The floor is lava

My arm covers my eyes as one eye pops open. My grasp on sleep loosens and disappears. My last dream vanishes from my memories despite the brevity of the moments that passed between reality and imagination.

My face gets swiped by the arm and my eyeballs get squished by my fists. The blanket that kept me safe, warm, and comfortable all night makes me melt further into my bed. I close my eyes again but force them open to be sure I get up.

I make it up. I pull myself up to rest on my elbows. I look around the room. The room I have lived in for the past twelve years. The same room I have memorized better than the back of my hand—because who really knows the back of their hand that well?

Suddenly, my eyebrows crinkle. I clasp my eyes tight and try again. Maybe I’m sleeping still. Maybe that reality never came.

The floor bubbles up. An orange spark lands on my bed.

I sink back into my bed—well, I guess it’s time to return to my dreams where I already am.

After an hour, I wake up. I don’t stop in my bed to think about it. I swing my legs over the edge and walk to get breakfast. It takes me about twenty steps until I realize that the dream I thought I left in my bed an hour ago is still following me. It takes me to the stairs to realize the floor is lava.

Bubbles of orange and amber boil up around my feet, though my feet feel nothing. There are no scorches on the soles, no grimaces on my face from pain. The orange fire just gurgles up as innocent as if it’s always been there.

Now on the main floor, no one else from the dorm seems to notice. They make no effort to stay on the rugs. They walk on through like it’s another day with carpet and tiles, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t see it. The lava is here to stay.

I step into the dining area and try to forget about my craziness—I have other things to worry about. I grab my routine breakfast of Lucky Charms and a chocolate chip muffin. I find my way to my regular table in the far corner and wait for my friend to come straighten out my mind.

As she comes over, she looks distressed and trying her best to avoid a splash of lava I see racing towards her.

“Hey. Uh, Ash. I might be going crazy,” Scarlet informs me. Oh shoot. She is the sane one of us.

“Me too,” I respond.

I’m not completely insane, or, if I am, I don’t feel it at this moment.

She takes the seat across from me. “So you know when you were little and had this great imagination and everything was a game? You would play princess and your bedroom would turn into this amazing castle with dragons and princes? And the next day you’d be in the old west playing sheriff?” She rambles as she usually does when she is nervous. “And the floor. The floor would always be lava—bouncing from rugs to the furniture to whatever else wasn’t the direct floor.”

“Do you see lava covering the floor, too?” I ask to stop this monologue that could go on forever.

Her face turns from confusion to relief for a brief moment. “Thank gosh I’m not the only one. Why isn’t anyone else seeming perfectly terrified?”

“I haven’t figured that out. I assumed you would set my mind straight and the lava would disappear,” I tell her.

We look around the room, analyzing the other inhabitants searching for a sign of confusion or fear. We are left with only each other.

After we finish our breakfasts, we make our way to the other side of the dining hall, staring at the ground with uncertainty displayed on our faces. A less populated area allows us to play “don’t touch the ground.” We get strange looks from other students, but we don’t care—our inner child is coming out; plus, it allows us a break from the weirdness of the concept—shouldn’t we be melting or at least screaming in agony?

When we make it to my room—after an uncomfortable climb up the lava-covered, bubbling stairs—we sit on my island of a bed and stare into the vastness of the lava lake. We take turns opening our mouths as if to speak, but they always end up closed with nothing as big as a peep escaping our vocal chords.

“It’s been thirty minutes. We should do something,” I finally squeak out.

“Probably a good idea. Maybe if we stop thinking about it, it’ll magically disappear. Wanna go for a drive?” Scarlet asks.

I nod my head, eager to be distracted.

We venture out towards Scarlet’s car—keeping our heads up so as not to freak us out.

Scarlet’s car is old and raggedy: a rusty and dusty black 2007 Nissan Altima. Her parking spot is surrounded by shiny, fancy BMWs and 2021 models of cars.

Finally entering it, I find a refuge; the car is lava free. I stare at the ground in relief—I’m not completely insane, or, if I am, I don’t feel it at this moment.

“I Hope” by Gabby Barrett streams into the car as the engine grumbles, annoyed at being awakened at such an early hour for a Saturday. Scarlet starts us on our drive.

We pass the houses we always joke about buying one day when we become professors. We pass the place we met the twins we thought would be our husbands. We fly by the trees we planted for the future of our kids. We drive without talking as the next three songs trickle into our ears.

Scarlet whizzes through the town, heading towards our favorite place. The place we met trying to find some peace in the chaos of our freshman year. The place we go whenever we need a break.

But this time feels different. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been staring at lava all day, but I don’t know.

We make it past the halfway point. We reach the fourth traffic light away. As the red light turns green, Scarlet looks both ways in the intersection before transferring her foot to the other pedal like the good driver she is. All clear.

Our car moves forward, but not very far.

Another vehicle, seemingly coming out of nowhere, rams into the side of our car. The airbags explode in our faces. Scarlet lets out a whimper, while my voice is lost in the lump in my throat.

“What’s going on?” Scarlet asks in the weakest voice I’ve ever heard. “Am I on fire?”

I turn my head just enough to be able to glance over at Scarlet. Blood drips down her face and something doesn’t look right on her body, yet I can’t figure out what.

I try moving my body to help her and a shooting pain strikes all of it, as if a lightning bolt hit me.

Scarlet’s whimpers and mumbling increase as sirens come into hearing range. Then, suddenly, they stop.

I find my voice.

“Scarlet,” I gasp.

It’s too late. I hear her last breath.

My best friend, the other one to see the lava, is dead.

To be continued.