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To go home again, is that not a desire developed in the minds of intelligent, cultured beings? We who leave home at tender ages create worlds within worlds to feel an ounce of what we once felt in the arms of our mothers.
—J.G.C., from Campbell’s Multiple Verses
The girl with the red hair comes, but she is too late.
The green serpent hides in their midst, casting long false shadows on the wall as she rears and bares her fangs.
Flashing skin and scales; the serpent and the woman are one.
The backhanded strike cracks like lightning, and her cheek stings and reddens, as if the blow were real.
Because it will be.
A gasp catches in Sunni’s throat as she wakes. Her cheek is burning. There is no mark there, not yet, because everything she’s seen hasn’t happened yet.
Sunni throws the covers from her bare legs and pads across the cold hardwood to the bathroom. The only light comes from the shell-shaped nightlight plugged in above the vanity. A wide, tear-drop-shaped mirror hangs above the sink. Sunni can’t avoid her reflection forever. She grabs the plastic cup resting on the marble counter, pours herself some water, and downs it.
It won’t wash away anything, not really.
The mirror reveals everything. Her blonde curls are frizzled from sleep. The ponytail she’d tied before bed is almost gone, the blue elastic band barely hanging on to a tangled clump of hair strung over her left shoulder. A young woman stares back at her with bleary green eyes. The dream is still reflected in her pupils. She watches the images over and over again, knowing that no matter how much she rubs the sleep from her eyes, no matter how much time she puts between the dream and the present moment, it won’t go away. It doesn’t work like that. Not with these types of dreams.
Touching the mirror with gentle fingertips, Sunni leans forward, over the vanity, and presses her forehead against her reflection. While her breath fogs the mirror, the meaning of the dream becomes clear.
Two things will come to pass.
One: the girl the Collective is searching for will arrive soon.
And two: to save her friends, Sunni must die.