1 The dream

The simplest way to put it? It crawls its way inside your dreams, gradually taking over your subconsciousness. There is no cure, no medical procedure that could save you from something intangible, something that hides inside your thoughts. The mind-leeches are a parasitic plague upon humanity. Thank the heavens we still have hope. Thank god for the Dreamwalkers.

Excerpt - Classified Doc. 28-aR

<--->

"Sir. You wanted to see me?" A young man saluted his commanding officer as he cautiously entered the sparsely decorated office. It was still dark outside, just an hour past midnight. Yet both men faced each other fully awake. For them, this was nothing out of the ordinary. The young man was no more than twenty, dressed in casual clothes, with dark hair tied behind his back. His piercing blue eyes took in the worried expression of his superior.

He already expected bad news when he was called for a quick meeting on such short notice.

"Indeed. A new case popped up," The older man sighed. "We detected a type-2 inside a residential area not far from here. You're the only available Dreamwalker on the base right now. You know what that means."

The younger man couldn't help but frown.

"Sir. With all due respect..."

"I know what you're going to say," his superior interrupted, holding a hand to his forehead as if nursing a headache. "I know you're underqualified for this operation, but we have to strike as soon as possible. From what we've gathered, it won't be long till it reaches stage-3, and we can't let that happen." He gave the man a meaningful look. "I know you have what it takes. Go, I've already sent the files to your Tether - she'll know what to do."

The young man saluted without another word, and with hurried steps turned to leave the dim office. He grasped the gravity of the situation very well. Stage-3s were a disaster waiting to happen.

Just as his hand reached for the door handle, he heard his superior speak again, with a bit of warmth coating his voice.

"And Malik... I wish you good luck."

"Thank you, sir."

<--->

Erin woke up inside something akin to a dream. It must have been. There was no other way. The world he found himself in was nothing like the one he knew. It was a dull, grey version of his own, as is someone dimmed all color around him. He still lay in bed, under the familiar warm covers. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong. Very wrong.

"What the..."

'What the hell is going on?'

He left his bed, careful not to make a sound. Thankfully, the soft carpet muffled the sound of his feet as he slinked towards his bedroom door. His nightwear clung to him uncomfortably from cold sweat. He didn't know why, but he felt like he was in grave danger, and he decided to trust his instinct. The other side of the door remained quiet, abnormally so. Even the familiar ticking of the kitchen clock was nowhere to be found.

'Now what?'

Erin tried pinching himself, just in case. But to his dismay, no matter how hard he tried, he wouldn't wake up. So, with cautious steps, he left the unopened door and sneaked towards the nightstand where he left his phone when he went to sleep.

'Yes! it's still there.'

The phone was right where he left it the prior evening. His hope quickly deflated, though, when he noticed he had no service. That was definitely a red flag, as he lived near the center of the city.

'There should definitely be service here...'

He pocketed the phone nonetheless. At least he could use it as a flashlight when needed. And who knew, he might even find service later, as much as he doubted that.

'Now what?'

He pondered, unsure if leaving the relative safety of his room was a good idea. A quick peek out the window revealed a fog-covered street devoid of life. Well, as far as he could see. The street lamp utterly failed at penetrating the thick haze, so he couldn't be sure.

Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of him. He never experienced a lucid dream, but it had to be just that, right? A particularly vivid nightmare.

What was there to be afraid of?

His heart raced as he gently pressed on the door handle. Despite his best attempt, the older door still let out a gradual creak making him cringe at the sound.

He stayed deathly still, listening for... He wasn't really sure - an indication someone-something heard the door open. All that answered him was silence, and after a few dragged-out minutes, he felt safe to peek into the hall.

He shared this apartment with his roommate, though he wasn't keen on socializing. Their relationship was utilitarian at best. Still, he wondered what happened to him. If he visited his room, would he find him asleep?

The lights were off, and the lights switch refused to cooperate. Thankfully, his eyes already adjusted somewhat to the dark. It wasn't too difficult to make out the shared room on the right, the entrance to the left, and the door to his roommates' bedroom right beside him.

A door that was open ajar.

His roommate was a very shut-off person, not unlike himself. He would never keep his door open. Morbid fascination overtook him as he crept through the silent hall.

Inside, a silhouette stood there, motionless, its back turned to him. He could hear its heavy breaths, the inhuman, almost inaudible growls as it gazed outside the window.

Instinctively, he knew that was not his roommate - that was something else. Something dangerous. His heart started beating dangerously quick, despite knowing it was just a dream. He never felt such primal fear before in his life.

'I have to get out of here!'

He started backing off, but in his rush, he stumbled and hit the wall behind him with a loud thud.

The creature jerked its head. Beady, lifeless eyes zeroed in on him as a loud growl escaped its jaws. Its face was far from anything human, a hairless, skinny monstrosity with long, razor-sharp teeth.

His fight or flight instinct kicked in then, and he chose the latter. He had no doubt he stood zero chance against that thing. Instead, he bolted for the entrance, running for his life. Adrenalin flooded through his system, and he reached the door in record time, just as the creature behind him let out a blood-curdling screech and gave chase.

Luckily, it was unlocked, so he ran through it, shut it as fast as he could, then took to the stairs. He wasn't sure if the thing could open doors, but his question was soon answered when he heard loud bashing noises from above. It was trying to get through with brute force.

His apartment was on the third floor; He only had one more flight of stairs left.

"What the fuck is that?!"

He had long given up on staying quiet. If there were any more of those things, that screech definitely woke them all up. He had to get out of the building, hide somewhere outside.

He only hoped there weren't more of those things outside.

Just as he reached the ground floor, the thing finally managed to get through the door, accompanied by numerous ferocious roars from the other suites.

He didn't look back. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, right into the thick fog of the pale outside world.