If I’d only seen her smile, I would have known her. I would have remembered how it lived beyond her lips, and how the sweetness of its red glow always put the taste of honey in my mouth. She began to recede slowly into the shadows of the forest behind her, leaving Marvin alone and kneeling in the mud.
As she merged into the darkness the woods, I heard her speak to him. “The end is yours to keep, now. Cherish him, my son.” She called him son, yet I knew this man to be no brother of mine. He was something else, though I had no idea what.
Her eyes blossomed at the touch of the shadows, as if like the moon, they were meant to be viewed exclusively from a position of darkness. Without thinking I plunged deeper into Marvin’s memory, hoping to catch a final look at my vanishing mother. But she was gone, and my sadness knelt beside the sobbing memory of Marvin’s misery.
I needed to know more. I had to find another memory somewhere in the dream. I ran back to the ruined camper, searching. I flung a cupboard door open and watched as the space beyond stretched and became a dark hole, leading somewhere deeper. I tore away the old dream to get to the newer one beneath. I clamored into the hole, struggling over the corpses that I suddenly realized were all but choking the small space. I heard something crashing behind me. Desperately, I scrambled through the narrow earthy passage.
Again, the tunnel yielded a room. This time it was a closet. I was looking down into the dark space from a small heating vent. I heard the whimpering of a child. It was Marvin, and this time he spoke to me.
“You think she’s your mother, don’t you?” said the miniature Marvin, standing on his tiptoes, whispering into the vent. “In that case, I should tell you— “
Something exploded into the tunnel behind me.
Marvin-the-child giggled at the monstrous interruption and said, “You’re going to have to bleed for this one, I think.”
A titan hand wrapped around my ankles and pulled me from the tunnel. The transition from crawling to dangling was almost instantaneous as the hand quickly moved from my ankle to my throat. The grip was unbelievably strong. Again, my father held me in his grip.
“WHERE ARE YOU CRAWLING AWAY TO, WHELP?” My father was aglow with wrath and the blood of his most recent opponent. The previous dream-memory had ignited beneath my father’s burning rage, and only the closet door remained, smoldering, covered in scratches made by the tiniest of fingernails.
“Release me, Father,” I said, despite the pressure being applied to my neck. He held me up to the fires of his eyes. It had been some time since I had cause to look upon my father for so long, and with such scrutiny. I searched his nearly indecipherable expression for some sign of an underlying motive for stripping me of my quarry. My request was met with greater pressure. He left me no choice. My right fist collided with his jaw as my left moved to pry his immense hand from my neck.
He didn’t move or speak, but only squeezed tighter. The fire from his eyes burned across my face as he held me closer. I could see my sisters standing behind him, their smiles gone. Now both of my hands were trying his individual fingers. They were immovable, squeezing tighter still. My father’s eyes poured fire into my brain, and I could feel certain memories crisping and curling within the inferno. I tried to open my eyes against his own, to dowse his fires in my silence, but all I could do was gasp. The Deadworld was opening, and I could feel waking sensations move into my fingertips as my father’s grip began to crush me out of sleep.
Beyond the burning dream, within the blackened ruins of so many deadened memories, I could see Marvin, his body renewed in stitches and staples, aiming a whisper in my direction. Before I heard my neck-within-a-dream snap like a stick, I heard the hushed words of the man-monster. “Serpents are far deadlier than wolves, my friend—and your bed is teeming with them.”
When I awoke, the sun was bleeding into the retreating night and my throat still vibrated with a phantom pressure that refused to submit to waking. I replaced my sisters to their sleeping places and made ready to depart.
While I had my sights set on Tom Hush and Doctor David Link, my mind was pinned to the dream of my mother, and only to a slightly lesser extent, the whispered words of Marvin the lunatic. Yet even now, under the hot light of the sun, I could feel the burning gaze of my father, watching. I put down the dream-memory and walked slowly, waiting for the sun to fall away. I had no intention of entering the next city in broad daylight.
The eastern entrance to the sprawling metropolis was littered with the lingering machinations of the Great Darkness. These Obscura were treated with far more respect than what you would expect from other cities. With perhaps the exception of Autumn City, few metropolitan areas exploited the history of the Great Darkness with the enthusiasm of the city of Nighthead.
The glassed-in monuments to madness were legion and breathtaking. Some of the buildings located within the city’s downtown area even incorporated various Obscura into their construction, allowing nightmares, now outlined in glass and concrete, to stand beneath the sun and beyond the sleep of reason. To be honest, there were several other cities I could have traveled to for the information I sought, but it was the lure of solid darkness that brought me to Nighthead.
I made my way through the cobblestoned streets, around nightmares frozen in municipal stone, and into the finest shelters for shadows available within city limits. At last, after I stepped out from the darkness of an alleyway, I found a newspaper that had been left to the wind.
The headline read: Antlered Corpse Found Mutilated Upon Stone Altar.
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