a proper wall of storm clouds rolling toward him. This isn’t supposed to happen. This is my dream. I control it.
But he doesn’t: the dream he’s in is changing against his will, and while he’s still lucid within it, he’s no longer wholly in control. Something is invading, and he’s fairly certain he knows what it is: it’s almost 10 PM. The storm bearing down on him represents whatever is going to happen to the island when sleep falls.
He watches it warily, listening to the thunder boom like distant war drums. The ducks in the pond quack and honk nervously. The wind changes direction. David smells the ocean.
He takes a moment to change his dream. He’s standing on the cracked stone floor of an open dojo in the middle of an endless grassy plain. This is a dream he used years ago, when he was trying to master staff fighting. The storm front is still there, closer now. He’s not surprised by that: he didn’t want it rolling over a place and a memory that was important to him. What will happen, he wonders, when the storm finally rolls over him? He’s starting to see more than just the clouds—occasional flashes of lightning illuminate bits of a beach and the ocean beyond. Esperanza is coming.
David realizes he doesn’t have to wait. The problem with his attempts to deal with the island in the past was that he tried to deal with it on its own terms, within the boundaries it set. This is different: he isn’t entirely in control here, but neither is it. He can choose to resist it, to try to weather it… or he can simply go there.
This is a dream; he can fly.
He rises into the air, feeling a momentary thrill as the ground loses its hold on him. He soars into a still-blue sky, reveling for a moment at the sun on his face and the wind in his hair. Then, floating above the earth, he turns to face the storm. He sees it approach, acknowledges its strength. Then, marshaling all the will he can, he races toward it. The world blurs, the wind screams, and suddenly he is engulfed in darkness and fire.
Lightning tears through the sky, slicing past him and branding the ground below. He feels its power, but he isn’t afraid. He’s floating over the beach, now—the same beach he washed up on, as best he can tell. Trees whip back and forth in the wind, some bending over impossibly far without breaking. The ocean rolls up and breaks over the sand with enormous force: David can almost feel the island shake as the surf crashes down. He is soaking wet from the sheets of water pouring from the sky, but he’s not cold. He is no longer in his dream, entirely, but he’s not quite in the island’s reality either. He still has control of his own persona, and his persona is unaffected by the weather.
He flies higher and turns inland. He catches his breath for a moment: though it’s too dark to see much of anything other than shadow, bright white lights shine in the distance, swiveling to and fro like lighthouse beacons, cutting swaths into the darkness then winking out, only to return again moments later. The white lights are spaced evenly from each other, and David is reminded of the red, censored areas on the Esperanza map—specifically, the ones set along the coast. Is that what he’s seeing?
There is another light, set very far inland—a thin green beam of light that rises into the sky. He stares at it in fascination, wills himself to move toward it—and is surprised to find himself thrown backwards. He spins through the air, catching himself after a moment’s disorientation, and in that moment he feels the full force of the storm bearing down on him—the sting of sand and rain beating against him, the deafening roar of the wind and thunder, the deep cold of the water washing over him. Then he has control again, and the ferocity of the storm slides away.
He stays where he is, hovering above the tree line, watching the storm rage on. The green line of light that disappears into the sky remains constant and untroubled by his presence, and he does not provoke it by trying to draw near.
A voice rises out of the storm. It’s a familiar voice, but he can’t remember where he’s heard it. It crashes down around him louder than the wind and the thunder, strong and commanding and full of power. He doesn’t recognize the words, but it sounds like a poem: four lines repeated, over and over again. Each time it repeats the voice grows louder, and each time the green light grows brighter, until at last he can see the silhouette of mountains around its base. The voice reaches a crescendo, and finally after uttering the last line it shouts a single word. In an instant the storm dies: the rain and wind cease completely. Only the clouds in the sky and the occasional rumble of thunder remain.
Moments later David hears a horn, followed by others. The sound comes from the direction of the green light, and it dives deep into his bones, stirring up memories that don’t precisely belong to him. The horns are not calling me, he thinks, but they are calling.
Something replies: a low, rumbling pulse, deep and wet, rises out of the waters behind him. He turns to look and sees dark shapes emerge from the ocean. Distorted, snakelike salamanders crawl out of the water on long, grasping limbs, twisting in serpentine fashion as they make their way across the sand, disappearing into the forest. Their skin is rubbery and black, their heads are eyeless, little more than gaping maws filled with rows of teeth. They glow, ever so faintly, with green light, and as they walk their eyeless heads all turn toward the distant green beacon.
Wave after wave they come, out of the depths and ever inland, the horns blowing to call, their maws opening to bellow their strange, wet cry in return. There is no end to them—legions disappear into the trees as legions more emerge from the ocean. And then the horns falter. The creatures stop, muttering to themselves uneasily. And then, once again, David hears a voice—the same voice from before, strong and commanding, but now it’s tinged with something else… something angry and desperate.
The voice shouts its words defiantly, and after the third repetition, the green beacon turns a deep, crimson red. The creatures make a new sound, now. Higher-pitched, urgent… angry. Afraid. The red light begins to pulse in regular intervals. After the second pulse, David sees a sphere of red beginning to form at the light’s terminus. The sphere grows with each pulse, and finally it begins to pulse as well, expanding with each strobe. The strong, defiant voice grows louder, rising in pitch as it had before, until finally it speaks a final word once more.
And then the sphere explodes.
Red light washes over the island, twisting everything in its wake. David hears the creatures scream in terror, then realizes that he is doing the same. It rushes toward them, rushes over them, and for an instant David feels pain unlike any he’s ever felt before…
He bolts upright, gasping for breath. The bedroom is silent, save for the ever-present hum of the air conditioner. He sits there for a moment, trembling, then remembers to look at the clock on his nightstand. It’s a little after 2 AM.
He gets up, goes into the living room, and opens the now unlocked door, stepping outside into the warm, dry calm. There’s no sign of a storm, the ground is not wet, there is no debris, the sky is clear and full of stars. He goes back inside, locks the door, then goes to the kitchen and looks at the full gallon jug of milk sitting in the refrigerator. The island, it seems, has reset.
But he hasn’t.
“I did it,” David says, a grin slowly forming on his face. “I beat the island.”
And then, moments later, he remembers everything.