The train station where I waited was so run down I could scarcely believe that any train still called upon it. The complete lack of any other persons did little to bolster my confidence in finding a much-needed ride. So, when the train made its scheduled stop just outside the abandoned city of Churchstone, exactly as foretold by the travel guide I had stolen, I was happily surprised. I stepped aboard and scanned the interior of the vehicle. It seemed oddly lean, as if the impoverished number of travelers had caused the car to narrow from its unsatisfied hunger. I made my way to a darkened corner and took my seat, discovering that the dirty windows around me were spectacularly resistant to the sun’s invading rays. All too often the light overemphasizes the world beyond its more interesting nuances, eradicating shadows and denying mystery its purchase upon the darkness.
According to my travel guide, the train had been repurposed for the transportation of the dead—carrying them from various cities to a massive burning yard created during the numerous plagues leading up to the Great Darkness. The interior had recently, and rather smartly, been returned to its original intent of transporting the living. Tired and grey, the train seemed as if it were a manifest and physical memory, vacillating between those horrible places that had most painfully impressed themselves into the flesh of its recollection.
The car I occupied was empty save for one other man. He carried with him only a vintage camera apparatus—the kind that sat atop a tripod of crane-like wooden legs—that appeared carved entirely from the darkest wood and the most lusterless of metals. He occasionally looked over at me, smiling like a mortician after a disaster. His smile was filled with teeth so large it seemed cartoonishly overdeveloped. I speculated that he might have boarded the train somewhere in the vicinity of New Victoria. Yet he kept to himself and soon disappeared after the next stop, somewhere in the middle of the woods and long after the sun had vanished. After the man and his antique camera departed, the darkness seemed to mourn his absence, as the shadows seemed appreciably less giddy and spirited than before. I tried to imagine what view the bizarre cameraman wished to photograph, so far out in the middle of the shunned wilderness.
The rhythm of the moving train was beyond soothing. The blurred sights, frozen into momentary cohesion by the cold light of the moon, made me think of an old movie reel spinning off poorly captured images of places I’d always wanted to visit, but never had the time—Palewood, Greywitch, the Covenant Woods. I even spied a crooked rooftop or two, perhaps of the darkly fabled town of Devil’s Clay. The pale sights disappeared beneath the darkness of passing clouds, and I determined it was time to sleep. I quickly discovered that it was easy to come by after reclining deeply into the aged leather seat. I believed facilitating dreamful slumber ought to have been listed as a major point of the train’s enumerated attractions.
Immediately after I had fallen beyond the waking world, I felt a strangeness come over me, as if it were a thing under a pressure that only sleep could discharge. It seemed I was standing in a crowd that had yet to form—an incipient and inevitable gathering governed by forces greater than those that twirled the seasons in a circle. I could also hear the approach of hungry things loping and scraping along a predestined path that would eventually bring us together. The inevitability of this meeting initially irritated me, as I rather disliked the truncation of those liberties that made manifest a mystery hewn from wandering dreams and dead dust. I found myself very much wanting to resist the urge to blend with this congregation of hungry things. Yet it took no great amount of deliberation for the thought of such a congregation of blood and shadow to effectively win me over, and I was once again eager to participate in the deathly games to come.
As soon as my mind drifted beyond the pull of cosmic currents, it began moving toward the dream. Yet when it reached the place where my dream should have been, there was something else there—a changeling, of sorts. It looked as if my own dream had been stolen and somehow replaced with the nocturnal visions of another. I am a dreamer of no small skill, and I know my own dreams. This was not one of them.
I dreamed I was in a house, a rather large and lavish one. I was looking through a window, watching a bird take its meal from a tray feeder. A noise the likes of which I’d never heard spread across the sky, blackening every bit of sound it happened upon until all I could hear was the music of ripening madness. Then I was running through the streets, my naked feet slapping against the trembling earth. Everything was changing. The shadows were yawning open, becoming doors. The world began screaming. The collective scream mixed with the music of madness, together becoming a lone instrument contributing only a few notes to the final and damning opus of a murdered world. I ran into deep woods, fleeing madly the sounds of a once familiar world that was twisting into new shapes, breaking apart old habits, changing into the most terrible things imaginable. I penetrated deeper into the forest, the very branches of trees and scrubby bodies of thickets coming alive with demonic vitality. I stumbled through the mouth of a massive cave and waded blindly into the deep moist darkness. There were other things cowering in there with me, and we huddled together, shivering.
The dream abruptly changed. I was still underground but at a different time, and I was moving at a brisk but decidedly measured pace despite the utter lack of light. There were other things surrounding me in the darkness—whatever they were, they belonged to me, body and soul. My retinue and I moved beyond the underground rooms of the earth and entered the moonlight. When I looked upon the moon, its light pouring across my body, I beheld weird shapes stretching dark and massive across its face. Some of the intervening objects were moving, others held stone-still and became the jutting towers of incredible cities, and still others possessed an enormity that suggested extra dimensions to their composition that hurt to dwell upon for long.
My pack and I made our way across searing streets blackened by organic tars that exuded the smell of a slaughter house. Depressed into the road, as if floating within the coagulated blackness, appeared human faces that sometimes raised ever so slightly above the pavement. Their eyes were blinking, and by some despicable and unseen enterprise, the slashes of their lips were whispering. I cared nothing for what they said—I knew the faces to be, for all practical purposes, quite dead. I passed into the shadows of a forest tangled and thick with ribboning lengths of barbed wire. I ignored the struggling forms ensnared by the toothsome coils, trapped like helpless prey by unseen mechanical spiders that stalked the webs of bloody, serrated steel.
Finally, we came upon our destination—a gigantic factory. I lifted my gaze to leer at a massive smokestack throwing smoke-swathed flames at the already much afflicted moon. We entered the structure by way of an untended door, something monstrous attempting to rise against us as we poured inside. We fell upon the faceless thing en masse, and I joined my rapacious companions in the eating of it. We were almost a single entity as we traversed the lower floors of the building, seeking the rooftop. Outrageous shapes attempted to block our path, but we were a biblical flood that could not be stopped or slowed. What living things we washed over were left behind as mere scattered teeth and bone. The last door fell to us as we surged onto the rooftop.
There, squatting atop its smoldering smokestack throne, we beheld a terrible creature. It rose from its seething seat at our approach and tried to burn my mind to ash with its vulgar presence—an unapologetic existence that flouted common sense and cosmic law. I shot back with roars from my legion of monsters. I had become no less a violation of nature than the thing standing before me, and I was pleased to seize the opportunity to demonstrate that fact.
The excitement from the impending clash woke me from my sleep of stolen dreams, and I immediately pondered—if I was dreaming someone else’s dream, then who was dreaming mine? The answer was of course quite obvious. I was quite curious over what part of my dream Miss Patience would enjoy the most.
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