Then something strange happened; they sped up. Or rather, the surroundings sped up. For every step, Louie and the man in blue traveled several hundred yards. Louie felt dizzy and had to close his eyes as he held on firmly to the man in blue’s hand.
“We’re here,” the man in blue said and stopped. “You can open your eyes now.”
Louie blinked at the sight that met him. They had left town and were standing on a cornfield, the wheat smelling sweet and summerly. But not far ahead was an invisible barrier. On the other side, everything was different. The wheat lay withered on the black ground, and the sky was covered with thick grey clouds. Even the sunlight stopped at the border. Louie could sense that the air was colder on the other side; it was like looking from summer to winter. Or from day to night. No, even more than that: from dream to nightmare.
Louie gave a shudder. “I’ve seen it before,” he muttered. “At the train station. But it was so foggy, I couldn’t really see it.”
“Dreamland is merely a small part of the dreamworld,” the man in blue said. “All around us is this. I call it the outskirts. That’s where nightmares come from.”
Louie stared out into the wasteland and felt a growing discomfort.
“Something lives out there,” the man in blue went on, as his eyes searched the horizon. “Once in a while they come close enough to the border to be glimpsed. And if you listen carefully, you can hear their voices.”
Louie held his breath and listened. The silence on this side was deep and calm, only interrupted by bird song now and then. On the other side a cold wind howled.
“Can you hear them?” the man in blue asked.
“I can only hear the wind.” But as he said it, he realized the wind was the voices. It was a chanting choir of faint fragments; whispering, giggling, alluring.
“… hi, Louuuuie …”
“… how sweet he is …”
“… come out here …”
“… we’ve been waiting for you …”
“… visit us, Louuuuie …”
They kept saying his name. The sound made him shiver. The voices seemed to rise and fall with the wind, but at the same time it seemed like they came from inside his head. There was something drawing, almost hypnotic about them. Louie wanted to step closer, just so he could hear them a little more clearly …
The man in blue's voice pulled him back, and he looked up.
“Don’t listen anymore. If you listen for too long, you end up taking the bait. The reason I show you this is so that you can understand where the voice you heard is coming from. It’s the creatures out there who have been trying to reach you through your dreams.”
Louie stared out into the darkness and tried to see the creatures. He thought he saw a group of glowing, wavy figures in the dark. They stood side by side, twisting in a hypnotic dance. He stepped a little closer to the man in blue. “What do they want with me?”
“They want to drown you in bad dreams until your mind breaks down. They will try to lure you anyway they can. They will lie and tell you anything to make you follow them. And if you do …” The man in blue caught Louie’s eyes. “There’s no way back if they catch you.”
Louie’s mouth felt completely dry. He did his best not to listen to the voices, but they grew louder and more insistent. “But what if they get in here?” he asked. “If they cross the border and take us?”
The man in blue gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Don’t worry, Louie. We’re safe in here; nothing can reach us. Dreamland is our oasis of pleasant dreams.”
His smile made Louie a little less frightened.
“Come on, let’s go back,” the man in blue said, and they turned around.
Louie darted a last glance over his shoulder.
“… stay, Louuuuie …”
“… we just want to talk …”
“… you’re so sweet …”
“… come to us, Louuuuie …”
The voice of the man in blue made him startle.
Louie turned around, irritated. “What?”
“You started walking towards them.”
Louie realized he was closer to the border. The voices were louder in his ears. Although they whispered, it sounded like shouting.
The man in blue came and took his hand. “We’d better go together.”
Louie shook his head. “It’s not necessary. I wasn’t going there, I just wanted to …” But he didn’t know what to say.
“Come on, buddy,” the man in blue said softly, and they walked back across the field, hand in hand.
Louie felt a strange urge to look back, to stay and listen just a little bit longer. But the man in blue’s grip was firm, and the farther they went away from the outskirts, the more distant the voices grew.
Finally, Louie’s head cleared up. He realized to his terror how close he had gotten. Had he gone to the outskirts on his own, the nightmare creatures would have lured him to cross the border. He would have listened to their singing voices and walked right out into the darkness to meet them.