A Nightmare

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Lily was being as quiet as she could, and only heard the constant ticking of the clock. Not even a tock, and certainly nothing like the badump badump of a heart. Even with her ear pressed close to the length of the tentacle, she couldn't hear anything. No pulse, no sound of the black blood circulating around, not anything. Not when the tentacle was kept still, and not when she let it wriggle around. She sighed, and pulled her head away from it. With her free hand, she rubbed at her ear, wiping away whatever of its oil had clung on. It didn't seem to stain things.

Her other hand was holding a second tentacle, squeezing it tightly near the end, where it had tapered enough for her to get her hand entirely around it. It was squishy, maybe springy, but weighty. She could only squeeze so tightly before it really started to resist. She couldn't feel a pulse any more than she could hear one, however much pressure she put on it or however she did it. The only thing she had heard was a sort of squelching noise when she squeezed it. It seemed whatever liquid was in there could move around, it just normally didn't.

Where one of them had been cut that first night, there wasn't a wound anymore. There wasn't any indication there ever was one, as best she could tell. But she wasn't sure how well she could tell, really. The slick, oily film on top caught the light in sickly rainbows that rippled and fluctuated as it moved under the light. Under that, the tentacles themselves were a very dark black.

It hadn't been that long, but the tentacles didn't seem unnerving anymore. Surreal, perhaps, but now a little more familiar. It was strange to feel what they felt, like the touch of her hand and the pressure of her squeezing. She relaxed her grip, and then wiped her hand off on her opposite arm. It left a little bit of that sheen, but she had learned that if she paid attention, she would see it gradually fade away. Or maybe it was being absorbed, instead. Hopefully it wasn't the kind of thing that would cause problems. But it wouldn't be, right? What kind of superpower would that be?

That wasn't actually a very reassuring train of thought. She wasn't seriously worried about her tentacles being coated with poison, but she had to admit, tentacles covered with slow-acting contact poison weren't fantastically unlikely or something that broke whatever rules these things went by. It wasn't like she had gotten particularly lucky with her power. Aster probably would have been fascinated, and she did find them a little intriguing herself, but they weren't exactly practical. Potentially useful to someone, sure, but not her. However interesting they were, they couldn't solve her problems. They couldn't help her find her mother. It was a bitter thought, she got it from a breakdown over a tragedy, and it didn't even help. Whatever god was doling out superpowers had a bad sense of humor.

She glanced at the clock in the room—it didn't feel like her room, even if it was where she was staying now. It had been an hour and a half, and she hadn't even started on her homework yet. She had tried to sit down and do it, but couldn't muster the will. It was all just so tedious and pointless. How was she supposed to worry about busywork at a time like this? Maybe Aster was right and she should have talked with someone, but she felt certain they wouldn't actually help. It would just be another headache to deal with the school trying to help her in some overbearing, bureaucratic way.

The tentacles had reared up behind her, wriggling and bobbing back and forth. She had to think for a moment to get them to stop moving again. She moved the lower pair down to the ground, and stood up from where she had been sitting cross-legged on the carpet. She could apparently rest her weight on them, although she didn't trust it enough to try and prop herself up entirely on them. They didn't seem to weigh her down in turn, strangely. She was more than happy for that. She couldn't entirely tell how heavy they were, all together, but almost certainly more than her upper back was built to carry. It was inconvenient enough that she had to wear shirts that left her shoulderblades bare to use her power, unless she wanted them awkwardly spilling out of a T-shirt and stretching out all the holes or something. At least she had some which fit the bill.

She sighed, and glanced to her backpack. There were better things she could be doing. She took a step, and then saw her door start to open. One of the tentacles lashed out and slammed it shut almost immediately, just barely reaching it. Lily hurried over to her door, and desperately tried to will the tentacles away. She didn't want to have to deal with everyone worrying about this new development, on top of everything else. The sensation faded, the last trace retreating to some spot in the back of her mind, and she opened the door. Her grandmother was standing there, looking angry. Her expression was severe as ever, but Lily could recognize the hints easily enough now.

"Young lady. In this house, we do not slam doors in each other's faces."

"In my house, we knock."

The response to that was a withering stare. Lily met it stubbornly for longer than she should have, and then she sighed.

"I'm sorry, grandma. Honestly, I didn't mean to. You startled me."

"You're forgiven. Just try not to do it again."

"Of course. But knocking would help with that. I value my privacy."

"Right. But you understand, it's just that we're worried about you, and—"

"And that's why this door doesn't lock. You don't need to worry about me that much, okay? I'm not going to hurt myself. I'm not a stupid little kid."

"Of course you aren't. But, well, Lily, we just want to be cautious. After the mirror..."

"That's not what that was, okay? How many times do I have to say it before you believe me?"

"Well, in any case, dinner is ready. Come to the dining room when you're ready."

"...Sure. Okay, thank you. I'll be down in a second."

Her grandmother nodded, and turned around. Lily closed the door and sighed. Maybe it would be easier just to explain it at this rate, but she couldn't bring herself to seriously entertain the thought. It might make things easier, but it would probably make them even worse. She could already imagine everyone worrying about what a power like hers said about her mental state or destructive impulses or whatever. Even she was a little disconcerted, if she was being entirely honest, but not about how it reflected on her. The tentacles seemed to have minds of their own. It was something she would have to be careful with.

But that was enough time collecting her thoughts. She really didn't want her grandmother getting worried, and so opened her door, flicked the light switch, and went to the dining room. She sat down at the table, and softly smiled at her grandparents. There was already a plate made for her, and they had apparently waited for her to sit down before they started eating. It was okay. Nothing special, but food was food.

When she was finished, she took her plate to the sink and washed it, which was starting to feel routine. She looked up when she felt a hand on her shoulder, and met her grandfather's eyes. He was smiling softly, and quietly squeezed her shoulder for a couple moments before speaking.

"You know, if there's anything troubling you, you can tell us."

"I know. It's just..."

"It's just...?"

"The thing that's troubling me is the obvious thing. What good does it do to tell you that I miss my mom? That I'm worried she's kidnapped somewhere, or, or..."

He squeezed her shoulder tighter, and she realized she was starting to cry. Damnit. He pulled her into a quick hug, and she had a handle on herself when he let go again. She left her plate in the sink, and headed back to the bedroom she was staying in. Neither of her grandparents said anything, which was fine. There was something she really had to do already.

She went to her backpack and unzipped it. She reached in, and pulled out her laptop, leaving the notebooks, folders, and textbooks. She booted it up, and sat down at the desk in the room. She was going to look into local missing persons cases lately. She was pretty sure that information was public, or all she wanted, anyways. There had to be some way of figuring out what was going on, and some way to help fix it. There had to be.

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