Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby is a part of the Nightmares! collection.
“Coraline meets Monsters, Inc. in this delightfully entertaining offering from actor [Jason] Segel and co-author [Kirsten] Miller.” —Publishers Weekly, on book one in the series
Stay up late with the hilariously frightening middle-grade novel Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby. You thought the nightmares were over? You'd better keep the lights on!
Not since he faced his fears has Charlie had so many bad dreams. Whenever he falls asleep, he finds himself in a Netherworld field, surrounded by a flock of CREEPY BLACK SHEEP.
They’re not counting sheep. They refuse to jump. In fact, they don’t do much at all. Even eerier, though, is that it’s not Charlie’s nightmare. Somehow he’s trapped in someone else’s bad dream. And he’s pretty sure the twins ICK and INK are responsible.
Charlie and his friends thought they’d put the twins out of business, but it seems they didn’t quite finish the job. Now the WOOLLY NIGHTMARES are closing in, and INK has shown up at Cypress Creek Elementary! Charlie is convinced that INK is up to NO GOOD. And if he’s right, it could be a very long time before anyone’s dreams are sweet again.
Praise for the Nightmares! series
“Charlie Laird, who learns fear will eat you alive if you feed it, makes an impression, and . . . readers will want to accompany him again.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A touching comical saga . . . about facing things that go bump in the night.” —US Weekly
“Coraline meets Monsters, Inc. in this delightfully entertaining offering from actor [Jason] Segel and co-author [Kirsten] Miller.” —Publishers Weekly
An Excerpt fromNightmares! The Lost Lullaby
Just down the hall from a strange door covered with locks, Charlie Laird was writhing in his sleep. When he’d closed his eyes earlier that evening, he’d been looking forward to visiting the Dream Realm. But that wasn’t where he’d ended up.
Charlie didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t see anything. It was darker than any place he’d ever been.
“Don’t panic,” Charlie ordered himself. “Remember—you’re a pro at this stuff.”
He reached out an arm and swept his fingers through the darkness. He felt nothing but the wind pressing against his palm. He took a step forward, and his bare foot made a wet, slurping sound as he wrenched it out of the swampy ground. He was outside, that much was certain. A few more steps followed, and then Charlie stopped and sniffed the air. The warm breeze that embraced him carried the stench of manure. He hoped it wasn’t coming from the muck that squished between his toes. He managed to control his fear, but he couldn’t help being totally grossed out.
Eager to keep moving, Charlie lifted a leg. Then he froze with his foot still dangling in midair. He thought he’d heard something. Nothing much—just a soft grunt, as if someone close by had been clearing his throat.
Utterly blind, Charlie spun around in the darkness, listening carefully for the source of the sound. “Hello?” he called. “Is there anyone out there?”
He stopped moving and held his breath, waiting for—and dreading—a reply. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the wind picked up speed. Not only was he outside, there was also a storm heading his way.
Seconds passed, and no one answered. But something moved. Charlie heard a slurp of mud and a light splash: a footstep. He stood perfectly still and heard a second footstep, followed a few moments later by a third and then a fourth. The creature in the darkness was moving slowly, but it seemed to know exactly where it was going. It was making a beeline for Charlie.
“This is only a nightmare,” Charlie whispered to himself. It had been a while since he’d needed such reassurances. He knew how nightmares worked, and he knew how to beat them. But there was something very different about this dream.
The creature was so close now that Charlie could smell it. It stank like a toilet crammed with nasty old sweaters. Charlie’s legs twitched as the thing moved closer. He desperately wanted to bolt. But the worst thing you can do is flee from a Nightmare. It makes no difference how fast you run; it’ll always hunt you down in the end. So no matter how scared he was, Charlie had no choice but to stand his ground.
“What are you and what do you want?” he demanded, hoping he sounded a lot braver than he felt.
Charlie could hear the beast’s teeth grinding rhythmically. When Charlie wondered what it was chewing, a million horrible images began to flicker in his brain. Then he heard something that brought everything else to a stop.
It was a song coming from somewhere in the distance. A sweet female voice was humming a lullaby—a lullaby Charlie knew well. His own mother had sung it to him years earlier, when he was little and she was still alive.
“Mom?” Charlie shouted, his hopes rising. “Mom, is that you? Are you out there?”
The woman kept humming peacefully, as if she hadn’t heard him.
“It’s dark! I can’t see you!” Charlie tried again. “Can you find me? Can you help me?”
His question was answered with a torrent of rain. The storm drowned out the song and crushed Charlie’s hopes—just as he felt an enormous beast brush against him. He yelped and tottered backward, falling with a splat in the mud.
Charlie held his arms out to brace for an attack, and his mouth stretched wide to scream. Now that he was down, there was no telling what the creature might do. Then a bolt of lightning lit the sky, and Charlie saw that the beast that had been stalking him was far from alone. There were dozens of identical creatures hovering above him, chewing in unison as he struggled in the muck. Each beast was four feet high and almost as wide, with a jet-black pelt and amber eyes that shone in the light.
They were sheep, Charlie realized. Black sheep, just like the ones from the song.
Charlie sat bolt upright in his bed. His chest was heaving and his heart racing. Both the covers and his nightclothes were drenched with sweat. He’d never experienced a nightmare like the one he’d just had.
And as his heart slowed and he caught his breath, Charlie realized why it had felt so unusual. The nightmare wasn’t his. He was absolutely positive that he’d just been inside someone else’s worst dream. And whoever the dreamer was, he or she was very afraid.
The New Girl
Charlie felt his eyelids growing heavy. He’d woken up at four a.m., and he hadn’t been able to get back to sleep. He’d never thought much about sheep before, but now he seemed to be obsessed with them. Eight hours had passed. It was almost noon. Charlie was in the middle of the most important surveillance mission of his twelve-year-old life. And he still couldn’t get those smelly beasts out of his head.
He peeked through the gap he’d made between some books on a nearby shelf. The girl he was watching was still there. She’d been hogging one of the library’s computers for the last forty-five minutes, but no one had dared bother her. When she’d sat down at the terminal, Charlie’s heart had started racing. He couldn’t even imagine what a real-life supervillain like India Kessog would search for. Where to find explosives at bargain prices? How to breed man-eating rats? Poisons that mix well with cafeteria ketchup? But as it turned out, the girl wasn’t interested in research. It had taken her twenty minutes to figure out what to do with the mouse, and after that all she’d done was watch cartoons. Not even the awesomely weird kind either. She was giggling away at shows that only the lamest toddlers would watch.
Then the bell rang and the girl stood up and smoothed the old-fashioned outfit she was wearing. It looked like a uniform of some sort, Charlie thought. Beneath a navy-blue pinafore, she wore a crisp white shirt with a red tie poking out from the collar.
When she pushed her chair beneath the table, no one else budged. Even for a library, the room was oddly quiet. There were two dozen kids nearby, but none were talking. Their eyes were all glued to the girl. They weren’t gawking because they found her appearance unusual. They were staring in horror. They’d all seen India Kessog before. And not at Cypress Creek Elementary.
Either the girl didn’t notice or she didn’t care. After the bell rang, she gathered her things and blithely skipped toward the door. The other kids wisely stayed put, while Charlie cautiously followed behind her.
As she walked down the school’s main hall, India never stopped moving her head. She was obviously taking everything in. She paused to laugh at a vending machine that sold bottles of water for a dollar apiece. A few steps later she plucked a purple combination lock right out of another kid’s trembling hand and studied it as if it were some kind of rare gem. The girl was gathering information, Charlie concluded. If only he knew what she planned to do with it.
The crowds parted as India made her way through the school. Wide-eyed kids stood with their backs pressed against the walls. Others ducked into nearby classrooms, and Charlie saw a seventh grader stuff himself into an open locker. He didn’t blame his schoolmates for acting totally petrified. Their worst nightmare had appeared in real life and was walking through the halls of their school.
Charlie squatted behind a janitor’s cart as India stopped to gaze in wonder at a digital clock on the wall. It had just turned noon. It was hard to believe that only four hours had passed since Charlie’s eighth-grade year had begun. The first day of school already seemed destined to become the longest day of his life.
Which was a shame, Charlie thought miserably, because aside from the lack of sleep, it had all gotten off to such a wonderful start. His stepmom, Charlotte, had fixed regular pancakes for breakfast. Golden brown and delicious, they hadn’t contained a single fleck of kale. Then Charlie’s little brother, Jack, discovered he’d outgrown his beloved Captain America costume—and had gone to school dressed like a normal human being for once. And on the drive to Cypress Creek Elementary, Charlie’s dad, Andrew Laird, had kept them in stitches with a story about his own first day of eighth grade, when the seam of his new pants had burst in front of the cutest girl at school as he bent over for a sip at a water fountain.
When Charlie had taken a seat in homeroom, his mood couldn’t have been better. And then everything went horribly wrong. He heard a sweet voice with an English accent coming from a girl seated at the front of the room. She was new to Cypress Creek Elementary, she told the class, and her name was India Kessog. But it didn’t matter what the creature called herself. Charlie would always know her as INK.
India Nell Kessog (INK) and her sister, Isabel Cordelia Kessog (ICK), looked like ordinary twelve-year-old twins. But thanks to a black-and-white photo of the girls dated 1939, Charlie knew they hadn’t aged a day in almost eighty years. At some point in time, the girls had simply stopped growing older. Charlie had no idea how they’d managed the feat—but he suspected it had something to do with the desolate lighthouse where ICK and INK had dwelled for almost a century. Located on a dreary, windswept beach in Maine, the twins’ home possessed a powerful secret. Just like Charlie’s purple mansion, the lighthouse held a portal to the land of Nightmares.
Charlie had always believed that he, his little brother, Jack, and his stepmother, Charlotte, were the only humans who were able to pass between the Waking World and the Netherworld. Then he’d discovered that ICK and INK had been traveling back and forth between the two worlds for decades. Perhaps the twins had been regular kids when they’d first begun making the trip, but the time they’d spent in the Netherworld must have changed them. After they’d stopped aging, ICK and INK started plotting against mankind. Just this last summer, the girls had hatched an astonishingly evil plan. Joining forces with the Netherworld’s goblins, they’d invented Tranquility Tonic, a potion with the power to stop humans from dreaming—and turn people into zombielike Walkers.
No one could figure out why ICK and INK had chosen the neighboring town of Orville Falls as the first place on earth to sell their tonic. But once the vile potion had the people of Orville Falls drooling and shuffling like the walking dead, the twins had turned their attention to nearby Cypress Creek. They started appearing in the nightmares of Charlie’s schoolmates and neighbors, and as soon as the town’s residents were all too scared to sleep, ICK and INK opened a store on Main Street in Cypress Creek and advertised their tonic as the cure for bad dreams.
The tonic worked as promised. But it prevented more than nightmares—it stopped good dreams too. And when people stop dreaming, bad things start happening. With no dreamers to rebuild it every night, the Netherworld began to collapse down a giant hole—and a cloud of pure Nothingness threatened to swallow the Dream Realm.
If Tranquility Tonight hadn’t been put out of business, three entire worlds could have perished. Charlie and his friends had managed to prevent that disaster, but ICK and INK remained at large. A fire that INK started had destroyed the twins’ lighthouse, leaving the sisters stranded on different sides of the portal. ICK was still in the Netherworld, but Charlie and his friends had lost track of INK. After the fire, she’d vanished into the Waking World.
Charlie had always known they’d need to find INK one day. Now he and his friends didn’t have to look any farther. One of the villains who’d nearly destroyed three worlds had come straight to them.
At Cypress Creek Elementary, INK was on the move again. Charlie slipped out from behind the janitor’s cart. The warning bell rang, and the hallway began to clear. It was Charlie’s lunch period, so he was in no hurry. He wasn’t about to lose sight of India Kessog. He’d track her for hours until he found out what she was up to. Wherever INK went, he’d stay right behind her.
Then a door swung open and closed, and INK disappeared. Charlie came to a halt. He’d follow INK anywhere . . . except the girls’ room. Charlie glared at the door with its skirt-wearing icon and considered kicking it in frustration. Should he follow INK inside? There was no telling what kind of trouble she might be brewing. But what if there were innocent girls in there, doing . . . girl stuff? Charlie had faced some terrifying things over the past year, but he worried there were some sights from which even he might never recover. He checked to his left and then to his right. There didn’t seem to be anyone watching on either side of the hall. Charlie reached out his hand to push the door open and a horrible squeal blasted through the crack. It wasn’t the kind of noise human vocal cords usually make. It sounded more like a terrified beast.
Charlie yanked his hand back from the door, and a split second later, a boy burst out of the girls’ room. Charlie instantly recognized Ollie Tobias. As always, Ollie’s yellow hair was perfectly parted, and he wore a natty bow tie and suspenders. But his face was the color of Elmer’s glue, and his clothes and his fingers were splattered with what looked to be bright red blood.
“Ollie!” Charlie gasped.
“Charlie!” Ollie grabbed Charlie’s shirt and clung to it, the fabric wadded up in his fists. “I saw her! The one from my nightmares. She’s here, Charlie. She’s here!”
Ollie Tobias had been one of the first kids in Cypress Creek to be stalked by ICK and INK in his dreams. He’d taken the tonic to get rid of his nightmares, but the stuff hadn’t worked on him at all. He was immune to Tranquility Tonic. And as it turned out, Ollie’s immunity was just the clue Charlie had needed. By figuring out what was protecting Ollie, Charlie and his friends had discovered the antidote to Tranquility Tonic and saved every last one of ICK and INK’s victims.