Dream Runner by Jennifer Tess
Monsters hunt through people’s dreams. They’re called phantoms, and they’re nearly unstoppable. They slip into the realities between night and morning when their victims are most vulnerable. The dream runners once fought them and protected humanity. As the centuries passed, their numbers dwindled.
Now Mike Carpenter is the last dream runner. His parents are dead. His grandfather is dead. He is alone. But he doesn’t stop hunting the phantoms. He goes through a normal life during the day and battles the phantoms at night. No one remembers him. Fighting alone, he is going to die, but Mike doesn’t care. He’s lost everyone he loves and refuses to yield even as the phantoms grow stronger and begin to show signs of intelligence.
When Mike chases a phantom through three different dreams, he stumbles into the last person he expected. Cora. He found his way into her dream. Except this time something impossible happens. She remembers him. For the first time, he is confronted by the chance that he might not have to fight alone.
This sounds like a cool premise. Pretty much any story dealing with the world of dreams as a possible reality worth exploring is a story worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:
This time she wasn’t as chipper, “He’s sort of still with someone.”
“He’s cheating on his girlfriend?”
“Doug loves me. He gave me this,” Becky pulled the chain from beneath her shirt. A little bear dangled at the end of the silver chain. It hugged a jar of honey and smiled, guilty and adorable at the same time.
Mike lost focus as he watched Becky, not the streets, trees, or roofs. He forgot about the phantom. “Doug?” It was the name Mike wanted to hate, the guy who got to be with Cora.
“Yeah. I don’t care what you say. I know he loves me. He told me so.”
“What’s her name?”
Becky’s face scrunched up like the other girl’s name couldn’t possibly be important, “I don’t know. Cora something?”
“He doesn’t care about you. If he cheats on her, you think he’ll be loyal to you?” In the real world, Mike always kept his mouth shut. Here though, he would risk his life to protect her. Besides, he could be mean because she wouldn’t remember him. Regular people never remembered dream runners.
“He’s going to break up with her.”
“When the time’s right. They’ve been together for a long time. He doesn’t want to hurt her. He’s not just some jackass, not like you.”
“Right.” Mike shrugged since she wouldn’t listen to him.
A flicker of movement on the roof snapped up his attention. Black ooze dripped down behind Becky. It caught the light, shining like animated darkness. Mike jumped for her but moved too late. The phantom solidified as tentacles sprouted from its wet, round body. One of those tendrils coiled around Becky’s neck.
Mike knew what came next. The ends of those tentacles would sharpen into spear tips. They’d rip into Becky and bleed her. In hours, minutes, or seconds, the phantom would strip her of joy, hope, the feelings which make life worth living. She’d bleed and wake up dead inside.
It happened a lot. Mike couldn’t stop them all. He tried anyway.
With one arm pulled back, Mike threw a dagger. A screech echoed through both of their minds as the phantom writhed. A predator, it didn’t expect humans to fight back. Mike launched his second blade. This one cut equally deep. Chains still locked onto his wrists, Mike yanked.
The phantom flew over Becky’s head, letting her go. It landed, crouched down. Before a heartbeat could pass, it threw out a dozen spiked tentacles.
Well…there’s that passive phrasing again; would do this, could do that. Still worth it? Your call.