Run, Lionel… Run, Lionel… Run, Lionel… 

Lionel Stevens was having a nightmare, a very lucid one at that, where he was running on a hot asphalt being chased by an 8-foot-tall humanoid-looking black dog with sharp, pointy ears, horse-like hooves in the place of its back paws, and mouth gaping open like a black hole in space, sucking in everything that came its way, spewing out foam and fear. 

So, in other words, pretty basic crap. 

Even though the nightmare had made him run (congratulations, like that was hard, considering that bolting at even the slightest sign of trouble was Lionel’s M.O.), Lionel wasn’t under any illusions that this wasn’t just a stupid dream. Not to say that his subconscious hadn’t gone all out with rabies-ridden Cujo here. No, this puppy was legit creepy—in fact, Lionel thought that the hooves on this darling creature were a particularly original touch—but the whole concept of being chased in a dream was like another Terminator movie: ridiculous, predictable, and done to death. 

Also, it wasn’t like this was Lionel’s first rodeo, as he’d been having nightmares ever since he was little. The shrink that they’d made him see as a young boy had insisted that his bad dreams were related to his parents’ passing, but he knew that wasn’t true. They’d started even before their death, and he knew this because he vividly remembered his parents’ concerned faces leaning over him, their son whose flannel-clad body was lying on his cold sweat-drenched sheets, shivering and gasping for air as if he’d just lifted his head up from the toilet bowl that Jimmy Jackson had dunked it in, and how his mother had scooped him up and held him tightly in her arms, while his father fetched him a glass of water and dried his sweaty brow with a washcloth. He’d started sobbing so violently that his whole body trembled, and eventually he’d fallen back asleep just from the sheer exhaustion. 

But now he had no one to wake him up. He was on his own, as he’d been ever since he was fourteen years old, and he felt like this time the monster was actually going to get him. 

He glanced over his shoulder, where the creature was gaining ground, its hooves clickety-clickety-clicking against the asphalt like loaded guns. 

“I’m coming for you!” came a voice from its rubbery lips, and even though that deep horror-movie-trailer voice was creepy, Lionel sort of wanted to laugh. 

Really? he thought. A monster that’s half a dog half a hooved animal AND on top of that speaks English? He shook his head in amusement. Yes, the special effects were cool and all, but the plot of this nightmare was ridiculous, like made up by the same psychopath who back in the day had told himself, “Hey, I know! Nothing says pizza like pineapple!” 

Lionel turned back around and darted his eyes forward, focusing on the rhythm of his feet against the shockingly soft asphalt. He lifted his gaze up at the nightmare sky that was the color of blood orange. 

Blood orange. 

Blood. 

That word stirred something in him, but it crossed his mind so quickly that he couldn’t get a hold of it. It was almost like a remnant of a past life to which he was now denied access. 

He tightened his pace, surprised that he could, surprised that the dream hadn’t turned his legs into buckets of gooey half-melted caramel yet. He had a vague memory of running on a road similar to this before and taking a hard fall, but he couldn’t be sure whether it was something that had actually happened or if this stupid dream was just turning his memories into alphabet soup, breaking words apart and distorting letters. 

“You can run but you cannot hide!” 

That was the monster’s voice again, not too far away from him now. 

Lionel scoffed. Oh, come on, seriously? he thought, rather disappointed in his subconscious. At least the hooved dog had shown some level of creativity, but these lines? Hello? Cliché-Ville! 

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” he muttered. To himself, that is. Not to the monster, of course. God no, perish the thought! He didn’t have the slightest desire to aggravate the psycho dog here any more than he already had. After all, the monster could have… it could have… 

Without even noticing, Lionel slowed his pace down as the unfinished thought floated in the air. What? he asked himself. What is the monster going to do, exactly? No, really? 

Lionel knew full well that the creature wasn’t real, ergo it couldn’t do a damn thing. Kill him? Big fat frigging deal. This was a dream, and everybody knew that if you died in a dream, you would just wake up. 

And with that thought, something remarkable happened: with one fell swoop, all fear suddenly left Lionel’s body like a champagne bottle cork that shot through the air. 

He stopped running—after all, there was no reason for it anymore—and with a surreal feeling of nonchalance, he turned around to see his monster that was running towards him at full throttle. 

Strangely, all he felt was a genuine interest in how this was going to play out, as if he was watching a movie in the comfort of his own home. 

The ground shook as the dog charged towards him, but the expression on its face looked less confident by the second as it realized its prey wasn’t even trying to escape anymore. Lionel stood still with his arms crossed, and just when it seemed like the animal was going to pounce on him, all of a sudden, it dug its hooves in the hot asphalt and came to a screeching halt. 

Huh! Lionel thought, amused. All talk and no walk. He stared at the creature standing but an arm’s length away from him, eyeballing him curiously, and suddenly the memory of what his shrink had told him came to him: The dream will keep recurring until you figure out what its message is. Well, if that was true, then what better way to find out than straight from the horse-hooved dog’s mouth? He turned to the monster and cleared his throat. 

“So,” he said casually as the animal looked up at him. “I suppose you have some kind of a subliminal message for me or something? Let’s hear it, I’m all ears.” 

He let his arms drop to his sides, chest open, ready to finally find out what these dreams were about after all these years. But the monster just ogled him and growled lowly, without moving a muscle. 

Lionel spread his hands. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” 

The creature—whose kind was, after all, part of the canine family—looked mortally offended at the mere insinuation that it could have been humiliated in such a foul way by none other than a feline. 

Finally, it spoke, “To be honest, I just didn’t expect you to confront me like that.” 

Lionel flinched a little at the sound of its deep bass. The nightmare special effects were truly something to marvel at. 

He collected himself, and tried again, articulating clearly. “Listen, dude, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life, so let me ask you again: what is it that you want to tell me?” 

He stared at the creature expectantly and, this time, as a response, the monster gave a horrible, toothy smile, with saliva dripping from its fangs. “Lionel Stevens,” it announced in its deep, hoarse voice. 

Lionel braced himself. “Yes, ugly nightmare being?” 

“I’m here to tell you…” 

“Yes?” 

“…that you are…” 

“Yes? Go on! Just rip off the Band-Aid! Rip it off!” 

“…that you’re a dead man!” 

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