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When you can manipulate every aspect of your reality on a daily basis, it's a painful experience when you encounter your limits. It's something you're used to and the same restrictions and guidelines that govern everyone else hold no sway over you. You're invincible, powerful, and unattainable.

That's what it's like being me. Most days. But even I have hit that wall of reality so hard I'm surprised my nose isn't broken.

The worst of it is, it's not the moments you expect it to be. There are times in your life where you expect blowback. You expect repercussions or plain out punishment. But you never get it when you think you deserve it. Like a wizard, it is never early, nor is it late. It arrives precisely when it means to.

Then there are fireworks.

Time works against us. It's one of the many, many facts of life. Having a good night hanging out with friends but everyone's on a curfew? Gone. Blink of an eye and three hours have passed, you're all late, and everyone gets their ass chewed. That chemistry test that started an hour ago? It's only been five minutes. Sorry for your luck.

The clock was no more my friend than anyone else's. Every night that I wished would drag out just a little longer seemed to get stored into nanoseconds and then it was time to wake up and deal with other bullshit.

More weeks had passed since I last saw the shadow man. Months, actually. October was rolling to a close and soon Dasan, Sarah, and I would drive back to the rez, hole up in my grandmother's trailer and take a nice long break. Normally, I would go back to letting my dreams do whatever the hell they wanted. It was soothing, sometimes, just to watch the crazy shit your mind came up with and sit on the sidelines.

But I had homework now. And I fucking loved it.

When I started out lucid dreaming, it was cool but nothing special. When I started creating dreams, I rode a high better than any hallucinogens you could find on the market these days. The minute I learned that I could craft dreams for other people, the sky was the limit. I thrived on that. It drove me to do bigger and better things. After I started the dreamcrafts, that was it. I thought I'd peaked.

I was so fucking thrilled to be wrong.

I hadn't peaked. I just hadn't explored enough. Which mean that every night that I went to sleep, I had something new to try. There was an actual challenge for me.

Which made my daytime hours a real pain in the ass. At the same time, I was getting better at sinking sensory stimulation into the dreamcrafts. Taste and smell were my best at the moment, and I was glad I'd started with popsicles and chocolate. Touch was still the one that was hardest. So far, I'd had to physically hurt myself in a dream before I felt even a hint of it when I awoke. I hadn't reached any ability to match the marks in my arm.

I was pulled out of my musings by a girl dropping into my commissioners chair. We were at a ren fest this week and she looked the part. Dark cloak overtop her peasant blouse with studded under-bust corset. Faux leather high-lo skirt with matching studs near the hips, and classic pirate boots. It made me smile.

"Hello. How may I help you?"

Long lashes fluttered a little before she took a deep breath and asked in a low, quick voice, "How does it work?"

It was the first time I'd noticed one of my bookmarks in her hand. Judging by how pale it was, I'd say she'd had it for a while. Probably got it from my booth last year and was mulling it over that entire time. That said something.

Leaning back in the chair, I studied her for a moment before I waved my hand at my box of supplies. "I read people through touch. I feed off of their emotions and find what I believe they need. Then I choose which materials seem uniquely suited for the individual before I weave the dream they need. Mind you, when you commission me, it is not always the dream you want. But it will be the one you need."

Unconsciously, she reached a hand up and rubbed at her shoulder. "Will they get rid of nightmares?"

In all the years I'd been doing this, that was not the first time someone asked that question. It was the first time someone looked genuinely frightened of my answer. My head tilted to the side.

"How long have you been having nightmares?"

Her bottom lip quivered. "Two and a half years."

My eyes widened and I leaned forward. "How is that possible? I mean, do you have a ... difficult home life?"

She shook her head, letting her gold ringlets bounce around her face. "No. My par— My home life is great. I just went on a little rebellious streak about then." She gave a weak, self-deprecating laugh. "Went and got a few piercings and a tattoo and all that. But maybe the metal and trip pants went to my head because it's like I can't escape them. The nightmares."

If I hadn't been watching it, I wouldn't have noticed that her knuckles had turned white where she clutched her shoulder. Without taking my eyes from it, I asked, "Can I see the tattoo?"

I don't know why I asked. I don't know what I expected. But this didn't feel like coincidence.

"Oh. Um. Sure," she said, turning toward me and pulling the collar of her blouse down over to bare her shoulder.

While she was seemingly embarrassed by her supposed rebellious decision, I could tell that she had taken care when choosing the design and the artist. A simple rose bloomed on her shoulder, with the stem extending from her collar bone. And the detail was exquisite. From the deep shading to the dew glistening on the scarlet petals, even to the thorns that protruded from her pale skin.

"May I?" I breathed, already reaching across the table to touch the tattoo. Without answering, she leaned in until my skin brushed the petals.

I almost hissed and leapt out of my chair like a cat doused in ice water.

Pure, unbridled malevolence pulsed out of the tattoo in a sickening wave. It battered at the insides of my stomach and absolutely bludgeoned my brain. All the while, I could swear I heard a gleeful cackle.

That bastard.

I made dreamcrafts that people could use and discard. That son of a bitch was inking their nightmares straight into their skin!

Sitting back, I took a moment to breathe slow and deep. Then I raised my eyes to the girls and told her, "I am here for a week. I will make you a dreamcraft a day if that's what it takes to get them out of your head. But I would also suggest removing that tattoo or finding someone else to cover it."

Her mouth fell open. "Why? What is it?"

"It is a nightmare. Your nightmare. And while I can push it back, my talents aren't etched in skin. I'm going to make your dreamcraft with a metal ring and it will be small. I suggest sleeping with it against the skin. Now, give me your hand and we will begin."

When it was done, I asked her who her tattoo artist was. She didn't know his name, but she remembered the name of the shop where she'd gotten both her tattoo and belly piercing. It was my turn to use Google.

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