“Morning sunshine,” Julia’s father said as she stumbled sleepily into the kitchen. She was still rubbing sleep from her eyes and cobwebs from her mind, but something in his tone made her pause.
“Morning?” she replied.
Her father chuckled. “You’re like a proper teenager, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep so late. Exhausting weekend?”
Julia checked the clock on the microwave. At first, she couldn’t make sense of the numbers 1:232. And then her eyes shifted. 12:32. It was afternoon. She had never slept this late before.
“We checked on you around ten, but you were sleeping so soundly you didn’t wake up.” He patted her shoulder as he passed into the living room.
Julia opened the fridge and stared at it for several moments before changing her mind. She plonked her bowl in the traitorous microwave and leaned against the counter watching the numbers melt before her eyes. She was still so tired; it was like she hadn’t slept at all.
Julia’s oatmeal dinged and she sat down at the table. What had happened last night? She hadn’t been that exhausted after the camping trip. Then she remembered the dream and the darkness.
Oh. The oracle. She looked down at her hand; the scar was red and raw.
“What happened to your hand?” Molly asked peering over her shoulder. Julia closed her fist around it.
“Nothing, I just scraped it while camping,” Julia lied.
“Does it hurt?” Her sisters were far too curious.
“No,” she said. But she actually meant that. Curiously the scar had never hurt, even now when it looked painfully raw it was still as numb as it had ever been.
“Dad said he thought you were going to sleep all day,” Lara announced sitting across from Julia.
“Don’t be silly. How could I sleep all day?” Although the idea sounded heavenly. If her room hadn’t been so stifling hot she might have stayed in bed.
“We went to wake you up, but you were so asleep you didn’t wake up even when we shook you.”
The darkness, she thought as more memories poured back in. Was that when I was dreaming of the darkness?
“The darkness?” Molly asked. Julia hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud. “What’s that?”
“Nothing, just thinking.”
“Are you writing another poem?”
Julia shook her sleepy mind fully awake and turned her attention to her sisters. She grinned at them. “I’m always writing a poem.”
“About the darkness? Will you write one with me in it?”
“Of course, squirt. So what were you two up to this morning that required you to come and try to wake me?” Julia forced her memories into a quiet corner of her mind. Now was not the time to be lost in thought.
I wasn’t sure if I should go. I’d felt the pull of the house and the night. And Julia. But she had failed to find the oracle at Granite Falls. And I had been stupid to get my hopes up.
I couldn’t hide forever.
Julia wasn’t in her room. I didn’t know how many days it had been since she came back from her trip, not too many? Maybe she was at Bre’s house. I was strangely pleased at the thought. But no. I could feel her in the house. She was outside.
“James!” she cried out as she saw me and, wiping her hands, hurried over. For a second I though I had been gone a lot longer since she was so excited to see me, but her next words hit me and stopped me in my tracks. “I met the oracle.”
“When, where?” I managed to say.
“In a dream.” She waved her hand away. “She doesn’t exist in this reality or something.”
I looked around. Julia’s mother was a passive gardener. She planted things every spring and then sat back and saw what survived. It was usually weeds. But the garden was upturned, the weeds piled by the trash, flowers given room to breathe.
“She gave you the flower?”
“Um, not exactly. She gave me a riddle, but I took a flower?” She pointed at the empty pot by the planters. I hadn’t seen it before.
“Is in in there?” I floated closer, curious. But it looked like an empty pot to me. I looked up at Julia who held up a single white disk.
“We can plant it together.”
Afterwards I asked her about the dream and the oracle. She told me how the oracle existed in all waterfalls and described the waterfall in the dream. Then she recited the poem or prophecy the oracle had given her.
“Cake?” I wrinkled my nose. The rhyme was just too ridiculous.
“I know.” Julia laughed. “I said the same thing. And then everything faded and I was in the darkness. Your darkness, James,” her tone shifted.
It was strangely cold, lying there although I could feel the heat of the air around us, it suddenly felt so far away. “The Darkness?” I couldn’t image Julia there.
She nodded, “But I met someone. She told me the center of the flower was the seed.”
“No, she was just a girl.”
Julia looked around.
Nothing stretched for as far as she could see. She looked down, half expecting to see through her hands, but they were as solid as they normally were. Familiar. The face of the death flower seemed to wink at her.
How was the possible? This was James’ darkness. Was it still a dream?
“Julia?” A young voice spoke behind her. She turned to see a girl standing there. As solid as Julia was.
“Who are you?” she asked. The Darkness swallowed her words, but the girl seemed to hear them.
She smiled. She was young, younger than James perhaps. “You are Julia! It’s good to finally meet you.”
“I don’t know you?” Julia was getting tired of everyone seeming to know more than her about everything. They always spoke in riddles as well.
“No, but my father talks about you,” the child’s smile was innocent. Then she frowned. “You won’t tell him I’m here, right?”
“I won’t get you out of trouble if you’re not supposed to be here.” Julia couldn’t help but say.
She suspected the girl’s father was Death or some other supernatural being who didn’t want their child wandering in the Darkness. It wasn’t like an ordinary girl could end up here. You’re ordinary, her mind replied. But she shook the thought away, ever since Death, she hadn’t been ordinary.
“No,” the girl shook her head. “He never said I shouldn’t or couldn’t come here. I just know if he knew, it would make him sad.” She looked so distraught by the idea that Julia couldn’t help but laugh.
“Alright, I won’t tell him then.” Julia looked around. “Do you come here often?” It was like a terrible pickup line. Except she was curious. What was there for a girl to do here?
The child looked around and shrugged. “Not all the time?”
Julia struggled to see anything in the darkness. But it was just that. Nothing. “It’s very bleak.”
“Oh,” the girl looked around as if seeing the nothingness for the first time. “But I meet people all the time. Usually ghosts, but sometimes people like you.”
“I’m not a ghost?” Julia had to admit she was relieved to hear the. She thought that if she wasn’t see-through she wasn’t a ghost, but James had never mentioned non-ghosts in the darkness. So she hadn’t been sure. “I’m glad.”
“You’re dreaming,” the girl smiled. “Like me.”
“That kind of makes sense.” Julia looked down at the flower in her hand. “I was dreaming before I came here too.”
“Oh, you have a Death Flower!” The girl said excitedly.
“You know what this is?”
She nodded. “Uh huh, they grow at my house.”
The girl was definitely not an ordinary girl. Death probably had hundreds of death flowers where he lived. Whole beds of them just like the Oracle. He just wanted to make her run around and stare at waterfalls and listening to cryptic poems.
“Can I see it?” the girl held out her hand.
Julia hesitated and handed the girl the flower. She stared at it a moment, smiling and then, before Julia could protest, pried the center out. The petals fell from the flower to the ground and vanished. She held the bone-white center back to Julia.
“Plant that. It’s the seed.”
Julia took the center, the seed. The tiny face stared back at her with empty eyes. “This will grow?”
The girl nodded emphatically. “It’ll take a long time. I think. Like years. But it will grow.”
“Oh.” Julia wasn’t sure if years would do them any good. The flower was just the first step according to the oracle’s poem. How many years would this take?
“Don’t be sad,” the girl said suddenly. “It’s okay, really. They’ll grow a lot eventually.”
“How do you know.”
The girl smiled. “I just do. Just like I know you’re going to succeed.”
Julia stared at the girl. Dread filling her, she’d almost forgotten this girl was one of those cryptic supernatural creatures. Possibly centuries old.
“Who are you?” She asked finally repeating her first question. The question the girl had never answered.
“My name is Julia too,” she said.
Julia looked down at the child’s innocent and strangely familiar face. Who? She wondered, but it clicked. the girl must have seen realization dawn for she rushed forward and Julia found herself holding the small child tightly.
“I’m glad I met you,” she whispered fiercely. “Don’t tell my dad, okay?”
“A girl.” I was surprised. “In the darkness?”
Julia looked over at me briefly and then nodded. I frowned, she was hiding something from me.