Words By Delaney Heisterkamp, Art By Hailey Renee
It was 4:00 a.m. when Maria Clara Cooper-Costa pulled her housemate out of the new hole in their backyard. Piper stumbled into the world of the waking, gloriously tall and as grimy as a grave-robber. Every night, after she fell asleep, Coop found her outside, digging.
Piper groaned and collapsed in the grass. “I hope I didn’t keep you up.”
Coop shook her head, as she was always awake anyway—while Piper fought off fitful dreams, Coop battled wakefulness. At first, Coop had tried to shake Piper in the middle of her sleepwalking—the half-lidded stare, the clawed hands sunk deep in dirt. This was the fifth time. Now, Coop knew to wait until Piper was done.
Coop curled up between the hole and Piper, keeping their noses inches apart. Piper’s voice was soft thunder. “Do you ever try to choose your dream? When you’re stuck awake.”
When Coop was eleven years old, her mother had moved them to Barton’s Bay, New Jersey, Birthplace of the Spectacular Sunrise! Coop had set her alarm for 5:44 a.m. the first morning and had snuck behind their bungalow, to where the beach slouched up to the crabgrass and concrete.
The horizon had been a smear of egg yolk against a wash of gray. Abruptly, the clouds seemed to leak down into the sunrise, or else the water creeped up and swallowed it. Coop watched sea and sky fold like origami. Then, she felt it: rain, hissing and sudden, hurtling towards her across the bay. She stood there, arms splayed, as the electrifying chill shook her entire body.
Coop didn’t know how to articulate this to Piper—that if she remembered the rain just right, her limbs would turn fuzzy with a heaviness that dragged her into sleep. “I think about my first day here. Sunrise, sometimes.” Coop swallowed, emboldened by the dark. “Do you want to talk about what you dream?”
Piper’s throat was a skittish animal. “I, ah. I dream about the end of the world—I guess, the end of Barton’s Bay.” Her gaze slid out of focus. “The water rises so quietly. In the dream, I’m the only one that notices what’s happening. The water is a blanket of blue-green glass, a living thing that knows that I know, Coop, and it crawls up to me so patiently and every time swallows me up as if all my thrashing and clawing mean nothing. I float past Araminta’s, and the boardwalk, both decaying like they’ve been rotting underwater for decades and I’m the only person still gasping for air down here, the world is green and I’m drowning—”
Coop felt the exact moment that Piper’s eyes refocused and settled on Coop’s own. A yellow smear of horizon folded between them, sea and sky swallowing them whole. It was impossible to look away.
Piper whispered, “And then you wake me up.”