Aidan's eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he stared at the girl.
He knew her. Viden. She had inhabited the sickness-gripped village in his dreams.
Aidan stopped walking as his mind geared into action. His mum turned around concernedly.
"Aidan? Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm good," he said bemusedly, and began walking again, blind to the world.
Aidan couldn't concentrate at all at school that day. His mind kept spinning back to the village dreamworld, the world that had begun to manifest itself into his real life.
By the time he had gone to bed, Aidan's mother was worried. He had barely spoken to her since the morning and had not eaten much tea. She wanted to be there for him like all mothers did, but for some reason he didn't want to talk about what had happened.
Aidan slipped into his dreams again, and found himself in the main street of the village.
And Viden was there.
"Hey!" he called out to her. "Over here!"
But she didn't hear him amongst the milling crowds. Aidan squeezed through the milling crowds of the market, struggling to reach her.
"What are you doing?" she gasped, as Aidan grabbed her wrist.
"Wait," said Aidan. "We have to talk."
"I can't talk!" said Viden frantically. "I have to run!"
"Why?" Aidan protested, but she wrenched her arm out of his grip and started to run at full speed, Aidan barely keeping up.
The entire village was shrouded in darkness. Even during the day, gloomy purple clouds boiled in the heavens, and the occasional flicker of lightning sparked like a forked tongue from the soupy sky. Viden was headed along a dirt track, leading towards a forest on the large, admonitory knoll that rose up behind the village.
When she reached the edge of the forest she at last collapsed from the exhaustion, and Aidan caught up with her.
"Why are you running?" he panted. "Don't you want to speak to me?"
"You wouldn't understand," she gasped. "You're new."
Aidan sat down on a gnarled stump, which felt all too solid for a dream, and looked directly into her eyes.
"I definitely saw you today. In the street."
"What if you did?"
"But - you don't see people in a dream who you've never seen before, and then see them the next day walking down the street."
"Yes ... you do. It happens to me all the time."
"So all the people here are - are real?" Aidan exclaimed. "They all know they're here and they catch the disease and they die?"
"I'm not sure," said Viden quietly, looking around furtively. "It's funny, because I haven't died, and neither have you, and mum always said you can't die in a dream ..."
"But then maybe this isn't a dream," said Aidan excitedly. "Maybe this is a world, a - a real world that we teleport to every night when we go to sleep!"
"Oh, shut up, you stupid little twerp!" said Viden suddenly, her eyes sparking with anger. "You think this is fun?"
"Every time I saw you before it never seemed to bother you," Aidan challenged.
"Well - now I've seen you! A real person from the real world, who is actually sitting next to me and talking to me as if we're in the here and now!"
"But - why should that bother you? I think it's well cool -"
"You didn't look like it today when I saw you with your mum. You don't know what happens to me most nights anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I haven't caught some stupid disease, or been stabbed in the back by some scared little assassin ... Every night this - thing comes after me ... sometimes it's clear, sometimes it's just a foggy mess in my thoughts ... but I always manage to wake myself up before it reaches me."
"Sounds like your casual nightmare to m-"
"But it's not! It's here in this village, and this forest, and now I've seen a real person here and it's made me realise that this whole place could be real!"
And Viden got to her feet and started walking down the hill. Then she sort of - evaporated, dissipated into a golden mist which was swept away by the wind and siphoned into the clouds.
She must have woken up. Aidan now half-wished he would, too.