The Dream Defenders
by Neal DenHartog
Genre: YA Fantasy
When fourteen-year-old Nolan Erling wakes up with a headache for the fourth straight day, he suspects the likely culprit to be any number of things—from his annoying baby brother, to vehicular crashes with his elderly neighbor, or even his questionable late-night food choices—not his dreams.
Aeryn Sandman knows the true cause, though. She is a junior agent with the DREAM Institute, a secret organization tasked with protecting the world’s population while they sleep, and she’s on her first assignment.
Her mission: infiltrate Nolan’s life—and his dreams—and keep him safe, all while persuading him to join their protective force.
But recruitment missions are no walk in the park, and Aeryn’s goes horribly wrong when Nolan’s powers unwittingly unleash two dream creatures locked away in a restricted area of the dream world. While Aeryn and Nolan search for ways to contain the escaped beings, they uncover a much greater conspiracy.
For these dreams can kill, and someone is orchestrating their actions in the dream world. If Aeryn and Nolan can’t figure out who is behind it, no dreamer will be safe, and neither will the organization that defends them.
Discover a book with a fresh voice, genuinely humorous characters, and a compelling, original storyline. The Dream Defenders will appeal to readers of all ages.
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Nolan stopped dead in his tracks. The tingling sensation was not just a mix of dread and paranoia. His hands were literally glowing with a soft red light. He turned them over to stare at his palms, watching as the aura traced along his palm lines and spread up his arms. The crimson hue swiftly enveloped his body completely. Weirdest rash ever, Nolan thought. He prodded at his skin, and wondered if the most recent bout of travel through the Stream had contaminated him somehow. The glow seemed painless, though. No itching or burning accompanied it, so he ruled out an allergic reaction. Could he catch a disease from the Dreamstream? Again, he wished Aeryn was here. She would have an answer for him, or even better, know how to help him. Nolan closed his eyes and willed the aura to disappear. “It won’t work that way,” a thick, raspy voice told him behind his ear. Nolan opened his eyes and whirled in the direction of it. He found nothing there, though, just another dilapidated home. His eyes scanned the rooftops, into the abandoned alley between homes, and at the shadows under crumbling steps. If someone had been there he was nowhere to be seen now. Was he hearing voices now too? Then he felt it—hot breath down the nape of his neck—and he nearly jumped out of his skin. When he spun around this time, someone stood there, unmistakable. The man wore a wide-brimmed hat that completely shrouded his face in darkness. Nolan could only make out the whites of a menacing smile from within the pools of shadows. The man was impossibly tall. He towered over Nolan, arms clasped behind his back, a tan trench coat billowing around his body. Nolan began to backpedal as his heart lodged itself firmly in his throat. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder, to ensure he wasn’t going to trip over anything in the road, but when he looked back, the man was no longer there. Nolan wondered if he had indeed seen him in the first place. First voices. Now he was seeing things. That seemed about right in this creepy dreamscape. He backed right into something solid, and, without turning to confirm it, Nolan realized he had bumped into the ominous stranger. He gave a yell and took off running down the poorly lit road. Time to get away from this nightmare. See if all the cross-country practice would finally pay off. But why run when you can fly, though, he suddenly thought to himself. He pictured himself as a plane taking flight, and leapt into the air with his arms outstretched. Instead of soaring away into the distance, Nolan crashed spectacularly. He sprawled across the cobblestones, his face burrowing into the ground before he had a chance to react. He flopped to one side and slid to a stop on his back, chest heaving from the brief bout of exertion. The stranger materialized over Nolan’s prone figure. He chuckled in the same raspy voice. “There are rules here, boy.” “Never been one for rules.” Nolan scrambled backward on his elbows, sounding more confident than he felt. His feet kicked up dust as he futilely tried to distance himself from the stranger. The man bent toward Nolan, and, for the first time, he saw malevolent yellow eyes peering from under the brim of the hat. “Don’t worry. There’s only one rule you must follow.” The stranger crept closer. “You can struggle. You can run. But know you are mine.” He lunged, unnaturally quick. A length of wire appeared in his hands, and he was behind Nolan in an instant. Nolan’s hand shot up instinctively, perhaps from all the spy movies he had watched with his dad. He blocked the wire the man was trying to wrap around his neck. Pain erupted in his wrist as the metal bit into his arm and tightened around him. The stranger’s breath burnt down his neck, and he knew this was going to be a losing battle, no matter how hard he fought back. He needed a way out. Then the pressure relented, and Nolan collapsed, free of the stranglehold. The man—correction, the madman—stood a few feet away, tensing the wire between his hands in a confident display of power. “It’s futile, boy. I rule this place.” Nolan gripped a sharp-looking cobblestone, but it dissolved into a pile of dirt and rock in his hand. Stupid, lousy dreamscape. Not even a suitable weapon to be found. He’d give anything for a trident right about now, but Nolan could only sit and watch the man flex the wire between gloved hands. “Time to end this.” The stranger sprang at Nolan once more, upon him in a flash. Somehow, Nolan caught the wire again before it wrapped around his neck, but the force buried it into his palm, slicing deep. He screamed in pain, but kept his grip around it. Better it cut his hand than his throat. He tugged and twisted, wrenching the length of wire from the madman’s hands. The stranger backed away and grinned down at him. “Go ahead. I don’t need that to kill you.” There was no reason not to believe him. Nolan scrambled back even farther, although distance had proven no obstacle to his attacker. The wire in his hands writhed as if alive, and when he looked down at it, one end began to drip with an inky liquid, like a leaky fountain pen. Please be a switch point, Nolan pleaded. Please get me out of here! The metal complied, liquefying before his eyes and wrapping around his hands. Blood from his cut swirled with the fluid, forming a charcoal-colored mass, and Nolan was promptly flipped about and sucked in as his attacker screamed in a fit of rage. The ride ended almost before it began, and Nolan was pitched out into a similarly decrepit area of the abandoned dreamscape. For a moment he feared he had not actually switched away from the madman, but here the chill was deeper, the night a little damper, and best of all, the garrote-wielding psychopath was nowhere to be see. “I rule this place,” Nolan imitated with a shake of his head. “Well, not today, nutjob.” The length of piano wire had re-formed in his hand, and he hoped his attacker missed it dearly. He pitched it over the roof of a nearby building.
Neal DenHartog was born, raised, and currently resides in Iowa. After a fifteen year career in the sciences he decided to rekindle his childhood passion for writing. Now, when he's not donning a lab coat, he writes stories about dreams.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I have a lot of horrible stories in a folder. Shortly after college I wrote something vaguely novel length, some weird portal fantasy thing that I will never revisit.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Cloves and lavender. The same scent Aeryn used for the Dream Pillow she gave to Nolan.
What did you edit out of this book?
I got really caught up with the idea of progressive complication at one point, and it seemed I was just throwing problems at my characters for no particular reason. I had to step back and ask what the point of certain scenes were, and whether the had a purpose within the story other than to annoy them. One scene that got cut was one where Aeryn was trying to leave the Institute and Lester’s goons were preventing her from doing so. It was an unnecessary hurdle that really disrupted the narrative. I learned that sometimes things can go right for your characters in order to keep the pace moving along.
How did you celebrate when you finished writing the book? When it was published?
I don’t remember celebrating when I finished the first draft. I think I was just happy to be away from the keyboard for a bit. After publishing I brought doughnuts into work and some copies of my book. Only a handful of coworkers knew I was writing it so it shocked a lot of people.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Teens! Especially those that love a good adventure story with humor mixed in.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book:
This was a Nanowrimo novel. Without that deadline I’m not sure it ever would have happened. I loved watching the graph climb each day and ended up with 75,000 words for the month. I finished it two weeks later.
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