Chapter Four






Chapter Four



I stabbed the thing one more time, even though that other world it was trying to take me to was consuming almost all of my attention. In a fit of fury, perhaps even in death throes, the Dreamfeeder lifted me with shocking strength off the floor, jerked and jostled me, constricting around my waist so much I let out a noise that was half squeal half wheeze.


All time seemed meaningless in that moment of action, everything unreal, fluid, going by lazily as though in slow motion. It had all the aspects of a bad dream, but I knew that it was real.


The knife fell out of my hand, and it glimmered in an almost ethereal way in the red light before clattering to the floor.  Then I fell after it, slipping from the tendrils and landing roughly on my back, on that soft squirming organic nest.

  Profound revulsion and horror filled me even more than it already had.  The flicking tendrils beneath me moved erratically, but I didn’t have the strength to get away from them.  The breath was knocked out of me and for a moment I felt the cold hands of unconsciousness trying to pinch my eyelids shut, but I fought it and somehow managed to stay awake as the angry howling died down and gradually faded to silence.  The tendrils abruptly stopped thrashing.

 Now, the only pulsing was that of my own raging heart, and it pumped freely, no longer controlled.


  Although the baleful red glow still stayed on, bright and dreadful from its motionless source, I dared to think that this monstrosity was dead.  When I was finally able to stand up, I grabbed the knife again, and carefully walked over to the sleeping form of Kat.  Steadying my hands, I cut away at the tendrils that bound her.  It took several minutes, which seemed like eternity.  These appendages were extremely strong and dexterous, not the easily broken tendrils of a simple plant or a fungus.  There were strange stringy fibers inside them, dark supple leaking layers reminiscent of arteries or muscles but made of nothing as mundane as that. They didn’t move.


After I sawed away at the thickest ones, which seeped a milky almost luminous amber fluid, which thankfully didn’t harbor corrosive abilities, Kat let out a deep sigh, as though release from these hideous things gave her more room to breathe. Then I grabbed the wad of slime, which sat still on her forearm, and tossed it aside. I cringed and gagged upon seeing the area of exposed bone where the skin had melted there too, like someone had poured a vial of acid on her.

I realized I was talking softly, constantly, praying passionately out loud to whoever might have gazed down on this universe and listened.


“Don’t give up on everything. Please let us go, let us get out of here, please let us live. Don’t let that thing take us to dream. Make it dead. Make it stay dead so we can get out of here. This is not what we’re accustomed to dealing with; we’re so small and fragile, under the mercy of the weather and our health and crazy people and horrible things from other worlds.  I can’t take losing Kat, not her, please.  Do you even hear us, down here on planet Earth?  I hope so, I really hope so.  We can’t be all alone, all alone with this…this force of evil. Blasphemy.  Maybe we had it all wrong, maybe this is the true essence of evil that your book talks about, and maybe this is all a plan, all meant to be, like Kat says, like-“


Kat was awake.  I don’t know how much of that she had heard, but when those sharp blue eyes fixed cognitively on me I felt as though a burden was instantly lifted from my shoulders.  Maybe there was still hope that we could both get out of here and breathe the sweet air of life.

“I’m here, Kat.” I said, pulling the last stubborn tendril from her arm.

“What’s going on, Molly?  Why are we here?  What is this place?  Molly, I hurt…I hurt…real bad…I hurt…”

“I know, Kat. I know. We’ll get you some help. Don’t worry.  All this is insane, but we’ll get help.”  My voice was weak, shaky.  I tried to pump false confidence into it, to lessen her fear, but she had an acute ear for truth, and evidently saw through my pretense of fearlessness. 


Suddenly she sat up, stared at her skinless claw of a hand in horror and confusion. She flexed it experimentally, and then let out a long, mournful moan.

“What happened to me?”

Somehow that one question was more difficult, more agonizing, than anything that happened that night.  I had to answer, but how?  How could one explain something so unimaginably horrible when they knew so little about it, and yet so much, far too much? There was nothing to say, nothing that would help her now.  Nothing that would take away the scars.  Even if there had been, I was in too much shock to think of it.

“We have to get out of here.  I’m sorry, Kat.  I’ll explain this to you the best I can later, but we have to get out right now.”

I abruptly realized she was wearing a pair of blue flannel pajamas, with snowflake patterns.  They were stained by the Dreamfeeder’s fluids.  Had she been called here after she had already gone to sleep at her own house?  Had she driven here and gone into the cellar in an altered state of consciousness, without any control?  How could the Dreamfeeder have reached her from so far away, while my mind still acted freely in sleep and in the waking world?

“Can you stand?” I asked her, hoping that her legs, which I could only vaguely see beneath the puddle of ooze, had not been consumed.  With a groan, she took my hand, and pulled herself erect, pulling sticky strands of the substance with her, wobbly but sound. Her legs and bare feet had been spared.

She said nothing more.  I could not imagine, however, how much pain she was in.  Not only physical pain, but psychological pain as well.  Kat glanced only once at the Dreamfeeder’s bulging silent form, winced, and closed her eyes.  A series of violent tremors coursed through her body, and then she was calm.

Her good hand, still warm and nimble and free of missing flesh, clutched mine tightly for support. Slowly, surely, we made our way out of the room, through the open door, out of the strange cellar.  The whole time I feared that either of us could be taken down by the things on the wall if they came alive.

They didn’t.  Maybe the benign watcher of the universe had heard me after all.


When we reached the top of the stairs, I shut the cellar doors. Nothing else could be done. They locked only from the inside.  Kat and I silently walked across the dark backyard to the front door, breathing in the untainted fresh air that we had breathed all our lives, yet with a newfound relish and profound appreciation for it.  Many take for granted what can so easily be broken and swept away.  No matter how small or even plentiful something is, we should always cherish it because it is not air that will not always be here, but ourselves.


When I opened the door, Solo greeted us with a worried smile. He sniffed Kat’s skeletal hand, and whined.

“I can walk.” Kat said flatly, and let go of my hand.

“I’ll call an ambulance; just lay down on my bed.” I told her.  Instead, she stood there, supporting herself on the kitchen counter, shaking slightly, staring at me with those haunted blue eyes, which brimmed with unspoken knowledge that surely tormented her, perhaps even more so than my close encounter with the Dreamfeeder and its world of origin tormented me. When I nearly crossed over into that void but managed to escape it, it’s almost like the void took something from me, something that I’ll never be able to retrieve.  If the same thing happened to Kat, perhaps it was worse because she actually dreamed with the thing; and saw in excruciating detail what the world beyond the veil was like.

 “You killed that thing, Molly?” Kat inquired, her tone free of any inflection or emotion.

I nodded vigorously.  “Yes.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Without another word, she shuffled into my room, and with a quiet dread, I wondered if this was really over.


Trying to stay busy, to do something productive and keep my mind out of the memories of that other place the Dreamfeeder showed me, I grabbed the cordless phone from the handset on the end table, and dialed 911.

A man with a deep somewhat growly voice answered. “Mellowbrook Emergency; this is Officer Cumbers. What is your emergency?”

“Hi, I have a friend who is in desperate need of medical aid.  Her hand and arm is injured real bad, she’s in pain.  I need an ambulance as soon as possible.”

“What happened to her?” he asked, and that’s when I realized there was no real way to explain this situation without sounding like a nutcase of one kind or another.

“Listen, I can’t explain.  I know this sounds weird, and I’m not trying to be mysterious, but you just won’t understand until you get here.  I don’t want my friend to be in pain, so please just bear with me on this.”

I tried to sound as sincere as possible, and there was a short silence before Officer Cumbers asked for my address.  I gave it to him, and he said someone would be on their way.  Then he pressed, “Ma’am, I’m going to need to know what’s going on here.  How did your friend get hurt?  What caused her injuries?”

“I can’t possibly explain what is going on right now; there’s no time.  I don’t even know myself.  Please just get over here and things will seem a whole lot clearer. This is something that can’t be just explained, it’s too strange, too dangerous, please, for God’s sake, just get over here now.”

After another silence, he told me to try and calm down until help arrived, and told me to stay on the line. Maybe my refusal to tell him what was going on, and the pleading, desperate tone of my voice, suggested that the cause of my friend’s injury was too horrible to be described over the phone.  Maybe he thought I was a real lunatic, afraid if he hung up, I’d do great harm to myself.  Leaving the phone, I went to check on Kat who was fast asleep, and for one scary moment I thought she wasn’t breathing before the telltale sound of her respiration drifted through the silent room.  She slept on top of the covers, either because she didn’t want to stain my sheets with what was on her pajamas or because she was too exhausted to turn them down and get under them.  She was apparently in a deep sleep, hopefully a normal one.


I wondered what the paramedics would think when they saw her fleshless hand and the exposed bone in her arm.  Would they blame me?  Would they write me off as some insane chick with a sick tendency to hurt friends?  Then what would they think when they went downstairs and saw what had been growing there?  These questions didn’t replace or even distract me from the old ones, which still begged to know why all this was even happening in the first place.  There is only so much the human mind can handle, and mine seemed to be filled to the brim and bursting at the seams after it had come so dangerously close to the brink.  The brink of what, I didn’t know, and didn’t want to find out.


I realized that the noxious amber fluid still covered my sweater.  In disgust, I slipped it off as loosely as possible, careful not to let any of it smear my face. Then I realized that it was all over my face too, that sickening Dreamfeeder blood, still warm and possibly teeming with unseen infectious life.  Gibbering wordlessly to myself, I ran to the bathroom, got a wash rag, soaked it with scalding hot water, then stood in front of the mirror, vigorously scrubbing it across my face until the skin turned red and pebbly, until it hurt and itched, but I couldn’t stop because this wasn’t just a fitful effort to wipe off that stuff; it was deeper than that.  The whole time the things’ words echoed in my head, that hateful mantra that would probably haunt me for the rest of my life: you’ll come, you’ll come with me. You won’t dream, ever, you won’t dream, Molly Harland, you won’t have peace…you’ll be ours forever. Ours forever.


The nausea that had arisen when I first took in the sight of the Dreamfeeder had never really gone away. My stomach demanded a purge.  Without any control, I painfully emptied out into the toilet all I had eaten that day. It wasn’t helpful until it was over, until I felt as though the spiritually and physically unclean air I had breathed had left me during the purge, until I felt, irrationally, that I had totally gotten rid of its vile essence, that sick, slimy sliver of its mind that it left in me when in all its rage it had tried so hard to take me to whatever nightmare realm it came from.  Weak, mentally drained, I walked unsteadily into the living room and collapsed into the sofa, breathing heavily, trying to stay awake until the paramedics arrived, my mind racing madly in an effort to sort through the sudden chaos it had been forced to face.


What in hell could create something so horrifying? And why, in my cellar, of all places? This isn’t some cheesy horror movie…there has to be an explanation, something to explain why. But there isn’t. And did I really kill it…? 


Don’t even ask that question, Molly.  Of course it’s dead. Deader than dead.  Despite how powerful it was, you finished it off, and got Kat out alive.  Don’t torture yourself with these speculations.  It’s not good for the heart…I mean, mind.  Mind.  Mind your manners, from the Great Big Book of Helpful Clichés.  Brought to you by, the novel that currently sits unfinished while you worry about It Which Should Not Be Described.


I sat on the sofa waiting for help to arrive until about twelve minutes later, when I heard the sirens. First to pull up was a fire truck and then behind it an ambulance and a Sheriff’s car.  They all came to the door and I opened it breathlessly, hoping that I looked better than I felt.  “Where is she?” asked the paramedics.  I pointed to my bedroom.  The firemen stood by and the Sheriff, Officer Mooreland, took me aside to question me. 

Mooreland was tall, trim, and moderately muscular, with irises so dark brown they were black, blending evenly in with the pupils in a disconcertingly direct stare. He was probably in his late fifties or early sixties, because his hair was silver gray and wispy like down feathers, and he had a face that was heavily wrinkled and weathered.  His voice was low, almost stifled; his demeanor was calm and measured with the patience of someone who had dealt with a lot of terrible things.  I wished I had possessed that patience.


“What happened here, Ms. Harland?” he inquired as we walked into the living room to sit down.  I wondered how he knew my name.  Maybe it was listed somewhere.

“Sir, I really wish there was a better way to explain this, a way to make more sense. This is insanity, what happened tonight.”

“I’m sure I’ve heard worse,” he replied, settling down into the sofa by the window and running one hand through his hair.  I sat in the armchair.  Solo walked in from the second bedroom, and lay with his head on his paws on the green area rug in front of us, eyes grim and soulful, more comforting than the Sheriff’s yet just as black.


The paramedics and fire truck drivers had followed us in here to listen. They should have been tending to Kat, concerned about her health, but evidently they wanted to hear a few things we said first. I tried not to show my anger at this.  Lowering my voice, not because I didn’t want them to hear but because their suspicion of me might ripen into full accusation once they saw Kat after hearing my story, I continued, “there is something down there in my cellar that almost killed my friend and me. It is very powerful, and it is not from this world.”

They said nothing, and ten eyebrows rose to five creased foreheads in stoic disbelief.

“I don’t know where it comes from, or why, but it’s there, and I think I killed it.  Kat is my best friend and if I hadn’t done anything she would have a lot more injuries or might even be dead.”

“Ms. Harland—“Mooreland began.

-“Call me Molly.”

“I don’t mean to be offensive, but have you been taking any….medications?”

I tried to dampen the hot fire of outrage that swelled in me, to excuse his skepticism because that was surely his way of being neutral, diplomatic, and logical.  “No, I don’t take anything more potent than aspirin. And it would be a waste of time if you wanted to ask me if I’m on anything not provided by the pharmaceutical companies, because that’s not important.  Not when it comes down to it.”

Evidently he had heard the defensive tone in my voice, which I struggled to keep hidden. “We are not discrediting you, Ms. Harland.  We are just doing our jobs.”

I wondered where he got “we” from.  The paramedics were silent; as were the two burly men who had driven the fire truck.

“I understand that, sir, but I wish somebody would stop standing around and go look at Kat.  I think she’s asleep, but I don’t know the full extent of her injuries.”

The paramedics walked from the room, with sheepish expressions on their faces.  The other two either followed them or went back outside.  Trying to be subtle, Mooreland leaned forward; his hands clasped together, and lowered his tone even further, as though we were two conspirators discussing a subject clandestine and highly sensitive.  His coaly eyes glimmered with doubt.  “Ma’am, for us to really help you and your friend, I need to know exactly what happened.  Sometimes…people tend to make up wild stories to cover up what’s actually going on.  I’m not saying you have.”


Yes you are.


“I’m only saying that we can’t just believe there’s something otherworldly that’s injured your friend, and that you killed it.  It sounds like something from a fictional story, and I know how you are with stories.”


His eyes seemed to stare a hole through mine, and they were now not kind or just, but accusing.

I thought there were other things there too, and one of them was a disturbingly bitter contempt.  He thought I was one of those, the unbalanced, deceitful scum that as a sheriff he had to deal with on a daily basis, and considering his age, it seemed odd that he was still doing it.  Maybe that contempt wasn’t directed towards me, but despite his calm, even tone, he gave me no reason to think so.  The last part about the stories almost made me cringe.  If he’d read what I had published, the obscure works that still allowed me to live my quiet, low-profile life, then evidently he knew more about me than I’d thought, because in a small town, it was difficult for some to stay out of other people’s business.  It was an unpleasant feeling that this hardened cop might have regarded my stories with the same venom he regarded me with at that moment.


Trying to keep my cool but feeling a tide of emotion start to rise, I said, “Sir, I have no reason to lie about this, and if you don’t believe me, how about you go down into the cellar, see what’s growing there.”

He didn’t say another word, just continued trying to dissect me with his stare, as though he could persuade admittance to a crime from me as one might peel the skin off a tangerine.  Then the paramedics appeared in the doorway, with Kat on a stretcher.  She was still unconscious.  They must have gone to put her in the back of the ambulance, but they did not yet drive her away to the hospital. Officer Mooreland stood up from the sofa and left the room.


After a hesitation, I told Solo to stay where he was, and followed the cop, trembling inside.  They were waiting in the driveway, talking.  The cop had probably told them I was a psycho or something, because they tensed at my approach, hardening their features.  They were young men in their twenties, wearing crisp white uniforms, but their faces were not pleasing or kind in the least, as they should have been.


“Ma’am.”  The cop began.  “If you don’t come up with a good explanation for this you might have to come with me to the Station.  As you well know, this town doesn’t take domestic violence very lightly, and whatever caused these injuries cannot just be blamed on something from another world.”

“I swear to God,” I protested, making a placating gesture.  “Everything I’ve said is true.  You people think I did this to her, but there’s some damn thing in the cellar and its dead because I killed it!  Go look at it!  Try not to slip and fall on your way down the freaking stairs!  That thing is dead but if it weren’t it could eat you alive like it almost did to us!”  Maybe it was a mistake to openly express my anger and frustration, but I couldn’t help it.

“Yeah right, lady.”  One of the paramedics said crossly.

“We’ll go down and look, alright?  Just to make you happy, at least for now.”   They all walked away towards the side of the house.


Just let them see it. It doesn’t matter; because once they do they’ll forget all about Kat and you. They’ll start freaking out, calling government forces, maybe even the president. You know, all the big guys who’ll surely know what to do about it. All these so called heroes will be thinking they can get a big reward for finding this thing. The arrogant bastards, you know the type, Molly. Just forget about them. Let them see it. Let them see it in all its unfathomably grotesque glory.


Quickly, wasting no time because the cop might come back to arrest me, thus leaving Kat to fend for herself, I walked to the back of the ambulance, opened the doors, and found Kat awake on the stretcher, feebly trying to stand up.  “Hey,” I said, and she sat up and looked at me, confused.  “These guys are bastards. They’ve gone down to see the thing in the cellar. They think I did this to you.  Come on, I’ll drive you to the hospital myself.”

She stared at me blankly.  “Molly, why is this happening?” she whispered in a wheezy croak.  “Why? I feel like part of me is gone.  Taken away. I remember that place, that place where I was. I hurt….I hurt…”

“I know, but not for long.  We’ll get you out to the hospital, get you some help.”

I helped her up and out of the ambulance.  It seemed to take a large toll on her to even move, to do anything but sleep.  She was leaning on me more than ever, and I forced back tears of sympathy and devastation.  The Dreamfeeder had taken more than a small part of our minds from us.  It had taken the way life was.  The normalcy, the peace and belonging.  It had torn it all away.

“Molly, I can’t remember why.”

“Why what?”

“Why I’m here.  When I was gone, a part of me stayed out there.  In that place...everything was dead somehow, in some way…dead and sick.  That part of me wants to go back and be there with them, but I don’t want to…I can’t…can’t…”

“It was just a dream, Kat.”  I lied in an attempt to make her feel better, at the same time trying to tell myself what my mind would never fully accept. “I saw that place too, but it was just a dream. None of it was real.”

“No…” she lowered her head, closed her eyes. “No...”

Then she went completely limp, her breath deepened again, and I had to use much of my remaining strength to keep her slack body from falling.  At a painful crawl, tears streaming down my face because what she said rang too true, too painful for words, I dragged her back to my little midnight blue car, and put her in the passenger seat.  She hadn’t been extremely heavy, but it was hard enough carrying everything else, using my strength to support what would inexorably slide down into the murk.  I buckled Kat’s seatbelt and mine, and drove away without looking back at the house that had once been the only place I wanted to be.


The whole way there, I continuously told myself the Dreamfeeder was dead. Most completely dead. That knife was long, serrated, sharp, and punctured deep into its soft, squishy core. The thing was absolutely, positively dead.


Don’t you dare doubt. That’s bad. Doubting isn’t allowed in this mind. Nope. Doubting is off limits in the Land Of Imagination. There are seldom any rules here but that’s one of them. Don’t you forget that, okay?


    No longer able to stand the silence and the sound of wheels rolling across road, I turned on the car’s radio. A U2 song was on.  Bono was singing excellently.  I tried to get lost in the music.








The End

20 comments about this story Feed