Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 15: The Sleeping Sage

“Reverence” is an interesting word, often applied more discriminately than other words of its caliber, for whatever reason. So when the young man I had come to see used it to describe his feelings towards his dreams I felt inclined to listen to him a bit more carefully. He said, “There is wisdom within my dreams, beyond the pull of standard reason and logic. It’s crafted from experiences that have not been filtered through the waking senses, and so persists as a knowing without conventional form or substance.” The man barely moved. He just laid there on his bed, looking at the moths orbiting a naked, glowing light bulb. (Where the power came from to produce the illumination, I have no idea. But while the city was in ruins, I’m sure it wasn’t suffering from a paucity of energy sources, no matter how gruesome and unearthly.)

“Moths,” he began again, “They are so much different than butterflies. They remind me of the difference between waking and dreaming. The butterfly is a beautiful creature, but only and ultimately explicit, wearing its colors upon the dust of its wings. Such a creature can only decorate the world like a living bow tied whimsically around a gust of wind, fluttering beautifully, pointlessly. Like most things, the butterfly is really just a dried up dream that’s lost its connection to the other side, and so has become an exhibition without substance or source. A moth, however, is a great adventurer and night-thing; it is the custodian of uncommon desires that, presumably, outstrip the need for aesthetics and spectacle. It’s not content with only its wings and the open air, but requires more, and so it drowns itself in the night, every night, looking for something. What it seeks no one knows, not even the moth; it simply knows that what is, is all wrong, and that there must be something greater hiding behind the night’s darkness, something more wonderful than even tireless wings and an infinity of night could ever provide. It’s as if the moth’s entire life were designed for a singular purpose: escape. Or, perhaps it’s merely designed to believe that it exists in a place that needs escaping from, and that its nightly passions are somehow sufficient to locate a way out. A dream is so much like that, you see. It takes wing into the unknown, traveling and never arriving, always searching for an exit, and rarely finding one.” (Obviously I disagreed with his characterization of the Deadworld, as it could never be decorated; it can only ingest beauty, leaving behind the dry bones of devoured dreams. But the man’s expertise lied in dreams and not the waking world, so I forgave the mistake. Although his characterization of the butterfly was absolutely correct.) That’s when he looked away from the whirling moths and stared straight at me, smiling slightly. Finally, after his smile had run its course, he said, “But you didn’t come here to talk about butterflies, did you? No, you want to know about the moths—about those strange dreams you’ve been having.” After I nodded, his eyes took on a strange energy, as if they were likely aglow in some other spectrum of light (or some other spectrum of darkness). He then directed his invisibly radiant gaze beyond the gaping hole in his roof, freeing his vision into the wet, black sky.

The rain was coming down only very lightly, and its soft patter blended easily into the gentle breeze. The man started up again, “This whole place, the entire city, has rested upon the very precipice of some dim and forgotten dream world ever since the daemon sleep arrived from beyond our furthest nightmares. I’ve been dreaming myself closer and closer to that world every day and night, stealing into its pallid and high-walled lanes, eating of its food, and spending my living years on dream after dream of a world that is precisely not this one. Do you think I leave this bed to eat? Of course not. I sustain myself there—within the grey, drifting fields broken only by spindly trees and the ruins of visions long since passed. I partake of the whispering fruit and drink the weird smoldering waters that tumble across the endless sky like herds of rushing ghosts. And what about this body of mine, this youthful weight that lies before you? It’s only a point of reference. My mind has spent so little time here that my body has barely aged. But I’m far from young, farther still from truly old. I say all of this only to inform you of the paths that I must walk to know what I know, and that I know what I know quite well.” I said nothing, but only waited for him to continue.

The man’s gaze returned to the room and back to to the wheeling moths. Then, with no small amount of concentration, he began a new tale. “Quite a few dreams ago I was wandering a damp passageway constructed from interlocking basements, each one opening into the next by way of a different type of subterranean entrance, when I encountered an entity that referred to himself as the ‘King of Cellars.’ He was an affable old fellow, and so I visited with him beneath the weak illumination of old and crusty light bulbs. We were having quite a pleasant time, talking and philosophizing as we drank from our chipped cups of softly sweetened tea, when from deep below we heard the savage bluster of numerous, and doubtless enormous, wolves. The Lord of Basements remarked on the sounds only when he saw the frightened look upon my face, saying ‘Mine is not the deepest kingdom, for far below us there is a pit deeper than any space could ever hope to admit, and those that inhabit the great depression are nearly as old as the machines that gave emptiness its color and numbered the dust. The great company of the pit are generally a quiet lot, but recently one of them in particular has been quite busy. I can hear the strange sounds of it’s dark enterprise, occasionally.’ When I asked about the sound of demonic wolves, he said only, ‘The industrious one that I mentioned is lean and voracious, and the wolves are its voice. It speaks stolen breaths into hungry sentences made from packs of frothing wolves, wherein each ravening word can hunt and kill. It is speaking, now, but to whom I cannot say’. My host would say no more, and I was relived to move past the topic at the time, as the deep sounds nearly startled me awake. However, after I departed the Kingdom of Cellars, and its charming ruler, I resolved to learn more about this creature that possessed a voice filled with wolves. Eventually this ‘pit-dweller’ became a point of some fascination for me, and so I dreamed as deeply as I was able, to find some trace of this ‘pit’ the under-king made mention of. After many dreams of unsuccessful questing I finally found an old nightmare, drifting alone in a sea of pitch silence, replaying its bloody misfortune over and over again. The dreamers of this nightmare had been many and monstrous, but apparently long dead. Strangely, as I explored the contents of the dream, it appeared that the dreamers had not only shared the same dream, but had actually killed one another in some strange contest, orphaning the nightmare that still held an echo of baying wolves. I returned to the dead dream many times, always departing with some new insight. However, on the last occasion I visited the dream, all was not dead. The nightmare was filling up with the shadows of fresh wolves, and the dream became hot with hunger and blood. These new wolves began falling upon one another, rending flesh from bone; and the dream had been removed from the depths of forgotten silence and lifted into red pools of human sleep. As I departed, something watched me go, something whose age was nearly as deep as the pit it looked out from. When its sight had fallen entirely upon me I felt my dream-self nearly explode from the heat. I awoke that night to blankets of fire.” The man threw his gaze at a hump of burned sheets piled crudely in one of the distant corners of the wrecked room. “But before I woke, I caught a passing look at the thing that could cast fire from slumber. It wore the likeness of a darkened shepherd and bore in its left hand a bleeding, crimson crook.”

I still remembered the picture that the Crucifier had drawn within his yellowed journal, and so submitted my only real insight. “You speak of the Shepherd of Wolves, do you not?” The man looked a bit irritated, as if I had disrupted the rhythm of his carefully planned diatribe.

“Of course. He is the thing that calls out to you…and to all of the rest of your kind.” He waited, smugly, for the words he knew I would speak.

“I have no ‘kind,’ dreamer. I am no wolf. I am a repairer of dreams, an artist. Everything else is merely parenthetical, provisional—nothing more and nothing less,” I said with measured indignation.

“Are you an artist, indeed? I will say this for you—you are different. But you have no idea of precisely what you are, you poor beast.” Some of his words were like the distant notes of a weakly remembered song. His remaining words were offensive. But again, his was the knowledge of things that walked the distant shores of dream, not of matters concerning the business of firmer worlds, and so he was again forgiven, or at least ignored.

His smiled returned to light up invisible worlds. The man on the bed was quite pleased with himself, as he was performing quite impressively within his role as sage. “You have no choice but to play the Shepherd’s game, and you have every reason to play it well, my gigantic friend. You see, the Shepherd is one of the ‘Unbegotten,’ and his will, even from down within so deep a hole, is as inevitable as silence. He cannot be denied his sport. He wrote you an invitation in blood and twilight, and means for you to join him and all of the others he’s invited, into a game that can displace stars and conjure worlds from whispers,” he said with a bit of awe caught in his throat.

“And should I win?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“Who’s to say? The Shepherd is as mysterious as the nightmare that dismembered Boston and raised New Victoria from its riven corpse. The wills and ways of such things are not for us to know. We simply symbolize their powers, in the same way ink symbolizes our thoughts on paper. Although, we are not the ones holding the pen.”

“Then I have one more question for you, dreamer: what do you know of the dreams of Sara Kane?” The man’s grin almost exceeded the boundaries of his face.

“You mean, of course—‘Black Molly Patience.’” Another name scratched into my murder-list transformed into a wickedly beautiful thing. She was a poisonous one, that cannibal who walked under the world, serving her darkest appetites. Her underground tunnels, sweet venoms and secret trap-doors were the very stuff of children’s nightmares.

I’m certain that the man’s secret vision could see the soul of my own smile, testing the limits of his neglected room.

Presumably a self portrait painted by the serial murderess, "Black Molly Patience." The portrait was found in the residence of a family the killer had apparently murdered by slowly eating them alive.
Presumably a self portrait painted by the serial murderess, “Black Molly Patience.” The portrait was found in the residence of a family the killer had apparently murdered by slowly eating them alive.
"I was designed to be a monster among men."
“I was designed to be a monster among men.”
"PREYING REAPER" was inspired by a dream I read about from a nameless girl's dream journal.
“PREYING REAPER” was inspired by a dream I read about from a nameless girl’s dream journal.
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 14: A Storm of Nightmares

A thunderstorm began to slowly gather above my head, sobbing a cold rain across my body. I lifted my hands into the air, washing the blood from them, and wondering if the nightmare-informed atmosphere would be indulgent enough to allow me climb up the darkness and enter into the belly of the storm. The growling, and periodically glowing, clouds leisurely swept low and pulsed around the tops of the taller buildings, giving the storm the appearance of a shifting gray foliage that grew out from the tops of the buildings, forming a storming canopy above the city. The buildings themselves now took upon the role of gigantic and rangy tree trunks, where windows and balconies substituted for knotholes and coats of irregular bark.

A twisting expanse of the thunderstorm tumbled up to the ledge I stood upon, creating an ethereal bridge between myself and the many high places caught within the webs of churning storm. It was a glorious sight, as the roof of the storm seemed to form a roiling landscape floating between the skyscrapers, tempting one to stroll across the island made from lightning, cloud, and thunder. Then, merging from without the sounds of the storm, came strange noises that emanated from multiple locations across the city. New Victoria was slowly coming alive, as I could hear the rustling of unearthly things, joining into unwholesome crowds. I wondered if the warning I had constructed was a bad idea.

Deep within the distant night, slowly moving along behind the grumbling clouds, I could see small, shivering points of blue light, and knew very well what they were: wakeless things had taken to the storming night skies to locate me. Also, as I looked down from the very edge of the rooftop, I could see the windows of the lower floors directly beneath me turning the bright color of sleep, and I watched those sleep-lights move ever upward, towards me. Then came the sounds of a second storm, howling out from the streets below: inhuman gangs of living nightmares, born from living women, trampling over the earth upon millions of hateful limbs molded from millions of nightmaring minds. They were creeping, crawling, flying, and leaping throughout the city, searching for me.

I couldn’t afford the laughter that was mounting as surely as the storm I contemplated walking across, so I swallowed my amusement, wrapped myself in silence, and leaped one building closer to my destination. There was a slight discrepancy between the height of the building I jumped from and the one I landed upon, as I plummeted a solid fifty feet to the adjacent rooftop. However my body had easily withstood falls from even greater heights (quite recently, as a matter of fact. That poor, poor wolf), and only a moment was needed for me to collect myself and wade into the thick cloud cover that obscured the spaces in front of me.

From somewhere not too far behind, I heard a rooftop door explode open, releasing legions of unclean sounds into the night. I bounded to the next building, which, mercifully, was a more manageable exercise than my previous effort. Like a septic downpour of Hell’s raindrops, the hordes of evil things landed atop the building directly behind me. They were getting closer, but I was ready for them.

The storm obeyed me as well as any shadow, and I disappeared into its coiling mists. There were a great many of the caterwauling things, so both of my sisters stood eagerly at the ready. The fiends that had spilled wet and wicked from so many tortured wombs flooded into the storm, heedless of the danger within. In the span of only a few seconds, several of the things had already been effectively multiplied (or divided, depending on how you wished to perform the math), many times over, before the rest of the horde was even faintly aware of the death that now moved within their ranks.

As I killed under cover of storm cloud, I could only make out the slightest details of my demonic adversaries, and when the blinding lightning poured into the bloodied spaces between us, my eyes had to defer to my ears for guidance; and after the crashing thunder robbed the world from my ears, I was exclusively guided by the silence that serenaded me from beneath the thunder, between the night, and from without all of the shadows that danced and frolicked to the music of the storm. The great numbers the creatures moved within gave them a collective confidence, but it was a confidence that I diminished by the second. The devils were certainly powerful enough, but they were new to the world of stable things, and could not fathom the strategies of a solid opponent, much less one that was immune to the poison of fear. They came at me with claws, fangs, tentacles, and hooves; and I conducted each one into my sisters’ red smiles. But there was one nightmare that was wiser than the rest, and waited for my fury to abate. And when the last of the creatures had been slaughtered or driven off, and I had returned my sisters to their sleep—it struck.

The creature secured itself to my back with flashing talons, organic hooks; and searing, chitinous barbs. The thing went about trying to tear apart my body with a passion rivaled only by my own sisters’ bottomless depravity. As I struggled to rid myself of the creature, it hissed sulfurous words into my left ear.

“What wonderful teeth and claws your kind’s dreams have given me. Am I not a splendid thing, as I rend the skin from your bones? I swear to cherish your screams for as long as I care to remember them.” The creature was undeniably an exceptional member of its kind, and deserved my compliments.

“You are indeed splendid, creature. But I’m afraid I have no screams for you today. Perhaps my sister’s laughter will suffice.” My sister was already in my hand, and she shined a jagged smile that plunged into the creature’s cavernous mouth. I could feel my enemy’s teeth enter my knuckles as my sister dragged my hand behind her, down what seemed an endless, convulsing hole.

I drew close to the creature’s left ear, and whispered, “Is she not splendid, as well, creature? Tell me, will you scream for her?” The creature had apparently lost its taste for conversation, which was perfectly understandable, given that its tongue had been ripped free from its mouth shortly after my wrist passed beyond its back-teeth. The thing then seized my arm with unbelievable strength, tearing my hand from the sucking hole that had become its face. I felt my second sister slide into my free hand. She smiled at me with so much sweetness that the blood that found its way into my mouth tasted like sugar, and when she ripped across the demonic limb that threatened to snap my arm, the creature produced a honeyed cry from the bleeding trench that had once been a mouth. My sisters’ searing praise boiled the blood that dripped from their grinning, steel mouths. “We knew you would finally find your singing voice, and what a true delight it is! However we can’t say that we’ll treasure it for very long, as memory has an awful way of dimming our enjoyment of those screams yet to come! For you see, everything before you is always fresh and beautiful, when the world behind you is dead!”

The thing reeled backward, wheezing and bleeding from my sisters’ joint assault. (I was obviously wrong: my sisters are clearly more vicious than any nightmare.) My father called out to me, and I raised him up. My great benefactor roared, “AND YOUR LAST SCREAM SHALL BELONG TO ME!” My father fell with such power that the very air around him seemed to warp and crackle. Unbelievably, the inhuman thing absorbed the blow, refusing to fall to its knees. Never before had I witnessed a creature capable of weathering such direct exposure to my father’s power. Regardless, the creature had been sorely wounded by my dread progenitor, as its inhuman hands were already quite busy trying to stem the flow of strange fluids that sprayed from its ruined body. The thing from nightmare continued to backpedal until it found a wall, and then it turned furnace-eyes upon me, silently promising a death beyond comprehension. But my father’s rage had grown beyond steel and bone, sending blast-waves of purest hatred rolling through me. My father surged towards the glaring monster with a rage that nearly burned through the flesh of my hands. I should have been impressed by the speed and monstrous strength demonstrated by the creature when it leapt sideways onto a distant rooftop, but my attention had been stolen away by the unearthly collision between the wall and my father. Where once there was concrete, steel, and monster, there was now only debris and a dreadful echo—of a blow that would surely have ended the creature and chased its dusky spirit into whatever spheres are reserved for dead nightmares. My raging father finally quieted and fell into fitful sleep, and I could already hear my sisters dreaming of blood and laughter.

With their shock troops momentarily diffused into the distant night, the generals of the nightmare army began to close upon me, as I could sense the cold fires of their blue eyes burning brighter and colder. I wasted no time leaping across the remaining spaces between myself and the dwelling of the man I had come to consult. Strangely, the floating creatures withdrew into the farthest darkness, until their blue eyes died away like stars at dawn’s approach; it was as if the area that I had crossed into was beyond their power. Whatever the reason for their retreat, I was where I had set out to be. I then sat down for a moment to regain my strength, and drifted into gentle memories of standing in the rain with my mother.

Nightmareling: Fear of Dragons
Nightmareling: she has her mother's eyes
Nightmareling: she has her mother’s eyes
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 13: Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking? Well I have.

The distance between myself and the giant, grinning toy-thing began to shrink, but before we collided, the wall of darkness beside me exploded into shards of broken blackness. Something huge had broken into the room. It was my father, and in all of his living glory: froth and fire dripping from the corners of his mouth, eyes blazing with tangible fury; and his titan axe gripped tightly in his mammoth, bloodless hands. My terrifying elder intercepted the creature, throwing his titan shoulder into the chest of the charging toy from Hell’s nursery (inciting within me no small height of irritation, as it was the second time he had come between myself and a manifest nightmare). The creature was lifted from the floor and sent crashing into the distant darkness, joining the debris of its staged entrance. My sisters leaked into the room behind me, with their curving knives up in front of their mouths, grinning. I wouldn’t have guessed their next move for the life of me: they gleefully punctuated the length of my body with their happy knives, cackling all the while as they stained themselves with the shadows that had become my blood.

As I approached a waking state, still caught somewhere between dream and an only slightly more stable reality, I heard the syrupy squeals of something inhuman, followed by the sounds of something wet falling down an incredibly long flight of stairs, perhaps in many small pieces. When I sat up and looked around, I could see that I was lying upon a dust covered bed within the glass penthouse, where a cold breeze lifted up the edges of the oversized sheet that had been draped over me. My family had been carelessly scattered next to the bed. The thought of someone else hefting them, for purposes that left them dry and without living color, nearly stoking a rage beyond my control. I retrieved my family and sought out the man with the ridiculous hat and blue-glowing eyes. He was easy enough to find, as I could see through the glass of the walls and into the distant room where he lied, upon a strange and demonic bed that was slathered in black silks that flowed to the movements of the ever-present breeze. While he retained his hat, his otherworldly eyes were lightless and inactive, apparently sleeping beneath thin sheets of pale flesh. He appeared to be resting, but if I understood these creatures at all, the possessing entity was merely away somewhere else—tending to the wicked business of harrowing.

As I waited for the creature to revisit its vehicle of flesh and bone, I hoped that while the creature remained occupied within its stolen body that my vengeance could touch it, or more to the wicked and grinning point—that my sister might be able to slice beyond sleep to bleed a nightmare. I waited with the patience of stone, and then finally a glow began to slowly seep from behind barriers of flesh and blood. I hunched down behind the bed, as I didn’t want the eyes of the thing to gaze fully upon me, lest I return to the wider nightmare that pulsed beneath the city. The creature began to stir slightly, until finally it lifted up from the bed and rose into the air, borne aloft upon the strange winds that never left the creature’s side. I followed the light of its eyes as they discolored the sheets of the bed where I had once rested, steeping in darkest dreams. I lunged. My arms surged beneath the creature’s delicate neck, exercising a grip that would shame the greatest python. My sister slid into the nightmare’s back, only whispering distance from its heart. Again, and in a singsong voice distended by scarcely restrained laughter, my sister’s words glided into the open air. “I wonder what color you will turn my radiant teeth, my lit-eyed friend, after I’ve chewed you down to the echoes of your last scream.” finally she could hold it in no longer, and erupted into sweet, shrieking laughter.

The creature writhed like a fish caught out of water, and its brilliant eyes turned the glassed-in darkness into a blue sun of cold light. The world caught in the shine of its nightmare eyes became liquescent, allowing the boundaries between formerly solid objects to forget their places and wander into and out of one another, occasionally semi-solidifying into quivering chimeras of glass and marble flooring and a demonic bed.

I could still hear my sister’s laughter, dimmed somewhat by the many intervening layers of bleeding tissue between her and I. Ever so slowly, she moved closer and closer to a killing depth, and from somewhere inside the dream on the other side of the creature’s flesh, I could detect the living nightmare frantically attempting to flee its sinking ship. It was racing madly towards an exit, smashing through door after door in hopes of attaining the freedom that lurked just beyond sleeping skin—lest its mansion of enslaved flesh become the tomb of its spirit. My sister corkscrewed into the final spaces of the creature’s heart, freeing the death that lived within, and ultimately denying the miserable creature it’s much sought after freedom. Instantly the thing’s dream-light became as confused as the matter it fell upon, becoming both illumination and sound: a glowing scream that shattered the brittle and transparent skin of the glass-marble-bed-things that had mutated into existence beneath the gaze of cold blue eyes (my father was absolutely right: these wakeless beings die and scream so incredibly well!). Within the fading glow and dying echoes of the light-sound, there was a slight suggestion of a hideous shape madly straining the limits of its arms, like some desperate bird trying to gather the winds of a vacuum beneath its wings. Finding the solid world malproductive to whatever life sustaining systems it possessed, the creature slowly died into a drifting azure mist of freezing light.

My art has always been intended as a gift—an attempt at liberation, reunion, and completion; certainly all of these attempts have failed at their ultimate purpose, but while the Deadworld has yet to be enlivened by a single reincarnate dream (of the human variety), I have crossed many souls over into revelation, and perhaps, when they are again renewed in fashions of skin and stupidity, they will be one life closer to the dream they left behind. However, at that moment, standing before the cadaver of my family’s defiler, I chose a new, if only temporary, purpose for my art (even if the general sentiment was essentially preserved, in a strange and pleasing perversion of logic). I would craft a warning, simple and sincere: trifle with me and you shall learn precisely how my art can create corpses from dreams.

Within a very short while (I have become quite adept at the speedy reorganization of the human body) I had fashioned my effigy of warning: A dreamcatcher made from the emptied shell of a living nightmare. My wonderful work was held together by a damp geometry of broken bones, strung with red webs of vein and artery, feathered with a dripping scalp of flowing hair; and for the beading and crystals, I embellished the ‘netting’ with the polished teeth from the thing’s mouth (unfortunately, I could locate only two burned-out cavities where the thing’s alien eyes should have been, otherwise the brilliant spheres would have made for excellent ‘crystals’). With my warning completed, I walked to the edge of the rooftop and tossed the creature’s foolish hat into the bottomless dark.

The Wakeless

Family Man

Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 12: Nightmares and Toys

After I awoke into the city on the other side of sleep for the second time in my life, I confirmed everything I had only suspected from my first visit: fear is the temperature at which dread solidifies, and conversely, the point where stolid reality dissolves; a scream can become the glass of a window, frozen into place like a wicked memory, conducting blood-dimmed light through its invisible body; sleep is a place, where worlds spin atop the heads of pins, and oceans gather into nutshells; and New Victoria is only the most visible part of the nightmare that prowls the unclean depths of humanity’s collective unconscious.

The nightmare-under-another-nightmare was alive and surging with the untrimmed imagination of wicked children, as a primal grotesquerie informed every feature and every facet of every edifice. Here, the goblin-night—itself a darker and more enduring incarnation of the variety of nighttime that inhabits the waking world—lives without cycle, without light, and without limit; and provides the wakeless city with its sky, its oceans, and its shadows.

I entered a dark and shimmering building (which was almost certainly composed entirely from the blackest coal) and sought out a momentary refuge from the dizzying sights. The instant I set foot beyond the threshold I was conducted down a narrow, arterial corridor by surging shadows that swept me onward into a colossal chamber. The room was filled with the tallest and most worm-eaten bookcases I’d ever seen, and some of the things even seemed to rise beyond the shadows that spread wide and empty across the ceiling. With a curiosity that burned so strongly that I worried it would give off light or perhaps generate some kind of sound, I took up one of the tomes recessed into the rotten wood, and read.

It was a dream journal—as were all of the books—and it charted, employing some very handsome penmanship, a young girl’s nightly journeys into a very peculiar nightmare. She dreamed of a giant machine called the ‘Spirit-grinder,’ a contraption that could distill, via a very protracted and quite noisy process, the color of a person’s soul. For reasons she could never deduce, she was obliged to remove the tied up and squirming bodies of persons—always someone she knew, or ended up knowing—that emerged from a long and rusty chute, and pass them through the strange machine. Once the soul’s color had been rendered, she would then use it to paint, wielding a very small and delicate brush, the irises of the countless, moist eyeballs that passed in front of her via a shabby conveyer belt. All of this took place in a crumbling barn that resided somewhere in the middle of a vast and dark forest.

I was about to withdraw another journal from the shelf when, from somewhere far underground, I heard footsteps. Beyond the fact that they came from somewhere below me, I was unable to discern their more specific trajectory, but they clearly seemed to be drawing closer. I slipped through an open window that led back onto the streets, and then ascended a rickety expanse of stairs that wrapped around the outside of a gigantic apartment complex that seemed to be breathing, causing the wooden stairwell to creak and wobble. I opened the door that appeared at the top of the stairs, entering with little hesitation as the darkness seemed, initially, quite welcoming. I appeared to be in some kind of a bedroom, where a massive four poster bed was slightly visible beneath a flowing drape of glossy webs. The footsteps were getting louder, and now seemed to be coming from beneath the huge bed beside me. Then I remembered—I needed to wake up. I was so immersed in the darkling beauty of the city, not to mention the memory-dimming fog of dream, that I forgot the danger I was in. Something was coming for me, to remove me, and to fill up my sleeping body with living terror.

I tried to find a door out of the room, but found nothing. I turned to retreat back through the door I entered by, but It had vanished. I was trapped. The footsteps acquired company as they moved along, for somewhere beneath the footfalls I could hear the dim hint of laughter. But what was most important to me were the sounds I couldn’t hear: the sweet laughter of my sisters, and the terrible rage of my father. My family was gone. I was alone.

The darkness surrounding me was no ally, and only intensified to contrast me against itself, forcing me to stand out as a target to whatever was ascending the stairs beneath the bed. However, I sensed weakness in the trailing shadows that limped along with the stronger packs of darkness, as they turned from my gaze in fright whenever I looked upon them. With supreme effort, I seized these stragglers with toothy thoughts and glaring eyes; I wrapped them tightly around my fists, and poured them across my body until they soaked into my blood, conjuring depthless voids from what used to be my eyes. I then ripped the alien silence from its hiding places, bending and breaking its body across my will, and when nothing of it remained save for its loyalty to me, I draped it’s carcass over myself—until I was every inch the nightmare that was coming for me.

Wanting to deny my stalker the benefit of a dramatic entrance, I seized the ghastly bed and sent it crashing across the milling shadows that attempted to highlight me. Beneath the bed was what seemed to be a trap door, leaking the cold of death. Again, I would spare the nightmare creature none of its props and fetishes, and so I tore the door from the floor and sent it to join the ruins of the demonic bed. The murk of cold and death rose up from the gaping hole I had created, attempting to engulf me. Within moments my killing thoughts had crushed them of their ambitions, and their corpses joined the dead silence that dripped from my shadow-haunted body. I stood at the edge of the hole, and I smiled as I spoke into the darkness.

“Soon I will wear your flowing skin, my dreadful friend, and I will smile from the dark hollows that once held your face.” The footsteps were very close, now, and I could hear only silence where once there was laughter. Then a voice the size of the room exploded through the hole, sending me flying backwards into crowds of hungry shadows.

OH, WHAT BRAVADO! WHAT TEETH! WHAT SPIRIT! I SHALL FILL YOU WITH VISIONS SO FAT AND FOUL YOU WILL WEEP FIRE! BUT FIRST YOUR SOUL WILL TRAVEL WITH ME, UNDER ALL OF THE BEDS IN THE WORLD, THROUGH EVERY CLOSET, AND DOWN WHERE THE WHISPERS CRAWL UPON YOU LIKE SPIDERS, AND THE DARKNESS TASTES YOU WITH A THOUSAND TERRIBLE TONGUES. I MUST GET YOU TO THAT PLACE WHERE IT SLEEPS WITHIN SLEEP, THAT OLD DREAM-EATER, AND PLUMPEN YOUR FEARS FOR THE EATING! After the storming words ceased, a great shape rose up from the hole in the floor. The thing that appeared before me was outrageous with the darkly exaggerated proportions of a doll, like some toy left in the crib of an infant devil, to keep it happy and contented. It smiled at me with so much sweetness that my mouth filled with the taste of sugar, and while it was difficult, I managed to suppress my inconvenient impulse to laugh. Finally, I spoke to it.

“I think I will miss your whimsical smile the most, dear creature. I will think of it, from time to time, long after you’re dead. I promise.”


Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 11: What Dreams May Come

I set one end of the ladder (I found in a dirty utility room) on the sill of an open window, and laid the other side of it onto the ledge of a nearby fire-escape that was attached to the next building over. The makeshift bridge complained loudly when it took on my full weight, and then I walked, like some benighted circus performer, across the blackened depths that yawned between the two buildings. As I slowly made my way over to the fire-escape, I pondered my chances for getting out of the city alive, or more accurately—awake. My eyelids had already gathered more weight than was normal, and sleep seemed more and more like the only solution to my diminishing endurance, but sleep was the very den of the monsters that had stolen New Victoria from the waking world, and I was fairly certain that such creatures would make very poor hosts should I decide to pay them a visit.

When I reached the next building I climbed the fire-escape to the roof, ever aware of the things that might be looking down at me from the black gulfs of carrion sky, eager to catch me off my guard. But I could also feel my family’s vigilance surrounding me like smoke, as they were just as eager to catch whatever thing might mistake me for prey, and so become subject to their gleaming smiles and thunderous laughter. When I arrived at the top of the building, I caught sight of a glassed-in penthouse replete with a spacious verandah, and most interestingly—a large telescope that had been affixed to the outermost rim of the balcony.

The worlds that wheeled overhead were pale alternatives to the sights I thought to glimpse by pointing the wonderful device downwards, so I aimed my magnified gaze at some of the buildings around me, specifically those possessing lit windows that might supply me with more glimpses of the delightful nightmares that pretended to be an abandoned city. A lingering curiosity concerning the strange quartet of women caused me to turn the glass towards the east end of the town, where they had most likely entered into the city. Clearly their original number had dwindled, as my father had personally seen to the subtraction, but I was curious to know the fate of the remaining three.

After some effort, and as if responding to my unspoken wish, I caught sight of something moving through the hallways of the hospital I had previously visited. It was one of the women. She was strapped to a hospital gurney that was being conducted down a poorly lit corridor. The gurney was propelled by a power that was largely imperceptible, as I could only discern some kind of presence by the effects it exercised upon the shadows it touched. The darkness of the hallway seemed to adhere to the invisible thing, clinging to it like tar, and supplying the otherworldly being with some small suggestion of shape and size. The outlining shadows described a thing of nonsensical construction: an organism that begrudged nothing to the traditional symmetries of earthen biology, and partook its shape solely from the unprincipled reasoning of chaos. The unorthodox creature continued to push the squirming woman down the hallway, occasionally wiping the dripping shadows from its invisible body across the amorphous swelling that rose high and hideous from her womb. From behind her stretched flesh the dim outline of the germinating nightmare was scarcely visible as a mass of shifting darkness, twisting and flipping as if were trying to put itself together, one inhuman limb at a time. Within moments the head of the thing obtained a terrible definition as it pushed hard against its cage of flesh, and seemed to be angled down, leering into the pathetic woman’s face. The unborn creature projected its hungry glare beyond its gilding of human skin, laying a cold glow across the dull and sightless eyes of its mother, eyes that had long since lost their connection to the world beyond and behind them.

The woman was finally delivered into a large room that was lit only by a small collection of thin candles. After placing the woman in the middle of the room, her invisible guide returned back down the hallway by which it came, leaving wet shadows in its tracks. The woman seemed to be struggling against the bonds that secured her head, arms, and feet to the gurney, but after careful observation I realized that the movements were not her own, but rather the actions of the thing within her. Her body—now nothing more than a massive gestative sack—began to rapidly swell beyond the scope of the gurney, and her bulging folds of expanding flesh spilled to the floor and rolled across the dirty tiling like tides of thick mud. All the while the woman’s facial expression never changed, as her mind and body had become nothing but the debris of madness, just a broken doll splayed out in the aftermath of a tornado. Soon the thing that was once a woman began to be torn apart from the inside, releasing a septic flood of inhuman fluids that drowned all the candles in the room, save one. And by the glow of that lone candle, the infant nightmare stripped off its mother like wet clothing, dropping what was left of her to become a steaming heap of molten flesh. The undressed nightmare then waved its inhuman and dainty hand through the empty air, over and over again, as it was clearly inspecting the solidity of its new world, wondering if its hand might turn to smoke, or if the air would transmute suddenly into a cold sound that only the dead could hear. Smiling with a thousand tiny teeth (as it was evidently quite satisfied with its new accommodations), the creature walked off into the darkness of the outer hallway, disappearing like a secret floating into silence.

“They are our brides and they are breeders of foulest nightmares, those women; and men like you, why they are our beasts of burden, naturally.” The voice came from behind me, so I turned around quickly. I looked into the spaces where the floating man’s eyes should have been, finding only a thin covering of flesh. However, behind that seal of skin—and beneath the shadow of his ridiculous stove-pipe hat—was an open and brightly glowing set of alien-blue eyes. They burned bright enough to backlight the tiny tangles of veins and other trifling nuances of the intervening tissues. The radiant blue of his eyes-behind-flesh was the color of sleep, and it washed over me like gentle waters, sweeping me out to strange seas. I knew I had to escape the glow of the creature’s billowing eyes, as they possessed a depth that was deeper and far more dangerous than the distance from the balcony to the ground; so I jumped from the building, hoping to find some purchase for my questing grip.

I tumbled far longer than was necessary for me to complete my descent, and the further I plummeted the lighter my body felt. By the time I reached the streets below, I was nearly weightless. When my feet finally touched the ground I looked up at the city; it had changed considerably. It was the dread face of New Victoria I had witnessed only once before. I instantly realized my mistake. I hadn’t actually fallen from the building, but had suffered a far, far worse fate: I had fallen asleep.

Ol' blue eyes
Ol’ blue eyes
Having a nightmare
“Having a Nightmare”