He had never been troubled with dreams before.
He writhed in his sleep, seeking an escape from his mutinous subconscious. His dark cap of wavy hair chaotic from tossing his head back and forth against the pillow. The dream’s thrall crawled into his mind like a poisonous snake slithering along the ground to catch its unsuspecting prey. It was strange in its reality. The in-dream boy lay on his own bed, with his brother sleeping beside him blissfully unaware…just as his waking self and his brother slept most nights. Except, in the dream his small form was wracked by spasms of blinding pain. His very bones felt as if they were being pulled apart.
The boy shifted his shoulder to try to shake off the pain, and felt something snap out of place. He screamed at the horror of the sound more than the pain of the bone’s dislocation. The pop of his other shoulder followed suit, but somehow he was still able to move his arms. Sweat glistened off his face, his breaths came in audible gasps. He held up his hands out in front of him. They looked wrong. The skin of his forearms rippled…normally smooth skin bristled with cactus spines…growing, protruding grotesquely from his arms, spreading like a rash to cover the entire surface so that all he saw were spines…elongating…now less like cactus…morphing into porcupine’s quills…that blended and weaved together, the quill ends softening into feathers. His arms were no longer discernable, transformed into flapping, wing-like appendages.
Crack. His hip bone crumbled inward, with horrifying suddenness. His legs…he caught sight of them. The boy could see the online of his bones beneath his tan olive skin. His thighs and legs began to retract inward, shortening, while his feet stretched impossibly long, with scaly talons where his toenails had once been. He thrashed around, the foreign parts of his body flopping, and half-formed. He was dying, ebbing away…to give birth to something else, something otherworldly.
His thoughts screamed…but he could make no sense of them. No longer words, or coherent ideas, but more akin to feelings, impressions of reality…instinct and patterns of expression. His mind no longer tried to understand the freakish metamorphosis seizing his body. His mental process struggled instead to survive it. A wavering image of a great bird flickered within his mind, like a candle flame caught in the draft of a swinging door. He couldn’t quite hold the image, and some new level of instinct told him that it was imperative that he do so.
The boy, Gabriel, awoke to a beastly sound. He breathed deep. His first thought was of his hands. He brought them up to check himself, flipping his palms over front and back. He sighed. They were normal human hands, his skin also was smooth and normal when he pushed back the nightshirt’s sleeves…
His head snapped to the source of the half-human sound, midways between the screeching caw of a bird and the panicked scream of a child. His brother was not in bed.
“Giddy!” The boy leaped up, flung the covers aside, and ran around to the opposite side of the bed. What he saw, startled him so that he stumbled. His brother, his twin or at least he thought the freakish creature flailing around on the floor beside the bed was his brother. It shrieked, a malformed beak of sorts where his mouth had been.
He tip-toed toward the half-avian tangle of feathers, talons and dislocated limbs. The boy trod slowly, not wanting to worsen his brother’s already frenzied panic. The oddity of his dream so perfectly mirroring reality wasn’t lost on him. The dream boy hadn’t been him at all, but Giddy…trapped in the half-bird transformation. The dream was real, a preview of sorts.
The flailing paused, and the halfling thing twisted around…a single crazed bird eye caught his.