A scream shattered the night, ripping me from a deep slumber. My husband and I sat bolt upright in bed and looked around, wide-eyed.
“What was that?” Miles tore his CPAP mask from his face and jumped out of bed.
“I don’t know, but I think we should . . .”
Another scream cut me off mid-thought. I grabbed my robe and pulled it on as Miles and I raced into the hallway, where we almost collided with one of my characters.
“What’s going on?”
Cleric was wringing her hands. “I fear your Young Hero is wrestling with another nightmare.”
I frowned. “He’s been having nightmares? How long has this been going on?”
Cleric lowered her eyes. “Several weeks now, and the problem seems to be getting worse.”
My frown deepened. “Then why is this the first time I’m hearing of it?”
Cleric blushed. “He asked that I not share this information with anyone, Mistress. I believe the lad is embarrassed. I only know about it because his best friend, your Gypsy, came to me and asked if I might help.”
I nodded. “And is there anything you can do for him?”
Cleric shook her head. “I have prepared sleeping draughts for him, and have even tried various healing potions, but I fear his nightmares still plague him.”
I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Do you have any clue what’s causing his nightmares?”
“No, Mistress, and that is why I have not been able to create the proper healing potion for him.” She hesitated, biting her lower lip. “Perhaps you should speak with him.”
My husband frowned and put his hand on my shoulder. “Honey, if the boy’s embarrassed, it might do more harm than good to question him about it. After all, if he wanted your help, he would have come to you.”
I furrowed my brow and scrunched my lips into a moue. “I know you’re right, but I can’t just ignore it if one of my characters is having problems.” I sighed. “For now, I’ll let you deal with it, Cleric. Miles and I will try to get some more sleep. But please try to convince my Young Hero to come to me. Perhaps I can help.”
* * *
Morning was barely breaking. The yellow disc of the sun was just starting its ascent into a cloudless, azure sky. Dew sparkled on the emerald-green grass. Wildflowers shone like brilliant gems scattered haphazardly around the meadow.
Surrounding the pasture, sturdy fences stretched for miles, the boards so dazzlingly white that even in the early morning light the young half-dwarf could not look at them without squinting. The youth walked along the fence-line, peering between the boards, searching the pasture. A cool breeze tousled his red hair, and birdsong filled his ears. The day was perfect, and the lad had not a care in the world.
Slowly, the landscape changed. The fences, the grass, the flowers, were splattered blood-red. The smell of copper overpowered the fragrance of the wildflowers and assaulted the lad’s nose. He bent over and wretched. As he straightened, he saw something in the field.
A scream tore from the boy’s throat.
* * *
My Young Hero shuffled into the kitchen. His hair was unkempt, there were dark circles under his eyes, and he all but fell into a chair.
Without a word, Miles poured a large mug of coffee and placed it before the lad, who tried unsuccessfully to smile and nod his thanks.
“Rough night?” I quirked an eyebrow as I sat down across from my Young Hero.
He slurped some coffee and frowned. “No more than normal. Why do you ask?” I noticed he did not look at me as he spoke.
I sighed. “I ask because you look like something the proverbial cat drug in.”
The young half-dwarf shrugged and swallowed another mouthful of coffee. “Yeah. Well, I . . . ahh . . . I guess I did not sleep very well.”
I furrowed my brow. I took a deep breath and leaned closer to the lad. “Something bothering you?”
He glared at me. “Nothing.”
I shrugged. “Fine. But if anything is ever bothering you, talking might help.”
He scowled. “I will remember that.” He gulped down the rest of his coffee, pushed away from the table and stumbled toward the living room.
* * *
The young half-dwarf and his companion had been walking for hours. The scorching sun beat down on them as they stumbled through the deep sand of the desert. A pack of jackals advanced toward them. Suddenly, men with swords surrounded them. At first, the men were protecting them from the vicious animals. But soon, the men turned their swords toward the boy. The young half-dwarf and his companion backed away. A hawk screeched and flew at the men. But the bird turned into a dragon and flew straight at the boy. The beast opened its gigantic maw and threatened to swallow the boy.
His scream went on for many long minutes.
* * *
Miles and I ran to the living room. My Young Hero was sprawled on the couch. My Gypsy was bent over him, shaking him. “Wake up! Wake up!”
I grabbed my Gypsy by the arm. “What’s going on? Was that him screaming?”
My Gypsy nodded and frowned.
I looked at my Young Hero, who was struggling to sit up. “Are you okay?”
The boy’s cheeks flamed, and he refused to meet my eyes. When he finally answered, he mumbled. “I . . . I must have fallen asleep.”
I frowned. “That wasn’t the question. Are you okay?”
The lad shrugged. “Of course! Why would I not be?”
“Well, I don’t know. What I do know is this is the second time I have heard you calling out in your sleep. We heard you screaming last night and now again. What’s going on?”
My Young Hero sat there, silent. His mouth was a thin, angry line, but his eyes were full of fear.
I crossed my arms over my chest and tapped one foot impatiently. “Well?”
The lad glared at me, the fear in his eyes replaced with venom. “Well, you should know!”
What is happening with my Young Hero, and why does he think I know anything about it? Be sure to come back next week. Maybe you can help me sort out this mystery. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.