Our town was a small town. Not so small that you knew every person by name, but small enough that you recognized when someone new was here. Even we, the children of the town, would hear rumors of new families coming in that were eager to start their lives with us, or travelers passing through. We understood the draw. After all, our own was a lovely community. A cool river ran through the center, and we were flanked from the east by a vast and relatively harmless forest. The market was full of traded goods of all kinds. And, as I said, the population was small enough that it was remarkably noticeable when someone new came in.
As it was, we took notice when one of the prominent men of our community, the captain of our police force, met with a traveler. The captain said to him that he had to meet with everyone coming in and make sure they didn’t have any ill intentions towards us, or didn’t mean any harm to our lands. We heard the story of how the captain brought the traveler to his office to interrogate him. He did this quietly so as to not alarm the town, as was his wont.
The traveler, he said, was a tall figure with a long black cloak. He had sunken and strangely luminous eyes, was very knowing, and was very articulate. His accent gave the impression that he was from very far away. If that sounds frightening, do not be afraid. For in speaking with the traveler, the captain quickly found a new friend. They bonded over tales of their adventures. The captain, you see, was once a traveling fighter and a renowned champion who saved people, protected royalty, and assisted the needy wherever he went. The traveler was the same in every way.
The captain took the traveler to his own home rather than send him away to the inn for rest. They talked for hours and hours into the night until the captain was weary. He bid his guest goodnight and began to make his way to his bedchambers. But before he could leave, the traveler told him, “No, my friend. Please, do not sleep! You cannot go to sleep. Stay awake with me.” The captain asked why, but the traveler quickly changed the subject, continuing to converse about his own adventures. The captain, aiming for politeness, stayed with him. He blinked away his tiredness as best as he could, but sleep eventually took him.
The next day, we heard the commotion in town. We heard the screaming, the horror, and the absolute terror of the captain. He ran into the streets. He rang the bells. He sounded the alarms. His soldiers, the guards that protect us, gathered their weapons. We asked what was the matter? He told us that we could not sleep. We cannot sleep anymore! For, according to him, the Dream Devourer would find us. The Dream Devourer would eat us in our sleep and leave nothing but bones and dust behind.
We paid little attention to this. The thought of not sleeping because of some ghost story seemed to us foolish. The captain cried again for us to stay awake. He said the traveler, the guest in his home, was plagued by the Dream Devourer. He was cursed and we were cursed, too, by his presence. But, as I said, we paid little attention.
That night, the usual peaceful rest of our little town was waylaid by cries of horror. The Dream Devourer! It has come for us! The captain was right! Nightmares afflicted everyone. Some people claimed to have seen the Dream Devourer as a dark phantom between the shadows. It was as silent as death, and it stalked everyone.
No one could sleep. We were on edge. We feared the dark. We saw it from the corners of our eyes. When the sun mercifully rose, we begged our captain to give us answers. How could we avoid sleep? The captain spoke to the traveler on our behalf, and the traveler gave instruction. We lit torches, burned logs, and did everything in our power to light the streets. We inhaled substances to keep us awake. We splashed water on our faces. We started conversations with everyone in the streets that we could, hoping discussion would keep our minds moving.
That night, we dreaded to watch the sun disappear over the horizon, and we felt the palpable fear in the air. Children cried as they were forced into play. Men, exhausted from the labors of the day, were given additional tasks to keep them on their feet. But we would not sleep. Not with the Dream Devourer wandering our streets, waiting patiently to feed on us.
Hours into the longest night of our shared existence, we heard a shriek. The wailing pierced our souls, and any weariness in our eyes was gone in a flash. It came from the captain’s own house! People ran to find out what had happened. They found the captain our side, crying and shouting. He cried to us that his friend, the traveler, had fallen asleep and the Dream Devourer was eating him in this very instant. The guards drew their swords and ran inside.
They saw the table set for supper. Two chairs. Two plates of food. Two cups. One chair, the captain’s, had toppled over as he ran outside and cried into the night. The other was yet upright. Upon it sat a simple cloth doll, finely stitched, wearing a long black cloak, with strange luminous button eyes.