Authors: Helen Harper
Book 2 of the Dreamweaver series
By Helen Harper
Copyright © 2015 Helen Harper
All rights reserved.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
Confidence is highly under-rated. All manner of good things will happen to someone who is confident. Take a nightclub, for instance. One of those cattle-market affairs which younger people who have more fun lives than me like to frequent. Many of the patrons will use alcohol to boost their self-esteem; it gives them a false sense of confidence. Unfortunately, that sort of temporary boost is often quickly lost; after all, it’s a fine line between an injection of self-assurance that will allow someone to chat up a stranger and appearing like a drunken fool who can’t stand up straight.
Remove alcohol or drugs from the equation and the lines are much more distinct. You can have the most beautiful woman in the world but if she’s in the corner with her shoulders slumped, no one will give her a second glance. The same goes for men. Alternatively, take a less attractive counterpart who’s imbued with confidence and who grasps at the world with two willing hands, and they’ll be the most popular person in the room. Let’s face it, confidence is sexy.
The confident person will stride up to the check-in desk at an airport and ask for an upgrade. They might not get it but they’re far more likely to end up in business class sipping champagne than the shyer person who silently hands over their passport and shuffles their feet. The confident person will rise high in their career; it’s not much good having a brilliant mind, outstanding work ethic and amazing qualifications if you can’t get through an interview without tripping over your tongue.
We’ve all heard stories about the stand-up comedians or stage actors who are crippled by stage fright. But as long as they can get out on that stage and act confidently once they’re there, does it really matter? We all put on a show and we all have different personas. In the last few months, I’ve lost count of the dreams I’ve apparated into where someone whom I admire in real life spends their unconscious hours imagining themselves as an object of humiliation.
I struggle with it myself. It wouldn’t take a genius to work that out. After all, I have spent the better part of the last two years as a prisoner in my own home. Even though I think I’m better now (I’d hesitate to say completely cured because I still have my moments), I veer between the two extremes of confidence. I’m either brimming with self-assurance to the point of sheer recklessness or I’m quaking in my boots. I can’t find an appropriate middle ground; frankly, I’m starting to wonder whether anyone can.
It’s easier in dreams, of course. In dreams I can be anyone I want to be. If I’m feeling low, I can hop around different unconscious minds until I find someone who’ll help me feel better. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m kidding myself, though. That any confidence I have will soon come crashing down like a house of cards and I’ll be a blubbering puddle. As someone far smarter than me once said, confidence is quiet. but insecurity is very, very loud.
I’m standing on top of the world. The snow is crisp and perfect, untouched by another human being. The sky is a deep azure blue and the ring of mountains surrounding me stretches upwards as if it’s scraping the heavens. I suck in a deep breath of cold air and hold it in my lungs, expelling it only when the woman in the gold macramé bikini in front of me knocks the back edges of her skis together and speaks.
‘The powder is good.’
I nod, more for myself than for her. I’ve not made my presence known and she’s oblivious to me. I watch as she tilts back her head, basking in the sun. She stretches out her arms before letting out a wild whoop and pushing off.
Sliding a few inches forward, I lean over the natural platform at the mountain’s summit and watch her. She’s already flying down the slope at an incredible speed, her hair flying out behind her. Snow sprays up as she veers first one way then another.
I lick my dry lips. I’ve never been skiing before but there’s nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end. I understand how it works. I’ll just have to trust that my subconscious knowledge translates itself to my unsteady limbs.
The hairs along my arms are standing on end. It’s not from the cold – more the frisson of fear. As the figure of the woman dwindles away into a distant speck, I tense and shuffle forward. With the tips of my skis hanging over the edge, I push back on my ski poles. Then I’m off.
A lifetime ago, during my teens, my weekly chore was to do the household ironing. I’d stand there for hours, frowning at my mother’s intricate blouses and my polyester school shirts, surrounded in a cloud of steam. It was a pain in the arse in the summer months when all I wanted to do was be out with my friends. In winter, however, with the days turning dark before four during the typically bitter Scottish winter, it was almost enjoyable, especially when
was on television. I’d watch those athletes whizzing round slalom courses at death-defying speeds. Back then, an activity like skiing was reserved for those with high disposable incomes. Now I am doing it too, and I haven’t even had to shell out for a multi-coloured, multi-layered ski suit. Here, my slightly greying, baggy T-shirt is more than enough.
I wobble once or twice but it’s not long before I’m hunkered down like a professional, whizzing down with my ski poles stuck out behind my elbows. Every now and then, the breeze lifts the snow and I feel the soft powder grazing my bare skin. I laugh aloud. This is much easier than it looks. The
theme song pounds dramatically in my head.
The slopes on either side begin to blur. I enjoy the speed for another moment then dip to my left to slow down. It’s taken me a long time tonight to find a dream as fun as this one; I don’t want it to be over too soon. Gliding first one way, then another, I’m buoyed by exhilaration. I carve my presence into the snow, alongside the woman’s tracks in front of me. Although I know she’s somewhere up ahead, right now it’s just me and the mountain. We are as one. We exist to please each other. We…
‘What the fuck are you doing?’
I lose my balance and tumble, falling painfully on my side and tangling my skis. There’s a muttered curse and a hand reaches out to grab me and pull me to my feet before I start rolling down the mountain like a human snowball. Leaning awkwardly into the hard body to avoid falling again, I scowl. There’s only one person who could have followed me here and, right now, his interruption is most unwelcome.
It’s not that he demands attention per se – it’s just that lately it’s become hard to focus on anything else when he’s around. Not to mention that he makes my thoughts go all blurry. I’m normally adept at picking up on small details and reading people’s tics and minute facial expressions but there’s something about Dante that’s like a closed book. It’s not a conscious effort on his part, it’s because his presence makes my insides turn to mush. And that really bugs me.
‘I would have thought what I was doing was obvious,’ I snip.
Dante’s lip curls. ‘You do realise how dangerous this is, don’t you?’
I sniff. As per usual, he’s dressed all in black, creating a stark contrast to the blinding white of the snow. ‘I was doing perfectly well until you showed up.’ I wave an airy hand behind me, indicating my swooping tracks. ‘I can ski!’
‘Really.’ His tone is dry.
Nodding vigorously and deciding to switch tack because maintaining a frown takes too much effort and isn’t fair on him, I temper his glower with a sunny smile. ‘Didn’t you just see me? I was awesome. I should try out for the Olympics.’
‘Zoe,’ he sighs, ‘have you ever skied in real life?’
‘No.’ My smile broadens. ‘I must be a natural.’
His grip tightens and he points down the mountain. ‘This isn’t a damned nursery slope. And you’re wearing a damned T-shirt,’ he says disapprovingly. ‘You could get frostbite. Even if you were properly dressed, one fall and you could break your neck.’
‘I only fell when you interrupted. Besides,
wearing a gold bikini.’ I wrinkle my nose and refer to the woman whose dream we’re in.
not a Traveller,’ he says, meaning those of us who possess the uncanny ability to enter dreams. Most people are unaware of the vast possibilities created by our subconscious minds; a few others, like Dante and myself, are very, very different.
I push my hair out of my eyes and look at him. He seems to be furious. His silver eyes have a glint of steel to them and the scar across his cheek is particularly livid. He’s clean shaven though, and his dark hair is styled and neat. I wonder if he took care over his appearance for me, then banish the thought before I can voice it aloud.
‘I’ve been moving from dream to dream all night,’ I tell him.
‘I know,’ he growls, ‘because I’ve been trying to find you all night.’
A flare of heat zips through me but I quickly push it back down. ‘It’s taken me ages to find someone who’s having some fun. I’ve never been skiing before and I wanted to see if I could do it.’
Dante seems determined to be a killjoy. He presses his mouth into a thin line. ‘Except you can’t ski.’
‘I just did.’ I feel my exasperation returning. ‘And if you would sod off, then I could continue.’
‘You can ski here because you’re Travelling. You can’t ski in real life. What if she dreams up an avalanche? Or the Abominable Snowman?’
I knock the side of my head. ‘Hello? Dreamweaver, remember? The one and only? The sole person in the world who can manipulate and change dreams? If there’s an avalanche, I’ll stop it. If there’s a sodding Yeti then I’ll get it to take me home to its family so I can meet the Abominable Kiddies. I can control all this.’
He finally releases me and leans back, crossing his arms. I realise, faintly amused, that his feet are sinking into the soft snow. For once I’m taller than him. ‘Go on then,’ he says. ‘If you’re so in control then prove it.’
I frown. ‘How?’
Dante shrugs, considering. ‘Put a snowman over there.’
‘We’re on a slope,’ I begin. ‘It’ll just fall over.’
He raises his eyebrows. I mutter something unladylike under my breath. ‘Fine.’ Concentrating on a patch to my right, I will the snow to rise up and form a shape. Several flurries swirl up into the air and I smile in satisfaction. ‘There.’
Dante glances over. As the mist of powder snow settles, the corner of his mouth jerks up. ‘Wow. I’m so impressed.’
I frown. Damn it. Instead of a perfectly formed snowman, there’s a tiny lump no higher than my shin. It looks less like a snowman and more like a snow turd. ‘I might need some practice,’ I admit.
‘You have no idea what you’re doing. You might be a dreamweaver but until you can control yourself properly, you’re a menace to yourself.’
I open my mouth to snap at him but I’m prevented from saying anything by a high-pitched scream which abruptly rents the air. My eyes fly to Dante’s. We exchange alarmed looks and then I’m off, skiing away from him and towards the scream as quickly as I can.
‘Zoe!’ he yells. ‘Stop!’
I ignore him. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the last few weeks of wandering in and out of people’s slumbering minds, you’re either in a dream or in a nightmare. You can’t have both. Gold macramé bikinis and sunny ski slopes equal dreams. Screams, on the other hand…