1 In a Yellow-Lit Room

In the middle of winter, the woods were quiet. The river had frozen over and all of the small animals were tucked into their nests and burrows, sleeping away in the cold night. A soft snow was falling on a wooden lodge in a clearing. Two lights shone brightly at the front of the house, illuminating the front door. Inside, the lodge was dark: all the lights had been turned off for the night, save for the one in a bedroom on the second floor.

In the yellow-lit room, a child was hunched over on the edge of a soft bed. The little girl was trying to run a comb through her thick black hair. Her hands tugged hard at the wooden comb.

As she struggled with the tangles on her head, a dark shadow loomed over her. A thin white hand reached out, hovering over the innocent little head.

"Aaah!" the little girl gasped.

The pale white hand clutched the wooden comb on the girl's head. A long arm wrapped itself around the girl's thin shoulders, holding her in a pale embrace.

"Grrrr," the girl growled, as she tugged at the wooden comb, turning away from the hold that had closed itself around her.

The child seemed to struggle. She had closed her eyes when the arm went around her shoulders. She opened them again and her eyes had turned from a warm brown to a hard gold in color. A feral expression took over her sweet face. She let out a soft growl and her little baby teeth grew into little baby fangs.

The shadow laughed softly and only held her down harder. The little girl felt the laughter fill the soft space in the yellow-lit room as the arms around her tightened. There was nothing else but the sound of soft laughter in the cold, dark night and the arms wrapped around her, dragging her into darkness.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

Ash's eyes shot open at the sound of the alarm. Her breathing was ragged and she backhanded the button on the beeping alarm clock, shutting out the incessant sounds. A soft snow was falling outside, she could see it from the window.

She always had the same little girl dream on the night of the first snow fall. For the last ten years, she had had the same yellow-lit dream for one night, and every single time she had woken up at the exact moment just when the arms tightened around her.

"It's snowing, Ashy!"

Ash, looked up at the top bunk, and she could see a pair of socked feet making their way down the ladder. The tall girl stood in front of the window and partially blocked the view from the outside. The faint light from the window seemed to illuminate her short blonde hair. Her roommate, Celia, stretched on her tiptoes in front of the window. She was still looking out at the snow fall when she asked,

"Did you have the dream again?"

"Yes," Ash replied stiffly. She was still lying down in her bed, covered in her blanket.

"Same as last time?"

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"Yes. The same as every time."

Celia sat down on the foot of Ash's bed, leaning against the bunk bed ladder. It was early still. The faint morning light slanted away from the bunk bed toward the opposite end of the room, leaving the two girls under a comforting gray canopy of shade. In the shadow of the bottom bunk, the two girls sat companionably in a moment of peaceful silence. Finally, Celia spoke.

"You know, if you could have this dream at least a day before the first snow fall of every year, we could make money selling that information to the weather station."

Ash smiled. She shifted her body so that she lay facing the wall, away from Celia. She wasn't quite ready to get up yet. Most of the other students in their dorm building probably weren't even awake then. Celia, however, had other plans for her.

"Come on, get up, we have to get to the showers before they run out of hot water!" Celia said, patting Ash's feet.

Ash slowly got up and felt the familiar pain in her back as she sat up. She groaned and put her hand on the sore muscles at the base of her spine.

"Back pain again?" Celia asked as she spryly rose from the bed. Celia was athletic with a lean body and never seemed to have any pain. Ash couldn't help but feel jealous of her beautiful friend.

Celia had green eyes and chin-length blonde hair that framed her heart-shaped face. Her eyes always seemed to sparkle with mischief.

"You're really taking your time with puberty, huh? Look on the bright side, Ashy, if you're still having growing pains, then at least that means you might get taller. Or grow bigger breasts!" Celia guffawed.

Ash laughed and threw a pillow at her friend. Celia caught it easily and pretended to throw it back. Ash quickly put her hands up to shield her face.

"Hey, did your hair grow again?" Celia asked, picking a long strand of hair off of Ash's pillow.

Ash ran her hands over her head and felt through her thick black hair. "I guess? I don't know."

Celia pressed the long black strand against her own blond hair. The strand ended right around the top of her ribs. "Look at that, I'm practically Rapunzel! We should sell your hair, you're basically a hair factory!"

"You know, for a rich person, you're kind of obsessed with money, Cece."

"Well, yeah. My family is newly rich so I kind of am. I'm not old rich like the people here at school."

"Yeah, well, I'm not any kind of rich at all, so I have no idea what that feels like," Ash retorted.

Celia smiled, kindly. "Not yet, you're not. But if we can find out the secret of your fast-growing beautiful long dark hair, we can sell it to balding old people and you'll have money forever! Your hair is practically supernatural!"

Ash thought about the word "supernatural" as she bundled her long black hair into a bun at the top of her head. Her dream of the yellow-lit room had a supernatural feeling to it.

Other than being an orphan, her life was normal; the recurring dream had been the only strange thing that ever held any meaning for her.

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