Sweet Dreams

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III

The sun was beginning to settle into the horizon, and the golden rays of sunshine were disappearing as Gi Beom put his hands into his hands, aware of the dangers that might seek him out if he closed his eyes again. His hands fumbled for the half-empty can of Budweiser and guzzled it down as it continued to dribble down his chin and onto his shirt. He turned his head wearily and listened to the sweet chirps and chitters of the birds outside, wishing to the tips of his fingers that he could be free of this burden. Perhaps his desire for a better life had summoned whatever that thing was. But now… now all he wanted was to be normal, to enjoy the blissfulness of life again without having to look over his shoulder now and then.

He hung his head and massaged his temple with his thumb. “I’ve searched all over the internet, but I can’t find any trustworthy accounts of anyone being wounded in a dream,” he took another swig of the beer and sighed. “There isn’t one that doesn’t sound like the ravings of a madman. Am I the only one going mad?” He questioned himself, resting his arm on his head, his cold pupils dilating. “If it wasn’t for my alarm clock, I would’ve stayed in that hellhole. Maybe I need to find something like that - something with a similar sound - to make this nightmare end.” Opening his laptop, he proceeded to search it up, but paused upon seeing a plain white screen with the words:

Come find me.

His spine tingled with something unrecognizable - fear, perhaps? He pressed a couple keys and clicked repeatedly, but the screen remained as it was. The lights flickered repeatedly, and… SHHHKKKK! It seemed like the power was cut off but Gi Beom could clearly make out the Steinholmes in their brightly lit room across from his window. He shut it and sat back down, feeling the same choking sensation as he did the night before. Hand around his throat, eyes bulging, he tried to control his breathing but something was rising inside of him - swallowing him, pulling him back down. As much as he tried to feign courage, there was no denying that his heart was being wrenched out of his chest and the blood

drained from his face. Anything that moved ever so slightly - both in reality and in his imagination - made his eyes dart violently back and forth, and increase the amount of pins and needles embedded in his spine. Now he was standing in the dark, half scared to death and not knowing what lay ahead of him this time.

Suddenly, something moved behind him, and instantly, Gi Beom leapt onto the couch, hair flying and hackles raised.

But there was nothing behind him.

He let his shoulders lie flat and chuckled to himself. “I’m such an idiot. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as ghosts-” The lights slowly lit themselves up again, one by one, and Gi Beom plopped back down on the couch, eyebrows furrowed, and tried not to fall under the spell of slumber. But his eyes… his eyes were so tired and his body ached, the wound on his arm still sore from the damage. What if he just rested his eyes - just for a minute? A minute, and nothing more. After all, a second or two of sleep couldn’t hurt, right?

Something stirred his thoughts, telling him to wake up. Gi Beom slowly opened his eyes, expecting to find himself in his living room again, but with horror, he realized… He had done it again.

He had fallen asleep, and now he had to get out.

The atmosphere was dark, and he couldn’t make out what was ahead of him. His feet were cushioned against a royal red carpet and besides his couch, there was his nightstand, complete with everything except his alarm clock. “My alarm clock’s gone. Well, it wouldn’t be that easy, would it?” He muttered, trying to navigate the dimly lit road ahead of him. And then - seemingly out of nowhere - he found himself in some sort of shack..

The deep mahogany door is half off its hinges, and the ground itself was ebbing away - bits of moss here and there, and missing tiles. Gi Beom bent down and dipped two fingers into the ruddy liquid that coated the concrete with an unbearable, rotting stench. “Blood. That’s not a good sign.” Suddenly, there is a small creak and he jumps back, taking

in a few breaths. The door has shut itself, the hinges somehow coming together now, and the doorknob fell to the floor, leaving him trapped inside the haunted complex. Gi Beom picked up the doorknob and stashed it in his pocket. A doorknob with no door. What am I supposed to do with this? There’s only one way to go - straight through the first door. The steps are old, unvarnished and slick with the blood of victims from long ago. My blood might as well be here if I don’t get out. He grabbed the rail - which seemed to slowly twist around his arm, until he yanked it out and it retreated back into the dark. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and opened the door.

The paint peeled and the wood rot beneath his feet, longing for the warmth of a touch that never came. In several corners, spiders crawled upon their silken strands, proclaiming themselves as fishermen of the air. An old telephone, complete with the curly, dirty--cream wire, rested on a night table a few paces from where Gi Beom stood. The window frames were dusty and as he reached forward to touch the cracked glass, a white hand appeared on the other side. His breathing quickened and he stepped back, turning away to try and banish the memory from his head. The rocking chair in the corner suddenly creaked, and he shut his eyes, unwilling to turn and face whatever was behind him.

And there it was again.

Piano keys - the same bloody notes, he thought - echoed in the room, making his head hurt and his heart leap out of his chest. It reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it. Turning around slowly, hand on his chest, Gi Beom met the shambly figure of an old lady, quietly rocking back and forth on the chair, her frail hands knitting a scarf. He crept closer and closer, every step bringing him to horrible possibilities of what would await him in this manor.

She turned around and he stopped, lowering his hackles. It’s a normal lady, he reminded himself. Why the hell are you so scared, Kang? She had a strange appearance, though - the hair wizened, straw-like, resting delicately upon her head. Sad, way-worn eyes greeted Gi Beom, and her lips stretched out in a smile as he cast his gaze upon her. Her

eyes remained on him, and her hands continued to knit. And that’s when he saw her fingers - oh, how he felt such misery at seeing the state of this woman! The fingers were gnarled and knobby, the fingernails slowly peeling off, one by one. They were dried up and cracked with blood. She wore nothing but a simple white blouse and a faded pink overcoat, which had been sewn repeatedly and covered in patches here and there.

Her voice was surprisingly soft and pleasing to the ear - a low-pitched, whispery mix of whiskey roughness and educated brogue. “Well, hello, my dear,” she beamed at Gi Beom. “I’m knitting a lovely scarf. Would you like to see?” Gi Beom cracked a small smile; something inside of him was telling him to turn around and run, but he didn’t feel like this woman was any threat to him. Maybe she was trapped in her dreams too, he thought.

“I’m kind of in need of a little help, ma’am. Every time I go to sleep, I end up here… and I don’t know how to get out.” Her face fell and she stopped knitting, her eyes clouding with sadness. There it was again… the instinct to run, as fast as he could, until the dream ended. “Oh, you poor boy. Here, let me stand up so I can see you better. I’ve got very poor eyesight.” She got off of the chair and something inside of Gi Beom just snapped. He should have run when he had the chance.

The floor around the old lady was now covered in some sort of black substance. It stuck to his feet and stretched… almost like some sort of slime. In a great gust of smoke, the sweet old lady had vanished, and in its place stood the creature that had terrorized him the first night he came here.

His calves burned as he pushed past the door, running down the stairs as the ghostly essence continued its hunt. A thin layer of sweat trickled down, basking his nape in its warmth. It was gut-wrenching, heart-pumping fear that coursed through his veins, and after several thrusts, his legs felt as if they could fall off. A massive bookshelf tumbled down and blocked his path, and as Gi Beom turned around, he felt its chill draw closer and used all of his strength to push it against the wall, and advanced forward. Now he was leaping down blocks of stairs, feet flying. He wondered how far he could go without killing him. There was

something strangely unnatural about running down stairs. He almost felt as though he wasn’t in control of his own movement, like his own body and soul were slipping away from him. I don’t care if gravity breaks my bones.

I need to get out of here.

The pain began to ebb in each of his joints, swelling and rising with every step he took. Gi Beom’s legs started to give in, and his face contorted in raw pain as he began to miss more steps. The impact was damaging to his shins and knocked the wind out of his lungs, but he had to keep going. At the end of the hallway, past the flickering lights and the

broken window sills, was some sort of fire alarm. That’s it. That’s what I need to wake up. Suddenly, Gi Beom’s eyes lit up with shock. He saw hell as something serrated sawed through his leg, eating through chunks of raw flesh and letting out a spray of red. He choked and collapsed on the floor, still struggling to move forward. His leg was now useless and only dragged him behind. Behind him, the massive creature had wrapped fingers around the handle of a wicked ebony blade, which was dripping with blood. The room began to fill up with black smoke as he pushed himself up, doorknob in hand, getting closer to his target… And… SHHHHHIIINKKK!

Shards and bits of broken glass embedded themselves in his palms, and his face was stricken with fear. The last thing he saw was the vengeful eye of the demon who had haunted his dreams for two nights now.

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