I knew the exact moment that they realized I was on to them, because their faces…split. Huge grins stretched much farther than a human mouth could open, almost literally ear to ear, and they were grinning mouthfuls of fangs.
I don’t think they expected me to react as quickly as I did. Greaser grabbed for me as I spun away, but gave a cheated shriek as his fingers just skated across the back of my shirt, and then I was off and running.
Usually in nightmares like this, it’s like the world goes into slow motion. No matter how hard I try to run, I don’t get anywhere. Or maybe the boardwalk would stretch into forever in front of me, so no matter how far I ran, there was no escape. Or no matter where I ran, the monsters would always be there in front of me. But none of that was happening. I was booking it, and it was a good thing, too, because Greaser’s shriek brought more shadowy figures pouring out of the darkness. They appeared out of the pools of shadow near broken streetlights, they climbed up through the gaps in the boardwalk, they came up from the darkness beneath and crawled and skittered over the railings, a horde of street thugs from all ages of New York City.
(And I do mean all. There was someone who looked like he’d stepped straight out of Gangs of New York running beside Scary Punk.)
I vaulted the railing and dropped down to the sand. I don’t know why I did that; it was crazy. In the waking world, the sand was level with the boardwalk, but here, it was a fifteen-foot drop, and if I’d broken my leg, I would have been helpless. Trapped prey.
But I didn’t. And I didn’t let myself think about it. I hit the ground, let myself fall, let myself roll, let the sand take the shock, rolled all the way back to my feet and I took off.
Or tried to. Coney Island beach sand is deep, and running in it is hard. I think I surprised them, going over the rail (but how do you surprise the monster in your nightmare?), but I wasn’t gaining enough ground. Worse, I was tiring out again. That first run had taken a lot out of me, and a second burst of adrenaline wasn’t going to carry me far. Not far enough.
I looked over my shoulder, and oh god, they were swarming. Swarming down off the boardwalk, leaping like insects, swarming up from underneath like cockroaches.
I floundered and struggled across the sand, my legs and my chest burning, trying to squeeze out that one last ounce of speed. Why had I even done this? Where was I going?
Then the West End jetty came into sight, and I understood. Sometimes in dreams you know you desperately have to get somewhere, you don’t know why, you just do. And that unconscious knowing was leading me right to my tide pool. I had no idea why, how it was supposed to save me from a horde of monsters in street gear, but –
Oh god, what if it wasn’t there? It was a tide pool! I might be making a desperate break for a stretch of damp sand! And with the heat and the endless run sucking the life out of me, where would I go from there? How much further could I push on before I just collapsed in the sand?
But no, the tide was high, washing syringes and garbage high up on the beach.
I buttonhooked around a fence and there it was, free of garbage and shining like the Moon.
Stand in knee-deep water and hope that helps? It wouldn’t even be enough to save me from the heat! Why did I come here?
I turned around and looked back. They were coming – howling and shrieking and laughing that high, insane laugh, halfway across the beach now.
I had to wake up. I had to wake up!
I spun around, shut my eyes tight, and dug my fingernails into my arm, hard enough to draw blood.
Nothing. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t wake up!
That was the breaking point. I was too tired to run any further, and there was no place to run anyway. This terrible dream just wouldn’t end, and I couldn’t even wake up. Exhausted and beaten, I dropped to my knees in the sand.
“Damn you, Dream Boy,” I whispered as the first of my tears dripped into the pool “Where are you? What good is it to have a dream boyfriend if he’s only there to dance and eat cotton candy and screw? Where are you when I need someone to fight for me? Fight like Justin never – “
“You need to give him a name.”
“Who said that?” I looked around wildly, but there was no one.
I looked at the tide pool, and it was like looking through Alice’s Looking Glass. On the other side of the tide pool’s surface, it was a bright, sunny day. Standing there on the other side of the pool was a young man – maybe thirty – with a black goatee. He was wearing sunglasses, a top hat, and a black bathing suit, the old-fashioned kind with the shoulder straps. In his hands, he held a big Key to the City that read “Coney Island”.
“Help!” I screamed into the water. “Please, you’ve got to help me!”
“I’m trying,” he answered. “But you’ve got to listen. Your dream boy – you need to give him a name. You can’t call him without a name.”
I looked over my shoulder. They were so close, they were coming around the fence now, and this guy was talking about names.
“Listen! Your dream boy can help you, but you have to call him, and in order to call him, he needs a name. You already know it – you dreamed him, he’s your perfect teenage boyfriend, all you have to do is let yourself realize it. What is his name?”
And that was when I realized he was right. I’d known Dream Boy’s real name all along. It was a name that none of the actual boys I’d known when I was a teenager had worn, but it had always seemed to me to be the name of restless teenage ride-on-the-edge funtimes, of hot summer nights, leather jackets and cheap wine.
“Jimmy,” I whispered. Ripples began spreading across the tide pool, and the image of the man on the other side disappeared. Somewhere, I knew, Jimmy’s hair had just turned a lighter shade of blond, and a spray of freckles had appeared across his nose and cheeks, as was appropriate for a Jimmy. And those things would stay; he was more real now, more solid and defined.
And he was coming. He was on his way. He just needed –
“JIMMY!” I screamed.
And then he was there.