Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 6: Friends Versus Family

Mr. Grimes’ speed greatly belied his size, as he nearly disappeared from the driver’s seat of the bus and then reappeared amongst a crowd of shadows that lumbered out from behind the obnoxiously bright headlights. Clearly, Mr. Grimes was not the only predator stalking the particular stretch of darkness we traveled, but it appeared that he had cultivated alliances among his fellow monsters.  As the shadows milled around Mr. Grimes, listening to his account of me, I heard the signature sound of firearms—a small metallic clicking that spoke of tiny steel pieces moving against one another, like the chitinous mandibles of a hungry insect. Eventually the killer shadows surrounded the bus, hurling threats and challenges from behind the storm of wind, rain and electric light. A bullet was even fired into the air, and I almost laughed when a clap of thunder annihilated the weapon’s report.

Slowly, and with much caution, a group of gun-wielding shadows began to enter the bus. Of course I was no longer in the bus, but that was to be the least of their realizations. I heard Mr. Grimes instructing the armed shadows to take care, as I was a “big sucker, with some huge weapon-thingee on his back.” One of the shadows started-up the bus, hoping that the internal lights might reveal my hiding place. I was glad that Mr. Grimes had chosen to stay outside while his allies invaded the vehicle, otherwise I might not have done what I did.

I could hear the high pitched whine of Mr. Grimes’ secret machinery coming to life when I reconnected certain wires, and then came the sounds of flesh tearing, bones snapping, screams being chopped into small bits of groans and gasps, and finally there arrived the wet sounds of inanimate flesh being worked by busy, mindless steel. The remaining shadows, those who had wisely remained outside, seemed frozen by the antics of the bus-turned-devourer. Within seconds the silence took me from beneath the bus and placed me behind Mr. Grimes’  few remaining allies, and then my sister awoke into my hand, giggling.

I made sure that Mr. Grimes was a safe distance from me when my sister sorted through the thoughts of one of the shadows, reaching deeply into the convolutions of his brain. The shadow to my left swung a heavy chain at me, but his attack was so slow that I wondered if he had intended for me to grab the inbound weapon. When I seized the chain, and pulled its wielder from the ground, my sister entered the hidden places of his body, dancing like a happy child from one red room to the next. After my sibling had exhausted her enthusiasm, I hurled her ruined playmate at the last shadow standing. The flying body struck the shadow in the midsection, smashing him against a tree.  My sister was about to play with the stunned man when the thunderous voice of my father commanded her to stop. My father wished for Mr. Grimes to see him, and all of the wonderful work he was capable of. In an instant my father was revealed, awake and afire with stolen storm-light. The shadow shuddered beneath my patron’s terrible gaze. The injured creature pleaded for mercy, but my father had none to give. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the shadow decided to attack rather than die quietly. Like a cornered beast, he howled-out his last breath, launching from the ground, knives out like bared fangs. But while his feral madness might have served him well against any other foe, it failed him in the face of my father. The thunder roared as the ax collided with the man. My great benefactor seemed to channel the fury of the tempest, creating a second, crimson storm—from blood, brains and bone. My father turned towards Mr. Grimes, who immediately collapsed to the wet earth.

“Holy freakin’ hell!! I know who you are!!”

“Then we both understand each other,” I said. After I returned my father to his sleep, I extended my hand to help the trembling killer to his feet.

“What are you gonna do with me? ya…ya gonna make me inta some kinda freak-show corpse!?” He was again demonstrating his comedic value.

“Nothing has changed, Mr. Grimes. We are simply back where we began: you are taking me to New Victoria.”

“…And then what?”

“I will release you back into the dark waters of your hunting pool.” Mr. Grimes seemed relieved, exhaling what he surely thought could have been his final breath. The vehicles of the dead still cast their yellowed light into the darkness, revealing my work. The killer surveyed his losses.

“I can’t believe you killed all my guys by yerself! I was friends with some of ‘em, and I know they wasn’t no push-overs, neither!”

“Friends, Mr. Grimes, are no substitute for family.”

 

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 5: Smiling Nightmares

The silence hid within me as the thunder filled the killer’s bus, and the lightning made terrible things out of the shadows, possibly illuminating the ghosts of victims still in the process of digestion, deep within the rusted bowels of the demon-machine. I was amazed at how the storm played with the nightmares inside of the bus; they were like two daemonic children exploring an abandoned castle—laughing, leaping, thrilling. My would-be killer was oblivious to it all, preferring to divide his attention between watching me and emptying his pack of cigarettes. Truly, he had nothing to fear from me, for short of appearing on my list, there was no way I would take him from the world. Mr. Grimes cast a truly beautiful shadow, and it rivaled any piece I’d ever made.

The storm was directly overhead, and the dirt road we followed was quickly becoming a swamp that swallowed our vehicle deeper and deeper into the hungry earth. Soon, the road became nearly impassable, and Mr. Grimes had no choice but to pull the bus onto a small patch of dry road hidden beneath an overhang of tree branches that looked like a huge claw reaching up for the storm.

“We’re gonna have to hold-up here for a bit, until the storm blows over,” Mr. Grimes announced as he produced a fresh pack of cigarettes.

“Fine,” was all I was able to say, as I was still watching dreams trying to break through the places where storm and death intersected.

“You ever gonna tell me where we’re goin’?” As Mr. Grimes spoke, and as the dashboard lights slowly sank away into the darkness, the killer blended into the unfolding nightmare, becoming a monstrous and smoking silhouette possessed of a single, burning eye. At that point, I had no difficulty engaging the monstrous man, as he was now part of the nightmare that danced with the storm.

“You’re bringing me to the outskirts of New Victoria,” I said with a certain matter-of-factness.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me. What the hell ya gotta go there for?” Mr. Grimes exhaled more smoke into the shadows, and the sound of rain and rolling thunder filled the long pause between his question and my response.

“I need answers that cannot be glimpsed by mortal dreams.”

“Ya don’t say? Well, that’s mortal dreams for ya, I guess.” Mr. Grimes’ sarcasm was as thick as the smoke that filled the bus, but his crude wit was almost entertaining.

“Ya know, a while back, I knew this guy, Jackie, I think was his name, and he had a brother that got caught sleepin’ just inside New Victoria. It was sometime just before the military put up all the barriers an’ razor-wire. The two of them were cuttin’ through the city on their way to somewhere or other. I guess Jackie’s younger brother had been asleep for a while, and didn’t even know they was goin’ through the place. But just when the car left the city, the sleeping brother starts screamin’ like some kinda maniac. I still remember exactly how Jackie described his brother soundin’. He said it was like the screams was getting’ further an’ further away, like they was fallin’ way down inta some big bottomless hole—but the whole time, his brother hadn’t moved an inch from where he was sleepin’ in the passenger’s seat. But that ain’t even the scariest bit. Ya see, when the screamin’ disappeared, like it finally fell too far away ta be heard anymore, Jackie’s brother sits up, smiles, opens the door to the car and jumps out inta the street. Of course, Jackie slams on the brakes and gets out to look for his brother. At first, he doesn’t notice anything, just some noise in the tree branches over his head, like somethin’ was moving higher an’ higher inta the tree. So then Jackie walks a bit further down the road, lookin’ high an’ low for any sign of his brother, when he sees what looks like a floatin’ man breakin’ through the top of the woods, bobbing along in the air, sound asleep. Well, Jackie realizes it’s his brother an’ starts yellin’ at him ta come back. Don’t ya know, his floatin’ brother just smiles an’ gives a little wave goodbye, and then off he goes, up inta the clouds over New Victoria.”

It was stories like that one that sent me to new Victoria the first time. However, I’m also one of the few men to have slept in that dreadful city and awakened back into the comforts of their own body, so I know all too well the perils of sleeping within that place. But despite all of that, I could not repress a growing desire to revisit the living nightmares that stood under the deathly light of darkest sleep, casting molten shadows.

The din of the storm had only grown since Mr. Grimes and I began to speak, so I had almost failed to notice the mechanical rumbling that was slowly growing beneath the thunder, drawing closer. When the noise finally dawned on Mr. Grimes, and the headlamps of multiple vehicles pushed through the darkness of the bus, a long snaking grin slithered across his ghastly face, and a once banished confidence returned to his tiny eyes.

“Looks like ya might not be goin’ ta New Victoria after all, big guy…”

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 4: Perdition’s Bus

The man who introduced himself as “Grimes” was a large and corpulent man, but despite his weight, or possibly because of it, he was thick with an impressive undercarriage of sturdy muscle. He also had the smallest eyes I had ever seen, they were like two black-shelled insects sheltered beneath the cliff of his overly protuberant brow. Overall, the driver was ghastly, and seemed more like a grinning monster than a man, and I wondered at how he ever fooled anyone into entering his lair of rust and shadow. Speaking of the man’s conveyance—it was a true wonder to behold, as it seemed to have driven straight out of a nightmare; it was encrusted with filth and rust, and seemed bloated from indulging in too many meals. It also exuded a menace that, while lethal, seemed altogether lazy and sluggish, as if its killing ways were restricted to a distance no greater than its hissing pneumatic door. Taken together, the man and his vehicle were a wonderful fusion of caster and shadow—a twisted abomination of skin and steel that chased its endless hunger through the shadows of a shunned forest, seeking fools for the eating. However, after I stepped aboard his monstrous bus and made my way to its soiled back seats, and even after I caught him grinning to himself through the rearview mirror (an action that almost eradicated his small eyes), I still hadn’t the slightest reservation about traveling with the man: I was no fool, and some monsters are more terrifying than others.

The forest-darkness was so dense that it actually seemed to offer some slight resistance to the bus’ movement, and a thin rain began to fall, but the distant flashes of light and thunder promised a far grander show to come. For the most part, the driver kept his eyes on me via the sizable rear-view mirror, only periodically glancing back at the road for direction. The man was no newcomer to his “route,” and he was a very poor liar.

“So, tell me, how far north am I taking you?” He smiled when he spoke, as he no doubt took a great deal of enjoyment from those preceding moments before he sprang his trap. The demonic glee of the man was nearly palpable, and while he was not necessarily a practitioner of art he was most certainly artistic, if not art per se.

“Until I tell you to stop,” I said in the tersest way possible. As much as the killer amused me, I was far more interested in creating a suitable silence for the reception of the coming storm.

“C’mon, I appreciate the fix and all, but I’m not drivin’ ya too far off my route.” His insistence at pretending to be a bus driver was commendable, but the noise of that ridiculously transparent effort caused me to refuse him an answer.

The driver reciprocated my silence with his own, but I could sense dark thoughts orbiting his mind like flies circling a corpse. A few moments later the man decided to make his killing move. I didn’t hold it against him, as he was, after all, a killer. He prefaced his attempt with a bit of spoken misdirection.

“Well, I guess I do owe ya a big favor, so I should probably give ya something fer yer troubles, right?” Moments after he finished speaking, his massive and hairy hand left its perch upon the steering wheel and moved to a small set of buttons just beneath the steering column. When he realized that nothing happened after he activated the hidden controls his eyes widened and flooded with fear. (It was the first time I was able to make out the whites of his miniature eyes.) After a few minutes the man cleared his throat and spoke again.

“So, what’s north?” His words were accompanied by an increase in his very noticeable body odor. The killer clearly had no head for operating at even the slightest disadvantage.

“My destination.” Again, I hoped for the smallest possible exchange, for if the man had truly given up on his effort to kill me, I wanted to be able to enjoy the coming thunderstorm. Unfortunately, my brevity didn’t deter him from further speech.

“Well, the only thing I know of that’s a ways up north is New Victoria, and I know you can’t be wanting to go there.”

After he realized I had no intention of responding, he added, “But what do I know, eh?” I took his question as an opportunity to renew the silence, one way or the other.

“You know that I am dangerous. You know that I’ve disabled your traps. You know that I might kill you. However, on the last count, should you take me where I desire to go, you will have nothing to worry about. Also, I would require that you remain quiet for the rest of our journey.”

The man increased the speed of his vehicle: a good way to keep me from moving to the front of the bus, and, should he stop suddenly, a fine way to send me flying through the windshield. Regardless, I did not move, but only kept my seat and watched the ravening storm stalk across the sky, drooling lightning. Again, he transgressed against the silence.

“So, what? You got a gun, or sumthin? That some kinda weapon you’ve bin haulin’ around with ya?” He was testing waters best left untried.

“No.”

“Yer a big guy, and all, but do you really think yer gonna just stare me in ta compliance? What’s ta stop me from just comin’ back there?”

As I directed my gaze at him through the mirror, I knew his memory conducted my earlier glare to the other side of his eyes. My eyes now lived within him, and he understood. Finally, after some quiet deliberation, he sloughed down into his dirty seat and took out a cigarette.

“Mind if I smoke along the way?”

“Roll down the window, please.”

“You got it, chief.”

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 3: The Kill Bus

I saw dust tumbling across the top of the forest and heard the asthmatic wheezing of an engine in need of repair. I emerged from the woods to see a rusted-out shell of a bus heading towards me. It was slowly crawling along a narrow stretch of dirt-road that seemed to move randomly about the woodland, as if it was looking for something. The man behind the grime splattered windshield smiled at me and brought his groaning vehicle to a halt. The door to the bus opened and the man called out to me.

“Excuse me, pal, but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a decent garage? My jalopy is on its last legs, wouldn’t you know. This is a new route to me and I’m not quite up on the lay of the land.”

The man’s eyes studied me, and I could feel an intense calculus burning between his ears, fast and lethal. He tried too hard not to stare at my father, who was sealed away in rags and protruding from my back.

My voice came out low and filled with gravel, as it had been ages since I’d cause to use it. I placed my gaze within him, severing his concentration. My response waited until my stare entered his blood, and coursed through his body

“I can fix your engine if you would be willing to bring me closer to my destination. I’m heading north.”

He tried to match my stare, but my eyes only devoured him whole. He winced and pretended to shield his eyes from the sun. Finally, after he regained himself, he accepted my offer.

“Well, that sounds just about perfect to me. While you’re working on the engine I can stretch my legs a bit. I’ve been wandering these back roads forever. I could use a walk and a cigarette.”

The man committed to his ruse, which was perfectly fine. Should he attempt my murder, the innards of the dying bus were as fine a gallery as any I’d known. The area I was traveling in was a notorious feeding ground for bandits and killers, as the law was thin where the remaining shadows of the Great Darkness were thick. The dark monuments were delightful enough, but the murderer was a pleasant if predictable distraction.

Grime
Grime
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Journal Entry: The Tower of Teeth

From the Journal of “The Weird”- article 15 (2015):

The “Tower of Teeth”, also known as “The Pillar of Cadmus” (Named after Cadmus, a character in Greek mythology who supposedly planted the teeth of dragons in order to grow fierce warriors from the ground) is an architectural structure that appeared on the outskirts of Dismuss, Maryland after the Great Darkness of 1999.  It is one of the largest structures in the world, measuring 4,692 feet, which is almost twice the height of Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper located in downtown Dubai that was once known as the tallest human made structure in the world. 

The Tower of Teeth was so named because of the peculiarity of its material composition.  In 2001, Forensic scientists from both Ravelynn and Salence University confirmed that the infamous tower was indeed built from, and entirely composed of, teeth.  Both reported that the type of teeth used in the tower’s construction were mainly human, but also included  teeth from various known animal species, with yet a third group being labeled “unknown” or “unidentifiable”.  This latter category has caused a great amount of controversy, leading some groups to believe that during the events of the Great Darkness, the world was visited by groups of inhuman “creatures” whose teeth had somehow been included in the construction of this massive structure.  However, most scientists claim that the difficulty identifying these teeth is likely due to forensic limitations rather than a classification problem.  Scholars in the field propose that these unknown samples from the tower are nothing more than teeth from various known animal species, fused together through a simple soldering process that makes definitive identification problematic via traditional forensic methods.

As for the origin of the human teeth, the last 15 years has revealed that they may stem from several sources.  Soon after the conclusion of the Great Darkness, millions of graves were reported to have been crudely excavated, with the skull of each deceased occupant being robbed of their teeth (although even these numbers don’t add up to the total amount of teeth required to create a structure as vast as the strange tower).  As research into the origins of the structure continued, a group of anthropologists discovered similar disturbances to graveyards spread out across the world, leading scientists to believe that the construction of the mysterious tower was a globally coordinated effort.  Critics of the theory, however, posit that such an organized form of global communication and coordination seems improbable, given humanity’s impaired psychological state during the events of the Great Darkness.

The Tower of Teeth persists as one of the least understood relics of the Great Darkness, and gathers few visitors to its location, as many claim to suffer panic attacks and other psychological problems from merely glimpsing it from great distances.

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Journal Entry: The Journal of Hayden Trill (A.K.A. The Crucifier)

Some Monday, late at night:

I ponder Hell, often. Never have you suggested that such a place actually exists, but I must assume the cross is but the beginning, a terrible door that opens up upon your wonderful vengeance. But despite their punishment, and the screams that must seem like so much music to you…I envy them. I have served you beyond the dust of many lives, and throughout each of them you remain mute. Your words are now only fading whispers—of the moment you showed them to me, and told me how to send them to you. But to be able to see you, if only to be destroyed, must be bliss.  

A Wednesday, while it rains:

I want to nail myself to the cross, feel my blood drain away, and die to the sound of my own screams: just as they do. But, even then, would you have me? Or would you return me to the flesh of this world, as you have done so many times before?  I must admit that I keep them here as long as I can, and the years have taught me many, many terrible lessons about the endurance of the body. But in the end, they depart to you, and know you. I see their faces when they go. Their eyes widen and their mouths slacken, and then, at the moment you are upon them, their bodies expel them, as no flesh can bear the fire of your gaze. And then I pray for death.

Sunday, to the sounds of the night wind:

Tonight I dreamed, and I pray it was you that sent the vision. I stood with many starving wolves, and we gathered at the feet of a darkened shepherd, licking-up the never-ending blood that spilled from his scarlet crook. This shepherd called out to us, “Come together and feed! Let my hunger become you, and I will bring you into me!” He then waded into our number, held high his bleeding crook, covering himself with the steaming blood, and lied down amongst us. We fell upon him, devouring. And when we had eaten him beyond the whites of his bones, and his blood covered every inch of us, he spoke one last time. From the depths of our stomachs, that seemed no fuller than before we feasted, the shepherd called out again, “I am your hunger, and you shall feed me, forever.”

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 2: Sightseeing: A Brief (but delightful) Tour of the Great Darkness

Before I left the church to the slinking death of its dying city, I nailed The Crucifier to one of his own crosses, merging artist with art, preserving his legacy, as I hoped he would be taken for one of his own victims, and while his lethal dream would cease, he would remain an unnamed monster, forever. As for the new murder-lists I discovered, I transferred the names that hadn’t been crossed off to my own list (all except for my own name, of course). When I noticed that the names from The Crucifier’s list included names from the murdered hunter’s list, and none that the dead hunter had already crossed off, I assumed I had unconsciously followed some kind of unspoken protocol.

Soon I was travelling the haunted countryside, wandering the art galleries of forsaken places, where many artifacts of the Great Darkness of 1999 still stand, glowing with darkest mystery. In the distance, rising up from the mists of dawn and the green tresses of the wandering forest, I could see one of my favorite monuments, The Tower of Teeth. How many mouths had been plundered to make a structure that soared taller than skyscrapers? Of course a closer analysis of the tower reveals that not all of the teeth are human, or even animal, but belong to creatures that have yet to be discovered—living or dead— anywhere upon the Earth (and they are obviously not the deformed or carved teeth of known creatures, as some of the more foolish theories assert). If it isn’t apparent to you already, I do not subscribe to the popular theory—proffered by frightened scientists and other wardens of societal norms (myths?)—that The Darkness was the effect of a one-of-a-kind “solar event” that drove us all temporarily insane. I awoke from the same dreams as you, and I know, as I’m certain you do as well: It was no solar event. If ever this world had come under the reign of dreams, it was surely during the Great Darkness. It’s just a pity that we cannot remember what happened, as I’m sure that missing year must contain some of my best work.

I’m not one to defile mystery into fact, but the game I was engaged in threatened my life in ways I had never imagined possible (as embarrassing as that is to admit), and I needed a fuller understanding of what was happening than was provided by dreams and murdered men. Thus, my next stop was a place I had only called upon once before—New Victoria. Given Its past association with strange plagues of contagious nightmare, it’s easy to see why I once found it a suitable place to visit. However, I can assure you that I was quickly, and very thoroughly, disillusioned of any relationship I suspected my art and the city might have shared.

Perhaps foolishly, I fear very few things. But what I encountered in New Victoria inspired a feeling that surpasses any of the best descriptions of fear that I know. I was exposed to possible fates that extend far beyond the reach of any words to describe, and outstrip the dreadfulness of the darkest mytho-religious conception of damnation. While my memories of that horrific visit only carried back a hazy suggestion of blackest dreams—that burn and kill beyond the oldest darkness—it was more than enough to convince me that sometimes sleep is not worth the risk of dreaming.

Unfortunately, New Victoria was the only place I knew my recent (and apparently shared) dreams might be given some useful interpretation, as I was aware of certain persons who dwelt there—somewhere between this world and some much darker place—and interacted with dreams as intimately and completely as sculptors work clay. Given the level of wicked insight I achieved during my first stay within that awful city, I hoped I could safely, and ever so briefly, revisit it. I just needed to stay awake within its borders, or I might find myself eternally trapped within the alien dreams of wakeless, unspeakable things.

The Tower of Teeth
The Tower of Teeth