Tom Hush was not pleased. The dream shook and convulsed, tossing the bodies and blood and stone idols every which way, and all the while the sky blackened and the shadows spread like fire, burning the world back in primal darkness. My sisters continued their onslaught, but to a nearly negligible effect, as the monster’s explosive reaction to their gleaming teeth seemed largely due to indignation rather than laceration.
The creature was cocooned in shadow, disallowing any clear view of its nuance. However, Tom’s antlers were clearly visible as they tumbled skyward and beyond. The beast’s eyes began to take on the burden of the dying sun, as his twin orbs bled the deepest crimson into the dream, becoming an ocean of weightless blinding blood, flowing without end. Tom’s roar became the thunder of the storm he was quickly becoming, bellowing at volumes nature had yet to attain during even its loudest tantrums. As for me, I stood and watched it all unfold, wrapped in the ceaseless wonder of a thousand stolen dreams.
My sisters returned to my sides, smiles as endless as any of Tom’s swelling aspects or attributes. Their teeth reflected the red of the antlered demon’s rage, twinkling with defiance and malice aplenty. Together they whispered deadly thoughts into my fixated mind, prying me from the sight of the living, killing dream. Finally, summoning my own silence and shadow, drawing them around me like a cloak, I stood ready to take on the monster from myth.
I was but a mote of dust caught momentarily in the eye of the sun, and to die quickly was my only and every obligation.
I don’t know whether Tom Hush had struck me with his hand or the force of his illimitable red sight had sent me crashing into the molten heat of the collapsing dream, but it nearly destroyed me. I was left to the margins of the dream, where waking and sleeping struggled in balanced conflict, where the stability of my being began to catch within the exchange of opposing forces, causing it to twist into solid and quicksilver ambiguities. The pain was exquisite, unlike anything I had ever known.
I could feel my physical body, stretched out and sleeping beneath the cold shadows of dead trees, begin to convulse. My muscles were tensing around my frame with such strength that they threatened to snap my every bone, and my teeth were grinding my tongue into a flap of raw red meat.
As for my dreaming mind, it barely endured beyond the crashing waves of unreality. Only the memories of my mother kept me from disappearing altogether into the chimera of fluxing dream. It was not a gentle hand that seized me from oblivion, throwing me down upon the ground of what was left of the crumbling dream. My father stood every inch as tall as the monoliths that collapsed around him, his aspect darkened by the blood of The End of the World.
“WEAKLING!” was all he said to me as he returned to his battle with Marvin’s monster, which was slowly recovering from my father’s last assault.
Tom Hush had vanished, presumably taking Doctor Link with him. As I returned to my feet, a stray scrap of silence blown free from the force of the imploding dream settled across my mind—it was a message from the antlered lord. “’Twas merely a breath that nearly defeated you, child. Imagine if I had chosen to enunciate, or if I had reached out to you. Now, away with you. And tell the rest of the shepherd’s dogs of the calamity that is my displeasure.” I hadn't time to dwell long on the message, for the world from which it was sent was quickly dying.
I cast a single backward glance toward the fading dream of ancient blood and bones and sacrifice. Like the bleeding wake of a killer shark, the spaces went placid and quiet, as if the monster had never disturbed the world.
My father and Marvin’s shadow were buried in rage and bloodlust, having nearly smashed the two remaining dream-worlds to splinters. This allowed me to make my way into Marvin’s dream unhindered.
When I drew upon the hallway door by which Marvin had entered, I heard the most pathetic wailing imaginable. It was the cry of a child. I opened the door into what appeared to be a tiny squalid apartment. Trash was heaped everywhere, as were corpses. The bodies were in varying states of decomposition, the people seemingly killed in a variety of unrelated yet horrific ways. Cardboard had been crudely taped over the windows to prevent the entrance of sunlight and unwanted attention.
The dream was mostly memory, containing only the slightest specks of fantasy. A gentle rain fell from the shadows that stained the ceiling, and occasionally the shapes of monstrous things pressed their silhouettes against the thinner layers of cardboard, suggesting hidden demons.
I followed the cries that now vacillated between the voice of a child and an adult, sometimes transitioning even within the middle of a spoken, if indecipherable, word. While the words themselves were indistinct, they were easily enough understood. They were spoken in the language of pain and loss. As I closed on the voice, a single word broke through the static of sobbing— “mother.”
One memory overtook another as the hallway I walked distended and became the muddy tunnel of an underground maze. The rain had stopped, and the monstrous shadows were replaced by the sounds of titanic things digging just beyond the hewn dirt walls of the burrow. The tunnel eventually concluded with another small untidy room, replete with another menagerie of corpses—except these bodies had been far more brutalized than the ones prior. Still, the vacillating voice was beyond my reach.
The next door opened into an even smaller space—the bloodstained and corpse-strewn innards of a ruined camper. Through a filthy cracked window I could see the figure of a man on his knees, crying, pleading to someone. Clearly this was Marvin, minus his monster, as he was covered in stitches and staples other painful security mechanisms. I could see a woman’s slender, delicate shadow falling across him. He was begging the woman—who I took to be his mother—not to abandon him, saying it would be “the end of all things, great and small." I bent lower to get a better look at the woman through the window. My breath vanished as I struggled to understand the implications.
The woman was my mother.
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