Deep into Northern wilderness we traveled, as different as night and day. We both had a twisted sense of humor, and the more we laughed together the less he considered me prey.
Deep into Northern wilderness we traveled, as different as night and day. A nameless need to leave home—or whatever counted as home—drew me on through sprawling countryside, eventually coming face to face with an ancient intelligence, the memory of once cataclysmic worlds now resting in peace.
I call him the Old Friend. He is a genderless being, ever-changing and inhuman in more ways than one, but believes, “being referred to as it is so impersonal.”
He has the mentality of a predator but also of an elitist, believing himself to be above all other creatures, and deeper still, a simpler set of emotions that could be described as childlike.
At first the Old Friend tried to hunt me, exalted by the prospect of a new game to play. I felt him before I saw him. My head tingled and the cool afternoon breeze held its breath. He goes for the mind first, poring through its contents in search of inner fears, but knowing this I formed a mental barrier that kept him out and offered resistance he hadn't seen in a very long time. Hostility transformed into amused curiosity.
The Old Friend stepped out from his forest hideaway wearing the face of a man I knew had died centuries ago. A long flowing green robe hugged his slim build, and his thick black hair rippled slightly as the breeze resumed. He smiled at me, and his eyes never stayed the same. They were always changing color and shape like a kaleidoscope, the better to reflect his love of mayhem and the beauty he thinks it imparts.
I don't remember what the Old Friend first said to me, but soon after the initial encounter we were having a calm philosophical conversation on the nature of fear and death, actually enjoying each other's presences.
Despite vast differences between me, a mere human and....whatever this being was, we had a few things in common. The Old Friend was telepathic and needed no textbook to comprehend what makes people tick, and while I used my fascination with the dark and unusual to shed light on it, the Old Friend only used his abilities to thicken the strew of ignorance and fear upon which he fed. There was a pondering, boastful quality about it.
We both had a twisted sense of humor, and the more we laughed together, the less he considered me prey.
He resisted the urge to devour, harm or otherwise threaten me on the basis that I was “interesting.” The same could be said of my decision to go with him, further and further away.
Dusk was approaching in this quiet landscape and the trees had a the color palette of both autumn and summer. We walked side by side through tall healthy grass and came upon a clearing where the sun dipped lower and lower like a melting gold coin, and I repeatedly told myself I wouldn't go much further. Obvious was the Old Friend's intention: to lure me away from home, repeatedly mentioning a place in the woods where we would be “ safe.”
Safe from what? Discovery?
He soon began testing me, changing shape as though trying to startle me into letting down the wall. At the time I hadn't pondered what the implications were of his hunger for fear and multiple forms, but after I woke up it became clear.
The Old Friend seemed greatly perplexed that I wasn't scared out of my wits and was actually going without any struggle or protest.
His voice and demeanor always remained cordial and friendly.
I looked away from him briefly and when my gaze wandered back to the Old Friend he was a gelatinous, multicolored monstrosity the size of a bear with numerous eyes and mouths forming and disintegrating rapidly all over the rippling, rolling mass. Dead, barren earth was left in its wake where healthy grass used to be.
Then he was a gray and white rabbit, hopping perkily beside me for a moment before, in the blink of an eye, his form changed back to the prince.
The casualness at which the Old Friend cycled through his forms imparted boredom which he probably sated by finding people to screw with. Or, in this case, discuss with.
I asked him, “Do you have to kill to feed?”
The form of the kaleidoscope-eyed man smiled mischievously and told me no, he did not always need to kill people to eat, often doing so just for the thrill, but only snuffing out those he deemed a hindrance to the path of the herd.
“Herd. Sounds like you don't think very highly of us.” I smiled back, but inwardly was disgusted at this entity's self-appointed status of culling. “In that case you might as well go after animals.”
Now the blob form said through four mouths at once, (two were lipped like those of humans or apes, the others like wounds filled with broken porcelain) “Silly you. Humans ARE animals.” Every mouth spoke with a different voice, some soft and feminine, others guttural and loud.
I could feel him furtively probing through the cracks in my mind-wall again. The feeling was cold and dizzying.
I was slightly worried but evidently I had earned this demon's respect with the choice to play it cool. And he could not invade the sanctity of my mind for long before the crystal-hard barrier drove him out.
“So, what is this 'safe' place and why haven't I heard of it before?”
“You'll see.” he said with a low giggle. “You'll be pleased.”
The further we went, the more I became aware of how far away from home the destination was.
As the terrain grew wilder, forest thickening, sky darkening, the Old Friend began to do most of the talking. I was losing touch with what exactly we were talking about, and found more difficulty concentrating on how to go back. Staying with this thing for too long, I realized, turned your mind to jelly, just how he liked it. Irrationalism tenderized the meat.
“This place is as old as myself.” the Old Friend retorted, pointing ahead with a briefly human hand. “Holy grounds, if you prefer.”
”I doubt there's anything that special about it.” I said, and the Old Friend snorted a laugh.
I looked away again and during this time he changed into a clown. His eyes were not eyes but weeping sores filled with those shattered-porcelain teeth. The greasepaint was missing in some places, revealing cuts and bruises underneath. His electric-blue hair was matted and caked with algae slime as though it had been dredged through a swamp. The attire was composed of vivid pastel colors that changed and pulsed constantly. Just like the blob's murk and the prince's kaleidoscopic eyes.
Further we walked, to the unholy ground. His insistent will to investigate my mind became more blatant, thorough, bordering on a violation.
I stopped in my tracks and glared at the Old Friend. “Stop that.”
Immediately, he ceased, but not before letting out an explosive giggle.
“You are not like the others.”
“You embrace fear until it no longer fear, but wisdom.”
“Fear isn't wisdom, not too much at least. I just like to know why as well as how. And I'm not the only member of the 'herd' that feels that way.”
“The others bray like the livestock they are and run together exactly where I wish for them to go.”
“If you care at all, you should stop insulting my species.”
No longer clownish, the prince beckoned me to keep walking. “Are you coming?”
“I've come too far. I enjoyed this, but its time for me to go home.”
His mood changed with the suddenness of a shotgun blast. Immediately the thought invasion commenced. “You want to go back and live among the cattle when I can offer you liberation?” he barked.
“What are you getting at?”
“There's away out of here that, after this point, will be lost forever. A way out of humanity.”
“Sorry, I'm not interested. Maybe some other time.” With this I smiled thinly and began to walk away.
He promptly followed, rolling across the grass as the blob with eyes and mouths.
Keep your composure. Don't show any fear at all.
But he already knows.
Something kicked in my head and my slow, measured walking turned into running.
I ran and ran, holding on tightly to the way back and not the fear, the bubbling brew this prideful being savored since that original explosion of energy and light.
Soon it was like moving through water, and I dared not look back and confirm the obvious.
As I felt his influence cinch around me like a noose, I was only yards away from home.
Then I was elsewhere, floating as a shadow's shadow in the seas of a changing dream. He had caught up, not to capture or kill but to remind me that running away was a useless task, that if he wanted to he could get me with no trouble at all.
It seemed almost childish. Tag. You're it?
The dream ended.