Fear has an aged flavor; it tastes how you might imagine the common thread of all humanity to taste, like air, like a hundred lives at once.

My hunger is mild, compared to some. I'm the fear of hell. My primary victims sleep in jail cells and Christian monasteries. No one's handing out dream pills to convicts. I should share the precious mind in my hands. Instead I run my fingers along its soft, milky surface as if it belongs only to me. An average mind is about the size of a plump grapefruit. "Hello, sweetheart," I murmur, bringing the glowing orb close to my face, stroking the edge of its barrier with a finger. "Let me have a look at you."

It belongs to a girl—more than that, a teenage girl in America.

So many Nightmares howl for her insecurities, beg for what frightens someone of her gender, culture, and age. The fear of high school acceptance? The fear of romantic rejection? The fear of ugliness? They're starving, because most of the minds they feed on are forced into artificial dreams of bliss by the pill.

I can't let this mind get lost in the billions of others. Her mind expands in my practiced hands and I slip through her Circadian Clock, stepping into the traffic of her organic dreams. My arrival melts the chaos into the deepest stage of sleep—my territory. For a moment, I wait, letting her mind work on its own. The passages of her psyche drip with sweet darkness.

Minds nowadays are so shallow; the influx of media and fast solutions to pain have robbed them of the ability to create. Not so with hers. If anything, she's oversaturated with imagination—it's like trying to walk through a swamp. Her hyper-charged subconscious quickly notices me, breathing up my neck and into my hair. The strength of her sudden focus is so strong, I take a nervous step back, and when I do, a tendril of her subconscious reach es out and latches to my wrist. Tight, like scribbled lightning up my arm.

"What the . . .?" I mutter, trying to shake it off. But another tentacle sucks onto my ankle, until soon all my limbs are incapacitated, strings of her subconscious trapping me like some kind of web.

I struggle to at least free my arms, but she only holds harder. More tendrils wind up my throat as if to choke me.

The nightmare. Start the nightmare.

Eagerness pulses through her mind. She's asking for it, petting me like a stray pet, whispering feed me in my ear, and I—

—am afraid.

"Get off,"I gasp, summoning the fire and brimstone of hell and releasing it in a surge of desperation.

She lets go. I breathe heavily, on my side. There's a faint smell of smoke in the air. I sit up, and immediately see her ruined Circadian Clock. The middle is broken and charred; the hands have stopped moving.

The portal is gone.


I rush over and touch the wood, trying not to panic. It can't just be . . . broken. Dread trickles down my spine. Did I do this? Or did her insane, clinging mind?


I have to get out, now.

I spin, igniting her mind into a blazing nightmare. I'm overdoing it, I know, but it has the desired effect. After only a few minutes, I'm nearly choking on her fear and her mind shakes her awake, desperate to escape the terror of the nightmare. I wait for the pull of the Circadian Clock, the portal which should send me home. She's waking up; I should have no choice.

As the girl bolts up in her bed, gasping and sweating, her subconscious shrinks and her conscious mind takes full dominance. I expect to jettison back . . . but nothing happens.

I'm trapped, stuffed into a dark closet until she falls asleep again.