The sleeping realm reveals truths buried deep within.

Though seen through blinded eyes, always it is present.

It offers the promise of a better future, of a remade past.

The temptation to change the past will only change the self.

Only be accepting one's decisions, mistakes, can one truly

realize their true path and set upon it with a full heart.

Igor, Master of the Velvet Room

The nightmare was waiting for me when I drifted off to sleep, as always.

It always began the same way. At first, there was only darkness, senselessness. I felt like I was floating endlessly through space, nothing to catch my fall. I wanted to open my eyes, but something was forcing them shut. I wanted to open my mouth and scream for help, but there wasn't any air to breathe.

This changed from dream to dream. Sometimes I felt like this for only a few seconds before finally touching down on my destination, but I really only remembered that happening in the beginning. These days, it feels like years before I find my way to solid ground again. And I remember every single detail of these dreams.

But it always ends up happening at one point or another. Slowly at first, prickling against my skin, I can feel a cold breeze, rustling at my hair. The wet kisses of snowflakes begin landing on my cheeks, a plume of frosted air emerging from my open, screaming mouth. And suddenly I'm not floating, but I'm falling, plummeting, my arms stretched out to either side and my feet flailing about in the open air, hoping to find purchase with the ground.

Then I'd hit it. Not in a thundering crash, splitting the earth, but instead the snow would just slip snugly under my feet and I'd be standing upright, dressed in a winter jacket, my cheeks blazing from the chill. All around me was a forest, bereft of leaves, a pale white sky overhead. It was a winter afternoon, and I knew the forest, and I knew the date.

Of course I knew the date. This was the day when my life turned upside down.

This time I ended up just staring at the scenery for a long time, my eyes tracing the path of the many snowflakes as they drifted down to earth, the world otherwise still. I felt very much in tune with this environment: unchanging, unmoving. Devoid of life and excitement.

The crunching sound of footsteps behind me was right on time, and I knew exactly who it was that was sneaking up on me here. But that didn't prevent the heart from stopping in my chest, my breath stilling in my throat. I turned about, a cold sweat breaking out on my brow.

There, waiting for me, was the angel. Dressed in a student's uniform, her black hair long and trailing down her shoulders, staring at me with a quiet, shy smile, was the girl that I had dreamed about for years before this. It was only fitting that she continued to haunt me now.

"Iwanako?" I say, rehearsing the lines perfectly. "I got a note telling me to wait here. Was it yours?"

Iwanako blushed. "Ahhmmm… yes. I asked a friend to give you that note." Right now, I could scarcely remember how I got the note. The details before were so foggy. But Iwanako's smile was still as real to me as the morning sun. "I'm so glad you got it."

And I remembered the way my heart was pounding. A thick muscle ramming against the walls of my chest. At the time, the sensation seemed new to me. "So, ah…" I stuttered. "Here we are. Out in the cold…"

She nodded softly, that smile growing wider on her features. The blush could only intensify with every passing second, her finger lazily twirling about a strand of her raven hair. "You see…" she began, "I wanted to know… if you'd go out with me..."

And then she waited for me to respond. And she waited a long time. "Hisao?" She finally asked, her features scrunching up into a concerned frown.

I didn't say anything, because at this point I was dying.

At first I had no idea what was happening. I could only feel the excruciating pain of my heart pounding away against my breast, my throat growing tighter and tighter, my knees growing weak and my head getting fuzzy. Every second that Iwanako delayed in talking to me was another second that I spent in agony. Later, I was told that I had suffered a nearly fatal heart attack.

The dreams mimic the events of reality exactly. Every sensation is the same, every event occurring at the synchronized time. I feel my vision grow foggy and hear Iwanako start growing more and more frantic, calling my name endlessly. I remember her last piercing scream, "HISAO!" as I finally feel something give way in my body and crumple forward into the fresh, new, pure snow.

It's at this point, as I drift away into oblivion, that I usually wake up. Any moment now, I would suddenly crack my eyes open and reveal the roof of my bedroom hanging over me, a comforting reminder of the physical world around me.

But that doesn't happen. Instead, I keep dreaming.

I do wake up, but not in my bed. I feel a strong support gently press into my back, my knees bending to rest my feet on the floor, my head slumping downwards to press my chin into my chest. There are armrests beside me, chair legs underneath me. I slowly open my eyes and realize that I am staring downwards into a linoleum floor, the tiles colored alternatively black and white.

Groaning, feeling exhaustion sap away what strength I have, I slowly tilt my eyes upwards to get a good look of the room. The first thing I notice is the color: the walls are draped with this rich purple velvet, the lights in the room dimmed to bath the entire surroundings in the violet color.

Then I notice the long bed in front of me, the headboard resting against the far wall, and I think hospital. It looked exactly like the beds I saw and used just a few days ago, although this one was much wider and grander than anything I ever slept in. The blankets were fur-trimmed and looked very thick and comfortable, and were pulled up to waist of what was probably the ugliest man I had ever seen, laying on the bed.

He had a gigantic pointed nose, to begin with. It looked roughly to end a foot away from his face, reminding me of those old pictures of evil crones that were in fairy tales. His eyes were wide, bulbous, and lined with red veins, his pupils tiny little black dots that glittered with… something. He seemed to be wearing a suit of some kind, a tie trailing down his shirt while his back hunched upwards severely. Two white-gloved hands were folded just underneath his chin, his eyes initially closed. But when I laid eyes upon him, those eyes snapped to attention, and a certifiably creepy smile lit up his features.

"Ah," he exclaimed. "It seems that we now have a guest, with an intriguing destiny…" He placed a hand upon his chest, beaming. "My name is Igor. I am delighted to make your acquaintance."

Even if I could talk to him, I didn't think that I wanted to. Igor continued on. "This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those who are bound by a 'contract' may enter. It may be that such a fate awaits you in the near future. Now then… why don't you introduce yourself?"

Again, I didn't want to speak to him, but I felt compelled to at least give him my name. After all, this was my own insane nightmare. I may as well entertain it. And, curiously, I felt like I could finally speak again. "Hisao Nakai."

"Hmm… I see." Igor nodded solemnly. "Well then. Let us take a look into your future, shall we?" He held one gloved hand outwards, a thick-backed deck of cards springing forth into reality upon it. "Do you believe in fortune telling?"

I wanted to say no, but didn't have the heart to tell him. It seems he knew already, though, chuckling and shaking his head. The cards shuffled themselves in his palm, far more quickly than could be done by mortal hands, and then leaped of their own accord onto the bed sheets. After a few moments of relentless flurrying, the cards finally settled into a dormant configuration upon the bed.

Igor flicked his hand idly at one of the cards, and it swung upwards to confront me, showing me its face right side up. I noticed, without no small sense of dread, that there was a gigantic skull greeting me on the card.

"Death, in the upright position." Igor noted. "This card represents change as well as the ending of a life." And then he flicked another card upwards, and I saw that there was a man's face etched upon it. But not just any man: this one had horns sprouting from his temples.

Man, my fortune sucked.

"The Devil, in the upright position. This card represents temptation, but also the imprisonment of the self, by the self. You may feel trapped within a situation that you have the power to change. You will be given the choice to change your history, to reverse the new life granted by Death."

And then the cards began to flicker and change, morphing into great balls of light that then faded into nothingness. Igor remained pleased with himself, hunching forward and gazing deep into my eyes. "In the coming days, you will enter into a contract of some sort, after which you will return here."

That doesn't sound like anything that I wished for. "The coming year is a turning point in your destiny," Igor announced. "You will either be trapped forever in a prison of your own design, or re-forge your destiny into that of your own desire."

"My duty," and Igor again planted a hand upon his chest, smiling, "is to provide assistance to our guests. I will guide you along your journey, though I shan't change its course. Ah!" He suddenly cried, "I have neglected to introduce my assistant to you."

And then, on cue, came the woman. The first thing I heard of her were the heels, firmly clacking against the floor, the sound echoing throughout the room. I turned my head to see a stunningly beautiful woman approach the bed, her hips cocked to one side, a beatific smile upon her pale features. She was wearing a nurse's get up, but the white color of it was tinged a dark blue that matched the velvet all around her. A few tumbling strands of golden hair escaped the nurse's hat on her head, her bright eyes open and revealing the shocking golden color of her irises.

"This is Lucille. She is a resident of this place, like myself." Igor said, the dirty old bastard.

Lucille now spoke for herself, her voice sibilant and soft as… well, velvet. "I am here to accompany you through your journey."

Igor chuckled slowly, shaking his head. "We shall attend to the details another time. Until then, fare well."

Confusion was the reigning theme of this visit, but there wasn't anything that I could ask Igor now. Instead, I felt the firm tug of waking pull at my heart, dragging me from this strange world and into the realm of the living.

That… that was new.