Night 1

I awoke in a cold sweat, panting as though I had just run a marathon. My eyes darted around the pitch-black darkness that cloaked my room. My breathing slowed to just above normal.

"Ugh… not again…" I flopped back down onto my pillow. This was the 7th night in a row that this had happened. Constant nightmares plaguing every sleeping moment. It was getting out of control…

The next morning wasn't so kind, either. The science room was, once again, 1000 degrees warmer than the sun. Apparently, the science teacher has no sense of temperature. Cold-blooded animal. If I didn't know any better, I would suspect that he was part reptile.

"So, as you can see by the structure…"

It was unbearable. The constant blathering of the lecture, the ungodly amount of heat, and the lack of sleep was getting to me. I couldn't care less about the melting point of Stupidium or whatever it is the teacher was hyped up on. I just wanted sl-

"Student 25! Are you paying attention?"

I jolted up out of my chair, literally. A loud crash echoed throughout the room as I had managed to knock down both my chair any myself. That definitely woke me up…

"25, if you can't manage to stay awake during the lecture, please vacate yourself from the learning environment. It's all well and good that you have the highest grade in the class, but that's not enough. You're setting a bad example for everyone else." The teacher gave an exasperated sigh and pointed with a long bony finger to the door. "Go get yourself a drink, splash your face with cold water, do whatever you must. The class is almost over anyways…"

I picked myself up off the ground and strode out of the class, all eyes on me again. God, I hate that guy...

After another 7 hours of battling sleep deprivation, school was finally over. Hell, I don't even think I can call it that. Normally, one learns how to measure angles or construct specific sentence formations, but how can you learn that if you already know how? It was just another stop in my boring routine of a life.

I arrived at the somewhat dilapidated apartment complex that was now Uncle's house. My uncle was my caretaker, as my mother had passed away when I was younger, and my father was currently being held in prison for said death, the bastard. Uncle had taken care of me since then, despite the fact that he could hardly take care of himself.

Uncle was a kind man, albeit rather flighty. He often had to work from dusk to dawn as the night-guard for the local museum, so I would hardly see him for more than a fleeting moment. It wasn't exactly a well-paying job, either: $10 per hour didn't allow for much leeway in terms of luxuries, but it put food on the table and paid for school. Apparently, it wasn't always like this for Uncle. He had actually bought the complex in hopes that he could restore it to its former glory, if it had any to begin with. Unfortunately, the idea flopped and now he was stuck with it, as nobody wanted to buy it and Uncle couldn't make enough money to rebuild.

Just as I had entered the building, I heard Uncle talking on the phone with someone. By the sound of it, it didn't seem to be a happy conversation, something about payment, so I decided to just ignore it and get to my room. The apartment had an elevator, but it was busted and couldn't be accessed from the first floor, which didn't really bother me. What always confused me was why an apartment that was only three floors and had ramps instead of stairs would actually need an elevator. But I digress…

I fumbled around tiredly with the keys to my room, A5. Uncle used the other rooms for various purposes, mostly storage. A5 was the second biggest room in the apartment, B5 being the largest, which so happened to be Uncle's.

The door was jammed. "Goddammit…" I wiggled the key a bit, but luck would have it that the rust on the doorknob had caught the key. With a jerk, I yanked out the key… and the doorknob. "Double dammit…" I pulled the key out of the knob and pushed open the door as it squeaked and groaned along its hinges.

Tossing the knob on the bedspread, I flicked on the television and cycled through the channels: reality TV, cooking, police shows, crappy cartoons, etc. I finally settled on the regular news program. Ever since they replaced the newscaster, it hasn't really been as interesting.

"Tonight on Hart Nightly News, the number of suicide victims has increased…"

Weird… hasn't anyone found anything more? The first suicides I had heard about were assumed to be murders by officials. However, as life went on, more people began to show up dead, each with strikingly similar "techniques," so to speak: holes cut into their hands in the shape of eyes and their real eyes gouged out. Again, it was assumed to be murder until it was discovered that each person had been diagnosed with sleep-deprivation and chronic nightmares.

I couldn't stand to watch anymore of the gruesome story, so I flicked off the TV. I glanced over at the rusted doorknob lying on my bed.

"May as well fix that… maybe tomorrow…"

I glanced over at my backpack sitting on the floor. The unholy creature glared back at me, demanding that its contents be removed. Sighing, I took out my books and got to working on the homework.

"Finally!" I rolled back away from my homework and let the pencil roll out of my hands. It was finally done, though the time it took to actually complete the assignments given was ungodly. I rubbed my eyes and then noticed something: sunlight. Wasn't it the middle of the night? How could there be sunlight? And it was unusually misty in the room. Everywhere, in fact...

"Crap, it's already morning!" I shoved the books and papers into my backpack and dashed out of my apartment room, not even caring that the knob was still off. But when I opened the front door, instead of meeting the usual grass walkway, my foot landed on concrete.

I looked around, and something was wrong: the city had changed. The light I had observed from my window had disappeared, and the city was now blanketed in an eerie dark hue, destroying the colors that once were. I turned around to go back to the apartment, but it was now gone. In an attempt to find out what had happened, I managed to locate a street sign, but the name had been scratched off.

"What the…?"

A shuffling sound came from across the street. I whipped around to see someone, or something, standing there. Its head was bent down to face the ground, its hands at its sides.

"Excuse me…?" My voice quivered suddenly. The thing looked up, radiating a strange vibe, almost as if inviting me over. I walked over. "Do you know what street this is?" I turned to point where the sign was. "Someone scratched off the nameplate…" I turned my attention back at the person, but fell backwards as the thing lunged at me. It looked exactly like the suicide victims did: empty, bleeding eye sockets and eyeball-shaped carvings on the palms of the hands.

"Oh my God!" I backed away as more of them began to appear, walking out of alleyways or exiting stores.

This can't be happening. This can't be happening! I forced myself up as the beings continued after me, their mouths moaning inhuman growls.

I ran. All I could do was run. The things shuffled after me quickly.

I had to run. I was outrunning them. Them and the darkness. They were catching up to me. I was running out of breath. I pivoted on my heel again, only to be thrown off balance. But instead of hitting the concrete, I fell into darkness. Just like my other nightmares, only more real than I could comprehend. The darkness covered every inch of my vision, and yet I kept falling.

This can't be happening. The thought kept running through my head as the darkness finally extinguished the last of the visible light. I closed my eyes, waiting for some form of end to the falling.

Any minute now, I'm going to hit the ground, and that's that… It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it was true. I was falling forever. Once I stopped, it would be over. I would have died from the impact.

The feeling stopped. My body was now balanced rather than tumbling. My eyes were still shut, but I could feel that I was no longer falling. A soft and gentle breeze grazed my face. Something was rubbing my face along with the wind. I opened my eyes.

A blade of grass was tickling my cheek. A forest of grass had clouded my vision, but I could see again. The color was back, and so was my balance. I pushed myself up off the ground to gain a feeling of my new environment. It was strange, different… but in a good way.

The sky was dark like last time, but there were stars. The moon shone in the sky alongside the stars, though it was more pure than normal. Given from my field of view, I was standing on an isolated strip of land away from what looked to be a larger landmass floating in the air, a thin strip of land connecting my island to the mainland. Around various parts of the mainland, large metal fences stood, almost gothic in appearance, yet welcoming. Trees were growing within the area the fences had enclosed, with a beautiful fountain spouting in the center. On the outskirts of the fountain's area were several doorway structures, many of which were broken or simply hollow doorways. However, after wandering a little bit closer, I could see that there were two- no, make that three- doors that were upright and somewhat intact.

As I wandered closer, I could hear a faint sound. It sounded like music, something from a wind instrument. A flute, perhaps? It was a beautiful so-

"WELCOME, VISITOR!" A large owl swooped down in front of my face, apparently trying to scare the crap out of me. Damn near worked, as I managed to fall flat on my rear. As if being chased by those zombies wasn't bad enough…

"Hm? Why, this is strange. You appear to be a tad older-looking than most of the Visitors we get around here. Of course, we rarely get Visitors period! Hoo!" The owl landed in front of me, smoking a pipe.

This just gets weirder and weirder… I pushed myself up once again and dusted myself off. I was about to ask where exactly I was, but the owl cut me off, as though anticipating the question.

"Well, I suppose proper welcoming is in order. Welcome to Nightopia, land of dreams! I am Owl." Owl bowed his head while simultaneously removing his pipe from his mouth- err, beak.

Suddenly the music started up again. That light and airy tone echoed through the area. I looked around to see where exactly it was coming from, and then saw. A strange figure stood atop one of the nearby trees in front of the moon. Given by its overall shape, I assumed it was female. She had her hands out as though holding a flute, yet there was nothing there. She was dressed in a jester's outfit, sporting purple and white patterns. The hat that was on her head was striped purple and the "ears" of the hat extended down just passed the girl's shoulders. Her eyes opened and sparkled in the sky, then ceased playing. The girl then flew down to the area, making a lap around the fountain before landing next to Owl. She was slightly taller than I was, even if I were to stand on my toes.

"A Visitor? That's surprising." She flew around me. "And an older one at that!"

"That's exactly what I said…" Owl sighed, exhaling more smoke.

"Well, I may as well introduce myself. My name is NiGHTS, and welcome to Nightopia!" Nights twirled around in the air and gave a wink to me.

I was speechless. One minute I'm doing homework, the next I'm running from zombies, now I'm talking to a pipe-smoking owl and a jester. Dear lord I need a vacation…