I’m back on the train. However, there's no lights and the small compartment is painted antique brown with a single wood bench. The only similarity is the art on the wall across from me, though they look more like family portraits than abstract murals.
It's too dark to make out the details beyond a young girl surrounded by a man and woman in one portrait, while the rest are pictures of just the girl and the man. A sudden pain hits my chest, but my hand fails to reach my breast.
"Let this be a warning," a deep voice seethes from a place I can't see. "If you choose not to participate, you will rot in this place, and never regain those precious memories you've long missed."
I wake to the sound of a thunder crack loud enough to make me jolt and recoil, clutching onto soft sheets that bear a familiar lavender scent. I shake my head free of the cobwebs weighing me down, triggering a headache that makes me sit up in the bed I’m lying in. As the sheets slide off my chest to reveal my striped blouse, I remember it all— the train, the demon, and that horrid dream.
Tears roll down my cheeks without warning while thunder shakes the window next to the bed. My shoulders tense when I notice the shadow of a swaying tree branch brushing across the blue carpet, and I finally realize I’m in my own apartment.
I reach for my phone just as it rings, along with another roll of thunder. The name on the screen is a contact I shouldn't have, and the last person I want to talk to, but I answer it anyway.
“What is this?” I whimper, attempting to steady my shaking head.
“Mary, I need you to listen to me,” JC says in a hurried voice. “This is your world now. Because your dream won out, you’ve activated the power of the dreamscape to shift according to your heart. Please, draw the curtains and look outside.”
Hand trembling, I pull the curtain aside. What is revealed is like the beginning of an apocalyptic movie. The rain pours at a nearly sideways angle while the trees decorating the back property of the complex thrash with the wind.
“Wait,” I mutter, pressing my forehead against the window, “The leaves on the trees are… blue?”
“Indeed,” JC replies calmly. “It’s the same here. You see, Mary, that is proof the dreamscape is favoring your dreams. You’ve changed this world and brought it to the place your dreams reside.”
“But why… when I’ve given up on facing them?”
“I don’t know about that,” he answers. “What I do know is that those trees at your apartment were all multi-colored like the ones we saw earlier, and now they have a dark blue tone similar to your hair. To add to that, I’d bet you had just woken up and remembered everything when the storm began, right?”
“Yes, but,” I mutter, numb to the weight his words are meant to hold. “Why am I here?”
“At your apartment?” he asks plainly. “I brought you there while you were unconscious. If you’re wondering why I know where that is, I don’t know either. Though, I think I was compelled to bring you there for a reason. Perhaps to make you feel most comfortable, to give you an out.”
“An out?” I ask, leaning into the edge of my bed and wrapping the sheets around me.
“Well, you have the choice to give up and shut yourself away in the comfort of your own bed,” he says in a stern tone. “Or, you can take on this world you’ve reshaped. That is, if you still wish to return to your real body.”
“And if I stay here?”
“I can’t say for sure,” he laments. “There is no telling what will become of this world without you to steer it. It could disappear with you if Mirei takes over and wins, but there is also the possibility of her remaining here in this storm if nothing proceeds. And to reiterate, I can’t say what the NPC’s of this world might do, especially if they come to find out who caused this terrible storm.”
“Mirei…” I mutter, my eyes flickering as I gaze out at the torrential downfall. “Is there a way to save her? Is there even any meaning in putting us through this?”
“The answer to that question lies in your own will,” JC answers in a soft voice. “I think that if you proceed with Mirei’s interest at heart, or your own, you might find this world worth exploring. And if you are able to overcome your dreams after drowning this world in them, I believe you may find a freedom beyond what you ever imagined possible.”
“Freedom…” I mutter with wide eyes while a flurry of lightning obliterates the trees outside and illuminates my face in the window’s reflection. “That’s what I want. More than anything.”
“Perfect,” he replies, more upbeat. “Mirei will be calling you any second now; if you want to go deeper into your dream world with her, all you have to do is answer the call.”
“Of course I do,” I answer without a second thought. “We promised to help each other.” My phone immediately vibrates, and I look to see the screen’s prompt to answer a call from an unknown number.
“Well then, Mary, let us proceed deeper into your dreams,” he says. I press down on the screen, awaiting her cheerful voice, and everything goes black.