I eventually entered the more urban part of town, where most small businesses were in dire need of repair, where children and dogs played ball and skipped rope in small withered lawns while parents cautiously watched from the windows of modest bungalows. It wasn’t a dangerous part of Mellowbrook. In fact, the people there were quite friendly, even if a little depressed as the bad economy steadily drained their resources and made living harder.
The warehouse was a few more streets down, near the strikingly modern-looking Pest Control building, dwarfing Bailey’s Car Repair Shop and Rena’s Pizza and Subs, which stood idly in the shopping center a few yards away.
Parking in the small lot which allowed employees to stop and get supplies with relative ease, I got out of the car and went to the padlocked warehouse door.
As the key popped it open and the door swung inward I was greeted by the astringent odors of pesticide, plastic, damp concrete, and several other scents that were hard to distinguish. Several wooden packing crates were stacked in one corner, illuminated by sunlight streaking in from the one large window. Next to them were about a dozen large green cylindrical containers with plastic nozzles and specially designed poison sprayers, all of them bearing the Lee Harland Pest Control label. I was familiar with the many kinds of pesticide and after examining all the containers, found the most deadly, efficient kind, the one that said numerous stern warnings in bold red letters across its side, next to a skull and crossbones image, as well as the many troublesome critters it could kill.
Perfect. This might just do it. This might just waste the sucker. Too bad it doesn’t say anything about hungry smarta$$ abominations from other dimensions.
Clutching the handles of two containers, which combined equaled about eight gallons of the stuff, I left the warehouse, pocketed the key, and put them in the trunk of my car, almost pleased with myself because I was at least doing something, at least trying with the best weapons at my disposal to get rid of the damned thing.
I just hoped that it didn’t know I was coming or what it was in for, and that it hadn’t grown even more than it already had.
I arrived home, and the sight of my house should have improved my mood. It didn’t. Instead, I felt like it was no longer even my house, and more of it was the Dreamfeeder’s than mine. The cellar wasn’t visible from the driveway, but the fire truck, ambulance, and sheriff’s car were. Guilt, dread, and fear started to return, all three enjoying each other’s company and encouraging one another. I wondered if the spirits of these lost men might be watching me from behind the veil. I had never before believed in these things, but after all that happened, there was no avoiding consideration.
If they’re here, let them move on and be free. Give them that peace the Dreamfeeder can only falsely promise, give them whatever they deserve.
By the time I had seen the pesticide containers and collected them, I was ready for action, totally pumped and psyched for vanquishing this beast. Now, all that had passed. The unsteady spiritually unclean energy did much to erode confidence and bravery.
For a long time I just sat there, the engine turned off, staring at my house, looking mournfully at some faraway place in the future where there wasn’t a guarantee of belonging anywhere or being happy and safe ever again.
It could have been ten minutes that passed. Or a half an hour. In the face of fear, time can seem meaningless.
Then, without quite realizing what I was doing until one foot was planted on the gravel, I climbed out of the little car and went to the trunk. After gathering the poison weapons, I took them to the house, set them on the porch, and quietly walked around, looking in the windows for Solo. He still slept on the sofa, paws dangling off the cushions, motionless. It was somehow more painful than anything to admit that my own dog, my furry best friend, struck fear into me. And the numerous images of teeth tearing flesh that cycled through my mind didn’t help, either.
Whatever was going on with him, it wasn’t Solo himself that had violent tendencies. It was the evil Dreamfeeder, controlling his mind. What was he feeling when his lips skinned back and he stared at me with such hatred? Did he feel anything at all, or was it as though he were deeply asleep, but at the same time awake and moving? The concept of my own dog being used as a puppet inspired anger and despair, but the one I chose and nurtured would either save me or lead to my end.
I chose smoldering anger, the right kind. It was an oddly calm almost detached feeling, as though I had a righteous duty to rid my home of this malevolence and there was even something unseen working in my favor. It also put fear on the backburner, which helped.
After several more moments of contemplation, I walked into the house. Solo didn’t stir at the sound of the door, nor did he awaken and attack upon hearing my careful footsteps. He slept on.
I went to the kitchen island and reached up to open a cabinet. There were crackers, chips, and a can of soup. I only glanced at these, because the thought occurred that after seeing the Dreamfeeder in all its ugliness again, I might not be able to keep anything down.
Instead of eating, I opened the refrigerator and selected a can of ice cold lemon-lime soda. It was refreshing.
Glancing at the wall clock above me, I saw it was 10:38 AM. I had called 911 probably sometime after six.
How long will it take for someone to realize these emergency people they dispatched never came back?
Not long, I imagine.
And if they can’t reach them by phone or walky-talky…
They’ll come here looking, of course.
Beats me. You’re the writer, remember? They’ll probably ask you where they’ve gone.
And accuse me of being a serial killer because they won’t be found anywhere above ground! Thanks a lot, now I feel tons better.
Just go down and poison-drench that sh*thead, Molly. You’re wasting time.
But even if I even somehow got….rid of the bodies, put them in my car, drove them somewhere and buried them, forensic evidence could be traced back to me. Someone will find a fiber from my clothes or a lock of my hair and say that’s proof that I killed them. Oh god, then what?
Then show them what is downstairs…just make sure its dead first. Hurry up.
Still fretting about the possibility of imprisonment, but even more so about truly making sure the Dreamfeeder was dead, I finished the soda and looked over at Solo again. He slept on.
“All right.” I whispered to myself, feeling foolish but somehow comforted by the use of words out loud. “Let’s do this. Just go down there and spray away. The sprayers squirt it pretty far, from a distance, even.”
Prepping myself proved to help little. When I tried to move my legs, they wanted to stay where they were. When I told myself that the Dreamfeeder would not be powerful enough to fight off poison, other thoughts created doubt.
Why should I have to handle all this alone? It isn’t right.
Kat could find an answer for that question as easily as a beekeeper harvests honey.
Yeah, but Kat isn’t here, she’s in the hospital with a skeletal hand and a mind full of terrible things.
But did you really truly ever believe or even consider anything she was saying or did you merely laugh at it when she wasn’t around?
You’re not very nice to say that.
What are you even supposed to be, anyway, my conscience?
There was not a reply to that one.
Finally, I pushed myself to move, and walked outside, grabbing the pesticide containers in both hands. With only a short hesitation at the cellar doors, I opened them, and the lights I had left on mingled with the eerie red one in a strange wavy glow that hid the cellar more than it illuminated. It seemed the Dreamfeeder light was smothering everything now, distorting, and dimming.
It was hard to see to get down the stairs, and I had to walk slowly and cautiously.
As I reached the bottom, I set one of the containers down on the spongy floor, and went ahead with the other. My heartbeat stayed calm, perhaps because the Dreamfeeder wanted it to be, but it couldn’t yet control more than a few of my thoughts, which screamed and raved. The loudest was that other Molly, pleading poignantly for rest, for peaceful dreams, for the chance to see everything that lay beyond that frightening veil. The closer I got to that last room, the more powerful her voice became. Shutting her up was impossible because she was beginning to be someone separate from and alien to me, yet way too close to the Dreamfeeder. Maybe she was part of my subconscious, possessing no adequate defense against the hypnotic, lulling entity that yearned to take minds to dream and bodies to bones.
I shuddered. The Muse offered no advice or witty comment to lighten the mood.
I was passing the fungous wine racks when the light bulb abruptly burned out with a dry fizzing sound, leaving me in the crimson haze like a lone minnow in a clouded abyss.
Disoriented, not quite able to find my bearings in the throbbing strobing light, afraid that I would pass out because that commanding force was already groping again for my mind, I went back the way I had come, to get a flashlight from the house, because there was no way I could see this thing in its own environment, its own tint, without my own light to shine through its oppressive darkness.
After some thought, wondering if I’d lose my nerve during another trip up and down the stairs, instead of going back to the house, I searched one of the boxes near the wine racks, where I was sure a flashlight was stored. These boxes were some of the only things that weren’t covered in unearthly roots and gunk.
Fortunately, there was a flashlight, and it still worked. It wasn’t very bright, but it was enough illumination for what was necessary.
I swallowed hard and continued to the last room.
One might think that after seeing this thing more than twice, its nightmarish appearance and morbid mockeries would start to wear off. After all, if everyone had something like this in their cellars or basements, it would no longer be incomprehensible and frightening; just a highly disturbing and hard to deal with fact of life.
In this case, it might have, if the startling changes hadn’t been so obvious.
The Dreamfeeder had gotten considerably larger since the last time I’d seen it. Before, it had hung there from the ceiling like the belly of some bloated glutton. Now it was no longer as large as a baby elephant but several feet longer and wider, no longer suspended but sagging against the floor. New dark maroon vein-like tendrils spread across it as it pulsed, and now it seemed that it was pulsing even harder than before, as though some creature were inside it and kicking constantly in a desperate attempt for freedom. I almost expected the red skin to peel open like an egg, spewing forth legions of horrible little demons who would thus invade the world as religious passages described.
Even the snaky tendrils seemed to have gotten larger, now nearly as thick as my legs at their bases but as thin as my arms at their ends. They hung from the ceiling and lay on the floor, occasionally flexing and curling. The undergrowth on the floor was becoming less spongy, harder, as if it were trying to be some strange jungle of roots.
The concrete walls and ceiling rafters had been engulfed by this ravenous plant or fungus or whatever the hell it was, and for some reason I was looking for the skeletons, which were nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it had dissolved the rest of them while I was gone. I played the flashlight all over the dim room, finding nothing but obscenely moving tendrils.
Then, surprising me, the Dreamfeeder said, Hello Molly Harland.
If a telepathic voice could have tone or inflection, it sounded gleeful, sinister, but with a thin pretence of friendliness, as though it were greeting an old enemy but trying to lull me into a false sense of security.
I was its one true enemy, after all.
There was no need to deny that. I had tried to kill it, and here I was again.
I wanted to mock it as it had so viciously mocked me. But, this thing’s mind was so warped it probably wouldn’t even have understood. Holding the flashlight in one hand, I set down the container of pesticide, grabbed the nozzle, and pressed it. A stream of clear fluid gushed out, going far enough to land on the enlarged mass of the Dreamfeeder.
Though I was standing in the doorway, I had to back up as six bulky tendrils began to slide toward me at an alarmingly fast pace. The pesticide still was getting on the Dreamfeeder, but if I backed up any further it might only have soaked the tendrils.
I wanted to get the vulnerable part of it, the core, where its demented mind surely dwelled. Gritting my teeth, knowing the tendrils could only go so far, I stood my ground, raised the stream of poison high, spraying it all over its hideous skin. This stuff only needed contact with the pest to kill it, but it had never mentioned anything about organisms as powerful as this.
The tendrils thrashed, flopped like a beached squid across the floor. So did the Dreamfeeder’s heart-like sac. It couldn’t reach me. I seemed to have the advantage over this stationary foe but it was no less terrifying.
It screamed in my head, told me that once I was worn down and finally slept it wouldn’t give me peaceful dreams but endless nightmares, that would keep me alive forever even as it fed, that its world would be my prison and there would never be a way out. It spoke of all the souls it had kept, all those entities who dreamed along with it for countless eons. It reminded me that it had given them peace, but there would be none for me because I resisted and fruitlessly tried to destroy it. In that poetic inner dialogue, I sensed a curious thing. A feeling dangerously close to arrogance, and this was the most surprising thing of all, that an unimaginably brilliant being from some other realm could feel such a primitive emotion. If the Dreamfeeder was as old as its very world, then perhaps it had power over its denizens, and was almost God-like to them. But since this universe was indeed not the true home of such an abomination, it surely didn’t have as much power here and was restricted by our laws of physics, and our time.
This was only speculation, an attempt to calm the wild mental storm the only way I knew how. By reasoning, thinking, and trying to find order where there was none.
Then spoke the voice of the Muse, a calming narrative of reason and support.
Keep spraying it, Molly, you’re getting it. See how upset this sh*thead is getting? You’re doing it. Come on, don’t let it scare you, keep fighting. It isn’t used to being combated.
Gallons of poison poured over the Dreamfeeder, soaked into its roots and tendrils, hopefully into its soft skin. I held my breath for the longest time, trying not to breathe the noxious gasses the stuff wafted. The mockery of all that was good and orderly fought back with vigor, still trying so hard to reach me, probably probing my mind for weakness, poring through everything but finding nothing which could help it now.
I was hunched over, but something bumped against the back of my head. Looking up, I saw one of the smaller finger-thick appendages stretching toward me. It wasn’t very strong or nimble, currently incapable of causing harm, but it wriggled like an earthworm, brushed my cheek with its slimy tip. I shrank back in disgust and realized it was trying to distract me, so I wouldn’t keep spraying. So I went back to that, pressing hard on the nozzle so the most pesticide streamed out.
There wasn’t much left inside the container, but the Dreamfeeder seemed to be getting weaker. If this container ran out I would retrieve the other, and finish the damned thing.
I realized that I was eager, feeling ruthless and in control. This was my cellar, after all, and despite what had happened this was better than the utter helplessness I had felt earlier.
The Dreamfeeder’s thrashing became even less intense; it seemed to be running out of steam. The main part of it jiggled and the pulse was frantic, but gradually it slowed. The poison was coming out in a less steady stream, but then the thing stopped moving entirely after one last surge of wrathful thought that sounded like many voices speaking in urgent whispery unison, like a chorus of soft-spoken demons.
We are waiting, Molly Harland. Waiting for you. Not much time left, no, not much time left. Waiting, no peace or rest for Molly Harland, no release from us. No release from us.
The red light flared balefully, and then faded, leaving me with only the flashlight beam. This normal darkness should have been disconcerting, but the absence of unnatural luminescence seemed like a triumph.
Shining it across the thing’s form, I squirted out the last bit of poison for good measure, and watched it for a while. Every appendage had gone limp. The telepathic voices were gone, the pulsing had ceased, and I quickly, happily accepted relief as though it were a warm piece of pie.
For all its power, I was convinced it was finally gone. Its dark energy no longer ebbed and flowed or swelled. The meaty-rotting-vegetation smell lessened, either because I was used to it or because it was fading after the Dreamfeeder’s death.
The arrogant thing thought it couldn’t die. Can you believe that? Gosh, Molly, you’ve really outdone yourself. I’m real proud of you. I guess in all its biological horror it had a weakness too, and you found it…with a little help of course. Now let’s quit blabbering and get the hell out of this joint.
Before I left, I grabbed one of the smaller appendages, the one that had touched me, and yanked it from the ceiling. That amber fluid dripped out of the end that had been severed as I dragged it with me up the stairs. Maybe it would be useful later, or could be studied somehow if I gave it to the right person.
Once the rush of adrenaline faded, exhaustion came immediately, leaving my limbs rubbery and weak.
The colorful fall afternoon greeted me like an old friend, harboring no malice or sick desire to feed. The wind was stronger, colder, but my coat was still on. Birds sailed overhead and landed gracefully on the roof of my house, where they chirped and tweeted amongst themselves, perhaps discussing the wisest route to take when they headed south.
Knowing Solo would be himself again now that his possessor was dead; I walked boldly in through the front door.
He was not sleeping on the sofa, but standing in the kitchen, a familiar panting grin spread across his face, as though he had been waiting for me. He barked and bounced toward me as he had done when he was a puppy, the only one alive beside his tired mother. I put the worm-like appendage on the counter, and relieved to the point of ecstasy, bent down on my knees to his level and wrapped my arms around his neck, hugging him. He nuzzled me, and for a moment I stayed like that, tears gushing out of my eyes, dripping on the carpet, on his fur.
Eager to get out of the worn out jeans and the T shirt, happy that I had finally taken my home back; I went to the bathroom and took a shower, with water as hot as I could stand.
When that was done, I changed into a pair of clean white cotton sweatpants, and a matching shirt.
That afternoon still seemed surreal, after what happened, but it was no longer frightening. At least for the moment, a kind of weary peace had settled into my mind, or maybe I brought it there with force because I was just too tired to freak out anymore. Going back to the kitchen, I found an airtight glass jar and a lid, where I put the dead little tendril. Sealing it, I put it in one of the lower cabinets.
I went to my bedroom and changed the sheets and bedspread, throwing the stained ones away. Then I settled into clean rose-scented bedding, closed the blinds to block out afternoon sun, and welcomed Solo to lie at my feet. Though I tried to sleep, it didn’t come easily. My mind was wound up and wired, as though I had taken an amphetamine, but as I had told the cop, nothing more than mild painkillers ever entered my system. I lay there still inexorably thinking about the Dreamfeeder, wondering why something so alien and powerful could end up in my own cellar, hoping for the full recovery of poor Kat and her fleshless hand, despairing over the five men who had been eaten alive by this evil entity and the chance that their deaths would still be blamed on me.
I remembered characters in my novels that never had to face anything more horrifying than human criminals, who were always brought to justice by valiant detectives, everyday heroes, and selfless dogs.
I thought of the last guy I had been with, for some reason, the one who had first been my soul mate but then turned out to be my assailant.
But most of all, I thought about the void, that place we all go when the clock runs out. Did the countless victims of the Dreamfeeder ever have a chance to be free from its malevolent influence, or would they forever be trapped in the dark recesses of its strange, cold world? And now that it was dead, did those many eager whispering voices die along with it?
Sleep took me before I could ask any more questions, and it wasn’t a dreamless slumber.
Wandering barefoot across cold gray dirt, I was increasingly aware of those that were always watching me in my periphery, always stalking unseen because every time I tried to get a better look, they shied away. Shadowy shapes…no way to tell if they were kind or murderous, human or alien, real or nonexistent.
The lightless void above was a constant reminder that relentless, unfathomable predators could come from anywhere, at any time. There is no telling what it is they are truly hungry for, but somehow I felt they wanted something much more sacred, much more enduring, than mere meat. I didn’t know why they want this, but there was no doubting that they are experienced hunters and know exactly where it is, and how to obtain it.
There were no answers here, only enigmas, only the darkness which seemed more tangible, more alive, than any darkness mankind has ever been exposed to before.
This was too quiet, too lonely, to be what many envision Hell to be like. But perhaps it doesn’t stay quiet for more than a little while…maybe it becomes Hell when the predators decide to make it so. There was no fire and brimstone, no sulfur or evilly laughing demonic fiends, only the stark, steely mountains, the blackness above, the shadowy shapes, and the feeling that this is a place too alien for any human to be, and yet there I was.
This place vanished and was replaced with the organic blasphemy of the Dreamfeeder, which still resided in my cellar. And it was alive.
It was growing; its roots became longer, the sac swelled and swelled, then the tendrils lifted toward me and swung like baseball bats, bashing me in the head and knocking me down onto the wet floor. Then the slick, throbbing appendages quickly wrapped around my waist and sides, pinned my wrists together so I couldn’t move them. It brought me closer to its huge bulging self, and then a thin membrane of skin in its center opened up and a clear film of mucus gleamed like a mirror, revealing my reflection which was nothing but bones, nothing but a skeleton, yet it moved as I moved, opening its jaws as I opened mine to scream, shivered as I struggled.
The Dreamfeeder told me this hadn’t happened yet. It told me that it would happen slowly, and that I would be aware, so intensely aware of my physical deterioration while still in the dream state. It told me that there was a way to avoid this, because for some twisted reason it LIKES me, still cares about me and every other being it has encountered during its eternal journey of dreams. It explained that to save myself from such a hideous end I must begin bringing people to it, more than just five, as many as I can find, so that it can feed and grow out of this cellar, and into the world. The Dreamfeeder wanted to give peace to the world, end the suffering, it said.
Yeah, and so did Hitler, I thought sarcastically.
The Dreamfeeder became irritated, shook me back and forth until my reflection’s skeleton teeth rattled, and commanded me to pay attention because this was important, so very important. It wanted to become one with all, one with every human being and every animal, as it had nearly done with other worlds, but most of all it wanted intimate connection with mankind because we are strange and different, psychotic and spicy, with a real kick to us, an interesting challenge; like how a curious foreigner might feel trying an exotic food, like a chili pepper. As it told me all this, it slowly wrapped even more tendrils around my legs, arms, even my throat, but not squeezing too hard because it wanted me alive, and aware.
With a gag and a cry of panic, I tore out of the nightmare. My eyes snapped open and afternoon light no longer peeked through the blinds. Solo was cheek to cheek with me, cuddling against me, asleep. I stroked his fur, weeping softly, knowing this was just a stress-dream brought on by all the recent events but for some reason not able to stop weeping.