Chapter 1:

Catalyst Dreamer: Part 1


Warm sea breezes are thrust into the atmosphere, lost in the endless daze of a summer’s sapphire skies as waves lap at the shoreline, hungry for another greedy gulp of sand. Frothy, white seafoam curls under the crash of each wave before emerging at the crest of another. Imprinted in the sand, footprints trapeze the delicate boundary between the ocean and shoreline, littered with seashells and beached driftwood. Gradually, the waves erode the prints as the wet sand returns to its prior, glossy state.

The footprints belonged to a girl; she seemed somewhat malnourished despite her sun-kissed skin, but her complexion was flawless, akin to that of a diamond. Her hair resembled a mixture of ivory and frosty blue. A ruffled sundress donned her body, billowing in waves of turquoise and cloud-white with each meticulous step. Her eyes resembled the sky above, an endless expanse of blue, brimming with beauty; soft, pink lips arced into a smile. Ignoring the tempestuous waves, she continued her trek along the beach. Aside from the monotony of the waves, it was quiet—a paradise undisturbed by humans.

A small tear suddenly caressed her cheek as it fell to the ground, swallowed by the greedy lap of the waves gnawing at her feet. If she could scoop the tear up and put it back, she would, but it seemed not even her own sorrows were immune to the forces of gravity. She gazed out over the watery swathe before her, wondering if the ocean would be kind enough to wash the rest of her problems away. Crouching down, she began to draw with her finger: “Lacia” is read in fancy letters emboldened in the sand.

“It seems this will be my final performance.”


Riing! The bell for 5th period blared through the student-filled hallways. To everyone’s dismay, lunch was officially over.

It was a lazy afternoon in April. As per usual, it had been raining all day, forcing everyone to savor their midday meal indoors. The occasional rumble of thunder boomed through the school, barreling down the hallways like a runway train as it rattled the lockers. The outer walls were made entirely of glass, normally offering marvelous views of the college-like campus: white blossoms adorning the budding cherry trees, verdant hedges along the sidewalks, and towering mountains against the horizon. Instead, today, the sky was a blanket of emotionless grey. Wet petals stuck to the sidewalks like glue—not even the mountains could be seen through the rainy daze.

Lacia glanced at the clock on the cafeteria wall: 12:25pm. Class started at 12:30. She’d arrived at lunch late, promptly devouring her food, nearly choking several times in her haste.

“Late to lunch, late to class,” she sighed. The cafeteria was on the opposite side of campus, and, with the rain, the stairs would be a slippery nightmare. Unfortunately, class was on the third floor, only adding to her dismay. “Oh, how much I love this school sometimes,” she mumbled. “Can’t things just go my way today?”

Despite her disdain, she found comfort in the simplicity of the uniforms. Spring dress-code was relatively unrestrictive: students were allowed their choice in socks and legwear, but white button-ups were mandatory. It wasn’t much to work with, but she could make do. In fact, today’s outfit included a red and black pleated skirt she tucked her shirt into. An accompanying black bow around the collar and over-ankle socks completed her outfit, excluding the white raincoat stuffed into her backpack.

Cold air poured from the vents above her head. She shivered, displeased, as she cleaned her place at the lunch table. Tossing her trash, she slung her bag over her shoulder and began the long trek to class.

"You’re late,” Mr. Krone said, looking at the clock.

She was only two minutes late, but attendance was attendance—being prompt to class was important. “I’m sorry, Mr. Krone. I didn’t plan for the weather. I should’ve left earlier,” Lacia said, apologizing to the class as well.

The day’s lecture continued as Lacia took her seat. Today’s lesson was Alurian History and the beginning of a new unit, which meant lots of note taking. It kept her mind occupied, though and she enjoyed the class despite Mr. Krone’s unforgiving attention to the time. Unfortunately, today just sucked.

A soft whisper crept towards Lacia’s ears, but she shrugged it off, chalking it up to the patter of rain on the windows.

It came again, forcefully this time:


“Yes?!” she replied, shooting up from her seat, panicked.

Mr. Krone sighed. “I didn’t call you, Lacia. I understand the rain is distracting, but please try to focus.”

“S-sorry sir.” Lacia returned to her seat as Mr. Krone continued the lecture.

“Lacia, it’s me,” the whisper-y voice said. “Relax. What has you so up in arms today, anyways?”

“Geez, Mana. You scared me half-to-death,” Lacia said, placing a hand on her chest in relief. “What’s so important?” Lacia hissed.

“You just don’t seem like yourself today. I know when something’s up—I’ve known you long enough to tell,” Mana reasoned.

Mr. Krone stopped lecturing again, tapping the plastic marker cap in his hand against the whiteboard. “Would you two like to have that conversation in the Principal’s Office?”

Mana glanced at Mr. Krone, then back to Lacia. “We’ll talk after school. Meet me in the locker room,” she whispered.

Class seemed to drag on without end. Mr. Krone had managed to spend the last ten minutes of class ranting about being punctual and how being late won’t fly in the “real world”; Alurian history felt like an after-thought, and English was about as entertaining as plucking weeds from a garden.

To Lacia’s dismay, there was still Biology to attend, and they were going to be dissecting frogs. She wasn’t one for grotesque things, but she could handle a little blood. Unfortunately, her poor, amphibious specimen held a little more blood than she would have liked.

“Good work today, everyone. Class dismissed!” the biology teacher said.

Thank god,” Lacia thought, washing her hands from the dissection disaster. She fumbled around in her bag for her phone and sent a quick text to Mana: “I’m going to be a little late. Plz don’t wait for me. I’ll change when I get there.”

She stuffed her phone back into her bag and headed for the gym—a little down-time after class was always a blessing, especially on days like what she’d just had. Even though it wasn’t the best, it wasn’t the worst either, she decided. “Life sucks sometimes, and I know wasting time on being sad is useless, but…”

The scent of wood floors, sports balls, and air conditioning rushed her as she pushed the doors to the gym open, sluggishly venturing into the girls’ locker room. She placed her bag on the bench behind her as she slipped into a pair of sneakers. Rummaging around in her locker for a change of clothes, a small note floated to the floor at her feet—it was from Mana: “I’m in the back row of bleachers gym. Come find me—I’m worried about you.”

“This girl never knows when to quit, but I guess that’s why I love her,” Lacia giggled. I don’t know why you care so much sometimes, so much so I can’t even go five minutes without you wondering where I am,” Lacia said to herself as she finished changing.

The gym had emptied significantly by the time she made her way to the bleachers. Only a few remaining students dotted the bleachers here and there since after-school activities had been cancelled due to the weather. The damp air from outside in combination with the air conditioning made for a chilly afternoon, but it was whatever. She needed to find Mana so they could begin the trek home.

As if on cue, she stood up, hidden in the back row, and waved Lacia over. “We need to talk,” Mana started. Her face was full of pride—one hand on her chest, another on her hip. “Seriously, girly-pop. What’s up? You know you can tell me anything, right?”

“It’s nothing,” Lacia said, leaning back against the wall. “I’m just having a bad d—”

“I don’t think so. Girl, we aren’t playing this game. Tell me what’s up,” Mana interrupted.

Lacia’s mouth twisted into an aslant frown. She knew there was no getting anything past Mana, but she wasn’t ready to divulge into what she was feeling, much less have an entire therapeutic session about it with someone else. Unfortunately, there was no getting out of this one. She sighed.

“Fine. I was having really severe growing pains again last night, and I ended up passing out in the hall outside my bedroom,” she paused upon finishing her explanation. “Look, I don’t want to worry you with this. I’ll be fine. I promise…”

She stared into her green eyes, lost in the sea of emerald irises, as a cool breeze suddenly crept under her shirt, up her chest. Lacia’s own eyes promptly grew to the size of golf balls as she blushed from embarrassment; Mana had lifted her shirt to expose a small, but apparent, area of deep purple bruising.

“You weren’t supposed to see that,” she said, pulling her shirt down, face still flushed.

“Lacia!” Mana hissed, “is there a situation at home? Where did that come from?”

Her secret was out, and to Mana, of all people. At this point, she figured she might as well come clean. “There’s something else I need to tell you,” she said reluctantly. “The pain always begins after I have this one dream. Really, I should call it a nightmare, but it starts off with me standing on a beach and, for some reason, I feel like I’m always smiling,” she explained. “I walk down the shoreline for a while until I’m dragged into the water, but I can’t swim. As I’m drowning, this voice pops into my head, telling me it’s too soon—it’s not my time, and I’m the catalyst for something.”

“Lacia, I–”

“Let me finish,” she said, cutting Mana off. “After the voice stops, I get hit with these super intense waves of excruciating pain. I wake up and my bedding and clothes are soaked from sweat.” Lacia began to cry as she finished.

Her emotions were high. Not only did she just divulge her biggest secret to her best friend, she was certain that if word got out, people would think she was diseased or had some strange medical problem; most students would shy away from her under the guise of giving her “space” as she worked through whatever ailed her. The school would call her parents who would find the bruising, then refer her to a psychiatrist because they thought she was harming herself.

And maybe I’m just overacting,” she thought, but she didn’t need someone who knew nothing about her to tell her something she knew wasn’t true.

“You’re going through a hormonal stage right now. It’s normal for young adults to feel confused about themselves,” the therapist would say.

“Let’s try medication, and if that doesn’t help, we’ll take a different approach. How’s that sound?” the psychiatrist would say.

She knew better than to think Mana would spill her secret, but her head was a minefield. Someone would eventually ask why she changed her bedding so often, or why she always changed right after school let out. Even worse, she was terrified of someone accidentally seeing her bruises; she was even more worried about becoming the source of new, abhorrent rumors.

Lacia shook her head. “The pain is so intense at first, I want to cry, but I can’t even make a sound or call for help—it's that bad. I even threw up straight blood last night for the first time ever. By the time I knew what had happened, I was curled up in the corner, soaked with blood,” she finished.

“And you thought it was a good idea to keep this from everyone? I know what you’re thinking—no one is going to think you’re crazy. Still, though,” Mana interrogated.

Most other students in the gym had excused themselves, ready to call it a day and head home. Lacia and Mana remained huddled in the bleachers as Lacia broke into tears—it had been a long day.

“I’m supposed to be your support system, but I really don’t know what to do right now,” Mana whispered to herself.

“Just hold me for a moment,” Lacia said through tears.

Mana’s embrace was warm and comforting, bringing Lacia a bout of relief. Her skin glowed in the yellow lights that hung from the rafters of the gymnasium, a far healthier glow than Lacia’s ghostly appearance.

Her hair smelled like lavender. Its silky, black appearance reminded Lacia of onyx, sleek and polished as it reflected the light above. Something about Mana’s hair calmed her down; it was always perfectly brushed and so soft. When asked what products she uses in it, she was met with a lackluster “Nothing special. Just a shampoo and conditioner from the store.” She loved that about her, always so carefree but so attentive to the world around her.

Mana released Lacia from her hold, checking her wristwatch as she spun the face around. The band was light pink, scattered with imprints of white flower petals; the watch face itself was a similar shade to the band, but the clock hands were a contrasting black.

“Is that new?” Lacia asked, regaining her composure. “I’ve never seen you wear it before.”

Mana stared into her eyes before replying, though she could care less about the watch. She could tell Lacia was troubled by her nightmares, and she wished there was more she could do for her, but she didn’t have the slightest clue what she could even offer. Was it enough to just hold her like she asked? Should she push her for more answers? If so, at what point would she be crossing the line?

“Mm. Yeah, it’s new—an early graduation gift, but enough about that. How do you really feel, Lacia? What else can I do to help? With a little luck, I might be able to get you on my health insu—”

“No. Don’t. I’m just stressed, is all. With graduation coming up and all plus my nineteenth birthday…” She tipped her head back. “I’ll be okay once things calm down.”

I’ll believe it when I see it,” Mana thought. “For now, let’s just head home. Campus closes for the day soon; it’s already almost twenty to four, anyways.” She stood up, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “Oh! And I called your mom’s cell and left a voicemail, by the way. I told her you weren’t feeling well, and I’d watch you for a few days. Sorry I didn’t ask first,” she said, clasping her hands.

Lacia waved her hand. “It’s ok. I appreciate the sentiment. It’ll be nice having you around for a while, anyways.”

“Then it’s settled! Do you have everything you need from your locker? Also, definitely don’t forget your umbrella—it’s a torrent out there!” Mana turned to face Lacia. “Still, I wish there was more I could do to help you. I kind of feel like I broke a promise to myself in some way. I just want you to be ok.”

“I know, and I really appreciate it,” Lacia said, drying the last of her tears.

Mana was thorough. Over time, however, Lacia had discovered what she deemed “loopholes” in her surveillance. Simply putting on a brave face and acting the part was all it took to convince her, though Lacia had become increasingly aware that she was having to work a lot harder than usual, trying to keep her from worrying.

“Mana— Thank you—for all of this. There have been times I wouldn’t have been able to support myself, alone,” she said. “When I say this is not one of those times, though, I mean it. This isn’t like those bullies in middle school who used to stick gum in my hair, and it’s not like I’m depressed or anything, you know? I just… need time to relax right now.”

She pulled her backpack towards her, removing her raincoat from between the straps as she slipped the polyester fabric on. With a ziiip and unraveling of an umbrella, she was ready to go.

“It’s been a long day, and I know you’re probably tired, considering everything you’ve told me, and all.” Mana walked over to the gym doors, holding them open for Lacia. “Shall we take our leave?”

Either someone had prayed for rain, too much rain, or the sky had turned into an ocean—it was coming down so hard Lacia feared she’d be washed away like the sand in her nightmares. They’d decided upon Lacia’s house as she was currently living alone, but at this rate, they were better off jumping into a nearby river; the swift pace of the water would be faster than a full-on sprint through the torrent. Besides, they’d get just as wet, anyways.

“It seems that, regardless of what we do, we’re going to get wet,” Lacia sighed. “I’m not sure if we can even make it to my house, Mana. How close is your apartment?”

“Not, like, real far, but… We’re not going to my apartment. Lol. Ok? We already decided.”

Lacia lowered her head, defeated. “Fine, but I don’t have much food right now. Kinda waiting on my monthly allowance to hit and all.”

“It’s fine. Once the rain stops, we can run by my apartment or the convenience store and get some stuff! Just wait until you feast your eyes, and, I guess, stomach, upon my marvelous culinary skills!” Mana beamed with pride. “Oh? Now where did you get this?” She snatched Lacia’s umbrella from her hands.


“Sorry! Your umbrella is just so cute! I’m especially fond of these little clouds. What other cute little things are you hiding?” she teased.

Lacia frowned. “Can we, uhh, just go? I am kinda tired.”

“Mm. Sorry. We’re gonna get so wet, though. Umm…” Mana looked around, spotting a couple extra towels for emergencies in her locker. “Wrap one around the stuff inside your bag. It’ll keep it drier than throwing over the outside.”

By the time they arrived at Lacia’s house, they were soaked: pruned fingers, dripping hair, and clinging clothes.

Hachoo! I-I think I got—achoo—water up my nose,” Lacia said, sniffling. “Today was just fantastic, wasn’t it?” she said rhetorically, keying into the house.

The interior was dark as night; there were no lights on, the blinds were closed, and drapes drawn; the deep gray clouds similarly blocked any sunlight from reaching the lonely home. Even so, as soon as the door swung open, the air conditioner kicked on slamming the girls with an icy blast. Goosebumps stood like miniature mountains on their skin as they shivered.

“God, it’s so dark in here,” Lcia said, rubbing her hand across the wall, finally flipping the overhead light on. She placed her bag on the mat by the door where it began to form a puddle. “I’ll, uhh, run the bath upstairs. You can go first. I need to remake my bed, anyways,” Lacia trailed off, recalling the soaked sheets and horrific nightmares.

Mana shook her head. “I’ll help you with the bed, but how about you take the first bath? You need some time to relax, and the rain is lightening up,” she said. “Go— Get in the bath. I’ll be back by the time you’re done but call me immediately if something happens.”

“Ok, mom,” Lacia rolled her eyes. “I’ll make sure to eat my vegetables and brush my teeth, too. While I’m at it, I’ll make sure I’m in bed by bedtime, as well.”

She stared into Mana’s eyes for a moment before the girls broke out into a fit of laughter. In that moment, she felt better than she had in months. “I’ll go first then, I guess. There’ll be plenty of hot water by the time you get back since it takes a lot to fill the tub and all.”

“Perfect,” Mana said, wringing her hair out with the towel from her bag. “I need to grab some changes of clothes, too.”

“Yeah, that tracks,” Lacia laughed. “See you in a bit, then?”


Mana waved bye from the doorway as Lacia handed her a spare key. She watched from the kitchen window until Mana turned the corner, disappearing from sight. “The least I can do before she gets back is take everything out of our bags to dry,” she said, clearing the dining room table. “And now, for that bath.”

“Ahhh… Yeah, this is going to feel sublime.”

Water splashed from the tub as Lacia carefully slid into the porcelain fixture, reverberating off the tile walls of the bathroom. She placed her phone on the countertop in the event she’d need it, purposefully turning the ringer on, though she didn’t anticipate any trouble. Leaning against the back of the tub, her shoulder blades connected with the top edge of the tub, sending a chilly shockwave down her spine as she slid further into the water.

“How did I ever manage to get myself in so much trouble, much less inconvenience my bestie?” she said, heaving a sigh.

The nightmares began around the start of the new year, their recurrent nature leading to innumerable sleepless nights, but the excruciating pain was a recent addition—and the most concerning.

She moved her hand through the bath. The drag created by the water felt eerily representative of life as of late: weighted down, dragged along, and ambiguous. Tenderly rubbing her side, she winced at the pain. Much of her abdomen had grown sore and her muscles felt stiff—even bending over was painful, and she had no idea why. For now, she figured she’d wrap it with gauze, forget about it, and continue with her life. After all, graduation was fast-approaching, there were entrance exams still to take, and application fees to pay if she wanted into a specialty-school of her choice.

Still, though. If her pain and suffering were meant to be catalysts, what were they catalysts for? Out of approximately eight-billion people, she was supposed to be the one to suffer? She didn’t even know who or what she was meant to suffer for.

She shook her head. Her “symptoms” weren’t severe enough to run up countless medical bills that would send her spiraling into debt—she decided she liked soaking in the bath more as the steam filled her nostrils. Right now, there wasn’t a thing in Heaven or on Earth that could disrupt her moment of bliss. The warm water had managed to unravel the knots in her muscles and warm her rain-chilled bones. She was surprised to find she could even think clearly for the first time in what felt like forever. Although, realizing just a few a medical tests could probably cure her, the idea of ensuing medical debt wasn’t exactly comforting.

A couple knocks at the bathroom door pulled Lacia from her steamy daze. “Lacia, I’m back. I brought enough food for the weekend, so don’t worry. ‘K?” It was Mana. She’d probably want the bath before long. Water splashed onto the tile floor as Lacia began to lift herself out.

“No, no. Stay in there as long as you need. Besides, there’s a couple things I want to ask you,” Mana said, pressing her back to the bathroom door.

“Umm, ok then. Sure,” Lacia responded. “I guess you’re going to sit against the door until you get your answers, though, aren’t you?”

Mana gave a soft chuckle. “Here’s my first question: who exactly found you last night? I saw the note on the counter from your parents explaining that they’d be away for business and all the emergency numbers they listed for you.” She paused for a second, thinking about how to word her next question. “Who else knows about these “episodes” besides you, me, and your parents? Wait. How much do they know?”

“You’re talking to one of the only four people who know right now—there’s two in this house. We— My parents explained to our neighbors that I’ve been incredibly ill lately, but it comes in waves which is why I go to school on days I feel well enough to attend. We have to play the entire ordeal off as a chronic condition, though,” she explained.

It was the truth. Her parents spent several days crafting as believable a story as they could upon learning of Lacia’s condition. Their intuition was to rush her straight to the Emergency Room, but she’d managed to convince them that wasn’t necessary, and she’d be fine with a little rest. Of course, no one wanted to involve the neighbors, but someone had to keep an eye on Lacia in her parents’ absence.

“It honestly kills me inside that I have to be portrayed as the poor, sick girl. I was perfectly fine up until this year!” she cried out. “As for who found me, though… It was the neighbor's son—the one who goes to the art school. I turn the lights on when I feel bad and back off when I feel like I can sleep again, though I should note these episodes usually only happen at night for some reason… Either way, he must have been up late one night, saw the lights go on and off, and used the other spare key to come check on me,” she finished.

Being found precariously draped half across the foot the bed and the floor wasn’t ideal, and it was embarrassing to think someone had seen her in such a state. Her face was plastered to the bed in a puddle of drool, hair matted and tangled. At the time, she didn’t care; her mind was blank; her legs felt like deadweights; her head pounded like a drum, and her stomach felt as if it were being prodded by thousands of tiny needles. Had the neighbor boy not shown up, things could have gone a lot worse. She knew it was extreme, but…

What if I’d died? No, that’s ridiculous,” she thought.

“Hey, Mana? Can I, um, get out of the bath now?” Lacia asked. “What am I even doing? Asking for permission to get out of my own bath in my own house. Lol. Life has me all kinds of cooked, I guess.

“Oh! Yeah, sorry. We can talk more later if you want,” Mana said. She’d completely forgotten she was still wearing her rain-soaked clothes, shivering as she moved away from the door. “I just needed to know how you’d managed to deal with so much, alone.”

The sound of sloshing water and tapping of wet feet reverberated through the bathroom once more. “You had every right to ask, but…” she paused. “What did you think I was doing in here? There can really only be a handful of things a girl can do in the bath for,” she checked the time on her phone, a bit surprised, “nearly an hour and I assure you it wasn’t that,” she laughed awkwardly. “I’ll draw your bath after I get dressed, because, ya know, the water has to drain and all first. Do you like bubbles?”

“I’m fine with just a plain bath, thanks, though,” Mana replied. She was amazed how Lacia could be so selfless at a time when she should be spending time focusing on herself. “Still thinking about other people at a time like this… You’re incredible,” she whispered to herself.

“Huh? Did you say something?”

“It’s nothing. I was just, uh, talking to myself,” she said as Lacia stepped out into the hall, towel around her body and in her hair.

“The tub should be drained in about another minute—just turn the knob left for hot water and right for cold or to turn it off. I’m going to put some sheets on my bed—I can at least do that much for myself,” Lacia said, easing the worry on Mana’s face. “I’ll make some tea once I’m done. Any particular favorite flavors you’d prefer?”

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