Sitting at the edge of my bed, my eyes flutter beneath my eyelids as I project myself into the nightmares I’d cast out into the world, seeing through them, becoming them. It’s not difficult to roam about undetected. Humans have a knack for ignoring what they don’t want to believe; so I, and my shadows, glide undetected.
We are on a mission to find one measly human with great authority and sway. You see, I’ve been going about this all wrong. If I am to ever cast the world in shadows, I don’t need to dismantle everything already in place. Those would be wasted efforts. Instead, I will infiltrate what already exists.
It’s not difficult to find her. I guess that’s one of the downsides to being the public eye: no privacy. Her loss, my gain.
As my nightmares and I squeeze under the bedroom door, we find the United States Ambassador for the United Nations precisely where I expected: snug in her bed, a satin mask shielding her eyes.
In my own room, something tugs at me, but I ignore it, sweet victory too close to grasp.
As one, the shadows and I charge in her room, hovering over her helpless, oblivious body like an impending doom. Oh, what horrors to unleash on this single human mind. To inflict the terror of war? To show her the true nature of the other members of the United Nations, whom she thinks of as allies? To present to her my vision for the world and convince her that her current path will ensure it?
Each possibility delights me more than the last until I’m salivating.
I think I’ll start small, for now. She and I have a long journey ahead of us.
But before I infiltrate her dreams with my own poisonous illusions, there is that pull again. I feel it brush against my neck and tug at my ear. I blink, launching myself halfway across the mortal plane and back into the body at the OA.
“What is it, Rebel?” I hiss. “I was about to—” but I stop short when I sense a presence just outside my chambers. I don’t stop staring at the door, as if I can see them just on the other side. “Who’s here? We have no appointments today.”
As always, Rebel does not reply and I throw my head back, exasperated, before pushing myself up from my seat on the bed. Even though I’m confident my gown and hair are immaculate, I press both hands down them one last time, just to be safe, before exiting the room to greet my unexpected guest.
“Dear Helios, you rise with the sun. Don’t you?” I say.
The woman, conventional even by mortal standards, cocks her head at me. “My name is not Helios.”
I sigh, realizing how little these humans remember of us. In our days of glory, our names had been invoked daily, hourly, for blessings and favors and praise. Now though, these mortals don’t even remember the name of the Titan of the sun. It’s appalling, but maybe that’s one more thing I can change.
“Of course you’re not Helios, you incompetent, unfortunate, miscreant—” with each lashing, the room darkened. The nightmares living in these walls reach out, clawing their way to the surface of the hallway until the room is heavy with terror.
The poor girl only stands there, quaking.
The sight of her, frail and helpless, although invigorating for my ego, makes me sigh again. I shouldn’t have lost my temper, not in front of a possible paying customer.
With a flick of my wrist, the darkness blinks away, and once again we are seemingly alone.
“My apologies. My morning isn’t going as I planned.”
The smile she offers is weak and brief, but I bow with a smile of my own and lead her back into the lobby. I make a mental note to remind Rebel not to let anyone past the front desk without me in the future.
“So, why have you sought me out today?”
“Well, I…” she starts, her eyes darting nervously around the room.
The main entrance to my establishment seizes her attention, and I watch her curiously, waiting to see if she will bolt or stay. Desperate as I am for her currency, I have no interest in forcing my nightmares on someone today. Well, unless that someone is the U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations.
To my surprise, and slight irritation, the woman plants herself firmly, biting her lip before looking back at me. “I was told you help people.”
My expression twists. “I don’t put it like that, but I guess, yes, part of what I do, some people find…helpful.” The word tastes rotten on my tongue, like I’ve just licked the sliminess of a dead fish.
“You can help my nightmares go away?”
My grimace deepens. I know most people don’t understand it, but to me, nightmares are like breathing. They’re the release one feels after that first drag of a cigarette, or the endorphin rush one achieves when their fists find someone’s face. They are darkness and chaos and recklessness. They are perfect and beautiful in their damage. And yet, they hold such negative connotations for most.
To be asked to remove nightmares is like being asked to tear out my own heart. It’s most certainly not why I started Dream A Little Dream, but it does seem to be the reputation my services are acquiring.
“I deal in dreams and nightmares, yes,” I say. “But it’s less like subtraction and more like addition. I can create dreams, I can create nightmares, and while you sleep under this roof, I can give you either, whichever you prefer.”
“Dreams, please,” she begs, speaking so fast she stumbles over the words. But then she grows quieter. “I—I have enough nightmares on my own.”
Appraising her, I tap my fingers on the front desk. “And what type of dreams would you like?”
“That’s not how this works. In order to give you a dream, I need to create it. I can, of course, construct something from my own pleasures and desires, but I can’t guarantee that it would be your version of a pleasant dream,” I tell her, a wicked grin spreading like a shadow across my face.
“I guess,” she starts, shaking her head as if it will jostle a thought or two. Her mouth is frozen open, mid-sentence as she digs for anything useful. “I’ve always liked horses. I rode one once when I was a little girl.”
“And so you would like to ride one again,” I finish for her. “Done. Follow me.”
We walk into the chamber of dreams and stop in the center of the square hallway. I gaze upon her from head to toe, noting the simple t-shirt and faded jeans.
“Was the horse yours?” I ask her.
She smiles, sadly. “No, it was my cousin’s. She lived on an estate with four of them, and once while I was visiting, she let me ride it.”
“Envy it is, then,” I say to myself, walking across the open space to unlock the Envy dreamland. “What did you say your name was?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Layal.”
I lead Layal into the Envy dreamland, pulling back the great, green curtains to reveal the one-sided mirror that looks into the Avarice dreamland. Her eyes are drawn there instantly, and I am reassured that I’ve chosen the correct room for her.
She lingers awhile before begrudgingly leaving her view and coming to the much less lavish bed. It creaks at the touch of her weight.
“What do I do now? I just try to go to sleep?”
With a simple snap of my fingers, Layal falls fast asleep. I have but a few moments, between sleep and where dreams start, before whatever nightmares she’s so terrified of will start to invade her slumber, so I work fast. Like a painter, I prepare the canvas of her mind, creating for her an open field, a beautiful stallion, and an ornate leather saddle.
With the illusion complete, I set it free in her mind, and Layal stumbles onto it as naturally as if it had been her own. She mounts the horse as if she’s ridden it a thousand times, and the two of them gallop through the swaying wheat, a smile wide on Layal’s face.
Until the clouds overhead rumble. A darkness like no other casts my shining illusion in shadow.
The horse whinnies, rearing up on its hind legs and throwing Layal to the mud. Her steed bolts away through the clearing. I stare, perplexed, but it’s the terror in Layal’s eyes that makes me look back toward the horse to find that there’s another young girl in its path.
I did not put her there, but I can tell by the grief piercing Layal’s screams that she belongs there nonetheless.
The rhythmic clap of the horses’ hooves are like warning bells in my ears. They thunder louder, mixed in with the rumbling of the sky above, like the beating of my heart as it thrashes beneath my chest.
I cast my eyes away as the horse tramples the small girl—Layal’s cousin, I realize.
This is no dream, and it is no nightmare.
This is real, or was real. A nightmare crafted out of a reality that Layal can not escape.
Why did she tell me she wanted to dream of horses?
Mustering all the strength I can, I try siphoning out the darkness. I can’t make it disappear completely, for what already is may not be destroyed, but I can usually send it to the other corners of a mind, where it won’t bother us during our time together.
Not Layal’s nightmares, though. These ones are far more potent than anything I’ve ever seen before, and I’m not sure why. Nightmares are my domain. I can shape them and bend them and command them. They should be at my mercy. Yet, they resist. More than that, they fight back, demanding space here in the woeful illusion I sculpted for her.
But then I remember, these are not only nightmares. This is a memory, and memories are not within my dominion, they are under Mnemosyne’s.
When Layal awakens, she shoves past me in sobs, insulting my skills on her way out the door, and declaring she shall never return.
I hardly hear her though. My thoughts too caught up in what this must mean.
The Titans have risen, and it seems like one of them is trying to get my attention.
She has succeeded.