Someone once asked me if I dreamed in color. That was an odd question at the time because I assumed everyone did. As it turns out, most people dream in black and white. Interesting, right? Some people can remember their dreams vividly, able to retell them detail by detail days or months after they have happened. Others will forget them upon waking up, only to have a deja vu feeling sometime later.
That right there. That’s what I’m interested in. Have you ever had that creepy feeling that you’ve done something before it happens? That you’ve been in a place before even though you just walked in the door? Me too. In fact, I started investigating this phenomena when I was a teenager because it happened to me a lot. Turns out there’s more information on the subject out there than what you might expect. One just needs to know where to look, and how deep to dig when looking.
For me it was the old used bookstore down on the corner of Main and Lowry. I’d never been in there before, but I’d ridden my bike by it hundreds of times. Turns out I’d been missing out on a lot of things in my young life by not stepping inside. Mister Corwin, the store owner and operator, was a treasure trove of information, and he knew exactly what I was looking for when I finally – weeks later – got the nerve to ask. It was the twinkle in his eye and the sly grin on his face that should have warned me there was no turning back. Sometimes, I wish I’d listened to that look. Maybe then I’d still be living a normal life, married, kids of my own, working a boring second shift job at some factory.
One: A Stitch
“Let it go, Charlie, you’ll never get in.” Susie just twirled her hair and continued to chomp on the gob of Bubblicious like a cow chewing cud. She ignored the irritated Shushing that came from the shadows and sighed heavily to express her dismay at their after hours activity. “Come on, I have to be home in thirty minutes or my parents are going to kill you and ground me.”
Charles Dwight Grodder fumbled with the lock one last time before turning sharply on his date. “Would you shut up for two seconds?!” he harshly whispered in the darkness of the back deck they stood huddled on. “I’ve almost got it.”
Susie sighed heavily once again as Charlie turned back to trying to jimmy open the back door of the house. She knew he meant well, what with her fetish and all, but she really was tired from her previous date with Jeremy Shroud. That had been a lunch date and he’d taken her to the new Mexican restaurant the next town over. At the thought, she stifled a burp and cut her eyes to the darkened form of Charlie, then giggled to herself.
A sharp curse and thump of something falling hard to the wooden deck suddenly had the flood lights coming on in the backyard of the strangers house they were trying to break in to. Charlie froze, twirling around to slightly to meet Susie’s eyes that were just as big as his. Inside the house they could hear shouting and the stomping of feet and both noises grew louder the closer it got to the back door.
“Run, Susie!” Charlie shouted and they both started to bolt toward the steps of the deck, heading for the protective shadows of the back fence row and the hedges lining it.
No sooner had the words escaped Charlie’s mouth than the back door exploded open and a large shadow filled the doorway and then some. He – it had to have been a he – raised a shotgun and fired in their direction. The slow motion sound of the rifle pumping and then a second shot scattered the night air. A third pump.
Charlie wasn’t sure if it was the second or first shot that hit Susie. She was just ahead of him but he saw her pitch forward and heard the most disgusting squishing sounds right before she grunted and huffed loudly upon hitting the soft earth. It was definitely the third round, he was very sure, that caught him. It was a stinging sensation, penetrating just below his neck, hitting the right shoulder and arm in two or three places and lodging a couple of flecks of shot into his back.
Charlie hadn’t even hit the ground before he blacked out and knew he was dead. There was no bright white light, no symphony of angels, no dead relatives to greet him. It was just him, in near darkness, yet he felt there was also something else. He was no longer in the backyard of a disgruntled and frightened home owner who was thought to be out of town. Instead, he was somewhere else. Somewhere that wasn’t anywhere. At least, that’s how his mind interpreted the situation.
That was when he felt a long stroke of smooth flesh across the back of his neck. It sent a shiver down his spine, but he was unable to move. He tried to turn his head but it was frozen in place. In fear? He even tried to speak, but nothing came out, not even a groan or a whine. He did, however, feel the warmth of urine soak his jeans as the warm breath of air brushing his left ear and began to speak.
“Hello, Charles,” the smooth, relaxed and monotone voice greeted in the darkness. “I’m so very pleased you’ve finally made it. We’ve been expecting you for some time. It took awhile, but you finally got our message and made it to just the right door.”
He wasn’t sure, but it almost looked like something moved in front of him, and when the voice spoke again, it was in his right ear. Oh, God, where am I. Susie?! he thought to himself.
“Oh no, Charles. Neither one of them are here. Susie, I’m afraid, is still – shall we say, kicking. As for Him, well, he’s never been one to step foot this far into my domain. Call it an ego trip, call it vanity, call it what you will – just don’t call it late for dinner. You’re ours now, and we’re going to have so much fun together.”
Suddenly the light appeared. It was a tiny speck and Charlie couldn’t be sure if it was the fabled tunnel he was looking at or perhaps a train, but it grew closer. No, definitely not a train because of the speed, but also because of the swagger that carried it from side to side. Whatever it was, the unseen form surrounding him seemed to shiver itself for a moment before drawing itself tighter around his body.
“This one is ours, you’re too late!” the voice spoke loud and fierce.
The light simply waved back and forth as if to say, No, No.
“I thought we had a deal.” The voice wasn’t angelic or mysterious. Just a regular old voice, to Charlie’s ears.
“We don’t make deals here,” the Darkness hissed.
“Well then we have a problem. You’re in my territory and I’ve already made it perfectly clear that you’re to keep your talons off everyone under my protection.” the approaching light explained in a calm, rational tone. “You have failed to comply, therefore consequences must be faced.”
Charlie felt his body grow taunt as if something suddenly grabbed his entire form and pulled it from head and feet at the same time. “I’ll rip him in two if you take another step. I’ll -“
“Oh, now it’s I. What happens to all the we’s when the pressure is on? Huh? Let him go and get out of here you jack wagon. Don’t make me get my book.” The light was finally bright enough to illuminate Charlie and the new arrival. It was just a regular guy in jeans and a Dungeons & Dragon’s t-shirt. He shined the light directly at Charlie and smirked a little. “Have you seen this guy?” he asked Charlie, gazing into his eyes.
Charlie found he could shake his head now. In fact, whatever was behind him had almost completely loosened it’s grip.
“Eh, you aren’t missing much. Now,” he addressed the form behind Charlie. “I’m not going to tell you again. Deliver the message and stay out of this zone. Next time, I won’t be so polite.”
Charlie was suddenly on the back lawn of the house he’d been trying to break in to with Susie. Except she was nowhere to be found. He panicked and turned to run, but ran smack into his savior.
The stranger smiled and cocked his head to one side. “Well, hello, Charlie. You okay?” He chuckled as Charlie shook his head absently. “Good, good. Well I guess I’ll let you go then. Oh, and don’t worry about the other fellow, he won’t bother you anymore. They rarely do. At least not for years later.”
“Wha- What happened? What’s happening?” Charlie stammered, realizing nothing was moving around them. The back deck light was off, there were no cops, there was no rifle being fired, and most importantly, Julie was gone and he wasn’t dead from being shot. “Where’s Susie?!”
The stranger brushed back a stray strand of dark hair. “Well, you’re dreaming, obviously. As for the old smooth talker back there in The Nether, he’s all, well, talk. They answer to higher beings, but every once in awhile they’ll travel out and try to act on their own. You know, for fun. Kinda like breaking into people’s houses when they aren’t home to have sex with your kinky girlfriend. Everyone has their thing.”
Charlie realized he was shaking profusely. And he stammered as he tried to talk. “B-b-but if this is a dream …”
“Look,” the stranger sighed. “It’s a slow night and I don’t usually get too deep with this stuff, but you look like it’s changed your life for the better. Am I right?” Charlie nodded yes. “No, see, that’s a lie you’re telling me. When you wake up you won’t remember this after about a minute. It’ll all fade away and you’ll go about your life. So let me fill you in on some very important information, my friend.” The stranger looked around before leaning in secretively to Charlie. “Dreams are real, Charlie. They’re other worlds brought to life by our imaginations and all the magical workings of the Universe and everything in it. All the other beings together form this ethereal consciousness.
“There are billions of worlds and lifeforms that dream around the clock. Those dreams are doorways to these other worlds. But like anything, there’s a downside to that. There are also beings that feed off these dreams. That can enter them and pass between them. That’s usually when you have a nightmare. Kinda like that cartoon with the monsters that make kids scream to power their city and stuff. Well, sorta, but not exactly. You see, these monsters, these beings, they don’t eat your screams, they just sort of devour your soul. They suck it right out while you sleep and dream in this realm. Kinda like a soul dream vampire thing.
“That’s where guys like me come in. We’re from all over, too. Where these guys take your dream and tear their way in to it to make it a nightmare, we come along and stitch it back up, kick them out and … well, if we’re lucky, send you back on your merry way.”
Charlie just stood there shivering for a moment. The stranger opened his mouth to say something else, and then Charlie was gone.
The stranger closed his mouth and shook his head as the house, night sky and ground beneath him slowly faded away. He looked at his watch and sighed. “Alarm clock,” he muttered. “Always interrupts the good parts.” He closed his eyes and rolled his head back for a moment and exhaled sharply, slowly fading away himself until there was nothing but an empty darkness.