Thanks to the generosity of the author, here's an extract from C. S. Friedman's Dreamseeker. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
When Jessica Drake learned that her DNA didn’t match that of her parents, she had no idea that the search for her heritage would put her family’s lives in danger, or force her to cross into another world. In an alternate Earth dominated by individuals with unnatural powers called Gifts, Jessica learned that there was a curse within her blood, one so feared that all who possessed it were destroyed on sight. For she was a Dreamwalker, and the same dark Gift that would allow her to enter the dreams of others would eventually destroy her mind and spread insanity to all those around her. Now she is back with her family, but there is no peace to be found. Her childhood home has been destroyed, her mother’s mind is irreparably damaged, and the Gift of the Dreamwalkers is beginning to manifest in her in terrifying ways. When a stranger invades her dreams and creatures from her nightmares threaten to cross into the waking universe, Jessica knows she must return to the alternate Earth where she was born and seek allies… even if doing so means she must bargain with those she fears the most. Dreamseeker is the gripping sequel to C.S. Friedman’s Dreamwalker.
Her final dash is sudden, but I’m right behind her, and I’m ready for it. As she enters the arch I launch myself at her, closing the gap between us with all the reckless ferocity of a baseball player sliding into home plate, grabbing hold of her so that she can no longer pass through the dream portal alone. The force of my momentum knocks us both off our feet—and then suddenly we’re falling through the archway together, and we hit the ground on the far side with enough force to drive the breath from my body. Fear and elation flood my soul: I made it! But to where? Thick grey fog surrounds us, so I can’t see much of anything. While I struggle to get my bearings the girl breaks away from me and gets to her feet. I see a flash of fear in her eyes; clearly she didn’t think I could follow her here. Then she’s running again, full speed this time, and by the time I can get to my feet the fog has swallowed her whole. I look up at the shadows looming over me, tall and thin, their crowns spreading into a dark mass overhead. Trees? Am I in some kind of forest? There are long black streamers trailing down from unseen branches, and I fervently hope they’re just some kind of hanging moss. The ground beneath me is soft and damp, and it takes impressions well; I realize that I can see her footprints clearly. I start to follow her. The fog changes as I do, shifting in color from bluish gray to a dull green, then to brownish mauve. It’s still thick enough to hide her from my sight, so I’m forced to run blind. The trees are also changing, shrinking in both girth and height, and there is less and less of the black stuff hanging from their branches. All in all the place doesn’t look as threatening as before, but I’m not reassured. I’m chasing a girl who invaded my dreams. The rest of this is just window dressing. Finally the fog thins out, and I see that the last of the trees are gone. There’s an open plain ahead, and my quarry is visible in the distance. She must sense my approach, because she glances back nervously over her shoulder to see where I am. Too close for her comfort, apparently. She starts running even faster, and I sense desperation in the effort. This time I’m hard-pressed to keep up. But all of that only increases my determination: I’m not going to let this strange creature get away from me until I find out how—and why—she’s invaded my dreamscape. Now the entire world is changing around me, far more dramatically than before. First I’m running on a field of plain dirt, then it’s a field of grass, then it’s poppies stretching out as far as the eye can see. Overhead the sun is yellow, then white, then red and swollen, filling half the sky. Then yellow again. Whatever dream world we’ve entered, it appears to be totally unstable. There’s a wide hill ahead of us, and she’s starting up its slope. It’s not very high, but once she goes over the top I won’t be able to see her any more. I try to run even faster, but I’m already going at top speed, and my legs are starting to get tired. How long have I been chasing her? I thought it was only a few minutes, but now it feels like an eternity. Dream time. But if this is a dream, then I can control it, right? Thus far I’ve been too busy running to think about strategy, but surely I can leverage that to my advantage. As I continue running I try to detach my mind from the pounding rhythm of the chase, focusing my attention on the hill itself, trying to unmake it. God knows, this dream is volatile enough that doing so should be easy, but to my surprise the alien landscape rejects my efforts. I try to make other changes, but nothing responds to me. I can’t make a single poppy wilt or a butterfly leave its perch, much less flatten a multi-ton mound of soil. She’s nearing the summit now. I’m getting tired. Any minute now I’ll lose sight of her, perhaps for good. And all the answers she might provide will be lost. I can’t let that happen. I try again to alter the dreamscape, drawing upon the force of my frustration as a kind of fuel. And after what seems like an eternity the dreamscape finally responds. I see a tiny bit of soil come loose from the top of the hill and roll down the slope, breaking up as it does so, and I know that I caused that. But it’s all I can do. Part of me is elated to have managed even that much, but part of me wants to scream in frustration, because I can’t seem to do anything useful. This unstable world shows amazing tenacity when I’m the one who wants to change it. I focus all my attention back on running, not wanting to lose her. But by the time I reach the base of the hill she’s already at the top. The slope turns out to be much steeper than I expected, and covered with loose rocks that shift underfoot, forcing me to concentrate on each step. Progress is agonizingly slow. By the time I reach the top she’s long out of sight, and I just pray that from that vantage point I can spot her again. I pause for a moment at the top to catch my breath and take stock of the situation. The view on the other side of the hill looks like it’s from a completely different dream. There’s a vast lake stretching out to the horizon in all directions, its water so still that the surface is like a mirror. The sun (still yellow) reflects from it with such painful intensity that I’m forced to squint to see things clearly. I can make out a narrow tongue of land extending into the lake, from the base of the hill, but it’s not made of regular earth, rather some kind of black sand. I can see the girl’s footprints in it, though not as clearly as in the forest soil. Her trail leads down the hillside, along the length of the peninsula, then out into the lake itself. Or rather, onto the lake. She’s running on top of it. At first I figure maybe there are stepping stones right under the surface—the mirrored water could hide anything—but her feet aren’t splashing when they hit the lake, as they would if that were the case. Anyway, there’s no reason dreamwater can’t support a human being, if the dreamer wants it to. In the distance an island of black rock juts up from the lake; stark and jagged, it’s her obvious destination. There’s a tall building perched on its peak, and at first glance it looks like a castle of some kind. But then I blink and it looks more like a cathedral. Another blink turns it into a ziggurat, only with lines of windows instead of ledges running around the outside in a spiral. It’s like the building itself can’t decide what it wants to be. The only thing that remains constant through all the transformations is the shape of the windows: narrow and peaked, just like the new arches that appeared in my black plain. Through them I can see flickering movement, but though I’m too far away to make out details, I get the sense that no two windows look in on the same interior. The avatar girl is halfway to the island. With renewed energy I start down the hill after her, half running, half stumbling. The sight of the strange island has energized me, and even if she manages to lose me now, I might be able to find some answers there. Soon I’m racing down the length of the narrow peninsula, bracing myself to step out onto the lake’s surface, just like she did. Because the same rules should hold for both of us, yes? No such luck. My first step splashes down into ice-cold water and I land on something loose and slippery. I lose my balance and go flying forward, landing face first in the frigid stuff with a force that sends up gouts of white spray in all directions. Ripples spread out from me like the concentric circles of a great target. When I surface, coughing, it takes me a few seconds to find a section of the lake bed stable enough to stand on. The stones underwater are slick, and like glass marbles they shift beneath my feet with every movement. Jesus. How am I supposed to follow the girl now? This water is too cold for me to even contemplate swimming, and there’s no way I can walk any distance on such unstable ground. I look up, and the sight of her walking so easily across the surface of the lake fills me with frustration and anger. Why can she control this dreamscape so easily, while I have to strain to dislodge a single clump of earth? It shouldn’t be that way. A stranger shouldn’t be able to control my own dream better than I can. Unless, I think suddenly, it isn’t my dream at all. The mere thought sends a shiver down my spine, but there’s no denying that all the evidence points to that. If I were the true invader here, someone who burst into her world—her mindscape—without invitation, then control of this setting would come naturally to her, and I would be powerless to change things. Which seems to be exactly what’s happening. No, I remind myself. I’m not completely powerless. I did change this landscape, albeit minimally. And maybe now that I understand the rules of the place I’ll be able to do more. Reaching down into the water with all the force of my mind, I attempt to reshape the lake bed. It would be foolish to try to make the water itself support me, like she’s doing; one moment’s inattention might get me dumped back into the frigid lake. But moving dirt from one place to another offers a more permanent solution. So, gritting my teeth from the strain of the effort, I try to mold this dream as I would one of my own, superimposing my preferred reality over the current one. The task should require no more than a concentrated thought, but even though I strain my utmost, there’s no response. Then, just as I’m about to give up in frustration, a thin strip of earth begins to rise up from underneath the lake. Water falls back from its flanks as it breaches the surface, and a narrow land bridge takes shape. It’s only a foot wide and a few yards in length, and it’s so close to the water’s surface that ripples lap over the edge of it, but as I climb up onto it I feel confident I can extend it all the way to the black island, and once I do that, it should stay in place even if I get distracted. Finally I’m standing on it, swaying slightly on its wet, uneven surface, ready to get moving again. I look up to see if my quarry is still visible. She is. She’s watching me. She’s almost at the island, but she’s not running any more. She’s just standing on the water’s surface, her eyes, narrow and dark, fixed on me. The message in them is clear: how DARE you try to take control of my dream! Slowly she raises both her hands, like a conductor signaling an orchestra to start, and I know in my gut that something very bad is about to happen. Is she going to try to unmake my land bridge? I prepare to defend it (however on earth you’d do that), but to my surprise, the dream-construct remains steady beneath my feet. That’s not her target. The water surrounding me is beginning to move, however, and slowly it draws back from the shoreline, revealing the lake bottom. Fish are flopping helplessly in tiny pools as the receding tide leaves them stranded— Oh, shit. I’ve seen too many disaster movies to not know what’s happening. Or, more precisely, what’s about to happen. Desperately I look around for high ground. Or something I can climb. Or even something to hang on to, before the great wave that she’s summoning hits me like a giant flyswatter. But there’s only the one low hill behind me, and even a small tsunami would sweep right over that. No trees in sight. No protection anywhere. The water in the center of the lake is starting to rise up now, and a foam-capped ridge is taking shape that stretches from horizon to horizon, blocking the girl from my sight. I can’t be sure of its position, but I can measure its rise as window after window of the strange citadel is hidden from my sight. The ground beneath my feet has started to tremble, and a cold wind gusts across my face. It’s coming fast. For one brief, crazy instant I want to stand my ground. I want her to see that her dream can’t scare me off, no matter how scary she makes it. Maybe she’d respect such an effort and tell me what’s going on. Yeah. Right. I need to wake myself up. Now. Turning my attention inward, I reach out with my mind, trying to reconnect to the reality of my sleeping body. Waking up should be easy once that’s done. But even as I begin to concentrate, the wave starts to transform. Color bleeds from it, the stormy blue water becomes a dull grey. The foam turns to white mist, then to smoke, then it’s carried away on the wind. The wave itself starts to collapse, and row after row of windows become visible again as it falls back into the lake that spawned it. Stunned, I hesitate. I can see the girl now, and her expression is one of pure horror. She’s staring at a point directly above the collapsed wave, where a wraith-like shadow has suddenly appeared. It’s darker than any natural shadow would be, and its presence is so cold that even from where I stand I feel its chill. I sense that it has no substance in the normal meaning of the word, but rather is a void, a gaping wound in the dreamscape into which all reality is draining. It’s heading straight toward her. With a cry of terror, the girl begins to run to the island. She’s hasn’t got far to go, but the shadow-wraith is moving quickly, and in its wake the entire dream world seems to be dissolving. Beams of sunlight fade as if the wraith passes through them, the shining surface of the water grows dull beneath it, color bleeds from the sky and the clouds overhead, and even the sun dims as the wraith passes in front of it, its bright golden surface dulled to a muddy brown, its brilliant light all but extinguished. I need to leave this nightmare now, before the horrific thing notices me. But hard as I try, I can’t seem to wake myself up. That’s really frightening. Ever since my visit to the other world I’ve been able to end my dreams at will, just by shifting my awareness to my sleeping body. The fact that I can’t do so now suggests that the rules I’ve come to take for granted don’t operate here. I turn back the way I came and start running. Hopefully if I can get closer to the arch—closer to my own dreamscape— I’ll be able to escape this nightmare. But as I turn, it seems to notice me. And in that instant, as it pauses in mid-air deciding who to go after, I can sense the full scope of its horrific nature. It is Death. It is Pain. And it is hungry. I flee from the terrible thing as an animal would flee, blind in my panic. All thoughts of exhaustion are gone now, all muscular weakness forgotten. I will run till the last ounce of strength leaves my body and I collapse, rather than let this thing touch me. It’s following me now. I know that because the world is transforming around me, reflecting its horrific nature. I run through a field of poppies, but all the flowers are dead, motionless insects strewn like black snow across their browning petals. I run through an open meadow, but the grass has been eaten away to stumps, and corpses of fallen birds litter the ground as far as the eye can see. I run into a forest, but the ground is buried in fallen branches and rotting leaves, and the place is so putrid with the stench of decay that I can barely breathe. The arch must be here somewhere. It must be! I have to find it before that thing catches up with me. Suddenly my foot catches on something underneath the dead leaves. I’m falling—falling!—and I cry out in fear as I hit the ground. Color is draining out of the whole world now, leaving only shades of murky gray, which means the creature is close, very close. I roll over onto my back so that I can defend myself—but how does one defend against an incarnation of Death? It’s closer than I’d imagined, and though I can see nothing but shadow when I look directly at it, I can sense vast black wings spreading over me, blotting out the last vestiges of sunlight. Instinctively I raise up my arm to guard my eyes, and something sharp and cold rakes across it. The pain is like nothing I have ever felt before. I hear myself crying out in terror, and I try again to wake myself up. No luck. I’m trapped here. A ghostly voice cries out my name in the distance. My mind is so paralyzed by fear that at first the sound doesn’t register. The death-wraith is lunging at me again, and I roll to one side. The frigid claws pass so close to my face my cheek feels numb. What will happen to my waking mind if this thing kills me here? Will I ever wake up again? Jesse! This time I recognize the voice, and I feel a spark of hope. I focus myself body and soul on my brother’s voice, using it as a lifeline to connect me to the world of living things. Even as the death-wraith attacks me again I reach out for Tommy with all the strength that is left in my soul, trying to absorb his perspective into myself as he stands over my sleeping body—
I awoke gasping. My body was shaking violently, and I was sick from terror. But I was also home again, and that meant the creature was gone. Thank God.
My brother was kneeling on the bed, his hands on my shoulders. He’d been shaking me, trying to wake me up, and not until my eyes were fully open did he stop. “Are you okay?”
For a moment I had no words. I just lay there, drinking in reality. “Yeah,” I rasped at last. “I think so.”
“You were moaning in your sleep. I figured whatever dream was causing that, you’d want to wake up.”
I whispered, “Good instinct.” Then I asked, “Did anyone else hear me?”
He shook his head. “They’re all asleep. I wasn’t.” He paused. “It wasn’t that loud, just . . . damn scary-sounding.”
“Damn right,” I muttered. “Thanks.”
What would have happened to me if my brother hadn’t tried to wake me up? Would I have been trapped in that dream forever? I remembered the death-wraith, and I shuddered. At least it lacked the power to follow me here. The waking world was my refuge.
I tried to lever myself up to a sitting position. My muscles were sore, like I’d really been running for hours, and the upper part of my left arm stung fiercely. I winced and used my other arm to push myself upright. The sensations were just echoes of my dream, I knew, and they should fade soon.
“So what scared you so badly?” Tommy asked. “Can you talk about it?”
I sighed. I didn’t feel up to telling the whole story right then, but he deserved at least the bare bones of it. He might well have saved my life. “I ran into the avatar again. This time I followed her through a door, which led me into another dream, not one of mine . . . I think maybe it was her dream. Then a death-wraith appeared and the whole dream fell apart. It was attacking me when you woke me up.” I put my hand on my arm where the claws had torn my flesh—
And I froze.
There was pain in that spot. Way too much pain for a mere dream memory. The sleeve of my sleep shirt was warm and wet.
It was a dream, I told myself. Just a dream. I probably banged my arm against a bedpost while I was trying to wake up. Or something.
Slowly I pushed my sleeve up my arm, not wanting to see what was under it, but knowing I had to. The source of the blood turned out to be a jagged slash that ran diagonally across my arm. It wasn’t deep, but blood was oozing out of it, and the surrounding flesh was red and swollen.
I think I was more afraid in that moment than I had been while the wraith was actually attacking me. Because however frightening that had been, it was just a dream. This . . . this was real.
It was my brother who found his voice first, and with it the perfect words for that moment.