In Dreams, I Walk With You

Submitted into Contest #113 in response to: Write a story about a character who interprets people’s dreams.... view prompt

0 comments

Urban Fantasy Horror

Before Ezra entered the therapy room, he secured the headband that concealed his third eye. It was of utmost importance to hide that feature, for even children worldwide knew of the infamy of the dreamdivers. What they were capable of. What he was capable of. What he was born with.

The observing agent, Delores, cleared her throat, waiting for him to open the door. He couldn’t dilly-dally any longer, despite his heart beating in his throat. Ezra took a deep breath and turned the handle.

Inside was a family of three sitting next to a bed, playing with the daughter’s collection of plushies, which Ezra recognised from a video game with its cute, iconic designs. One of his guilty pleasures as an adult. Before Ezra came in, smiles lined their faces. When he entered, their mouths tightened, especially the parents who hid their hands behind their back.

It’s nothing personal. The most important thing is to set the child at ease.

“Hello there,” Ezra said, putting on his best smile. “What sort of game are you playing?”

The parents looked at each other, seemingly unsure of what to say when their daughter stepped in, clutching a stuffed Blizard.

“Um…” She dug her nails into the blue dragon’s neck. “It’s, er, we’re playin’ characters from Elemonsters.”

“Hmm.” Ezra knelt down. “This guy looks rather chill.”

She smiled, making him do a little dance. “He is a cold person.” She smacked her forehead. “Ice person, I mean. Yeah, he’s nice, okay?”

“And what sort of stuff does he get up to?”

“He’s a dragon that looks all scary to people, but he actually likes makin’ them iced coffees.” She turned to her father. “Like the ones Dad makes.”

He nervously waved at Ezra, though his partner continued to glare at him.

“He sounds nice, I hope he makes for a good playmate.” Ezra shook Blizard’s felt paw. “What is your name?”

He knew that already, but she needed to say it first. Before she could respond, her mom stepped in.

“Her name’s Emmie, thank you very much.” She pulled Emmie towards her. “What do you want from us?”

“If you don’t mind, you two, I would like to speak to your daughter alone. With your permission, of course.”

She glanced at Delores who guarded the door.

“Of course,” she said between clenched teeth. She waited for her husband to make his way out first, then she followed, stopping so she could whisper in Ezra’s ear. “If you lay a finger on her, I will fucking kill you, you understand?”

Ezra firmly nodded. Nothing personal.

She stomped out of the room, leaving Ezra, Emmie, and Delores alone.

“Why is she still here?”

Ezra inhaled.

“Think of her as a helper – she’s just here in case I need anything, okay?”

“Need what?”

“Like a glass of water. Isn’t that right, Delores?”

She nodded and smiled at Emmie.

“That’s a sweet collection of plushies you’ve got there, girl.”

“Thank you!” So far so good. Then she frowned, climbing up on the bed and hugging her plushie. “I know why you’re here. I had those bad dreams. They think I’m stupid.”

“Well, you’re not.” Never underestimate a child’s intelligence. “You are right, I came here to look at your dreams. But I don’t want to force you, it’s important that you feel safe.”

“They say you people are bad. That you’ve done something wrong. You don’t look like a bad person.”

“How could you tell?”

“The way you talked to Blizard.” Emmie petted his horns. “I’m not ready to go to sleep yet.” She clutched her chest. “Can we play a little more? I trust you, but my heart’s racing. So it would help.”

“Understandable.” Ezra pulled a chair and picked up a complementary Elemonster: Firefox. He had to admit they weren’t too original with names there, but he kept that to himself. They idled away the minutes roleplaying as the plushies, imagining all sorts of wacky scenarios such as Blizard opening up a cafe that only served iced drinks, and Firefox demanding hot coffee. This all culminated in a scene where Blizard froze Firefox and blended him in with the coffees he’d serve to customers.

Emmie definitely had an active imagination. Therefore, her dreams would be all the more potent. Poor girl.

Once she had enough, Emmie rested her plushies against the pillows and snuggled into bed, ready for her extraction. Her eyes had lowered, but her body rustled beneath the covers. She clutched Blizard for comfort.

“I’m scared. I know you’ll help, Ez, but what if I have a bad dream again?”

“Don’t worry.” He tucked Firefox beneath the duvet. “I promise you, my job is to protect you. When you have these dreams, a part of what you experience, I’ll experience too. So I’ll share whatever you’re feeling.”

“I don’t get it that much, but okay.” She slowly blinked. “Your eye won’t turn me to stone, will it?”

Ezra chuckled. “Do I have snakes in my hair?”

“It looks kinda curly, but no. I just think Medusa’s cool. It’s interestin’, learning about Greeks and such.”

“Aren’t those myths rather scary?”

“Some of it is, but I know it’s not real.” Emmie nuzzled Firefox’s snout. “I know this is, whatever happened. I can’t tell you. I don’t know.” Her whole body trembled feverishly. “I don’t wanna…” 

Ezra sssh’ed her, trying to soothe her by rearranging the sheets. 

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. The dreams will tell all, okay?”

After a while, she stopped shivering.

“I’ll try to sleep now.” 

Emmie scrunched her eyes shut, holding onto her toys for dear life. From her slow breathing, she was in a relaxed enough state for Ezra to perform his duties. He undid his headband and lifted the curls that covered his eye. Opening it at last felt so liberating. But the responsibilities of bearing the eye undid whatever joys he experienced from it. All he experienced was heartache, all because of a biological factor he had no control over. 

Now wasn’t the time for his pity party. Ezra closed his normal, human-like eyes, leaving only the third one opened, and he entered Emmie’s mind.

* * *

Dolls rained from the sky like comets. Emmie dashed through the downpour, shielding her head from the onslaught of falling toys. Not that it posed much danger – getting hit by them was only as painful as getting bonked on the nose by a squeaky hammer. But Emmie struggled to walk as the stuffed toys piled up on the floor, like wading through molasses. Soon, Emmie had to crawl on the plushies’ necks to get through, apologising to each one on the way: Firefox, Blizard, Cootipie, Bob, Peareap, Boxeroo, Reindear

It was too much. The felt blocked the sky out. The puddle of plushies turned into a sea of stuffed toys, piling up like bodies. Dead bodies. She saw some before. One. The body of a seagull with its guts hanging out. Pulled out by a crow. Baking on the side of a road her mom drove past. Why did she have to remember that? Stop! 

The felt ocean stole the air from Emmie’s chest. She saw seagulls and crows everywhere. Black, then red, then black again. Black. Black. Blaaaaaaaaack.

Sunlight evaporated the sea, letting her breathe again. She got on her knees, panting to regain her strength. When she looked up, she had appeared in an open park, with kids her age riding on a swing set. It creak, creak, creaaaaaaaaaked. Orange dotted the metal frame, orange dotted the chains, the kids were all orange and metal as well, light dimly reflecting off their rusty skin. 

Creak, creak, creaaaaaaaaak.

All of the kids around her were all rusted too. They moved like machines, heads bobbing up and down like pistons, arms waving side to side like motors, legs revving up like engines. The world around her was all rusted metal with nary a tree to be seen. Colossal buildings loomed over her, leaning down to talk with its windows forming faces.

“Chin up!” one said.

“Shirts tucked in!” another said.

“Ew, this is lame,” yet another said, bowing to the Blizard plushie that materialised in her soft, fleshy arms.

“But Blizard can breathe ice!”

“Well, mine has laser eyes and can melt stuff with its mind, so you lose.”

She puffed her cheeks. “You don’t even have any arms.”

It had no reply to that, for it was an inanimate building. But sometimes, Emmie liked to imagine it talked. She missed all the green from when she was younger. She wanted to feel the grass between her toes again, not just the coarse turf the parks had to offer. As she thought, daylight faded to dusk and dusk faded into night, revealing the twin moons that beamed down on her with wide, toothy grins.

Emmie was alone. The kids were all gone. She was alone before, but she was alone together with them. Now she had nobody. Where were her parents? Everything went silent. None of those horns blared, which Emmie liked. No birds chirped either, which Emmie hated. The only noises were the thumps of her own heartbeats, the squeaking of the swing set which rose and fell with nobody sitting on it, and the streetlights droning its electric song as it cast its light on her.

She turned around and saw her own shadow – at least she had her for company. Emmie turned around again, only for the shadow to turn around. She stepped back. It didn’t follow, disembodied from her feet. Yet, it was still completely flat.

Then it stood up like a cardboard cutout.

She screamed and ran. It followed and pursued. Emmie tripped and fell head first – her nose caved in, sinking into her face. She tried to pluck it back out to no avail, and this distraction only bought more time for the shadow to close in on her, point blank.

She called for help, but none came. She screamed, but she had no mouth. She tried to push it away, but her hands phased through it. The shadow’s face had no face at all, except for a tiny, unblinking eye on its forehead that cut through the darkness like a torch. Hands enveloped her neck.

Emmie was back in bed. Next to her plushies. In that familiar room. School had just started, and she hated it, all the kids that didn’t understand her or called her a worm girl. They said she should return to the dirt with all the other maggots. But that didn’t matter now, she was safe. She curled up beside her plushies, snacking on a fruit bowl as she watched that Elemonster show on the foot of her bed. 

No matter who she was or where she came from, that show always welcomed her. It always had monsters who were willing to lend a claw to the heroes and settle aside their powers so they could befriend the humans. Why didn’t it work the same way off the screen?

The TV fuzzed into static. It lulled her to sleep with its humming lullaby, rocking her in its mechanical arms. She couldn’t stir to sleep yet. She squinted her eyes at the window, where the breeze outside swayed the closed curtains. Her parents left it open since it was so hot in the city, with how the houses were insulated and how the paved roads and metal buildings reflected the heat. Now it turned night, it cooled down, sending a chill under the sheets. She wanted to shut it, but she couldn’t move. The duvet pinned her down to the mattress.

Perhaps she was too tired. She closed her eyes, only to blink them open again seconds later.

The curtains were open.

She tried to scream when she remembered she still had no mouth. Emmie closed her eyes again, hoping she just imagined things. But the thought ate away at her. She opened them again.

A one-eyed shadow stood by the window. 

All she could do was blink and shut her eyes, hoping she would go back to sleep again. The static crackled into a cacophony that banged her eardrums, crashing the cymbals in her mind. 

Emmie didn’t have to open her eyes this time as the kind shadow forced them open on her behalf.

Hands around neck. Hand going through her head. Eye flashing like a strobe light. Mouth opening like a jagged crescent moon. Sucking her in. Pulling her apart. Sucking her in and pulling her apart all at once, again and again, like a supermassive black hole. All she could see was the unblinking eye that stared through her soul.

“Your tears are delicious,” it said. A black tongue manifested, licking her eyeballs. “Feed me. Feed me your dreams. Feed. Feed. Feed. Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed.”

I can see you, Ezra.

* * *

Ezra’s brain felt like crushed ice. Emmie woke up, reduced to a sobbing wreck, her hands shaking. Delores still kept guard of the door, bearing a stone-like expression. 

Ezra didn’t know what to do. How would he even begin to console Emmie? What would her parents say? He was only assigned to extract the dreams, not act as her therapist, and Delores approached them as if she expected Ezra to leave the child behind. Ezra stood up and pointed. 

“Let me stay,” he said. “I need to make sure Emmie’s alright.”

“I-I-I—” Emmie sputtered—”I’m… I saw him... “

“Yes, I saw him too.” Before he faced her, Ezra slipped his headband back on. He knelt down to Emmie’s side and gently squeezed her hand, which she didn’t resist. “I know how scary it is for you to revisit that. You did a good job.”

“I… I did?”

 “Yes, you were very brave. I’m so sorry about this.”

“It’s okay… I think…” Emmie pulled away to shield her face. “You, um, helped—”

The door swung open. Her mother entered the fray, running towards Ezra with her fist raised. Delores grabbed her before she could deal the blow.

“Lemme go!” she screamed, spraying spit. “You bastard, you fucking bastard! What did you do to her?!”

Ezra kept a poker face. They couldn’t let them see it get to him.

Delores clutched her wrists. “Miss, please—”

“Why’d you hire ‘em? They should die, all of them!”

“Stop…” Emmie mumbled, though it fell on deaf ears.

“Emmie, come here, get away from this monster!”

“Mom!” she yelled, jumping from the bed. “He didn’t do anything!”

“So you’ve brainwashed her too?!”

“No, listen!” Emmie stood by Ezra’s side, patting his waist. “He helped me! I know what happened now, that night. Thanks to him!”

The mother stopped resisting Delores. The room went silent for a moment before Emmie stepped up further.

“I… someone snuck into my room that night. Through the window. While I was sleeping. And… and they…”

“It was another dreamdiver,” Ezra said at last. “They infiltrated her mind, feeding off of her dreams. Whatever she went through, I saw first hand.” As he spoke, his poker face faltered, trying to blink away the tears that pricked his vision. “I felt terror. Pure, utter terror. I can only imagine what she was like the morning after. Deepest sympathies for you and your daughter.”

The mother’s face softened, and she let go, though she kept her eyes on Emmie, possibly avoiding eye contact with him.

“Are you okay, Emmie?”

Emmie’s mouth tugged into a smile. “Y-yeah… It was scary, still scary, but I feel a little better now I know what happened.”

“D’you feel like you’ll go back to school soon?”

She cocked her head and winked. “I could do with another sick day. Can we hike sometime? I miss doing that.”

“Of course, dear. How about Tiger Mountain? It’s not too far from the city.”

“That sounds good.” Emmie gathered her plushies up and gazed at Ezra. She opened her mouth to speak when her mother scooped her up, pushing her out of the room. Before she left, though, she smiled.

“Well,” Delores said, leaning against the wall, “you’re definitely gonna be a great asset to us, Ezra. We have more cases like this. Some just like Emmie, but worse. Some adults. We fear that there’s a whole ring of those dreamdivers going around.”

“Regrettably, yes.” Ezra took a deep breath. “And I intend to help you track them down, whatever it takes.”

“That’s what I wanna hear.” She escorted him through the long, white, sterile corridors of the clinic. “You’ll have more assignments tomorrow, but for now, I’ll drive you back to your place.”

Ezra remembered the weight around his ankle. “Thank you.”

Delores’ face lowered. “Sorry, you better get used to this.”

He didn’t know if that was possible. After today, he was unsure if he could even enjoy the solace of his four walls since he’d have to wrestle with such a migraine. At least he’d be comforted by his own plushies, by the films he’d watch, and all of the sweets he could snack on to his heart’s content, all at his request. That was one of the few perks of being under the FBI’s protection.

October 01, 2021 12:42

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

0 comments