An old darkness can be the deadliest of poisons—soaking up shadows unbroken by purifying daylight, mixing with the silence of unseeing eyes, and filling up with fears that cannot abide the light. It was just such a darkness that spilled from behind the morgue door, proving my sister’s words correct for the second time. The toxic gloom drowned out my silence and entered the pores of my body, leaking into the secret places of my mind—flooding horrible memories out from their hidey-holes, causing them to crush themselves against the bars of their cages. In that rising tide of contaminated darkness I could sense toothsome nightmares. They were like deep-sea horrors called up from the sunless depths by my thrashing, bleeding memories. The unearthly pitch respected no boundary, allowing things that normally speak only from behind the veil of sleep to communicate directly with the waking.
“You’ve left nightmares behind from your last visit, little artist. They’ve grown enormous and terrible in your absence, and they would just love to see you again.” Something immediately began pushing into my mind. At the same time a physical presence drew close to me, reaching out. Despite my best efforts, I began to fall beneath the onslaught of invading dreams. Yet just before I had completely relented, my father stepped in front of me. His rage crashed down upon the attacking shadow and the physical body it cast, eliciting some of the most magnificent shrieks I’ve ever heard. They were quickly silenced by my father’s booming voice.
“WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE, THIS CITY OF YOURS! SO FULL OF DREAMS THAT BLEED AND SCREAM AND DIE, HA HA HA HA!” As the bellowing axe fell, it cleaved into flesh, bone and noxious darkness. My father’s laughter chased the inhuman screams into endless depths somewhere beyond the collapsing darkness.
With the gloom destroyed, I could see clearly the most conspicuous contents of the room—the sundered body of one of the quartet of women. She had the expressionless eyes of a bird. Her mouth outlined only her last cracked breath, not an unholy wail that rattles bones and lashes shadows into frenzy. She had been dead for hours and unceremoniously stuffed into a body bag. It was not her that had absorbed my father’s fury, but that which she carried—the woman’s womb was filled with something gigantic and inhuman. Her lower torso was so incredibly bloated that it had burst the thick plastic confines of the body bag. The corpse of the unborn thing inside her was a dark art piece of hideous departures from human anatomy, and was pushed so tightly against the woman’s skin that the finest details of the being could be seen quite clearly.
The creature was easily the size of a small bear, one of its claws extended out toward me, stretching flesh far beyond its natural limits. Most noteworthy was the creature’s mantrap of a mouth, a cavernous maw filled with serrated, dimly glowing hooks. It was frozen around the last otherworldly note of a scream no human vocal chords could produce. Within seconds, the thing pent tightly behind dead flesh disappeared, leaving behind what looked like an emptied, bloodied sack made from so much baggy skin. Again, I could hear an invisible endlessness swallowing—this time the consumption was far less dramatic, accompanied only by the sound of soft thuds as the cold flesh occasionally struck the sides of a pit plunging down into infinity.
It seemed the rumors I’d heard were correct—when caught sleeping in New Victoria, men were stolen away by their nightmares while women gave physical birth to them. I grew annoyed at my father’s impatience, denying me the sight of a nightmare breeching sleep. Yet that was my father’s way, always overzealous when killing was required. Still, just before my father had broken the grip of the memory-turned-nightmare, I glimpsed something faintly visible against the blank backdrop of forgotten things. A lost memory of my childhood had ever so briefly revisited my waking recollection—endless lines of small cages filled with children, some long dead and others insane and grinning. Still others were staring at me through eyes choked with ice and murder. As I looked over the hazy fragment I could feel my family’s collective gaze burning into me, so I gently set the memory down and watched it sink into oblivion.
The rest of the room was decorated with the normal assortment of mildew, dust and shadows one would expect to find in any abandoned, demon-haunted morgue. With nothing else to command my attention, I reversed my course. Wrapping the newly liberated shadows tightly around myself and stepping into my fog of silence, I retreated up the stairs, possessed of more wisdom than when I had descended.
The shadows of the first floor had come alive with a tangible vigilance, and I could hear the breathing of countless sleepers, tucked away into the strangest places—heating vents, under floorboards, and all the smallest places one would never think to find a body. The massive collection of sleeping minds undoubtedly merged their dreams together to form a great passage that projected well beyond the traditional limits of human sleep, emptying into lands where the oldest earthy darkness constituted only the freshest topsoil, where man’s darkest dreams were prey to the slightest of beasts.
Having satisfied my curiosity—as much as was healthy, at least—I put aside my search for the strange women and renewed my quest for insight into my wolf-haunted dreams. I decided to move by rooftop, and so made my way to the top of the hospital.
Along the way, I snatched small glimpses into a number of the hospital rooms I passed. Each room was like a separate image cast by a magic lantern show from Hell, glowing and demonic, subject to the wicked whims of an unseen claw that turned the faces of the lantern. As I neared the top of the building I foolishly loosed a smile, causing my sisters to erupt into terrifying laughter. My sisters have always found my face, when broken by a crooked smile, a most amusing sight. No doubt inspired by my sisters’ insistent laughter, a pounding rhythm of heavy feet began to shake the floor beneath me as something closed upon me from behind. I tried to quicken my pace but my sisters’ laughter was contagious, and soon I was so heavy with mirth that I tumbled to the floor. The joy of running through a solid nightmare raised from the depths of alien dreams was simply too much for me to contain. My father was not amused.
“THIS IS NO MONSTER BORN OF NIGHTMARES, BUT A PATIENT WOLF COME TO CROSS YOUR NAME OFF ITS LIST! RISE UP AND KILL, IDIOT BOY!”
My father was right. The footsteps quickly vanished into silence as flashing blades began hissing through the shallows of my body. Still, I couldn’t stop laughing.
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