October is the month of fears, and we’re going on tour with some of our favorite authors to talk about what their main characters are afraid of. What keeps them up at night? What nightmare has them waking in a cold sweat? Each day, we’ll feature a new main character and delve deep into their subconscious to see what they fear. And each day, you’ll have a chance to enter to win some awesome prizes!
It only seems fitting that we’d end on Halloween with a main character pitted against her very own Freddie Kreuger while locked away in an asylum. Nightmares run rampant in Asleep by Krystal Wade, and we’re going to take another look at one of the nightmares torturing young Rose…
Rose fell asleep that way, smiling, exhilaration making the trip into dreamland take forever. But once she was there, she wanted to crawl back out, back into the land of the waking.
Someone dressed in dark robes grabbed Rose by the wrists and jerked her forward. “Come.”
“No. Please. Not again. Just leave me alone. I just want to sleep.” She glanced back toward the bed and found it wasn’t there. She wasn’t even sure where she was. Her eyes burned, and everything appeared black and fuzzy, like opening her eyes under water at night.
“Come.” The person tugged her along by some invisible force, down dark hallways and stairs, and through cold, drafty rooms where she couldn’t see anything and felt like she was surrounded by ghosts or lunatics—or worse, ghosts of lunatics.
Jingling sounds bounced off the walls—keys? Weapons? Rose didn’t want to find out—and the clang of doors closing vibrated in her chest.
Blackness stretched on forever, only an occasional light swirling by in Rose’s peripheral vision, ramping up her heart even faster than before she’d fallen asleep. “Where are you taking me?”
The person finally stopped next to a big gray door, and Rose ran into his back. His, because he grunted, his, because he was a giant, too tall and too wide and too strong.
Rose tried to apologize, but she couldn’t open her mouth again, her muscles too weak to break through whatever barrier trapped her voice. Panic took hold of her, and she tried to reach up and touch her lips, but she couldn’t. Her hands were secured by the giant before her.
Rose backed away and made it two steps before she was yanked right back, chains jangling.
Chains. She’d been chained.
Why couldn’t she wake up? Why couldn’t she force her way to the surface? Maybe if she hurt herself or found a way to kill herself, she’d wake up. People can’t die in their dreams, supposedly, or so she’d heard on some silly cartoon in the common room the other day.
Yanking harder, planting her feet with all her strength, Rose tried to dislocate her wrists, pulling and twisting and groaning.
“Stop it.” A growl erupted from the man in front of her, which only made her pull harder, struggle more, breathe faster. Breathe, breathe, breathe through her nose. Not enough air. The smell of duct tape overwhelmed Rose.
She’d been chained and duct taped.
Phillip? Rose stilled to get her chains to stop banging against each other, listening for his voice. When she didn’t hear anything over her own breathing, she ran at her captor, knocking the hood from his head. His bald, white head was disfigured by thick, raised scars tracing his skull in circular patterns. He turned around as if time was not a concern to him, as if on some mechanical switch flipped to the slowest setting. The man’s expression was blank, but his eyes were as red as blood.
Definitely not Phillip.
She wanted to hide, to cower. Her legs quaked beneath her. Her heart thundered against her ribs. The man reached into his pocket, and Rose’s panicked breaths through her nose and muffled sobs bounced off the walls.
“Don’t,” she heard Phillip say again, but the man’s mouth hadn’t moved. Was Phillip here somewhere? In her nightmare? “Don’t hurt her.”
The man pulled out a skeleton key and inserted it into the cuffs securing Rose’s hands, and she immediately backed away, rubbing at the raw, tender flesh. She ripped the tape from her lips next, crying out as she lost a layer of skin and tasted blood flowing into her mouth. He reached into his pocket again and then held out several charcoal pencils, one of them her pencil. He inclined his head in the direction of the door beside them, which she now saw had 206 and Briar written on it. “Draw.”
Digging his long, witch-like nails into her back, the man shoved her into the room, slammed the door, and slid a bar across it. He locked her in.
Rose was alone, freezing and shaking and alone, holding charcoal. All along the walls were outlines of trees, spindly, leafless trees. Winter trees, white chalk against a concrete canvas.
“No. No, don’t leave! Don’t leave me here . . . .”
She spun around in search of Phillip, for the origination of his voice, for some clue as to what the hell was going on. But she found nothing but the white trees staring back at her.
“Hello?” Rose held her breath and waited for a response. Anything. “Greg? MacGregor?”
“Mom. Mom!” she heard him shout, and then another voice broke through the madness, “You have to save her.”
Rose didn’t recognize the second speaker. He didn’t even sound human, just a bunch of garbled words that found a way to make sense in her dream.
“I can’t. She left me.”
“Not her.” Two lights flashed on, one above Rose, the other above Phillip. He was tied to a chair, bound at the wrists and ankles, naked from the waist up and covered in bruises. A black splotch covered his ribs, big enough for a fist to have made, the same shape as the bruise on his elbow. She took in the others, details about his injuries. A long, bleeding cut above his left nipple. A yellow bruise at his right hip bone. Rose had to memorize this Phillip against the real, breathing, living Phillip so she could differentiate between dream and reality.
But just as quickly as his form appeared, it disappeared before she could finish her appraisal.
“Make her draw.”
The reminder that she was here too raised the hairs on Rose’s arms and neck. She waited, sure her heartbeat could be heard by everyone within a three-block radius, but Phillip didn’t respond except with stony silence.
She took a step forward but found her ankle chained to a peg in the middle of the floor. “Phill—?”
Something smacked Rose in the head from behind, and her vision filled with spots. She whirled and threw her hands out, trying to find someone she could fight, someone who deserved her wrath, but her hands didn’t find anyone.
A light blinked on from overhead, and a dark figure rushed up to Rose and punched her in the stomach. She doubled over and gasped, sucking air into her lungs in harsh, wheezing breaths.
“Draw,” the garbled voice demanded.
Rose shook her head, unable to get to her feet and fight, unable to breathe.
A booted foot slammed into her back, flattening Rose to the floor and stealing what little air she was able to recover. She lay there, face pressed to the cool concrete, head spinning, light from above blinding her. Rose wished she could just wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
“Draw,” the voice once again demanded.
Rose couldn’t. Not in her dreams. Not in real life. Not ever. Rose couldn’t draw because she had no inspiration. She couldn’t even remember what her inspiration was, what prompted her fingers to turn her daydreams and creativity into reality, what made them finish something once started.
“Stop,” Phillip shouted, his voice strong and sure. “Just draw, Rose. Draw. You’re like me. They won’t stop. Draw, Rose. Please.”
Wheezing, she lifted her head and looked at the wall full of outlined trees. With sore muscles and no air and feeling like she might die any second, how could she get up and do anything?
The light blinked off again, and the light over dream-Phillip came on. A cloaked figure approached him with a red-hot branding iron aimed right at his chest. Phillip’s eyes went wide and he screamed, loud and feral and absolutely terrifying, pushing against the floor with his bound feet. He turned his head to the side, shaking the chair so much Rose was surprised it hadn’t broken. Screaming. Over and over he screamed, breaking her with his terror.
“Stop,” she muttered, her voice weak and not nearly loud enough to be heard over his. So Rose got to her knees and said it again. The figure still approached Phillip. So she got to her feet and sucked in a ragged breath and shouted through the pain coursing through her chest. “Stop!”
The figure tossed a casual glance her way and shook his finger at her, the iron an inch from Phillip’s chest.
Rose looked in her palm and then up to the wall. Maybe she couldn’t draw, but she could fill in the trees with color. “Okay.”
She made her way to the lifeless trees, legs trembling as she pulled the weight of the chain along with her, back and stomach aching. White chalk rested near her bare toes, so Rose picked it up, placed it on the wall, and set to work.
Phillip stopped screaming. The lights blinked off from over him, but the hot iron remained in the dark. Rose knew it was a threat. If she quit or gave up, Phillip would be injured.
And so she drew and drew and drew, filling in all the empty spaces between the tree outlines with plain colors until her hands felt like they would fall off. Until her legs were too weak to hold her up any longer and she collapsed. And the next moment she blinked her burning eyes open, she was lying face up in bed.
Rose never slept on her back. Ever. She lifted her hands, half-expecting to see residue of chalk on her fingers, but there was nothing. Just a dream.
Just a dream that left every muscle sore, her body trembling with exhaustion, and her brain demanding she sleep at least four more hours. But she hadn’t moved, hadn’t left this room. Reaching beneath the mattress and bed frame, she found her pencil. Right where she’d left it. These meds were really messing with her. Rose hated the way they made her feel, and she planned to tell Dr. Underwood all about the nightmares to see what he could do to fix this.
She hurried to get dressed, marched down the hall and took her meds, then marched along farther to grab breakfast. But Rose stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Phillip sitting at their table, counting his bruises, ignoring the bowl of crap in front of him.
The urge to run to him and ask if he was okay was so strong Rose had to fight to remain rooted in place. She knew what happened last night was just a dream, but she couldn’t seem to balance that with the image of this broken guy sitting at her table. They looked so much the same: dream-Phillip and reality-Phillip.
Ignoring the food line, she took a seat beside him and grabbed his left hand. Rose had to touch him, to see if he was real or an illusion. She didn’t trust herself anymore. Not with nightmares as vivid as she had. And she could hardly ask him to lift his shirt so she could see his bruises.
“Are you in there?” she asked.
Phillip startled and squeezed her fingers in his hands, his warm, trembling hands. “You’re like me, Rose. Like me. They won’t stop. They’ll hurt you.”
about the book
“To cure fear, you must use fear.”
Rose Briar claims no responsibility for the act that led to her imprisonment in an asylum. She wants to escape, until terrifying nightmares make her question her sanity and reach out to her doctor. He’s understanding and caring in ways her parents never have been, but as her walls tumble down and Rose admits fault, a fellow patient warns her to stop the medications. Phillip believes the doctor is evil and they’ll never make it out of the facility alive. Trusting him might be just the thing to save her. Or it might prove the asylum is exactly where she needs to be.
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