The Deadworld is a prison. However, people tend to misunderstand those moments when it seems to defy its most hideous, despicable features. Forests, by way of example, are often romanticized for their beauty; but they are merely cracks in the dirty prison walls that keep us from the dream we came from, and exist as nothing more than fleeting reminders—symbols—for our freedoms lost beyond all this dying flesh. Granted, a dark forest is one of the thinner barriers separating us from whence we came (and thus why some confuse it for the thing it imprisons), but a barrier nonetheless. Obviously the same can be said for basements filled with the moldering dead, attics containing chests stuffed with burned toys and faded photographs, forgotten graveyards steeped in twilight, mysterious holes burrowed impossibly deep into the earth, haunted houses made from Palewood trees and all the other places where the night endures beyond the day. Undoubtedly, all these prisons contain occupants vigorously testing the locks to their cells, but to my knowledge none have ever escaped. (I can’t remember a single thing that happened during the Great Darkness, so I could be wrong on this point.) This isn't to suggest that the Deadworld is without limits. Its prison walls can be scaled, even demolished, as was demonstrated by New Victoria. However, the relevant distinction between New Victoria and the dreams that strain behind even the darkest environs is that New Victoria was never a prisoner of the Deadworld. As strange as it sounds, the nightmare metropolis actually chose to invade this wretched world.
As we approached the city, the ruined flesh of the Deadworld was already peeling back, exposing overturned military vehicles filled with old bones and crusted blood, mass graveyards, sour winds stitched together from countless last breaths, and wandering patches of strange sweet-smelling twilight—the Deadworld was hemorrhaging nightmare. Here was no symbol for dream, only dream itself, open and free. Yet for all of that, New Victoria was no refuge for mankind.
“I can’t friggin’ believe you really want ta be here,” said the man who had just recently failed to kill me for the second time.
“I have need to be here, and despite everything I know—I want to be here. These things are clearly not our dreams, and must be nothing but the predatory nightmares of things that dwell beyond the shallows of human sleep. However, regardless of their malevolence, beauty is beauty.” Strangely, I found myself enjoying my conversation with Mr. Grimes. Words are so often nothing more than thoughts hidden behind masks of noise, but when speaking with the killer, I found my words pleasingly free of disguise.
“Uh, yeah…well, because of you I have to be here, and I sure as hell wouldn’t come ta this freakin’ place if I wasn’t bein’ forced. You gotta be crazy if you think there’s anything beautiful about this freak-zone.”
I hadn’t considered it before, but I wondered if that invisible force—that draws people to abandoned shacks in the woods, and gifts them with dreams pressed into yellowed paper—was still aiding me in my journey. Surely those things that dwelt in the city-beyond-sleep wouldn't see me coming—the deathly bus, now festooned with the ornaments of a butcher’s red holiday, couldn't be taken for anything less than a conveyance for pilgrims of nightmare. Perhaps Mr. Grimes was sent to assist me.
“By the way, I already know you got some weird twist about beauty an’ art. The newspapers is always sayin’ somethin’ about you thinkin’ of yerself as an artist. You really think those screwed up corpses you leave behind is some kinda artwork?”
I wasn’t sure Mr. Grimes was supposed to understand my work. Should a dream know it’s a dream? Might that have been what caused us to wake up in the first place? I imagine a true dream, free and wandering, shouldn’t precisely know anything about itself (should it be so greedy as to possess a self). Humanity’s true calling is to exchange all of its pointless knowledge for wonder, and Mr. Grimes followed his dark curiosity wherever it lead him—even if he had been temporarily hijacked for a higher purpose. No, the daemon bus driver was far too busy chasing his darkest visions to grasp the purpose behind my work. He could only see its spectacle.
“Pearls before swine, Mr. Grimes,” I finally said, not wanting my host to think me unaware of his jabs.
“Actually, I got a kick out of those guys you made into a big snake swallowing itself. That was some funn—” Mr. Grimes suddenly stopped speaking and strained his small eyes to look at something close to the road.
Moving through the nearby trees, sketched in fog, were four wisps of women. They were clad in bedclothes and loping through rough thickets, helping one another along, exuding a despair that seemed to roil the fog that outlined them. Their collective gaze was fixed upon the wakeless city that loomed close by, and I could hear hungry secrets whirling around them, hissing them onward. Soon they were gone, swallowed by the forest, but it was clear where they were headed.
“What da ya think they’re up ta?” When Mr. Grimes retracted his gaze, it brought something warm and wicked back with it, and I could feel his hunger burning deep within the secret killing machines of the bus. Whatever the killer’s dark curiosity would have done to the women, I was certain it would’ve been a pleasure compared to what was waiting for them in New Victoria. I obviously knew something of the endless horrors that would prey upon a man who might fall asleep there, but I’d only heard whispers of the hell that awaited the woman foolish enough to rest her head upon solid nightmare. Now my own dark curiosity was beginning to take hold.
“I’m not entirely certain. But it would be a terrible waste of mystery not to find out.”
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