The Dream Stealer
Fred took an uncomfortably large bite of his Tofu and Veggie sandwich, wishing that the lunch conversation would change to something—anything—else.
The orange Jubjub worked in one of those brand-new tall offices in Neopia Central where the windows were so clean that he often felt that he would fall right through the glass. He enjoyed his simple job, he enjoyed his coworkers, and he enjoyed the time they all spent chatting over lunch in the shiny employee cafeteria.
Most days, Fred would eagerly join the conversation. If the topic happened to be Yooyuball, he would advocate proudly for team Maraqua. If the topic fell to books, he would recommend one he had just finished reading (such as Galactic Adventures II, which he had zipped through in just two days). He even didn’t mind talking about work on those days when a particular deadline was fast approaching and everyone in the office was too stressed to discuss anything else.
But today, the topic was the one thing Fred could not contribute to: dreams. And so the orange Jubjub ate his sandwich in silence.
Clem, a skinny yellow Blumaroo, was excitedly recounting his latest dream, complete with ostentatious gestures and gesticulations. “…and as I was climbing the scaffolding, my grip slackened and suddenly I was falling, down to the dark concrete fifty floors below. But somehow I knew to just stretch out my arms and boom! I was flying, just like that!” Clem’s eyes glazed over in wonder as he relived each riveting moment. “It was wonderful. And suddenly, the dream shifted—you know how that happens, when sometimes you’re in one place and then you’re magically in another—and I wasn’t being chased anymore. I wasn’t even in the city. I was just flying over bright green fields dotted with thousands of flowers. It was amazing. I made this giant swoop downward,” he mimed the act with his arm, “and spent some time just looking at the colors as I flew past. I was so close that I could feel the petals tickling my face. I could even smell them!”
“Wow,” Belinda said in awe. “That is amazing. I never get dreams quite that intense. All I have from last night is a dream of me working on that silly report.” The blue Vandagyre laughed and then looked across the table, her eyes falling on the orange Jubjub. “What about you Fred? Any crazy dreams last night?”
Fred swallowed another bite of his sandwich and simply said, “I don’t dream.”
Belinda blinked. “You mean, you didn’t dream last night?”
“No. I mean I don’t dream ever. At least, not in a couple years.”
Clem shook his head sternly. “Come on, Fred. That’s impossible. Everyone dreams. You probably just forget them by the time you wake up.”
Fred clenched his jaw. He wished it were that simple, but somehow he knew deep down inside that he did not dream every night like normal Neopians. In the mornings when he woke up, his head was completely empty, free of all thoughts and images, as if he had spent his entire night in complete darkness. He used to dream—he remembered the exciting tales he dreamt up a child, a teenager, and even as a young adult—but one day, it all just stopped. No more dreams. Nothing at all.
And it bothered him. He used to have dreams full of adventure and awe. But now his mind was blank each night. He even read before bed, hoping the stories that he borrowed from the library or bought secondhand would leak into his subconscious. It never worked.
But Fred knew his coworkers would never understand, so the orange Jubjub just nodded his head. “You’re right,” he said to Clem. “I probably just don’t remember them.”
Clem grinned. “Of course I’m right!” Then, leaning forward across the table as if to lure his audience in, the Blumaroo said, “So! Right after I was done flying through the field of flowers…”* * *
That night, Fred lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling for much too long as his mind wheeled with thoughts from the day. But even his rattling mind couldn’t stop the fatigue building in his bones, and with a wide yawn, he began to slip away. As he slowly slid into sleep, his mind started forming images, fragments of what could have been a dream. Half-conscious, he accepted them, hoping to successfully tumble into dreamland…
And that was when he saw the shadow lurking at the edge of his bed.
“GAH!” Fred shouted, jolting awake and grabbing at his bed sheets for protection. What he had thought was just a shadow was more than that; it was an actual creature. It reminded him of a Wraith Korbat, a dark purple mottled thing with wispy edges that made it seem like it wasn’t real. But Fred knew with certainty that this was not a dream. This creature was real.
“What do you want?” Fred demanded, trying to keep his voice from trembling.
The wraith appeared surprised. “You’ve never woken up before,” it mused in a voice that seemed to slink inside Fred’s head like a whispered secret.
Fred blinked. “Before?” he repeated. “You’ve come into my home… before?”
The wraith nodded, his head bobbing up and down smoothly. “Every night for the past ten years. You have such wonderful dreams.”
Fred’s whole body felt cold. “But… I don’t dream.”
The wraith smiled in its strange way, all emptiness and jagged edges. “You do. I just consume them before you wake up. They are quite lovely. I assure you, I savor each and every one.”
Fred shook his head, feeling a jolt of anger from within. “No! Stop that! I… I want my dreams back! You can’t just take them from me.”
“You cannot stop me, Jubjub. There is no way to stop a Dream Stealer once it has latched onto you. Your dreams are now my dreams, and they will be mine forever.”
And with that, the creature opened its mouth and began to feed off his dreams.* * *
Fred woke up the next morning in a cold sweat. As per usual, he could not remember a single dream. But he could remember the creature that had appeared at his bedside, the wraith-like Dream Stealer.
Determined, he strode out into the day, making a beeline for his local library.
Fred was a regular in the library and most of the staff knew him by name. However, the librarians were surprised to see that he had veered away from his normal aisles—the mystery, fantasy, adventure, and cookbook sections—and into the far back where only faeries and those who studied the magical arts ventured.
After several hours of reading, Fred had found just a single mention of Dream Stealers: two short sentences in a book called Dreams and Prophecies.
“The Dream Stealer is a creature of the night that feeds off one’s dreams,” it read. “Once one has latched onto you, there is no way to be rid of it.”
And that was all he found.
Still, Fred was determined to beat this thing.
He spent the rest of his day at The National Neopian Bank, shuffling through his dusty old safety deposit box. It was more of a vault than a box at this point, containing everything from old Advent Calendar prizes to pieces of furniture from his classic Neohome. But he dug through the piles of stuff until he found his Energy Blaster in the very back, poised precariously on an antique side table. His brother had given him the blaster as a Day of Giving present a few years back. Fred hadn’t had the heart to tell him that he rarely frequented the Battledome—in fact, he had only gone twice in his youth, and both times had ended poorly—so the blaster had been gathering dust for years, locked away in the darkness.
Fred took the blaster—which shot out beams of energy and could stun any opponent—and went back to his neohome. He ate a quick dinner, read a few chapters of Beyond the Locked Door (a riveting mystery novel about Meepits), and then climbed into his bed, the blaster nestled next to his side. He waited for a long time, too excited and too anxious to properly fall asleep. But eventually, his body began to win, and his eyes began to droop, and the whisper of a dream began to wind its way into his mind…
He saw the shadow appear and in one fell swoop he swept aside his bed sheets, aimed the blaster, and pulled the trigger.
His aim was true and the bolt of energy buzzed through the air towards the wraith’s chest. But instead of stunning the enemy, the bolt passed right through the creature, as if the wraith were made of smoke. The bolt struck Fred’s dresser on the other side of the room instead, making the wood sizzle.
Fred’s jaw dropped and the Dream Stealer looked down at his chest, once again bemused. “You cannot harm me,” the creature said, matter-of-factly.
Fred refused to believe it. He looked down at the blaster in his hand. “I just… I don’t understand. This thing should stun any neopet. Even ghosts! And it just passed right through you as if… as if…”
“As if I’m not even here.” The creature completed the sentence for him and took a step forward. “That’s because I’m not here. Not physically, at least. I am a neopet just like you. I live a normal life, work at a normal job, live in a normal neohome somewhere in this grand city we call Neopia Central. But at night I become this. This form of mine, this shadow, is nothing more than an astral projection that finds its way into your home each night to consume your dreams. That is why you can never be free from me, why you can never defeat me. That is why your dreams will forever be mine.”
“Please,” Fred said, his voice desperate. He knew he was begging, but he didn’t know what else to do. “Please let me keep my dreams.”
The creature shook its head. “No. They are mine now.”
Fred’s heart felt as if it were shattering. “So that’s it, then,” he said, his voice a defeated whisper. “I’ll never have another dream ever again.”
The Dream Stealer paused suddenly, as if intrigued by his words. “Well, that’s not exactly true,” it said. “You may not have your dreams anymore, but there is a way for you to dream again…”* * *
The next Monday at work, Fred and his coworkers sat at their usual table in the cafeteria, talking yet again about their dreams.
“What about you, Clem?” Belinda asked after recounting a short dream she had had of her trying on overpriced and bizarrely designed dresses in a shop.
The yellow Blumaroo looked quite puzzled as he stared down at his bowl of Spicy Tomato Soup. “Actually I… didn’t dream last night.”
Belinda’s jaw dropped. “Really? That’s odd. You always dream.”
Clem shrugged as if it didn’t matter, but he looked upset. “There’s a first for everything, I guess.”
Fred cleared his throat. “Speaking of firsts,” he interjected, “I had a dream on Saturday night.”
Everyone turned to look at him. “Really?” Belinda asked, clearly in shock. “What about?”
“Well,” Fred said, rolling up the sleeves of his work shirt, “it all started in a beautiful field full of bright orange flowers…”
And as Fred recounted his first dream in ten years, his smile grew wider and wider.
Some might have said that his grin even looked a touch wraith-like.