Wicked seemed genuinely fascinated with the creature. He immediately walked past me, dangers be damned, and started talking to the thing. “What a wonderful gallery you have here, creature. Dreams, through and through. But I wonder, are you dream or ghost?” My insane companion looked as if he might reach out to touch the confessed father of the infamous Family Man, but thought better of it at the last moment. The world of galleries and soot shifted into a tomb-like trap full of darkness and dust, the crazy quilts of scored flesh and melted wax flowing into a messy freakshow of more standard human mutilation—“art,” by deranged serial-killer standards.
Sensing our shift in focus to the changing environment, the Red Ouroboros explained, “That has nothing to do with me. You must realize, this is all a dream, and dreams are fixed to no obligations of time or space, drawing their inspiration equally from the future as much as the past. I suspect I’ve a date with fire at some point, my wonderful gallery destroyed. Pity, that. But since I’m not quite certain I’m an independently living thing, I don’t know that I should care about what happens in the future. Yet, if I had an opinion born of any actual living thought, I’d say that fire could do my art a world of good. Art versus nature, that sort of thing. Of course, art must always lose, but art can be cagey—when the fire has had its way, art becomes the ashes, death their new canvas. It’s a shame my son fails to see the endurance of art-after-death, but he had his teacher stripped from him at an early age, replaced by a murderous whore, for a time. It’s small wonder his artistic development was retarded.” The creature’s liquid eyes surged into my own, down into the fire growing within me. I felt an urge to defend her, the Witch who had usurped my life. Though I couldn’t speak to the whore accusation, I certainly wouldn’t put it past her. But she refused me the words, choosing to hide her history with the melted man-dream.
Wicked spoke before I had a chance to say something rude, if largely uninformed. Probably a good thing. “So, you’ve no idea what you are? Interesting, but hardly unique. Who can truly say what or why they are? But tell me, sire to the great and inimitable Donald, do you have any idea where-oh-where your little boy’s gotten to?” Wicked’s not generally the right-to-the-point kind of guy, so I was a bit taken aback by his straightforwardness. Although, he is one to do what the moment doesn’t require or expect—his credo, really. Donald’s bio-dad seemed a little put-off by the directness, likely wanting to fulfill the archetypal villain’s monologue—if he was indeed a villain. Yet, despite his presumed evil, he seemed accommodating enough.
“Donald’s been here, on and off,” the creature replied, “revisiting his dear old dad, if not recognizing him at all. He doesn’t appear to have much use for his memories these days. I suspect that’s prescriptive, for some agenda or another. You know, the best laid plans tend to be the most tender, prone to the worst kinds of interruption, to say nothing of the consequences of their unmet expectations. But of course, this is the essence of attempting to second-guess the world.” This time his words were two-pronged, aimed at both Wicked and the Witch.
Wicked responded nicely enough, considering. “Clearly, your sway over this dream grants you some insight into the minds of those who enter it. Good to know. I wonder how much of you is truly invested here, and what it would take to know your mind as intimately as you know ours.” Baron was conspicuously absent from sight. It wasn’t difficult to guess where he was, but we hadn’t reached that point—yet.
“We’re just guests here, Dillan,” I said, “and unannounced ones at that. We shouldn’t expect the warmest of receptions. Our host is just being cautious, I’m sure.” I offered a smile to the dead artist. Wicked understood and slowly stepped aside, allowing me a fuller view of the gallery-maker. I’m fairly certain Donald’s daddy was well aware of Wicked’s intent and Baron’s location. He was no doubt ready for anything.
“We’re curious about Donald,” I said politely. “What he dreams of these days. We thought you’d be the one to ask.” I felt like I’d cornered a fox in the brush, desperate to steady it, hoping against hope I wouldn’t lose it to the thickets.
“I’d be glad to tell you,” the mutilated dream said, arms widening in welcome, “but first, I’d like to know what shewants with him. After all, she had him the last time I checked. Lose him did we, sweetheart? Murder you and run, did he?” The disfigured dream clearly enjoyed having me—her—over a barrel. I could feel her patience for the creature dwindling. The crooked dream looked past me, first eyeing the dream sage, and then Rover. He seemed to be sizing us up. Rover offered a low growl, and the mad laughter of the Bowers family cartwheeled about from within its rotting carcass. “One of Donald’s?” asked the dream of a dead artist, eyes still fixed upon the great undead dog.
“No,” I said, “but I suppose you might say he was made by a distant cousin of Donald’s. One of hers created him.” I was curious to see if I could get him talking about his past with the Witch, as she was keeping altogether mum on the topic.
“Not half bad, even for one of her lackey killers,” he said. “Now, whether I’m alive or not, there’s certainly no use in wasting time, even the sort of time that rots into shadows like so many sunbeams at dusk, as dream-time is oft to do. No, I’ve no mind for idle hands at all. In fact, I keep myself quite busy here. My gallery, despite its apparent destruction and my untimely death, has swollen in both scope and content, as dreams are far more pliable than even the supplest clay. Especially to an artist with strong vision, such as myself. Wouldn’t you love to see one of my pieces? Of course you would.”
Suddenly, Baron appeared, whatever power allowing him to crouch invisibly behind the artist negated. A dimly glowing shape lurched from the dripping shadows, dwarfing my giant companion. It stumbled into view like an animate graveyard, corpses and skulls poking out every which way from without its body. Donald’s daddy was sending a clear message—he was not at our mercy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The dead dream took hold of me with his churning, liquid eyes. I could almost feel his mind plucking at my flesh, turning me over like a cut of meat. “And you, my dear hostess to whores. Oh yes, I can feel her down there, rolling in secrets like a dog turning over on its own shit. But I’ve a secret for you, little courier. One perhaps she hasn’t handed you. A nice, polished piece of terrible truth. The kind that makes you seek out that special razor you’ve been saving, just in case you get a taste for the void. You should know that I never forget a face, especially not when it relates to my art.” I felt something gigantic forming in his words. I stepped back to give it room. “Did you know,” the dream continued, “that Donald knew your parents? In point of fact, he brought them to me. Said he was lost. A little ruse he’d perfected for drawing prospective visitors to my gallery.” My world changed, suddenly, mercilessly. Caterpillars became butterflies became corpses. “You see, little girl, it was I who made you an orphan—and your parents into the finest, coldest art.”
Before my breath could leave me, two more shapes shambled into view. The shadows fell away from their horribly disfigured faces, and they spoke to me. “Genevieve, darling! Come see your Mommy and Daddy! Oh, how beautiful we’ve all become!”
Comments will be approved before showing up.