Colleen had never painted something that wasn’t right in front of her, let alone a scene from her prophetic nightmares. The violence in those dreams would send Mother Kendrick into fits if she saw them on paper. Colleen left that part out for this painting, two simple portraits of the dream figures she’d seen. The gray man was decisively not human, that was made apparent in the shape of his body. With the swordsman, however, she could not pinpoint what made him seem so alien. His voice made her certain — she shuddered as his raspy words cut across her mind for the hundredth time — but she’d known he was not human before he’d spoken. In any case, she had little practice drawing people, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to portray either accurately.
She considered asking Misty about dreams. Misty sat on her own bed, cruising through her homework. A brilliant student, according to her teachers, but Misty apparently had a problem with authority. The first few days, she’d refused to eat anything.. Colleen saw her throw her lunch straight in the trash at school, or try to trade it for non-food items, specifically jewelry and makeup. Eventually Misty started eating so fast she finished dinner before Colleen. No wonder, she must have been starving.
Unlike Colleen, Misty did not leave the table after she was finished. In spite of how uneasy she made the other girls her first day, she grew to fit in well. Ronnie still avoided her, but the other girls were eager to hear her cynical take on everything from school to the universe in general. Colleen listened in from time to time, from a corner and face hidden behind the cover of a thick book. The others were even a little friendly, now that Misty had assured them Colleen was not some kind of living bad luck charm.
“Time is set,” she told them. “It goes in a circle forever. The same things happen over and over. A clock is actually a really good way to show time — not what time it is, but what time is. If whatever happens in Colleen’s dreams happens in real life, she doesn’t cause them, she just sees them. Get it?”
While Colleen got it, something about Misty’s explanation nagged at her. She glanced up. Misty barely looked at the problems in the book before she wrote the answers. “How do you know that time is set?”
Misty returned a quick, somewhat bored glance. “We don’t have free will.”
Colleen frowned. She felt hesitant challenging what might be her only friend in the house. It was true the others weren’t as cold to her as they used to be, but in no sense could she call them friends. “But how do you know?” she said softly.
Misty didn’t even look up this time. “You just have to think about the way things are. Our choices are made by the way we were born or the way we are raised, right? Either by your genetics or by your environment. Whatever you’re born with or taught determines how you’ll react to every future situation. It’s all one big chain reaction that makes up the whole of time.” She caught Colleen’s blank stare and set down her pencil. “Why do you always leave the dinner table early?”
Colleen was caught offguard by the question, but saw no reason not to answer with the truth. “To protect my things. The other girls stole things from me when they left the table before me.”
“Why do you want to protect your things?”
“Because a lot of them came from my parents.”
“Why does that mean anything to you?”
Colleen’s voice caught and her lips trembled. Misty immediately unlatched her gaze. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. But the point is, there’s always a reason, isn’t there? Even if you don’t know what it is.” She went back to her homework. “I think the real question is, can we ever change it?”
The direction of conversation made Colleen nervous, and not just because the more religious of the house mothers might get worked up over it. Beyond Misty’s cynicism there seemed to be something deeper, something more akin to anger and pain, and the simple changes in Misty’s expression and voice made Colleen feel like she was getting closer and closer to the edge of a cliff. Thankfully, Misty changed the subject. “I want to know where more of the others come from. It’d be nice to know I’m not the only one being punished.”
“Your parents are alive?” Colleen asked sadly. “Are you going home in the summer?”
“Not if they have anything to say about it.” Misty grunted. “It’s not like I had much to leave behind though. You’re the first friend I’ve had in a while.”
Colleen was not sure she believed that, but she felt her heart warm.
“You have friends on the outside, right?” Misty asked. “I see you hanging around with Prudence Hadley a lot.”
Colleen nodded. “Don’t call her Prudence, though, she hates it. She’s been my best friend forever. Our parents were friends too.”
“Your parents died?” Misty’s voice softened.
Colleen’s throat constricted again as a cloud of bad memories unearthed. “No, they’re missing. So is Ru’s dad. They disappeared the same night, and the last place anyone saw them was Tanager Park.”
Misty looked on with suspicion. Rightfully so, as there was a lot Colleen was holding back. She didn’t pry, though. “My parents think I’m a monster. Not in a cute way like some people call Ronnie. They actually think I’m possessed by a demon or something.” She gave half a smile. “I guess it isn’t all that shocking. They thought everything was demonic. Hey, can I see what you’re working on?”
Colleen gingerly propped up the painting. There was a silence.
“What is this?”
“It’s from a dream I had. What’s wrong?”
Misty stared at the painting oddly. She almost looked alarmed. “They’re kind of familiar,” she said at last. “Maybe I saw them in a dream too. Wouldn’t that be weird?”
“It really would.”