Cloudcover parts like the lid of an eye, revealing the curious pupil of a strange blue moon and stars that glimmer like tears. Standing at the edge of a lake, chilled by winter wind, Kevin Murphy is afraid, and he doesn't know why. At brief intervals he knows he's dreaming, but throughout many years of being an insomniac assailed by nightmares, he has never been able to wake up at will. Not until they are finished.
So peaceful, this night. He can see cabins off in the distance, well made, comfortable cabins, but useless in keeping out what seeks their occupants. Every window is dark. No electric light or candles or even the flashlights of little campers telling scary stories cleaving through the gloom.
Kevin sniffs and shivers, aware of a repulsive scent he can't place. It seems to be coming from the lake, carried to him by the wind sweeping across that great underwater portal.
Nothing has lived in the lake for years, says a thought. This is a poison place. Leave.
He can't. The core theme of Kevin's nightmares is that he has no choice. He must follow, listen, and watch, no matter what is shown to him. He must endure, feel that white-hot terror, because otherwise he won't be ready for what's coming for him. But Kevin has no idea what's coming. It has been with him for years, always watching, almost guarding him in a twisted way, always there in periphery, teasing with shadow and sensation.
Something moves beneath the lake. He sees the ripples creating gaps in between the eerie blue moonlight. First over near the docks, now farther away toward the boats, and then right in front of him. He knows he is being scrutinized, sized up, considered. But Kevin can't move. And on some level he knows where its coming from.
He wants to hold the door shut but he doesn't have the strength. Why won't someone help him? Couldn't the combined strength of many people stop this monumental force using them as if they are nothing but slabs of beef on the rack?
A large fish leaps out of the water and Kevin jumps away with a whimper, the spell broken. It flops feebly on the wet sand, its jet-black scales strikingly beautiful under the moon. Its eyes are milky, diseased.
Kevin knows the fish is blind, but also knows that somehow, it is looking at him.
“Spookymen, spookymen, what do you want from us?”
He turns around toward the voice, finding nothing. Nothing but memories. He wishes he could answer that question, that awful question someone has asked in mirthful singsong.
It is the voice of a child, which makes it so much worse, because to them he is still a child, and always will be.
His gaze flits to the fish again. Despite how familiar it is, how alive it looks, he knows what it was made for and what it represents. The ragged tail fin snaps against the sand with sudden vigor, not a death rattle but a return to furious life.
No, not life. Anti-life.
He is jarred from his stupor again by a scream spearing through the night, creating so many echoes, so many dangerous echoes. Memories. Tearing away from the diseased fish, he looks toward the sound of the scream, and sees himself.
His child self, captured in the grip of a Spookyman—that's what they called them then, around the campfire, oblivious to their silent observers.
What scares Kevin the most is how high up the boy is, held under his arms by its pallid, suckered hands. They're almost up to the tree line. That's how freakishly tall the monster is, that it could hold him up so high, so effortlessly. It seems to be made of the moon's saphire light, of the abyssal lake, and Kevin sees eternity in its cold blue eyes. No pupils, no iris, no whites. Just a pitiless void.
His child self's brown eyes are so big, so afraid, and Kevin can feel the creature's clammy grip on his arm, can feel something worming into his head, no longer watching the younger doppelganger but taken his place.
The creature is speaking to him. But it has no lips, just a short, jagged snout crammed with teeth like thin white needles. Its voice is so many other voices and Kevin can't even squeeze out a scream. He tries to jostle loose but it holds him fast, needs something from him, won't ever let go.
Then Kevin was awake again, clutching the covers with cold, sweat-slicked hands, staring around the room in panicked search of his tormentors.
He rarely caught a glimpse, and it was almost better when he did, better than this mocking silence that stirred up so many buried feelings. Fear, anger, and an insane sense of unreality, as if he himself didn't belong anymore. As if he too would disappear when the lights came on.