Three years ago
Ted found himself walking down the street late at night and immediately knew he was dreaming. The houses were in the wrong order, all the street lights were off, the only noises he could hear were those he himself was making, but the biggest clue to him was the starless sky. It had been two years since he had seen stars in his dreams.
Knowing he was dreaming meant only one thing: he had to run. Unfortunately, he couldn’t run without knowing exactly where The Thing was, otherwise he would run directly to it. There wasn’t anything up the street where he’d been headed, he checked down the street towards his home and found it similarly deserted.
It was like this every night, cat and mouse between him and The Thing, and the cat often won. It liked appearing from his home so he chose to walk quickly up the street. He looked super-paranoid checking in all directions so he could get a head start when it showed up. He had good reason to fear The Thing because every time it touched him, he woke up screaming. Not that there’s anything wrong with a few nightmares here and there, but The Thing started terrorising his dreams when he turned fourteen and it was getting stronger, so strong that the last two times it had touched him he hadn’t just screamed when he woke up, he had cried as well.
At the end of the cul-de-sac — which wasn’t a cul-de-sac in the real world — he saw it. It was standing still, looking at him. It looked like an anthropomorphized grey cloak, like The Grim Reaper without the skeleton and scythe. He turned and ran away from it like a child who had just seen a snake in the garden. In his dreams he could run faster than a cheetah with more stamina than a horse, however, The Thing could run even faster, even though he’d never seen any sign of limbs working when it chased him.
With all the lucid-dreams he’d been having since it arrived, he had learned how to alter the dreamscape, sadly, he hadn’t yet found anything that could hurt it, he could only delay it. If he made a wall appear The Thing simply phased through it. He looked behind him; there was about fifty metres between him and it, and it was gaining fast. When he looked forward he saw a wall rising ahead of him and cursed himself for thinking about walls. He had to slow down a little so he could focus and make the wall disappear, then go back to full speed. He didn’t bother checking behind him knowing it was a lot closer now. Flying wasn’t an option because every time he tried it The Thing would appear right in front of him, like a proper nightmare.
He still had one trick left up his sleeve, it worked once a night and he knew there wouldn’t come a better chance to use it. He stopped running and turned back to face it, his eyes widened in fear that it would reach him before he could finish. He held both hands behind his back, jumped half a metre up before throwing his head down at the street.
There was no impact.
He appeared standing in another setting, and the sun was shining. This was his dream after all. If he tried the jump trick again, he would only be making it easier for The Thing to get him, something that had happened many times after he learned it.
He was now at Denton High School, the school he attended, and The Thing was nowhere to be seen. His clothing had also changed, from the outfit he’d been wearing during the day to his school uniform: black school shoes, dark blue socks with two white stripes, black trousers, a light blue button-up shirt, and a dark blue tie with white stripes.
A quick scan of the school grounds showed there was no one else around except for the girl he could see seated on the stands next to the football field. His lips curved upward; he knew who it was. He walked to her, staying alert for when The Thing appeared.
“Delia,” he called.
She didn’t react. She was reading a book and her concentration hadn’t faltered when he called. Ted’s smile remained as he reached her and sat next to her on her right. In the real world he had a hard time interacting with girls his age, especially Delia, but in his dreams he could do whatever he wanted without future consequences. Right?
He looked at the book she was reading; the pages were blank to him. Very powerful psychics could read in their dreams; most normal humans couldn’t.
“Can you read it to me?” he asked.
Her lips started moving. He couldn’t hear a thing, not even the sound of her breath. He wasn’t bothered, the book wasn’t important to him. He leaned closer and caressed her long blonde hair with his left hand. Delia turned to look at him. For a second Ted froze as he wondered if there was another consciousness behind those big beautiful green eyes. No, it was just his brain taking a breather and fudging up everything that happened during the day, the week, his entire life.
When Delia made no further moves, Ted closed his eyes and moved in to try and kiss her. She blocked him with her right hand. He couldn’t believe how close their faces were when he opened his eyes but his widening smile turned into a gasp when he noticed the sun had gone down and the starless sky had returned.
He looked forward and saw The Thing slowly coming to them. He stood carefully to avoid accidentally hitting Delia in his panic. She also stood. She was at least two inches taller than him and had curves in all the right places. Ted saw that she had been sitting on a gun. She picked it up and gave it to him.
He aimed it at his right temple and pulled the trigger.
He woke with a start and wasn’t able to fall asleep again. He stayed in his bed, on his back with his eyes closed and mind racing: thinking about Delia, thinking about The Thing, trying not to but also thinking about his mother. The bad dreams had started after she died.
Hours passed before he finally decided to get out of bed when he heard his father moving around the house. He stared at himself in the mirror. His long black hair looked like that of someone who had just woken up, but the rest of his face seemed to be pleading for more rest. What he really needed was help. He went downstairs to the kitchen and was greeted with a smile, he couldn’t reciprocate.
“Why so glum?” his father asked. He was drinking coffee and seated on the other side of the kitchen table from where Ted stood. “You haven’t had an episode in five days. The therapy must be working.”
Ted looked away from him and down at the table. “I haven’t been sleeping well for about a week, dad. My dreams are getting worse: I’ve started killing myself.”
His father grimaced, and with the same pained expression said, “We have no choice, son. We have to see an ethereal writer.”