Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fate and Futility

Fate and Futility

When Annabeth Connolly is six, the dreams start.� At fourteen she tries to stop them.� At eighteen, she realizes it's impossible.

Annabeth Connolly is six when the dreams start. The first one starts off innocently enough: a day at the park with Mommy and her dog Baloo. They play on the swings and the slide in the bright sunshine. Annabeth can almost feel the sweat on her forehead and the springy grass underfoot.

It's a wonderful dream. She doesn't even mind being on the teeter-totter with meanie-beanie Tommy from down the street until he suddenly bounces up too fast and she slams down on the ground harder than ever before. Her legs and bottom hurt. She tells Tommy she wants to get off, but he pushes off again and she slams down. This time, however, she falls to the side and her legs crash into the metal support. Fire races through her left knee and brings tears to her eyes.

The pain wakes her up. Her frantic cries for Mommy bring Glenna Connolly dashing into the room. Glenna gathers Annabeth to her chest, kisses the top of her baby's blonde head, and promises that it was just a dream. A nightmare. She's not going to fall off the teeter-totter and break her knee.

Except she does. Three days later. In the same park with Tommy, Mommy, and Baloo. It happens exactly the way it did in her dream. It hurts exactly the same, too. On the way to the hospital, Annabeth desperately tries to make Glenna understand that her dream told her it was going to happen. Glenna, who knows that her daughter's going to have enough supernatural crap to deal with as it is, immediately puts a halt to any talk of special dreams.

Annabeth doesn't like the way her mother's face gets pinched and drawn whenever she starts to mention the dreams, so she keeps them to herself. Unfortunately, not talking abut the dreams doesn't make them go away. Some dreams aren't bad. She sees vocabulary tests before they're given. She sees her seventh birthday party and the color of Baloo's puppies. She also sees her mommy and daddy fighting. All the time. She hears it during the day and dreams about it at night. There's no escape.

Sometimes she tries to stop the bad things from happening. It's got to be the reason she has the dreams, right? She does her best to keep her parents from fighting but can't stop the divorce. That one doesn't bother her too much. Mommy seems happier away from Dad's pack and Daddy smiles more when it's just him and Annabeth.

Annabeth doesn't give up on thwarting the bad things she sees in her dreams. She learns to be sneaky when it comes to manipulating events so that some things don't happen. Not only does it keep Mommy from frowning, but it makes her feel a little like a spy on television. A spur-of-the-moment demand for ice cream saves Patrick Connolly from a fender-bender while driving Annabeth home from dance class. It also gets her in trouble with Mommy because she ruined her appetite for dinner. Apparently, interference comes with a price. At least it's a relatively small one.

Annabeth writes all her dreams down and keeps them in a pink journal under her pillow. She puts a check mark by the ones she successfully prevents, a star by those she doesn't, and a question mark by the dreams that haven't come true. Yet. She makes careful note of all the important details and memorizes them so that she'll be ready for those dreams.

They continue through elementary school and junior high. The dreams keep her from dating closet creep Joseph Martin, from failing Earth Science, and from getting bitten by a werewolf trying to kill her father. She prevents her best friend from moving across the country by talking her father into giving her friend's father a job with his company. The dreams help her accomplish so much and help the people closest to her so she doesn't mind the occasional nightmare or the relatively minor price she has to pay.

At least she doesn't mind the nightmares until late one night a fourteen-year-old Annabeth dreams about a funeral. She sees herself dressed in an incredibly ugly black dress, her father in a suit with tears in his eyes, and a polished mahogany casket. She tries to wake herself up even as she walks towards the front of the church. Her knees tremble and her hands shake as she leans forward to peer inside. She screams, both in the dream and in real life, when she sees her mother's pale, still face inside the casket.

When her mother, and thank goodness it's her weekend to be with her mother because Annabeth desperately needs some reassurance, races into the bedroom, Annabeth keeps the details about her nightmare vague and clings to her mother. She doesn't sleep for six nights afterwards. She also starts watching her mother closely. She talks Glenna into having her yearly physical two months early. She has one of her father's pack, a mechanic by trade, inspect Glenna's car. She makes up an excuse about tons of schoolwork so she can skip out on the next few weekends with her father.

Nothing happens for three long months. A question mark goes by that dream, and Annabeth starts to relax. Maybe this was just a regular nightmare and not a foreshadowing one. She resumes the visitation schedule with her father. Annabeth focuses once again on things a normal fourteen-year-old should focus on. Her mother breathes a sigh of relief Annabeth's grades pick back up. One Saturday night, Annabeth lets her father take her out for dinner and a movie even though it means she'll have to turn her phone off.

Dinner is great. Conversing with her father has always been easy for Annabeth. He doesn't try to shield her from the supernatural. He's encouraged her to sit in on pack meetings, and she knows more about pack hierarchy and rules than most newly turned lycanthropes. She has to keep from laughing from the silly girls at school who buy into the latest "were" books and romanticize werewolves. There's nothing romantic about boring old pack meetings or threats from other packs or terretorial lycanthropes who like to fight to the death with fangs and claws.

Halfway through the comedy Annabeth talked her father into, a small knot of pain forms in her stomach. She gasps softly and, when her father raises an eyebrow questioningly, blames it on the sinfully rich cheesecake she had for dessert. He hands her a roll of antacids. She chews four gritty tablets, but they do nothing to calm her stomach.

The pain steadily increases. In the car on the way home, Annabeth has her father pull over so she can throw up on the side of the road. She sips from a bottle of water afterwards as the pain moves from her stomach to her chest. It feels as if something is crushing her chest.

When they pull into the driveway of Patrick's house, Annabeth remembers to turn her phone on. There are six new messages. Patrick checks his phone while Annabeth starts listening to the messages. She's confused by the number of voicemails there are. All her friends knew she was going out with her dad.

Four messages are from her mother's boyfriend Frank. One is from the county hospital. One is from her mother's neighbor. Annabeth drops her phone to the floor and collapses into her father's arms. He calls for one of his pack members to drive them to the hospital then sits with her in the back seat on the ride there. She stays within the warm circle of his arms while Frank relays the tale of how Glenna swerved to avoid a drunk driver going the wrong way down a one-way street and ended up slamming into a tree. Glenna had been alive when the paramedics arrived on the scene but dead when the ambulance reached the hospital.

The next couple of days are a blur for Annabeth. She doesn't recall helping her father and Frank make plans for the funeral. She doesn't remember picking out an outfit for her mother to be buried in or greeting the family and pack members who stop by in a steady stream. Before she can fully process all that's happened, she's standing in the back of a church in a hideous black dress with her teary-eyed father.

Her knees shake and her hands tremble as she makes the long walk up the aisle towards the gleaming mahogany casket surrounded by hundreds of flowers. She stares down at her mother's pale, still face and screams. And screams. And screams. Then faints clean away.

When she wakes, Annabeth is in her bedroom at her father's house. She blinks rapidly then her eyes fall on the pink journal on her desk. Mouth set in a firm line, she grabs the journal and a pen and puts a star beside the dream she'd had of her mother's funeral. Dry-eyed, she stares down at the dreams written down. There were so many she prevented. So many stupid, little things she stopped from happening but this, this huge tragedy, she couldn't do anything about. What good are prophetic dreams if they're only going to help with the superficial stuff? Why couldn't she have dreamed about the accident and not the funeral? What's the point?

Annabeth locks her journal in the chest at the foot of her bed. She's been wrong about the dreams all along. They weren't a gift given to her by some higher power so that she could make a difference. If that had been the case, she should have seen the accident and saved her mother. What higher power would be so cruel as to have her dream about something so terrible that she had no way of preventing?

The dreams still come. She tries to ignore them but fails. Though she wants nothing to do with whatever mystical duty the big jerk on high has given her, her conscience compels her to keep from Lucy Simmons from falling down the stairs at school and her father's cook from burning his hand. Stupid conscience.

Six weeks after her mother's funeral, Annabeth sneaks out of the house and rides the bus to a town an hour away. She knocks on the door of her grandfather's house and makes up a story about a fight with her dad. He agrees to let her stay the night and to not call her father. Once Grandpa Evans is back in bed, Annabeth slips into his private library and steals three books on magic.

Three nights later, grounded for a month for sneaking out and lying, Annabeth finds the recipe for a potion that, if taken immediately upon waking, causes a person to forget their dreams. Fortunately the ingredients are all either in the kitchen or the herb garden. While waiting for the potion to finish, Annabeth flips through the oldest book. She stumbles upon a brew designed to stop the drinker from dreaming. It's tempting. Very, very tempting.

She resists, though. She can't risk missing out on a dream about her father. Even if she can't prevent anything from happening, she wants to be prepared. Once the forgetfulness potion is done, Annabeth bottles it up and hides it in a drawer in her nightstand. That night she dreams of one of her teammates spraining an ankle during volleyball practice. Awful? Yes. World ending? No. When she wakes, Annabeth takes three sips from the bottle and promptly forgets all about sprained ankles.

The routine of dream, drink, and forget becomes almost second nature. Her father, who had long ago figured out about her dreams, stares at her curiously when she fails a history pop quiz, gets stood up by Jason Eckland, and breaks her arm when she slips on the icy sidewalk all within the space of a few months. She pretends that she doesn't understand what he's talking about. Dreams? What dreams?

Annabeth does experience a flash or two of guilt when bad things happen to those around her. Though she can't remember the dreams, she figures she must have had one or two that would have prompted her to try and change the course of things. Since no one has died, though, she doesn't change her mind about the potion even though it's starting to take a higher dose to ensure complete forgetfulness.

Her senior year of high school, the potion stops working completely. Annabeth assumes she's built up a tolerance to it. After several nights of dreams and guilt over not acting on them, she looks up the recipe for the potion of dreamlessness. It's a huge step. One she's not certain she's ready for.

She brews up a weak version of the potion to test it out. She's nervous as she downs half a vial of the surprisingly tasty liquid. As soon as the potion hits her stomach, she's up off the bed and on her knees in front of the toilet. The potion, along with most of her dinner, ends up flushed away.

After brushing her teeth twice and changing pajamas, Annabeth goes over the recipe again. She did everything right. She's not allergic to any of the ingredients. Nausea isn't listed as one of the side effects. Why did it make her react that way?

She sets the book aside, determined to try it again the next evening, and snuggles in under her blankets. Her mind is still puzzled over the potion as she drifts off to sleep. That night, snuggled beneath her purple patterned quilt and clutching her raggedy stuffed wolf, Annabeth Connolly dreams of rivers of blood.

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