dream in a dream

Hello everyone!! My name is Jan and this is a slightly different blog post than normal because this is one of my!!! wips!!! that I finished!!

This was originally an anthology submission for the OUT THERE YONDER Queer Anthology submission that I applied for with Ais, (spoiler alert I didn’t get picked LOL) And it’s just been sitting in my laptop with only Ais, and three of my irls who’ve read it. I always post on Twitter about my wips but I never?? Post them?? I either never post my wips or finish them and it’s been eating me alive so.

Here’s my queer horror/thriller anthology submission called Dream in a Dream. A small YA short featuring a clueless and soft sapphic, two girls in love, and a himbo.

Here you go.

Dream in a Dream

By Jan

Aprox 4-8 thousand words

I. 

“We had met once again in a dream. But this time you were either too close or too far away to touch that we ended falling apart too quickly- diving into the dark blue of a dream that was within a dream.”

It was like that moment when one felt as if they were falling through space as they slept. Where all she wanted to do was wake up from this nightmare but ended up drowning instead.

She blinked hard once again and saw the synchronization of their dreams.

Or rather, the ending of one. 

“You promised you would go.” 

Angel stood in front of her with her arms crossed, a look of serious disappointment on her face. 

Nina bit her lip. “I promised I would see.” She tilted her head up and eyed the mysterious blaze of flashing lights from behind Angel. “I saw. Now, I’m leaving.” She attempted a one-step turn away before her best friend stopped her, taking her by the wrist. 

“Come on Nina, this carnival only comes once every ten years,” Angel pouted. She tightened her grip on her and tugged her tightly once more. “It’s just one night, how bad can it be?” 

Screams of horror and mixed delights filled the air as the wind swept through Nina’s arms. If she squinted and tried to look past the horrific billboard of a clown’s red open mouth that indicated the entrance, and the smoke that drifted in the air from the old haunted house and the blending of colors from the moving disco lights, then maybe she could see what Angel saw in the Dream Crawlers Night Circus, but instead she simply saw a horror film come to life. Sure, there were also shrills of happiness, laughter and jokes between groups of friends as she spotted people in interesting Halloween costumes stroll past them as they wandered into the mouth of the clown, but in Nina’s eyes, all she saw was the descent straight into hell.

Compared to Angel, in contrast to her name, loved and breathed everything horror and gory, while Nina would cry on sight if she spotted anyone wearing the iconic Scream mask. The fact that it was also the scariest night of the year wasn’t doing anything in her favor. Usually on Halloween, Nina and her friends would be tucked away at home, watching reruns of the latest trashy reality show they would be binging at the moment and baking mac and cheese. It was tradition for them, but unfortunately for Nina, today out of all days was the 10th year anniversary of the Dream Crawlers Night’s Circus. Which also happened to be the night of the blood moon.

The Dream Crawlers were a group of performers that traveled the globe, consisting of entertainers, trapeze artists, and magicians that did shows back to back from Vegas, Paris, and Rome. They were a pretty big deal if a small town like Vaniville even heard of them miles away from the city. It was most likely because the headliner and founder of The Dream Crawlers was a legend that was born and raised there. Yin Lucas was an absolute king that Vaniville praised. He was the pride of the town, being recognized for his artistry of dance. He was the one who founded the Dream Crawlers, founded and sought more artists in their own little circus with the intent of bringing dreamlike magic to the world.

The last time the Dream Crawlers came to town Nina had only been nine-years-old. She remembered hearing the excited squeals of the older children as they finally made their stop home. She remembered seeing the red and yellow posters cluster together down the street and the lights of the circus brightening up the center of the city like a beacon as their iconic circus music blared loudly in the air.

Their concept of bringing dreamlike magic to the world sure sounded good. In fact, it sounded amazing. Well, according to Angel it did. To Nina, it was terrifying. The distorted sounds of laughter morphing in with the horns and organs. The merging of every color making the hallways look like they have stumbled upon the bottom of the ocean while walking through the galaxy. It was a funhouse come to life, where patterns and lines morphed into one, where artists enticed you with their magic of shifting reality and everything horror came to life. Nina was pretty sure she saw Freddie Krueger wander inside on psychedelics, twirling and twirling around a knife in his hand.

Despite everything in her worst nightmares being right in front of Nina, Angel was also in front of her, and she was simply too hard to ignore. 

“Do you honestly want to go back home and make mac and cheese when we could be here?” Angel made wide gestures with her arms, indicating everything all bloody and gruesome around her like they were at Disneyworld.

“Yes,” Nina replied. She wrung her wrist out of Angel’s clutch. “You know I don’t do this kind of stuff.” 

And it was true, she didn’t. Nina despised horror. She could barely watch It without her toes curling up in fright. Not only was the Night Circus based on horror, but it was also reality jerking. People say they walk out unknown when they first arrived, their eyes swirling in astonishment and confusion. Nina was barely running on three hours of sleep, and she was sure that if she was to walk into this nightmare festival, she wouldn’t be able to sleep for another three days.

Angel pouted. “It’ll be fun.” She urged her once more, looking as other people passed into the mouth of the clown. “Nina, you know I’ve been waiting for this day forever.” 

“Then you can go without me, I’ll just wait for you there.” Nina pointed away to the multiple lines of food trucks and tables. Even though the sun was just beginning to set, the circus already had more locals wander in. Unlike Nina, most of them had smiles on their faces, their Halloween costume shining out brilliantly. They matched Angel just as well. What with their excited faces and interesting costumes. This Halloween Angel was wearing all white. She had exclaimed it was a play with her own name. A white dress that flowed right before her knees, long sleeves that blew gently in the wind and a halo on top of her head to top it off. 

She looked beautiful. Angel had always been beautiful to her, but Halloween was the one night that she liked to go beyond with her makeup and outfit. Specks of glitter were found here and there among her eyelids, her lips were shining in red gloss, looking full and luscious. After realizing she had been staring, Nina’s throat suddenly went dry, and she cast her view somewhere else.  

It should’ve been another regular Halloween for them, Nina thought dreadfully. Staying inside, baking food, and being within the comforts of her home. But there they were, arguing in front of a damn circus. Nina in her regular sweats and Angel in her halo. What a sight it must’ve been.

“Look. You can either go home and be a party pooper all by yourself or you can hang out with me and the rest of your friends in this totally cool place.” 

Nina merely stared at her. “What do you mean?”

Angel pointed behind her. 

Nina turned and immediately heaved a sigh. Sure enough there they were: the rest of their little group of friends, standing a few feet away from the ticket booth, all in their own righteous costumes. 

Louis wasn’t hard to miss with his long legs and green hair. It appeared that this year their friend decided to dress up as the Joker for Halloween; with his red lipstick spread messily over lips as an attempt at the iconic red smile and matched his striped purple pants with a linen blazer. He was grinning widely at the presence of two shorter girls; Rila and Lily, who this year looked like they simply decided to dress as two colors: red and yellow for some reason.

Nina’s heart pounded as her eyes flicked back to Angel’s opened hand. She could just say no. She could say no and go home, watch another episode of Jersey Shore and call it a night. But Angel’s eyes poured into hers. Nina sighed, knowing it was useless trying to get out of something with her. They both ultimately knew who had won in this argument. Wherever Angel went, Nina was sure to follow. 

She sighed, taking Angel’s hand, and ignored the shivers her touch made down her spine. “If I see more than one clown in there I’m walking home.”

“Oh please,” Angel rolled her eyes as they made their way towards their friends. “If any clown, murderer, or demon on psychedelics even thinks about approaching you, they’ll just have to deal with me.”  She squeezed Nina’s hand and smiled at her. Even in the dying light she looked incredible, the halo and sparkles she dabbed around her eyes made them pop out brighter, her lips look shinier. 

“You’re my hero,” Nina said weakly.

Louis seemed to be in the middle of an intense argument by the time Nina and Angel had walked up to them. He gestured at his clothes with wide arms, his voice loud. “Oh come on guys, I actually tried this year-”

“Hey guys,” Angel said. She raised an eyebrow at the trio before them. “What are we talking about?”

Louis’ gaze shifted to Angel for a second before he gestured his hand out again grandly to her. “See?” he exclaimed. “At least Angel’s costume makes sense, and Nina’s…” his voice trailed off. “Nina, what are you supposed to be?” 

“Sleeping,” she answered. “Is it not obvious? I came in my pajamas.” Thanks to Angel dragging her straight after class, Nina didn’t have the opportunity to dress up like everyone else and instead merely wore a black crew neck and sweats. “I came here against my will.” 

“Thanks to me, I also came prepared,” Angel stated. They all watched as she reached into her tote bag, pulling out red devil horns. 

Nina sighed, resisting the urge to smile as Angel placed them upon the top of her hair. 

“Cute,” stated Rila, wrapping her arm around Lily. “You guys are doing a couple costumes, just like us.”

Angel merely beamed while Nina’s gaze traveled from their friends’ adjoined arms to the ground. The only couple here were Rila and Lily.

She cleared her throat. “What are you two supposed to be?” Nina asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?”  Rila asked. She wrapped her hand around Lily and tugged her so that they were both standing in front of Louis. 

Even Louis was just as confused. He raised an eyebrow. “What-?”

“We’re a traffic light,” said Lily. She pointed upwards at her red sweater, then to Rila’s yellow tank top, then to Louis’ green hair. “See?” 

He rolled his eyes. “Ha, ha, very funny.” 

Angel snorted a laugh. “Louis, you look like broccoli.” 

Louis scowled, clearly already annoyed that it’s been less than five minutes of their meet up and he was already getting clowned over his very own clown costume. “I happen to think my hair looks amazing, thank you very much.” 

Nina did a quick headcount of their group, noticing that only one other person was missing. “Where’s Jessie?”

Rila frowned. The last member of their little circle had been MIA for a while, taking the hardest classes than the rest of them this semester. It looks like even Jessie would have to take a raincheck on Halloween this year too. “Studying for the certification exam,” she answered. “She said that she might show up tonight if she finishes her practice test quickly.” 

Nina frowned. She hasn’t talked to Jessie in months. 

Noticing the drop-in atmosphere, Angel nudged Nina by the elbow. “You know Jessie would be here if she could, right?” She pointed her finger accusingly towards her. “Don’t you dare be a party pooper tonight.” She held out her pinky towards Nina only. “All right? Promise me that you’ll try to have fun.” 

She could only stare at Angel’s pinky in defeat. Even though Nina knew that she was inevitably going to do whatever Angel wanted, she wrapped her pinky around hers. “I promise.” 

Angel squealed, throwing her arms around them all. They turned until they stood right in front of the clown’s mouth, watching as smoke left in between each gap of its teeth. 

With her heart threatening to break out of her chest, Nina swallowed and glanced one last time over at Angel. She was talking to Louis and making fun of his hair, picking at the strands in between her fingers with a wide grin spread about her face. She briefly remembered Angel mentioning this carnival at the beginning of October, had heard about it every now and then but never thought much about it. Now that the Night Circus was right in front of her eyes, Nina swore all she did was blink and time transported itself to now. Maybe she should take the sleeping pills her doctor prescribed. 

“Win me a stuffed bear?” Lily asked Rila. 

Rila kissed her girlfriend on the temple of her forehead. “You got it.” 

The red and yellow traffic light broke apart from the rest of them, taking each other by the arm and screamed, running straight into the belly of the beast.

“Hey! What happened to sticking together?” Louis yelled after them. He groaned, and pulled apart from Angel’s grasp. He stepped forward and gave a look of tiresome over to both Angel and Nina. “They drank a little bit before coming here.” With that, he ran after the two runaway traffic lights. The Joker became the joke once again.

Nina sighed defeatedly. There was no going back now. Her hand traveled from grasping Angel’s arm to her hand as she fumbled with each finger, counting them underneath her breath.

“You know I’m only doing this for you, right?” She asked her. 

“I know,” Angel said ruefully. She was grinning happily, clearly pleased with how the night was turning out in her favor. She began dragging Nina, pulling her towards the entrance of the clown’s mouth, her voice as loud as ever. “Now come on, come on!” 

Nina tried to ignore the sounds of the distorted laughter of clowns and other terrifying things known to man, keeping her focus only on Angel’s face. “Don’t leave my side.” 

Angel turned around, walking with her back as they entered the carnival. “Never.”

II. 

“Does she know?”

Nina turned towards Louis. He was standing beside her underneath the blinding lights of the carnival. His hands were deep in his pockets, his red lipstick smeared messily over his mouth.

From a few feet away from them were the rest of their friends. Rila, Lily and Angel, laughing to their heart’s content as they threw darts at balloons. Each time they hit a balloon there would be a puff of smoke and slowed laughter, sounding like the same clown they heard when they first walked in. 

Angel was laughing with stars in her eyes, squealing every time a puff of smoke and glitter would explode from the small balloons. Her shoulders would scrunch up every time a new pop of noise or ringing of a bell would pierce the air. The red and purple glow from the lights illuminated off of her face, highlighting her skin and making her smile as white as the moon. 

“Know what?” 

“Know… that you like her.” 

Nina’s heart swelled in pain. It didn’t surprise her that Louis knew about her feelings for Angel. They were as obvious as can be. He caught her staring at Angel for a second too long at their last hang out, pulled her aside by the arm and said that he could see them together ‘til the end of the time. 

But Nina had always kept her feelings to herself. She remembered the day like it was yesterday. It was snowing outside her house. They were watching a movie when Angel suddenly gasped and ran outside without pulling on her coat. Nina had to run after her, with her arms full with both of their jackets. She was yelling at Angel that she was going to catch a cold if she didn’t put it on. But Angel merely shook her head and said that she was already warm as she threw her arms up as if to catch the falling snowflakes. 

“How on Earth are you warm?” Nina yelled.

“I’m warm,” Angel reassured her. Then she reached over and took Nina by the hand. Her touch was warm like firewood, and it sent jolts of electricity down Nina’s spine as her fingers wrapped around her own. That was when Nina knew she liked her best friend. Because she was warm. 

Angel had no idea. 

Nina shook the memory away as the carnival formed around her again. 

Louis nudged her. “You still haven’t told her?” His voice sounded sad and concerned, almost as though he pitied her for pining over the person she was always with. 

Nina shrugged. “Why should I?” They watched as Angel, Lily and Rila all squealed in excitement. The deep laughter of a mechanical machine soon followed afterwards as fake spiders dangled from the booth, landing on top of her hair.

Angel snatched onto it ruefully, making the booth clerk yell at her in alarm. She was laughing as Rila took her turn at distracting the clerk as Lily went and took a plushed skeleton off his wall of toys. In another second they were off, running into the next main attraction they could find. Their laughter mixed in with the screams of terror that faded into the night. Within seconds they joined hands and ran deeper into the carnival, disappearing through the smoke that swam in the air.  

Louis sighed, as they slowly trailed after them. “You should tell her how you feel. There’s no time like the present.” 

“She’s already my present,” Nina replied as they passed through skin crawlers moving like shadows with them. She tried focusing her gaze on the back of Angel’s hair, keeping her halo in sight as they walked through the crowds of people in monstrous demon costumes. Within each step she took made her feel like she was diving deeper and deeper into darkness. The string of light bulbs kept getting dimmer the more they walked. The machine generated laughter became lower and slower, stopping and starting within itself as though its record had scratched. She swallowed the lump that began to grow achingly deep inside her throat. They passed a clown with red liquid trickling down its mask, holding up a machete as he stared after them. A small woman giggled after them, baring only sharp rigged teeth as sharp as sharks as they passed underneath a banner, pointing them in the direction of the main event.

She pressed closer to Louis, trying to keep her breathing steady. Her chest was tingling with anxiety as they walked, nearly bumping into his body. 

Angel, however, seemed as though she was having the time of her life. Her hands were clasped together with Rila and Lily on either side of her. She laughed and pointed at beings that made Nina look away. She  stuck her tongue out at a demon with horns before pushing their shoulder. Rila burst out cackling at the sight of the demon, screeching how fake their costume looked as Lily wiped her tears from laughing. She pointed at the figure and exclaimed how they looked like a monster that used to hide underneath her bed as a child just as Rila thumped her chest out towards them. 

“I feel like I should tip the poor dude for Rila and Lily,” Louis cringed. Lily wrapped her arms around Rila’s waist and pressed a kiss against her forehead, saying that she was the bravest knight in shining armor she’s ever met. The sight made Nina’s heart twist with pain. Angel was looking at them with adoration drawn across her face, her smile as bright as the stars.

Louis shoved his shoulder against Nina’s, jerking out his chin towards them. “See how it completely worked out between Rila and Lily? Why don’t you give it a shot with Angel?”

 “Because,” she said. “I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”

Her friend beside her nodded solemnly without saying another word. As understanding as Louis tries to be, Nina knew that he wouldn’t get it. He wouldn’t understand how it felt to like someone so much to the point of it hurting her like she was being stabbed in the heart every single day she was with her. It hurt. Of course it hurt. To like someone who couldn’t possibly like you back, being the only one to stare at the person you liked the most, knowing they would never look at you the way you looked at them

Nina swallowed thinly as Angel and their friends laughed and screamed into the carnival. Her eyes were brilliant against the hanging light bulbs that scattered among the tents. Smoke filled the air making it difficult to see, but Nina saw her perfectly among everything else. Everytime a figure in a dark costume would pop out and jump at her, Angel would simply grin and jump back at them with her hands outstretched, as if to claw her way into their hearts.  

Her feelings for Angel grew unintentionally. Like a flower fresh in bloom once spring had come around. It was like coming up for fresh air whenever she was with her. But it also felt like she was drowning at the same time. Being held underwater as she watched the one person she liked not know how she felt. 

It was practically agony. 

Nina could never tell Angel how she felt. She’s never tried. She didn’t want to scare her, even if Angel was fearless and wasn’t scared of anything. Nina’s own feelings scared herself. 

“I just don’t want you to waste your time,” said Louis. His gaze was only held in front of them, getting lost into the sea of attractives that were deep inside of the Night Circus. He sounded sad. As sad as she’s ever heard him before. “Rila and Lily were both friends too, remember?”

Nina groaned. It was true, she remembered it all too well just like him. How Rila pined over Lily for months before they started dating. How she was so overwhelmed with her emotions that she cried because she felt so strongly about her.

Nina dug her hands into her pockets as they walked. Her stomach churning around deep inside her gut as it usually did whenever she thought about telling Angel her feelings. She watched their friends disappear, turning the corner before plunging into the darkness of a tunnel, their laughter echoing through as soon as they stepped through.

Her shoulders scrunched up as a man in a ski mask popped out at her, rearing their chainsaw prop loudly beside her ear. Nina shut her eyes quickly and latched onto Louis’s arm.

“Relax. We’ll be out of this tunnel in no time,” he said. 

No time, my ass, Nina thought. The sounds of high laughter and screaming reverberated inside her ears as they bounced off the walls of the tunnel. She didn’t want to open her eyes. She didn’t want to. Not only was Nina afraid of this stupid carnival, but she was even more afraid of the dark. 

But she could hear Angel somewhere in the distance. Her voice was as light and airy as bells chiming through a windy spring day. It was the only thing she could focus on. It was the only sound she heard. 

“Nina!” she heard her cry. “Nina, open your eyes! Come look at this!” 

“She’s calling you,” Louis said.

“Yeah, I can hear her,” Nina snapped. 

After taking a deep breath, Nina opened her eyes. 

Holographic words were written on the walls, moving along the gray stone from a hidden projector, wrapping around each rigged end. Words that spoke of darkness and despair. A low wind was blowing underneath her arms, making her shoulders hunched up together. A whispering was echoing its way from the other end, their voice raspy, almost like the wind itself. Smoke was coming out from the other side. Nina heard even more loud shrieking from the other end. Screams of absolute terror and madness driving into her skull like nothing else. 

Rila and Lily were looking up at the walls with their eyes wide with fascination. The words that were being displayed glitched and changed every second, but Nina could only make out a few of them. She squinted her eyes, and saw the word DISAPPEAR slowly make their way across, before quickly being replaced with the words WELCOME TO THE NIGHT. 

Facing the opposite of Rila and Lily was Angel. Her white dress was brighter than anything else. Her eyes are wide and marvelous like she’s never seen anything else quite like this in the world. 

Her head quickly turned to Nina, and she beckoned her hand towards her rapidly.

Louis gave her a slight shove. “She’s waiting for you.” He untangled her arm off of him and gave her another shove. “Go.”

And with that, Louis walked away.

His words echoed all throughout her skull. Go tell her that you like her. There’s no time like the present. 

I can’t, she helplessly thought as she wrapped her arms around herself. It’s one of my biggest fears. 

After taking a deep breath, Nina trudged herself towards Angel. 

“About time!” she smiled. She reached over and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her closer beside her. “Look.” 

She pointed to the wall in front of her, just as the holographic letters made their way across them once more. The words moved soundlessly, glitching among the rough stone, but Nina could make them out just fine. “AND SOMETIMES I HAVE KEPT MY FEELINGS TO MYSELF,” she read. “BECAUSE I COULD FIND NO LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE THEM IN.” 

And just like that, the hairs on the back of Nina’s neck stood straight up. Her body felt dead and cold as the words moved away, only to be replaced by the same ones. 

She swallowed. “Um, what-”

“Cool, right?” Angel said. Nina turned to look at her, and saw that she was still smiling her smile that she fell for. “That quote reminds me of you. Because you like reading. Isn’t it cute?” 

“It’s c-cute,” Nina struggled to reply. “But-” 

“Maybe he’s the one who comes up with these quotes.” Angel’s eyes went up at all the flickering words around her. The words glitched and streamed across the surface endlessly. Words as dark as the night, drifted across Nina’s eyes. 

“He?” 

“Do you think we’ll get to meet him, tonight?” 

Nina blinked. “Meet who?”

“Yin Lucas,” she said. “You know? The maker of all of this? I hear he’s hot as hell.” 

“Oh.” Nina replied. “I don’t know if he’ll actually be here,” she said quietly. “Don’t the organizers of these kinds of things just stand backstage and watch?” 

Angel pouted. “I guess.” She turned her head away. “I thought this place was supposed to make your dreams and wildest fears come to life.” She began trailing away. “I don’t see any of my dreams or fears here.” 

Nina watched as she left, before turning her gaze back to the quote on the wall. The words glitching and repeating on the same slab of stone over and over again. Unmoving from its spot. 

Her heart dropped to the very bottom of her stomach. I HAVE KEPT MY FEELINGS TO MYSELF, it read, BECAUSE I COULD FIND NO OTHER LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE THEM IN.

Her fingers began to tremble. The quote right in front of her, no matter how hopeful and lyrical it was, only filled her with despair and terror. That quote was the quote Nina had been planning to use to tell Angel her feelings, all those months ago when first realized she liked her best friend. She had pocketed that quote, knowing it deep inside her heart.

Nina glanced away from the wall, seeing Angel jump up and down excitedly with Rila and Lily as they pointed over at something in the distance, their voices screeching for Nina to hurry up.

Louis waved her over, with a smile on his face. But Nina only looked back at the wall, her throat tightening more and more by the moment.  

The words were disappearing and reappearing within each second, almost as if they never were there in the first place.

Then, in a small flash, a few more words were written right underneath the first quote. Making Nina’s heart physically stop. 

Tell her, Nina. Tell her before it’s too late. 

Nina’s eyes widened at it. She leaned forward,  sounds of screaming and wailing whispers filled her ears once again. She raised her hand forward, to trail her finger along the stone, watching as the holographic words appeared on her own skin. Her own name, showing brighter than the moon. 

“Hey,” Louis’ voice suddenly said. Nina jumped, jerking away from the wall with her heart hammering harshly against her chest. “You okay?” 

Nina looked at him, her voice becoming lost in her throat. “I-” 

“Nina! Louis!” Angel called in the distance. “Come on! We’re going to miss it!”
Louis raised an eyebrow before beckoning his head out towards them. “We should get going.” 

“B-but,” Nina stammered, her hand still on the wall with the projected words flickering on her skin. Look! Why does it say this?” 

Louis’ forehead creased together. “Say what?”

Nina looked back and saw that her name and Angel’s were still there, instead of flickering like a broken light bulb, were melting away like blood across a surface. Or else.

Louis laughed, his voice echoing inside the tunnel, mixing in with the pitched screams. “Come on.” 

“But,” Nina’s voice had gone quiet. “Didn’t you see?” Her eyes were squinting down at the words written on the wall. She turned to look at her friends, but saw that they were already disappearing deep into the tunnel, wrapping themselves into the shadows. 

Louis cocked his head to the side, walking backwards with his hands in his pockets. “See what?”

Nina made one hopeless turn to the wall. Watching her name melted towards the floor. In another flash, Nina saw another set of words, flickering right before her feet. 

You won’t make it out tonight. 

“Nina!” Angel called impatiently. “Come on! What are you doing?”

Nina’s eyes darted to the end of the tunnel, her breathing becoming heavier and heavier by the minute. She blinked and glanced to the writing on the wall, expecting to see the message there once more, but instead saw nothing. 

It said my name, Nina thought. Her palms began getting sweaty, her throat was closing up. 

“What are you doing?” Angel said.

Nina pointed. “There was-”

“I don’t see any mass murdering clowns on psychedelics,” she declared after turning her head side to side. She then reached forward and clasped her hand in hers. “Nina, come on. I said that I was going to protect you, didn’t I? Now keep up, I think I saw something cool up there.” 

She began pulling Nina without getting an answer. 

Angel’s voice was still as airy and light as she hummed within each step she took. As though she was singing a song underneath her breath like they were taking a light stroll in the park. Nina tried calming herself, now that she was right beside Nina, and tried to take slow, deep breaths but her mind kept going back to the words on the wall as they moved all around them. Across their arms, along their clothes, on top of Angel’s hair. 

TELL HER, NINA. TELL ANGEL OR ELSE. 

“About time you come out of there,” Rila said as soon as the two of them emerged from the darkened tunnel. She had her arm wrapped around Lily’s shoulders. “We were just about to miss it.” 

Nina gulped, directing her eyes away from the tunnel. She cleared her throat. “Miss what?” 

Angel pointed. “That.”

She pulled her once more. There was a huge tent in front of them. One with a flag that blew away in the wind at the very top. She heard the shrill of voices more clearly now. Their voices were distinct and louder now. Nina heard the deep voice of an announcer, saying, Come one! Come all! 

“Let’s go in here,” Angel smiled. She was pointing at the sign before the tent, it’s etters shining brilliantly.

Nina squinted her eyes and read. Each single word was written as dark as blood.

SPINEBREAKER.

Test your fears. Enjoy the show. 

An off feeling began to spiral deep inside Nina’s gut. Voices as raspy and deep as Freddie Krueger sang into the stars, screams made the hairs of the back of her neck stand straight up, and the pitch black void of the entrance beckoned and urged her to walk inside.

“What is this place?” Nina asked. 

“I read online that this is the main event,” Angel explained. “Where you really see your dreams and darkest nightmares come to life.” 

“But you’re not afraid of anything,”

“Exactly,” Angel winked. “Let’s see what kind of prize I win.”

A girl ran out of the tent crying, her hands covering her face as she wept. “Gone!” she cried. “They’re all gone!” 

Nina stared after her, her mouth open in disbelief. Meanwhile Angel was still staring at the tent as though it had all the answers in the world. Did she not see the girl? 

“Guys-” Nina said. Her hands were trembling even more by the second. Something was very off about the tent. She stared down the entrance, where the whispering and screaming had gotten louder and louder into her ears.

Test your fears, she heard a voice whisper. Enjoy the show.

Nina stepped. “I don’t-” 

But Angel was already pulling her inside. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Rila and Lily squealed, disappearing soon into the dark as Angel followed them. Nina gave one helpless look over to Louis, who shrugged with his hands deep in his pockets.

They plunged deeper into the darkness, until Nina saw nothing at all. 

Test your fears, the voice whispered once again. Enjoy the show..

III. 

Nina was alone. 

Her eyes blinked to adjust to the lighting. Bright lights blared back at her from above. 

The tent was empty. With only empty seats pointing directly at a stage down below. Ropes dangled from the ceiling, as though being the ropes you would find acrobats dangling from. There was an empty cage filled with nothing, and a lone whip, laying on the floor. 

Nina looked around, and saw that there was an invisible glass wall separating each seat.

She tried sitting up, and instead felt something hard pinch against the skin of her wrists. Nina glanced down, and saw that wooden straps were on either side of her, holding her down. 

Panic quickly spread across her chest as she looked around her. Where the hell is everyone? 

She budged against the shackles, relentlessly, and felt hot pain shoot down her skin, felt the wooden straps pinch into her skin, twisting her wrists. 

“Hello?!” she called out. She tried her best getting out of her seat, jumped up and down with tears beginning to build up on her eyes. “ANGEL?!” 

“Nina!” 

Nina turned and saw Louis, sitting in a cubicle just like hers, wrists and ankles shackled to the chair just as hers. 

“What happened?” she yelled.

He shrugged, struggling to free his wrists. “I don’t know!” He jerked his wrists again.“Where is everyone?

“I have no idea,” Nina replied. “I don’t know what happened.” 

She struggled to move once more, and heard Louis. He was yelling, yelling for help as she tried freeing herself. There wasn’t anyone else in the stands beside them. The arena was as empty as can be. What the hell happened to all the noise they heard outside? 

Nina spotted someone sitting in the first row. Hair as red as blood.

Their arm went up, to tuck a strand behind their ear, and Nina managed to get a glimpse of a tattoo on the side of their skin. A long tattoo of a dragon.

“Jessie?” Nina yelled. “Is that you?” 

“Jessie,” Nina cried as loud as she could. “Where is everyone? Where’s Rila and Lily? Where’s Angel?” 

Jessie didn’t move one bit. 

“What’s wrong with her?” Louis yelled. “Hey! Jessie! Jessie, are you okay?”
And slowly, almost like a balloon drifting alone in the air, Jessie turned.

Where her eyes should be, where only black holes instead. Black empty holes. Her mouth was open as well, with the same blackness. 

Jessie’s head tilted upward, and she swayed side to side, lifeless. 

“Jessie…”
A voice boomed loudly on the speakers, making Nina jump in alarm, her shoulders scrunched together. “PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS. WE’LL START THE SHOW SOON.” 

“What is going on?” Louis yelled. 

“PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS. WE’LL START THE SHOW SOON.”

Someone began to clap.

Slowly, loudly, echoing all throughout the arena. 

Nina squinted her eyes and saw a figure come out of the shadows, walking directly into the center of the stage. 

A man walked out, wearing a nice suit. He had brown wavy hair, spread across his forehead and he was walking with a cane. His skin was as white in the stage lights, his eyes as golden as though fire was inside of them. 

Louis whispered. “Who the hell-”

Nina squinted her eyes. Could it be?

“It’s him,” Nina whispered. “It’s It’s Yin Lucas.” 

Lucas flashed a smile in her direction. “Welcome,” he said. “Welcome Dream Crawlers, to my Night Circus.” 

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Where’s Angel?”

He continued. “SPINEBREAKER is our main event of the night, ladies and gentlemen. We test your fears. We bring your dreams to life. We see if your spine can really break.” He grinned devilishly, making chills shoot down Nina’s back. “Only the ones who can survive their living fears can leave the night. The ones that don’t, well.” He shrugged and pointed his cane over to Jessie. “Your soul becomes mine.” 

“What the fuck?” Louis yelled. “Let us out of here! Where’s our friends? WHERE ARE THEY?”

“Angel,” Nina gasped. “You took Angel.” 

With one more look towards her, Lucas grinned once more. “She volunteered. She’s our first contestant of the night.” 

But Angel isn’t afraid of anything, Nina thought. She’s Angel. She’s fearless, she’s-

A scream cut into the night, and Nina jerked straight up. A scream so painful and awful filled her ears. It was Angel’s voice. It was her beautiful voice, shrieking with everything she’s ever had inside of her. 

“Angel!” Nina cried. She looked at the stage once, only to see Lucas vanish like a whisper in the dark. 

“Angel!” she screamed. “Angel, where are you?”

“Don’t worry,” said Lucas’s voice from right beside her. Nina jumped, he was leaning his body over her cubicle, his face just inches from hers. “She’s about to go on.” 

“Where is she, you piece of shit?” Nina asked him. She tried to move her arms from her seat, feeling the buckles bite into her skin. She looked at him once more, a thin wall of tear sprung up in her eyes. “Where’s Angel?”

“Everyone gets their turn.” Lucas smiled. “You’ll get yours.”

“What are you?” she asked. “The devil? Are you the fucking devil?

Lucas’s eyebrows rose. “The devil?” he said. “I’m touched. Really. No, I’m not.” He smiled down at her, just as red began to fill up his eyes, like hellfire was engulfing his body. “I’m the devil’s associate.” 

Nina moved helplessly. “Let me go-” 

“Shh-” he said. He directed her head back towards the stage. “It’s starting.”

Just like the windup of an old toy, carousel music began to play, as if broken, then all together at once. 

Several lights turned on, a spotlight turned towards the center. A chainsaw reared up, and clowns began to fill the stage. It was everything in her worst nightmares. Every demon she’s ever dreamed of. Every killer from every horror movie. Every ghost and monster. All in one place. 

Then came Angel. 

She walked slowly. Her hair was strewn all across her face, her face was wet with tears.

Angel.

She screamed. 

Her hands went to her face, covering herself as the clowns advanced towards her, surrounding her all at once. The chainsaw reered once more, louder and louder by the second and Angel screamed, trying to push past them, trying her best to move away.

She stumbled on her feet and fell to the ground, sobbing as she crawled from the clowns. She reached a door in the middle of the stage and opened it before stepping through, only to reveal a small woman, thin as can be, skin taut around the bones, eyes black as the galaxy. She was whispering, giggling in fact and Angel wept, cried for her to move so that she could go home before the woman grew ten inches straight up, towering over Nina, her hair becoming spiders, crawling towards Angel, making her shriek and back away, her voice ringing like a thousand bells all at once. 

Angel was crying. “Nina, why did you leave?” 

“I’m here!” Nina cried out. She attempted to move as she watched Angel cry and cry. Her heart was breaking into thin little pieces within each second she said her name. “Angel, I’m here,” she wept. “I’m here.” 

How could this be the fearless Angel that she knew? 

Lucas was watching the show with a fascinated look on his face. “Let me go,” she begged him. “Let me go instead of her.” 

Angel screamed again, burying herself into the corner as a man with a knife came towards her with blood spilling out of his mouth. “No!” she screamed. “No, go away! Nina! NINA!” 

Lucas looked at her with his eyebrow curled up. “Oh?” he said. “You’re willing to face your fears for her place?” 

“Yes.” Her lower lip was quivering, her eyes were spilling out water down the sides of her cheek. “I’m more afraid of this than she is. Take me instead, I’m begging you.” She trembled, feeling more hot tears slide down her face as Angel’s screams filled her ears. 

Lucas smiled, wrapping his fingers around the head of his cane. “As you wish.”

He snapped his fingers and everything disappeared. 

Nina opened her eyes to whiteness.

She turned, and saw nothing of the carnival that was once there. No Louis. No tent. No Lucas. And no clowns. 

Her heart thumped. What did he do to Angel? She thought. She ran forward towards nothing, and  met with the same white wall. 

“HELLO?” she yelled, waving her arms up and down as though Lucas was somewhere high above, watching her. “ANGEL BETTER BE SOMEWHERE SAFE.” She gulped, wrapping her arms around herself, feeling as hot tears rolled down her cheek. “Please let her be somewhere safe.”

A small ding chimed through the room. And Nina’s eyes went up, her heart rate beginning to pick up. This is it, she thought. They’re coming. 

She dug her nails hard into the palms of her hands, feeling blood begin to seep through.

Lucas’s voice whispered in her ear, sounding like music and the tolling of bells all at once. “Are you ready?” He said, the sensation as chilling as ice sliding across her skin. “Turn around.” 

Nina gulped, and turned. 

There, standing in front of her, was Angel. 

“Angel,” Nina whispered. She reached a hand out, to touch her, to cup her by her cheek. She was okay. Angel was all right, she was safe-

“You love me,” Angel said. 

Nina pulled back. “W-what?”

“You love me,” Angel repeated. Her eyes went up to meet hers, her breathing was slow and steady. “Don’t you?”

Nina gulped. “I-” 

Angel simply stared at her, not once moving a muscle to touch her hand, to touch her skin. She simply stared. 

“Nina,” she whispered. “Why-” 

Nina’s eyes focused on behind her and she grabbed Angel’s hand, just as a figure with a knife plunged towards her, stabbing the spot where Angel once was.

There was blood pooling down from their eyes, their smile as broken with stitches holding it together. Their hair was black and stringy, open wounds were seen here, flesh pumped out like an open heartbeat. 

The figure was gurgling their words, sputtering more and more blood as they inched towards them.

Nina clasped her hand in Angel’s, backing them away. “Angel,” she said. “Run.” 

The killer swung their knife once more as laughter began to echo all around them. Laughter and whisperings of the tunnel they were once in. She heard cackling and screaming, heard Louis’s voice telling them to run. Heard Rila’s and Lily’s voice to help them no matter what. 

They ran, hopelessly into the white room, unknowing where they were going as more and more skin crawlers appeared. Screaming, and running towards them. All with claws for teeth and knives for hands. 

Angel was sobbing again screaming as they ducked underneath the reaching arm of a spider, with black drool foaming at the mouth. 

“FACE YOUR FEAR! FACE YOUR FEAR!” The same voice echoed all around them. They ran and ran, backing away from killer clowns, ran from grudges with black hair covering their face, from skeletons with their head spinning around and around above their neck. 

Lucas’s voice rang overhead again. “Break your spine, Nina,” he taunted. “Face your fear.” 

“What is he talking about?” Angel screamed. “You’re already facing them!” She broke away from Nina’s grip and tilted her head up towards the sky. “LET US GO!” 

Nina’s heart thumped. She grabbed Angel’s hand again, nearly yanking her to her feet as the killers came closer and closer, their faces becoming larger and larger, their eyes darker and darker. 

“This isn’t her greatest fear,” Lucas hummed overhead. “These are your fears. Not hers.”

Angel’s face fell. “What?” 

The lump in Nina’s throat broke and she squinted her eyes shut. No, she pleaded. No, please. I’ll do anything else. Anything else you ask of me. 

“DO IT,” yelled the voices once more. “DO IT OR ELSE.” 

Nina stopped running, pulling Angel with her. Her greatest fear, she thought. She had to face her greatest fear. 

Her face was wet with tears as she slowly opened her eyes. Her heart was breaking right inside of her chest, into small little thin pieces. 

The screaming around them came to a mute. The skin-crawlers were gone. 

She started sobbing, sinking to her knees as the words echoed again and again inside her head. “DO IT,” they yelled. “DO IT OR ELSE.” 

“Angel,” she said softly. She looked up at her best friend, who was staring down at her as she trembled. 

“What’s your biggest fear, Nina?” Angel said. “I thought this circus already was it. What are you so afraid of?”

Nina’s lip trembled, and she tugged on her hand to pull her down with her. She slid to her knees. 

“You,” Nina wept. “You’re my biggest fear.” 

Angel’s eyes poured into hers. “What?” 

“I love you,” Nina cried. Her lower lip throbbed, the tears poured down her cheeks as she sobbed. “I love you,” she repeated. “I’ve always been in love with you. You asked what I was most afraid of and it’s this. It’s love. Telling you that I am hopelessly in love with you is my greatest fear.” 

Angel knees buckled. “Nina-”

“You don’t have to say anything,” she replied in a shuddering gasp. “You don’t. I had to tell you. That’s my greatest fear. Telling you is my greatest fear.” 

Angel merely stared back at her, shock fallen for words. 

Nina waited. Waited for Lucas’s voice to ring overhead again, to tell her that she did it. So that this could all be over. She waited to leave.

“Nina,” Angel whispered. She looked up at her once again, and saw that the girl she loved was crying too. “Nina,” she repeated. Her hand went up to cup her by the cheek. “Why were you so afraid?” 

She gulped. “I didn’t want you to be scared.” 

Angel laughed. Her laugh sounded like music. “I’m afraid of a lot of things,” she said weakly. “But I’m not afraid of you.” 

In one single movement, Angel reached forward and pressed her lips against Nina’s, her hand cupping the back of her neck as she kissed her. She kissed her hard and determined, mumurming her name within each kiss. “Nina, Nina,” she whispered. 

Finally she pulled back, and Nina stared at her best friend. Stared at the girl she loved with all her heart. She did it. She finally told her. She finally told her after all this time. 

Angel’s head tilted to the side and she huffed, smiling back at her. “I’m proud of you,” she said softly. “I love you too.”

The words made Nina’s breath hitch. Her hands stopped trembling as she reached up to take Angel’s hands in hers. I love you. 

“My Nina,” she whispered, leaning her forehead against hers. “If only this wasn’t a dream.” 

Nina’s eyes shot open, and she jerked away from Angel. “What?” 

IV. 

Angel watched as Nina thrashed around in her bed, sobbing and screaming. Her hands scrunching up her blankets as she sobbed and sobbed. “No,” she cried out. “No, leave her alone! Angel. ANGEL!”

Tears sprung up in Angel’s eyes as she watched. She went down on her knees, taking her hand in hers.

“I’m here,” she said. “Nina, I’m here.” 

“Some nightmare,” Louis commented. He was standing up, with his hands in his pockets as he looked at Nina. “I wonder what she’s dreaming about.” 

“Her greatest fear,” Rila said. She and Lily were on the other side of Angel, all watching Nina as she went through her worst nightmare. Today was the day. The day of the Night Crawler’s Dream Circus.

Bringing their wildest nightmares and dreams to life. 

They got Nina first. 

Angel’s chest scrunched together in pain. This was it. This was part of the deal. For her to leave her nightmare, she had to put Nina in hers instead. 

She looked to her right, straight into the mirror where the reflection of Lucas looked back at her. 

He winked and placed a finger in between his lips. 

Angel nodded. She knew Nina just had to face her fear from this nightmare. She knew it’s what had to be done for her to leave. But Nina wasn’t waking up from her dream. 

She wondered what Nina’s greatest fear was. Her greatest fear was watching her be in so much pain. Watching the girl she loved be in so much pain. 

I love you, Angel thought. I love you, Nina. 

That’s my greatest fear. 

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