Charlotte had barley glanced up when another patient walked in from the hospital entrance donning hospital scrubs and wild hair. She had lowered her clipboard as she watched the other woman fill out her own, rocking back and forth. The movement even had Charlotte nervous as watched her. More doubt crept back into her mind. She shouldn’t have come to the study. She had only been overreacting. There were real people with obviously real problems that caused hospitalization who needed this help. So she had a few nightmares? Nothing she couldn’t handle. Right?
Just as she was planning how she was going to leave, her phone buzzed against her leg in the front pocket of her jeans. Reflexively, she took it out and opened it up. ‘Oh no.’ It was her housemate Josie. In neat letters the text read out
Proud of you Cee! Hope everything works out and you sleep well tonight. We’re all praying for you!
Some of the nerves Charlotte had been feeling were disappearing as she read and reread the message. Josie had always been the assertive one while quite meek Charlotte went along with every little scheme or plan of hers. She was right though, she couldn’t flake out on this. For once in her life she had to be brave. Plus, it was only for one night- what was the worst that could happen?
With a new confidence, Charlotte stood up and turned in her clipboard. As she passed the other girl she noticed how young she looked. What could have possibly happened to her that lead her here? Charlotte almost offered her words of encouragement, but none came to mind and who knew what kind of crazy this girl was. The secretary just gave her a smile and entered in some of the information before paging in a nurse. Charlotte just stood at the desk as she fidgeted with the strap of her bag. She couldn’t help but keep glancing over her shoulder at the other girl, interested and curious about her.
Before she could question it too much, however, a tall black nurse in pink scrubs came to the lobby and directed her back into the clinic. “We have a room and the machines all set up for you honey,” she said with an obvious southern drawl. “First time here?” she asked as they made their way through a couple of hallways. Charlotte just nodded nervously as she followed her into a large doctor’s room. This was odd. Was she supposed to be sleeping here?
“Okay so we have a few evaluations to get through here, and then we will get you situated in one of our sleep rooms!” explained the nurse as she directed Charlotte to sit on the doctor’s bench. After they had finished up, Charlotte found herself in a hospital dressing gown and slippers on the edge of a bed. The room they had moved her into looked like an simple hotel room filled with a bunch of machines Charlotte didn’t know about. The nurse from earlier was putting on various wires to her head and arms around the IV they had inserted. A small plastic clamp was on her finger that connected to a heart monitor. She did her best to focus on keeping the beeping even as she was hooked up, only a few spikes of speed occurring once in a while.
“Okay. We will be monitoring you throughout the night, and follow up with some routine questions anytime you wake up. There’s nothing to be nervous about,” explained the nurse with a smile. Charlotte tried to offer one back but it was shaky and forced. “Okay, well sleep well and we’ll see if we can’t get rid of these nightmares for you.” With that, the nurse stood up and left the room after turning out the lights. A soft glow emitted from the menagerie of machines and she did her best to get comfortable in the bed.
The thought of being observed as she slept had Charlotte wired for most of the time as she stared off into the darkness of the room. The shadows seem to dance around in the eerie glow and every time she thought she saw one move, her heart monitor would give a little jump. After an hour or so though, Charlotte felt herself slipping into another night of fitful sleeping.
The lights flickered sporadically, illuminating the greasy hallway of an old apartment complex. Faded numbers where brass plates were stained each of the wooden doors lining the narrow halls, carpeted in an ugly burgundy. With each flicker of the harsh florescent light came a buzzing and crackle as the bulb fought to stay alive. Heavy breathing intermingled with the crackling as a young boy sat in the corner or the hallway, breathing hard into his hand and hot tears streamed down his face.
Unbeknown to him, in the shadows of the hall perched a watcher, silent and invisible to him. Every once in a while a door would shake and the boy would jump as he muffled his scream in his hand. Stay strong Luke. I’m here. Stay strong. She wasn’t going to lose another one, the watcher. She refused to. Luke would wake up and the demon would leave empty handed. Isis was a runner and a damn good one at that. As she stood hidden in the shadows, Isis watched, listened, and felt as she prepared for the nightmare demon to finally attack.
She wanted to reveal herself, and open the right door for Luke, but that was against the rules. No Runner was allowed to open a door to the real world. Only the dreamer could. With the demon blocking her path though, she risked losing Luke again in the large passage of hallways. She had been able to corral him in the right direction, but it was a waiting game now.
Small sobs and chokes came from the little boy as he slid up the wall. No. Stay put. The demon had other plans though. As soon as Luke had taken a step away from the corner, a door to his left flew open with a thunderous bang and violent light assaulted the hallway with a trumpet of noises and screams. Isis sprung from her hiding spot and pushed all of her weight against the door, pushing against the demon as it was shut closed. Isis wasn’t a small woman, she was built strong and tall like an athlete. She had a figure, but instead of curves she donned hard muscle and quick reflexes.
Blowing blonde tendrils of hair out of her face, Isis glared at Luke with harsh hazel eyes. “Run. 36B Luke. Use that door, that’s right,” Isis urged on as the door behind her bucked. Her strong legs were locked up tight as she pushed back. Luke looked at her wide eyed and terrified as he ran to the correct door and opened it tentatively. As soon as the young boy stepped through the doorway, Isis could feel the way the space was manipulative again. She could morph it as if she were dreaming. The halls melted away so it was only her and the nightmare in a large blank room. If she could capture the nightmare and bring it back to a DreamMaker, perhaps Isis would finally get that promotion she had been chasing.
Before she could act though, the large Smokey black figure let out a hair curling screech before disappearing into the floor. Without the dreamer, the world was just as manipulative to the nightmare demons as it was to Dream Runners. Isis cursed under her breath before leaving the large room.
A large city was revealed through the door that had once lead to the hallway. As Isis stepped through, she walked away from a large white wall lined with various doors into a station that was almost like a subway. Other Runners milled about, opening and entering doors as they went to their next assignments. Each door was to a dreamer’s particular section of the world. A place malleable by their dreamers or those who were in it when they were away. New door appeared everyday as others remained locked.
A city had been built around these walls of doors, and runners had taken their place in making sure every dreamer made it back out. They had to, because the longer they remained in a dream, the more power they got. Humans weren’t made to house all of that energy, they couldn’t handle it. Some would lose it into madness and they became nightmare demons, on the hunt to create more like them, others would simply implode their world on themselves as they failed to control their power and manipulation of their world carefully enough. That’s what Isis and thousands others like her were there to prevent. She made sure they left before the madness started setting in.
With Luke gone though, she was off to find her next door. Isis made her way over to a small cylindrical pole in the middle of the ground. Many of these poles, about twice as tall as Isis was, littered the city floors. They were terminals that connected Runners to their squad leaders and their squad leaders to their DreamMakers- the real ones in charge. Isis plugged herself in, waiting to see what door and name would flash on her screen next.