In NYGHTMARE, a 75,000 word, middle grade, urban nightmare, twelve-year-old VALIN sets out to conquer his bad dreams by turning them into a video game. He ends up facing his deepest fears when the villain, NYGHTMARE, escapes the game and kidnaps his dad. Valin must find The Code that gives the villain permanent life. And rescue Dad. In the real world, he possesses no special powers. No power-up icons. No second lives. Yet, failing equates to signing his dad’s death sentence. To survive, Valin conquers his childhood fears. But to save his dad, Valin must believe in his power to control how he plays the game of life.
by S. Tatalias
Valin chucked a dirt clod down the hill at a rusted out junker, picturing he was taking down the creature in his dreams. It landed on the hood and exploded in a spray of brown guts.
He pumped his fist in the air. “Bulls eye.”
“Not bad,” said Cyan.
“As if you can do better?” he challenged her, though he knew she could. Her arm was a finely honed machine, deadly accurate, whether slaying a guitar riff or at target practice. Which was one reason he was friends with her––just in case the streets ever really did fill with the living dead, all jerky-legged, arms out in front, and oozing pus from crusty scabs.
Not that zombies really scared him. He’d seen a lot scarier things in movies and video games. And in his dreams.
That’s where the beast came alive…at least it seemed alive, wrapping its tentacles around his body, sucking him into the graveyard.
“Any window.” Cyan swept her hand toward the house a-la-game-show-host. “Pick any window.”
“That one.” He pointed at the second story, the glass long ago broken out. A tattered curtain fluttered in the wind shifting shape like the dream thing’s cape. The plywood that’d been nailed across the opening hung loose, swinging and creaking.
Valin didn’t want to believe the rumors about the house. Every day he had to trudge past it up the hill on the way to school, and then up four sets of stairs, one hundred and thirty nine steps in all. It was more than slightly suspicious that whoever had lived there hadn’t taken the car with them…like they had never left. Alive at least.
Cyan asked, “How much you want to bet I get it first try?”
The house was set back pretty far off the road and up hill. She’d have to really lob it. “If you miss, you have to….” What would she hate? One glance at her torn jeans, black boots, leather jacket, and her signature blue hair that had earned her the nickname Cyan, and he said, “Wear a dress.”
“Easy. I’ll do it anyway.”
As much as he’d want her by his side during a zombie outbreak, it bugged him that nothing bugged her. He added, “And kiss Rock Magnuson.”
“Are you crazy?”
Valin didn’t know what made him say the name of the most popular kid in the grade above them. Or even mention kissing at all. He zipped up his hoodie as if that could stop the totally awkward feeling creeping into his stomach––like he’d been spotted walking past the women’s underwear department in a store.
Cyan yanked a clump of overgrown grass from between broken pieces of sidewalk, bringing up roots and a fat chunk of dirt. She swung it around and let it fly. It arced high.
“No way is that hitting it,” Valin said. Seeing her in a dress, walking up to that egomaniac, would be funny.
“Wait for it.” A moment later it thunked into the designated window’s frame. “Crap.” She scuffed her shoe on the sidewalk.
Seeing her embarrassed somehow made Valin less embarrassed. “Oh, this’ll be good. You and Rock…”
“Not so fast. Double or nothing. You’ve got to––”
“Forget it. A deal’s a deal.”
“And here’s the deal, you’ve got to knock on the front door.”
Typical Cyan. Always upping the stakes. She lived at the top of Queen Anne. She didn’t have to pass the haunted house on the way to school on dark mornings with the streetlights making the shadows of trees reaching for her. Another gust of wind sent the tree branches overhead scritch-scratching against each other. They were warty, gnarled witch’s fingers and seemed to be reaching for him. “Forget the deal. You’re…what’s the word? Absolved,” Valin said. “ Let’s go. Games are calling.” He meant video games of course. He’d had enough of being outside.
“Thanks, King Valin, for the absolution. I dare you to knock on the door.” She smirked. “Three times.”
She’d done it again––upped the ante five million times. Rumor had it that knocking on the front door three times would wake the ghosts. Not that Valin believed it. Not really. But kids said they’d heard howling. Screaming, too. And when the moon was full, they’d even smelled the rancid stench of rotting bodies. It was stupid. Ghosts were stupid. Kid stuff. Baby stuff.
But there could be something way worse than ghosts living in the house, something that had killed the long-gone people, the same something that threatened to kill Valin while he slept.
“Let’s just go home,” Valin said. “I’m, um, hungry.”
“What do you think the ghosts looks like?” Cyan teased.
“There’s no ghosts.”
But the thing was, he had a million-pixel-clear picture of the thing inside. Not that he actually thought there was one in there, but if there was––big IF there––it was way taller than a man. Its eyes burned a blistering red and were set in a face too pale, too thin, too tight as if the bones and skin were one. The back of its head, though, was bulbous, and slimy, rippling with octopus skin that went down its back forming a cape that split into long tentacles—tentacles that reached for his mouth, slid up his nose, wrapped around his chest, making him wake sweating, heart pounding, gasping for breath.
Oh yeah, Valin knew the creature well. It tormented his sleep. And had as long as he could remember.
“C’mon,” Cyan said. “Let’s do it together.” She stepped toward the arched gateway that led onto the property as if Valin would automatically follow.
And he had to, or else admit he was scared. No way. He kept that secret tucked deep down, right next to his fear that he might die, just like his brother.
So he ran to catch up to Cyan, and they headed side-by-side up the walkway to the front door, the overgrown shrubs grabbing at his pants, his heart thumping like he’d pass out before he even got to the door.
“Careful there,” he whispered, as he picked his way up the rotting wooden steps to the porch. If the thing inside didn’t get him, he still might break a leg.
But there were no such things as monsters…not in the real world, at least while he was awake.
Cyan raised her hand, “Together then?”
Valin’s hand felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, but he forced it to lift.
There were no monsters.
“That’s one.” Cyan shook her hair out of her eyes and grinned.
They raised their fists again and brought them down at the same time. Almost.
Valin’s hand had landed a moment after Cyan’s, making it three knocks.
Something shuffled inside the house.