I had an incredibly vivid nightmare last night. I was walking through an evergreen forest in the snow. The trees were decorated with all sorts of Christmas lights, and I felt...uplifted. The air was cold, but in that brisk, refreshing way that was welcoming after the heat of California, and the spectacle of lights around me was beautiful.
I stopped in front of a huge tree, decorated not with electric lights, but with actual candles. I remember hearing a story about how the first Christmas trees would use candles, and I'd always wanted to see it done. I stared at it in awe, but as I watched, I realized that it wasn't just the candles burning anymore--it was the tree. In fact, every tree around me had become a torch. Despite that, the flames weren't hot. It felt like they actually sucked the heat out of the air. The gentle snowfall came faster and faster until it became a blizzard. I heard a familiar voice echoing all around me.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
At this point, the face of the little towheaded boy appeared in the sky and giggled.
And would suffice.
"Good work, Frosty," a voice by my ear cooed. The trees, which suddenly weren't burning anymore, started to splinter, creaking and crashing and coming together and reforming until the Wooden Girl stood behind me. "We've got him right where we want him." The Cold Boy giggled again. "Think you can hide from us behind your new friends?" she purred, cocking her head in a way that implied that there was no sort of muscle and she was controlling her body from some outside source. "Kenny, boy...you're still aaaaaall alone here within your mind."
Suddenly there was a reverse-blade katana in my hands. I struggled against it, but I could already feel my body moving on its own, pulled by strings that weren't there, raising the sharpened edge up to my throat. The blade sunk in as it pressed against my neck.
"Of with his head," the Wooden Girl said to me. "In three...two...."
The next moment, I was...somewhere. Back in the waking world, I realized after a few seconds. Last was calling my name and shaking my shoulder. He flipped the light on as I started thrashing.
"Thank god," he said quietly. "I heard...weird things. Thrashing about, moaning. Decided I'd check on you. So glad it was the nightmare type of thrashing and moaning." He took another glance at me and swore. "Jesus, Kenny! Look at your hands. I think you've got frostbite." I looked at my hands. They were red and starting to swell. Instinctively, I reached up to touch my neck and when I brought them down, there was a bit of blood on them as well. I held them out to show him. Last grabbed my shoulder and pulled me out of bed, dragging me down the hall to give me first aid.
As he tended to me, I described my dream. He shook his head when I finished. "Oh, this is bad, Kenny. This is really bad. It sounds like the Cold Boy and Wooden Girl are working with the Grotesque now. It gives you an outlet to access you that they don't normally have: your dreams. The Cold Boy can't come after you directly in this big of a group, and the tensions of the Great Game are high enough that the two of them aren't going to try a direct assault anyway. But this--they can use the Grotesque to get inside your mind. And as you've probably guessed by this little game of midnight doctor, it can affect reality as well. We need to find some way to take precautions. We were really lucky this time. The cut on your neck was just a scratch and your hands will be a little sore for a few days with no major damage done. But we need some way to monitor you and make sure you don't inception yourself to death in the future."
"I'm sorry," I told him.
"It's cool. We didn't plan for it. Now we know, and knowing is half the battle. Oh, hey, that reminds me. We're heading to the state library on [date removed]."
"We're taking the Rake down. Like I said, knowing is half the battle."
"Yeah, but...a library?"
"California's not some backwoods hick state. The state library's pretty big, and you'd be surprised at how much there is on the Fears throughout history. Also we're not really going for the library."
"Then why are we going?"
"Ah, that part's a secret. You think you'll be okay to sleep again?"
"I hope so. At least some."
"Good. I'll check on you every hour. Only about four or five left in the night anyway." He placed a hand on my shoulder. "I'm counting on you to be strong enough to deal with them until then if they show up again. There are a lot of people counting on you, Kenny. But a lot of people who trust you, too."
"Gee, thanks. That load will make it a bit easier to sleep."
He gave me a smile. "Don't believe in the me that believes in you, Kenny. Believe in yourself." He stood. "I'm gonna get a nap in before I have to check on you again. You should try to get some as well. It's gonna be a busy week."