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Rowan Explains Herself (Part 8)

*Part 8*

Rufus settled into a plush settee and all their faces turned expectantly towards Rowan, who gaped her maw at them again, crossing her eyes into a horrifying expression. When their gazes remained constant, not even a flicker, she snapped her jaws together again and heaved out a sigh that sounded distinctly like a disaffected teenager.

“Fine,” she said. “Should I begin at my beginning or yours?”

Mara and Rolly looked at each other for a moment.

“Yours,” Mara said.

“Ours,” said Rolly.

They looked at each other again, and Mara laughed a little. “Start wherever you’d like, because honestly I don’t think either will be less interesting than the other and I don’t think we’re going anywhere for a while anyway.”

Bony shoulders shrugged. “Okay, mine then.” She wriggled herself around to get more comfortable, but as she wriggled a strange thing happened. She seemed to fill out her bony frame; the angles of her face became less severe, her head smaller, the cracks in her skin sealing together. As Mara and Rolly watched with increasing fascination, she became a normal looking, very pretty girl of probably fourteen or fifteen.

“So this is what I looked like about a hundred years ago,” she began. “Or, like, twenty probably. I dunno, time gets weird, so it feels like a hundred but it wasn’t.”

Rufus shook his head and smiled. “It wasn’t a hundred years ago, dear, it was seventeen years to be exact.”

“Longer than I was a real girl, then. So, seventeen years ago I looked like this. I know my name has always been Rowan, but some of the other details of my past have grown a little fuzzy. I know I lived with my mom, and my cat Zeus. I don’t really remember my dad. I don’t think anything bad happened to him, I think he just left or they got a divorce or something.”

She shrugged again. “I was never what you would call a happy or well adjusted child. I was, as my mother said, constantly prone to flights of fancy. It wasn’t fancy, though, that’s way too sugary of a word for it.” She paused for a moment, looking very human and sort of sad. “I saw things, all the time, things that weren’t really real. I would have these dreams, these god awful vivid nightmares. Horrid landscapes in lurid colors, with these brutish creatures everywhere. They tore each other apart, literally, they just, flung pieces of each other all over the place, they sprayed blood and guts across the sky like they were trying to paint it. I would wake up sweaty and crying, and fucking terrified. I had no idea then what this place was, I didn’t understand why my dreams always took me there, why I couldn’t ever just sleep and dream of fluffy fucking bunnies and unicorns like a normal kid. Never once did I ever remember a dream that wasn’t in the Nightscape.”

“How old were you when they started?” Rolly asked quietly. He was too familiar with nightmares to not be moved already by her story.

“I don’t really know. I think I first started really remembering them when I was about seven?” She looked to Rufus for confirmation. He nodded.

Mara spoke up. “Wait, how would you know when her nightmares started if she doesn’t?”

“It’s all in the Chronicle, dear. The Dreamer’s Chronicle. There aren’t many full-blooded humans who can or want to visit the Nightscape, and certainly far less who arrive there by accident. When this happens, I know of it immediately.” He held his hand up as Rolly started to speak. “I will tell you all about it, after Rowan’s story time is over.” He gestured for Rowan to continue.

“Okay. Well, so, it got to the point where I would do whatever I could so I wouldn’t fall asleep. My mom would put me to bed, and I’d sneak down to the kitchen and eat sugar and drink coffee, anything I could think of that would help me stay awake. She couldn’t understand why I was so tired all the time. I was doing even worse in school then I had been. Before I had just been bored and I didn’t care, but now I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me, I couldn’t think straight, I could hardly speak a coherent sentence.”

She looked up as Rufus walked over and held out a glass to her, with some sort of dark grey liquid in it and vague wisps of smoke floating from the top. She nodded her thanks.

“Everyone was concerned, confused, I think. I don’t know what the hell they thought. It never crossed my mind to talk about it. It’s not like anyone can help you to not have bad dreams, is what I figured, and I figured that’s all they were. No need to make myself weirder than I already was, and since I’d never heard anyone talk about anything even remotely along the lines of what I was going through, that’s what would happen. They’d think I was depressed or suicidal, or just plain bat-shit crazy. Why wouldn’t they? That’s probably exactly what it seemed like, from their point of view.”

“Then, one morning, when I woke up from a sleep I just couldn’t stop myself from falling into, the nightmares followed me. I was dreaming that I was being chased, that this time the creatures had seen me or scented me spying on them. They had roared their disapproval, spun themselves around, searching for the interloper. They weren’t, any of them, looking right at me so I don’t know how I knew, but I was so scared that I pissed my pants right there and ran for it, just went screaming, pinching myself, telling myself over and over again that it was a dream, wake up you idiot, wake the fuck up!”

She stopped abruptly and looked around. “It’s like it just happened,” she whispered. “I can’t remember what my mom smelled like or if my stupid cat liked having his ears scratched, but those foul disgusting sons of bitches are right there, in high definition.” She sighed. “So, anyway, I wake up and I’m on my living room couch and I really had pissed myself, which was revolting. I was so grateful to be awake and out of there that I didn’t really care too much, I just wanted to take a shower and change my pants. I stand up from the couch and, boom – hanging in mid-air in the middle of the dining room is this giant face, one of their faces. One lopsided eye and one battered eye socket, fangs sticking out over cracked lips, just a hole for a nose, shaped like a shovel. All by itself, one of them, in my house, in the real world.”

“It winked at me, and then it faded away, and I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed, until a neighbor broke down my back door and ran into the house. He shook me and called my name, he tried over and over again to find out what was wrong, but I just kept screaming. I heard sirens in the distance, figured they were coming my way, and still I couldn’t stop screaming. I screamed until I finally threw up all over that poor, scared man, and then I passed out.”

“That’s when Rufus came and found me.”

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Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Dreamer in his den (7)

*Part 7*

As the monolith dragged himself back into the dusty corners, presumably to find a broom and dustpan, Rowan gave Rolly a shove. He’d been rooted in place, only swiveling his head from Mara, to Rufus, to Galbreith’s retreating form, back to Mara. The shove brought him back to himself in a hurry.

“Fuck off,” he threw at Rowan, stepping forward and holding out a hand to pull Mara to her feet and into his arms. He brushed kisses against her temple, tightened his hold when he felt her shaking. She clutched at his arm, rather painfully, with one hand and reached up to massage the bruises on her neck with the other. “Are you okay baby?”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she answered in a hoarse whisper. “Fine. Hurts, though.” She coughed. “Like, shit, it really hurts. Ow.”

He rounded on Rowan. “Did you get your funnies, Rowan? You happy now?”

She lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “I’m never happy and that’s always funny. Not gonna say I’m sorry, if that’s what you’re waiting for. I told you he couldn’t kill her, so….” she let the word peter out, letting him know how much she didn’t care one way or the other.

“Ahem.” Rufus didn’t clear his throat, he literally said the word ‘ahem’. It probably would have been amusing under less dire circumstances. “Since you are already here, in my hallway standing idly with your Rowan, I suppose that you’ve got to take these last few all important steps and get some answers for yourself, yes?”

“Why do you keep calling her our Rowan?” Mara asked him.

Without answering, Rufus turned and disappeared into the gloom behind them, through a plain archway, plainly confident they would follow. He was right, of course, because how could they not?

They entered a cavernous room that was mostly empty, soaring ceilings, windows the size of a barn looking out into a dark night that probably wasn’t the one they were used to seeing. There was one cozily appointed corner, nestled away to their left. A fire burned merrily in greens and blues with licks of yellow to add light to the heat, and Rufus led them towards the furniture arranged around in a semi-circle, as oversized as the room that surrounded it.

Mara climbed onto the cushions of a sofa and turned to sit, legs sticking almost comedically straight out like a toddler sitting at the grown table. Rolly slid in beside her, and Rowan beside him. She returned his glare with a winsome smile, marred slightly by the blackened gums and slightly pointed teeth that he hadn’t noticed until they were nearly face to face.

He opted to look back towards Rufus rather than examine them more closely.

Three expectant faces were now staring at the man who stood, in a fancy purple dressing gown, holding his hands out to the flames, spreading his fingers until they bent almost backward. Fingertip by fingertip, they alighted, his hand a living, terrifying birthday wish in the making. He held them up under his chin as he pivoted to face them, backlighting his face into the grotesque visage of campfire horror stories everywhere.

“Welcome to your nightmare.” He paused for a moment. “Mwah-ha-ha.” He paused for another moment. “I try to pretend that I do that to be funny, but in truth I do wish that I was capable of maniacal laughter. No matter. The nightmare thing, however. This being your nightmare? That is reality. This reality, anyway, where it appears that your Rowan has brought you without your consent, and before I tell you what there is for me to tell you, I believe that first she should explain herself.”

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The dreadful, clammy night (3)

*Part 3*

“There’s nothing new to be gained by this perspective, Mar,” said Rolly quietly, his head still stuck out into the night. “We can’t see all that much and I still can’t hear shit.”

Mara was already pulling on a pair of jeans. “I know, baby. I wanna go outside anyway, I really need to see if there are any other people around. I really want to talk to another person.” She did a shimmy and a jump and even under the exigent circumstances, Rolly forever enjoyed that moment where she yanked her jeans over her ass. “It’s no offense to you, if you weren’t here I’d be a fucking basket case, I just want a stranger to tell me I’m not stark raving.”

Rolly grabbed a pair of sweat pants off the back of a chair and sat to drag them on. “You wouldn’t be a basket case. You’d be a She-Hulk until you got everything under control. Ha, then you’d spend a month hiding under the covers and be a fucking basket case.”

“So what do you think we’re gonna find out there?,” she asked. “I can’t even guess. Like, are we crazy, like right around the corner everything’s all light and life and hunky-dory? Is everyone gone? What if everyone’s gone?”

Stamping heels into tennis shoes and zipping up a hoodie, he shrugged. “Dunno. They either are or they aren’t.” He dragged a giant sports duffel from under the bed and threw it on top of it. “I, however, am going to go with the assumption that there is a chance that outside of these walls there’s unfriendly shit. So, you’re going to go grab our ball bats. I’m going to grab the big flashlight, fuck it, and the little one too, and a kitchen knife.”

Mar stopped short on the way to the hall closet. “Rolly, seriously, a knife?” She looked towards the window, where no sound or movement floated. “Okay, fine, yes, a knife. I’ll throw in a couple bottles of water and some crackers, because who knows, maybe we don’t get to come back in.” Breezy words for a terrifying possibility. “But we’ll still look totally normal, so if we are the ones who somehow both devolved into lunatics trapped in the same delusion, no one will even be able to tell.” She smiled brightly and spun on a toe.

Rolly was trying to be rational in an irrational situation, which was commendable but also very easy to get wrong. For instance, you couldn’t ever stop remembering that there was no logic to fall back on, it was all spur of the moment calculation that could be undone by single moment’s hesitation. Ball bats, knives, and flashlights were all very good, but would they actually do any good? There was no way to tell, and better at least a sense of bravado than cowering.

Mara came back into the room with an armful of supplies. She tossed them down onto the bed for Rolly to pack as the man approached the endeavor like a real life game of Tetris. He could somehow fit the ability to live for a week into a bag that size; it was a bizarre gift.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re ready. Let’s go.”

As they walked towards the front door, Mara cleared her throat. “Uh, Rolly, I feel like I should tell you that when I went into the kitchen I heard the humming again. It was by the door.”

He glanced sideways at her but didn’t slow his stride. “Did it sound like an invitation or a warning?”

“A what? An invitation?” She thought about it for a second. “I really don’t know that it sounded like anything other than humming. It was the exact same sound we heard before.” Now they were in front of the door and she stopped with her hand on the deadbolt. They waited and listened, but there was no more humming, nothing at all in fact, stopping them from stepping out into the corridor, but still they hesitated a moment longer.

She turned the deadbolt. They waited. She snicked the chain lock off. They waited. As she reached for the lock button on the door handle, the humming came again.

“Laa, lalala, lala, laaaa….”, fading away, not as if the hummer was walking farther away, but as if the hummer was disappearing.

“Warning?” Rolly asked again. “Or invitation?”

“Doesn’t matter,” answered Mara, and turned the knob. She re-locked the door from outside, unsure whether she was protecting what was inside or defending herself from it, and whether or not such feeble security mattered anyway. Nothing for it, now.

From their first few steps into the hallway, they knew immediately that they were in fact the ones who were crazy. At least they were in it together.

It wasn’t their hallway. There were no patterns on the wallpaper, or the carpet, whereas theirs had geometric designs woven in. The stairs at the end of the hall had disappeared, replaced by a flat plane that led directly to a large, double front door that they didn’t recognize. The monotonous color scheme was unrelieved. What could loosely be called light was coming from tacky electric candles in tacky art deco holders on the walls.

Mara stepped closer to one of them, peering closely at the crude details. “Ugh. It’s a face.” She pulled Rolly over and pointed. “It’s a face, like an outline of a face. It is a decidedly unhappy face.”

The face hewn into the candleholder was indeed not a happy face. Quite the opposite, actually, seeming to indicate extreme suffering with just a few lines. Foreboding, that was the word for it. It boded of foes. They stepped back and walked forward once more.

She caught him staring at her again, and stared back confused. Then she shook her head. “Just say it, you moron.”

That stupid grin. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“I’m glad you’ve got that out of your system, because we’re at the front door now, and our lot in life is not about to improve.” They both turned to look through the glass.

The world looked exactly as it had through their bedroom window. No color, no sound, no people. Nothing but mucky looking fog and bilious light from strangely shaped street lamps.

It wasn’t even their street anymore.

* * * *

Get ready for the real weirdness to start in the upcoming Part 4, There’s nobody here but us chickens. Haha, I don’t think that’s what I’m gonna call it, but it would fit and it made me laugh….

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

That Kind of An Afternoon

This story directly continues the tale of Gladiator & Scrapper in That Kind of A Day (you can read it here if you wanna: https://thesqueakywheelblog.com/2013/06/08/that-kind-of-a-day/ 🙂
***

My head dipped down again, heavy and weighted with a concrete mass of confusion. “That’s the big reveal,” I muttered into my chest. “Scrapper.” I noticed that the droplets of blood had formed a Rorschach pattern on my t-shirt. “What do you see here?” I asked, still looking down.

“What do I see where?” Scrapper stopped scrutinizing the tics of my battered face and followed my line of vision. “It’s blood, dummy,” he said. “From your face. Where I punched your teeth out,” he added helpfully.

I coughed and hawked out a glob of blood and spit it onto the ground. For all I knew, I just spat out one of those teeth.

“I’ve heard of Scrapper. Not much, you big enigma, you. Enough to not take too much of a shot to my self esteem because you knocked me out.” I considered a moment. “I had just woken up, of course, and I had a helluva hangover. So, there is that.”

A reluctant laugh rumbled up from the big man’s belly. “Yeah,” he agreed. “There is that.”

It rankled my already bruised pride to crane my neck up to meet his eyes. “You know,” I said conspiratorially, “I know a secret about you.”

He clapped his hands together. “Oh goody. What secret do you know about me, Gladiator?”

“I know that you either stole someone else’s name, or you’re about 70 years older than you look.”

He went so still he could have been a waxwork gangster giant. His whisper was a mountain-sized hive of bees, buzzing all at once, and just as dangerous. “What makes you say that, little man?”

It was my turn to shrug, oozing insouciance like a pheromone. “My Nan used to tell me stories, stories about the Badlands where she grew up. Some of them were about a guy named Scrapper. He ruled in the Underbelly of the underbelly, flitting in when he needed to handle some business and flitting out again. No one knew where he came from, but they were sure scared shitless to find out where he was.”

I raised my arms up behind me until my shoulders protested. “Get me the fuck out of this, will you? I’ve got no problem with you so I don’t see why we can’t have this conversation like civilized human beings.”

Time slowed for a minute, thickened to a trickle. Our eyes met and held; feral cats assessed prey, cold blooded sharks smelled blood, Neanderthals squared off over the first lick of flame in the time it took for him to blink. He broke the connection with an expansive gesture and the world crashed back over me like a cresting wave. “Yeah, sure, why not.”

As he bent to the task himself, an amalgamation of shadows peeled itself from the wall and morphed into a man under the salty glow of a fitful bulb. “Scrap, I don’t think you should untie him until we get some answers about what happened t’ Leo. Manacles can be like, I dunno, like truth serum to people who don’t wanna spill their guts.” I didn’t need his wink to hear the double meaning behind that line.

“Yeah, and sometimes they make people turn into even more of a stubborn asshole than they already are.” With one knee on the floor, Scrapper snicked out a switchblade. As he sawed at the knots binding my wrists he grunted at the shadow-man. “It’s a rope, anyway, not manacles. And you don’t give a nickname to a nickname. If you shorten mine again, I’ll shorten your tongue.” He flicked a glance sideways like he was shooting poison darts alongside it. “Okeydokey?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever. You don’t have to threaten me, you can just tell me shit. I ain’t your enemy and I ain’t your minion.” In an impressive maneuver, as the man’s voice faded, so did he. Now that would be a trick to have in your back pocket.

I was taking as many mental notes as I could. A leader, but not a boss. Could be reasonable, could be touchy. Did he have a cadre of Tricksters at his back or just this shadow guy? I stared as hard as I could into the gloom, trying to discern even just an outline of a man, stared so hard I gave my eyeballs a toothache, and still I got nothing.

The tension on my arms disappeared so suddenly that they flailed up and out. One of them knocked into Scrapper’s brick sized fist, sending his blade skittering across the floor. I laughed outright. “Sorry, sorry, I guess I’m just excited.” I swung my legs up and down, a halfwit kid in need of a potty break. “Feet?” I asked sweetly.

A shadow foot kicked the knife back across the floor, but the surface was too rough and it stopped well short of Scrapper’s outstretched palm. “Jesus,” he muttered as he crabwalked the last two feet over to grab it. “Could this be more undignified? I’m crawling around on the god damn floor. Christ.”

Finally I was freed from my fetters. I stood up, stretching until all the bells and whistles and groans and cracks were finished. I shook out my hands and feet, bounced on my toes to get some feeling dancing back in. “Fuckin A!” I grinned my newly gap toothed grin and clapped the now standing Scrapper on the shoulder. “Now we talk like men.”

****

I had originally intended for this to be a 2 parter, but I’m thinking it will prolly be around a 5 parter…once I start daydreaming about backstories, quick and easy goes out the window 🙂

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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