The silence hoarded within the creature’s chamber lay heaped like gold in a dragon’s lair. I seized it, pouring it across my cocooned and wounded body, attempting to heal it. All the while, the creature regaled me with tales of its home world and its exploits since being stranded upon the corpse of the Earth.
The creature had been marooned here sometime after the Darkness, and had abided ever since within the underworld, weaving tapestries of fleshy webs while it waited for the day it might return whence it came. I felt my shoulder reset just as the Flesh Weaver addressed me anew.
“And so there you have it, little morsel, a brief recounting of all the lonely years I’ve spent away from my home, where webs and worlds are one and the same, where flesh looks to my kind’s weaving for its place and purpose. Have you any further questions, my dear fellow?” The creature seemed eager for another question, and I realized that my captor was truly enjoying the opportunity to use its multiple mouths for a purpose other than eating and weaving.
“I do, indeed,” I said. “What can you tell me about the beings known as the “Unbegotton?” I hoped to gain a bit of insight into the species of which the Shepherd of Wolves belonged.
“A strange question,” the creature said, its mouths frowning. “Why would you ask me that?”
“I happen to be playing a game hosted by such a creature, and I was wondering what you, a being from the outer spheres, could tell me about them.”
“Well, what’s to truly know? They are wholly unknowable, and well beyond attributes that can be caught within even the largest web of words. If you think the game that you’re playing with them has any outcome aside from death and madness, then you are sorely mistaken. You should thank me for saving you from their awful machinations. Being digested alive and woven into my web is a glorious end compared to the burning depths they would have you eternally suffer.”
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll continue playing their game. Shortly after I’ve done with you, of course. But please, anything you can tell me—anything at all would be greatly appreciated.”
The beast chuckled, its mouths upturned in various degrees of mirth. “You’re an amusing morsel, indeed! But as much as I’ve enjoyed our time together, I must now sleep and regrow the mess you’ve made of one of my heads, to say nothing of what those wicked blades of yours did to a number of my legs,” the creature said, proffering a gory and broken appendage. “I recommend that you sleep as well, little gnat. Dream wonderful dreams, for they will surely be your last taste of happiness before horror everlasting becomes you.” With that, the creature withdrew into a great pit that plunged into darkness and stone.
I did exactly as the creature recommended. The silence, completely relieved of the creature’s voice, combined with darkness and sleep, would do much to restore me. However, as I should have come to expect, sleep only brought new and more glorious horrors.
With all that had happened, I had neglected to examine the next name on my list—Garret House. The cocoon of darkness and silence held me closer than the web of flesh ever could, and within my slumber I found myself inside the man’s dream. As with my current waking reality, my dream was a wonderland of un-fleshed things—a gallery not of webs, but of carefully tailored skin-suits. There were manikins made from polished bone, endless rows of the wonderful things, each one attired in a different fashion of stolen skin. On platforms that rose high above the lines of manikins were beasts dressed in the skins of men, and men clothed with the flesh of beasts. Lights carved through the darkness above the fantastic amalgamations, making them seem not unlike trophies within a display case.
Garret House immediately transformed from a faceless name into a monstrous identity—Mister Hide.
My heart leapt so hard with unrestrained delight that I wondered if its frantic clapping had compromised my quiet. My fellow artist was a monster of a man who exchanged the skins of his victims with the hides of other creatures—creatures that he believed better suited the nature of his victims. He had once reupholstered an entire room full of bankers with the pink leathers of swine.
It occurred to me to challenge the skin-weaver’s assumptions concerning the Unbegotton’s endgame, as the world was becoming absorbed in dream, as it should be. Here I was, confronted by a killer who obsessed over the appropriate skinning of both man and beast, and in the waking world I had been met by a beast who was itself a fusion of untold numbers of reconstituted human skins. The Deadworld had become merely a symbol for dreams to come, a signpost for wonders that only waited to be dreamed into existence. Perhaps, I reasoned, such an arrangement of reality was dislikable to the alien skin-weaver, prompting it to describe such a condition as being the stuff of madness and death. Either way, I was delighted to see the world slipping beneath molten dreams. Unfortunately, I should have been a little less delighted and a bit more observant, as something had drawn close to me, undetected.
“Another interloper, I see,” sounded an incredibly deep voice. “What name has the waking world given you, my scripted opponent and future victim? Wait just a minute now, that impressive axe of yours has already given you away, I think. Why, you’re the Family Man, aren’t you?”
I turned around to see a massive man, every inch as large and powerfully built as myself, dressed in the skins of men. By his sides hung two great skinning knives, every inch the size and sharpness of my sisters. “Indeed, I am,” I replied. “And you, my friend, must be the infamous Mister Hide. My compliments on such a wonderful dream. I’ve been hosted by quite a few of my victims’ nightmares now, and I must admit yours is by far the most splendid.” My sisters emerged from their sleep, grinning at the massive knives that had moved into Hide’s hands.
Behind the Mad Skinner a small army of skin-swapped men and beasts gathered. I could feel their searing hunger collide with the burning stares of my family, who had risen from their sleeping places and manifested behind me, standing at the ready.
I had again done precisely as the weaver of skins suggested—I was having a marvelous dream.
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