R.E.M: Recalling Enjoyable Memories

Simon is quiet and cautious, not prone to making quick decisions. But that all changes when he meets Lindal, crazy, erratic, wonderful Lindal, and the secret she carries. She's been sent to find Simon, because he's the One, the one who can stop the bad dreams from coming. He's the one who's going to help the dreamers sleeping in the R.E.M Center, and free them from the nightmares.

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1. R.E.M: Recalling Enjoyable Memories

A broken wail rent the air.

“Simon! Simon, wake up!”

My breath is caught in my throat, choking me. Someone’s shaking my shoulders. My eyes snap open. It’s Mum. Her face is really close to mine, and I can see her wrinkles. And her freckles. I look into her eyes and see my face reflected back at me. Wide, fearful brown eyes, messy black hair pasted to my forehead with sweat. And my freckles.

Mum sits on the side of my bed, momentarily exhausted. “Simon, sweetie, are you alright? Another bad dream?”

As soon as she says the words ‘bad dream’, it all comes back again. My heart starts pounding and my breathing hitches.

“Mum, it was worse this time,” I gasp. “This time there were iron walls, and they had rivets so you couldn’t get out, and – ”

Mum smooths my hair back. “It was just a bad dream. That’s all.”

“A nightmare,” I mutter under my breath.

Mum sighs and a goes to draw back my curtains. As soon as the sun hits my face, I feel better. Fractionally.

“Go and have some breakfast, Simon. You’ll feel better.”

I want to tell her that having breakfast these past few weeks hasn’t really made a difference, but mum is picking at her nails again, a sure sign that she is worried. I get up without a word.

Into the kitchen, bread in the toaster. Bread out of the toaster. Butter. Jam. Sit. Eat. It’s become automatic now.

Something breaks through my robotic thoughts. Its Mum and Dad, talking. I can hear everything they’re saying through our super-thin walls. I can picture the scene now. Dad’s getting ready for work, buttoning up his shirt in front of the mirror and Mum’s standing by the doorway, either wringing her hands or picking at her nails. Dad will have a frown on his face and Mum’s will be all creased up with worry.

“Hugo, his dreams are getting worse. He’s waking up in the night, more than once. Simon’s a growing boy, and it’s not good for him. It’s not good for anyone!”

“I know, Maria. He’ll be fine, you need to stop worrying. Stop babying him.”

“I’m not!”

Mum has raised her voice too much. At this point, Dad will give her an extra-thunderous frown and she will drop back to a whisper.

“I think he needs to see someone. A doctor, a physiatrist, even. Just to make sure.”

“Look, how about I have a talk to him, Maria. We’ll see what the boy has to say.”

“Hugo!”

I can hear Dad’s footsteps coming down the hall and I quickly take a bite of my toast. A blob of jam falls onto my plate and I am in the process of trying to grab it when Dad appears around the corner.

He puts his hand on my shoulder. “Good morning, son. Heard you had another bad dream.”

I nod. “Yeah.”

“Not tired at all?”

I glance at mum who’s watching anxiously.

I shake my head and try to smile. “Nah, I’ll be fine.”

Dad pats me on the back. Another blob of jam falls. “That’s my boy!” he says. “Don’t want to see anyone about it? The dreams? No doctor or anything?”

I turn around and grin at Dad. This grin has fooled him many times before. “I’ll be right,” I hear myself say.

“That’s the spirit!” Dad gives me another pat, then a wink. He goes over and kisses Mum.

“Off to work now!”

A pause. The door slams. The car starts. The gravel crunches, and Dad drives away.

Mum sighs. Her shoulders slump. The grin fools Dad but never Mum.

“You’d best be getting ready for school,” she says.

***

The day passed in a blur. Well, most of it. Lunch always goes the slowest. Out of all the Year 5 boys, I’m the only one who sits on the benches, almost near the girls. The other boys are playing footy.

“Hey, Simon!” It’s Max. He limps up to me and says, “You wanna play footy with us today?” Max Nelson is the only one anymore who bothers to ask me if I want to play footy. Max fell down the stairs the other day and hurt his ankle, but that doesn’t stop him playing.

“I’ll pass, thanks,” I reply. “Don’t want to do a Smithy.”

Thomas Smith is a Year 8 boy. A few months ago, him and all the other Year 8 and 9 boys were playing football on the top oval, the one with the rocks on it. Someone tackled Thomas, and his head hit a rock. It knocked him out. He bled everywhere and had to get 11 stitches in the back of his head.

“Are you sure?”

Max brings me back to reality. He’s looking at me hopefully.

I smile weakly. “I’m sure.”

“A’right,” he says. “Just ask if you wanna play, okay?” Max limps off.

“I’ll just stay here,” I whisper.

Thomas Smith and his 11 stitches haunt me. But it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. Least of all Max.

***

Walking home again today. Dad’s still at work, probably in another one of his endless meetings. Mum got called away for house assistance. She sent me a note through the school office. Simon, I won’t be home until 6 o’clock today, so you’ll have to walk home, I’m sorry. If you want, you can go to the bakery and buy yourself some afternoon tea. Do your homework. Love, Mum. xxx

I pull the note out of my pocket once more and reread it yet again.

This was becoming more of a regular occurrence. Soon, I’d have to walk home every afternoon. I sigh and shove the note back in my pocket. I stop in the middle of the footpath and look up at the sky. The sun is behind a cloud. I sigh again.

A tapping noise is niggling at the edge of my hearing. I stand still, attentive. The noise is getting louder. And louder still. At once I figure out what it is. Running! Someone’s running! I turn around to see who it was and in that moment I feel someone grab my hand.

I’m pulled out of my standstill. I find myself unwillingly running beside someone. I was opening my mouth to ask what is going on when she turns her head and grins straight at me.

The girl is freckly, like me. Her brown curls are bouncing as she runs, and her hazel eyes have green flecks in them that twinkle mischievously. She’s wearing a pair of shorts and a singlet. A loose-fitting long shirt is thrown over the top of the singlet, and its sleeve keeps tickling my hand.

Who is this girl? I open my mouth for a second time, when she darts down an alley, pulling me with her.

“Hold on!” she yells.

My eyes widen. The alley is a dead end. There is a solid-looking brick wall in the way. And we are approaching it fast. But then my attention is drawn to something else. The gaping jet-black hole that has just opened up in the ground. I hear the girl laugh before we plunge into it.

The blackness is suffocating me, trickling down my throat and up nose. I couldn’t breathe. I’m thankful when I feel my knees buckle under solid ground. I look around. We are on the footpath of a paved street. The buildings are tall and dominating, looming over us, casting great big shadows. Cars are everywhere, honking their horns. People are also everywhere, pushing past us in a rush.

I look over to the girl, about to ask here where we are when she points at a street sign. It reads Park Lane.

The girl looks at me. “Where’s Park Lane?” she asks.

I thought back to all the games of Monopoly I had played. I frown. “It’s in London,” I say. “England.”

“Well, that’s not right,” the girl says.

Then I dawns on me. “W-wait a minute!” I stammer. “You mean to tell me we’re in England?!

The girl smiles at me. “I didn’t tell you that, you figured it out yourself.”

I feel something tugging at my sleeve. I turn to see a blonde lady clutching the hand of a little girl. The little girl pokes her tongue out at me.

“Excuse me,” says the lady. “I’m lost. Could you please direct me to Hyde Park?”

I stare at her blankly.

“You go around that corner and walk along for two blocks, then you turn left,” the girl pipes.

“Thank you!” exclaims the lady, her smile genuine. “Come on, Delilah.” The little girl is tugged away with her tongue still poking out.

Suddenly, the freckle girl grabs my hand and the suffocating blackness engulfs me again. This time it felt like it was trying to squeeze its way into me through my belly-button. We land in a noisy place, far nosier than Park Lane. There are hundreds more people, too. It was full of bright flashing lights and weird sounds. The girl turns to the nearest person, to ask where they are.

As soon as I notice the almond eyes, I say to the freckle girl, “We’re in the wrong place.”

She frowns at me. “How would you – ” she begins.

I motion to a nearby conversation, where people are speaking in sharp syllables. Chinese or Japanese, either one.

The girl nods. Then we drop through the ground again. The blackness is pushing my teeth in, and trying to get my brain and my eyeballs the meet each other.

We land in what looks to be a hallway. The sound of footsteps are coming towards us.

“Nope,” the girl says, and we are off again. I’m actually getting used to the blackness now. We come out in another hallway, white-washed and lit by lights I can’t see.

“Here we are!” she says, smiling.

I yank my hand out of hers.

“Right!” I cry. “You’d better tell me who you are and what’s going on!”

“Oh!” says the girl. “I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Lindal.” She sticks out her hand. I eye it, then shake it gingerly.

I narrow my eyes. “So, Lindal. Explain. Everything.”

She gives me that cheeky grin again. “Explanations are in order, but not right now. Everything will explain itself later.”  With that, she runs off down the hall. I follow after her, but at a slower pace.

Doors line the hall. They are all the same, down to the doorknobs and the scuff marks on the floor. The hall itself is lit with an eerie white light. It reminds me of a hospital in a way. Lindal stops at a door on the right, and I wonder how she can tell the difference between that door and the one next to it.

Lindal twists the doorknob. The door doesn’t open. She frowns to herself and moves along to the one next to it. She turns the knob, and this time the door opens with no resistance. She can’t tell the difference as much as I can, I think to myself.

Lindal beckons to me, and I step over the threshold.

The room is vast, and lit with the same white light. Beds line the walls for meters and meters, all the way down to the end of the room. There is a grey runner-rug in the middle of the room, and all of the beds are made with pale blue sheets. There is no artwork on the walls, no shelves, not even any dirt on the ground.

In each bed, there is a person. Lindal is standing by the nearest bed. I go to stand beside her. The child under the bedcovers has blond hair, done neatly in two plaits. She has alabaster skin and a grimace on her face. I look down the room, and realise all the people in the beds are children. I look back at the girl. She’s breathing heavily.

I look to Lindal questioningly. “Explain now?” I whisper.

“There’s no need to whisper,” she says in a normal voice, studying the girl’s face. “They won’t wake up, no matter how much noise we make.”

I scratch my head. I’m struggling to take this in. Lindal starts to speak. “This place is called the R.E.M Centre. This is where people come when they are in the R.E.M stage of sleep.” She looks sideways at me. “You know what R.E.M stands for?”

I nod. “Rapid eye movement.”

Lindal nods in confirmation. “They all come here when they’re in the R.E.M stage.”

I look around again. “You said everyone, but there’s only children.”

“This is a children’s ward.”

Hospital, I think.

 “You know what happens in the R.E.M stage?” asks Lindal.

“Dreams,” I reply.

“That’s right.”

At that moment, the girl vanishes. I start in surprise. “She’s gone!” I yelp. In the next moment, a boy appears in the bed. His face is covered in freckles. He’s sweating profusely and his eyelids are flickering violently.

“W-what happened?!” I stutter. “She, she, just disappeared!”

Lindal doesn’t seem to notice how freaked out I am. “Her R.E.M stage was finished. That’s why she disappeared.” She motions to the boy. “His has just begun.”

My legs feel like jelly, and I’m on the verge of collapsing on the floor, but Lindal grabs my arm with an iron grip. She looks me in the eye. Her look is as steely as her grasp. “You’re the one,” she says with the utmost seriousness. “You’re the one to stop the nightmares.”

I shake my head. I’m way out of my depth. What is going on? I was about to ask as much when she grabs my hand and places it on the boy’s temple. All of a sudden I’m not in the room anymore; I’m falling through empty space.

***

I’m sitting on a wide, wooden bench. The boy that was in the bed is sitting beside me. His face is pale under all his freckles, and his wrists are in chains, drilled into the bench. His eyes are rolling, whites showing, like a wild animal. His attention is focussed on what’s in front of him.

I lean forward and peer over the wooden railing. Down below was what looked to be a circus act. Except it wasn’t. There were just clowns on the floor, all dressed up in their foolish clothes, wide painted grins on their faces. They are all staring at the intently boy. I can hear him whimpering quietly beside me.

This kid must be afraid of clowns, I think. I tug on his sleeve. He flinches away violently, but doesn’t shut his eyes. He doesn’t seem to be able to close his eyes. Just then, a thought hits me. Where am I? Was this what Lindal was talking about? Am I in this kid’s nightmare?

When I tug harder on his sleeve, I notice he’s wearing pyjamas. This reinforces my nightmare-belief.

“Hey,” I whisper. The kid is shaking violently now. “Hey,” I say a bit louder. “Snap out of it!”

This time he actually looks at me. “W-w-who are you?” he stammers.

I don’t answer. “What’s your name?” I ask.

“E-Eric.”

“What’s going on, Eric?”

When I ask this, he starts shaking even more. “They’re coming to get me!” he yells. “They’re coming!” He pushes his face up close to mine, so I can see his thin eyelashes. “Get out of here!”

I lurch away in shock, and the place dissolves around me.

***

I awake to Lindal’s face. She is staring eagerly at me.

“Well?” she says. “Did you see?”

Surprisingly, I’m still standing. I shake my head back and forth, trying to dispel thoughts of Eric’s bad dream.

“C’mon!” Lindal shakes my arm. “Tell me what you saw!”

“That just made me more confused than ever,” I say.

“Did you see his dream?”

“His name is Eric,” I explain. “And yeah, I did see his dream. It was about clowns. He’s really afraid of clowns.”

Lindal grins. “I knew it! I knew you were the one, Simon! You’re going to get rid of the bad dreams! For good!” Lindal snatches up my hands and spins me around. It’s kind of hard to do it in between the beds, so she spins me into the hall. She’s still talking. “I knew it, I knew it!” Lindal is chanting. “Cynthia didn’t believe, but I did!”

Who’s Cynthia?

I wait for Lindal to get tired and slow down. I don’t want to ruin her good mood and my chance of asking a question.

“Hey, Lindal,” I begin. “Who’s Cynthia?”

The grin fades. “Oh. Cynthia is the Dream Balancer,” she says.

“Dream Balancer?”

“Yeah!” Lindal grabs my hands again. She really likes doing that, I think. “I’ll take you to meet her!”

I hope she can give me some answers.

Lindal turns around, hazel eyes glittering. “She can give you the answers you’re looking for, better than I can.” She turns back around and points down the hall. “To Cynthia!”

And off we went.

***

After our romp through the halls, I find myself in another white-washed, white-lit room. The girl in the room has a piece of chalk in her hand. I thought Lindal was small, but Lindal is a giant compared to this girl. She turns around.

Red curls frame her face. She has liquid brown eyes and a peaceful expression. She seemed to be wearing some sort of white dress, almost like a nightie. The wall behind her is covered in chalk marks. A large, thick line is drawn down the middle of the wall, and there are marks on either side. It is almost like a tally.

At that moment, the girl turns around and makes another mark on the right side of the wall. She sighs and turns back around, looking at Lindal.

“Cynthia?” Lindal says tentatively. She steps forward a pace.

Cynthia’s eyes focussed on Lindal. “Hello, Lindal, dear. Is this the boy?”

Lindal nods. “This is Simon.” She turns and glances at me, eyebrows raised, waiting for me to say something.

“Um…”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Simon.” Cynthia looks through me in a disconcerting way. “We’ve both been waiting for you.”

“Oh,” I say. Great impression that made.

“Simon asks lots of questions, Cynthia,” Lindal begins.

“Like you.”

Lindal laughs quietly. “Yeah, I guess. He asks questions that I can’t answer. I was hoping you could help me.”

“Of course. Please excuse me for a moment.” Cynthia draws four marks on the left side, and another one on the right. I notice she is using the gate-post method for her tallying.

“Now,” she says, facing me again. “You have some questions, dear?”

“Um, right. Yes. Questions,” I say. I don’t know where to start. I open and close my mouth a few times. Lindal glares at me.

Cynthia smiles kindly at me. “What’s on your mind, dear?”

I gasp. The question catches me off guard. She sounds so much like Mum it brings tears to my eyes.

I sniffle. “Who are you?”

“My name is Cynthia. I am what is called a ‘Dream Balancer’. It is my job to make sure that good dreams and bad dreams are equal in this place.” Cynthia indicates the wall behind her. “This is my scoreboard. The left side is bad dreams; the right side is good dreams. As you can see, there are a considerably more marks on the left side, meaning the people who come to the R.E.M Centre have been having more bad dreams than good ones of late.”

Lindal is fidgeting. “That’s where you come in!” She bursts out, looking at me. “You’re going to stop the bad dreams!”

I don’t take my eyes off Cynthia. Finally someone who was giving me real answers. “How can I do that?”

“You have it inside of you. I, myself don’t sleep. But I have what I like to call ‘waking dreams’. I had a dream about you, so I sent Lindal to go and find you.”

“But I still don’t understand. How exactly can I stop people from having bad dreams?”

“I believe Lindal has shown you this already, but without much explanation.” Cynthia glances at Lindal. Lindal has the grace to look ashamed.

Cynthia continues. “You place the tips of your fingers on the dreamer’s temple, and you will be transported to the dream they are currently having. All the surrounds of the dream will feel real, but your true body will still be where you have originally left it.”

“I know that.”

Cynthia nods. “Specifics, then. My belief is that once in the dream, you can change the dream’s landscape. If the dreamer, for example, is having a nightmare, you can change it into a good dream.”

I can sense Lindal beside me, nodding at every word Cynthia says. It must be true, then. I was starting to understand. “So, why me? Lindal keeps on saying I’m the one. How do you know?”

Cynthia smiles at me. “You suffer from bad dreams yourself, do you not?”

My shoulders slump, and I sigh. “Yeah, I do.”

“If you help us, we can help you. No more bad dreams.”

I stand up straight again. “Why are there more bad dreams than good ones anyway?”

“We don’t know,” Lindal butts in. “We’re hoping you can help us with that, too.”

“Can anyone else do this whole, ‘go into other people’s dreams’ thing?”

“No, just you.”

Figures. The most fearful kid in the whole school is supposed to stop other people’s bad dreams when he can’t even sleep through his own.

“Right,” I say. “I suppose I’ll help. I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

Cynthia smiles. Lindal shouts “Yay!” and launches herself at me, hugging me tightly.

“One more question!” I say loudly, above Lindal’s chatter.

“Yes?” asks Cynthia.

“I don’t get it. You look like a kid; you’re even smaller than Lindal. But you talk like a grown-up.”

“That’s the way you designed me, isn’t it?” Cynthia replies, a small frown creasing her forehead.

I take a step back in shock. Not more crazy talk. “What-what do you mean?”

“I can stop if you like, I’ll – ”

I cut her off. “What do you mean, that’s the way I designed you?”

Cynthia does that small smile again. “Remember how I told you about waking dreams earlier? Well, this is one of them. You’re in a waking dream right now, Simon.”

My breathing turns ragged, and my knees jelly-like again, but this time Lindal doesn’t grab me on the arm with her iron grip. Something else keeps me standing. Fear? Anger?

“Are you saying,” I whisper, staring at my feet. “That this is all a dream. Right now, this is a dream?”

“In a way, yes.”

I look up at Cynthia. How can she be so calm? “So this isn’t real?”

You’re getting hysterical, Simon.

“In a way, no.”

“Just answer me straight!” I yell. Lindal winces.

“This waking dream is different from usual.” Cynthia’s stare is intense, trying to say something to me, but I don’t want to understand. “Your body is actually in the waking dream this time. I don’t know how this is possible, but it is happening right now, so it is possible.”

“So, you’re trying to tell me I’m dreaming, but you don’t know how. What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I mean, I don’t know,” says Cynthia. Lindal was quiet, head whipping back and forward between Cynthia and me.

“Explain it to me!” I shout.

“I can’t.”

My shoulders start to shake. Manic laughter bubbles up from within me and explodes from my mouth. I am shaking uncontrollably, laughing all the while. Cynthia watches, impassive. Lindal is staring, appalled. Staring at me like I’m crazy.

Maybe I am.

As soon as it starts, my laughter stops. The room is eerily silent.

“So you can’t tell me why this is happening,” I say quietly.

“No,” Cynthia replies.

I start to shake my head, slowly at first, then faster and faster. My hair is flying in my eyes. I snap my head up to look at Cynthia.

“I don’t understand,” I whisper.

Lindal’s eyes are as wide as dinner plates.

“I don’t understand!” I yell.

Cynthia stares at me, her child-like face unreadable.

I turn and run from the room.

***

My head is a mess of thoughts. First and foremost is my shock. Then comes my fear. And after that, I think, is disappointment. Everything else has faded into the background. Like white noise on a television.

Simon is supposed to be the chosen one. He is supposed to stop the bad dreams from coming. He is supposed to stop my bad dreams from coming. But instead, he yelled. He throws a tantrum, like a child. And he runs away.

At least he didn’t cry.

I blink furiously, trying to clear my mind. I look around. How did I get on the floor?

I look up. Cynthia has her back to me, facing the wall. I can hear the scraping of chalk. At least Cynthia is doing her job. I shakily stand up and go to stand beside her. She has put another five marks on the nightmare side an only two on the good dream side.

“Cynthia,” I say.

Cynthia strokes the wall with her chalk. “Yes, Lindal, dear?”

“What do we do now?”

Cynthia doesn’t reply straight away. I wait patiently. Seconds stretch into minutes. I wait for what feels like eternity. Suddenly, I’m very worried. If Cynthia doesn’t know what to say, it must be bad.

“Cynthia!” I grab her hand. “This is Simon’s dream! This is all happening because he’s letting it happen! What if he doesn’t want it to happen anymore? What will we do then? He’ll disappear, and we’ll be back to square one! Or will we disappear? Is that possible? Can we disappear, because we’re a part of his dream?”

Cynthia squeezes my hand. “Simon is still here because he thinks he’s powerless.”

“But he’s not!”

“But he keeps telling himself that he is.” Cynthia pats my hand. “And besides, we’re still here. That’s a good sign.”

I sigh. “I spose so.”

Cynthia smiles up at me. “Now go and find him, dear. He needs you.”

“Okay.”

***

I’m sitting on some sort of stone bench in a small garden. The garden has rows of pretty little flowerbeds with pretty little flowers in them. The lush green grass covering the ground is sheltered by two large overhanging willow trees. An unseen stream gurgles nearby. The small birds are perching on their branches, singing with joy.

It’s a wonderful day, they’re saying. So why are you sitting here like this, Simon?

I jump up. “I never asked for any of this!” I scream. “I’m only in Year 5, what am I supposed to do anyway?” I sit down and put my head in my hands. “I don’t get it,” I whisper.

“Simon? Simon?”

It’s Lindal. She strolls down the path that leads to the garden, and when the path ends and the grass begins, she kicks off her shoes. She has a big smile on her face. She doesn’t sit on the bench beside me, but instead sits on the grass in front of me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“Looking for you,” Lindal replies.

I don’t say anything back. I just stare hopelessly at my knees.

“I didn’t ask for any of this, either.”

I look up. “What?”

“I didn’t ask for any of this, either,” Lindal says again.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly what I said. By rights, I should be in those beds inside, sweating, while I cringe in fear of my nightmare.”

I frown, and Lindal smiles. “I shouldn’t be awake,” she murmurs. “Cynthia broke the rules by waking me up. But she knew something had to be done. She needed someone to look for you.”

I sighed. “Why me?”

Lindal shrugged. “Why me?”

I snorted. “I still don’t understand what I’m supposed to do.”

Lindal got up and held out her hand. “That’s why I’m here. To help you understand. Come on.”

I sigh again, but I take her hand. “Where are we going?” I ask as Lindal leads me out of the garden and through a door, into more white-washed halls.

“You’re going to do your job,” she says. She glances at me, hazel eyes glittering with happiness.

Lindal takes me to a different room – I assume – from the one before. It is exactly the same, down to the sheets on the beds and the runner on the floor. The only thing that is different are the children in the beds.

We go and stand beside a bed. The young girl lying down is clutching the covers with white knuckles, her brown hair fanned across her pillow. I can see her face is wet. I realise she is crying.

“Put two fingers on her temple. You’ll be transported into her dream. There, you need to figure out what her biggest fear is and make it into something laughable.” Lindal takes my hand. “I’ll be here when you come back.”

I take a deep breath and do as I’m told. I spin through empty space again.

***

This time I land in a bedroom. It’s a little girl’s bedroom, with pink paint on the walls and stuffed toys everywhere. In the middle of the room is a single bed with love-heart bed-head and a cartoon unicorn cover. In the bed is the little girl with brown hair. She’s got her eyes closed, crying and shaking her head, saying ‘sorry’ over and over again.

I notice the two tall figures standing over her bed. They have business suits on. One is an extremely tall man and the other is a woman. I see they both have horns, almost devil horns, sprouting from their heads. They’re growling and pointing their fingers at the little girl.

“Hey!” I yell. “Cut that out!”

They don’t take any notice of me.

Then I see something odd. The little girl’s sheet is wet, and dripping on the floor.

She’s wet the bed.

That’s her biggest fear! Wetting the bed and her parents finding out!

I kneel down beside her and place a hand on her shoulder. As soon as she realises, she stops shaking and looks at me, eyes wide with fear.

“Who are you?” she sniffles.

I smile, hopefully in a reassuring way. This girl is only a few years younger than me. “I’m Simon,” I say. “What’s your name?”

“Cathleen.”

The two monsters start growling even more and Cathleen starts crying again.

“Shh, shh, it’s alright,” I say soothingly, rubbing her back. “What’s happened? You can tell me.”

Cathleen wipes her nose with her sleeve. It has pale pink lace on it. “I’ve wet my bed,” she whispers. “I can’t let Mummy and Daddy find out. They’ll be really angry. I don’t like it when they’re angry.” She dries a stray tear with the other sleeve. “I don’t know what to do.”

Those two monsters must be her parents. Business people, who ‘don’t have time for a child’.

“I know what to do.” I pull the covers back. “All we have to do is change the sheets. I’ll help you. Come on, up you hop. It’ll be alright.”

Together, Cathleen and I change her sheets. We creep down the hall, past her parent’s room, to the bathroom. We put the wet sheets in the washing machine and collect new ones. Then we creep back. Cathleen doesn’t even notice that the two monsters that were towering over her have disappeared.

After I make her bed, I tuck her in. I kiss her on the forehead. “Goodnight, Cathleen,” I say.

Cathleen closes her eyes with a smile. “Goodnight, Simon.”

Cathleen’s room melts around me. I catch one last glimpse of her, her eyes closed, smiling in her sleep.

***

Lindal still has a hold of my hand. She looks at me keenly. “Well? How’d it go?”

I grin. “Excellent. Cathleen, the girl, was afraid of wetting the bed. So I helped her change her sheets.”

Lindal grins back “Awesome!”

We move onto the next person. A boy, a little bit older than me. I go into his dream, but come back pretty quickly. I explain to Lindal that he thought I was a monster from under his bed. The next patient is a young boy, younger than Cathleen. His name is Nicholas and he’s falling through the sky. He is afraid of heights, so I give him a pair of wings. And on it went.

After I give about thirty people good dreams, I’m tired.

“Come on,” says Lindal. “Let’s find you a bed so you can sleep.”

I don’t object. Down the hall we go, and turn right. Lindal opens a door to find a room with a massive bed in the middle of it. She pulls back the covers and plumps the pillow for me. I crawl in. I can vaguely hear Lindal drawing up a chair beside the bed before I fall asleep.

***

My eyes open. I’m staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. It takes my brain a few seconds to process the thought: I’m not at home.

I rub my eyes. That’s the best sleep I’ve had in a long, long while, I think. No bad dreams at all.

I hear a whimper beside me and roll over. It’s Lindal. She’s slumped in a chair beside the bed. Her chin is touching her chest and her eyes are screwed tightly shut. She is a disconcerting shade of white.

I sit up and watch her intently for a minute. She’s muttering in her sleep. A name.

“Tina.”

I frown, and Lindal squirms in the chair, sinking a bit lower. “Tina…Tina,” she mumbles again, biting her lip.

She’s having a bad dream. Maybe…maybe, I can help.

I swing my legs off the bed so my knees are touching Lindal’s. I reach over, and with two fingers, touch her temple.

***

I’m in a white-washed room. It reminds me of the hallways in the R.E.M Centre, but this room is lit with a bright fluorescent light attached to the ceiling. The room is bare, apart from a bed and a chair. The bed has railings, like a hospital bed, and rumpled white sheets. The chair looks uncomfortable, and is a drab blue colour, like the kind you find in hospitals.

I’m in a hospital room.

Lindal is sitting in the chair. But it is a different Lindal. This Lindal has her face in her hands and is sobbing loudly. She’s wearing a bright blue summer dress, and it seems very out of place in the room. Her unruly brown curls are done up in little pigtails. This Lindal also seems a lot smaller. More beaten. Not like the Lindal I know.

“Lindal?”

I walk over and put a hand on her shoulder.

She bats my hand away without raising her head. “Go away! I don’t want to talk to you! I don’t want to hear any more of your apologies!” She sobs again, hunching her shoulders.

“Lindal, it’s me. Simon.”

This time she looks up. “Simon? What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

Fresh tears well up in Lindal’s hazel eyes. “She’s gone, Simon.” The tears spill over, falling down her face in little streams.

I nudge her on the shoulder and she moves over. The chair is huge and there’s room for both of us. I sit down. “Who’s gone?”

“Tina.” Lindal sobs the name.

“Who’s Tina?” I question. “Can you tell me?”

“She’s my older sister,” Lindal sniffles, wiping her nose. “My sister.” She bursts into fresh tears. Loud wails accompany the tears, and my legs are pattered with droplets of moisture. “And now she’s gone and I don’t know where she is!”

I close my eyes. I have a feeling I know where Tina has gone. I have a feeling she’s gone, gone gone. But I don’t think Lindal wants to hear that. So I open my eyes and talk to her for a bit more, trying to comfort her.

“What happened?” I ask.

Lindal stares at the bed, as if she can make her sister reappear. “It was only a few days ago. We were all out in the yard, and Tina fell down. I think she hit her head. Mum and Dad took her to the hospital, and I had to stay with Gran. I dressed up in my best to see Tina, but when we got to the room, she was gone. Mum and Dad were there, and they were crying. I’ve never seen them cry before. Gran shooed them out of the room, but they left me here. I didn’t get to see Tina. I even brought her a present.” She opens her hand, revealing a crushed flower. The juice from the crumpled petals stains her palm purple.

I take the flower and tuck it behind her ear. “Would Tina really want you to cry like this, Lindal?”

“I don’t know,” she answers quietly. “Because she’s not here.”

“Lindal,” I say, holding her hand. “She’s gone.”

“Gone for good,” Lindal whispers. “I know.”

Lindal’s hand slackens in mine and the dream dissolves around us.

***

I find myself back on the edge of the bed. Lindal is sitting up ramrod straight in the chair. She is awake now, and her face is dry. But there is a funny look in her eye. A look that I would do anything to get rid of.

I jump up. “I’m feeling much better now,” I say brightly, stretching my arms above my head. “What do you say you show me to another room, and I can have another crack at fixing those dreams, hey, Lindal?” I look at her. “Lindal?”

“Sure.” Lindal rises from the chair. The look in her eye is gone, but her smile is shaky. Her hands are clasped tightly together. “Let’s go. We’ll do an older ward if you’re feeling up to it.”

“Awesome,” I say. I grin at Lindal. Her face is wan, but she grins back weakly.

***

Down the labyrinth of corridors again. My feet move automatically. I’m thinking about Lindal. I wonder if she remembers the dream. Probably, considering she’s not so cheerful. I didn’t really do a good job of helping her. Maybe that’s why she’s so quiet. Or maybe she’s just thinking about Tina.

A door opening breaks me out of my reverie. I blink. We step into a room that looks the same as all the others. Beds with blue sheets lining the walls, grey runner in the middle of the room. Grimacing people in the beds.

Lindal and I step inside, Lindal closing the door quietly behind her. I look down the room. I don’t think you could call it a room. More like a wide hallway.

I turn to Lindal. “Anyone in particular first?”

She shakes her head numbly. “No. Whoever you feel like.”

I breeze through the first four dreams easily. I’m getting pretty good at this, I think. A fear of being publicly humiliated. House being gone when they got back from school. A fear of fire. And another bedwetting. It is the fifth dream that stops me short.

The dream is very similar to the ones I have at home. It’s a dream about being stuck inside a room. The walls are metal and enormous rivets are studded at regular intervals. A sour taste fills my mouth. The corners are reinforced with chunks of steel. It has a cold, dead smell.

I couldn’t help the girl who conjured the dream. I awake from the dream, sweating and panting with fear. I barely notice the girl disappear from the bed, to be replaced by another boy. Lindal’s face is close to mine.

“Simon! Simon, are you alright? What happened?”

My legs wouldn’t support me any longer. I sink to the floor, thinking about all the sleepless nights in my bed, all the times I have screamed myself hoarse, all the raw patches on my legs from wrestling with the sheets.

Lindal drops down beside, shaking my shoulders. “Simon! Talk!”

My brains are spinning. I have an idea, but all ideas sound better in your head.

“Well, say it out loud and see how it sounds,” says Lindal.

I look at her, frowning. I think she’s read my mind, but then I realise I spoke out loud.

“A source,” I say tentatively.

“A source?” repeats Lindal, confused.

“That’s right!” I shout, leaping to my feet, pulling Lindal up with me. Her eyes are wide, an unreadable expression on her face. “A source! All the dreams have to have a source!” Everything’s making sense now!

Lindal frowns. “Simon, I don’t understand. Explain it to me.”

“Dreams have a source. Your dreams were about looking for Tina. That little girl, Cathleen. She was afraid of wetting the bed, and her parents finding out. Eric was afraid of clowns. Fear. Afraid of fire, afraid of heights. They’re all sources!”

“And your dreams?” asks Lindal.

I stop with my mouth half open. I close it gently, then open it again and say “I don’t know. My dreams…wait a minute. My dreams! That’s it, Lindal, you got it! You hit the nail right on the head! That’s it!”

Lindal shakes her head. “I still don’t get it, Simon.”

I look her right in the eye. “Cynthia said this was my dream. My dream means my rules. I think in know what to do! Come on!”

I dash out the door, dragging Lindal behind me. Gasping, I race down the hallways, white walls and doors blurring into one.

“Simon!” Lindal puffs. “Where are we going?”

Still running, I yell, “I’ll show you in a minute!”

More doors. The walls rush past. We skid around a corner, sprinting down the next hall. I slide to a stop, Lindal crashing into me and knocking me over. “This is it,” I whisper.

We pick ourselves up and cautiously approach the door. It looks just the same as all the others. But behind that door is something different entirely. I feel it.

Lindal clutches my arm. Her grip was hard with fright. “Simon, I don’t like this.”

“It’s okay,” I murmur. “I know what I’m doing.” I think.

I touch the doorknob gingerly, as if expecting it to give me an electric shock. When nothing happens, I turn it gently and push. It opens without a sound. Lindal whimpers into my back.

There’s someone crouching in the corner. Cowering would be a better word. They have their hands over their heads, huddled as small as possible. Little whining sounds were emanating from them. I take a step forward, hand outstretched, passing over the threshold. Lindal lets go of my arm. I turn and look at her questioningly. She’s still standing in the white hallway.

“Lindal?” I say.

“I can’t get in, Simon. It won’t let me in,” she says. “See.” She punches the empty space between us, her fist coming up short, knuckles pressed hard against something invisible. “You’ll have to do this one on your own.”

I nod. “Sure. No problem. You just sit tight. Think of it as a well-earned rest.”

Lindal nods back. “Okay. Please be careful.”

“Sure thing.”

Leaving Lindal behind me, I walk towards the person. Hearing my footsteps, they ball up even tighter. Their black hair flops forward, and a sliver of their head is exposed. Part of their temple. I extend my arm, and my index finger touches their skin. My feet fall through the floor as I am pitched into a dream.

***

I’m standing in white nothingness. It reminds me of the time Mum got my photo taken in the shopping plaza. I think of the white backdrop, before they put a coloured background on it. Just a huge, overwhelming expanse of white.

But there’s a speck of black. The person. I run towards them, as fast as I can, but they just seem to be getting further and further away. I stop. No, I will not be having this. I concentrate as hard as I can, and start walking again. Suddenly, I’m there. The person is at my feet.

I hunker down to their level and put a hand on their shoulder. They yelp and roll away, giving me a glimpse of a freckled face.

Freckles.

I take a closer look at them, really staring. As if they can feel the weight of my gaze, they uncurl.

Freckles. Messy black hair.

They lift their face up and their eyes meet mine.

Brown eyes.

Just like me.

I fall back on my bottom in shock. “You’re me.”

The second me doesn’t speak; he just twiddles the hem of his buttoned shirt, never blinking.

School uniform. The same as mine.

I gasp, and am catapulted out of the whiteness, into new surroundings. Pink walls. Stuffed toys. Unicorn doona. I recognise this place. It’s Cathleen’s room. I look around. Where’s Cathleen?

I slowly turn around. I’m greeted by the sight of the two monsters in business clothes, Cathleen’s parents. And they were holding a struggling Cathleen in their grasp.

“Simon!” she sobs. “Help me!” Tears run freely down her little face.

“No!” I shout, lunging for her, but the floor slips out from underneath me. I’m thumped down onto a wooden bench.

The coloured roof extends far above my head, and the bench is hard underneath me. Circus tent. “Eric!” I call, remembering the boy in this dream. “Eric, where are you?”

“Simon!”

I listen. Then, with mounting dread, I peer over the wooden railing. Eric is sitting on the beaten dirt floor of the arena, manacles still around his wrists. The ends were lodged firmly in the ground, and neon hued clowns were creeping up one him, fast.

“Eric,” I yell. “Close your eyes! I’m coming!”

One on the clowns pounced, landing on top of Eric, laughing hysterically.

Eric!” I scream. “Get off him!” The clown’s head whips up, beady eyes fixing on me. “No, no!” I cry, and I try to stand up, but the wooden bench hits me in the back of the legs, and I fall over.

I land on the floor of a white-washed room. For a second, I think I’m in the hallways of the R.E.M Centre. I get up and look around. Bed with railings. Blue chair. No. No, please. Anywhere but here. I know where I am. Lindal’s dream.

I approach the bed quietly, bracing myself for something horrific. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Lindal lay in the bed, her face deathly white, eyes closed. Unbreathing. Frantic, I rip back the covers and gasp. Her blue summer dress is shredded, cuts and scratches covering every inch of her body. I grab her wrist, searching for a pulse.

Nothing.

I place a hand on her chest, hoping for a heartbeat.

Nothing.

I collapse in the drab blue hospital chair and begin to sob. This can’t be happening.

Something within me ticks over and snaps. My resolve hardens. My sobs dry up. I stand and pull the sheet back over Lindal’s tattered body. I stare at her face. “No,” I say. “This isn’t happening. Lindal isn’t dead.”

But how do you know that? a little voice says in the back of my head.

“I just know.”

Oh, really?

“Just like I know this is my dream, and I am in control.”

My head spins. I open my eyes and am greeted by white. The white nothingness. I rub my head. The second me sits hunched beside me. I lean over and touch his temple.

“This dream is over. Good night.”

***

I wake up in a white-washed room. I get up, out of the corner I find myself in. I walk over to Lindal and smile at her.

“I did it,” I say, swaying, holding the doorframe for support. “I stopped the bad dreams. Everything should be fine now.”

A single tear slides down Lindal’s cheek. “No,” she whispers. Then she runs away.

***

I stumble over my own feet as I run down the hall, almost falling over. My tears blind me, and I clip my shoulder on a wall as I run. This just makes me cry even harder, though the pain clears my head. I take a new direction. I have to find Cynthia.

Simon still needs us, I repeat over and over in my head. Simon still needs us. Simon still needs us.

I burst through a door, hoping fervently it’s the right room. Cynthia is standing by her wall, as usual. The scraping of the chalk is drowned out by the sound of my sobs.

“Cynthia! He’s done it! Simon’s stopped the bad dreams! What are we doing to do?”

Cynthia finishes a group of five on the good dream side, then turns to face me. “We will rejoice, because all the bad is gone and only good remains. Simon has fulfilled his purpose.” She nods, her red curls bobbing.

I take a step forward. “Why is he still here? Why am I still awake?”

Cynthia smiles and looks at me. “Because he has not fulfilled his purpose yet.”

“But you just said – ”

“I know. Do not worry, my dear. We’re still here.”

“Lindal. There you are.”

I whirl to see Simon standing in the doorway, smiling at me. I feel my face twitching, I can’t help it. I smile back.

***

When Lindal smiles back at me, I relax. It’s a sad smile, I could see that, but it’s a smile nonetheless.

“Simon,” says Cynthia before Lindal can even open her mouth. “Please come in.”

I step over the threshold and move to stand beside Lindal. She doesn’t look at me.

“I believe you have something to tell us.”

“I’ve stopped the bad dreams,” I say.

“Thank you,” replies Cynthia. “Much appreciated.”

“You’re welcome.” Get to the point, Simon. “Can I go home now?” Lindal’s shoulders seemed to hunch a little smaller.

“Yes, you can,” answers Cynthia. “I believe you can get home by yourself now. You have mastered the art of controlling dreams.”

“Thanks,” I say again. Can I take Lindal with me?

Cynthia looks me straight in the eye. Her white nightie dress swished in the silence. “Yes, you can.”

I open my mouth in shock. I glance at Lindal, but she’s looking between Cynthia and I, confused.

I grin and say, “Thanks again.”

Cynthia smiles, turns around and continues to add to the good dreams tally.

I wall out the door and down the hall. I hold my breath. The quiet patter of Lindal’s footsteps follow me, and I breathe out again.

Lindal strides up beside me. “What did Cynthia say to you?” she asks curiously, eyes twinkling.

“Nothing of importance.”

Lindal snorted. “Now you sound like her.”

That sounds like the Lindal I know.

I stop in the middle of the hallway and grab Lindal’s hands. The sleeve of her too long shirt tickles my hand. Lindal looks at me.

“Close your eyes,” I say, smiling.

After a moment’s hesitation, Lindal closes her eyes.

A gaping black hole opens up beneath us. Lindal squeezes my hand as we are sucked in.

***

I hear the twittering of birds. I open my eyes to the afternoon sun on my face. The grey footpath. The gigantic oak trees, their leaves littering the grass. Worn benches hiding in overgrown gardens. The humming of cars and faint chatter of the main street.

Home.

Lindal looks around, a frown creasing her face. “Where are we?” She pats herself. “I’m still here. I haven’t disappeared yet.” Lindal turns and looks at me, eyes wide, worried. “Where are we, Simon?”

I grin. “We are at the park on the end of the main street, in my hometown.” I lay down on the grass. It feels soft and spongy under my fingers.

Lindal sits down beside me. Her face is blank. “I don’t understand,” she says.

I sit up. “That’s why I’m here. To help you understand. C’mon.” I pull her up off the ground. We start walking down the footpath, just like I was doing before Lindal grabbed my hand that time.

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