On the way to the hospital, the sun began its laborious crawl from its dark hiding place in the heavens, and busy people were on their way to church and wherever else they went on Sunday. Instead of being a comfort, the sunlight seemed stark, piercing, and indifferent, not sufficiently bright to burn away shadows of the mind.
I gripped the steering wheel tenaciously, my fingernails digging into the soft gray leather, as though control of the car was a thing that had to be kept with force, and my hands cramped, but that discomfort seemed vague and far away. My mind was in a fog, yet it raced on its own accord, and with brief, sharp zaps of insight, I understood more about the Dreamfeeder by the passing minutes.
It was made of matter and energy not from here, not like here. It saw through souls, through time. It could read my thoughts like a pop-up book. Communicated and controlled through weaker parts of the mind, through dreams. So intricate and vast a mind…god-like. But so…hungry. Vengeful. Doesn’t fit, doesn’t compute. Why is it in my cellar?
I don’t remember pulling into the hospital parking garage. Perhaps my thoughts were so consumed that I was in a fugue state. What aroused me from that haze of clipped thought was Kat, who groaned in her sleep, her skeletal hand scratching against the arm rest of the passenger seat. Strange words escaped her barely parted lips in an eerie whisper, words that were not discernable because they were not in English, nor in any language I could recognize.
After a brief hesitation, I left the car idling in a temporary parking space and hurried to the main entrance, to ask for a wheelchair or something that would make getting Kat inside easier.
The woman at the front desk had short red hair and a face built for smiling. I told her what was wrong, who Kat was, and unlike the others, she didn’t coldly demand to know why or look at me with suspicion. She sent for someone to get Kat.
A few nurses and doctors asked what happened to her, with worried expressions on their faces, and I told them that I couldn’t explain now. They looked bewildered, and seemed about to protest, but before they could, I excused myself and left, feeling deceitful and alone. For a moment I worried about Kat, thinking that the hospital wasn’t equipped to treat her injuries, but as far as I knew, only her hand, arm, and psyche had been hurt. This was bad enough, but there were people at the hospital that had the resources to help her more than I currently could.
Then, after stopping to get gas at a nearby Shell station, I headed home, wanting to find out what the paramedics, firemen and cop were doing.
Pulling in the driveway, I saw their vehicles were still parked there. But they were nowhere in sight.
I bet the jerks are inside my house, probably searching it for illegal weapons and drugs, for stuff to incriminate me with.
So I walked through the front door, which had been left unlocked in my haste. Everything was as it had been. No signs of the men. After a few moments, it was clear they were not in the house.
Searching for them anyway, fruitlessly trying to deny what my mind could not bear to contemplate; I was about to open the back door when I startled at the sound of something snarling viciously, from behind me in the kitchen. Slowly, almost sluggishly, I turned around.
It was Solo. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, and the savagely snarling pooch was staring, eyes flared aggressively, at me. His body was tense, his ears pricked in my direction.
“Solo…” I said softly, disbelievingly, not daring to look away from him because looking away is a sign of fear, and signs of fear will invite attack from an angry animal, even one as sweet and gentle as he was. Why he was angry at me, I tried not to consider, but there was only one explanation that jumped up and strove vigorously for my consideration.
Slowly, carefully backing away, one hand slipping around the doorknob, I tracked him and he tracked me. His hackles were raised high, and his tail swished slowly back and forth. Eyes bright with a feral hunger and rage that was completely unlike him, his black lips peeled back and revealed the teeth that gleamed like knives and his snarl lowered to a deep rumbling growl.
Get out of here before the damn demon-possessed dog lunges and tears your throat out. Get out of here and go look for the bastard cop and the jerk paramedics and firemen and make sure they’re not dreaming.
I flung open the back door and slipped behind it in the instant Solo charged me, and instead of colliding with my own vulnerable body; he slammed hard into the wood, forcing the door shut, his insane barks now muffled by that barrier.
Breathing fast and ragged, mind racing, I sprinted to the side of the house, to the cellar.
The doors were closed. I pulled them open. The red brilliance was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t mean anything, because all order and reality had disintegrated like a helpless town struck by nuclear warheads, my big cuddly dog had turned savage, and It Which Should Not Be Described was being described in full loving detail for probably the hundredth time now, by the well-meaning but relentless Muse, or maybe just me, who would not quiet down.
Sunlight illuminated the stairs and after descending them I used the meager light that leaked in to find the switch. The bulb flicked on, revealing the thick vine- like things which grew in even more vibrant clusters. They had spread to the floor, to the ceiling, and a few hung down limply from the ceiling like dead snakes wrapped around branches. Trembling, I moved past them, trying not to brush against them, afraid they were going to snare me, strangle me, and pull me toward the room where the Dreamfeeder waited, but they were too small and weak to do that, so this fear was irrational. But since they hadn’t been here last time, I wondered if anything could happen down in this hole now that the awful creature had taken possession of it.
Oh no, it has to be dead. I killed it, killed it good. It can’t be growing now. No, no, no. that’s all wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Uncontrollable tremors went through me, my knees buckled, and I almost fell. Desperately, I cried out for Officer Mooreland, for anyone else who might still be alive or aware. There was no answer. The silence seemed deafening and alive.
The red radiance suddenly flared. Once. Twice. Three times. Then a strong and steady rhythm, pulsing in my blood.
I could have fled. I could have gotten out of there and never looked back; I could have escaped knowing things that nobody should ever have to know and gathered what was left of my life to seek a safe place elsewhere.
But then what would have happened to the unfortunate souls who eventually went onto my property and discovered the ravenous Dreamfeeder while I was away? If it kept growing, it might never have stopped. And no matter how far I went, maybe running away would do nothing to improve the situation. I would be lost, without a place to call my own. And if the chance existed that the men down there were still alive, I couldn’t abandon them, no matter how gruff and unfair to me they were, because they were people who had every right to live, to do what they wanted. Perhaps after their ordeal here they would do it differently, but regardless they deserved a chance.
I walked forward towards that room, switching on lights in an attempt to lessen the effect the red glow had on me.
Despite the undergrowth of vines and slime, not much had changed.
The door to that last room had been left open, and as I drew nearer, even from a distance, the Dreamfeeder moved, throbbed, quivered, commanded, and my stomach filled with a cold, coiling knot of dread.
But that wasn’t what nearly sent me into terror almost intense enough to cause my heart to rattle me into death. A few steps later, I saw them, and my mind flailed, rebelled, like a frightened horse to shy away from the wrenching, hellish sight that was revealed clearly because the light was twice as bright and shone upon them with what seemed like deliberation.
The men hung from the ceiling in extra-baggy clothes, but that didn’t conceal the hideous truth that they were complete skeletons, completely utterly fleshless. Dead. Oh God, I hoped they were dead, hoped that their minds—or souls—were not somehow trapped in the Dreamfeeder’s lightless void and prevented from escaping into whatever haven lay beyond for them.
Dozens of tendrils were wrapped around them, squirming behind their empty eye sockets, churning in their ribcages, twirled around their jagged gleaming spines. The skin-stripped cadavers that had once been dedicated people in service of the order of society dripped with red and gray slime. The thing that had once been Officer Mooreland had its jaws cracked open, as though he had not been peacefully dreaming in his last moments of life, but calling for help in a voice too muffled to alert neighbors because no one was close enough to hear.
I realized I was screaming at the top of my lungs at this sick parody of life, at the skeletons hanging from their organic nooses, at the sly mockery of the Dreamfeeder’s energy which filled my head, crept into the crevices it had left before, told me in more ways than one that fighting it was useless, pathetic, that dreams were the only way to escape the engulfing horror.
“No! I’ll kill you! I swear to God I’ll kill you for what you’ve done! I’ll kill you!”
You cannot. It taunted, squeezing the five dead men, letting them swing lazily back and forth in the air, causing their skulls to rattle, the teeth cracking loudly together as though they were speaking words only a dreamer could hear.
“Why are you doing this? What reason do you have to do this? What the hell are you?” At this point of terror I needed answers, so badly needed to understand and contemplate and accept. My mind groped for answers, for a way to make sense of the incomprehensible. My sanity depended upon it. But at the same time I was terrified of any further knowledge of this thing, of knowing the vile secrets that lay like a poised and waiting trap-door spider beyond the veil. Secrets that the Dreamfeeder wanted to share with me in intricate detail as it fed upon my flesh.
“What are you?”
Then it responded, and again I could not prepare for the feeling of its telepathic words that churned and seethed and violated.
No need for a name, no need. But you like names, like words. Call me what you have. Doesn’t matter.
Despite the fact that it was brilliant and perhaps in some ways more intelligent than I could ever be, I knew with grim clarity that it was a lost cause to ask this thing why. It was the otherworldly equivalent of a sociopath, incapable of explaining why because it didn’t even know the truth itself. Although I barely knew these men, anguish filled me. I mourned for them and was sickened at the way it swung the corpses, as though they were mere puppets on strings, as though it thought I would be delighted and entertained by this manipulation of the dead. Its inhuman mind had no respect for life, only for its own twisted needs. Hopeless were my attempts to reason with it. Yet I persisted.
“Why are you doing this? Why!”
Molly Harland, don’t fear. Don’t fear me. I wish not to harm, not to harm. They came in search of rest, I gave. They felt no fear, why do you?
As though it were trying to convince me of its benevolence, it unraveled its tendrils with evident carefulness from the skeletons and set them down gently on the floor, all of them were placed next to one another, face up. A morbid symbol of eternal sleep that it insanely thought would soothe.
I shrieked wordlessly, wanting so badly to run but feeling as though my feet were glued to the floor. Alarmed, thinking it had gotten me as in the dream, I snapped my head down seeing nothing but unanimated goo and roots. Yet my feet stayed put.
The Dreamfeeder spoke again, hypnotic, demonic.
Please Molly Harland, come rest. You will feel no pain. Come rest. You are tired and afraid. Do not resist. I mean no harm, no harm.
My vision swam out of focus, and with all remaining mental effort I shook my head, as though trying to cast away particles of energy that searched for an unguarded entrance to my mind. I envisioned this clearly and then imagined the particles flying away back to their blasphemous source, repelled by my will. I would not let it in. The fear was intense, as was the maddening urge to sleep, but I resisted, nourishing my stubbornness and pride.
“Everything that has a beginning has an end, including you.” I told it, and amazingly, mercifully, an eerie calm filled me, the hot, sharp terror deepening into a cold numbness which allowed me to see clearly that letting go of hope now would only get me killed, that meekly allowing this infinitely shocking sight to debilitate me would give the Dreamfeeder more power, more power to grow and feed.
No matter what you do, I will stay. I will always know. I will give this world rest. Peaceful rest. Soon you will be dreaming along with all. All of you will be mine forever.
When the tendrils lifted off the floor and surged toward me, I fled, hoping that I would be fast and agile enough to evade them. Some other Molly, one who was insane and sought Communion with the Dreamfeeder, sobbed and begged for me to go back and stop fighting, just stop fighting and sleep.
The tendrils could only go so far. They were long, but not long enough to trail all the way through the entire cellar. The light bulbs blinked and made strange crackling noises. Perhaps they were about to burn out so the Dreamfeeder’s crimson one could reign.
Gasping, perhaps trying to filter out the alien air down there, I pounded up the stairs, towards the sunlight, and tripped on the last step, tumbling into the dirt where Solo had dug his trench. Frantic, I scrambled up and grabbed the cellar doors, pushing them shut and then finally falling back onto the lawn, trembling violently, muttering things aloud that even today make no sense at all while at the same time vehemently cursing myself, consumed with a guilt and newly ignited terror way too close to madness.
I called them to their deaths. Oh, Jesus, I let it kill them. I assumed it was dead and let those people go down to their deaths. Those poor arrogant fools, even they didn’t deserve that. I’ll never get redemption for this, nothing for me in the Universal Blueprint. If the Catholics are right, maybe I’ll even go to Hell.
Then my Muse, my faithful Muse, drew my attention elsewhere.
Molly, come on. Get a grip. You can’t help them now. You didn’t know it would come back alive. It’s not your fault. The Dreamfeeder killed them, not you. And it doesn’t think it can be killed? Well, maybe its ego, if it has one, can’t possibly consider that it has mortality. If it has one. You have to try and kill it again. I know this is insane, more than one lone struggling writer can handle, but you have to try, or there will be a lot more skeletons down there as the time goes by. It won’t stop.
As I lay there in the sunlight, letting its warmth soak away the internal coldness, listening to that voice coach and reassure me, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t merely a meaningless dialogue of thoughts, but something more profound, more real. Such a thought as this was a massive leap for me, and perhaps I never would have thought of it if the Dreamfeeder had never come into my life. This conclusion did not come to me then, for there was no time, but upon later reflection, it was an insight that shook me to my core.
Birds tittered in high sweet voices from their many perches in massive oak trees in the yard, squirrels chattered and quarreled with one another, the clear blue morning was cool, and I suddenly realized that I was wearing only a thin T-shirt and dirt-stained blue jeans. For the first time in years, I realized how precious life is, how indescribably sacred and easily lost.
Look at all this, Molly. Listen to these sounds. If you give up now, whatever waits will not allow you to feel the breeze and hear the Earth’s creatures and breathe fresh air. Unless you get the job done. There will be something out there that can help you stop this thing. Now get a grip, push away that doubt, and find it.
Things won’t just be granted to you in life. You have to find them yourself.
It took a few more moments for the trembling to stop, for my mind to quit racing, then finally I stood unsteadily up from the wet grass, hugging myself as a gust of chilly wind breathed in from the sky. There had to be another way to kill this creature, to end this madness before the only protecting barrier inside me shattered into irretrievable pieces, allowing the dark pulsing thing to fully consume me. I agonized for an answer, some other way I could stop this.
Then an idea popped into my head.
Pesticide. Get some pesticide. That might kill it.
My father, George Lee Harland, had owned a successful Pest Control company before his death more than six years previously. Since my mother didn’t and sister want the responsibility, the company was handed down to me. Now, I paid workers to go through Mellowbrook on jobs, and maintain the building where the business itself was located, and despite the economy, it was still thriving, which thankfully helped me stay financially afloat as well. There was a warehouse on the other side of town, where the central building is, which has many vats and containers full of many kinds and brands of pesticide.
I still had a key. Maybe, if this thing had mortality, it would be more affected by the poison than it was by the knife wounds. It was plant-like, yet at the same time of flesh and blood. There was a chance that the knife just hadn’t been driven deep enough into its flesh, that it was able to heal itself at an alarmingly fast rate. If I drenched it with enough pesticide, perhaps it wouldn’t be able to heal itself, and would die for good. I had five dead men on my conscience, and was not going to willingly welcome more. Whether it was directly or indirectly my fault, something had to be done. I would have done anything to kill the Dreamfeeder which mocked me and yearned to feed on me.
I was seized by the urge to get busy, thus keeping away the despair that often results from inaction and idleness, and I worried about Solo, who might not even be freed or himself until I destroyed his mental captor.
I wanted to go into the house, freshen up, and grab my purse and something to eat, as though this wasn’t a trip to the warehouse out of sheer craziness and desperation but a casual drive into town for a nice day of merrymaking.
Then I remembered that the key was not in the car, where it was sometimes put, but in the house, in the pencil holder on the computer desk.
I would have to go through Solo to get it. And whatever state of mind he was in, there was no reason to believe it was friendly.
Bracing myself yet again, I went to the front door, eased it open, slowly walked inside. Solo didn’t come rushing at me, and at the time there was no plan of action if he actually had.
Trying to be as quiet as possible, I tiptoed to the second bedroom. He wasn’t sleeping there near the computer desk. Occasionally stopping to look over my shoulder, I snared the key from the pencil holder, slipped it in my pocket, and headed back the way I had come.
Where he hadn’t been before, on the sofa lay Solo, sleeping soundly, feet, tail and lips twitching slightly in his dreams. Maybe this was normal, and he would soon wake up in a better state of mind, but there was no sense in taking any chances until the force that manipulated him was thwarted.
I grabbed my coat off the rack, and went to the car.
Pulling out of the driveway for the second time that day, I dared to look in the rearview mirror at myself.
Bluish bruise-like circles had appeared under my eyes, my dark hair was disarranged, and my face was tired, sad, and watery. My Muse provided no dry remark at this ghastly reflection, for which I was grateful.
Passing the cell phone towers, no longer worried about anything as minor as radioactive airwaves, speeding past the fields of healthy grass where cows did nothing but graze, I remembered when life was not this frightening or complicated, when I didn’t have to worry about unearthly threats, injured friends, hateful dogs, or bitter cops, where the biggest excitement was from action movies on TV or the storm of good ideas that often filtered into words upon the paper, where I was comfortably suspended in a gently rolling sea of logical, practical understanding of life and didn’t have to stretch my mind to its very limits to understand why something happened because there was always a way to explain it. It’s not to say I didn’t believe in bizarre happenings at all. In fact, I was deeply immersed in it from the time of teenhood. But as time wore on and the harsh realities of things became almost overwhelming, the only thing that seemed smart was to save wishful thinking and fantasies for fiction, and even use that in meticulous moderation.
But now there was no going back to those quiet days of careful contemplation, no way to get back on the boat and just drift wherever life wanted to go while still trying to stay on my own designated path. Now the relentless force that had taken over my life was the only thing I had time for, and until it was dead, truly dead, I could never relax. Even then the very obscene existence of this bizarre, twisted being would forever prep me for the arrival of something infinitely worse, maybe not in this lifetime, but in whatever lay beyond. I would always be waiting, watching, and listening, always on the defensive, with no chance to embrace tranquility.
Don’t think about the future. You’ll go crazy brooding about that on top of everything else. Just get that poison and do what must be done.
There was no arguing that one. So I turned the radio on again, and tried to find a good station, a loud rock station with which to drown out the leaking voices of inner turmoil.
What if they accuse me of murdering those men? Of being a serial killer? I can’t prove it wasn’t me to anyone without inviting them into the cellar, and if I can’t even kill that thing—
Nope. Don’t even think about it. It’s off limits. No doubting allowed. You can’t get through this without some kind of faith. Just have faith that something can be done about this, and do it. But no doubting.
How do you expect me to have faith when I saw five dead men hanging from that thing like puppets on strings, when my own dog wanted to tear my throat out, and an unjustly pissed off county sheriff wanted to arrest me for hurting my best friend?
Well, would you rather go insane?
My whole life, I wanted to think that most of the mysteries of this world had been solved or were on their way to being understood. I fancied a neat, orderly little life that could possibly be made with enough time and boundaries set, but at the same time I had never realized how many rules and barriers and traps that had been set for me by my own mind and hands. And as this voice in my head, which had been there all my life, started to carry on more conversations with me, it seemed less likely that weird Molly had gone crazy with schizophrenic voices than the Muse was a real entity who for some reason found me interesting enough to serve as a helpful guide.
It was a hugely comforting thought. It made me feel less alone.
But every time I put it into consideration, or tried to ask the Muse if this was true, it would quiet down, leaving my own jumbled thoughts to quarrel busily with one another.
Confused, I focused on my destination, which was only a couple of miles away now.
I tried to imagine the many legions of bugs and vermin that had been vanquished with the pesticide, and although knives weren’t sharp and deadly enough to faze the Dreamfeeder for more than a little while, maybe its bizarre alien biology couldn’t withstand the strong, burning, potent poison gasses that were stored in seemingly infinite variety in my warehouse.