I woke up gasping for breath. My fingers fumbled for the notepad I keep by the bed. The vision wouldn’t be worth the high price I paid if I didn’t remember it. My hand shook. It all came out as hash marks and scribbles, so I drew instead. The monster. Destruction. A clock. The rough silhouette of the person responsible. I could only hope it was enough.
The world spun as I picked up the phone. The motes of dust illuminated by the lamp sparked and caught fire. The fires raged in my room, just like they would across the world if we didn’t stop it. It was getting harder to breathe.
I shook the hallucinations from my head and dialed Mara. The fires vanished. The world kept spinning, but it was slower, more manageable when she answered.
“Thaddeus? It’s 2a.m., can’t this wait?”
My response was a garbled mess. I couldn’t will my throat to form words any more than I could write. Thankfully, Mara knew about my dreams.
“You did it again, didn’t you? What did you see?”
I didn’t speak. Mara sighed and told me to meet her at the Night Owl in an hour. Then, she hung up.
With the state I was in, I’d need the entire time to walk the six blocks. I didn’t bother with any more clothing than the pajamas I already wore. Stumbling out of my apartment, I passed a homeless man. He grew roots and branches as I passed him. His beard sprouted luminescent yellow flowers.
I averted my eyes, and continued to stumble toward the diner. My legs felt as if I were walking through thick brambles. When I opened the door, the chime sounded like the laughter of a ghostly child.
Mara sat with three others in the corner booth. She waved me over.
Seeing my friend cleared some of the fog in my brain. The coffee she set in front of me did the rest.
One of Mara’s companions, a man with hipster glasses and occult tattoos, pointed at me.
“This wreck is the guy? You’re the one who knows how to stop the apocalypse?”
My words were metered.
“Mara, can we trust them?”
She nodded. I tossed my notebook onto the table. They leafed through the pages while I explained my situation.
“I dream twice a night; the first one’s free. The second one – the one with the visions – costs a piece of my sanity. It was an accident at first. But, well, we’ve come to rely on the information to save our lives.”
Mara scanned the crude drawings of my latest entry.
“I know this place. That’s downtown! It’s happening right here. But, who’s this?”
She pointed out the silhouette.
I took another sip of coffee.
“I only caught a glimpse. But, that person is orchestrating the whole thing. I know that much.”
Hipster glasses counted the facts on his fingers.
“We know it’ll begin downtown. Otherworldly monsters are the method of attack, which will be summoned by dark magic. Hell, you even gave us a date and time; we have until tomorrow to put an end to this. But we don’t know who the mastermind is. We’ll never find out in time!”
“You think my visions come easily? Do you know why I only have two dreams a night?”
The man sat back and folded his arms. Mara bit her lip. The other two, teen girls in matching black hoodies, looked more curious than ever.
I exhaled slowly.
“One night, I allowed myself to have five dreams. The cost was exponential. That was three years ago. If I were to try multiple in one night now… I might never recover.”
Mara reached out. She rested her hand on mine.
“I know the sacrifices you’ve made. But, Thad, you have the chance to save all of humanity. You’re the only one who can do it.”
“My life in exchange for the world, huh?”
Her eyes welled up as she squeezed my hand. I looked out the window, to the cloudy night sky. Even with my mind clear enough to speak, the hallucinations ate away at the edges of my perception. The clouds swirled with angry faces.
“Fine. Follow me.”
I led the group back to my place. I pulled a pair of syringes from my desk drawer. I never thought I’d need to use them. I handed them to Mara.
“This one puts me to sleep. This will wake me up. Don’t use it until after I have the dream.”
As I lay down, she injected the first drug into my arm. Seconds later, I saw the creature I’ve come to call the Dream Dealer. It strode up to me on tall, spider legs and twitched its spiked head.
Snakelike fingers stabbed into my skull. I could feel the immense suffering that would come to pass if I didn’t see what I needed. I focused my mind on the woman behind the end of the world.
A woman emerged out of blue fire. Her face remained shadowed. I could feel her heart racing. She’d been planning this for so long and finally all the pieces were coming together.
I opened my eyes to a room of anxious faces. Behind them, the room became a swamp. Fireflies sparked and where they landed turned to ash. Mara pressed a pen into my hand. I shook my head. Tears filled my eyes. I had failed. The man in glasses looked angry. Mara offered the syringe, and I accepted. I had to try again. For the world.
I went under one last time. The Dream Dealer grunted at my return. This time, the vision was clear. I finally knew who was behind it all.
When I awoke, I recoiled. The walls flickered in blue light as Mara leaned closer. Her smile was shark-toothed and gleaming. As the last of my sanity slipped away, I knew I had been played.