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F ROM N IGHTMARE TO N IGHTMARE

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he first sword missed Aidan’s head by an inch. It slammed into

the massive catapult’s wheel, stuck for a moment, and jerked free. In that breath of time, Aidan batted away the second sword and threw himself down the hill. This foe was beyond Aidan’s skill. His only chance was to get away, to escape with . . . Aidan looked down at the torn parchment in his hand. It was something important, this parchment, something of infinite value, the key to it all—only Aidan could not remember why it was so precious. He only knew that it was and that he must not let the enemy get it. As he ran, Aidan glanced over his shoulder. The knight in dark armor crashed down the hill, gaining rapidly. His cloak trailed behind him like a gray wing, and he swung his two swords in wide arcs, carving the wind. The blades came closer . . . and closer. Before Aidan could run another yard, the knight in dark armor 1


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fell upon him. Aidan turned, fended off a blow, then ran a few steps; turned again, sidestepped one blade, and barely blocked the other. “Where will you go?” rasped a voice that seemed to reach for Aidan. “Your kingdom is in ruin. Even your King has fled. All is lost!” The enemy’s taunts threatened to strangle the small hope that lingered in Aidan’s heart. But Aidan would not give in. Aidan blocked another savage blow from the enemy and slashed away his second blade. Again, Aidan lunged away from his foe. Suddenly, he saw his chance. Beyond the next hill a horse struggled, its reins tangled around its dead rider’s arm. Drawing from his final reserve of strength, Aidan charged up the hill and dove for the horse. It shrieked and staggered under the sudden weight but did not fall. Aidan swept his sword up and cut the tangled reins. He thrust the parchment under his breastplate and slapped the horse hard on its hindquarters. “Go!” Aidan screamed. The beast reared briefly but then surged ahead with such force that Aidan nearly fell. He could not reach what was left of the reins with his free hand, so he clutched the horse’s neck with all his might. Aidan looked back. The knight in dark armor was now far behind and had given up pursuit. Just as Aidan allowed himself a grim smile, something hit him—hard—in the back, knocking him off the horse. He heard a sharp snap and felt the air forced out of his lungs. He lay in a heap, his face to the ground. A dull pain throbbed in his right wrist. Dizzy, he spit dust and debris from his mouth, and looked up weakly from the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an enormous black wing in the gray sky.


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from nightmare to nightmare

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Suddenly, Aidan was kneeling on a high stone platform. His sword was gone, and his hands were bound behind him. A pale warrior stood tall before him. His long gray hair was drawn back, and a thin black circlet—like a thin crown—rested above his strong brow and penetrating hazel eyes. When he spoke, a shrill ringing came to Aidan’s ears. The sound faded and he heard the warrior’s words. He was saying, “. . . make you the same offer I made your companions.” His voice sounded rich and kingly—above all else to be trusted. “In spite of my generosity, they chose the weaker path.” Aidan turned and saw two knights facedown beside him. They somehow seemed familiar, but they lay unnaturally still. And looming proudly over the bodies was the dark knight brandishing his twin blades. Aidan looked questioningly back to the warrior before him. “They have lost,” he said, clasping his hands before his chest. “But their loss is your gain. You will have all that was to be theirs and so much more.” The warrior seemed to grow. His presence intensified. And when he spread apart his hands, Aidan saw visions of grand towers, high thrones, and vaults of gold. It was all there for the asking, Aidan knew. “Look about you,” the warrior continued. “All that you have defended is lost. There is nothing left.” Aidan turned and saw desolation. Everywhere were fallen towers, rent walls, charred debris, and broken bodies. The sky was black, roiling with dark clouds and smoke from a thousand fires. “All you must do,” said the warrior, “is deny the one who abandoned you.” A profound wave of peace washed over Aidan, and he looked


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steadily into the eyes of the warrior. He spoke calmly. “I will never deny my King!” The dark knight came forward with his two swords, but his master held up a hand. “I’ll do it myself,” the warrior said. The warrior’s hazel eyes flickered red as he drew a long, dark sword and drove the blade through Aidan’s breastplate.

“Uhnnn! Ah, ahhhhh!” Aidan screamed. He writhed on his bed and knocked his lamp off the table. It crashed to the ground and shattered, awakening Aidan. He shook violently, and his stomach churned. Something heaved inside him. Barely avoiding broken glass, he bolted to the hall bathroom and threw up. He collapsed and rested his head on the toilet seat. “Aidan?” came Grampin’s voice from the study downstairs. “Are you okay?” “Yes!” Aidan lifted his head and managed a hoarse yell. “I’m fine!” Aidan shook his head despondently and let it thud down on the seat. The dream had been horrible, but waking up to find that his family had actually moved across the country—to Aidan, that was the real nightmare.


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rampin told me you had another one of those dreams,”

Aidan’s dad said. He tentatively put his hand on his son’s shoulder and gave a firm, reassuring squeeze. Aidan shrugged it off as if it were a wasp. Mr. Thomas grimaced, exhaled, and ran a hand through his gray-streaked hair. Silence hung like a cloud between father and son. Nearby, Aidan’s mom stood with her head at a slight tilt and her hands on her hips as if to say, I told you so. Mr. Thomas looked away and sighed. He started to leave the dining room, but spun around and quickly pulled up a chair next to his teenage son, who was sitting stiffly at the table. “How long are you going to keep this up?” he asked. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Aidan replied. He looked away. “Look, it’s been two weeks, son, and—” “Yeah, two weeks and I still hate it here.” 5


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“I know it was kind of sudden—” “Kind of ?” Aidan interrupted. “One week into summer vacation and you say, ‘Oh, uh . . . , by the way, Aidan, we’re moving halfway across the country in two weeks.’ That’s more than a little sudden. You didn’t even ask if I cared.” “We’ve been through this before,” Aidan’s dad said, his face reddening. “You know we didn’t have a choice. Grampin needs our help. This is where he spent his whole life, and we can’t just force him into an assisted living facility.” Aidan shrugged. He’d heard this song before. “Besides,” his father continued, “Riddick and Dunn has an office out here, and it was easy for Mom to get a teaching position, with her credentials.” “So it was convenient for everyone but me.” Mr. Thomas turned his head and frowned. “Listen, we left friends behind in Maryland too, you know.” That was it. Aidan sprang up and rushed from the dining room. He banged up the stairs in an angry fog, slammed the door to his room, and dove onto his bed. Aidan faced his bedside table. The twelve medieval figurines— the pewter knights, dragons, and unicorns—were, as always, still, quiet, and ready to listen. “Y’know what?” he said to them. “They don’t have a clue what it’s like leaving a friend behind. I bet they won’t have any trouble at all finding people to play Bridge with.” None of the small medieval beings replied. They were good that way. They didn’t offer advice. They didn’t lecture. They simply listened. “I mean, how am I supposed to survive high school when my only real friend is a thousand miles from here?” Aidan glowered at


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the unexpected

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the fantasy figures and shook his head. There was no way he’d ever find a friend like Robby again. Robby Pierson and his family had moved from Florida to a house in Maryland a block away from Aidan. The two boys had met in school, had homeroom together and lockers side by side, and everything changed for Aidan. Until that time, Aidan had been known to the kids in the neighborhood and at school as the overweight weirdo who sat around all day drawing castles and spacecraft. Then Robby showed up. He was tall and muscular and had huge green eyes, long blond hair, and an earring. And given his good looks and ability to play every sport better than everyone else, he was instantly crowned “so cool” by everyone—even the juniors and seniors! For reasons Aidan still didn’t understand, Robby had decided to become his best friend. They hung out between classes, after school, and sometimes had PlayStation sleepovers on the weekends. It was as if coolness were a magical golden powder that could rub off on Aidan just by standing in Robby’s shadow. Because of Robby, the most popular kids in the school paid attention to Aidan. They all seemed to think, If Robby Pierson thinks he’s cool, then he must be cool. It was, after all, a large shadow, and Aidan liked it there. He didn’t have to worry about being picked on, and better still, he never had to think about what to do in certain situations—Robby always knew what to do. “Looks like it’s back to being the oddball again!” Aidan’s anger surged to the point that he was tempted to smack the little medieval figurines right off the table, but he’d already destroyed a lamp. So he hit his pillow as hard as he could and then threw it at his bedroom door. Aidan suddenly sat very still on the edge of his bed. He had the


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most intense feeling that someone was outside his bedroom window watching him. He felt frozen in time, unable at first to summon the courage to turn around. This is stupid, he thought. I mean, who could be at my window? I’m on the second floor, and there’s nothing out there to stand on . . . except, maybe one of the pines. Aidan spun around and looked out the window. The front yard was full of tall evergreens, but the biggest one was rocking severely back and forth. . . . like something was in there! The thought leaped into Aidan’s mind, and he pressed his face up against the glass. Aidan looked left, right, up, down. At first he didn’t see anything. But then, up the road that ran in front of his house, there was a shadow. It was wide, spanning the road at times, and it was moving fast. That’s what caught Aidan’s eye. And even through the glass, Aidan heard a peculiar swooshing sound. Aidan looked up in the sky. Nothing there. The swooshes continued. And the shadow rocketed back toward Aidan’s house. Aidan strained to see what could be casting such a shadow, but there was no passing cloud or low-flying plane. The shadow swooped over the house, and for a split second the sun was eclipsed by . . . something. Aidan bounced off his bed, took the stairs two at a time, arriving with a horrendous thud at the bottom. “Hey, watch the thumping!” Aidan’s father bellowed from the kitchen. “Sorry!” Aidan yelled over his shoulder as he ran out the front door to search the skies.

The Door Withn  

There is an unseen world of good and evil where nightmares are fought and hope is reborn. Enter The Door Within. Aidan Thomas is miserable....

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