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Before I Wake
The Nightmare Chronicles Chapter One
"You're a Nightmare."
Diet Dr Pepper halfway to my lips I paused, staring at the old man standing beside me at the Duane Reade checkout. My heart nudged hard against my ribs. "Excuse me?"
His face was the color and texture of a worn piece of leather, and his hair was a mass of tight, frizzy gray curls. But his eyes were as sharp as a child's. "You're a Nightmare, girl. What're you doin' here?"
I glanced around to see if anyone else in the drugstore had heard the old fella's surprising—and very vocal—accusations. If anyone had, they were pretending they hadn't.
He was just a crazy old man. No need to panic. No need to do anything. "Sir, I don't know what you're talking about." "You are not of this plane," he insisted, doing this weird little stomp with his foot that made me wonder if he had to pee. "You shouldn't be here."
I took a step away just in case his bladder gave out. It was instinct, driven by pure self-preservation. One thing living in a city the size of New York teaches you is that some people just don't have the same boundaries as the rest of us. Also, he creeped me out.
"Uh, okay. I shouldn't be here." I twisted the cap back on to my Dr Pepper as the cashier started scanning my items. Just a few more moments, and I'd be out of there. I should have gone straight home after work, but I needed tampons. "You do know, don't you?"
I had hoped that agreeing with him would end the conversation. Apparently, I was wrong. "Know what?"
"What you are." He was staring at me now with a look of wonder. "Shee—oot. I bet youdon't even know how you got here."
"I walked." I would not, however, be walking home. God, I hoped I'd be able to hail a cab pronto once I left the pharmacy. I never wanted to be somewhere else quite so badly in all my life.
He did that foot thing again, only this time his face twisted in annoyance. I took another step away. "I don't mean here. I mean here. On this earth."
I swallowed. My throat felt like I'd just swallowed a piece of carpet. "Sir, I was born here. Same as you." Maybe it was all the years of psychology classes, or maybe it was a little fear, but I needed to bring him back to the real world. This one.
He peered at me—a little too closely for my liking. "You may have been born here, girlie, but you don't belong. I wonder how you managed to slip through."
I wanted to get the heck out of there. What the hell was he talking about? "Just luck, I guess."
He stared at me with eyes that were slightly rheumy, but keen. "Luck, nothing. How old are you?" "Sir, I'm not going to tell you that." Next he was going to ask my weight, and I'd have to kill him.
His voice rang in my head like a gong. He was right. If I was creeped out before, I was ten times that now. It could have been a lucky guess, but I doubted it.
"You're mature," he informed me. "At your full potential. No tellin' what havoc you might wreak."
That was it. I threw some money at the clerk. I hadn't heard the total, so I could only hope it was enough. I grabbed my bag and started for the door, grateful for once that most of my five feet ten inches was leg. The clerk didn't yell after me, so I assumed I had given her enough to cover my bill.
I miraculously hailed a cab right outside and jumped in. As we drove off, I looked out the window to see the old man standing on the sidewalk near the door, watching me. He was drinking a bottle of Brisk—bought with my change I bet. He waved as the cab pulled away, and he yelled something. I couldn't quite hear the words, but to my paranoid ears it sounded as though he yelled, "You. Don't. Belong."
I knew I didn't. The question was, how the hell did he?
I was six years old the first time my mother told me I was a Nightmare. I cried, because I thought she was mad at me. But then she took me up onto her lap and told me I was special because no other child on earth had the King of Dreams for a father. She told me I could dream whatever I wanted, that in my dreams I could do whatever I wanted, and I believed her.
I asked my father what it was like to be the Lord of Dreams. He didn't know what I was talking about. It was shortly after that I realized he wasn't my father. My real father was the man who played with me in my dreams, who put a sweet smile on my mother's face. The man I called Dad looked at me like he didn't recognize me, and at my mother as though he knew he was losing her to a man with whom he couldn't compete.
Was it any wonder that I soon found myself preferring the Dream Realm to the real world? Of course there were parts of the Dream Realm—The Dreaming—that my father told me to stay away from. Apparently my uncle Icelus had let some of his "creations" wander free. Since Icelus's domain was all things disturbing and frightening, I listened to my father and never ventured outside of his castle, terrified of these monsters and what they might do to me. I already knew to be careful of the eerie mist that surrounded the land.Before I Wake
The Nightmare Chronicles. Copyright © by Kathryn Smith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.