Excerpt from ARISE, book 3 in The Arson Saga:
The patterns of his nightmare were a disease. Arson hated the hallways, the rooms—they all had the same ruined look: identical flaking, green-black walls and dead windows. His rage had spawned a reckless trail of flames that wandered beyond and behind their cautious footsteps. Faded lockers had hindered some of his harshest memories from being exposed; nevertheless, he noticed that a sequence of metal cages had been pulled open, bent. Rust formed along the lockers’ twisted edges. A leak from the ceiling now trickled down to corrupt their feeble frames. It didn’t take long at all for things to decay in this place; that much was obvious. Arson’s pulse quickened at the sight of all the torn-open realms.
Adam approached each step with a certain fearlessness Arson desperately wished he possessed. A steady pace that suggested he was looking for something and was close to finding it. But all the silence was driving Arson crazy. He had so many questions, about his powers, about sliding, about why he was plagued to live memories that weren’t his. If Adam could enter another’s subconscious by sliding, did he too have to endure someone else’s intense past? Had he ever before gotten stuck inside of a nightmare like this?
Arson’s eyes opened and shut rapidly, as if his body—or, the body of his mind—knew that doing so was a waste of time. He took a deep breath. As much as he wanted to know the answers to all of his questions, there was one mystery he needed solved first. It was the one thing that mattered above all. He’d been distraught over it since he got trapped in this distorted reality, prior to Adam’s arrival, which had only made everything even more of a blur. Was Emery still alive?
Why hadn’t she broken through?
Why hadn’t she crossed into this supernatural existence?
Why hadn’t the vision of his escape been real? He’d held her against his chest. He’d felt her skin on his skin. Emery was real; all of it was. Arson knew he had mutilated every last one of the sick fiends who had fed him lies and injected him with poisons. They all turned to ash in a matter of minutes. He’d risen out of his coma already and ended their scheme. In fact, he was there again now, his body unleashing a torrent of wrath, power he barely could control. With one breath, he’d watched a doctor become dust. Just by thinking it, his father’s heart had incinerated. The asylum was laid to waste, and Emery’s beautiful smile was first to welcome him back to the real world. If he entertained this reality long enough, maybe he’d smell her again, feel her hair slide across his knuckles, and even sense his knees quiver as her warm breath tickled his neck. He would never let her go.
“Cut it out,” Adam said with a rough nudge. “You wanna get out or stay in la-la land? If we plan on escaping, keep all that sentimental garbage at bay. You need to be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Your ‘breakthrough’ never actually happened. This place just made you think it did. Get over it.”
“This is my nightmare,” Arson snarled. “My mind created it. I can control it.”
No reply. Arson just kept walking.
“Some people say you can control what happens in your dreams. I say maybe, if you’re strong enough.”
“I am. Look around you.”
Adam studied the fiery shapes blazing around them. Colorful flowers that bloomed into the bodies of creatures only a teenage mind could fathom. Dragons and bats and spiders and combinations of reptiles and mammals blended together. An intoxicating splash of sapphire, crimson, and golden light.
“Okay, showoff. But starting fires doesn’t mean you can control everything that happens here. There’s some stuff that goes way back. It’s deep in your subconscious. I’ll bet you don’t even know half the stuff that’s locked in here with us. Or even remember it. I’m talking memories, ideas, bad dream kinda crap. It’s no wonder you haven’t gotten out yet.”
Adam spoke like a frustrated teacher. As they walked by another classroom, Arson was instantly reminded of several teachers he hated. Maybe Adam’s voice was theirs.
“It makes sense if you just think about it for a second. Your mind is a powerful computer. It’s capable of storing images you may have only seen once, thoughts you probably didn’t even mean to think. You read a book, and in that book a woman gets brutally murdered. Your imagination takes a picture with the words that described the action. That picture is now floating around in your brain, forever. You hear a song and it makes you angry. Watch a movie and you get excited because some couple is going at it. All of those things—the lusts, the fears, confusion, hatred—it all lives in here. A part of us can contain it only for so long, but when you’re stuck, like this, all bets are off. There is no delete button, no shut-off switch. You get the good with the bad. Unfortunately, your mind seems to like letting out all the bad. Not to mention, in here, you’re weaker.”
“You make it seem like I’m powerless.”
Adam stopped midstride and scratched his temple. His eye twitched when he spoke. “You’re missing it, Arson. It’s not just about power.” Adam snapped his fingers, and his thumb lit like a candle. As the flame crossed fingertips, a grin toyed with his mouth. “See? You could be your own personal superhero in here if you want, but that wouldn’t be enough. You still wouldn’t get out. Because that’s not how it works.”
“I know, the code and whatever.”
“Hey, lose the attitude. I’m trying to help you. There is a specific code that should be able to set you free. Maybe if you got over yourself and started thinking about the future instead of drowning in the past you might be able to help me find the locations of these codes. And just maybe, we get out of here alive.”
Adam quenched the fire in his palm and continued walking.
“Wait a second. You mean it’s possible for me to die in here?”
Adam abruptly replied, “I’ve seen some strange things in my years, but like I said, this is different. All bets are off. Anything’s possible.”
“But if I die in here, maybe I just wake up.”
“You’re in a coma, Arson. Your real-world body will atrophy. A day in here can wear on you out there. Given your weak physical state, if you die in this place, I don’t think you’re just gonna wake up. Besides, if you do, it’ll just keep going. More experiments. More tests. It’ll never step until we end it. I can help.”
A tidal wave collided with Arson’s mind. He was close to drowning, couldn’t breathe. His thoughts crashed into one another—a jumbled, fearful mess. “But these are my thoughts—”
“Most of them.”
“Right. They can kill me?”
“An idea is more dangerous than a bullet. One thought can destroy you. It’s perfect, in a sick way, how the mind works. A nightmare of your own design. You’ve got some freaky stuff in here.”
If I could see your brain, I’m sure I’d be shocked too, Arson thought.
“Maybe you would be, maybe not,” Adam said.
“I hate it that you can do that.”
“We’re in your head, remember? I can feel everything you think. For all intents and purposes, I’m just another memory. I slid into your mind and chose Danny’s shell because he isn’t a threat. A lot of other things in this place are.”
The heat from the fire he created was starting to push into his pores. Arson began to sweat. “If what you said is true, you know, about the memories and the things trapped in here with us…why should I trust you?”
“Maybe you can’t.”
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