For three nights he had not had a single dream.
The nightmares that had come in vile crimson and black flame every night for years had faded into wisps of blue smoke before they dissolved into spirals of dust on the floor. A strange silence passed through every room in the house as he endured the grey-white tedium of this new sleep. This must be how children sleep, he thought -- a sheet of ice receding into the blank distance, a sliver pearl lost in a grey velvet bag. He had not slept like this in years. He had no desire to.
The morning light outlined the details of his room with precise, cold lines. Objects that had once projected ominous shadows resolved into piles of precariously placed books or crumpled heaps of clothing. Silence coated every object, reminding him that without his dreams, the three stories of his house were as empty and plain as a prison chapel.
He never questioned where the dreams had come from, but his pulse weakened as the nightmares retreated, for the delicate atrocities he painted upon waking from those dreams had been his livelihood.
On the fourth morning he knew the dreams would never return. The visions of a child's opal eye splitting at the end of his knife blade were gone forever. He would never again see the glassy expression of a young girl beneath his hands as her pallid, pleading face vanished beneath the algae-choked surface of a pond.
His works hung in the private collections of noblemen who wished to be known for their eccentric and broad tastes and in the secret storerooms of clergy who discreetly locked their doors when they wanted a glimpse of Hell. Never a portrait painter, his only models were revealed to him nightly in that restless sleep. The first day he awoke from a night of empty white sleep he blamed it on a fever or a bad bottle of wine. The second day he blamed the moon for her bright white light, watching him while he slept. The third day he sat motionless as three empty canvases taunted him from across the room. He searched every mildewed box and sealed-up door within his mind for a trace of blood or a whisper of skeletal cold but found only room after room of sterile white.
He felt the windows watching him and covered them with thick black curtains. He told his only servant to turn away all callers; he had nothing for them today, nothing to say to them today. He sat alone in a room with six chairs gathered in a circle around his empty canvases and waited for something to speak to him.
After several weeks in this exile the house became quieter still. His days were no longer interrupted by a faint rap at the door downstairs. With three pieces still unfinished and no hope of inspiration, he turned in desperation to the only vendor of dreams that he knew.