Sweet Dreams

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II

The door opened and a weary Gi Beom stepped in, his coat hanging from his arm and his hair sticking up in many places. He threw his keys onto the table and hung his messenger bag on the rack, rubbing the back of his neck. “What a day,” he murmured, going quietly to the fridge to crack open a cold Heineken. Now on the couch, he spotted the book on his table and almost dropped the can. “I thought I put this in the kitchen. How did it get here?” His gaze feigned curiosity and frustration, but also a small hint of fear - just for a fleeting moment. There was a tingling sensation against his skin, but he ignored it. Getting up, Gi Beom made his way to the bedroom, wanting to get some rest after toiling with his coworkers.

And then, he heard it again.

The piano.

It was only a set of simple notes, he reasoned, but it somehow left an ominous feeling in the air. It’s the same sound I heard the first time I tried dreaming, he thought. He turned around, heart thudding against his ribcage, hands clammy and his irises widening in shock.

But there was no one there.

Gi Beom’s hackles lowered and he chuckled to himself. “What am I even scared about? It’s probably my imagination, or those stupid neighbors with their orchestra again.” He sauntered into the bedroom, filling himself up with relief, and stopped dead in his tracks. The book is on the bed, propping itself up as if it’s looking at him.

“But I left you in the living room-” Something inside of him snapped and he screamed in frustration and fear, taking the book and ripping the pages up, one by one, until a mountain of shredded paper lay before him. He opened the window, felt the subtle cold breeze, and dumped them down, crushing down his feelings of dread and anxiety. Sighing, he threw himself onto the creaky mattress and pulled his pillow over his head. “Whatever. I’m done with that thing. I don’t need to see it again as long as I live.” He raises his head, and looks to the side, lowering his eyes. “It’s kind of strange, though… Others have taken years to master it and I’ve done it in a few nights. I’m probably just really good at this,” he tried to

calm himself down from all the paranormal things that just happened. “There’s really nothing to worry about, Kang Gi Beom-”

Knock knock knock.

He bolted up, both confused and quaking in fear at the same time. “What? So late?” Gi Beom pushed open the door and managed to make his way blindly, through the dark, to the door. The knocking didn’t stop when he answered, and for some reason, his skin prickled and his heart palpitated wildly.

Something was wrong. He just knew it.

“Who is it this time?” He came out and almost jumped out of his skin. Turning around frantically, he fumbled for the doorknob, but the door to his house had vanished. Instead, he was bathed in an eerie white light in an empty hotel that seemed uninhabited. His mind raced with questions, and he began to shudder with the chill of something cold in the air. “I don’t understand… How did I get into this hotel?” Looking around, he saw an endless hallway going in both directions, and doors that looked like his. Walking towards one of them, he gave the doorknob a hard pull, but it refused to budge.

Gi Beom took a large breath and put his head in his hands, running them through his hair and blinking repeatedly. “Maybe one of the other doors will work…” Steadily, he tiptoed forward, constantly throwing several glances over his shoulder, eyes livid with fear. For some reason - and he couldn’t find the words to explain it - it felt like something was following him, tracking him down.

The lights switched off with a crack.

In the dark, he felt warm beads of sweat run down the bridge of his nose, wetting his collar and the back of his cardigan. He desperately tried to run, but his feet wouldn’t budge. “The power’s probably just gone out, right?” The lights came back on, and the hallway was now clothed in blood-red curtains, and as they swished against each other, it was almost as if someone was calling to him, their voice faltering and disappearing into the air. His pupils scanned the room, and they froze at the sight behind him. Every limb in his body felt as if it had been torn off, and his mouth was dry with sudden shock. His back was pressed to the

stone of the wall, and every word - no, every scream - he wanted to utter was snatched from his throat. All of the confidence he had before was now simply raw, pent-up fear. In front of him was a being Gi Beom deemed so abominable that his irises burned at the sight of it. On its face, there were pink sheens and lesions where flesh used to be, and out of its one eye, liquid was pooling out. Blood?, Gi Beom thought, his fingers feeling numb to the touch. Puncture marks and crevices were gouged into the skin, and the rest of its lifeless body wrapped in a cloak - tattered and worn.

For every second he stood there, he wanted it to be a dream.

But no, he realized.

This was real.

It’s a few feet away. I can probably buy myself enough time to get out of here. It begins to advance forward, not yet detecting the human being cowering in its presence. Gi Beom gulps and manages to get a few steps out to the left, towards another door. As it continues to walk, the sound of bone hitting cold asphalt is empty and yet made his knees weak. Its head swivels around slowly, surveying the scene with coal black sockets and listening in with the ghosts of its ears. Gi Beom shifted his weight to the back of his foot and the head turned towards him, the presence of its hollow, empty eye making his heartbeat rise. Its arm points in his direction, and with a cold shiver of dread, he sees that there are still bits of flesh hanging onto the supposedly skinless limb, tendons and ligaments dangling in the air, and blood dripping down, trickling onto the asphalt floor. There’s only one thing to do. Run.

Gi Beom immediately ducked as the skeletal fingers reached up to grab him, and with all of his might and the strength in his legs, made his way for the door on the right. Chest heaving, heart pounding, he felt a warm glow, signaling the creature’s presence. Suddenly, his foot slipped and he landed on the ground hard, rubbing his sole with one hand and seeing the ridge in the carpet behind him. As the shadow loomed over him, he screamed, grabbing a nearby vase and smashing it into its face. The shards fell under its eye and the skin cleaved open as it jerked out the remaining piece of ceramic. Gi Beom

continued to run - faster and faster, deeper into this maze that seemed to stretch on for miles - until…

The being that was chasing him suddenly appeared right in front of him - the eye, devoid of anything but darkness - seemed to stare into his soul. His chest felt as if it was about to explode, and his mind was racked with all sorts of possibilities of how this would end. It let out a shrill whistle - something all monsters did, probably - and brought down its

hand onto his left arm.

Gi Beom felt pain in every molecule and every inch of his body. His limb bled profusely, but as he grabbed it, the blood continued to spill, turning his fingernails crimson. His lungs were on fire, and he struggled to breathe. Searing hot pain sliced through his entire body and now it seemed as if a hatchet was lodged in his arm, moving back and forth, tearing flesh and crushing bone. He could feel the dampness of the sweat amassing on his forehead, and shut his eyes, still seeing its glowing eye in the dark.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Jolting from his sleep, Gi Beom stirred and pushed himself up from the bed, suddenly wincing from the pain in his lower bicep. “But it can’t be. It can’t possibly be,” he gasped, a chill running down his spine as he saw a part of his arm severed, a long gash going down the sleeve. Real blood was now seeping through the cloth and onto the dusty sheets, and he felt the same ounce of pain as he did in the dream. It was a dream, though. I can’t be hurt in real life. This doesn’t make any sense. His skin prickled with panic as beads of warm sweat slowly made their way down his forehead. Grabbing some nearby gauze patches and a couple bandages, he pressed the cloth to his wound, struggling with every breath. But the blood didn’t stop; it seeped right through, sizzling with every drop. He curled his lip in disgust and inched away, littering the mattress in scarlet spatters. Whatever this was, he had a cold feeling of dread that this wasn’t normal - honest to God, it sounded stupid - and it wasn’t over.

Whatever I do, I must not sleep tonight.

I can’t.

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