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.