My mother had prepared dinner in the basement, her voice an out-of-tune violin beckoning me below. The darkness at the bottom of the stairs cringed beneath the orange glow of tiny palpitating suns, each one throned atop a series of silver sconces. The smorgasbord on the table before me lay cool and covered under a winter of dust. My brother and father sat to my left and right—vacant shells starved of will and appetite.
The derelict school was a rotten mess, that much was obvious, if not the source of its abandonment. It was closed down immediately after the incident, and nary a soul had returned to see to its end-of-life needs. So, the forces of nature had reclaimed it with terrible enthusiasm.
I came to Doctor Coldglow to discover what happened during the Great Darkness of 1999, the year we all forgot. I needed to know where the houses that could hunt and the towers of human teeth that salivated whenever life drew near and the glowing rivers of bile and all the other perversions afflicting the planet had come from. Who or what had transformed the world?
I remember all too clearly the dream that took me. I was lying on a gigantic canopy bed, its covering of translucent black silk waving like tresses of darkest hair beneath the sea, careless and graceful. Yet behind the placid scene, something wicked stirred.
I noticed the house had gone entirely silent, broken only by the sound of a knife sawing into a pumpkin. After the slicing abruptly ended, I heard the front door slam shut. I caught a glimpse of something huge stumbling off the front porch.
Today is September 27th, which means everyone in town will once again be hanging crosses upon their bolted cellar doors. This annual practice isn’t marked on calendars as much as it is burned into our collective memory—not to mention our nightmares, which preserve images that waking recall mercifully omits.
When detective Hayes arrived at Frontier Apartments two years ago, he knew it was the prelude to a much longer, bloodier proclamation. All the signs were there. Minutial details laid bare like bread crumbs, the artful balance of whimsy and restraint, and the careful poise of the main exhibition—a girl divorced of all her limbs and masterfully remarried to them through a series of interconnected, crimson-stained strings.
Agnes Kaufman was never the same after her son died. She often wandered about, lost in familiar places, lugging around memories like millstones. Rumor was she still pushed little Benjamin’s stroller around at night, the whine of its worn-down wheels a sad reminder for those who heard it. So it was no wonder that many of us were surprised to see her one day wearing a long black maternity gown, plump as a plum.
The sleep plague has spread quickly through New Victoria, plunging nearly all of its citizens beneath shiftless, monochrome dreams. The nucleus of it all, a contagious nightmare of wakeless landscapes, has become little more than a dim and phantasmal sun around which we all circle in our sleep, our orbits ever-shrinking.
The void within her didn't subside. It awoke. Its fangs grew longer, its appetite more voracious. Soon, her belly became a dumping ground for all—animals, insects, rocks, dirt. She even snapped at the air, hoping to swallow the very breeze that cooled her. She would devour the world, along with the stars and the black sea they floated in.
The dank spaces become my mouth, allowing me to taste the effulgence of trespassers. I’ve eyes that see through underground shadows as if they were peepholes, and I can hear through the encrusted vents of an old furnace as clearly as my own ears. And all the filthy, nasty things that lurk and crawl down here obey me without question.
Mr. Shroud was not your average mentor—he was a six-foot colorless twig with no interest in sharing his thoughts outside those he was obligated to impart. He wasn’t rude, simply pensive—a man entangled in the web of his own thoughts. I often felt alone in his presence, as if he were nothing more than the passing shape of so much dust and sand, a convincing gestalt of something living.