One of my favorite movie is The Rise Of the Guardians, a move my son and I watch together every week, if not more. My favorite character there is Sandman, or Sandy (how adorable is that?), which is why I loved this book. Because Sandman is here, as well.
The book is Dream Keeper by Amber R. Duell, a Young Adults fantasy romance.
The Sandman is seventeen-year-old Nora’s closest friend and best-kept secret. He has to be, if she doesn’t want a one-way ticket back to the psychiatrist. It took her too long to learn not to mention the hooded figure in her dreams to her mother, who still watches Nora as if she’ll crack. So when Nora’s friends start mysteriously dying gruesome deaths in their sleep, she isn’t altogether surprised when the police direct their suspicion at her. The Sandman is the only one she can turn to for answers. But the truth might be more than she bargained for…
For the last five years, the Sandman has spent every night protecting Nora. When he hid the secret to the Nightmare Lord’s escape inside her dreams, he never expected to fall in love with her. Neither did he think his nemesis would find her so quickly, but there’s no mistaking his cruel handiwork. The Nightmare Lord is tired of playing by the rules and will do anything to release his deadly nightmares into the world, even if that means tormenting Nora until she breaks.
When the Nightmare Lord kidnaps Nora’s sister, Nora must enter enemy territory to save her. The Sandman is determined to help, but if Nora isn’t careful, she could lose even more than her family to the darkness.
(Please note: This story contains vivid death scenes.)
I fumbled for Katie’s cell phone on the nightstand. If our mother didn’t know what to do, she could send someone who did. My thumb hovered over the direct number to my mother’s unit when a quick, metallic burst of air whooshed in from the hallway. A shiver ravaged my spine, and Katie’s pitch reached new heights. I slipped from the bed, my hip smashing into the floor. The phone fell from my hand, seemingly in slow motion. I lunged for the door, and slammed it shut, leaning my back against the wood.
I couldn’t think.
Couldn’t… I couldn’t…
The walls seemed to shrink, boxing me in. Trapping me.
Above the screech, a deep chuckle rumbled in the hall. My heart rose to my throat, and I dove for the phone where it had landed on the rug. I managed to dial nine before Katie’s scream cut off. Palpable silence penetrated the room. My rapid breathing mixed with my sister’s, and I edged up onto shaking knees. Katie rolled onto her side with a twitch.
“Katie?” My voice came out as a squeak.
She snuggled into the pillow, and her breathing returned to normal. Okay. She was okay. I turned my attention to the space at the bottom of the door. There was probably no one out there anyway. My sister’s screams threw me off after a confusing night, that’s all. I was merely tired and scared and was likely imagining the whole thing.
But before I called anyone, I had to be sure.
With the phone clutched in my hand, I crawled across the room to where the bright yellow handle of Katie’s tennis racket leaned against the wall. I gripped the hard foam and held it to my shoulder. I didn’t want to leave Katie alone but what choice did I have? I couldn’t call for help if no one was out there. My mother would have a field day.
Clenching my jaw shut to keep my teeth from chattering, I dialed two one’s before opening the door. If anyone was on the other side, it would only take a single touch to call for help.
I eased out, holding the racket in front of me, and flicked on the hallway light. The stillness slammed into me like a brick wall. “Okay, okay, okay,” I chanted under my breath. This was stupid. And yet… at five-foot-three and a hundred and ten pounds, an intruder wouldn’t necessarily need to be armed to overpower me.
My nerves exploded with a burst of adrenaline, and I leapt from room to room until each light bulb on the second floor glowed. I checked every closet, under every bed. The racket shook in my hand. There was nothing. No one. An irrational spike of anger zipped through me at the possibility of my brain’s betrayal.
My body moved on its own accord, taking me downstairs one tentative step at a time. One million potential fates I might encounter, if there was someone lying in wait, coursed through my thoughts. The joints in my fingers locked around the phone with my thumb still over the green call button. My tongue was sandpaper against the roof of my mouth, and I crept through the living room.
The freezer was still open, rattling in an attempt to keep the internal temperature down. I chomped down on my lip and inched my way forward to shut it. The rarely-used alarm system beside the back door taunted me—if only I remembered the code.
It seemed like it took ages to finish searching the house. I looked everywhere from the coat closet to beneath the bathroom sink, but it had only been eleven minutes since I had woken up. No time at all, really. I gripped the back of a dining room chair to stay on my feet.
There was no intruder. Katie had a nightmare, and my mind deceived me.
Only this time, it wasn’t part of my subconscious. I wasn’t asleep. Katie had screamed. There was a blast of air. Someone had laughed.
I swallowed the fear rising in my chest.
No one believed they were crazy. I wasn’t sure what it meant if I thought I was unhinged but constantly persuaded myself to believe I wasn’t. Was I? Wasn’t I? Not even the doctors could agree on an answer. My sanity was a double-edged sword, and I was fighting to maintain balance on the tip.
I dashed back to Katie and climbed in bed beside her, nestling close. I tucked the wrinkled sheet around us both and tried to ignore the nausea curdling in my stomach. Katie was older than me, bolder and more confident, but in that moment, she felt as fragile as blown glass. I wrapped an arm around her waist and squeezed my eyes shut. My ears strained to hear the slightest sound that could signal danger, but no one else was in the house.
No one had laughed.
The Sandman wasn’t real.
I balled the back of Katie’s T-shirt in my fist. He was real enough to me, and I needed him. Please, Sandman, I called in a silent plea for the second time tonight—the one only he could hear. Help me sleep.
Amber R. Duell was born and raised in a small town in Central New York. While it will always be home, she’s constantly moving with her husband and two sons as a military wife. Before becoming published, she had a wide range of occupations including banking, bartending (though she’s never tried alcohol), and phlebotomy (though she faints with needles). She also volunteered as a re-enactor at the local Revolutionary War fort and worked near shelter cats which led to her previous crazy cat lady status.
She does her best writing in the middle of the night, surviving the daylight hours with massive amounts of caffeine. Her favorite stories are dark with a touch of romance and a villain you either love to hate or hate to love.
When not reading or writing, she enjoys snowboarding, embroidering, snuggling with her cat, and staying up way too late to research genealogy. She loves to travel and has visited more countries than states. Kissing the Blarney Stone and hand-feeding monkeys in the mountains of France will be hard to beat, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to find the next real-life adventure.
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