They pin his arms and legs, one kneeling on each limb so no matter how violently Daren struggles he cannot fight free. A sliver of bright blade glints at the corner of his eye amid a chorus of wolfish laughter. Not again. He seizes up in panic. No, no, not again, no. Please. But the words never leave his lips. Daren clenches his jaws tight as the blade pierces his flesh and slides beneath, not down but sideways to cause the maximum amount of pain and the minimum amount of damage. His back arches and he groans, the sound caught deep in his throat, the pain excruciating, but Daren won’t give them the satisfaction of hearing his screams. He won’t beg them to stop. It wouldn’t matter anyway; his assailants won’t cease until they grow bored and leave him a trembling, bleeding wreck on the tile. Until then Daren moans behind tight pressed lips and tries to sink into the darkness beneath the agony.
Daren moves through the crowd like a ghost, slipping from shadow to shadow and uttering a guttural growl at anyone who comes too close. There is little sanity left in him now; it takes his entire concentration to resist the urge to bite and rend and tear those around him. Tanim is gone. Tanim is gone and with him the last of Daren’s energy or desire to cling to humanity. Grief twists him into a feral, hollow beast driven by rage to wander, to seek and pursue, but where? Who? Tanim is gone. Tanim is gone and Daren is cut adrift in the world. A world he wants to see punished even more than he wants his lover back.
[ So the night after I dreamed about Daren as a shape-shifter, I had another dream about him as a shape-shifter. Not the same plot line, but he did turn into a crazed white wolf at the end. Apparently my boys are getting tired of all the mushy emotional stuff I’ve been writing lately and want something with a little more… bite. ]
In his dream he crumples to the ground, face buried against his folded legs, fingers tearing at tangled locks of hair. In his dream he weeps, great racking sobs that rock his hunched body, muffled only by the press of his mouth to quickly moistening cloth. In his dream he doesn’t bother to reign in the sorrow but surrenders completely to it instead; he is too tired, too worn, too done to feign normalcy anymore. In his dream he allows himself to shatter, knowing only here there are no repercussions, and upon waking he will wipe whatever tears have spilled over from sleep and force a smile once again.
It’s like a maelstrom, rage and misery and fear all warring for supremacy inside him. He cringes at the voices around him, resisting the urge to clamp his hands over his ears or bare his teeth like a beast to keep the strangers all around at bay. He wants to run. He wants to lash out. He wants to slit his own throat and end this madness once and for all.
Tanim’s voice is the only sound which doesn’t grate against his flesh. Daren shudders and raises his eyes to Tanim’s calm countenance. Instead of holding out his hand to bring Daren to his feet, the young man kneels at his side as if without a care for the stares they both receive. Daren has been waiting for Tanim to arrive and his presence eases the storm of emotions slightly, at least enough to think clearer, but he can’t manage to force a false smile. Daren’s skin skill crawls with the stares of those nearby. He knows he doesn’t belong here; they don’t want him, they want Tanim, and they resent the love which binds the two.
“Have you eaten?”
Tanim talks as if he can’t feel the glares – and maybe he really is oblivious to the hostility, beloved as he is to the ones who loathe his companion. Daren doesn’t bother answering; he craves blood constantly but the last thing he needs is to further alienate himself by feeding in public. Instead he inches closer and rests his head on Tanim’s shoulder, closing his eyes to shut out the cacophonous world as Tanim wraps an arm tightly around his waist. The others may not want him here but Tanim must be kept safe and Daren is the only one capable. He would kill for Tanim. He would die for Tanim. In the end, he may do both.
[ And later Daren turned into a white wolf and killed this… priest dude? Who wanted to kidnap Tanim? Or something. Also, I think they were nomads and Tanim was their prince. It was an odd dream. ]
Harrow stared up the grassy slope as he caught his breath, wondering how the last hundred yards in a five day trek could somehow seem the longest. At least a reward awaited them on the other side; warm fires, dry tents, clean clothes, and best of all, something hot and fresh to eat after days of stale bread and dried beef. He didn’t think he’d ever be so happy to see an army encampment as when he topped that rise.
His men began to pass him on their way up, footsteps weary but voices raised in hopeful good humor, and Harrow turned his thoughts back to the moment at hand. He glanced back once to the crest of the hill and moved to follow them when a glint of light ahead caught his eye. He was still staring at the field of swaying grass in search of the flicker’s source when a dull thunder rumbled from somewhere ahead, its tremors reaching his tired feet a few seconds later. Just as the first riders appeared over the ridge Harrow realized what had caused the brief flash of light, because he’d seen it a dozen times before: the sun reflecting off the polished steel of a spear tip.
“Cavalry!” someone yelled, and another added in horrified understanding, “It’s an ambush!” Chaos erupted as the line of horsemen plunged headlong toward Harrow’s meager band. They would be slaughtered, of course, outnumbered as they were and with neither the armor nor weaponry to face such foes on equal footing. Anyway, for all he knew the rest of the army already lay slaughtered beyond the hill and no help would come from any direction for them. Yet habit trumped nihilism and Harrow found himself shouting orders to draw blades all the same, his own already in hand. However futile the situation might be, he trusted his men to fight and knew they trusted and depended on him to lead. Better to die on your feet than kneeling before your foe.
A rider bore down on him and Harrow raised his sword with a bellow, slashing out with a rage petulantly fueled by the idea he’d come all this way only to be robbed of the simple hope for one hot meal. He thought too, as he parried and dodged, of the men who would fall at his side; the ones who sat around the fires each night and spoke of wives or sisters or mothers, who wanted to go home as much as he but had never spoken the words for fear of mockery. None of them wanted to be here, not really, but this was the way of things and if you were lucky you went home with only scars and stories. If you were unlucky, well… you found yourself in a situation like this, and stayed a lot longer than you’d intended.
A pike knocked the sword from his hands and without thinking Harrow reached for the scything blade, determined to take at least one of the bastards with him. The rider reared back and the pike slipped from Harrow’s hands, leaving long gashes in his palms he barely felt. He retreated to where his sword had fallen amongst the trampled grass but before he could reach it something struck the back of his head and he fell in a daze of dancing stars. His last sight before slipping into unconsciousness was his own blood pooling on the torn earth, a sight which he realized should have bothered him, though he couldn’t remember exactly why.
“You’ve got to listen to me!” the girl howled, fingers white from their death drip on the doorframe. “Please!” She kicked at one of the security guards yanking on her waist, foot landing a solid punch into his midsection. He uttered an ‘oof!’ of surprise and she used his momentary distraction to for the second time yell, “Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler travel the world solving archaeological mysteries!” Her voice raised, rapid and determined, as her fingers began to slip, “Like Indiana Jones, only way fucking cooler! It’ll make millions!” And with that the guard gave one great tug and she disappeared around the door, only the sounds of her struggle and one last “You’ll regret this!” echoing as she was escorted roughly out the studio.
For a moment the assembled employees of Amblin Entertainment stared in dumb silence around the office. They were used to riff-raff pitching terrible sequel ideas, just not by sneaking into the studio and throwing a fit when they were immediately turned away. These days you expected such fanaticism more from fans of box office favorites like Twilight than some movie from the 90s with no male leads under the age of thirty.
A stern cough startled the group and they turned as one like guilty school children. The president himself, who the obnoxious girl had of course insisted upon seeing, stood in the doorway of his office, frowning out as if more irritated by the commotion itself than the security breach. The braver of his junior assistants swallowed and managed to stammer, “S-sorry, sir, we’re not sure how this happened; she managed to get past the front desk and by the time…” He realized the president was paying no attention to his apology, only staring off into the middle distance. “Sir?”
“Grant and Sattler, eh? Archaeological mysteries?” The president rubbed at his chin, eyes flicking back and forth as wheels turned in the consideration of box office comparisons, viewer trends, and merchandise and video game tie-ins. His gaze locked on a cowering writer as he commanded, one finger pointed with all the authority of God Himself, “You: I want a draft script on my desk by Friday. Put a curse in it, too. Audiences love things with curses. And you,” the hand swung, the fierce eyes speared another staff member, “get Neill on the phone and a contract ready to sign by five.”
A profusion of blank, blinking stares met the rapid-fire instructions. The president raised a single eyebrow in a long perfected gesture of confidence and mild intimidation. “What, you didn’t seriously think we were going to go the ‘dinosaurs with lasers’ route, did you?” He clapped once and spun on his heels. “Well, get on it, you idiots! Time is money!”
[ While I didn’t technically dream this particular scene, I did dream I was watching a movie about Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler traveling the world solving archaeological mysteries, sort of like Indiana Jones but better because it’s Dr. Grant (my first love). And if anyone from Universal Studios is reading this, I just want you to know that I would totally watch the fuck out of that movie. ]
Daren spared a moment to rub delicately at his unbound wrists before turning his gaze back up to the captain. “No iron to keep the demon at bay? What, have we grown so close these past months you trust me to play nice?” From across the scarred table the captain smiled and leaned back in his seat, feigning a steadier confidence than he really felt over having the monster unchained. “I think you’ll behave this time,” he said. “After all, you’ve requested several times to meet with the King. Now you finally get your chance.”
Daren moved languidly down the hall, sunlight spilling in from the high windows and touching his skin for the first time in months. He took his time, savoring the ability to move more than a few feet in a single direction. Lovely, really, this freedom; he thought everyone ought to spend a year or two chained up in solitary to earn proper appreciation for the world outside. A world he would turn to ash, of course, but they could enjoy it while it lasted.
As he approached a pair of heavy oak doors the two guards at their sides snapped to attention. It was sweet, really, that they thought flimsy steel could stop something like him. Amused, and therefore feeling oddly generous, Daren stopped before the secretary’s desk as if he was any old citizen calling on the King to present some petty grievance. The secretary must have been alerted to his coming because he didn’t seem at all surprised to find the unescorted prisoner standing before him. In fact, he had fixed on his face a carefully crafted sneer of arrogance highly unbefitting his station. Or indeed, really, his species.
“So, you’ve come to see the King, hmm?” The secretary’s sneer curled into an equally unearned smirk. “Shall I introduce you with all your titles intact? The Angel of Death, the Destroyer, the Desolation and Pestilence–”
“I will burn them.”
“P-pardon?” For all his outward bravado the man’s haughty expression crumpled in fear as Daren leaned in, a gentle smile on his face, and repeated softly, “I will burn them. Angelique and Margaret. Burn them until they are dust.” And with that he stepped past the speechless man, both guards hastening to pull open the heavy doors before he could turn his attention on them.
“How did he know?” As he entered the throne room Daren could hear the secretary plead to the guards in a bubbling, terrified sob, “how did he know about my daughters?” Daren smiled to himself. Questions like ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ never crossed his mind; he knew what he knew and did what he did without question. Ordinary people were so unnecessarily complicated.
“Ah,” He came to a stop on the marble tiles and tilted his head in the barest of nods. “Your majesty.”
[ The dream totally changed from here, which super bummed me out. I was hoping for some death and destruction or teaming up with the King to beat an even worse baddie or something. ]
There is time enough to clasp hands and part lips but not enough to cry out in fear or despair or defiance before the egg shell sky rips wide in a flare the sun would envy. The end comes so quickly the earth seems to stand still as color bleaches white, sound swells to a deafening roar and ebbs to eternal silence, matter bursts burns crumbles scatters to ash and atoms. In the aftermath, darkness. Deprivation. Absence. How long does consciousness persist once the body has dissolved back to its primal energy state? Is this a temporary purgatory or a lasting nothingness? The memory of lungs struggles for the memory of breath though flesh and bone are long melted away. Then even awareness is subsumed by the annihilation.
[ Death by atomic blast is a new one for me, dream-wise. ]
I dream of cupcakes
cramming them down two a time
[ I dream about food almost every night, actually. It could be considered pathetic but I’m such a lucid dreamer that everything I eat in my dreams tastes fucking amazing, so I’m not ashamed. ]
Outside the sun scorched air and earth alike. Daren could feel it soaking through the down-turned blinds and heating the cheap, dusty plastic. Peering between two slats, he glared out at the domestic scene beyond, lips curling back in a scowl to bare two sharp fangs. Manicured lawns choked with fertilizer and pesticide, identical prim houses in varying shades of pastel, miles of sidewalks covered in strolling couples and playing children… disgusting. Tanim would hate this place.
With an impatient sigh Daren retreated into the cool dark of the abandoned house which had for so many months served as shelter and prison both while he healed. The thought of Tanim stirred fond memories and fierce, restless longing. Tanim liked simple things: sleeping in, good books, rough sex. Daren despised the circumstances that kept them apart for so long. He vowed that when he was finally strong enough to risk that merciless sun he would escape this wretched place to seek his lost lover, and he would leave a trail of bodies in his wake. It would be just like old times.
“I Know, I Know, I Know”
in my dream I might
might have made an excuse to
to touch your hand but
but on waking I cannot
cannot admit the reason
[ I mentioned I have some crazy dreams, yes? Consider this The Ruins... in space. ]
“———–traces of —————- contami————————-tain, do you copy?”
Sudden chaos as consciousness returns. A dozen different lights flash; a chorus of alarms shrill and beep at ear-splitting frequencies; cracked screens scroll with damage reports made meaningless by their severity.
“—– can’t send assistance until —————ings. Please repor——–”
Brade wrenches her leg free of the debris thrown loose by the crash and delivers a solid kick to the control panel. The disorienting hiss of radio static clears and the signal sharpens.
“Captain, do you copy? Genesis One is prepared to begin emergency extraction and is awaiting confirmation the surface is sterile. Please transmit planetary biological hazard readings immediately.”
Sticky blood seals one eye and Brade scrubs it away with the sleeve of her flight suit as she surveys the damage. During the crash her research vessel became vertically wedged in a steep, narrow canyon, its nose pointed toward an unfamiliar sky. If not for her safety belt Brade would have been thrown to the back of the ship on impact. As it is, her whole body aches and the wound on her head leaks a steady trickle of blood. At least she fared better than the ship, though. Staring at the remains of the flight panel, she knows she’s lucky the damned thing hasn’t caught fire.
“Captain, do you copy?”
Another kick silences the radio completely. Brade doesn’t need the delicate biological scanning equipment, now a jumble of broken circuits anyway, to get a biohazard reading. Beyond the ship’s shattered bubble shield the dusty air dances with green motes, questing spores of a carnivorous plant Genesis One has already classified an extreme threat. A mere handful of the minuscule seeds is enough to form a rapidly spreading colony capable of eating away at metal as easily as flesh, and the crash has shaken loose clouds of them from the canyon walls. Genesis One can’t risk contamination by bringing her back on board now.
The ship may not be on fire yet, but neither she nor it is going anywhere. Brade leans her head back and coughs, feeling the first spores take root in her lungs and spread their tendrils through the spongy muscle.
Oh sister, don’t you see? Someone cannot become a ghost if they never existed in the first place. You are no specter like he; you are a figment, a concept, an ideal, impossible from the very beginning. It’s a terrible pity that he should live and die and thus be granted a phantom’s immortality while you, you who would have sucked the marrow of life to taste even its final dregs, will never have that chance. If any deserve animation or resurrection it’s you, my dear, but what can I do? These long years have proven I have no power to spark real breath from my words, that I cannot make you a thing of flesh and bone simply by desire alone. Only in dream may I glance into the mirror and find you staring back, slender hands pressed to the glass so I can pull you through. You aren’t in that mirror when I wake – why else do you think I never look too closely as I pass by? You do not haunt my dreams, sister. You are my dreams. And I haven’t the heart to tell you that it only pains me more to know you once in fiction than never in reality. Don’t you see? I would rather have never known the liquid lyricism of your voice than to wake alone when seconds before your laughter tickled against my ear. I would give anything for you, but I’m not a child anymore. I no longer search for fairy rings; I rarely check under the bed at night; I don’t believe if I stand at my mirror and chant “thee to me, sister, thee to me” you will cross over to this world. I know you are impossible. It’s time you accepted it as well. You can’t haunt me if you’re not a ghost.
slick, eloquent words
infectious once, futile now
you’re a ghost, fucker
[ But my ghost nonetheless. Who am I kidding? ]
[ I don’t actually dream about Tanim and Daren that often. I guess by bed time my brain is pretty tired from having thought about them all day long. ]
In the silence of the forest Daren’s harsh breathing seems as loud as a gale. He shuts his mouth and tries to draw breath instead through a throbbing nose, tasting blood and dirt with every swallow. For a moment he lays perfectly still, face half buried in winter’s dead leaves, afraid even the slightest movement will betray his hiding place beneath a skeletal bush. Finally the pounding of his heart calms enough that he can hear the sounds of pursuit closing in all around. Torches flicker in the night.
“Tanim…” Daren seeks his lover’s gaze in the darkness, comforted by the determination which still shines in Tanim’s eyes despite the mask of bruises and blood. Tanim shakes his head, raising one finger to his lips to caution silence. Even a whisper risks too much though they lay only feet apart; remaining hidden as the pursuers pass by is their only chance at escape. Instead, Tanim reaches out and presses his hand over Daren’s, communicating by touch all that cannot be said. Far off, approaching footsteps crunch on dry leaves, hunting for two men who dare share an illicit love.
Daniel waited until the roaring ceased and the wind no longer tore at his duster before lifting his head from beneath his arms. The tornado had been smaller than he’d expected and left behind only torn soil and a spattering of wet snow on the plains. “Thank the Lord for that,” he muttered as he climbed to his feet, groaning slightly at the protest of a body too old to be knocked about by a twister. He found no irony in thanking God for being merciful with a punishment He Himself had sent; after all, it could have hailed instead of snowed. Though there was always next time.
The thought of “next time” prompted Daniel to hurry his check for cuts and scrapes and plan his next move. He scanned the plains, trying to reorient himself in a landscape made unfamiliar by the wind churned earth. Mountains loomed in the distance off to his right, their peaks hidden by the pregnant bellies of purplish storm fronts. There was no sense in going back where he had come from, not when the Lord’s Judgment had already swallowed those towns in wind and water, so he turned his back to the range and set off east.
An hour’s walk brought him to a creek cutting across the plains. Daniel knelt for a drink and a chance to scan his surroundings as inconspicuously as possible. Movement in a grove of pine trees on the other side of the stream caught his eye. Just as he’d expected; the Elders in Providence, the only speck of civilization within fifty miles, wouldn’t leave their border unprotected for just any old soul to wander in. Daniel removed his revolver from its holster as he crossed the stream, careful to keep his motions slow and purposeful. He held up both hands, revolver hanging from his fingertips where it couldn’t pose a threat, and made his way toward the grove. From its shadows a young woman emerged, scowling down the barrel of the rifle aimed at his chest. “Toss the gun over here,” she barked. Daniel obeyed without question. This seemed to appease the sentry somewhat and she lowered the rifle, though her finger never left the trigger. “What’s your name, stranger? And what are you doin’ way out here?”
“Parish. Daniel Parish. I’m seekin’ shelter from that,” He nodded over his shoulder to the mountains crowned in thunderheads. Lightning danced at their slopes, twisting and twining as if pulled together by a force more powerful than just the funneling wind. The storm looked a long way off still but he knew distance made no matter here; the Lord would strike when and where He willed. And He would strike again soon.
“Mmm,” The woman narrowed her eyes as she scanned the horizon. “Movin’ in fast. Well, alright then. Come along and you can petition the Elders for sanctuary.” She pocketed Daniel’s weapon and gestured for him to walk ahead, still holding the rifle where she could raise it quickly if needed. They walked in silence for a while, the only sounds the crunch of their boot steps and the distance rumble of approaching thunder.
“You get any twisters ‘round here lately?” Daniel asked over his shoulder. “Not recently,” the reply came, as professionally perfunctory as everything else the woman had said. “Been calm.” Daniel nodded, thought about saying “it won’t stay that way for long” but decided against it and fell silent. Providence would see the truth soon enough.
Another hour or so brought them to the base of a low rise. At its top sat an impressive structure of polished wood and heavy iron. Try as he might, Daniel couldn’t help but feel at least slightly impressed by the Providence stronghold. It didn’t exactly exude that old time Christian hospitality, of course, but it could handle just about anything this new world order threw at it. Though probably not, he guessed, whatever the good Lord saw fit to unleash upon His children next.
The woman led Daniel to the front gate and passed inside, leaving him to wait awkwardly outside while the sky darkened overhead. As the wind began to pick up, moaning around the corners of the compound, a slot in the gate opened. From within he caught the tail end of a clipped conversation. “…found this fellow wanderin’ out by Shallow Creek,” his guide, hidden somewhere behind the door, explained to whom he could only presume to be the Elder summoned for judgment. “Says his name’s Daniel Parish. He wants shelter from the storm.”
“Parish?” A new voice, aged yet still hard as steel, let out a short bark of laughter. “Forgot to add in the ‘Reverend’ part, did he? Or I suppose that’s ex-Reverend now, ain’t it? Sorry, Parish, but only those washed clean in the eyes of the Lord step through this gate. You’ve been wanderin’ a dark path these days so you just turn right around and face the demons you’ve brought down on yourself. It’s God’s will; you know that better’n anyone.” The unnamed Elder gave a dark chuckle. “Best say your prayers, Parish. The long night’s a comin’.”
The wooden slot slammed shut; the laughter faded. Daniel stared at the barred gate a moment, glanced briefly to the sky peppered with funnel clouds, then shrugged. He hadn’t exactly expected to be welcomed with open arms, after all. Providence had never been known to live up to its namesake. Well, if the front gate remained barred, he would just have to find another way in. Even a fortress like Providence must have a side door, a broken window hinge, something. And when he did make his way in, the Elders would understand the true meaning of ‘God’s will’. Maybe they’d even come to regret their hasty judgment when the storm descended. What was it Jesus said about casting the first stone?
“Come on, sinners, let’s go down, down to the river to pray…” Daniel allowed himself a small smirk as he belted out the old spiritual tune and began to search for a way in. Even such an innocent song could sound mighty threatening under the right circumstances. “Come on, sinners, don’t you wanna go down?”
I have glimpsed the monsters in his gaze. I have watched the orange tentacles unfurl like new buds out of the dark pit of his pupil, questing upward to caress the boundaries of their convex prison. They pool and crowd in the clear chamber of his eye until all that can be seen beneath his thin lids are the squirming appendages. In the right light their slick surfaces almost glow, turning his eyes bright as the Sun rising on the polluted horizon. I cannot hold his gaze for long; the way the tentacles wriggle and heave themselves against his cornea, I swear they seek to break free and pierce my own eyes.
[ Now’s a good opportunity to advertise my “dreams” category. Some crazy shit in there, folks. ]
He was sweating through the black ski mask long before he reached the fifth floor. The device in his hand may have looked the size and shape of an old portable record player but it sure as hell wasn’t as light as one. Whatever components were required to make a device this powerful, they weighed about seventy pounds. Marcus was tempted to remove the ski mask but a vision of the building’s complex network of security cameras squashed the urge. Instead he distracted himself by reminding his poor overheated body why exactly he was lugging a seventy pound plastic box up five flights of stairs in the first place: to get some tail.
“This is Missy,” On their way to the site Anna, the chick with the amazing rack, had passed him a Polaroid of a scar-covered pit bull missing two legs, one eye, and both ears. Her voice trembled with tears and wrathful indignation as she explained, “she died in my arms. Look what the sick bastards do to these poor animals!” Her hands had clasped his, her eyes pleading with him to help stop this unnecessary cruelty. Marcus didn’t really give a fuck about animal rights or stopping medical experimentation, of course. He just wanted to tap that hot eco-terrorist ass so here he was, along for the ride. Blowing up a building would be a sweet side bonus, obviously.
At the fifth floor landing Marcus paused and set his burden down with extreme care despite his cramping fingers. No one had specifically cautioned against tossing the thing around but he wasn’t about to take any stupid chances and get his dick blown off. He’d need it later, after all. He pressed his ear to the fire escape door and strained to catch sounds of passersby on the other side. Judging the hallway empty, he slipped inside and found himself bathed in the fluorescent ambiance of a generic office building. No evil scientists in bloody lab coats; no sounds of wounded animals crying out in pain; nothing but a long stretch of closed doorways and beige carpet. He was mildly disappointed.
“Marcus, are you in place?” Anna’s lilting British accent piped through his headset and sent a delightful shiver down his spine.
“Heading there now,” Marcus followed his mental map to the end of the hallway and found the terrorists knew their stuff; the row of vending machines sat right where the stolen blueprints had placed them. He set the device down in the corner and pressed its only defining feature, a single rectangular gray button disguised beneath the handle. Nothing happened. He leaned down, expecting to hear some sort of ticking, maybe an automated countdown, anything to give away the object’s true nature, but it remained silent.
“All devices activated,” An unfamiliar male voice replaced Anna’s over the headset. “Contact in three. Stand by.”
Marcus began to panic. His fingers scrabbled at the featureless box but could find no way inside. Three? What the fuck? Wasn’t there a grace period to get all these ski-masked earth nuts out of the building before the sixteen carefully positioned bombs brought it thundering down?
He didn’t even get to touch one god dammed tit and now he was going to die for some stupid animals? That bitch! She could have mentioned this all important final detail. Why the hell had they all looked so excited if they knew they were going to die?
Crazy fucking eco-terrorists and their crazy fucking suicide mission—
in my dream, cookies
fresh baked, warm from the oven
Dad grins ’round a bite
[ If you're interested, I wrote an essay a couple years ago about my father, his influence on me, and the circumstances of his death: Keep Your Sandwich Dry ]
A lot of my dreams would make really great young adult novels (or, if not great, at least successful young adult novels which play on whatever cliché is popular at the time) so I’ve decided to keep track of some of the best YA-oriented dreams I’ve had recently. I may eventually write some of these up as actual stories, but I think the plot synopses alone are at least somewhat amusing for the time being. Behold the power of a mind with too much time on its proverbial hands:
#1) Josh, star quarterback of his high school football team and all-around king of the school, suddenly finds his idyllic life turned upside down when he learns his football coach is recruiting the other football players into a secret society of black magic worshipers – and killing the ones who refuse. Can Josh save his friends from becoming sacrifices to the Elder Gods and win the big game?
#2) A girl is magically transported to another realm where she learns she can summon things from her imagination into reality. She is soon drawn into the battle against the Dark Forces seeking to do something Really Bad to the world, and uses her newfound powers to summon her three favorite book heroines into reality – the super smart girl detective, the sassy witch school queen bee, and the sword-wielding tomboy princess. Hilarious hijinks ensue as the four must band together to destroy the Evil Forces with, you guessed it… girl power!
#3) A group of teenagers are kidnapped by a shady mega-corporation and fight their way out of its multi-story headquarters, only to find out their escape was part of an experiment engineered by the head of the company (played in my dream, for some reason, by Tim Curry). The kids, having proved their abilities and potential, are recruited by the man to become a special forces team – but can their new employer be trusted, or is he hiding something behind that charming smile and expensive suit?
#4) Two girls find themselves haunted by the violent, vengeful spirit of their friend who, unbeknownst to them, has been killed in a freak accident, her body never found. The ghost believes the girls don’t care she’s gone and therefore wants them to suffer as she has. However, in the final terrifying confrontation between the girls, the enraged ghost, and the ghost’s guardian angel (because you need at least one pretty boy character, apparently) the girls reveal they didn’t know their friend was dead, having assumed she ran away from home some weeks ago. Appeased, the ghost forgives them and is able to accept her fate and move on.
#5) A brother and sister wandering in the forest by their home discover a wounded man who claims to be a fallen angel, and seems to have the knowledge to back up that assertion. But when he starts describing a version of Heaven nothing like that which their pastor father preaches every Sunday at church, they have to come to terms with the idea that Heaven may not be all it’s cracked up to be. And as the relationship between the brother and mysterious stranger grows beyond mere curiosity to something more intimate*, the family finds themselves divided along lines of loyalty and ideology which threaten to tear them apart completely.
* Okay, I admit it: Tanim was the brother and Daren the fallen angel, so there was really no chance of them not falling in love. God, my dreams are so cliché sometimes…
“And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the Prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” – Daniel 9:26
The angel led him through the streets of Constantinople, expounding on the wonders of that ancient city which is the heart of so much history and religion, both the single true and the myriad false. Everywhere around them the worthiest human souls went about their business, whatever that might be to please them in the afterlife, strolling beneath tall arched gates or lounging in the shade cast by buildings of pale stone and delicate columns. Laughter echoed off sun-striped courtyards and all seemed in perfect harmony.
Yet for a moment while he walked beside the angel the invisible veil slipped from his eyes as if tugged free by an errant wind, or perhaps a less accidental dispelling of the glamor by an unknown force, and he saw the truth of the city; how the souls there shone with a brilliant white luminescence as their energy was drawn out, harvested by the very Host charged with their everlasting protection. They felt not the slow siphoning, it seemed, but surely they would fade in time, drained to true Nothingness from which there is no salvation. Yet always there would be new souls to replace them in the chain, the cycle continuing until the end of the world and the fall of Paradise. He shuddered, sickened, horrified by the sight, the unbelievable betrayal…
And then through the bright auras he glimpsed a sliver of darkness, a negation that slipped through the crowd with an elegant grace, dreaming of ruin and Armageddon. But he said nothing of the intruder to the angel, who to him had said nothing of the souls enslaved like cattle. Thus Lucifer, Son of the Morning, moved unseen through the great city, his corrupted presence unknown to all save one who held his tongue and nodded to the Adversary in passing.
and so he fell to his knees and wept as above him the fabric of the night sky was rent in two and peeled away to reveal the gaping mouth of Abaddon, its darkness deeper and more complete than any night which has ever shadowed the earth since the Morning Star’s fall, and though he hid his eyes he could not blind himself to the decay of the Heavens as they were devoured by the Pit, nor deafen himself to the cries of the Host
[ This is roughly based on a dream I had. I left out the katana fight in the sewer because it made even less sense than this scene did. ]
“The sheriff’ll be here soon,”
Daren groaned but took Tanim’s warning to heart, rolling over on the debris strewn floor so he could get his arms beneath himself and push into a somewhat more upright position. “You in one piece?” he asked as he took stock of his own battered body; nothing stuck out, or in, and he was fairly certain most of the blood on the floor belonged to others. All in all, not too bad.
“Ain’t missing anything I can’t live without,” Tanim glanced around the saloon while he pocketed his now empty revolver, thoughtful frown creasing his mouth as he surveyed the wreckage of bodies and broken furniture. “Doubt I’d know which bits are mine anyway.”
“Good,” Daren managed to lurch to his feet, only to watch the room spin in drunken circles as pain lanced up his right leg. Okay, maybe he was more knocked around than he thought. “Gimme a hand here, will ya?” He tried to brace himself against something but nothing within reach had survived the brawl. He was about to tumble back down when Tanim’s firm grip on his arm steadied him. He flashed his partner a shaky yet grateful smile. “Horses better be where we left ‘em,” he muttered as he looped one arm around Tanim’s neck. “I don’t relish the idea of walkin’ home.”
“Doubt it,” Tanim’s frown remained, though his eyes gleamed with amusement and adrenaline. It had been a good fight. “Caleb’s men probably grabbed ‘em when they split. Bastards. Don’t worry, I don’t mind bein’ a crutch.” He lead his battered companion through the maze of destruction, mindful of the way Daren favored his right foot.
They reached the saloon’s back entrance just as the door swung open and in sauntered two men of the law drawn, no doubt, by all the commotion. “Evening, officers,” Tanim nodded amiably. “We’re tonight’s entertainment,” Daren interjected to prevent the officers commenting on their disheveled state. “Musicians. It was a very lively performance.” With that they slipped through the door, hurrying into the desert darkness before the men discovered the battlefield inside and thought to question the ‘musicians.’
Fucking field trips. Daren kicked desultorily at a wave polished stone and continued his slow trudge along the beach. Such a waste of time. I thought we were supposed to be done with these by high school. Maybe our teachers could actually plan a lesson for once instead of shipping us off to learn about marine biology, or whatever their pathetic excuse for this trip is? He snorted under his breath and followed the path of the rock, giving it another half-hearted kick across the sand. No, that’d be way too much work. Much easier to just get rid of us for the day.
“Hey, fag!” A rock hurled past Daren’s face, nearly clipping him in the jaw. A second stone pelted his shoulder as he turned toward the group of senior boys standing calf-deep in the swirling waves. The tallest of the four, a solid block of muscle with a letterman’s jacket stretched across his shoulders, sneered as he hefted a third stone in his hand. “You look tired. Up all night sucking cocks?”
Daren winced; not at the slur, but at the older boy’s pathetic attempt to insult him. “You know, David,” he said with a thoughtful quirk of one pale eyebrow, “you’re oddly obsessed with my sexuality. Hoping to fulfill some secret fantasies?” One of the boys next to David snickered at Daren’s retort, earning him a withering glare from the pack leader. Flustered by the unexpected comeback, David raised the rock and surged through the water. “You little bastard. I’ll beat your fucking face in.”
I’ll take that as a no. Daren stumbled back as the four hulking football players, each of whom was easily twice his weight, began fanning out as if to encircle him. Shit, I didn’t think they’d try anything out here in front of everybody. His eyes darted up and down the shoreline and he swallowed a noise of dismay when he saw that Tanim was only a small silhouette far down the beach; much too far to be of any help right now.
David gave a cruel smirk when he saw the alarm dawn in Daren’s expression. “What, gonna go crying to Tanim to save you?” He made a great show of glancing up the beach to the unwitting figure. “Don’t think he can hear you from here. Too bad.” The gleeful malice in the four pairs of eyes which turned back on Daren made him doubt they considered his circumstance to be all that unfortunate. And here I was hoping that last set of bruises would actually fade before I got any new ones… Gotta learn to keep my fucking mouth shut. He edged back another step, hoping to close the distance between himself and the teachers gathered back in the parking lot, but his foot landed on a patch of soggy seaweed and slipped out beneath him. Daren let out a squawk of surprise as he began to fall backward–
–only to feel a strong hand latch onto his elbow and haul him back on balance.
“Everything okay here, Daren?”
Tanim’s brother directed his question at Daren but his narrowed eyes remained fixed on the would-be attackers. His gaze locked with David’s in silent challenge, his hand resting protectively on Daren’s shoulder. For a moment David only scowled back, then seemed to rethink taking down one of the school’s most popular students just to punish one insolent loner. “Come on,” he finally growled to his cronies, skewering Daren with a last threatening glare before trudging off down the beach in search of better entertainment.
“What’d you say to him this time?” Jonathan asked once they were out of earshot. Daren grinned and gave a nonchalant shrug in response. “I might have insinuated that he wanted me to suck him off, that’s all. Don’t know why he got so upset…”
[ Roughly based on a dream I had regarding Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree. ]
Tom remembers Egyptian sands and Notre Dame shadows. He remembers ducking great Samhain’s scythe and dodging the yellowed phalanges of grasping skeletons entombed in a Mexican catacomb. Sometimes he wakes at night to rain drumming on the window and wonders to what frozen gargoyle the water gives temporary voice. Oh, the others may not speak of that night, they may claim it was mere dreaming, but good Tom Skelton knows the truth deep in his heart. Tom remembers the House, so impossibly old, and the Tree, so impossibly tall, and the thousand times a thousand lit carved pumpkins dangling from its branches, so impossible. But most of all Tom remembers the sliver of sugar candy skull ground between his teeth and the sweet taste of death defied once but promised to come again in some far burned candle end year of his life. Tom has explored the Ravine a hundred chill autumn afternoons since that night but the House is gone, the Tree is disappeared, the grinning jack-o-lanterns are forever vanished. Yet Tom remembers. Tom Skelton, wearer of the bones, braver of the catacombs, will always remember.
Silas masked a nose wrinkle of displeasure behind his usual nonchalant sneer. Humans; why did they all have to reek so terribly? Could they not still smell the animal musk poorly smothered in floral perfumes and harsh aftershaves? Being trapped in a room full of hot, sweating bodies made the vampire’s head spin and his mouth long for a cool drink of water, yet he forced himself to endure the ball with at least a modicum of propriety. He scanned the milling crowd for sight of his contact. The sooner he caught up with the dealer and had the packet safely on his person, the sooner he could get out of this human meat market and back into the cold, quiet night. It did not take long for Silas’ keen gaze to lock on his quarry across the room and he slid between the crowd with ease, joining the man in a small alcove off the main ballroom. Money changed hands smoothly and Silas slipped away again into the crowd, carefully stowing the precious packet in his waistcoat pocket.
Eyes followed him. Silas felt the familiar crawl on his back like hackles raising, the tingling adrenaline rush when prey catches wind of its stalker. He scanned the milling humans rapidly, hoping it was nothing more than some mortal girl drawn by his looks or mysterious manner, but luck was not with him tonight. A quick glance to the gallery overhead revealed the irascible Detective Rafferty. Their eyes met for a heartbeat, or at least what would have been a heartbeat had Silas’ heart done anything in the last few years but sit like a useless weight in his chest, and then both reacted. Rafferty disappeared into the crowd, no doubt hurrying for the stairs before Silas could meld back into anonymity. Silas had no intention of waiting around to see if the detective just wanted to chat or had something more sinister on his mind. The moment Rafferty moved, Silas spun and darted toward the closest exit. His escape route turned out to be through an elegant but thankfully fragile stained glass window which shattered outward in an explosion of colored glass as he crashed through headfirst. He hit the ground, rolled once, and launched to his feet again in a dead run. He thought his keen ears picked up the sound of someone yelling “stop!” but above the cries of startled guests it was hard to tell.
Silas’ first priority should have been to put as much distance between himself and the detective as possible, then double back the long way to a safe house where he could lay low until the hunt passed on. As he ran, however, the tiny paper packet in his waistcoat tapped against his skin like a firm yet patient reminder of how long he had gone since his last hit. Sheer physical proximity to the precious opiate made his mouth water and his skin, so many years unfeeling and cold, itch with a familiar nagging hunger. Withdrawal pounded like the blood no longer flowing in his veins, made him anxious and clumsy. Just one hit, that was all he needed. Surely he had time. If he only found a safe spot and a light he could breathe in a few delicious lungfuls and be on his way again. Just a few moments. Just a single flame.
But he did not have a flame. As he darted down alleys and up slippery stairwells, Silas cursed himself for such poor preparation. A light. A light. Who would have a light? His mind went immediately to his own kind – druggies, not vampires. At the next alley junction he took an abrupt right, heading toward the crowded slums scattered in the older, dilapidated portion of the city. Despite hearing no sounds of pursuit, Silas never slowed his speed; he knew Rafferty was close on his trail like a dammed bloodhound and would hunt him as relentlessly.
Silas burst into the slum district and pounced on the first likely looking candidate, a strung out student whose glazed eyes suggested he had recently partaken of the sort of illegal substance for which the vampire hungered. “Where is it?” he demanded as he riffled through the user’s clothing. The student, for his part, only blinked dully. “You’ve got to have one somewhere. Come on, come on, come on!” His fingers closed around a small metal box. “Aha!” He retrieved the silver lighter and leaned back, fumbling for the packet in his pocket with trembling, eager hands. If he had had more time Silas would have done this right, folding a small pinch of the crumbled leaves in thin paper and savoring the slow inhale of acrid smoke. Withdrawal made him rush, though, and he held the lighter up to one corner of the packet intending to light it, curb the craving with a quick drag, and stub the fire out again. Licking his lips expectantly, Silas struck at the lighter. Nothing happened. “You bastard!” He struck it again, again, again, but each time he earned nothing more than a pathetic spark. “Dammit, come on, just one fucking flame!”
“I think you’re empty, Silas,” A heavy hand fell on his shoulder in a mock commiserating squeeze. Silas twitched, wincing at the familiar voice, and abandoned his futile effort to summon a flame. “Oh, Detective Rafferty. Were you looking for me?” He tried to force an innocent smile but the vice-like grip on his shoulder twisted it into a grimace of pain. Not for the first time, Silas wondered if perhaps he should finally get clean…
Silk had to hand it to the woman; her coat may be ridiculous, but at least it was currently doing a pretty good job of soaking up her blood. That would save him some cleanup time, at least. He stepped over the motionless figure sprawled across the front step and glanced about. It had turned out to be a pretty nice day, all things considered, sunlight shining peacefully through the red-gold trees which lined the mansion’s long drive and warming his face with a rare autumn heat. Still, the man frowned. He hated to tear up the manicured lawn or painstakingly tended rose beds but they were running out of places to bury the bodies. The front lawn was too conspicuous, the earth out back by the gardener’s shed already full. He could perhaps try down by the koi pond but that was such a long walk…
“Good morning, sir! Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Wrapped up in his current dilemma, Silk hadn’t even noticed the gentleman wandering up the drive. He narrowed his eyes as he watched the stranger approach, one hand resting lightly on the gun hidden inside his jacket. The man wore a cheap blue suit and carried a large briefcase under one arm. He was in his early fifties, easy, thinning hair more gray than brown. Not exactly a threat, but Silk took no chances. He was paid very well and with good reason.
Finally the man made it to the house. He stopped on the walk and flashed a wide, folksy smile, apparently oblivious to the dead woman laying on the flagstone. When Silk said nothing in greeting he went ahead and continued, “Yes, a fine day indeed! And a gorgeous, I say an absolutely gorgeous house you have here! You’re obviously a man with fine tastes. I have in this case a fabulous opportunity I know one such as yourself is too smart to pass up. For just a limited time only, you see, my employers at Hartford Fine Crystal are offering unbelievable discounts on all crystal dining sets, including–”
“I killed a woman,” It seemed to take the salesman a moment to even notice Silk had spoken. That happened often, though. His voice was very soft and he rarely bothered with inflection. He watched the words dawn in the man’s mind, understanding slowly making its way to his face as he glanced down to the body sprawled at Silk’s feet. “…oh,” the man managed. Then, “are you going to kill me too?” Silk tipped his head back, basking in the warm sunshine for a moment before he fixed his attention back on the problem at hand. “No,” he decided, a surprise to them both. “I’ll give you one minute to walk down that driveway and never look back.” The man gaped at him. “You’re not?” Silk gave a bare shrug. “I’m feeling magnanimous today.” The salesman stared at the dead woman for a second, then shifted the case from one hand to the other and managed a pretty good imitation of his earlier smile. “Well, sir, I’ll give you my card and if you ever want a discount on fine crystal products just–”
Now the gun was out, balanced with deceptive ease in Silk’s capable hand. “You’ve now wasted thirty seconds trying to sell me your cheap shit.” Silk believed it uncouth to curse but the salesman’s babbling grated on him. The man paled and shut up immediately at the sight of the weapon pointed at his rotund stomach. He might have turned tale and ran just then if they hadn’t been interrupted by the easy-going chatter of a group of well dressed young men making their way around the corner of the house. Silk swore again, this time with rare passion. His employer would be quite unhappy if these particular guests discovered the murdered woman. As irritating as his employer had found her, his friends had taken some delight in her nosy ways and would already be sorry to hear she had gone missing. If he hadn’t let himself become distracted by this damned salesman…
“Look here,” Silk yanked the man close by his collar, vanishing the gun back to its hiding place. “You play along now or I swear your end won’t be nearly as quick as hers.” Then as the group rounded the bend he shoved the salesman back, one hand still gripping his collar and the other a vice around his arm. “Get the fuck out of here, you sorry sack of crap,” he snarled, loud enough to grab the others’ full attention. “If I catch you trying to sell that shit on these premises again, I’ll beat you black and blue.” Not terribly clever but the threat seemed to do the trick. This time the salesman caught on immediately and made a great show of stumbling along before Silk, struggling against the hit man’s iron grip while he babbled terrified apologies. “Shut the fuck up and just keep walking!” Silk growled, sparing a quick glance to their audience. His employer’s colleagues had paused momentarily to watch the altercation but now that the show seemed more or less over, they were moving on across the path toward the twelve car garage. None seemed to have noticed the body; their eyes lingered on Silk and the profusely apologizing salesman the entire way. Once they disappeared around the corner of the mansion Silk gave the salesman one last disgusted shove and speared him with a glare that sent the man scurrying toward the road.
Finally alone again, Silk turned back to his original dilemma. He nudged the dead woman with one foot as he contemplated his options, grimacing at the thought of having to drag her to a suitable burial spot. Ah, well. Koi pond it was.
Tanim edged up the darkened stairwell, the wooden steps polished to a dangerous sheen by hundreds of years of passing feet. At the top of the stairs he stopped and drew in a slow, calming breath, allowed himself a moment to gather his thoughts. No sense going in with his nerves already wound tight; he needed to remain clear headed or he wouldn’t be able to trust his own experiences tonight. He didn’t want anyone to refute his conclusions based solely on human fallibility.
The gory legend surrounding the Hanged Man Inn began, or perhaps ended, with the suicide of the Reverend Aaron Smith in the late 1700s. An investigation launched upon discovery of his body hanging from the rafters of the Blackbird Inn revealed Smith as the perpetrator of a total of thirteen murders over half as many years. The reverend’s private journal, found hidden beneath a parish floorboard, uncovered a sordid tale of illicit affairs with young men conducted at the very inn where he had taken his life. Smith believed these men to be incubi sent by the Devil to tempt him to a life of sin and so destroyed them all as they wore out welcome or allure, each killing more horrific than the last. It was now popular belief that the ghosts of his victims haunted the inn, trapped at the place of their bloody demise. Thousands of paranormal enthusiasts flocked to the inn each year, hands clutching reprinted copies of Smith’s diary and suitcases full of investigative equipment. Tanim doubted most of the stories of incoherent screaming, headless specters, and invisible attacks were true, of course, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to prove that first hand.
Raising his digital voice recorder, habitually double checking the full battery life left in the device as he did, Tanim moved down the hallway. He trailed his free hand along the wall, counting each closed doorway as he passed by. He would return to these rooms later to take EVP recordings but his eagerness drove him to start at the heart of the haunting: the attic where Smith had ended so many lives, including his own. The current owners of the inn had transformed the attic room into a single suite reserved for those whose desire to stay a night in death’s chambers knew no monetary limit. Tanim spared a moment at the door for an appropriately dramatic pause, then crept inside. Moonlight filtered through rippled windows illuminated reproduction furniture and lovingly laundered white lace linen. The room looked nothing like it had when the reverend lured his victims to their deaths, of course, but the period décor still made one feel as if Smith’s victims might appear at any moment, alive and unaware of their impending doom.
“Is anyone in here? Can you hear me? Can you answer me?” Tanim left a long pause between each question, allowing time for the recorder to pick up sounds outside his own hearing range, and tried not to feel too silly carrying on a one sided conversation. “If there is someone in this room with me, please say something. Say anything.”
Silence. Of course. No investigator had ever recovered anything more from an EVP session at the Hanging Man than the sound of settling old wood and winter wind whistling beneath window cracks. Not exactly the stuff of horror movies. Tanim snorted and turned back to the door.
He recognized the phantom on sight. The reverend’s diary described this particular young man in almost lurid detail, whole pages devoted to his angelic features, his piercing black eyes, the taste of his sweat and the heat of his flesh. Tanim hadn’t been able to read those passages through in one sitting, physically sickened by the reverend’s perverse obsession and violent fantasies. By the time authorities had found Daren’s body buried in the forest behind the parish, all that could be determined was that his jaw had been broken, his spine snapped, and his body dismembered; the more gruesome ghost tales preferred to presume the poor boy had been alive throughout. Of course, the lingering fragment standing before Tanim betrayed nothing of his horrific end. Neither blood nor bruises marred skin so pale it shone silver blue in the moonlight. The dark, flat eyes which stared back showed no rage or sorrow, fear or helplessness. Nothing remotely human at all, in fact, which somehow unnerved Tanim more than anything else about this moment.
Tanim swallowed, suddenly at a loss for what to do, to say, to think. He wanted to ask a thousand questions but each one died on his heavy tongue and he only managed to choke out, “you were his first…” Pale lips moved as if in reply but no sound emerged from the specter and as quickly as he had appeared, Daren vanished. Tanim rushed to review the EVP, desperate to discover what the lingering spirit had said, only to find his recorder’s batteries drained and useless.
I walked in the cold place between the worlds. Nothing but a steel sky above my head and a featureless wasteland of frozen snow in all directions. I did not know whether I stumbled toward the warmth of the great hall or back to the blood stained battlefield yet I pressed forward without pause. To stop now would be to succumb to exhaustion and an icy burial mound. Still, my way was not easy. My armor weighed me down like a stone with every step, my sword a battered and clumsy thing clutched in my numb hand. My brothers and sisters would chastise me for taking such ill care of her, just as they would cluck admonishingly at my sheared braids, but I did not care. I would see my family again, all of the einherjar and waelcyrge reunited in the world beyond the battle; nothing else mattered now.
The wind whipped ice daggers into my eyes as I fought onward. Through tear blurred vision I glimpsed a moving shadow, a wolf half again as large as any I had ever seen and black as ravens’ wings. “Brother!” I called, and it turned back to me. I stood still as it approached, great paws splayed across the snow pack while my own boots sank deep. I held out my hands to the creature and it laid its heavy head against my cupped palms. Its eyes were chill and blue, the color of the winter sky, but its breath burned my skin like it had swallowed the sun itself. The beast said nothing, but held my gaze a long moment. Then it turned away again and tracked off through the snow. I sheathed my sword and followed.
[ If you haven't read Elizabeth Bear's By The Mountain Bound, I suggest you do so post haste so it can inspire awesome dreams for you as well. Oh, but be prepared to have your heart ripped out of your chest. In a good way. ]
Awake at 3 AM because of you. I shouldn’t be surprised; this isn’t the first time, it won’t be the last. (No, no, you’ll never let it be the last, will you?) A dream this time, rapidly fading before the harsh glow of the computer screen. I will capture its essence if I can. You, the mad, unhappy genius, seeker of the elusive philosopher’s stone, had built a machine both wondrous and terrifying. Hidden away from disbeliever’s eyes (but they all disbelieve now, even in the dream) where none could question you, none could stop the mounting fervor. Ah, these words won’t work. The memories are jumbled already by the witching hour. See, you needed someone. A test subject. A warm, willing body to pump full of lightning to take measure of the dark device. And so you sought my assistance, because I am always half believing and too eager, it seems, to cover the rest of the way. In that secret place you revealed the terrible machine, eyes alight with the triumph of captured science, fettered universe. You held out one hand to indicate sit, let us begin, take your rightful place as my experiment in true. You cradled a syringe and when I lay back I felt its brightsharpcold bite at my neck and your fingers on my cheek, loving as if they did not trace the hypothesized paths of lightning arcs. What would you burn into that untouched skin if given free reign? But I balked, I panicked, I smelled ozone in the air and drew away. In your quest for knowledge you would martyr me, turn me inside out, dissect my essence (though you have never needed a machine for that). The light in your eyes snuffed out, then, subsumed in impatient displeasure. The lightning poised in your hand, you demanded do you not still owe me? Shall we find some other way to settle your debt? And I trembled at such a thought (what have I left that I have not already given you time and again, you who take but cannot return?), quailed at the notion of fleeing, of lingering, of remaining the haunted and hunted either way. I swallowed. I nodded. Return tonight, said you. And I spent that day in fearful dread, imagining electricity crawling through my bones, shining like a torch out my wide stretched mouth and unseeing eyes. Strange machine, strange man. Dark machine, dark man. I wept (yes, I) and saw you in every shadow, ’round every turn. I mustn’t go back. I wouldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back. But I did because always there were your snuffed out eyes, so dismissive, so captivating, and your voice saying this is your due as if my living or dying by your stormthunder whim might wipe my burdens clean. Perhaps you truly did want that, and believed your invention had harnessed the forgiveness reserved only for the Lord’s cleansing. Perhaps you, so mad unhappy restless incomplete, could not see the awful wrongness of your machine. Perhaps you were the one in need of saving (from yourself, if only I could). But I knew the bleak truth. No one can harness the universe without sacrifice, and always there was your voice saying you owe this, you owe me, come back tonight and we shall make this all right. You drew me, tragic and wonderful, and the machine drew me, terrifying and impossible. Even as I denied, my feet moved me ever back. I thought I might return and talk myself free (what a silly notion, when words are what have bound me so!), reach through your blind thirst for knowledge to what heart of humanity might yet remain inside you, though starved small and desperate. As I went to my fate I fought back stinging tears, so certain of the end (we always are, in the nightmare) but unable to change course (we never can, in the nightmare). Images flashed before me: the waiting machine, the silver needle, your hand beckoning me to trust when all I have ever earned for that trust is another injection. Still, I would return. The decision had never been mine to make. You, with your black hole core forever sucking in all matter, will always pull me back. Yet whether or not I would submit to that manifestation of your obsession depended on your answer to one question:
Do you love me?
But I never knew, in dreaming or in waking, which answer would have turned me away and which would have drawn me back to your side.