After I awoke into New Victoria on the other side of sleep for the second time in my life, I confirmed everything I had only suspected from my first visit—fear is the temperature at which dread solidifies, and conversely the point where stolid reality dissolves; a scream can become the glass of a window, frozen into place like a wicked memory, conducting blood-dimmed light through its invisible body; sleep is a place where worlds spin atop the heads of pins and oceans gather into nutshells, and New Victoria is only the most visible part of the nightmare that prowls the unclean depths of humanity’s collective unconscious.
The nightmare-beneath-nightmare was alive and surging with the unfettered imagination of wicked children, a primal grotesquerie that informed every feature and facet of every edifice. There, the goblin-night—a darker and more enduring incarnation than that of the waking world—lives without cycle, without light or limit. It provides the wakeless city with its sky, its oceans and its shadows.
I entered a dark and shimmering building composed entirely of a kind of blackest coal, seeking out a momentary refuge from the dizzying sights. The instant I set foot beyond the threshold I was conducted down a narrow arterial corridor by surging shadows that swept me onward into a colossal chamber. The room was filled with the tallest and most worm-eaten bookcases I’d ever seen, some of them even seeming to rise beyond the shadows that spread wide and empty across the ceiling. With a curiosity so strong I worried it would give off light or sound, I took up one of the tomes recessed into the rotten wood.
It was a dream journal—as were all the books, I somehow knew—and it employed quite a handsome penmanship to chart a young girl’s nightly journeys into a very peculiar nightmare. She dreamed of a giant machine called the “Spirit Grinder,” a contraption that could distill, via a protracted and quite noisy process, the color of a person’s soul. For reasons she could never deduce, she was obliged to remove the tied-up and squirming bodies of persons—always someone she knew, or ended up knowing—that emerged from a long rusty chute, and pass them through the strange machine. Once the soul’s color had been rendered, she would then use it to paint—wielding a small and delicate brush—the irises of the countless moist eyeballs that passed in front of her via a shabby conveyer belt. All of this took place in a crumbling barn residing somewhere in the middle of a vast dark forest.
I was about to withdraw another journal from the shelf when I heard footsteps. Beyond the fact that they came from somewhere below me, I was unable to discern their more specific trajectory—yet they clearly seemed to be drawing closer. I slipped through an open window that led back onto the street, and ascended a rickety expanse of stairs that wrapped around the outside of a gigantic apartment complex that seemed to be breathing. I opened the door at the top of the stairs and entered with little hesitation, as the darkness initially seemed quite welcoming. I found myself in a bedroom with a massive four-poster bed slightly visible behind a flowing drape of glossy webs. The footsteps were getting louder, now emanating from under the huge bed itself. Suddenly I remembered—I needed to wake up. I was so immersed in the darkling beauty of the city—not to mention the memory-dimming fog of dream—that I forgot the danger I was in. Something was coming for me, to remove me and fill my sleeping body with living terror.
I searched for a door out of the room but found nothing, including the door through which I had entered. I was trapped. The footsteps acquired company as they moved along—I could hear the dim hint of laughter just beneath them. Yet most important to me were the sounds I couldn’t hear—the sweet laughter of my sisters and the terrible rage of my father. My family was gone. I was alone.
The darkness surrounding me was no ally. It only intensified to contrast me against itself, forcing me to stand out as a target to whatever was ascending the stairs beneath the bed. However, I sensed weakness in the trailing shadows that limped along with the stronger packs of darkness, as they turned from my gaze in fright whenever I looked upon them. With supreme effort, I seized these stragglers with hooked thoughts and glaring eyes. I wrapped them tightly around my fists and poured them across my body until they soaked into my blood, conjuring depthless voids from what used to be my eyes. I ripped the alien silence from its hiding places, bending and breaking its body across my will, and when nothing of it remained save for its loyalty to me, I draped its carcass over myself—until I was every inch the nightmare that was coming for me.
Wanting to deny my stalker the benefit of a dramatic entrance, I seized the ghastly bed and sent it crashing across the milling shadows that attempted to highlight me. Beneath the bed lay a trap door, leaking the cold air of death. Again, I would spare the nightmare creature none of its props and fetishes, so I tore the door from the floor and sent it to join the ruins of the demonic bed. The murk of cold and death rose from the gaping hole I had created, attempting to engulf me. Within moments my killing thoughts crushed them of their ambitions and their corpses joined the dead silence that dripped from my shadow-haunted body. I stood at the edge of the hole, smiling as I spoke into the darkness.
“Soon I will wear your flowing skin, my dreadful friend, and I will smile from the dark hollows that once held your face.” The footsteps were close now. I could hear only silence where once there was laughter. Then a voice the size of the room exploded through the hole, sending me flying backward into the crowds of hungry shadows.
“OH, WHAT BRAVADO! WHAT TEETH! WHAT SPIRIT! I SHALL FILL YOU WITH VISIONS SO FAT AND FOUL YOU WILL WEEP FIRE! BUT FIRST YOUR SOUL WILL TRAVEL WITH ME, UNDER ALL THE BEDS IN THE WORLD, THROUGH EVERY CLOSET, AND DOWN WHERE THE WHISPERS CRAWL UPON YOU LIKE SPIDERS, WHERE THE DARKNESS TASTES YOU WITH A THOUSAND TERRIBLE TONGUES. I MUST GET YOU TO THAT PLACE WHERE IT SLEEPS WITHIN SLEEP, THAT OLD DREAM-EATER, AND PLUMPEN YOUR FEARS FOR THE EATING!”
When the thunderous words ceased, a great shape rose from the hole in the floor. The thing that appeared before me was outrageous with the darkly exaggerated proportions of a doll, like some toy left in the crib of an infant devil to keep it happy and contented. It smiled at me with so much sweetness my mouth filled with the taste of sugar.
Though difficult, I managed to suppress my inconvenient impulse to laugh. “I think I will miss your whimsical smile the most, dear creature. I will think of it from time to time, long after you’re dead.”
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