Chapter 2:

The Known Stranger

The Garden Of Dreams

Nathan opened his eyes with a loud gasp, struggling for breath. 
"What just happened?" 
"Another nightmare? Why do I keep having these?" he said to himself, while still trying to breathe properly. 
Nathan often had nightmares. He had been having this one for quite some time now. He didn't know what it meant. But Seeing his family die over and over terrified him. 
He looked at the time, it was five in the morning. 

"Well, at least I woke up on time." 

It was Ellie's 18th birthday today, and the whole family was going to the Hillwood island to celebrate. They had planned to leave at seven in the morning. 

Nathan took a shower, ate some cereal, put on some clothes, packed his things, and he left for his parents' house. 

"Coming in a sec!"
Ellie opened the door.
Nathan hugged her and wished her a happy birthday. Ellie thanked him with a bright smile, she was happy to see her brother.

"Nathan! It's good to see you" said Mrs. Frost, hugging Nathan.
"It's good to see you too mom. How have you been?"
"Just fine Nate. What about you?"  

"Oh, I've been great, everything's great." (He wanted to talk to her about the odd feelings and the nightmares, but he didn't.)

"Where's dad?"

"He's in the garage, something's wrong with the car...Why don't you help him out?"

"Hey dad!"

"Son! It's good to see you"

"It's good to see you too dad."

"So, how have you been?"


"How's college?  You liking it?"

"Oh yeah, college's great too dad."

"Well, that's nice to hear son."

"Umm...Mom said you needed some help with the car."
"Yeah, I could use some help."

15 minutes later...

"We're all set, you all ready to leave?
"Yeah, let's go dad." Said Ellie with much excitement.

"Let's leave then."
Three hours had passed, they were still about thirty minutes away. Nathan was having an uneasy feeling. It was because of his nightmare. Sitting in the car with his family, he had a feeling that his nightmare would come true, he was afraid. He looked out the window, the route seemed familiar to him. Even tough he was going to Hillwood for the first time, he felt like he had seen this road before. 
"Dad what route did you take?"
"I took a short-cut son. Why do you ask? Something wrong?"
"No, it's alright, I was just asking..."
Nathan couldn't get the image of his dead family out of his head. He was anxious. He started seeing glimpses of the nightmare. The whole sequence started playing in his head over and over again. He started sweating, he ran out of breath, and he felt like puking.
"You alright Nate?" asked Mrs. Frost.
"No...uhh...Dad could you please pull over once? I don't feel so good."

"You okay son?" asked Mr. Frost while pulling the car over to the side.

"Yeah, I just need some air, that's all..."

Nathan stepped out of the car and stared breathing heavily. He didn't understand why a single nightmare seemed so terrifying to him.

"Why did it feel so real? And why do I keep having the same nightmare again and again?" he kept asking himself.   
He was out for a while and came back inside when his breath got normal.
"You sure you're okay? We can turn back and go to a hospital if you're still not feeling good..." 
"No dad, there's no need to go to a hospital. I'm fine. I just needed some fresh air, probably because I'm not so used to long trips..." 
"Okay son, if you say so."
They continued the drive and reached shortly after. They had booked some rooms at "The Arconia", the most lavish and expensive hotel in Hillwood. Mr. Frost left the car to an android valet. All of them went inside while another bot carried their luggage. 

"Good morning sir. How may I help you?" asked the receptionist.

"We have a reservation under the name Frost." replied Mr. Frost.

"Can I see some ID please?"

The conversation continued but Nate kept staring at the receptionist. She seemed very familiar to him. He felt like he knew her. He just stood there, staring at her.
"Nate...Nate!" Mr. Frost called him.
"Huh?" he had blanked out, he wasn't paying attention to anything. He was just staring at 'Tessa'. That was the receptionist's name, he saw it on her badge.
"C'mon, let's go to our rooms."
"Uhh....Yeah, let's go."
"Who is she? Do I know her?" He wondered.
"Dad, why don't you all go, I'll be up in just a bit." Said Nathan hastily. 
"Oaky, as you wish."
"Hey! have we met before?" Nathan bluntly asked Tessa.
"No sir...umm...I don't quite think so."
"Huh? It's just that you seem familiar. Sorry if that sounded creepy."
"No, it's okay. You might have confused me with someone else..."
"Yeah, I think so too..." Nathan was about to leave after saying this but he turned back.
"Are you in The Nodax Science University and Research Facility by any chance?" He asked Tessa.
"'d you know that?"
"Just a random guess, I go there too..."
"Which branch?"
"The main branch, in Northern Nodax."
"Oh, but I go to the western branch, right here in Hillwood."
"Were you at the Annual Exhibition?"
"Then I must have seen you there."
"Now that I think about it, you seem familiar too...Are you the guy who won? Nathan...I guess?"
"Yes, I am the guy who won, Nathan Frost."
"It's nice to meet you Nathan, I'm Tessa Lambert." Tessa said this with a smile.
"Well, the pleasure's all mine Tessa." Said Nathan, while smiling back.

Nathan had a weird feeling, but in a good way. He felt nice while talking to Tessa. 
"You work here part time?"
"Yes, I work at the evening shift. The receptionist who had the morning shift is on leave today, so I'm just filling in."
"I see."
Nathan wanted to continue the conversation but he didn't know what to say.
"Would you like to go for a coffee some time?" He asked, without expecting a positive response. 
Tessa was quiet for some time, she was probably taking some time to think...
"Yeah, sure. But I'm not free today. We could go tomorrow if you're still here." She replied.
"Tomorrow then. Do you know some good cafes?"
"Yeah, I do. Is ten in the morning acceptable?"
"Yeah, totally."
"Fine then, I'll see you tomorrow at the front gate."
"Sure, see you tomorrow."

Nate was quite surprised that she agreed to it. He went back to his room. Nate's room had quite a view, he could see the green landscapes and the beautiful ocean. The natural beauty, which was very rare in this futuristic world, was the reason for which Hillwood was so famous for. But Nate didn't find that view beautiful. He just found it "odd" and "unusual", just like much of the things in this world.....