When Characters “Speak”

[This blog post was originally published on my old blogspot on February 26th, 2021. I no longer use blogspot, but some of the content there is still fun to read and I feel relevant to my current writing journey. It has been somewhat modified but largely remains the same. Please enjoy.]

Characters Fight Back

When I listen to other writers discuss writing, specifically the creation of characters and how they shape their personal plots, I’ve come across a very prevalent mindset. Namely, that characters talk.


Yup. Numerous writers, from the successful and famous doing a televised interview to the obscure blogger that I swap creative ideas with, claim this. They say that their characters talk to them. That they argue. That they won’t do what they’re told. That they have grown personalities so potent they have an audible voice inside the author’s head.

And whenever I encounter this mindset, I feel a little left out. But maybe more weirded out. Because it doesn’t happen to me. My characters do not “speak” to me. Why is it that I feel like *I’m* the crazy one when I say that?

Nope. I made them up. They never talk. They never argue. They stay totally quiet when I conjure them in my brain and move them like the little fictional puppets that they are.

Errmmm… usually. There was one exception. 

The Mermaid Talked

Don’t you just love sifting through old files and finding things you’d completely (maybe willfully) forgotten about?

While hunting for old cover letters to reference, I stumbled on a file called GET AWAY FROM THE WATERv3. 

(GET AWAY FROM THE WATER being the short story that won me the award I’m so obnoxiously proud of. It’s published in the Spring 2016 issue of eleven40seven and it’s on page 54 of this PDF. Go forth. Read. Enjoy. Be slightly horrified.)

“Ah!” I said to myself. “I appear to be missing the raw file on my current computer. I will copy and paste that over on Illustrious Superior Laptop now.”

Click, drag, open, ding, and… *SUDDEN RECOGNITION AND HORROR*

“Oh. Yeah. That was a thing that happened.”

That thing that happened being that I wrote a new version of GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, changing one key detail in the body of the story and tacking on a 366 word alternate ending.


Because the mermaid spoke to me. Yeah. And she was LIVID.

And listen y’all… the mermaid never had a name. She had one line. Her job was to rescue Miriam, speak her wonderous title-dropping one-line, and DIE.

To Be Fair, I Was Slightly Crazy

I’ve talked some about my delusions and psychotic breaks with reality. Long story short, I’ve suffered four major psychosis episodes. This specific incident happened a little after my second major psychotic break. When the loopy chemicals were going strong, I guess.

She didn’t use words. She was not an audible voice. But it was her.

It happened over the course of a few days. My head was puzzling over all the images and scenarios in that psychotic break, trying to make sense of them, and she emerged.

Waves of loss, confusion, and hopelessness passed over me. Her potent sense of utter betrayal. This stupid song played on repeat in my head, and I knew she was singing it. She was angry with me. I’d destroyed her. She felt promised to a happy ending. Entitled, to a happy ending.

And, feeling more than a little terrified, I opened up GET AWAY FROM THE WATER (which I hadn’t touched since it had been published) and wrote an alternate ending.

Changing the Story

In Fiction Writing Workshop class where baby-college-Ally (isn’t she cuuuuute?) first wrote GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, my instructor said, “Hey! You should give Aaron a gun because that’s a small child with a weapon and it adds more drama and tension to that scene where Miriam’s driving to the beach.”

And I was like, “Uhhh… okay we could use some drama and tension. But I’m not giving a small child a gun. What would even be the point of that? Don’t you have to set off a gun you bring into a story?” But my instructor was so enthusiastic and baby-college-Ally wanted to impress the published author, so I gave the kid a big knife.

The first thing I did after the mermaid spoke to me? Change one key detail. Give the kid a gun. 

The next thing I did? Added 366 words. Miriam charges back to the sea and shoots the Leviathan in the eye. Gun goes off. (Are you proud, Chekhov?) And the mermaid gets to live.

There’s even a lovely note at the end of the document where I talk back to the mermaid (pictured above): “Are you happy now? I’ll write you a full novel one day. Today you’re just a short story, but know you’re not finished yet. If I die before I complete you, know that you found help and you survived. You lived happily ever after. You met a great guy and had lots of adorable mer-babies.”

She hasn’t spoken since.

To be fair, no character of mine has “spoken” since. Or before. And I was a little delusional when this incident happened, so I would like to confirm something for the rest of you authors who claim your characters “speak.” 

You are, in fact, crazy. Thank you.

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

10 Activities to Lift a Low Mood (For Writers)

One of the tools in my mental health defense kit, right up next to my Future-Worth-Fighting-For affirmation candle, is something I like to call my low-mood list. This is a list of things that have helped me boost my mood in the past. The idea being that when I’m in a depressive state, I can refer to this list and give myself a mental boost. That list contains items like “Text/Call your sister,” and “Do a workout.”

As a writer, you might have a lot of cause to feel low. Rejection. Bad reviews. Low sales. Being creative is really hard, man. But I’ve become a big believer in the sheer power of changing your mindset.

This list is equipped with writing-flavored mood boosters. For the moments you feel low, try something on this list! If it doesn’t help, try something else. If nothing helps, I still have advice for you.

Get A Writer Goodie that Affirms You

Behold! My many affirming laptop stickers!

Crush imposter syndrome and own your writing identity with a Writer Goodie! What Writer Goodie? Get any kind of Write Goodie your heart desires!

We’ve got mugs, we’ve got t-shirts, we’ve got journals and notebooks!

I got some of my favorite writing stickers from LostinFictionDesigns on Etsy and the Scribbler subscription box. My “Future Bestselling Author” mug came from Books A Million.

(These are not affiliate links and no one has paid me any amount of change to recommend these products, I’m just recommending them cause I love them.)

Whatever Writer Goodie you get, wear it or flaunt it proudly. You earned it just by embarking on this hard journey of writing!

Create an Upbeat Playlist for Your Project

Spotify Playlist for The Control

One of the most beautiful sources of inspiration is a little upbeat music. Creating a playlist for a project is part of the creative process for me, and when I visit the songs and music pieces that make me think about my project, I can often find inspiration on where to go next in the story.

Create a Vision Board for Your Project

This is one I actually hadn’t tried out before I started this blog post, but I see other writers on Twitter and Instagram make these all the time. Similar to the Project Playlist, this is an exercise that helps you think about the visuals of your project and what kind of feel you want your story to have.

Try a Fun Writing Exercise

Dive into your craft and stretch your creative muscles with a fun writing exercise.

Some of my favorite exercises come from What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Here are some examples:

  1. Write a story using only words that contain one syllable.
  2. Write about the items in your character’s bathroom cabinet.
  3. Write a story using a found line of poetry.
  4. Write a first sentence that begins your story in the middle of the action.
  5. Write a story where a character’s imagination is overtaken by an obsession.

One of these What If exercises directly led to my awarding-winning short story GET AWAY FROM THE WATER. You might be surprised where an exercise can lead you too.

Take a Writing Break

Sometimes, you just need to unplug. If you’re in a negative rut and having a hard time escaping, then it might be time to step away from the keyboard for a little bit.

Take a walk. Watch a movie. Read a book. Put writing on the shelf for a moment and let yourself be present in whatever you’re exploring in the world beyond your imagination.

Revisit Your Sources of Inspiration

As writers we are often inspired by the work of others who wrote before us. If you have a significant source of inspiration: a favorite author, favorite image, favorite film or TV show, or any other source, then revisit that place where you felt inspired and allow it to inspire you again. Sometimes when you’re thinking about the kinds of stories you want to tell, it can lift your spirit thinking about how your story could one day produce the same spirit of inspiration in others.

Make a Small Writing Goal (And Crush That Goal!)

Lack of progress got you down? Make a small goal. It can be something as simple as telling yourself to just write for 5 minutes or just write 100 words.

Then give yourself the dopamine hit of making it happen. Even better, sometimes all it takes to get really moving is just a little bit of forward momentum. That five minutes could turn into fifty-five minutes, and those first 100 words could easily become 1,000.

Organize or Design Your Writing Space

My writing desk back at my old apartment.

If you have an office space where you do most of your writing, then it might give you a quick mood boost to spend some time getting that space in order.

Back when I had a desk space in my apartment, I took great delight in decorating and daydreaming about making my space as magical as possible. It brings me great joy to put up pictures of loved ones and cover available space with happy knick-knacks and other goodies.

If you have a space already, spend some time tidying it up or organizing it so that it feels inviting and inspiring.

Read Back Over Something You’re Proud You Wrote

Sometimes, you can read back over something you wrote and feel a burst of awe. Did you really write that? That’s pretty darn good, if you do say so yourself.

When I’m feeling low and not as proud of my writing as I’d like to be, I revisit projects that I’m really happy with like GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, CREEPER, and even my old Sims 3 story. (Dare I link this? Eh, sure.) I feel a little glow of happiness knowing that I was the one who brought those words into being.

Celebrate Your Writing Victories

Count no victory too small. When I’m feeling low, I like to remind myself of the things that I have accomplished in the writing world.

I’ve had two short stories published by eleven40seven, and one of them won an award. I won third place in SciCom’s Science Meets Fiction Contest. My why-not pitch to Mythrill got The Control published on their platform. I finished NaNoWriMo after an 11-challenge losing streak in 2022. I’ve cut out and saved fun comments from my writing critique group.

Did you make a certain word count? Hear a bit of praise from a beta reader? Make a sale? File it away in your victory box and remind yourself of it when you feel low.

When Nothing Helps- I Still Have Advice

I’ve had days where I’ve tried everything on my low-mood list and absolutely nothing seemed to make any kind of impact. If that’s happening for you, don’t give in to despair just yet. Some of my emergency mood-boosters include intense exercise and a sharp temperature change (usually in the form of a cold shower or dunking my face in ice water). You can also aim to distract yourself with a fun video or a call to a good, caring friend. The idea is to interrupt the negative thought patterns long enough to start thinking truth again.

No matter what, remember that whatever low you’re feeling can pass. It hurts to think optimistically sometimes, but it really can make a difference if you let it.

I hope this low-mood list designed just for writers has helped lift your spirits for the afternoon. Keep writing and keep dreaming big!

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

Fireworks and Unicorn Logo

2022 in Review

This year brought hardship and trial, but I’m looking back over the past 12 months with gratitude. So what went right this year for me?

Let’s Look Back

I read 30 books. Initially, I was really disappointed in myself for this number because guyz… THIS IS AN ALL-TIME LOW FOR ME! I have kept track of my books read every year since 2009 and this is the SMALLEST number it’s ever been.

But then, I decided to cut myself some slack. This year was a tough cookie and my life has changed a lot since my 2018 record of 161 books. I’m hoping to read so much more in 2023!

For all the well-meaning peeps who say, “Just read what you like and have fun, don’t worry about counting or numbers!”

Dude, the counting and numbers make it 10x more fun for me.

I’ve been much more active on social media this year, and I think I posted my first TikToks this year. The platform still kinda scares me, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the BookTok community.

I threw Imagine Destiny this year! This masquerade ball was the cumulation of a 3-year dream and it was beautiful beyond words.

I started a new job this year. Grateful to be working, but still feeling like I’m not settled at all where I want to be.

October of 2022 was my first writer’s conference, DFWcon. I brought home many a beautiful book and some marketing, publishing, and booktok insight. Looking forward to more conferences to come!

The Control went up on Mythrill! 44 episodes have been published as of this posting. Can I make it to season 2 in 2023?

My big-ticket win: I finished NaNoWriMo and broke a serious NaNo challenge losing streak. And it felt good, man.

So, Happy New Year, What Comes Next?

I have lofty goals for 2023, which include putting HANG ON out there on query, finishing Season 1 of The Control, and reading at least 50 books! I’m excited for the things to come in the new year.

So happy new year, my dear friends. I hope 2023 brings many adventures.

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

The NaNoWriMo Victory Dance!

Scroll through my projects page on the NaNoWriMo website, and you will find a NaNo Challenge graveyard. Heck, scroll through this blog and find GREAT NANOWRIMO DESPAIR!

My first NaNoWriMo voyages were fun and productive! In fact, I found the challenge rather easy. Even juggling high school and college, I made it all the way or super close to 50,000. I think things went wrong when I skipped a year and then graduated college.

My last NaNoWriMo win was November 2015, and since then I signed on for 11 challenges that I did not manage to complete.

Now, the community of writers who champion NaNoWriMo will be quick to point out that it’s not just about getting to the winner screen. It’s about a whole community coming together to cheer each other on, and every word regardless of whether or not it takes you over that finish line is a victory.

But I gotta say…

This sure feels good.

Winning Isn’t Everything, But I’m Celebrating My Victories

I burst out of the gate on November 1st and for about 14k words, I was on fire. Four steps ahead of the progress line and loving every word.

I lost momentum at the start of week two and came to a standstill about week 3.

Sunday the 27th, sloughing my way to 33k, I almost resigned myself to a 12th challenge lost in my depressing streak.

Monday morning, I woke up and said, “Hey, wait a minute!”

It was a tall order for myself, 17k words in three days, but…

I knew I could do it.

So, I did. Wrote like madness for two evenings, getting about 8k words each day before claiming a win on lunch break of the final NaNoWriMo day.

All in all, if my timers are correct, it was about 40 hours of work at an average typing speed of 1,250 words per hour.

No, my fingers do not hurt and no keyboards were harmed in the making of this happy winning month.

I Wrote a Novel, Now What?

People familiar with my writing journey will know that I have actually sat here with sloppy first-draft in hand many times.

Counting the darlings on my hard-drive, this makes manuscript full draft number 16 actually…

My dream for my NaNoWriMo 2022 project (PSYCHOSURGE!) would be for it to be traditionally published by a major press. But for the moment, I’m going to shelve it.

I have a novel project that I wrote (independent of NaNoWriMo) in 2018 called HANG ON. That project is still something I consider my best work, and I still dream of getting it traditionally published. My goal for December and for 2023 is to get it into submission-shape.

I’ve made a submission-ready HANG ON my year’s goal in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 now. Some people might call that a depressing failure streak.

But… I’ve proven to myself that I can break one of those.

So cheers to the end of bad patterns and the liberation from old habits!

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

The Creative Power of Dreams

Plight of the writer.

At 2AM this morning, I awoke.

Throwing back the covers, I checked the time.

Oh wow. Still early. I thought. Laying back down, I stared across the room at the mirror on my jewelry armoire. No, can’t go back to sleep yet. I have to write this down.

So I got up, and I wrote down my dream.

Close to eight hours later, up and starting my day, I texted with my sister. I described how inspired I felt.

“Some of my best story ideas come from dreams. lol” She replied.

Yeah. Incredible, isn’t it?

At night, we dream. Science has yet to fully explain why. In our minds, the barriers between fantasy and reality rip away and we wander through landscapes of intense color and worlds of what-if scenarios. Some dreams are bizarre. Some dreams are mundane.

And then… some dreams strike a chord that feels like the root of a creative burst.

I’ve previously shared with some friends and family that my manuscript darling, HANG ON (#amquerying), came to me during my April 2018 psychotic break with reality. The images that bombarded my conscious during that week were extremely dream-like.

This dream felt reminiscent of that psychotic break, as some of my dreams these days often do. I sat down to write on my current works in progress, but my mind kept wandering.

I hit “New Document” on Microsoft Word and faced the blank page.


And thus a new journey begins.

THE CONTROL is Now on Mythrill

THE CONTROL a YA Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia, is now on Mythrill.

Every scientific experiment needs a control, and for the genetically engineered superhumans at Hayes Industries, that means every one of them has ordinary human counterparts who must endure the same horrific experiments as they do.

Sixteen-year-old Beth is one of the controls, designed to be the ordinary biological counterpart of the super-human, Beta, the second-most powerful superhuman at Hayes Industries. But in one escape attempt gone awry, Beta dies. As Hayes Industries has no further use for a control without a super-human counterpart, Beth must escape an attempt to terminate her life.

Announcing: The Return of the Revenge of the Bride of the Madness! (Camp NaNo 2022 April Session)

Guess what I’ve signed up for. Again. Even though I flunked November AGAIN this past 2021.

Soon the April session of Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) will be upon us, and I will be attempting the madness again. The last TEN challenges I have signed on for, I have crashed and burned.

I’m a little nervous announcing that I’m doing a NaNoWriMo Camp session since my last few stints of public NaNoWriMo have gone so poorly. My darkness monster has consistently reared its ugly head. Even put me in the hospital in 2020 (Failure with 20,000 words! Woot!). But I’m feeling really hopeful on attempt 11, even though… hahaha…silly me, I set my goal to 95,000 freakin’ words. Cue the psycho music!

But… here’s the thing. The project I’m working on and want to finish… I kind of sold it.

For my Instagram followers… I have teased #secretprojectcoming2022. I even announced where #secreteprojectcoming2022 would be, Mythrill Fiction! I’m so immensely grateful for the opportunity to share my writing on a wide-scale basis, and I’m EXCITED man! One problem… the manuscript I pitched… I never finished!

Time to fix that.

See y’all in April at the starting line!


Guess what? It’s NaNoWriMo day 21. And I am okay.

Oh, I’m definitely behind. Probably not gonna finish. But that’s okay. I have written 15,480 words total that I am mostly proud of and I had a good long 5,000-word sprint just today!

My last Instagram post, and my last post on here, were pretty dark. I reached a dark place. On Instagram I wrote, “Part of me wants other people to know how I feel so that they can tell me that they care… but the darkness monster says even if people do care… so what? It’s not enough. It’s never enough. It can’t last and it can’t make anything different.”

Here’s the thing though… people showed up to care. And I found that once again, it DOES matter. When you have people that love you cheering you on, it doesn’t matter how many words you get or don’t get. And I realized that even if I didn’t live up to the expectations I set for myself right this minute, my life is still worth living. The darkness monster can go away. Maybe he’ll be back, but it’s okay. He’s just a liar I don’t need to listen to anyway.

So here’s to however many words I get to finish in the next nine days! Happy writing!

Announcing: We Be Attempting the Madness (Again)

Guess what time of year it is…

It be time to announce my lofty goal for November! That’s right, it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2021 and I am attempting the madness yet again! The last NINE TIMES I have attempted NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, I have crashed and burned. I haven’t won a NaNoWriMo challenge since 2015.

But win, lose, or total apocalypse, I’m running again in 2021. And I must admit, I’m “cheating” a little bit. This year’s project is to finish Maid of Honor for Summer, which I have technically already started. But in a challenge with no real prizes, I think it’s okay to bend the rules a little. I will be sharing one chapter per week on Sequel, which I hope will help me stay motivated to keep going, and I will post bi-weekly updates to my blog here and on Instagram.

Looking forward to running the race!


3rd Place Winner in the Spring 2017 Science Meets Fiction Contest, co-sponsored by SciCom: the College of Science & Engineering science communication initiative and eleven40seven: TCU Journal of the Arts

      White-hot pain sears through my temples and I bolt upright, gasping.
      Metal wires pull me back and icy fluid splashes against my ears. I clasp my hands on either side of my head and find brain-probing crystals jammed into my skull. Steel cords cage my forehead and tether me down against a cold glass surface. I claw at the crystals and yank on the wires protruding from them, but the pain only intensifies. I scream, my hands convulse. I let go and my arms splash back into the freezing blue liquid that surrounds me. Hyperventilating, I look down at my body. Another steel cord wraps around my waist. Fluid laps up over my knees and soaks into my clean white body suit, staining it dark blue.
      “Tell us when you saw Earth.” A voice speaks from the darkness.
      I struggle to turn my head. Through the glass, I see a tall figure standing just outside the reach of the light. Its shoulders are broad, widened with armor, and its face is concealed by a glinting silver helmet.
      “Earth?” Shivering, I turn my head back up towards the light. Fluid leaks into the corners of my mouth. “It was a dream.”
      Soothing images flit through my mind, bringing hot tears to my eyes. I remember the feel of the grass between my bare toes, the scent of roses on the gentle breeze. I swallow down a sob and shiver again.
      He warned me this would happen.
      I hear the thudding of heavy boots. The figure moves around to the foot of the tank that contains me, I see the shadow of his image rippling in the water. A click reverberates through the room and the crystals against my temples hum. I wince.
      “You must have seen it in order to dream it. Think before the dream, Anastacia. When did you see Earth?”
      I shake my head, closing my eyes. “It was just a dream.”
      More thuds, another click. The crystals hum even louder.
      “Describe the meadow.” the voice says.
      The meadow. I remember running my hands through the grass and pulling handfuls of moist earth to my face, inhaling the scent. It was nothing like the packaged dirt distributed down at the green house, all dry and vacuum-sealed. It was alive, like flowing water and blooming flowers.
     “The smell…” I whisper. “It smelled like…”
     Just as I recall the scent and search for the words to describe it, the crystals against my head buzz. The smell vanishes, whisking away into the wind.
     I gasp and try to sit upright. The wires keep me down. I push my hands against the glass.
     “What did you do?” I cry.
     Something grinds and whirs in the darkness. 
     “Describe the sunrise now.”
      My hands shake as they fall back down into the water. The thudding of my heartbeat overtakes all other sound.
      Darkness was the first thing I remembered. I walked through an endless night, pulling my arms tight against my chest to keep out the bitter cold. Then, light glowed on the distant horizon. It crept into the clouds and across the ground like a small, shy flame. Color leaked into the landscape, color so bright and vivid that it stung my eyes. I fell to my knees and stared up into the sky. Layer upon layer of gold flew high into the atmosphere, and it seemed as though it carried on forever.
      I spun around and felt the wind rustle through my hair. Scarlet buds bloomed around my feet. As I watched, butterflies burst from the grass and danced on the breeze. Dewdrops wet my ankles as I raced across the meadow, chasing them. Music thrummed with the beat of their wings, and as I grew closer it swelled into a crescendo. The sun shined brighter, the colors quivered.
      I awoke laughing.
      I bolted straight up in bed and pressed my fingers against the beaded dream catcher on my temple. The dream images played again, overlaying themselves against the drab white walls of my room. I closed my eyes and lay back, playing the images again and again until tears streaked down my face.
      Breathing hard with excitement, I slid the dream-catcher into its tiny pouch in my bag and raced out the door.
      I bounced on my heels as I stood inside the monorail, swinging back and forth on the metal ring hanging from the ceiling. I flashed a wide grin at every passenger that gave me a quizzical look. They averted their eyes, absorbing themselves in their data pads. I stared out the window and imagined the golden sky in the place of the star-ship’s dark ceiling.
      I arrived at the dream-dealer’s shop in record time. Hugging my bag against my chest, I ducked through the dream-beads hanging in the doorway. Dream catchers of every shape and size lined the shelves, and thousands of beads lay stacked in rows beside them. Round glass screens played images of dancing androids and swirling stars. I clasped my fingers against the tiny pouch where my dream catcher lay and paced at the counter.
      Orion emerged from the back, tapping his thumb against a holographic blue data-pad. Dream-beads were braided into his shimmering dreadlocks and two glassy black dream catchers rested on either side of his head.
      “Tacia!” He grinned and laid his data-pad down. “Someone just sold me a flyer yesterday. You’re going to love this one, you speed through every hallway in the ship. Here…”
      He reached across the counter towards a rack of beads. I jumped forward, taking his hand.
     “I have something even better.” I gave his hand an extra squeeze, and reached back into my bag. “Look at this.”
      Fingers trembling, I withdrew the bright green bead from the center of my dream catcher. Orion closed his eyes and I slipped the bead into the black web of his own dream catcher on his temple.
      He gasped. His hand clenched against the counter.
      “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I whispered. “Can you hear the music?”
      He let a slow breath out and nodded his head. “Yes, I hear it.”
      “And the smell?” I leaned closer, standing on my tip-toes. “You can smell the flowers? And the dew?”
      The corners of his lips twitched up. “Yes. All of it. It must be… It has to be…”
      He took slow, steady breaths. His eyes flickered back and forth beneath his dark lids. He jerked back from my hand, his eyes shooting open.
      “Earth.” he breathed.
      “Earth?” I laughed, drawing my hand back and rolling the bead between my fingers. “How would you know anything about Earth?”
       Orion slowly shook his head, shrinking back behind the counter. “What else could it be?”
       I held the bead out in the palm of my hand. “How much would a copy be worth?”
       Orion blinked, his mouth opened. He looked back towards the door and then leaned in close, lowering his voice.
       “Tacia, if I gave you everything I have, it wouldn’t be enough. But I can’t buy that dream. We need to destroy it.” He reached for the bead. “Don’t tell anyone you ever had it.”
       I snatched my hand back. “What? No!”
       “Tacia, that dream is dangerous.” Orion whispered, glancing back at the door. “You can’t be caught with it.”
       “This dream is beautiful.” I pulled my hand in close to my heart. “I won’t give it up.”
       “Give it to me!” Orion lunged across the counter, grasping at my arms.
       “No!” I fell backward.
       My shoulder collided with a rack of beads, sending them spilling across the floor. Orion rushed around the counter, reaching out for me. I thought he meant to help me up. I tried to take his hand, but he grasped at the fist I held close to my chest. I twisted over, crawling away from him.
       “No!” I shouted again.
       “Tacia, I’m trying to protect you.” He clasped my shoulders and pulled me back.
       “Don’t touch me!” I slammed my elbow into his stomach. He grunted, doubling over. I scrambled out from beneath him and bolted through the door.
       “Tacia!” he cried out after me.
       I kept running.
       For the rest of the day, I lay curled in my bed with the bead pressed on my temple. I played the dream over and over again, until I had memorized every color that saturated the sky and every scent that wafted through the breeze. I fell asleep watching the sunrise.
       I awoke in the early morning to the screeching of metal. My door caved in and two armed enforcers charged into the room. I threw the blankets back and cowered against the wall. The first enforcer seized me by the hair and pulled me from the bed. My dream catcher fell from my temple and spun across the floor.
       A steel-toed gray boot slammed down on the dream catcher.
       I cried out and reached across the floor towards the splintered pieces. The enforcer yanked me backwards.
       One last enforcer walked through the doorway, his armored fingers clenched around Orion’s shoulder. He shoved Orion down on his knees.
       Blood dripped down from the corner of his mouth.
       “I’m sorry, Tacia.” he said.
       The enforcer raised his weapon and fired. Red engulfed my vision.
       Red, like the petals of the flowers drifting through the gentle breeze. I try to capture them in my hands but they slip through my fingers and spiral into oblivion. Digging my nails down into the dirt, I try to cling to the grass. It wretches from my hands like rope in a cruel game of tug-of-war, burning my skin as it tears away.
       “Stop!” I scream, fisting my hands and pounding on the glass. “Give it back!”
       The crystals whine, and it seems as though fire ignites behind my eyes. Notes of discord disrupt the beautiful music playing in my memory.
       “Tell us when you saw Earth, Anastacia.”
       My back arches, my eyes plunge beneath the water. I cling to the butterflies, holding their fluttering wings caged in my fingers. They split apart in my hands, the torn pieces slipping out through the spaces between my knuckles.
       I gasp, and the fluid worms its way down my throat. I clasp the edges of the tank and pull my head up out of the water.
       “I don’t know!” I shout. Tears drip down through the blue liquid clinging to my cheeks. “But I remember it.”
       Somewhere, in the far reaches of my mind, a door unlocked. A dream stirred through a memory of another place, another time, a different me. I lay back against a blanket of soft grass and stared up at an endless golden sky.
       “I remember.” I whispered, falling back against the glass and staring back at the dark figure, pleading.
       He steps towards me, into the light. I can almost make out the soft blue of his eyes behind his dark visor.
       He shakes his head. “It’s better if you don’t.”