There was a special hop to her step that was reserved only for days like this. The heat of the season was already rising from the asphalt and the sun seemed to shine more brilliantly than just a few hours before. School was out for the summer, the eternity long wait for this break finally over. Each crack in the sidewalk was marked as one step closer to never needing to wear that heavy, stupid, dirty backpack again. Well, at least not until next school year.
Her thoughts went to all the things she had planned during the break. Visiting her dad, her birthday party this weekend, getting a few miles added to her new bike, that week long summer camp, the many sleepovers she would partake in… she could have been listing her wants all the way home, but she never could have named them all. It was just too darn hot for her to keep daydreaming, anyway. The sweat had already gathered at her brow and she had to reach up to wipe it away.
An abrupt chill hit her. Like a winter breeze it blew by her, sending a shock up her spine and giving rise to goosebumps on her arms. For a moment her legs seized and she stopped in order to warm herself. The sweat born from the summer sun was replaced with something much more disturbing. Cool beads of perspiration, like condensation on an iced drink, peppered her face. Alarm shot through her body and an anxious beat crept into her heart. Why did it suddenly feel like she had just run for miles?
Then, it was gone. The heatwave returned. The chills disappeared. Her heart slowly returned to normal.
Just to be safe, she glanced over her shoulder. Maybe it was her survival instincts kicking in; her subconscious might have picked up a noise or sight that sent her body into overdrive. Yet there was nothing to be found. Suburban homes, minivans, and perfected carved yards were all that her eyes could spy.
Heatstroke. Yeah, that was it. Excitement from the end of the school year and her upcoming birthday mixed with the ungodly dry heat that strangled their town was probably the cause of it. She'd better hurry home, grab some water, and prop her feet up.
Her world spun as she turned around, a kaleidoscope of colors that melted so well together it was almost beautiful. Then, within a blink, the suburban background of her youth was gone. In its place, a frozen darkness. Blues, greens, reds… all of it replaced with black. Another blink. Bright red and a splash of green appeared before her. The cold sweat, the racing heart, the shaking hands all came back before she could even recognize what she saw.
Clowns. She hated clowns. She was never really sure why, maybe it was a movie she saw as a toddler, too young to understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Fears of yesteryear returned. The chilly air gripped her lungs and for a moment she couldn't even breathe. What was happening?
Pure white hands reached toward her at a steady pace. A voice from the blue haired clown that shone through the darkness bombed her ears. It was distorted, like the sound an old record makes when it hasn't been played in years. "Don't you want to play…?"
She awoke with a start, literally punching the night air as she jolted up. Heavy breathing calmed slowly as she took in her surroundings. Baby pink walls and light blue carpet covered the room; the hearts in the sheets she clenched with panicked fists were damp from her cold sweat. A dream – just a dream. No, a nightmare. She really hated clowns.
Tepidly she swung her feet over the bed and placed her toes on the plush, comforting carpet. A hand still quivering from the frightful images carefully rubbed her eye in an attempt to ward off sleep. Parched, she was more interested in getting a cool glass of water then daring to find herself in dreamland again. Wobbly legs allowed her to stand; once on her feet her footsteps were light but hurried.
Somehow she found the silhouette of the doorknob in the darkness. It felt cold, but so did everything in that large, empty bedroom she called home. With a quick twist and hardy pull, the large door swung open, revealing to her…
… Not her hallway. Not her house. Did the nightmare continue?
A glance back toward her room and once more she found her reality becoming distorted. The room warped and twisted until it was no longer recognizable. It was still a bedroom, adorned with familiar furniture, but it wasn't her's.
This time, there was no sense of fear. She said aloud to herself, "It's just a dream. I can wake up."
"Oh, you too, huh?"
It was an unfamiliar voice that called to her. She turned toward its origin and found that another child had found himself in that strange hallway. They glanced at each other and said not a word; both of them turned their attention to this strange place, shocked to find that hallway never seemed to end. Oblivion was at the end of its run.
She needed to break the ice with this newcomer. With a forced smile she said, "I heard that when you see someone in your dreams, it's because you've met them before. Do I know you?"
The boy was quiet at first, as though he was trying to determine the best way to approach this weird girl. His eyes narrowed as he tried to catch a glimpse of her in that unlit hall. His voice was calm and steady despite a stutter in the beginning, "I… don't think this is a dream."