Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 10: Wolves in Neverland

My fist exploded across lips and teeth, ruining all, and sent their owner soaring into a wall. You see, I was designed to be a monster among men, with strength second to none; and even without my family, I am capable of imparting that dark lesson that is always destroyed in the learning. Although this fact doesn’t stop my family from testing my mettle, from time to time, and I’m always glad to entertain them; so my family stood back and watched as the wolf and I came together, in a tempest of fists and knives.

I rather admired this killer, following me as he had—into a city far deadlier than his quarry, and stalking me through the halls of a nightmare-haunted hospital. I almost thanked him for joining me, but my name was blazing across his murder-list, and he would only stop after my death or his own. Unfortunately for him, my death wasn’t a feat he could manage—not even in a city where dreams have the preternatural tendency to come true.

I caught the killer by his forearms, and squeezed. His ulna and radius bones snapped like dry twigs, and his knives fell from his vanquished hands. The wolf was unfazed, however, thrusting his heavily booted foot squarely into my face; but my body has been chiseled from unfiltered purpose, and blows from even the greatest beast would not immediately prevail against it. Suddenly the wolf escaped my grip, wrapped his shattered arms around my midsection, and in a display of exhilarating desperation and strength—lifted me into the air and smashed us both through a nearby window. Cool wind, bottomless night, weightless blood and glass catching moonlight, the raging wolf: gifts, all. Our long descent ended violently atop a large rooftop. Glass and blood rained down around us—the fallout from a beautiful dream. I rose to my feet. The poor wolf, unfortunately, would never rise again; the sight cut me deeper than the wolf’s knives ever did, and finally…I stopped laughing.

The din of battle fled into the darkness, and I recovered the remaining names I had inherited from the dead hunter’s murder-list. Then I looked into the night: it was thinly pierced by the tiny, amber lights of distant and glowing windows (What power or device illuminated the rooms behind those windows, I couldn’t say), which gently shone like stars made from the calm of autumn; and the moon, while visible, seemed restrained by the city’s darkness, for only the dimmest light drifted down to the world below. As I took in these exquisite sights, the wind grappled with my coat and snatched at my hair and beard. I took a deep breath, and wondered if I was inhaling air or darkness.

There was a nearby, and slightly elevated, rooftop within range of a spirited leap, and so I climbed into the night. While I managed an impressive height by means of scaling rooftops, I had reached the apex of my ascent, having run out of roofs close enough to leap to. My destination was at least visible at this point: the rooftop of a distant and nearly collapsed apartment high-rise. Travelling the open streets would be too risky an alternative, so I decided to find another way across to the next building.

After I quietly laid my shoulder into it, the rooftop door opened with a small “pop.” The little noise began fliting down the narrow stairwell, and would have gained the hallways below had it not been for my expanding silence. I arrived upon the landing and moved beyond the stairwell door, entering the hallway of the 12th floor. The passage was utterly silent and dark, so I crept along like a careful spider, plucking at the shadows and silence, testing the way ahead. suddenly the sound of a cracking whip exploded into the hallway. A few seconds later a pulsating amber light made its way into the darkness of the corridor, emerging from an open doorway that was several apartments away from me.

I could detect something advancing beneath the silence, displacing shadows as it moved. Sidestepping into the apartment next to me, I disappeared into the null of forgotten places. Music, of some sort, began to melt out of the air, blowing softly across the hallway and into my hiding place. The lights in the hall turned on and dimmed to the weakest orange glimmer, followed by the lights inside the apartment I was occupying. I was too eager to see what would come next, and with my silence wrapped so securely around me, I decided to take the most comfortable seat in the room, and wait for whatever was to happen.

The music became almost tangible, forming a kind of transparent membrane that settled across the room, invading everything. Then the light itself blended into the mysterious composition, as the wax and wane of the tender illumination transitioned into floating, glowing notes. Immediately after, the cadence of my breathing merged into the developing harmony, and then the movement of my very thoughts dissolved into nothing more than an accompanying rhythm. I was being absorbed into the music.

I tried to think past the horde of deadly sounds, but every new thought became simply a note within the growing storm of voracious melodies. My only hope was silence. I could feel the hungry music trying to master and devour it, but my silence was unyielding. That space of contest became the focus of my attention. I listened as never I had before, to the silent song only I could hear. The devouring sounds suddenly vanished from the room, moving past me down the hall, still eating away at the world by means of the most beautiful music.

With the nightmare music gone, I slipped from the room and reentered the hallway. When I passed the apartment where the unearthly music seemed to have come from, I took to the deepest shadows and minded my every movement, but I couldn’t resist peering as far into the room as I could. The apartment was filled with rusted musical instruments; they were suspended from the walls by large hooks, and were strung with glistening webs of what seemed to be saliva. Sitting in the middle of the room was a man dressed in the loose-fitting and dusty apparel of an orchestra conductor, and in his right hand, instead of a conductor’s baton, was what appeared to be a lion tamer’s whip. He was apparently sound asleep, and bore the signature and advanced features of a man afflicted with the infamous sleeping sickness: his eyes were completely sealed shut, so much so that there was no distinguishing the fact that eyes had ever occupied the unbroken expanse of smooth skin that now lied placid and pale above his cheeks. He made no movements, but only occasionally whimpered a muted cry in his sleep, yet the pathetic sound seemed to come from an impossible distance that was buried somewhere deep within the man, as if someone was crying out from the yawning depths of the blackest pit.

To hear the songs of the Sleeping Maestro follow the below link (Track is an original composition created by Maeltopia Studios):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfwDLo7htbc

“The Dream Catcher,” A nursery bogey that was employed to convince children to go to sleep before midnight. Mothers told their children that if they didn’t fall asleep by midnight, their dreams would take them straight to the Dream Catcher, who would gather them up in his giant coat and spirit them away to the Land of Nodd.
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 9: From the Womb of Dreams

An old darkness can be the deadliest of poisons: soaking-up shadows unbroken by purifying daylight, mixing with the silence of unseeing eyes, and filling-up with fears that cannot abide the light. It was just such a darkness that spilled from behind the morgue door, proving my sister’s words correct for the second time. The toxic gloom drowned-out my silence and entered the pores of my body, leaking into the secret places of my mind; flooding horrible memories out from their hidey holes, and causing them to crush themselves against the bars of their cages. And in that rising tide of contaminated darkness I could sense toothsome nightmares, gliding; they were like deep sea horrors called up from the sunless depths by my thrashing, bleeding memories. The unearthly pitch was no respecter of boundaries, and allowed things that normally speak only from behind the veil of sleep to communicate directly with the waking.

“You’ve left nightmares behind from your last visit, little artist. They’ve grown enormous and terrible in your absence, and they would just love to see you again.” Something immediately began pushing into my mind, and at the same time a physical presence drew close to me, reaching out. Despite my best efforts, I began to fall beneath the onslaught of invading dreams. But just before I had completely relented, my father stepped in front of me, bringing his conquering rage crashing down upon the attacking shadow and the physical body it cast, calling up some of the most magnificent shrieks I’ve ever heard; but they were quickly obliterated by my father’s booming voice.

“WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE, THIS CITY OF YOURS! SO FULL OF DREAMS THAT BLEED AND SCREAM AND DIE, HAHAHAHA!” As the bellowing axe fell, it cleaved into—and beyond—flesh, bone, and noxious darkness. I could hear my father’s laughter chasing the inhuman screams into endless depths, somewhere beyond the collapsing darkness. With the gloom destroyed, I could see clearly the most conspicuous contents of the room: the sundered body of one the quartet of women. She had the expressionless eyes of a bird, and her mouth outlined only her last, cracked breath: not an unholy wail that rattles bones and lashes shadows into frenzy. She had been dead for hours and unceremoniously stuffed into a body-bag, but the thing that had absorbed my father’s fury looked to have been alive far more recently. The woman’s womb was filled with something gigantic and inhuman. Her lower torso was so incredibly bloated that it had burst out from the thick plastic confines of the body-bag. The corpse of the unborn thing was a dark art gallery of hideous departures from human anatomy, and was pushed so tightly against the woman’s skin that the finest details of the being could be seen almost clearly. The entire creature was easily the size of a small bear, and it’s claw was still extended out towards me, stretching flesh far beyond its natural limits. Most noteworthy was the creature’s mantrap-for-a-mouth, as it was cavernous and filled with serrated and dimly glowing hooks that might have been teeth, and it was frozen around the last otherworldly note belonging to a scream no human vocal chords could ever produce. Then, within only a few seconds, the thing pent tightly behind dead flesh disappeared, leaving behind what looked like an emptied, bloodied sack made from so much tousled skin. Again I could hear an invisible endlessness, swallowing; and this time the article it consumed wasn’t nearly as dramatic, only the soft thuds of cold flesh occasionally striking against the sides of a pit as it plunged down into infinity.

It seemed the rumors I’d heard were correct: when caught sleeping in New Victoria—men were stolen away by their nightmares, while women gave physical birth to their very own night-terrors. I grew slightly angry at my father’s impatience, denying me the sight of a nightmare breeching sleep. (But my father is always overzealous when killing is called for.) Still, just before my father broke the grip of the memory-turned-nightmare, I glimpsed something faintly visible against the blankness of forgotten things. A lost memory of my childhood had, if ever so briefly, revisited my waking recollection: Endless lines of small cages filled with children; some of them were long dead, others were insane and grinning, and still others were staring at me with eyes choked with ice and murder. As I looked over the hazy fragment I could feel my family’s collective gaze burning into me, so I gently set the memory down, and watched it sink into oblivion.

The rest of the room was decorated with the normal assortment of mildews, dusts, and shadows one would expect to find in any abandoned, demon-haunted morgue; so, with nothing else to command my attention, I reversed my course. Wrapping the newly liberated shadows tightly around myself and stepping into my fog of silence, and possessed of more wisdom than I had descended with, I climbed the stairs.

The shadows of the first floor had come alive with a tangible vigilance, and I could hear the breathing of countless sleepers, tucked-away into the strangest places: heating vents, under floorboards, and all of the smallest places one would never look to find a sleeping body. The massive collection of sleeping minds undoubtedly merged their dreams together to form a great passage that projected well beyond the traditional limits of human sleep, emptying into lands where the oldest earthy darkness constitutes only the freshest topsoil, and man’s darkest dreams are prey to the slightest beasts.

Having satisfied my curiosity (as much as was healthy, at least), I put aside my search for the strange women and renewed my quest for insight into my wolf-haunted dreams. I decided to move by rooftop, and so made my way to the top of the hospital.

Along the way, I snatched small glimpses into a number of the hospital rooms I passed. Each room was like a separate image cast by a magic lantern show from Hell, glowing and demonic, and subject to the wicked whims of an unseen claw that turned the faces of the lantern. As I neared the top of the building I foolishly loosed a smile, causing my sisters to erupt into terrifying laughter. (My sisters have always found my face, when broken by a crooked smile, a most amusing sight.) No doubt inspired by my sisters’ insistent laughter—a pounding rhythm of heavy feet began to shake the floor beneath me, as something began to close upon me from behind. I tried to quicken my pace but my sisters’ laughter was contagious, and soon I was so heavy with mirth that I tumbled to the floor. The joy of running through a solid nightmare—raised from the depths of alien dreams—was simply too much for me to contain. My Father was not amused.

“THIS IS NO MONSTER BORN OF NIGHTMARES, BUT A PATIENT WOLF COME TO CROSS YOUR NAME OFF ITS LIST! RISE UP AND KILL, YOU IDIOT BOY!” My father was right: the footsteps quickly vanished into silence, and flashing blades had already hissed through the shallows of my body…and I couldn’t stop laughing.

The "Night Hag" that, according to classical mythos, invaded a sleeping person's bedroom and pinned them to the bed. Many persons from New Victoria reported similar creatures invading their bedrooms. These reports were made during the days leading up to the strange sleeping plague that tore through the city.
The “Night Hag” that, according to classical mythos, invaded a sleeping person’s bedroom and pinned them to the bed. Many persons from New Victoria reported similar creatures invading their bedrooms. These reports were made during the days leading up to the strange sleeping plague that tore through the city.
An artist's interpretation of the being known as "Drowkerr", the creature that New Victoria serial killer, Dooley Hines (AKA Sleepy Head), claimed spoke to him in his dreams, commanding him to commit over 35 (that are known of) murders.
An artist’s interpretation of the being known as “Drowkerr”, the creature that New Victoria serial killer, Dooley Hines (AKA Sleepy Head), claimed spoke to him in his dreams, commanding him to commit over 35 (that are known of) murders.
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 8: The City That Always Sleeps

“So yer really goin’ in there, huh?” Mr. Grimes stood against the backdrop of his mechanical shadow, looking past me at the malefic city of endless nightmare.

“Indeed, I am,” I said, turning to join him at gazing up at the thing that just might destroy me.

“Before ya take off, I gotta know…why didn’t ya kill me? Ya could’a just driven the bus on yer own. Ya didn’t need me.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer him, as the question required a galaxy of nuanced explanation, time, and vision. Finally I produced a suitable explanation.

“I dislike driving standard transmissions.”

“Huh. Fair enough, I guess. One more thing: Those weapons really made of yer own family?”

“Of course.”

“Yeah, kinda figured they were. Well, I doubt yer gonna get outta there alive, but good luck tryin’…Family Man.” And with only that, we took our leave of each other. I watched as the hunter of dark roads disappeared into the dust that first revealed him: slave to a hunger darker than death, and a thing that consumed its prey with hidden killing machines that lived deep within its corroded shadow.

The street I stood upon was severed by a portion of the massive steel and concrete wall that surrounded the entire city of New Victoria: a futile effort to contain what sleep would only free again. The length of the wall was punctuated by gaping holes, torn open by a storm that blew out from beneath beds and beyond sleep. I entered the city through one of those massive holes; it was lined with an amalgam of encrusted human remains, warped together into a frustration of biology and nightmare that denied rot its purchase on flesh, and waking its power over dreams.

It rose up before me, denuded of all earthly obstruction and covered in the blood of twilight, defiling the cold reality that laid in shambles at its feet; New Victoria was almost beyond words. Its body had been shaped by the hidden fears and explicit terrors of countless dreamers, its soul solidified beyond the broken minds and benighted screams that once nurtured it.

When the shadows of the city finally converged upon me, I could feel the gossamer touch of unseen hands whispering across my mind, eager to find a door. However, the invisible intrusion into my thoughts caused my sister to rise up from her red dreams, deep within my own darkness; and in this place of living nightmares, her words carried beyond her radiant smile.

“So many greedy hands and old hungers. What wonderful gifts have you brought me, sweet brother?”  I could feel the heat of her delight; her blazing smile was burning-up the darkness around me, searing shadows too foolish to run from fire.

“Oh you silly shades! Shouldn’t you know what grinning terrors can await you behind closed doors?  My dearest brother’s mind has shadows of its own, and we’ll suffer none besides. Now, now, there’ll be time enough for playing, and I’ll be more than thrilled to savor your screams, as they pass betwixt my glittering metal teeth; but now is the time for hiding, I’m afraid.” At my sister’s prompting, my hunter’s silence poured out from me, drowning what remained of the alien whispers that called out from undead dreams. Then I slipped from beneath the scattering pack of shadows to find shelter beyond the gaze of the wicked city.

I quickly found the darkness of an abandoned hospital and blended into its stillness. Careful not to linger in any one shadow for too long, I made my way towards the oldest silence. I could feel the currents of quiet rushing out of a stairwell that descended deep into the bowels of the structure. As I moved to the top of the stairs, I noticed four sets of small, delicate footprints in the dust, descending. I immediately knew they belonged to the quartet of woman I glimpsed earlier.

As I followed the prints, I realized that they seemed to sink further down into the dust and grime that laid heavy and thick upon the steps; it was as if, for whatever reason, the women had suddenly become burdened by something fairly heavy. As I waded into the densest currents of silence and darkness, I observed that the footprints had been joined by four sets of handprints; it was clear that the women had crawled down the last few steps, down into the darkness. Then the prints disappeared altogether.

I halted my descent to examine the anomaly, and while the dust and filth betrayed nothing useful, the silence showed signs of having been broken. When I moved beyond the last of the stairs, I encountered a set of wide double doors. The word above the doors plainly stated: Morgue.

The Family Man

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 7: At the Borders of Nightmare

The Deadworld is a prison. However, people tend to misunderstand those moments when it seems to defy its most defining, vile features. Forests, by way of example, are often romanticized for their beauty; but they are merely cracked windows into those dreams from which we have been stolen, and exist as nothing more than fleeting reminders—symbols—for our freedoms lost beyond all of this dying flesh. Granted, a dark forest is one of the thinner barriers separating us from whence we came (and thus why some confuse it for the thing it imprisons), but a barrier none-the-less. Obviously the same can be said for basements filled with the moldering dead, attics containing chests stuffed with burned toys and faded photographs, forgotten graveyards steeping in twilight, mysterious holes burrowed impossibly deep into the earth, haunted houses made from Palewood trees, and all of the places where the night endures beyond the day. Undoubtedly all of these prisons contain occupants vigorously testing the locks to their cells, but to my knowledge, none have ever escaped. (I can’t remember a single thing that happened during the Great Darkness, so I could be very wrong on this point.) This is not to suggest that the Deadworld is without limits; its prison walls can be scaled, even demolished—as was demonstrated by New Victoria. However, the relevant distinction between New Victoria and the dreams that strain behind even the darkest environs is that the Deadworld never imprisoned New Victoria. For as strange as it sounds, the nightmare metropolis actually chose to invade this pale world.

As we approached the city, the ruined flesh of the Deadworld was already peeling back, exposing overturned military vehicles filled with old bones and crusted blood, mass graveyards, sour winds stitched together from countless last breaths; and wandering patches of strange, sweet-smelling twilight: the Deadworld was hemorrhaging nightmare. Here was no symbol for dream, only dream itself, in the open and free. But for all of that, New Victoria is no refuge for mankind.

“I can’t friggin’ believe you really want ta be here,” said the man who had just recently failed to kill me for the second time.

“I have need to be here, and despite everything I know—I want to be here. These things are clearly not our dreams, and must be nothing but the predatory nightmares of things that dwell beyond the shallows of human sleep. However, regardless of their malevolence, beauty is beauty.” Strangely, I found myself actually enjoying my conversation with Mr. Grimes. Words are so often nothing more than thoughts hidden behind masks of noise, but when speaking with the killer I found my words pleasingly free of disguise.

“Uh, yeah…Well, because of you I have to be here, as I sure as Hell wouldn’t come ta this freakin’ place if I wasn’t bein’ forced. An’ you gotta be crazy if you think there’s anything beautiful about this freak-zone.”

I hadn’t considered it before, but I wondered if that invisible force—that draws people to abandoned shacks in the woods, and gifts them with dreams pressed into yellowed paper—was still aiding me in my journey. Surely those things that dwelt in the city-beyond-sleep would not see me coming under cover of nightmare, as the deathly bus, now festooned with the ornaments of a butcher’s red holiday, wouldn’t be taken for anything less than a conveyance for pilgrims of nightmare. Perhaps Mr. Grimes was sent to assist me.

“By the way, I already know you got some weird twist about beauty an’ art. The newspapers is always sayin’ somethin’ about you thinkin’ of yerself as an artist. You really think those screwed-up corpses you leave behind is some kinda artwork?” I wasn’t sure Mr. Grimes was supposed to understand my work. Should a dream know it’s a dream? Might that have been what caused us to wake-up in the first place? I imagine a true dream, absolutely free and wandering, shouldn’t precisely know anything about itself (should it be so greedy as to possess a self). Humanity’s true calling is to exchange all of our pointless knowledge for wonder, and Mr. Grimes followed his dark curiosity wherever it lead him (even if he had been temporarily hijacked for a higher purpose). No, the daemon bus driver was far too busy chasing his darkest visions to grasp the purpose behind my work; he could only see its spectacle.

“Pearls before swine, Mr. Grimes,” I finally said, not wanting my host to think me unaware of his jabs.

“Actually, I got a kick out of those guys you made into a big snake, swallowing itself. That was some funn—” Mr. Grimes stopped speaking in midsentence and strained his small eyes to look at something close to the road.

Moving through the nearby trees, sketched in fog, were four wisps of women. They were clad in bed-clothes and loping through the rough thickets, helping one another along, and exuding a despair that seemed to roil the fog that outlined them. Their collective gaze was fixed upon the wakeless city that loomed close by, and I could hear hungry secrets whirling around the strange woman, hissing them onward. Soon they were gone, swallowed by the forest. But it was clear where they were headed.

“What da ya think their up ta?” When Mr. Grimes retracted his gaze, it brought something warm and wicked back with it, and I could feel his hunger burning deep within the secret killing machines of the bus. Whatever the killer’s dark curiosity would have done to the women, I was certain it would’ve been a pleasure compared to what was waiting for them in New Victoria.  I obviously knew something of the endless horrors that would prey upon a man who might fall asleep there, but I’d only heard whispers of the hell that awaited the woman foolish enough to rest her head upon solid nightmare. Now my own dark curiosity was beginning to take hold.

“I’m not entirely certain. But it would be a terrible waste of mystery not to find out.”