Nova’s first reaction to getting shot in the heart was to freeze. It could have been the shock but in her mind, she thought if she just held still, maybe it would be okay. Maybe she could assess the damage and maybe things would return to normal if she just held very, very still.
But alas, the bullet had torn her heart in half, torn her future to ribbons. The next thing she knew, the world rotated around her and she was suddenly on her back. Her body wouldn’t respond. She felt scared, but for the first time (and last), her pulse was absent. The ominous beating that narrated her entire life was gone. Because she was already dead.
Nova’s last sight of this world was her mother looking over her, tears dripping down her face, her mouth silently screaming. Goodbye Mom. And, at last, she just couldn’t stick around.
To her surprise, Nova’s eyes shot open. Her mind was emptied of the fear and sadness that dominated her final moments. She felt as though a great amount of time had passed. And she was right.
She made to get up, still encased in the blackness of what was most certainly a grave. A part of her, deep inside, but a core part nonetheless, knew she should be afraid. To be buried alive was a nightmare, a traumatic experience through and through. Yet her heartbeat was gone. Her fingers didn’t tremble, her eyes didn’t water.
Every movement felt ethereal as she punched at the coffin, smashing through wood, smashing through stone, scooping through dirt. When she reached the surface of a grassy knoll, she didn’t take a breath of relief. She got to her feet and scanned.
Before her, standing among the tombstones like a stumped tree was a figure. It lifted its arms. With scythes for hands and an extra set of arms, the thing sprouted, like death before the killing blow.
Maybe it is Death, thought Nova. She approached the creature. It chittered as it studied her, looking her up and down. Nova was used to people looking at her… but that was so, so long ago. Another life, she thought to herself.
“Good night, my dear,” said the chittering thing. Its face was masked by the skull of a deer with predator fangs.
Nova made to talk, but her voice was gone, entirely.
“Ah. You will get your voice. When you earn your voice,” said the creature. “You will first go to that house,” the creature pointed with its skeletal arms, “That house there. Pay me in what I seek, and you shall have your voice.”
Nova warily looked at the little suburban house, just beyond the wall. She glanced back at the creature, watching it chitter and wring its limbs anxiously. Without a word more passed between them, Nova walked to the house beyond the wall. As she neared the front door, she felt her legs lengthen. There was an open window above the foyer. She glanced down to see that it was not her legs that brought her up to the height of the window. She floated up and into the window.
A child lay snuggled into the covers. In Nova’s life, she would have felt something for the boy. He had a cute little button nose, soft, frizzy hair, and tiny little hands. But all of that was moot compared to the clouds of dreams that suspended around him. In the mist of the boy’s dreams, here seen in physical form to Nova, were aspirations. There was the boy as an astronaut, there was the boy as a knight, here was the boy as a count in a great, big castle.
Nova gathered them up into her undead hands, each and every one of them. Such dreams, such ambition weighed heavily in Nova’s arms, she could not dare to carry more. She drifted back out the window, back onto the lawn, over the wall, and back out to the cemetery.
“Ah, indeed, you have what I need,” said the chittering being. It summoned the boy’s dreams to its right hand. With its other hand, it produced a pouch and poured the dreams in. “You’ll be needing this,” it said to Nova, passing her a key.
She needn’t have thought a word. One moment, her mind questioned the absurdity of a key in the creature’s hand. The next, she plunged it into her throat and twisted, unlocking yet another door of the Veil.
“Who are you?” she asked through her decayed voice.
“Just a nightmare,” it said. “But more importantly, a merchant.” The nightmare jingled its coin purse, now full.
Curiosity seemed to be the only thing left in her brittle, reborn body. “What do you sell?” asked Nova.
“To you? Keys.” The nightmare gestured elsewhere, “To others, you’ve probably already guessed.”
Nova glanced at the coinpurse. Dreams. “What can you offer me?”
“Bring me more dreams and I’ll show you,” said the nightmare.
Though it was passed along as an offer, what choice did she have, really? She drifted back toward the house.
“No… no. Diversity-makes-delicious.” The nightmare produced a bag from its shadowy coat pocket. “And take this. It carries more this way.”
So Nova climbed high into the night, searching for the opalescent glow of dreams.
She took from prison houses, she took from hospitals, she took from bus stops and airplanes. Wherever she could, she stole from those who dared to dream.
One by one, she would return to the nightmare, and it would share its keys. She could soon sing, she could feel, she could remember.
And so she asked the nightmare, “What if I could take more than dreams?”
The nightmare froze, a shudder of excitement skittering across its spine. “More than dreams?”
She shifted. “I remember who killed me. I would like to take more than just his dreams.”
The nightmare practically hopped from one foot to the other with glee. “I have long awaited a harvester.” He passed along a pair of shears. “When one harvests, they not only take dreams. They take luck, they take happiness… they take all that the crop could have been.”
Nova reached for the shears. The nightmare surrendered them willingly. “Should you harvest this soul… I will give you back your life. You can have the final key to the veil. People will see you for who you are, and you shall return to the land of the living.”
Nova nodded. “I’ll do it.”
And so she flew. The skies were bright as she honed in on her murderer. Surprisingly, she had already visited this very prison house before. The dreams here were muted, and yet the killer’s were vibrant. Blood-red, violent dreams swam above the killer’s head. No, not dreams. Nightmares.
Guilt, a filthy shade of crimson, sadness, a filthy shade of indigo-blue, and twilight black danced around in endless theater. Nova raised her shears. If she had still been human, there would have been time to take it back. She could have resisted, she could have relented. But her ghastly hands stabbed down, slicing away all that the killer would ever be.
* * *
Nova took her final key and twisted it through her heart. Her last image of as an undead was the nightmare twirling twine gleefully as the killer’s essence wrapped around its spindly fingers. The coinpurse of dreams twinkled as Nova returned to the land of the living.
She awoke in a hospital, blankets draped over her legs and torso. She lifted herself out of bed, out of instinct, her desire to rest long overcome. She stretched her legs, walking through the halls as she would in her past un-life. And one by one the patients screamed.
For they could see what she had become.