by Immortalwildcat and JSAGL
She entered the library, looking around anxiously. Maybe he won’t be here today, she thought. After all, it is a Saturday afternoon, and he was probably out last night on patrol. She walked quickly across the main room, crowded with students all studying for final exams, to one of the smaller study rooms. There, studying by himself at one of the tables, was Jason Todd.
“I was hoping you’d be here,” she said, taking a seat and setting her stack of books and notebooks on the table.
“Hey, Beth, what’s — whoa! You all right? You look like you’ve been through hell.”
“Didn’t sleep too well last night. Tried calling you, but Alfred said you and Mr. Grayson were out for the night.” Beth pulled her history book from the stack so she would at least look like she was studying.
“Yeah, we didn’t get in until about four. I saw the message and figured I’d catch up to you here today.” Jason surreptitiously slipped a pack of gum from his pocket and slid a stick out under the table. He palmed the pack, letting Beth see it with an inquiring arch of his eyebrows. When she shook her head, he placed the pack back in his pocket. With one hand, he deftly unwrapped the stick of gum, then feigned a cough as he brought it up to his mouth. “So, what’s up?”
“We — that is, I — had a strange encounter last night. Something was in my house, and I could see him, but Grandmom couldn’t.” She told him about the voices she had heard the night before, both in her dreams and after she awoke. She continued, telling him of the darkness that had enveloped her room and the creature within the darkness, the one that disappeared when viewed with the combined senses she shared with her grandmother as Flamebird.
Jason sat with his hands clasped before him as she finished her tale. “Strange. Very strange. I’ve had calls from a couple of the Junior JSA members this morning before I left for school. They reported being attacked by some sort of nightmare creature. Nobody got a good look at it.”
“I take it you haven’t seen it?”
“If it has to do with dreams, I wouldn’t have seen it last night. I was so beat when I got in, I’m not sure I even hit the mattress before I fell asleep. Not too unusual, actually. I had a bout of ‘sleep-fighting’ last night, so I didn’t get enough sleep before going out on patrol.” He laughed, leaving it at that.
“Oh… that’s kinda weird,” Beth said, guessing if there was more to the story than he was letting on. “So, what can we do from here?”
“I’m meeting with some of the other Junior JSA folks tomorrow morning. You want to come along?”
“Are you asking me on a date, Mr. Todd?”
Jason blushed. “Umm, no. Not this time, anyway.”
“Well, I’ll forgive you–” Beth got up to leave. “–for now. Have fun studying. See you later.”
As she had often done on many Saturdays for the past few years, Helena Wayne had visited the Wayne Home for Children, a children’s home founded in her father’s name. Spending time with these children always brought a smile to her face. Whatever the traumas in their life, at the home they invariably found the peace and acceptance that had been denied them throughout their young lives. On this Saturday, however, the home was almost devoid of children, as most of them had gone on one of the monthly trips sponsored by the Wayne Foundation. This weekend it was to Orlando and Disney World.
Only nine children stayed at the home this weekend — four new arrivals and five regulars who for various reasons were unable to go. Some stayed home because of disciplinary reasons, others because of family visits or medical concerns.
One of the new children, Sonia Alcana, had almost instantly bonded with Helena. The girl had only recently lost her parents in a car accident, and Helena found that she reminded her of herself at the age of twelve. She was resilient in the face of tragedy and seemed to be able to hide her pain well.
“Thank you, Miss Helena, for being here today. You almost made me forget…” Sonia stopped and suddenly broke into tears.
Helena sat down on the bed next to the girl and pulled her into a hug. “It’s OK, Sonia. I understand what it’s like to lose your parents.” The girl sobbed in Helena’s arms for a while, and even the normally stoic Huntress found her eyes watering. “I’ll always protect you. I promise.”
After a few minutes, Sonia settled down. Helena laid her gently on the bed and covered her with blankets. She kissed the girl on the forehead. “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Helena left the girl’s room and turned off the light. The other children turned in also as the staff made sure that everyone was accounted for and in their beds. Helena bade the staff good night and headed out to the street where Alfred Beagle awaited outside the Bentley.
“Good evening, Miss Helena. I trust your day with the children went well?”
“It always does, Alfred. We had a few new arrivals today. One of the girls…”
Helena was interrupted by a scream and the shattering of glass. She looked up and saw that the commotion came from Sonia’s room. Helena ducked into the Bentley, but it was the Huntress that emerged moments later from the other side. Launching her rope-batarang, the heroine quickly scaled the side of the building and crashed in through the broken window. What she witnessed horrified her.
Inside the room, Sonia was bloody and screaming, dangling from the ceiling fan she’d gripped that was slowly spinning. Beneath her, several gigantic bugs nipped at her heels. Not missing a beat, the Huntress threw several razor-sharp batarangs, slicing the creatures in various spots. Three of the bugs collapsed, hissing as some sort of noxious fluid escaped from their wounds. The fourth one lunged at the Huntress, who deftly somersaulted out of the way. She drew her crossbow from its holster on her boot and fired several shots at the bug. It let loose an anguished wail and then collapsed. As it died, all four carcasses evaporated into a stench-filled mist that then dissipated.
Sonia fell down to her bed as the daughter of the Bat rushed to her side. The girl was unconscious and bleeding, but she would live. There were several scratches and what appeared to be bite marks from the bugs. She grabbed the first-aid kit from her utility belt and began to dress the wounds.
“Where is the staff? And what in the world were those things?”
A whisper escaped from Sonia’s lips, “Bed… bugs… bite…”
Satisfied that Sonia was out of danger, the Huntress carefully entered the hallway and made her way to the night desk. She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. A bug was feasting on the half-eaten carcass of one of the night staff. An explosive dart from her crossbow had just destroyed the bug, when the Huntress heard scratching from the floor above. She went to investigate and saw dozens of the bugs scurrying down the hallway and disappearing into thin air. She just fired her crossbow at the bugs when something hit her from behind, knocking her out.
Sometime later, the Huntress regained consciousness. She made a quick reconnaisance of the house and — to her horror — discovered that the staff and all the children were dead, victims of those horrific bugs. The Huntress made her way back to Sonia’s room but found it empty. She was about to search the home for the girl when she heard muffled sobs coming from the closet. The Huntress opened the door and found Sonia curled up in a ball.
“It’s OK. You’re safe now.”
Sonia jumped into the Huntress’ arms. If either one of them could have seen it, they would have noticed a shadowy figure smile and then leave the room, its hunger satisfied… for now.
“It had a large body with an even larger head. The head was bisected by a mouth full of rows of needle-like teeth, and the eyes glowed in the darkness.”
The Shade looked up from his writing as Jack Knight, also known as the Star-Spangled Kid, described the creature he had encountered.
“Very unnerving. Yet the creature was adversely affected by your light?”
Jack paced around the room nervously as he spoke. “I kind of blew it apart, but it re-formed into what I just described. We seemed to be at a stalemate, and then it just… grinned at me and took off.”
“And where was it headed?” the Shade asked.
“Towards a room full of sleeping girls.”
The Shade stood up and strolled over to the bookcase that lined the west wall. It was covered entirely with volume after volume of rare and valuable tomes.
“Interesting. It appears that we may be dealing with some kind of shadow demon. It may prey on the sleeping. A dream-feeder, if you will.”
Jack shook his head. “A dream-feeder? What the heck is that? And how can anything eat dreams, anyway?”
The Shade smiled wryly. “Ask anyone who has ever worked for a petty tyrant with delusions of godhood if dreams can be eaten. In all seriousness, dreams contain very powerful energies and can be very seductive to certain types of demons. Dreams don’t just exist inside your head, Jack — they are connected to a very ethereal realm called the Dreaming, ruled by the Sandman.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Are you telling me that there really is some guy who runs around putting sand in little kids’ eyes to make them go to sleep? Does he wear a gas mask and a fedora, too?”
The Shade pulled down a large book from the top shelf and set it on a table. He beckoned Jack over. The Shade opened the book to an illustration that depicted a tall, pale-skinned man, thin as a rail, with a shock of black hair and the most haunting black eyes.
“This is the Sandman of whom I speak, not Wesley Dodds… though I suspect there may be some connection. He is also known as Lord Morpheus, the ruler of the Dreaming. Many decades ago, Morpheus was captured by a human for a time and held prisoner, until he escaped during the Crisis. During that period, many creatures escaped from the Dreaming. What we are dealing with may indeed be one of those creatures, but if we are fortunate, we are dealing with only a minor demon.”
Jack looked at the picture intently. “How do you capture a dream? And even if what you are saying is for real, how do you know that this Morpheus even exists?”
“I met him once.” The Shade closed the book and put it back on the shelf. “I’ll look into it a little further, but if your light is keeping the creature at bay, I should think the denizens of Opal should be safe for the nonce.”
“You’ll call me if you find anything out?” Jack asked as the Shade guided him to the door.
“You have my word.”
Alone in his house once more, the Shade retrieved his cloak and top hat and put them on, then grasped his walking stick. He brought the same book down from the shelf and opened it to a picture of a library.
“Time to pay Lucien a visit.”
The Shade vanished into the darkness.
A meeting took place over dinner that evening at Wayne Manor.
“It sounds like you aren’t the only one having dream problems, Beth,” said Dick Grayson. “Alfred tells me that Jason had some problems this morning as well.”
Jason Todd blushed a deep red at the mention of his battle against an imaginary Dollface in his bedroom that morning. Beth Kane smiled, her suspicion confirmed that something strange had happened to Jason last night. Her classmate was kind of cute when he was embarrassed.
“I talked with Clark and Lois this morning, and apparently something spooked young Cal and Mary last night, too.” Karen Starr stirred absently at her soup as she recounted the story of Cal Kent’s “rescue” of his adoptive infant sister and the accidental death of one of the Kent’s milk cows that had resulted. “Now, he’s a little brash at times, but he doesn’t lash out at things he doesn’t see.”
“But why wasn’t I able to see this thing?” asked Kathy Carson, Beth’s grandmother. “When we merge as Flamebird, I can see everything through Beth’s eyes, but when she looked at this creature, I saw nothing.”
“If I may be so bold, I have observed that there are things we see in our youth that we are no longer able to perceive as we mature.” All eyes turned to Alfred Beagle, the Wayne Manor butler, as he walked into the room. “I’m sorry to be late, Master Dick, but Miss Helena had requested that I drive her down to the Wayne Home for her weekly visit with the children.”
“That’s not a problem, Alfred. I thought she would be coming back with you, actually.”
“Something… came up, sir, and she bade me return to the Manor.” Pausing for a moment, he looked around the table. “Back to the issue of these apparent attacks, sir — Master Jason clearly saw something in his room, something to which I was totally blind.”
“I took the liberty of calling around to some of the other members of the Justice Society, and we aren’t the only ones experiencing this. John Garrick woke his whole family — and his father’s security detail — when he had a nightmare about his father being killed. Hourman tells me that his older son, Ralphie, borrowed his costume and took the risk of using Miraclo, trying to protect Rick and Beth’s baby from what he called the Boogeyman. And Wesley Dodds called me just before you arrived to let me know that something may be afoot dealing with dreams. He–”
Dick was interrupted by the sound of the front door slamming open. He stood just as Helena Wayne came into the dining room from the foyer, carrying a child in her arms.
“Oh, Dick — I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company.” Looking around, Helena recognized Kathy and Beth and breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t just leave Sonia with the County workers, not after what she’s been through.”
“What happened?” asked Alfred as he moved to take the child from the woman he regarded as a daughter.
“An attack at the Wayne Home. Oh, God, it was horrible!” Helena collapsed into one of the dining room’s side chairs. “Eight children, and six of the staff, all killed!”
“Dear Lord,” breathed Kathy, who came to kneel by Helena.
“And the worst of it is, I think that I may have caused it!”