Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 3: Two Faced

This life is nothing more than the process of rationing a very small quantity of hope. In this over-lighted, unspectacular and unchanging hothouse, there are only a few patches of clean glass amid the thick grime spread across its dirty windows, where we might occasionally spy the wilder world beyond our rote, geometric lives. Those moments of vision are few but inspiring, lending to us our notions of immortality and granting our dreams and expectations for ourselves a ridiculous overreach, and within those exaggerations we gather hope—against death, against vanishing, against oblivion. But in the end, we are exhausted, and we become dust.

Darkness, on the other and greater hand, is that recalcitrant part of us that cannot sink to its least desirable depths—where the world becomes vacant and complacent, merely a blithering stupidity of artificial imperatives, where wonder perishes of starvation and all power attains only the nullity of its purpose. Darkness is the Devil’s clay—the malleable power of the self, unrestrained; and once possessed, it can grant a forbidden arrogance to its wielder, allowing them to do whatever they choose, rather than whatever they are told. Darkness is to accept that we are dangerous, and intended to be so. All of this was the Great Darkness. And my belief as to why we forgot its savage raptures is that we were too much for ourselves: our raw, unseasoned truth was too terrifying. But how glorious we must have been, to have frightened ourselves, so.

Now I am overflowing with hope, for the first time. I saw, if only faintly, a very small but astonishing scene from the Great Darkness. The stolen dream was so much more than just a play of memory and shadow, with the least of its importance falling upon the specifics of the lovely Miss Molly Patience (at least not her, per se). Here was something precious and singular, like the fleeing golden hind caught somewhere within the brambles of my mind, only to be lost again to the cycles of remembering and forgetting. This was a decaying fragment of utter and incarnate madness: a clear memory of the Great Darkness. I saw what the world had become (and perhaps, could become again). I witnessed the defeat of the Queen of the Dead; I saw her corpulent dullness scattered like ashes across a world of resurrected dreams. Was this the purpose of the dream— to advertise a possible reward for a game well played; or was it, in truth, merely a parenthetical sideshow to the next name on my murder-list?

However parenthetical or primary, the dream had appreciably lightened my desire to eliminate the subterranean cannibal, for she was pure monster—forged from a daemon darkness beyond recollection (mostly), mistress of dark hordes, and hunter of fiends. But, alternatively, I was ecstatic to meet her monstrous legions and to stand before her bleeding smile, which could easily pass for one of my sisters’ lethal grins. I would have liked to believe that I had some choice in the matter, but in truth I had none; I was in love with the drift of inscrutable purpose and the power of endless possibility, and as an artist, to see your work actually affect the world…

The train slowed as we approached a line of mountains that shambled in from the east, sweating clouds and hosting sky-blackening numbers of crows. The next place the train stopped was listed as “Orphan,” and when the train finally stood still and opened its doors, I was excited to see what species of creature might be admitted from the strangely named city. However, when the train lingered at the boarding platform, and a tinny voice announced from invisible places that there would be a two hour wait before the train began again, I decided to tour the city, and perhaps acquire something to quench my thirst.

There were very few passengers departing from the other cars. Exactly twenty people, all told, and there wasn’t a stitch of the remarkable about a single one of them. So I took to the shadows of the path we all followed into town, and didn’t give the small crowd a second thought. The town itself was trivial and quiet, but the echoes of horrors past still sounded within its darker spaces, always reminding those who were sensitive to such reverberations that past is prologue. But beyond its connection to plague and death, it was a quaint, if only slightly haunted, little hamlet.

There were sights in and around the city if you knew where and how to look for them. For instance, after I followed the silence of old death I located a wonderful and well-hidden mass grave; It had apparently been feeding a collection of the most monstrous trees I’d seen since I traveled the back roads around Autumn City, near the infamous September Woods. I even managed to find a small smokehouse that had been repurposed as an art gallery, hidden fairly deep in the forest. The lingering darkness had apparently found a willing supplicant somewhere in the city, and must have called upon them to recall their darkest visions in pig’s blood, and to wipe those images, with some skill, across the dried skins of deer and bears. The gallery was fairly fresh, as some of the paintings had dried only very recently. There was one particular piece that caught my eye; a tall and gaunt man had been painted against a background composed of many hundreds of knotted serpents, and he wore a dainty crown fashioned from tiny snake bones. The words written below the slim figure read: The Prince of Snakes. But despite the one mature work, the rest of the pieces were still those of a fledgling, as the animal materials still satisfied an embryonic art that would soon call for more blood and skin, and of a type that would require a gallery less easily stumbled upon by persons wandering through the forest.

After I located and drank from a cold stream, I made my way back to the train. When I reached the station I detected that the small crowd that had returned from the city had grown by one member. The new addition seemed out of place, as he was trying too hard to blend into the gathering. When I entered the passenger car, I took a seat that was closer to the man who wished to move unnoticed in his travels. I watched him for some time before I realized he was looking back at me through the reflective chrome that wrapped around the top of one of the handrails.

“I have no head for this sort of game, you know? I’m far too impatient. It’s the chaos I’m chasing. The faster and faster I go…I just love it. You?” said the man without turning to face me. I said nothing. My sister was already by my side, and I couldn’t deny how badly I wanted to express the artistic inspiration gained via my sleeping glimpse into The Great Darkness.

The man slowly, as if knowing that any untoward movements would lead to his death, lifted and displayed a folded piece of water-stained paper from his front pocket. He unfolded and spread the paper across the top a small book he had on his lap. It was a murder-list, replete with crossed-off names and numbered entries. “See? I don’t think you’re on there, or at least, you’re not next on the list. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me some time to finally know the true face of my next playmate, and you certainly don’t look anything like the “Breathtaker.” And from the fact that I’m still talking, I’m going to assume I’m not on your list, either. Are we allowed to kill out of order? If so, I suppose we might have a problem.”

“You would have the problem, I’m afraid,” I said, while I effortlessly slid my sister through the fabrics and plastics of seat between us, and gently touched his back with her deadly smile. “But I’ve had no inclination to pursue the names out of order, so far. However, there does seem to be an unspoken formality to all of this, so, for now, I’m willing to consider the order of the names as something of an unspoken rule.”

“It’s the order and formality that has me wanting to quit this awful game. As an artist, I’m sure you must feel the same, yes?” The man knew who I was, and that interested me.

“Why do you think you know who I am?”

“You’re gigantic, with what could easily be an enormous axe wrapped-up and laid across your back. To be honest, I’m not sure how you’ve lasted so long with such an appearance, and traveling unhidden on a public vehicle, no less,” said the man who still hadn’t turned his face to me.

“Do I have you at a disadvantage, my friend? Have you no idea with whom you’re speaking? I wonder how many faceless names you’ve already scratched off that list of yours, all the while having no idea as to the legacies you’ve destroyed. I mean, that is what we’re doing, isn’t it? We’re being made to thin our own ranks. Or have you a grander explanation to share?” The man was interesting enough to warrant a response.

“I’ve known of a few of the persons on my list. The others weren’t permitted a proper introduction, I’m afraid. As to the nature of the game, I’ll keep my opinions to myself. And while I’ll admit to a temporary loss as to our little naming game, your interest in knowing names and legacies tells me more about you then the fact you won’t show me your face, or whoever’s face that is. Even the muted sunlight falling from behind me might reveal the unmoving portions of dead skin that make-up that wonderful mask you’ve constructed. Although, as soon as you’re on the hunt again, you will turn it around, so that you have a face on both sides of your head. Am I correct…Janus?”

“HAHAHA, that’s the reason you’ve proven so elusive! You’re a clever fox, indeed! Yes, you’ve guessed correctly!” Still laughing, the dead-masked killer finally turned to face me, and I was staring into eyes as lethal as the dagger he used to swiftly turn aside my sister’s gleaming smile.

"The Father inside the Axe."
“The Father inside the Axe.”
“Twin sisters.”
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 2: Dream a Little Dream

I have to admit that I was quite surprised when the train made its scheduled stop just outside the abandoned city of Churchstone, exactly as foretold by the rail travel brochure I had stolen. When I stepped aboard and scanned the interior of the vehicle it seemed oddly lean, as if the impoverished number of travelers had actually caused the passenger cars to become gaunt and pinched. I soon discovered that the dirty windows of my particular car were spectacularly resistant to the invading rays of the sun, which all too often overemphasize the world beyond its more interesting nuances, eradicating shadows and denying mystery its purchase upon darkness.

According to the pamphlet I found tucked into a small recess in the back of the seat in front of me, the train had been originally created for the transportation of the dead—carrying them from various cities to a massive burning yard that had been created during the numerous plagues that led up to the Great Darkness—but it had been recently, and very smartly, redesigned to transport living persons to various and disparate locations. Taken as a whole, the train seemed as if it were a manifest and physical memory, long and grey, that vacillated between those horrible places that had most painfully impressed themselves into the flesh of its recollection.

The car that I occupied was nearly empty save for one other man, whom, for whatever purpose, carried with him only a vintage camera apparatus—the kind that sat atop a tripod of spidery wooden legs—that appeared carved entirely from the darkest wood and the most lusterless of metals. He occasionally looked over at me, smiling like a mortician after a disaster. His smile was filled with teeth so gigantic that it seemed cartoonishly overdeveloped, and I speculated that he might have boarded the train somewhere in the vicinity of New Victoria. But he kept to himself and soon disappeared after the next stop, somewhere in the middle of the woods and long after the sun had vanished. After the man and his ancient camera departed, the darkness seemed to morn his absence as it was appreciably less giddy and spirited than before. I tried to imagine what view the bizarre cameraman wished to photograph, so far out in the middle of the shunned wilderness.

The sound of the moving train ride was beyond soothing and the blurred sights, frozen into momentary cohesion by the cold light of the moon, made me think of an old movie reel spinning-off poorly captured images of some of the places I had always wanted to visit but never quite had the time to do so: Palewood, Greywitch, The Covenant Woods; and I think I might have even spied a crooked rooftop or two, of the darkly fabled city of Devil’s Clay. After the pale sights completely disappeared beneath the darkness of a passing flock of clouds that obscured the moon, I determined that it was time to sleep. I quickly discovered that sleep was all too easy to come by as I reclined deeply into the old-smelling leather of the seat, and I believed that facilitating dreamful slumber ought to have been listed as a major point of the train’s enumerated attractions.

Immediately after I had fallen beyond the waking world I felt a strangeness come over me, as if it were a thing under a pressure that only sleep could discharge. I felt as if I was standing within a crowd that had yet to form—an incipient and inevitable gathering that was governed by a force greater than the powers that twirled the seasons in a circle. I could also hear the approach of hungry things that loped and scraped along the predestined path that would eventually bring us all together. The inevitability of this gathering initially irritated me, as I rather disliked the truncation of those liberties that made living such a mystery of wandering dreams and dead dust, and for a moment I actually found myself very much wanting to resist the urge to blend with this congregation of hungry things. But it took no great amount of time or deliberation for the thought of such a gathering, joined in blood and shadow, to effectively win me over, and soon I was once again eager to participate in the deathly games to come.

As soon as my mind drifted beyond the pull of cosmic currents it began moving towards a dream, but when it reached the place where my dream should have been, there was something else there—a changeling, of sorts. It looked as if my own dream had been stolen and then somehow replaced with the nocturnal visons of another. I am a dreamer of no small skill, and I know my own dreams. This was not one of them.

I dreamed that I was in a house, and a rather large and lavish one, at that. I was looking at something out the window. Then a noise the likes of which I’d never heard before spread across the sky, blackening every bit of sound it happened upon until all I could hear was the music of ripening madness. Then I was running through the streets, my naked feet slapping against the trembling earth. Everything was changing. The shadows were yawning open, becoming doors. Then the whole world began screaming, all at once. The collective scream mixed with the music of galactic finales, as if the global shrieking was a lone singer crooning to an orchestra of fallen angels, all of it the finalizing and damning opus of a murdered world. I ran into the deep woods, fleeing madly the sounds of a once familiar world twisting into new shapes, breaking apart old habits, and becoming the most terrible things conceivable. I continued to penetrate deeper into the forest, even as the very branches of trees and scrubby bodies of thickets were coming alive with a demonic vitality. I stumbled through the mouth of a massive cave and waded blindly into the deep, moist darkness. There were other things cowering in there with me, and we huddled together, and shivered.

The dream abruptly changed; I was still underground but at a more recent time than before, and I was moving at a brisk but decidedly measured pace despite the utter lack of light. I was not alone. There were other things surrounding me in the darkness, and whatever they were they belonged to me, body and soul. My retinue and I moved beyond the underground rooms of the earth and entered into the moonlight. When I looked upon the moon, its light pouring across my body, I beheld weird shapes laying dark and massive across its face. Some of the intervening objects were moving, others held stone-still and became the jutting towers of incredible cities, and still others possessed an enormity that suggested extra dimensions to their composition that hurt too dwell upon.

My pack and I made our way across searing streets blackened by organic tars that exuded the smell of a slaughter house. And depressed into the road, as if floating within the coagulated blackness, appeared human faces, ever-so-slightly raised above the pavement. The eyes in the faces were blinking, and by some despicable and unseen enterprise, the lips that were slashed across those pale faces were whispering. I cared nothing for what they said as I knew the faces to be, for all practical purposes, quite dead, or perhaps more than dead. I passed into the shadows of a forest entangled and thick with ribboning lengths of barbed wire, and I ignored the struggling forms that were hopelessly ensnared within the toothsome, rusty coils, as if wrapped-up by unseen spiders that walked the webs of bloody, serrated steel.

Finally I came upon my destination: a gigantic factory, where I could see a massive, industrial smokestack throwing smoke-swathed flames at the already much afflicted moon. I entered the structure by way of an untended door. Something monstrous attempted to rise up against us as we poured inside. We fell upon the faceless thing in great numbers, and I joined my rapacious companions in the eating of its face and neck. We were almost a single, solid entity as we rose up through the lower floors of the building, seeking out the rooftop. Outrageous shapes attempted to block our path, but we were a biblical flood that could not be stopped or slowed, and what living things we washed over we left behind as only wet and clean-picked debris. The last door fell to us as we surged across the rooftop. And there, squatting atop its smoldering smokestack-throne, was a terrible creature. It rose from its seething seat at our approach. It tried to burn my mind apart with its vulgar presence—an unapologetic existence that flouted common sense and cosmic law—and I shot back with roars from my legion of monsters. I had become no less a violation of nature than the thing standing before me, and I was pleased to have seized the opportunity to demonstrate that fact.

The excitement from the impending clash woke me from my sleep of stolen dreams, and I immediately pondered: if I was dreaming someone else’s dream, then who was dreaming my dream? The answer was of course quite obvious. I was suddenly very curious over what part of my dream Miss Patience would enjoy the most

Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 1: A Mother’s Burden

After many days of travel I found myself in a fairly small village. Its sole redeeming feature was a monument that had been built during the Great Darkness. The only clue as to this statue’s purpose or station had been inscribed upon the base of the statue, the inscription read: “Mother of the Stillborn.” It had been raised by unknown persons for unknown reasons, but that fact didn’t stop the development of various, secretive cabals in her honor (another dream that was showing promise). However, it has been alleged that some persons, possessed of vague dream-memories from their time within the Great Darkness, recalled the presence of a strange, monstrous woman that wandered the skies above the spaces where stillbirths were about to occur, and that this daemonic woman caught the tiny souls as they spiraled towards the void. These persons further claimed that after each soul this darksome woman collected, her womb was observed to grow ever larger, and that after the requisite number of stillborn souls had been accrued, she would give birth to an ancient child: a grey, wizened heir to the boneyards of the world, who would preside over the courts of the dead from upon a throne raised from tombstones.

I walked to the secluded meadow where this goddess resided. When I found her, she had her frail arms clutched around her stagnant womb and was framing herself with her featherless wings. The approach to the towering statue was crowded with small humps of piled dirt, each one marked with the browned blossoms of baby’s breath. The meadow had become the burying place for tiny hopes, where disappointed mothers came to offer their lost children one last chance at life, or un-life; and where a sable statue had become the single grave marker for throngs of the dead.

I hadn’t visited her before but always wondered if a relationship existed between this mother and the one that presided over the Deadworld. But once I stood before her graven image I could clearly see that no such connection existed, as this was a mother who served a purpose, and one that made her one of the darkest functionaries of forgotten dreams. I stood in the meadow for quite some time, soaking in the statue’s shadow. There was something about her face that reminded me of my own mother. It brought back a memory of a near-dead twilight, where lingers the first clear memory I have of my mother. I remembered her pale face emerging from the red-rimmed darkness; she was like a child born to night, just a shadow swathed in cooling blood. Her smile was soft like a last breath, and her touch was the gossamer of fading dreams, but it was her eyes that I remember clearest: they were so black that they shamed the night that surrounded them, and when they looked upon me I was plunged beneath the lightless waters that fed from an endless sea of haunted, primal night, and all of this from only the spaces that floated quietly above her delicate cheeks. At some point in my reverie, I think I might have reached out and touched the hem of the anthracite dress carved onto the statue in front of me. I might have spoken a name. It was a name that drifted between two worlds, lost to both. My mother told me never to remember it. I didn’t.

Apparently I fell asleep at the foot of the statue, as I dreamed that my mother stood where the statue once presided. She was gesturing to the tree line. When I looked to where she conducted my gaze, I could see the pale children standing in the darkness, staring at me. Behind them, hanging by chains from the branches of hundreds of pine trees, were large cages, each one large enough to house only a single occupant. I knew the names of each child gathered in the darkness. I wanted to go to them but the air seemed to thicken, as my movements became heavy and slow. I wanted to say something important, but I don’t remember what. Before long I sensed something approaching from beyond the trees, and then I heard the baying of many wolves. When I turned back from whence the wolf-song had emerged, the children had vanished and my mother had been replaced by the appropriate deathly female. The death goddess smiled when the wolves washed over me like a carnivorous wave, tearing the flesh of my mind from the bones of an old dream.

It was night when I awoke, as if, while I nightmared, the shadow I stood beneath earlier had swallowed the whole of the wide meadow and the pine forest beyond it. The goddess standing above me had lost her sinister smile but gained a faraway stare that likely settled upon invisible worlds, places filled with the exuberant laughter of lost children, thrilling to games that only the dead may play. A third woman entered my thoughts: Black Molly Patience. I had no idea where to find her, as she roamed across (or under) the night as free and light as a whisper, devouring those who appealed to whatever strange appetites controlled her. But like the deathly being carved from coal and looming high above me, she was not without a following of well-wishers. I would start with them.

The next city I arrived at was hardly in need of a name, as it was untroubled by any meaningful distinction that might merit a label. I roamed its benighted streets that coiled lazily around structures that seemed identical to one another, and if it weren’t for the numbers carved into the rotting wood and crumbling stone of their facades, there would be no telling them apart. The few people I observed were as iterative as the buildings, and I wondered if, for purposes of identification, numbers hadn’t been carved into them as well. (I struggled long and hard over the possibility of creating an exhibit, as the city offered a wealth of inspiration.) Also, the city was either remarkably brave, or so emptied of anything that approached common sense that it found its short distance from New Victoria an acceptable sacrifice for the fine view of the distant mountains. But, for whatever reason, the city appeared largely untouched by the plague of sleep, as I detected none of the late-night screaming and moaning that so often preceded the ‘disease.’ Remarkably, I had exhausted myself of any interest in living dreams and was glad for their absence.

Before long, I found my way to the city’s “Museum of Darkness,” as I’ve heard them called. Once I broke into the building, the place appeared to be little more than a disordered and forgotten repository for local relics of the Great Darkness, preserved in some kind of an effort to understand the bygone event. I would prefer to believe that they were conserved, unconsciously, as brooding talismans with which to call down the Great Darkness once again (and perhaps, if we are lucky enough, next time we will be allowed to exit the Darkness with our memories intact).

I sorted through hundreds of articles fashioned from solid madness before I alighted upon what I was after. In a box marked “monsters” I recovered yellowed newspaper clippings that tracked the antics of those individuals who had come to be referred to, by certain medical professionals, as “Neopsychotics”: persons who had emerged from the Great Darkness governed by inhuman wit and savagery, as if they had evolved, in mind and body, to enjoy the comforts of Hell. While most of Miss Patience’s activities were well documented, I wanted to see where it all began (and I wanted to read it from some of the first sheets of paper to ever outline her darkness—in dying ink and decomposing paper), as that would be where I would travel—to seek out her first home beneath the earth, and to introduce myself to her devotees.

Black Molly Patience
Black Molly Patience
Drowkerr Version 2
Drowkerr Version 2
Fan art submitted by the talented Seth Brundle at Deviant Art.
Fan art submitted by the talented Seth Brundle at Deviant Art.
"White Gaia revisited"
“White Gaia revisited”
Part 2: The Road to Nightmares

Chapter 16: The Hungry Flock

Black Molly Patience had walked the nightmares of humanity since the close of the Great Darkness, and had chewed the courage of an entire generation down to its rubbery gristle; and while the thought of finding her darkness and making it my own was exhilarating, I couldn’t help but imagine the toll such an act would exercise upon my conscience. How could I forgive myself for such a thing? And why would this ‘shepherd’ want me to strip the Mother of the Dead World of one of her greatest enemies? A soft voice brought the broken and storm-drenched room that contained me back into focus. “You are like a feral angel hunting the limits of a savage heaven, now. I envy you, as I must sleep to find my dreams, and here you are in the middle of the solid world, hunting and being hunted by the reddest dream imaginable. But my envy goes only so far before it’s replaced by pity. While you have the good fortune of being wrapped in wild dreams, day and night, I have walked between the headstones of that particular dream, and I know that it will not end well for you.”

“Graveyards can be gardens, dreamer, as death can be as fertile as the blackest soil. Perhaps you wandered the ground of a garden that had been poorly seeded, and was only waiting to be re-cultivated with better ingredients?” I said with an insight that indulged my best hopes. I knew that dreams were tricky beasts and even the most seasoned dreamer was likely to misinterpret them, for as any good dreamer knows, dreams make promises carved in smoke and speak in the dishonest sibilance’s of grinning snakes. “But while we’re lingering upon this issue of grim inevitability, I would very much like to know how you’ve come to be ignored by the things that inhabit this city.”

“That’s a particularly interesting topic, given your previous mention of gardens. You see, I too am being cultivated. This bed I sleep upon is invaluable to those beings. Every time I return from dream a little bit of my journey is left behind within its sheets, rusted frame, and creaking headboard; and these creatures possess a sort of technology that can harvest it for their own weird purposes. I learned all of this upon the close of the first day I entered New Victoria, just days after the plague had begun. I had made my way through the silent crowds of shambling sleepwalkers, past the screeching birth knells of infant nightmares, and finally came to rest in the spacious rooms of a derelict house that stood near Nothman Hill, at the north end of the city. At that point I had become far too familiar with the unearthly sounds of nightmares risen from sleep, and so failed to immediately investigate the metallic droning that vibrated the ceiling above me. Eventually, the sounds of something creeping toward my bed renewed by exhausted curiosity. When I gazed into a small patch of moonlight that fell from the bed to the floor, I could see the creeping machinations of a curious industry: throbbing semi-organic tubers were slithering between the box spring and the mattress of my bed. Of course I was quick to leap from beneath my sheets and on to the floor, and just in time—as a ganglionic tangle of smaller tubers descended from the unseen corners of the dark room and seized my pillow within a death-grip of extruded hooks and needles. Shortly after the creeping lengths of flesh and steel had all but cocooned my previous sleeping arrangements, the collective apparatus of organic things began to pulsate within a kind of sickening rhythm, composed of an orderly exchange between slurping and chewing sounds. It took no great amount of thought for me to determine that the strange ‘technologies’ were extracting the dreams that had come to repose within the materials of the bed. Later I would determine that this technology could extract dreams from just about any object that had routine contact with dreaming heads. As perhaps you are uniquely positioned to understand, any dream that can survive waking, even in the minutest amounts, is a quantifiable victory, or a part of a larger potential victory, over all of this intractable, waking foolishness; so these things have smartly devised a means to leave no amount of residual dream to waste. Since that night the things have left me to my own devices—so long as I dream in the right direction and do not distract them too much from the rest of their labors. And with this last bit of insight I must conclude our little meeting, for as I’ve mentioned, I’m only tolerated here as long as am a quietly ripening fruit and not a noisy flower that gathers stinging pests.” However the dreamer did begrudge me one last bit of insight, and so he supplied me with the route I should travel to safely and quickly escape the city.

I walked through the damp blackness of a long hallway before I reached the elevator. There was the dimmest of lights affixed to the frame above the recessed machine, and its illumination was little more than a glowing darkness that indicated the direction the elevator was traveling. After I had entered the small room dangling by cables (I’ve always enjoyed the idea of traveling the darkness inside a room that is beholden to no fixed location), and just before its automated doors closed me off from the gloom of the hallway, I heard the horrible cries of the man I had just abandoned to his busy sleep. Apparently the Wakeless had made a calculated decision concerning their pursuit of me, and some portion of its execution apparently retracted their tolerance of my insightful friend. I knew instantly there was nothing to be done for the man, and I hoped that the better part of his mind had managed somehow to escape into the weightless and rushing waters of the dream he had spoken so fondly of (of course, the colder and more rational part of my mind knew better).

The doors opened into the superior darkness of a basement, and I took a moment to look for any entities that might preside over the place, in some official capacity. But as much as the city partook from dreams, it seemed not to include the pleasant company of cellar-kings and their subterranean sovereignties. But this was not to say that some echo of the Kingdom of Cellars was entirely absent, as there was a wonderfully wide hole that opened into spaces that fled the basement and entered into adjoining subterranean places. I quickly moved beyond the hole and into a strange and twisting corridor that had been carved out of solid stone. From behind me I heard the comical “ding” of the elevator door opening up again, and I might have chuckled a bit too loudly at the idea of such brilliantly vile creatures loading into an elevator for the purposes of chasing me down. But despite the amusement the chase was supplying, I was tired of being rushed and so summoned my father to my grip. With alarming force he blasted himself against the stone of the ceiling (I believe my father was still upset about his previous failure to finalize matters between himself and a certain tongue-less nightmare), calling down the earth and blocking the way behind me. My Father was not pleased at being awoken by so pedestrian a need, but the freedom he had afforded me made the weight of his silent reproach more bearable.

As I navigated the underground, I imagined myself as the woman I would soon hunt: I listened with pricked ears as I glided through the deep quiet that flooded up from underground voids overflowing with precious silence, waiting for a sign from above to call me up from the darkness to snatch my prey from the world; and once firmly in my grasp I would set my venom adrift into its streams of blood, and then steal away into the subterranean rooms of my home to devour my paralyzed prize in the deep, cool air, where the bones of both the old and the recent dead gather in crowds at my naked feet . I was so enthralled with my imaginings that I had nearly neglected to notice the light that was growing brighter by the moment. Before I knew it, the tunnel had transitioned from a stretch of mechanically riven stone into a natural expanse of smooth rock that conducted me out from the mouth of a yawning cave. I looked above a nearby hill and spied the distant rooftops of new Victoria. I had escaped the nightmare city for the second time.

As I emerged from beneath the thick shadow of New Victoria and moved back onto the main road beyond the broken city barricades, the Dead Mother was waiting for me. She was standing on the other side of the pavement, and her sickly yellow light poured down all over the cracked blacktop, glorifying each pebble of artificially darkened stone. The stench of her body, a horrible mixture of tar and heat, swept back and forth across the air like clumps of dead bodies in shallow water, drifting indecisively to the tune of a feeble current. Her grotesque silhouette was revealed in the cracks of a nearby concrete wall that had fallen away from the dead space it had once enclosed, and I could feel her gangrenous thoughts pulling at the shadows, trying to weed them from her garden of solid, grey banality. Her head was buried in the sun—just an obnoxious mass of heat and dead light, spreading a sick yellow warmth across my upturned face. But after what I learned from the now dead dreamer, and knowing that the game I played might possibly spread a red dream across the world, I managed to offer the Dead Queen a broken grin—a mere sample of the smiles to come.

"The Fate of the Sleeper."
“The Fate of the Sleeper.”
Nightmareling #3
Nightmareling #3