Sweet Dreams

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V

Tumbling down, Gi Beom landed in the back garden, landing on his back so that his hands and feet would at least stay in one piece. He wheezed, feeling a sizzling hot pain ooze its way through his back muscles as a result of his leap of faith. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands and blinked repeatedly. Weeds now grew everywhere, and it really resembled a swamp more than a happy home for plants. There was a large venus flytrap in the left corner, drool hanging from its mouth, and the garden gnomes seemed to have their eyes on him. His foot suddenly caught in the grass. The weeds were now wrapping themselves around him. They dug into his shoe, ripping the leather to bits and started to cut and drill into his foot. Gi Beom screamed in agony as he felt the ligaments being torn from their roots, and grabbed a nearby spade, sawing off their heads and bashing them into the ground. When the work was done, he was catching his breath, eyes livid white, as he examined his foot, which was bleeding profusely. Great. Now I’m twice as crippled as before. He could still walk a bit, but had to be careful not to open the wound further. And there it was again.

That stupid piano.

Now he realized that whenever it played, it was a sign for him that danger was near. He didn’t just have to hide from the demon, but also from his minions - the plants, flowers, gnomes and butterflies turned into living monsters. The water poured into his sneakers as he waded up the wide, rocky stream in silence. He winced when the liquid touched his wounds, blood mixing with the water. Pungent mud from the bottom of the stream was rubbed against his face, and he laid back in the stagnant pool, disguised by the dark and the murkiness of the water above him. In his mouth was a long reed pipe he used to breathe through as he lay as a corpse, waiting for the right time. There he was, heart in his mouth, as still as ever, holding his breath.

He heard footsteps draw nearer to him, and shut his eyes, expecting to be plucked out of the water any minute and killed. He popped his head out a bit - it was dark, he reasoned, and his mud disguise would work well with this - and saw that what was wandering around wasn’t that same hulking figure of bone and flesh, but a little boy. Gi Beom shivered. All the more reason to be scared. “Gi Beom-ah,” it said in a high, squeaky voice. Why this terrified him, he did not know or understand. “Come out and play with me. I promise I won’t hurt you.” The water seemed to swirl around him, and suddenly flooded his lungs. His eyes burst open and he felt as if someone was pinning him down, drowning him. The reed drifted away and he tried to reach towards the surface, but it had a mind of his own. His pupils began to sting under pressure, and something was pushing into his wounds, digging into them. He was in a cocoon, slowly going under, his lungs collapsing and his head ready to explode. He roared and clawed the dirt and pushed himself out of the water.

He smeared the dirt off of his face and pushed his hair to the side, out of the way. He was going to that room, and he was going to get some real answers.

He was tired of being a pawn in this ridiculous game.

To his surprise, the ghost was gone. The gnomes watched him from the side, their eyes following his every step, but honestly, he was too tired and worn to care. As he was trudging up the grass, dragging his legs, a tiny silver spade flitted past his ear, slicing a bit off the top. He turned his head and one of the gnomes had its arm up, and had moved forward

two steps. The blood in his veins froze and instantly, he scrambled up the ladder that hung from the side of the house as they began to hop after him, throwing all sorts of stones and sticks. One bashed him in the back of the head just as he got onto the second floor. Shutting the window, Gi Beom let out a sign of relief and plopped down. This was just too much for him. Demons? Haunted houses and haunted plants? And now, garden gnomes?

He walked towards the TV, discovering that there was already some sort of tape in there. HALLOWEEN ’98, it said. It was worn around the edges, and the film was starting to come undone. Fixing up the TV and sliding in the cable, he pressed play and decided to find out what all of this was really about.

A boy with a small red baseball cap walks down the stairs. He seems to be looking for something as his eyes dart all around the place. Outside, it’s raining quite heavily, and the downpour is hitting the roof hard, making thunk thunk noises. “Geun Beom-hyung,” he called out, his voice quivering and shaking as he fingered for the light switch. “W - Where are you? I can’t find you.”

“I’m in the basement! I need to show you something!” His lips begin to quiver gently, and he goes to the front step of the basement, looking down into the room in which small children would consider the spawning grounds of all sorts of monsters. He looks down into the abyss, wondering if he should take the first step and risk going into the dark alone. “Are you sure?” His voice echoed in the distance, and he winced at the sound, trembling. “Yes. Come find me, Gi Beom-ah!” Slowly, the boy takes one step, his eyes closed, and ventures into the dark, disappearing into the chasm whole.

The basement is empty, save for a few suitcases and book boxes here and there, as he holds his small hands to his chest, fearful for what will happen next. “Hyung… I can’t see you.” There’s the sound of tap water dripping onto the ground, and the hoot-hoot of the owl outside. It’s not a likely place for siblings to be playing hide and seek. “I’m inside,” Geun Beom shouts. “Come on!” Going deeper, the only sound that can be heard now is the pitter patter of his footsteps, and the unsteadiness of his breathing. The room begins to light up,

and red curtains line the rest of the basement. His eyes grow wide. There was the urge to go back outside, but he was piqued to see what his brother was doing.

Problem was, he couldn’t see his brother. There was a faint outline of something a few feet away from him, but he couldn’t make out what it was. Stepping closer and closer, his heart began to thud and his legs began to give way.

“... Hyung?”

Something black suddenly crashed into him, knocking him to the ground, and at that moment, everything went black.

Gi Beom switched off the TV, throwing the remote aside. “It’s the only thing I remember of my brother… But why am I dreaming about this?” He slouched back down, wringing his hands, and staring at the ground. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that thing was my brother back then. Hell, I was only 6. It downright scared me, and he didn’t have any reason to do that. The thunder rumbled outside, and flashes of lightning streaked across the night sky, lighting up his face.

Creak.

“Geun Beom’s room…” he muttered, startled by the sound. Was this what haunted him? Was this the reason he couldn’t get to sleep? No. It couldn’t possibly be. What scared him was a demon with an unblinking, hollow eye and half dressed in torn flesh. Not him. I have to know what’s really going on to get out of this place. Slowly, he pushed opened the door and to his surprise, there was no demon.

It was his brother - his eight year old brother - sitting on the bed.

But it’s been ages now. Why is he still so small? Gi Beom walked quietly towards the bed and sat down next to him, patting his older brother on the shoulder. “Hyung, it’s me. Gi Beom.” Geun Beom turned his head, but instead of being surprised, a sad look was drawn over his face, and a tear slipped down his cheek. “Gi Beom-ah?” He nodded and the boy’s shoulders sagged. “I didn’t mean to scare you so much that time. I thought it was just a joke, but now you have nightmares, and now, you could die.”

The air suddenly became still.

Gi Beom narrowed his eyes. “How do you know about all this?”

His brother gulped. “I know who’s after you. You’ve gone too far trying to control your dreams. You’ve caught their attention.” He lowered his voice, and gazed solemnly into his eyes. “These creatures, they live in dreams. They can’t cross the line between dreams and reality, but when that line blurs away in someone’s mind, they come for that person… like moths drawn to a light. They feed on your fear, Gi Beom-ah, and they turn your dreams into nightmares. That demon took on the appearance of what scares you most.” Gi Beom scoffed, and shook his head. “What - you?” Geun Beom stares back at him with a sad smile on his face.

“You’re afraid of coming back home, brother. Think about it. When was the last time you ever called me, or visited us? You never have. You got stuck on alcohol, junk food and you filled every minute of your life with work that didn’t fulfill you, and people that never cared about you. You think we won’t accept you as you are if you return. That’s why you’re afraid. The only memory you’ve ever really had about us was me scaring you back then… and he’s using that against you! You were never really afraid of me, Gi Beom-ah… you’re just afraid you’ll be rejected.”

The realization hit Gi Beom like a hard brick wall. He felt a stinging sensation at the tips of his fingers. When was the last time he did all of that? Was he really afraid of rejection, so much so that he had to shy away from his family, spending his days drinking booze and giving lame excuses not to see them? His heart clenched. He felt like an idiot. All this because he was too afraid to face his reality and come back home. “I’m sorry, hyung. I’ve been horrible to you guys and I didn’t know how much harm this would cause me… even in getting me killed inside of a dream. I’ll put an end to this. I promise.”

He got up and reached for the door. Every oxygen molecule in his body was snatched away from him as he held his breath. He was finally going to face the monster he created because of his own doubts. And God, he felt as much fear as he had confidence. Outside, the rain had stopped pouring, and Gi Beom knew. These creatures are losing their

power. I can feel it. I must go back to where it all started, and finally end this nightmare for good.

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