I run my fingers along the spines of my books; I'm still weak, but otherwise completely healed. The doctors are baffled at my recovery. Dad couldn't get me home quick enough and there was no reason to keep me, as long as I returned for a few check-ups. I've missed my room and my books, certainly, but not half as much as I know I'll miss the companions who took their place. It sounds like such a cliché, but everything that happened in the Isle of Morpheus feels like nothing more than a long dream. There's a difference, in the real world—the sharp touch of reality. I'm where I belong, even if sometimes I can't breathe remembering I might never see them again. All of them, Alexander, Armand . . .

I'm happy, but unhappy. I'm human. I can be both at the same time. It makes me glad, knowing I can participate in the full spectrum of mortal emotion, and yet . . .

I sink onto my bed, touching my pillow. Tears are spilling onto my cheeks before I know what's happening. "Please come," I whisper. I'm almost scared to go to sleep for fear he won't. I was so drugged up at the hospital, sleep didn't feel like sleep. I was out and awake again without even knowing I'd fallen asleep. This is the true test.

Tucking my legs under me, I sort of tip over, my arms crossed over my chest. I stare at the opposite wall. It takes hours, but finally, exhaustion claims me.

The black nothingness of my mind fills me with nostalgia. I'm here, at least, and I'm aware I'm dreaming. But my Circadian Clock is still smashed and broken. The spindles are crooked and limp and the area below the clock face is carefully boarded and black as pitch. No Nightmares or Dreams, in or out. My mind likely doesn't even exist in the Edge anymore.

I suspected as much, but having it confirmed still manages to knock the breath out of me. Experimentally, I imagine Chimera's castle. It materializes in front of me. Swallowing, I summon Alexander. He stands within arm's reach. I lift a hand to him and he does the same, watching me. But he's no better than a reflection, doing what I tell him to.

Unable to bear it, I send him and the castle away and build myself a circus fairground to wander around in until I wake up. I knew, deep down, if I ever came home, it wouldn't be without a sacrifice. Sweeney must have known this too. I'm back in the real world, but I've lost my ability to dream.

. . . . . . .

I stretch, waking early. It's January, if I remember my dad correctly. I missed Christmas, but he didn't celebrate and wants to have our own holiday this weekend, if I'm up to it. I think I might be. In spite of the deep ache inside me knowing I've lost what I gained, the thing keeping me afloat is the chance I have to love a hundred people, if I want, have as many more adventures. It's too painful to think of right now, but it's worth staying alive for. I'm still going to have problems. My brain can't cycle through the stages of sleep on its own. I can't dream normally. That's going to have repercussions—but at least my body can rest.

Something purple glints in the corner of my vision and I pop up on my elbow. On my nightstand, beautifully encased in a silver holding with a glittering chain pooled around it, I see Gloom's power. I pick the necklace up, my fingers tracing the swirling aura of the love of gothic literature inside. Breathless, I slip it over my head. The chain is long enough, the small ball rests close to my heart. And I feel something there, where it always used to be. The tiniest flicker of a flame.


author's note: Thank you for reading my story, which I assume you have, since you're at the end. If you liked it enough you want to read more, the sequel has been posted, called The Nightmare King.

If you're on Goodreads and feel like leaving a review, that would be helpful. And in case you want even MORE Once Upon a Nightmare, I have created a Pinterest board for it here: http (colon-slash-slash) pinterest (insert-dot) com /mckellegeorge/once-upon-a-nightmare/