Lucas Drake absolutely despised estate sales. His mother was addicted to them, finding no less than two a month and Lucas simply had to take her. Who else would she prattle to about whether some credenza would impress the experts on the Antiques Road Show. Today they were in the home of the late Roselyn Grey, browsing the items about to be auctioned.
“How old do you think that ottoman is?” his mother whispered. This was virtually espionage with her. “I think it’s the oldest thing in here.”
Lucas shook his head. “Ma, you’re probably the oldest thing in here. Mrs. Grey didn’t seem much into antiques. Can we go?”
“Just for that we’re looking at the jewelry table.”
Lucas followed. He was trying not to look at anything, but a marker on the table drew his attention. “Ma, do we have some sort of family jewels?”
“Trust me, there have never been any Drake family jewels. You’d have eaten a lot less Kraft Dinner growing up if there were.”
“Then what’s with this ‘Drake’s Eye Opal’?” The stone was quite beautiful, though smaller than he’d expected. It was round and flat, a little larger than a quarter, mostly green with a red football-shape in the center. It certainly resembled an eye, feline more than anything. Lucas leaned for a closer look and the colors changed from red on green to gold on blue. He pulled back and the colors returned. “I think I’ll bid on it,” he said, this time his voice the suspicious whisper. “We could use a family jewel.”
Lucas paid more than he could afford for the gem, but much less than it was worth. The auctioneer commended him twice on the acquisition, calling it an excellent investment. Lucas was so pleased that he even bought his mother the ottoman she liked.
The gem went straight to the mantle when he got home. He settled in to watch the news before heading to bed, but couldn’t get comfortable in his chair. He had this odd feeling he wasn’t alone in the apartment. He went so far as to check all the rooms.
“I buy one gem and turn into a paranoid basketcase,” he chided himself. “Tomorrow I’ll be getting an alarm and a Doberman.” He laughed and went to bed.
The eye glistened through the spectrum, each new color angrier than the last. A rabid growl grew until it was the rumble of thunder. Steam filled the air, burning, searing.
“Give me back my eye!”
Lucas sat up so fast he fell off the bed. He was drenched in sweat, heart racing. He hadn’t had monster nightmares since childhood. It was almost two in the morning. He dried off with a towel then returned to his pillow. The image of the shimmering eye haunted him, even lying awake. He watched the red digits on the clock change, minutes rolling into hours; three, four, five.
The eye quaked with rage, its outer ring drifting from green to deep purple to near black; the vertical pupil burned red then brilliant orange then searing white. Steam surged from every direction.
Red scales surrounded the eye now, tough and leathery like an alligator’s. The scales multiplied virally, forming a reptilian face, enormous and scarlet and furious. The second eye socket was empty.
“Give me back my eye!”
“No, Ma, I don’t know why I was dreaming about a pissed off dragon.” It was just after six. He hadn’t known who else to call. Was there anyone else he could talk to about this?
“Watch your language,” his mother snapped. “It’s a bad dream. You probably feel guilty for getting such a good price on that gem. Get over it and go back to bed.”
Lucas had always been susceptible to guilt. His mother used it on him regularly; it was how she got him to take her estate shopping. Still, he couldn’t sleep. He fired up his laptop instead and searched for opal prices.
He discovered a gemstone auction site. None of the opals he saw were as lovely as his. Smaller, poorer specimens were bringing in three times what he’d paid. He opened an account and listed the stone.
The nightmares grew continually worse. There was no question the beast haunting him was a dragon and its eye was the opal. He didn’t get more than two hours combined sleep in the three days the auction lasted. In the end, he quintupled his money. Was that worth the lost sleep? It didn’t matter, he just wanted to get that rock out of his house.
The stone had been boxed up since the second night, but Lucas still felt the thing staring at him every moment, even when he left the apartment. He slapped a shipping label on the box and brought it to the post office the minute the auction officially ended. He walked home smiling, ready for some peaceful sleep at last.
He returned to find the apartment door open. Someone was inside making a terrible racket. Lucas picked up the coat rack and held it before him like a lion tamer’s stool. “Who’s there?” he called.
A man with unkempt hair and weeks-dirty clothes stumbled out of the bedroom. “Where is it?” the man screamed. “Where is the eye?”
Lucas leveled his impromptu weapon. “It’s gone. I sold it to a collector in Prague. You’re too late.”
The desperate man collapsed to his knees. “Why would you do that?”
This man knew. “The dreams,” Lucas said. “I had to get it out of here. I had to make them stop.”
The man emitted a mocking cackle. “Why do you think I sold it to the widow Grey? It doesn’t work. The nightmares only get worse. They never stop. Never!”
“Impossible. There’s got to be a way.”
Another cackle. “Roselyn Grey found the way.”
And Lucas knew it was true. It was the only way. He only hoped the dead didn’t dream.
Scott W. Baker is a science fiction writer. He’s waited a decade to say that and really mean it. He has sold over ten stories to date, including one to Writers of the Future. On top of dabbling in every flavor of speculative fiction, he also teaches math, loves his wife and daughter, and longs for the days when vampires didn’t sparkle.