For a long while, laying there, I scolded myself, told myself I was too tough for this, too strong for these tears, but it wasn’t working. The dream had been very clear, all the implications, all the scenery showed in such intricate detail that it almost seemed real.
But it wasn’t real, Molly. Not at all. Maybe you picked up on that thing’s thoughts more than you realized, and maybe the only way you could process all that whacky messed up stuff was through dreams. It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it. Just try to rest.
But I can’t. It was too horrible. I’ll probably have nightmares the rest of my life, just like it promised. Regardless of whether it’s dead or not, I’ll never sleep soundly again.
Don’t say that. You’re putting out too many negative thoughts, upsetting yourself again.
Just look at what I’ve been through.
Hey, I know. It was hard…more than hard, but I went through it too, remember? I was right there, saw and felt everything just as you did, and look how chipper I am.
How come you can handle it so well? Who are you?
I’m your Muse, Molly, nothing more and nothing less. You’ve always known this. Why change your ideas now?
You’re more than just a Muse, all right. Way more, and if you never tell me, that’s fine. I’m not crazy. You can’t be imaginary.
And neither can that thing in the cellar.
I didn’t know how to reply to that, as it seemed to be admittance that the Muse had never even hinted at before.
Wide awake now, I sat up, realizing that the bedside lamp was on. It was night, and it seems I slept for a good eight or nine hours.
It was almost a habit now, to want coffee, so I went to the kitchen to make some. Solo leaped from bed to follow.
Most of the rest of the house was lit by lamps, which had evidently been on since the morning before. In all my panic I hadn’t noticed them, and astronomical electricity bills were sure to come sooner or later.
Waiting for the coffee to brew, I sat in the armchair, trying not to think. Some monks and ninjas can have absolute discipline over thought and feeling. That would have been very nice, to block out these troubling thoughts.
Now knowing much more about the Dreamfeeder, I felt profoundly violated. It had forcibly reached into my mind and found out more about me, more than I could even understand. The dreams were apparently residual from the three mental encounters with this thing, things my mind had to work out on its own, without my consent. The Dreamfeeder’s insatiable desire to become one with mankind was disturbing in itself, but those other notions, the ones about it liking us because we were interesting and psychotic, were too confusing for words.
I would never end up dead in its clutches, or somehow alive and dreaming. Anything would be better than that. But the image of my skeleton on that reflective slimy surface haunted and taunted me.
It’s dead. Can’t you accept that? You felt it die…WE felt it die. The light faded, it stopped moving, you tore off one of its…thingies, and it didn’t howl in pain or anything like that. It’s dead.
The coffee finished brewing. I poured a cup and sweetened it with hazelnut creamer, then flipped on the TV and started watching a soap opera, which was just as corny as the sitcom had been but no less distracting. Sometimes the comforts of home are the only comforts you have.
A woman with an almost amusing repertoire of theatrical expressions told a mustached stone-faced man that she could not accept his proposal because she was already seeing other people. Dramatic music played as his eyes widened in anger, and he told her she was a lying, fiendish woman and that he was going to tell everyone at the party what she had done. She slapped him across the face and stormed out of the room, then the screen faded to black and cursive white letters promised the next dramatic episode Friday night. There was always something on TV that portrayed every one of humanity’s selfish tendencies and ignorant quarrels. And shows like these could stay on for years with plenty of faithful viewers to give them ratings.
Sighing, I flipped to the local news channel, almost expecting to see some shocking headline about the reclusive Mellowbrook citizen who was really a closet serial killer, but instead they covered the poisonous metals that are being sent to children through the toys made in China.
I guess people thrive on negativity because it distracts them from or even reminds them of the issues in their lives and somehow makes them feel better to watch things from a distance because it isn’t currently happening to them.
Now you’re getting it!
The big picture.
I see. So have you been waiting for me to come to this conclusion, or what?
Beats me. You’re the writer. Come up with your own possibilities, I’m just the afterthoughts.
Beneath the ceaseless chattering of TV commercials, I suddenly heard a faint popping sound. Grabbing the remote and muting the TV, listening, I thought it might have been my fevered imagination playing tricks on me. Trusting one’s superstitious imagination couldn’t always be the right thing to do, because superstition was the same thing which told us when we went to sleep as children that the monsters under our beds and inside untidy closets would eat us and pick their steak-knife teeth with our bones.
But, come to think of it, wasn’t that almost correct on what really did happen to those unfortunate souls who were too old to believe in Boogeymen and cockily went down to the cellar?
Then came a creaking, shrieking sound from my bedroom, a subtle yet real sound of tortured metal quickly bending under some tremendous force.
Solo, who had been dozing on the sofa, sprang to the floor in an instant, ears pricked, muscles tense.
You know what? I’m not going to tell you things anymore if I don’t know much about them. I’m not going to say a peep if something is like this and just won’t stop. You better go see what that is, Molly.
But we both know what that is, don’t we?
Settling noises, maybe. Cute fuzzy little mice or mischievous squirrels chewing things and running around in the walls. Termites that made something fall.
Yeah…and penguins will learn to fly and soar off into the sunset with a flock of narwhals.
Then, another noise, this time a screech, and a loud boom that made a vibration in my teeth.
Oh holy sh*t, go see what that is, Molly. Go right now. Now!
Solo sprinted to my bedroom, and I told him no, to stay where he was, but he didn’t obey. Instead of getting up, I wanted to just sit there and drink my hazelnut coffee, watch some more crappy TV programs and just chill. But that was not a good option because the Muse urged me in a different tone than it ever had before, an urgent tone that suggested profound fear, not just for me, but for many other things that, if contemplated, might make descending into gibbering madness a whole lot more likely.
I raced to my room, gasping as though the air had gotten thinner, heart pounding at its own pace but with such force it throbbed so hard in my temples it was nearly painful.
There was nothing out of the ordinary that could be seen, but there came that sound again, much louder than before, a hard hollow knocking, like the fist of destiny rapping on a door, coming from the vent on the floor, near the windows.
It really IS alive again…but…it can’t be. It just can’t! Can’t! Oh dear God, why won’t it just freaking die! Why?
No time left, lets both stop panicking, Molly. Go out to the side of the house; get some plywood, boards, whatever, then get nails and a hammer. Nail the vents down and keep it from getting in here…and come to think of it, the main room where it’s at is DIRECTLY beneath this bedroom. Jesus! I don’t understand either. Why won’t it die?
Making whines and whimpers, animal sounds of fear, Solo raced around the room, pausing once to scratch at the vents then craning his slender muzzle to the ceiling and howling so loud I clamped my hands over my ears. He fled out of the room as the knocking got louder.
So did I.
There was a shed out back in the yard, a small one with lots of supplies with which to maintain the house. It had leftover boards and plywood. I was a do-it-yourself kind of person, as you may understand, but I wished that never had been so, the only options being to do it myself or surrender.
Solo trailed behind me as I bolted outside toward the shed without even bothering to put on a coat, because there was no time, not if I ever wanted to feel the cold of an autumn night here again.
I yanked open the shed doors and flipped on the light switch. At least six large planks rested against the inside of the shed, as well as two pieces of sturdy plywood. A Black and Decker toolbox sat on the floor; I flipped it open and grabbed a hammer, a handful of long nails out of one of the compartments, and stuffed those in the deep pockets of my sweatpants. Many of them fell with little musical tings to the floor because my hands were trembling. I couldn’t hold them steady.
Now both Solo and I were making animal sounds of terror. He nuzzled and pawed at the back of my legs, urging me to hurry up and do what should be done, or at least get us out of this nightmare to go to some faraway place on happy adventures. Or maybe the Muse was urging me to do that. There was no way to tell the true thoughts from the imagined ones because there were too many of them at once, like a raging whirlwind, a cyclone taking power from a sea.
I ran with four of the planks tucked against my chest, cutting my bare hands and sticking them with splinters of wood. Twice I nearly stumbled and fell in the dewy grass, but finally careened through the open back door and hurried to my bedroom. Sounds also came from the other bedroom, the kitchen. There were enough boards for every last one of them.
Hurry, Molly. Hurry! It’s getting in!
And sure enough there it was, a tiny orange and maroon tendril poking out from the vents, through the grilles, waving back and forth, questing, seeking.
“No, damn you!”
I slammed the board down so hard on it that silvery amber blood streaked out from under it and onto the carpet. I snared the hammer and nails from my pockets and pounded at least a half a dozen nails into the board, making sure it was secured and attached to floor so nothing could break free, unless it was too strong for that now or soon would be, but what the hell else could be done?
Solo barked constantly, growled, howled. The wrongness of this situation was apparent to him since the very beginning, and even the lesser intellect of a dog could sense evil, it seemed, for he had fully connected with its mind perhaps more than twice, giving him a greater understanding of its malevolence than mine.
With that accomplished I boarded up the kitchen and living room vents, knowing all of them connected with the cellar because that’s where the gas heater was located.
As I went to the other bedroom and boarded the vent in there too, the Dreamfeeder’s mocking words echoed in my head. 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.
I screamed out loud, wondering if it could hear. “You’re still going to die! I won’t give up! Your end is coming, you piece of sh*t!”
That’s the spirit, Molly. Kill em’ with cuss words!
A giggle escaped me, but it was so dry and humorless and out of context that it frightened me. Yes, this was extremely absurd, but the wildness of the situation did nothing to undermine the raving terror. Maybe that laugh was the beginning of descent into insanity. Only time would tell.
When all the vents, even those in the bathroom, were boarded up, I realized the hot water heater was also connected to the cellar because it too was down there.
The mere thought of taking a bath or washing my hands with whatever came from down there was too sickening for words. And then I realized that this had already been done more than once. I felt tainted.
Despite my attempts to eradicate this pest (the word pest being an understatement large enough to rival the vastness of the Grand Canyon, that is) it was still steadily taking over my home, and then fear took the backburner yet again when a fiery anger, more fierce and hot than any I had ever experienced, rose up and commanded me to act, be brave, find another way to kill this thing so hard that it would never come back to life.
So what other weapon could do what knives and poisons failed to accomplish? I could set it on fire. Fire might have killed it but at the same time defeated the purpose. My purpose of living and having peace in the only home I could currently afford to have.
Blowing the Dreamfeeder up with explosives came to mind, but that was about the same. And what if, after it was burned and blown up, the thing rose again from the rubble of my home?
These two ways would only be a last resort, but for now there had to be another way.
Perhaps it could read my thoughts and plans for its termination. If it did, there was no avoiding that, but if it was somehow able to ready itself for coming attacks it would help to keep anything a surprise.
Guns? Would guns do anything? A really powerful handgun or something might be able to puncture whatever it is in there that’s keeping it alive. Besides, there are only two options: trying again, or running away, and I don’t want to do that. Do you?
Then suddenly I remembered the pistol, the one I kept in a small box under my bed and hadn’t taken out in more than a year.
Oh, crimedy! Why didn’t you think of this before? Why did poison come first over the pistol?
I don’t know… I just forgot. You know how I am with guns.
You’re excellent with guns, Molly. Didn’t your daddy teach you how? Come on, you’re telling me the Mellowbrook serial killer/writer doesn’t know how to use a gun? Ha!
Oh, cut it out. It’s only for an emergency, for self defense.
And doesn’t this particular situation qualify as an emergency?
Still driven by anger, balancing perilously like a trapeze artist on the edge of despair and hope, I went to my room, crouched on my knees, and pulled the small lidless shoebox out from under the bed.
The 9 millimeter pistol was small but wicked, already loaded, and there was spare ammunition in the box.
Solo feared the sound of gunfire, as he had accompanied my dad and me to the shooting range shortly, where I learned how to use such a weapon.
The dog whined and stared at the pistol, then walked out of the room.
No time to lose. Hurry, hurry.
Afraid Solo might suddenly snap on me, I herded him into the second bedroom, and shut the door.
Fueling the fire of anger, feeding it until it turned to seething rage, I flew out of the house after shoving the spare magazines of ammunition into my pocket, almost insanely eager to use this damned thing for target practice.
The floodlights had even been left on, and when I reached the side of the house, I saw two strange objects lying in the dirt. A duo of small red pulsing things, each as large as bowling balls. They looked like oversized, deformed hearts, each sprouting numerous black pencil-thin feelers which explored the ground around them with slow, blind groping movements. They seemed to be growing out of the ground, as though someone had planted monster seeds and watered them routinely. Staring at them in horror, I raised the gun and pulled the trigger on both, blowing them apart in a rain of luminous blood and alien guts. The little copies (or offspring) of the Dreamfeeder writhed obscenely for a moment, and then lay still.
It’s….is it making more of itself? Growing? Every time you try to kill it, Molly…does it get stronger?
No! I’m killing it right now!
I pulled open the doors and flew down the stairs; not caring if I couldn’t see well in the intruder’s foggy light because my mind was fixed on one thing and one thing only. Common sense temporarily dissipated, my body felt strong yet weightless, fast yet durable, built for killing.
Facing the Dreamfeeder at the doorway of that room, realizing it had gotten two feet bigger, the tendrils even longer, I fired repeatedly at the heart-like thing, screaming some kind of battle cry, watching with morbid satisfaction as the tendrils swung frenziedly around the room, as hole after oozing hole appeared in the skin of the Dreamfeeder until, finally it just collapsed in on itself, bleeding so much of that white fluid that it began to pool all over the room, seemingly by the gallon. The red flash that emanated from the vein-like things lining the inside and outside of it, and didn’t fade; only grew brighter. My vision was consumed by it, but I squinted to see.
It howled and cursed me in some strange inner dialogue, reaching with its tendrils but unable to touch me as it had in the dream because I backed up too far, and the little ones that bumped against my head couldn’t do anything because they were as fragile as worms.
The gun held ten rounds in each magazine, and I still had two more sets of ammo. Bullets severed the dark tendrils which tied it to the ceiling, causing the bulging mass to fall on its side, sputtering spastically, breaking the rhythm of the pulse and causing my own heart to beat faster and more erratically as if in an attempt to stay in its control. Ignoring the sensation, I fired again. Bullets pocked the roots and slime on the walls, cut searing, smoking wounds in the questing appendages that determinedly reached for me.
Go, Molly, go. Look at it now! I think you’re really getting it this time!
I paused to reload, and suddenly the Dreamfeeder’s sac swelled like a balloon about to burst, tore open with a sick fleshy peeling noise, and a glistening, churning black and gray mass that looked like wads of diseased intestines rolled out. They made dry hissing and thick gurgling sounds, and other disgusting noises that were too bizarre to be described.
I fired more rounds at it, splattering the inky flesh across the room so much that nausea swelled, demanded another purge, or maybe it was just the awful smell down here, which had grown considerably stronger.
Molly Harland I gave you a chance. A chance. A chance for freedom. Now you will never be free, never be free or at peace.
“Oh shut up!” I snarled, and pumped more rounds into the revolting thing as it rolled and oozed on the floor.
The tendrils that had been shot squirmed like dying snakes, twisting over and over one another. I shot it again and again, until the recoil caused muscles in my shoulders to spasm and throb, until there were no more rounds left, and standing back, I realized that even after all those bullets, it was still moving, still speaking in my head, but saying nothing coherent.
The biological discord seemed not as chaotic as it at first glance appeared. Now it seemed full of purpose, and as I watched everything move quickly, my heart hammering along with it, I realized the black intestine-like things were trying to slither back into the deflated sac of the Dreamfeeder, and the tendrils that had not been shot were pushing it, trying to help it.
Holy sh*t, is it putting itself back together?
The things that had suspended it from the ceiling were moving too, touching severed ends, as though figuring out a way to reconnect.
The roots on the walls twitched, and the pale pink and gray substance began to drop out of them, like digestive acids dripping down the lining of a stomach.
The holes in the tendrils as though by magic, began to get smaller, to stop bleeding, to close their wounds. The sac on the floor started moving more rhythmically, swelling as the black stuff, at a slow, sluggish crawl, entered it once more.
Ohh, Molly! It’s rebuilding itself! It really is! I can’t believe this!
Then, the equivalent of a radio on full volume blared inside my head.
Molly Harland can’t accept. Can’t accept that I will always stay. Your chance is gone, gone. Always remember…remember. You will stay, stay with me. You will never escape, never…never.
I squealed in shock and threw the useless gun to the floor and bolted as fast as my legs would go. Hanging, writhing, tendrils smacked against my face like whips, and I cried out in pain.
Once I fell and the gooey substance on the floor tried to attach itself to me, but I leapt back up and pounded up the stairs, that loud, screaming telepathic voice disorienting and dark, clouding my mind with its relentless energy like an unbearable siren song.
There was no way to stay here if this thing could not be killed, if it was going to grow no matter what weapon was used on it. I ran inside the house and began packing a briefcase and duffel bag with things that were both necessary and unnecessary: toothpaste, sweaters, shirts, pants, scarves, scented candles, animal figurines given to me over the years by old friends, papers, refrigerator magnets, memoirs, sentimental things that meant more to me now than ever. I felt so unstable, so adrift, vulnerable and half-mad.
Solo seemed eager to leave and he barked as I gathered my purse, a small box full of old photographs, the car keys. One thing I could not gather was rationality. Most of these items weren’t needed, not if I still intended to return to this house once a way to combat this entity was figured out. They were desired only on a deep emotional level which I struggled to repress.
For long moments I gazed sadly at my home, taking melancholy comfort from the warm familiarity of it, so reluctant to leave it behind. If the Dreamfeeder would not be killed by guns or knives or poison, then it was surely in some way supernatural. If there wasn’t a physical way to kill it, then perhaps there was someone who knew another way how.
I grabbed several cans of wet dog food and put it in a plastic bag for Solo. Then I opened the cabinet where the thin appendage was stored in the jar. Before, it had been motionless and dead. Now it bounced and writhed inside the jar, impossibly alive.
If nerve endings still acting by themselves weren’t responsible for this movement, then the Dreamfeeder must be spiritually sustaining itself.
After putting my stuff in the car, I locked up the house but left some of the lights on.
If someone could help me, I wanted to be able to come back to everything as it had been when I had left. If someone came looking for me in search of the missing men, they wouldn’t be able to get in without a warrant, that is, if they were operating on some code of ethics.
Driving into the cold night with Solo in the passenger seat, for a moment I felt the manipulative hand of fate urging me onward toward some strange destiny that could not yet be foreseen.