When I was finally able to stand up, dizziness claimed me. The sky met the ground in a whirlwind of color. The world turned blurry and unreal, not for the first time. With nothing to hold onto I lost balance, but the Chief caught me by the arm before I could hit the ground.
If the air we breathed also made him ill, he didn’t indicate it. When reality swam hesitantly back into focus the sick feeling left as fresh air circulated through my lungs.
“Thanks,” I muttered, grateful that he hadn’t let me fall.
He bowed. It might have seemed to someone else like movement so out of place that it was laughable, but it only conveyed solemn respect.
“This has been building for a long, long time.” He told me, crossing his arms, staring into space.
“What do you mean?”
“Years, maybe. Sometimes, it is the energy and the being, and even though it is able to leak through into this world, it can take a long time to fully manifest.”
“How can we find the portal…send it back?”
“Molly, this may seem preposterous to you, but once we do find the opening, it’s not just going to pack it in and leave. The force of energies that drew it here has to be used in a different way. With your fear, you have fed it, kept it sure of itself enough to stay. And now, with your hatred for it, the same is happening, and it’s growing even more.”
Exasperated, I wondered, “Well, how do you suppose I use my powers for good, hmm?” The sarcastic tone in my voice was meant to be hidden, but evidently he heard it, because his face took on a more reserved, serious expression. It made me feel insolent.
“As hard as this is to grasp, the Dreamfeeder, despite its negativity, is a creation by a creator, and is here for a reason. The worlds are separated almost always, the openings to each kept closed to protect the wildly different inhabitants, but on those rare occasions when something does find a way in, the hate and fear only makes it worse. You must feel the opposite; force yourself to love even what is horrible, because that is how one learns.”
“Like I told Emma, love towards this thing is beyond me. I just can’t do it. You have to understand, Chief, I just can’t.” I was beginning to wonder if maybe he was a bit off his noodle. How could he expect someone to feel such a sacred emotion as love for an evil, profoundly chaotic entity that didn’t seem to have any rightful place in the Universal Blueprint of life as we even knew it?
He pursed his lips and sighed. It sounded like wind whistling through eaves in an ancient temple. “If possible, then, you must try not to hate it. Unless you wish to make it worse. I struggle with the very thing myself. We all do, but it’s still possible.”
“Chief, I’ll try my very best, but this is so much to handle. Too much.”
“You have so much potential, Molly. For years, however, it was unrealized. The human mind has the power to create both wonderful and terrible things as we’ve all witnessed. If you can’t love the Dreamfeeder or even accept it for what it is, at least love yourself, others, your friends and family. The energy is the same.”
I nodded. “Where do you think this portal is, Chief? I just want to get this over with.”
“Finding something like this isn’t instant. If my people knew exactly where, they would have told me. But usually the vortex is in close geographical proximity to the being that entered and the individuals who attracted it. It could be somewhere on your property or within several miles of it.”
Before I could ask him where we should start, although the unnerving answer to that question seemed almost clear, we heard the sound of car engines from the other side of the house, and men speaking faintly in urgent tones.
Beckoning silently for him to follow, I went to see what the commotion was about.
Two police cruisers idled in the driveway. Near them stood a taut, jittery, red-headed cop with hunter-green eyes, and another huskier man with wavy brown hair, muscled arms, and a slight overbite. Their attention fixed on us with whip-quick intensity, and they approached us wearily as though we might be inclined to lunge at them like wild animals.
I raised my hand with a friendly gesture. They frowned.
The Chief stood next to me and stared at them, regarding them with suspicion. His body language suggested that he had appointed himself as my protector, because the cops’ faces did not seem very neighborly.
“Hey everyone,” I greeted in a falsely cheerful tone, as though they were party guests come for a casual get-together and I was their welcoming hostess.
When the two cops reached us, they quieted the garbling walky-talkies that clipped onto their belts, and the redhead, (his badge indicating his name was Officer Williams) tried lazily to return my smile but ended up smirking instead. His features were chiseled, hard, his nose beak-like. “You’re Molly Harland?” He probed, with a disbelieving note in his voice, as though he could never have imagined that a docile twenty eight year-old woman could be a brutal killer.
“Yep. So what’s this all about, Officers?” I chirped in a cheery tone worthy of the Muse. The other, Officer Morrow, shared a glance with him and said in a thick New York accent, “Ma’am, do you recall the two paramedics, as well as one of our Officers, who came to your door to answer a distress call about an injured friend?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, we were supposed to hear back from these people on the situation, and they never responded.”
This was bound to happen sooner or later, Molly. Just tell them, calmly, what happened here.
Officer Morrow, much stronger-looking than his companion, seemed barely able to contain frustration, either at me, or at something else that preoccupied him. His calloused thick-fingered hands clenched and unclenched, as though he were working off energy. “We need to know what happened to our men, Ms. Harland. They have been missing for more than two days. We checked back here only twenty four hours previously to see if we could speak with someone here, but you were gone.” His voice was flat, matter-of-fact.
The Chief watched him with subtle interest, as still as a mannequin.
I took a breath and stared into each of their eyes in hope that this directness would let them see my sincerity, and said, “Officers, this is a long, terrible, extremely dangerous situation, and once you find out the truth, I doubt you’ll ever be able to sleep soundly again.”
Raising a bushy eyebrow, Officer Williams demanded, his voice tight with confusion, suspicion and tension, “What is that supposed to mean?”
I spoke calmly, in a low, sane tone. “It means there is something going on here that not only endangers me, but you and anyone else who comes near. Officer Mooreland and the others went down in my cellar because they didn’t believe me about what’s really happening, about what almost killed my friend Kat. There is something from another world that is down there, growing. This may —no— it will absolutely sound nutty, but I’ve seen where it came from…some other dimension. I’ve tried to get rid of it, but it’s too powerful and will not die. I thought it was dead when your men went down to see it, but it wasn’t. It killed them, and I can’t adequately describe how this happened without making someone a trembling basket case, like I am. I’m so sorry this happened to those people, but it wasn’t my fault. It really wasn’t.” I took a few breaths and looked at them pleadingly, so determined that they could know it wasn’t a lie. And surely cops had an ear for truth, considering the nature of their jobs.
Their eyes narrowed when they heard “something from another world” and they seemed right about to burst into laughter. Then they recoiled at the words, “it killed them” and they couldn’t conceal their anger and shock, which was directed towards me, Mellowbrook’s new serial killer. I flinched when the redhead screamed, “What the hell? Are you on meth, lady? We’re going to need a better explanation than this. What happened to those men?”
“It killed them.” I repeated. “You can search my house, my yard, everywhere, and I don’t know, anymore, if you’ll even find their remains in the cellar. But please, I ask you not to go too close to what you see down there. It could be dangerous for your health.”
They couldn’t find words. They looked disoriented. I felt sorry for them.
Chief Bluewind put his hands into the pockets of his jacket and gave me a where-are-you-going-with-this look.
After a short tension-filled silence, Officer Williams narrowed his eyes. “Ma’am, there is no way we’re going to believe this half-baked story about things from other worlds. If those men are dead, you’re gonna be put away for a long time once we figure out where they are and what you had to do with it.” The unfair accusation in his voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Sure, this situation was strange, mysterious, bad juju straight out of a Weird Fiction story, but without any proof that I had killed the five men who came that day, how could they say such things?
“Sir, this is unjustifiable. As I told Mooreland, I’ve no reason to lie about this.”
“These days, everyone has every reason in the world to lie.” Said Morrow, regarding me with contempt and disgust that yet again should be reserved for criminals with blood on their hands.
“Damn it, I don’t want to endanger you people by telling you to go down in the cellar and look, but if you continue to harass me like this, you might as well just offer yourself to the thing because you’re freaking hopeless!” The anger came so suddenly it was alarming, and although they probably deserved my scorn for their judgmental attitude, flashbacks of the lost men and how I had lead them to their deaths went through my mind. Weak-kneed, on the verge of shuddering visibly, I reacted with an incredulous double take as a third cop appeared and approached from the other side of the house. He was black-haired, mustached, short and somewhat pudgy, with a green eyed gaze and pale chapped lips. His expression was neutral, but also suspicious.
They began speaking amongst themselves, softly but not too faint where I couldn’t catch telltale snatches of the conversation. I heard the word “station.” Then a whisper about “this nut,” and “crazy broad.”
You know, that’s really unprofessional. Shame on them.
The silent Indian seemed to be invisible to them, or they were just too busy to even introduce themselves and find out his name. Maybe they were just prejudiced.
When they were done speaking in their faulty clandestine way, Officer Howells, the one who desperately needed chapstick, told me, “Ma’am, I’m afraid we’re going to have to take you down to the station for questioning.”
Appalled, I demanded, “What? Why?”
“We’re getting nowhere here. You’re being uncooperative.”
“There is no way I’m going with you and leaving this thing to whomever happens upon it next. Something has to be done about it. It’s a monster and it kills! Why won’t you believe me?”
“Because things like this don’t exist. It’s preposterous, idiotic.”
“Crazy.” Added Morrow, chewing on his lower lip.
“Who are you to judge what exists and what doesn’t, Officers?”
“We only operate on the rational side of reality, lady, not the rabbit hole you’ve jumped into.” William’s glare was as poisonous and potent as any elixir served up by a witch or warlock.
“You people are pathetic, narrow-minded, and rude. How the hell did you get on the police force, anyway?” As emotion flooded in, I found it increasingly more difficult to hold my tongue. The Chief put a hand on my shoulder, warning me.
Howells took a step toward me, his face still neutral but his voice full of arrogance. “Ma’am, you’re coming with us. You have the right to remain silent.”
Sneering in what seemed like anticipation, Williams produced a gleaming pair of handcuffs from the belt of his uniform, and the other two rushed forward, pinned me before I could even leap away. The feeling of the handcuffs on my hands and the entire unfairness of it caused my brain to short-circuit. It was the built in fight-or-flight syndrome and now, I could not flee. I felt overwhelming emotion and was in disbelief that this was even happening to me at all. I cursed them, flailed with all my strength, told them they were ignorant fools, but they were too strong, motivated by bitterness and self-satisfaction. My hands were imprisoned in the cuffs, and that was when Chief Bluewind yelled in protest.
“What are you doing? This is an injustice! You have no proof that she did anything with these men and yet look at what you’re doing. Let her go. This is wrong!” He stepped toward them as they started dragging me toward one of the police cars.
Morrow, his hand roughly clutching my arm, favored him with only a passing glance. “We don’t know your part in this but I’m afraid you have no choice in this matter. We have five possibly dead people on our hands, and she is the only one who could know.”
“Possibly dead?” I raved, still thrashing in their grip. “Possibly? They got dissolved alive, you idiots! I had nothing to do with that. Go down and look in the cellar!”
Chief Bluewind continued, “I know her much better than you and I know she is telling the truth. After all, I saw the beast myself.”
They stopped and turned around, still holding me.
“Let her go, and I will go down with you, and show you what she’s talking about. That is, unless you’re too stuck in your ways to even give her that much.”
That must have hurt their pride. Williams challenged, “Is that so, old man? Will you really show us? The thing from another world that makes such a goddamn perfect excuse?” His face was beat red, and his mouth was curved into a snarl. The other two were milder in expression, but they were still no different. They chuckled and whispered to each other that the Indian was probably nothing more than a drunk.
I stopped struggling and craned my neck till it hurt to stare at them vehemently, regretting my outbursts but at the same time feeling a dark satisfaction with each verbal cut.
The Chief beckoned calmly to them, and somehow got their full attention. It was if they temporarily were mesmerized by him. Finally they released and uncuffed me. I had known where this was heading and at that moment when I felt my freedom I truly began to think there indeed was a higher power involved here.
Rubbing my wrists, I stepped away from them and nodded a thank-you to the Chief as he led the cops to the cellar. It was very clear to me that he felt the gratitude in my heart for his help. He seemed to always read me so well. As angry as I was, as frustrated and outraged at who these policemen were, I still feared for them, and I didn’t want them to go down there. But only so much can be done for people like this. Plus, at this point, it seemed to be either them or me, and if I was put in the slammer, who knows how many people would fall victim to the Dreamfeeder? Sometimes people have to walk pridefully right into unexpected danger so they can see how ignorant they really are, so they can be painfully aware of the humble role human beings often seem to play in the vast scheme of things.
They were cops, skeptical cops who had seen perhaps too much of the unpleasant part of society, of the violence and the deceit and the anarchy. I gave them that much, but they were also in the dedicated service of society, of other people, and the code of ethics every cop starts with didn’t seem to matter much to them. They acted more like bullies than authorities, more like impatient jerks than men of the law. I didn’t want to feel like I was just another lameness arrest case for their record books and brownie points with their superiors. I could excuse their skepticism, but not their bitter disgust of me and blind disbelief. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty” for heavens sake? It seemed quite clear that they thought I was totally guilty, without even trying to be unbiased. Another flaw in our legal system. Maybe I should have become a lawyer instead of a writer.
As the four men descended the stairs, Chief Bluewind leading the way, I followed them down. Howells produced a flashlight, a very bright LED, because a blue beam flashed at the foot of the stairs. They all uttered sounds of confusion and surprise as their shiny shoes sloshed through the strange muck.
The red luminosity seemed faster, as did the pulse. The cops looked around the cellar in panic, staring at the roots and tendrils which covered the ceiling, floor and walls.
“What in the name of God are you growing down here, lady?” Williams demanded crudely, as though things like this could really be cultivated in such conditions in an average Earthly cellar. Obviously, he needed someone to blame. I was convenient.
The Chief urged, “Come on, Officers. Come see what really killed those people, but be very careful.”
For a moment they hesitated, adjusting to the controlled pulsing, the smell, and the atmosphere. I was growing accustomed to the stench of the Dreamfeeder, but two of the Officers stifled coughs and gags. Williams gasped, “Damn! It smells like death in here.”
The Chief went ahead. Trying not to seem cowardly, scuttling to protect their macho images and egos, they followed him. I trailed behind them all, trying not to lose my cool any more than I already had. I learned the hard way that mouthing off to them was not in my best interest in the least.
One of the Officers, which sounded like Morrow, howled in disgust and fear, “Jesus Christ! What are these things? Why do…what…? Oh God.”
The hanging tendrils were frenziedly, eagerly probing the three officers, touching their faces and uniforms, trailing through their hair. The gruff men reacted like creepy-crawly-hating little girls, slapping fearfully at the feeling appendages. Williams yelped like a struck dog. Howell gasped. Now of all times, I wanted to laugh. “You haven’t seen the worst of it, guys. The little ones can’t hurt you, but the big ones pack a punch.” The sarcastic humor in my voice really couldn’t be mistaken for something else. Never had giddiness and dread swam in the same mental pool so long. Now there was foamy turbulence.
The flashlight strobed, darted left and right. We proceeded ahead. The fear we all felt seemed to counteract the hypnotic desire to sleep, because no one fainted or even yawned.
I should have warned them to tread carefully. Morrow slipped and fell on his rump, snarling with hurt pride.
The flashlight beam focused on those two small sacs festering near the wine racks. To my surprise, they detached with wet sucking sounds from the floor and rolled like little speckled baseballs out of the light, shuddering, as though repelled by it. I could still see their vague shimmering wet shapes in the dim red glow, and evidently so could the cops.
Murmuring with excitement and alarm, the Officers asked one another, asked me and Bluewind, what these things were, why they were. I told them that I didn’t know, because we truly didn’t, not enough to explain in detail adequate reasons for the almost flamboyantly repulsive biology of this alien being.
The Chief halted at the entrance to the last room, raising his palm to them, telling them to go no further. But they crowded past him, morbidly eager to see what was there. Staring from over their shoulders, I watched the large tendrils slide back and forth across the floor, and the pulsing sac shook and flashed, making their features distort and seem demonic, like demented clowns in a funhouse.
They shouted words I won’t repeat, shuddered and shivered and gagged as they studied the Dreamfeeder. One could almost feel the forced detachment of previously comfortable belief systems as they were ripped from the Officers and cast away forever. It was the ultimate reality check, the ultimate sick joke, an experience that for every person who faced it threatened to tear away sanity and forever tarnish the soul.
The Chief cautioned them again, told them keep their distance. Howell and Morrow obliged, pulled their feet from the sticky floor and took a few stumbling steps back, and Williams was about to do the same when he suddenly tripped and fell on his face. He was within reach of the longest of the tendrils, and I screamed a warning too late when I realized that it saw the opportunity, and reached for the man faster than I ever thought it could move.
He produced a horrible agonized blood-freezing scream, a piercing animal wail that was abruptly choked off as a thick tendril rose up high and landed on his back, thumping him so hard it knocked the breath out of him.
Two others seized his arms, dragged him further into the room.
The other Officers shouted his name; the Chief rushed forward and grabbed the snared man’s legs, engaging in a twisted tug of war with the Dreamfeeder.
The voice in all our heads crooned triumphantly, Come here, hello, man of law. Come dream, dream, man of law. How nice, very nice. Thank you, Molly Harland, thank you….no, let him be, let him dream, don’t fight. Don’t fight.
“Help me, help me get him back.” The Chief ordered, holding onto William’s ankles but in danger of falling into the room himself because of how hard the Dreamfeeder was pulling, how hard it was trying to take possession of its prey.
Seized with sharp sizzling panic, adrenaline rushing, I lunged forward and hooked my arms around the Chief’s torso, struggling to keep the old man from being yanked forward and taken along with the captured cop.
The other two Officers were yelling, panicking, but they evidently snapped out of it enough and someone held onto me, desperately trying to get Williams out of the Dreamfeeder’s death grip.
Oh dear God, Molly, do something! Do something. Oh holy sh*t, it’s got him. He’s going to die, do something!”
Williams screeched shrilly, raggedly. The flashlight beam washed across his thrashing form. I struggled to hold onto the Chief, watching in horror as a tendril as thick as a garden hose looped noose-like around William’s neck, brutally cutting off his pleas for freedom. Strangled gags sputtered from him, and his eyes were bulging like they were about to pop out of their sockets. Another wrapped around his stomach as dozens of smaller wispier tendrils swept across his face, snaked over his cracked open mouth, poked into his ears. He appeared to be lying in a nest of fat, silent worms.
Man of law, give me the delicious man of law, let him rest, let him have rest. Don’t deprive. Give. Molly Harland brought you all. My friends, my friends, I will have you, my friends forever... Give him, give him now. Give. Stop fighting, stop fighting. GIVE.
I strained, my boots slipping in the goo, pulled until a muscle in my neck popped, sending sharp jabbing pain up my skull. Everyone was grunting and groaning, screaming, except maybe for Chief Bluewind, who still managed to be a calming influence even in the midst of discord.
One of the Officers finally pulled out his gun and fired twice at the sac, the thunderous booms so loud and near it muted every sound I heard for several moments thereafter. The Dreamfeeder apparently couldn’t use its strength to heal itself while fighting us for the struggling man. It abruptly relinquished him, causing us to tumble backward in a squirming heap, pulling Officer Williams with us.
We scrambled out of its reach, a pile of people just trying to live. Where Howell shined the flashlight the Dreamfeeder shuddered in irritation, the bleeding hole in its skin already lessening its flow as it worked on closing up the wound.
My friends, my friends you can’t, you don’t understand, can’t accept. I will always stay, your toys won’t work. Useless. Silly men of law, you don’t, you don’t understand how. You will see beyond, beyond the veil, see that you can’t harm me. Doesn’t work, doesn’t hurt. Can’t harm me.
There was that laughing thought again, that teasing, silvery inner sound. It acted as though the gunshot wounds not only caused no pain, but made it feel good, a fascinating and pleasant experience.
I somehow got the jarring feeling that each time I had previously tried to kill the Dreamfeeder, it had merely pretended to die just to mess with me, put on an extremely convincing physical and psychological act to get my hopes up and erode my courage so that perhaps when the next encounter occurred I would just lie down right in front of it and wait for the despair and hopelessness to end.
Men of law please come, I will not harm, will not harm you. Molly and Bluewind come, be obedient. You will feel no pain.
The cops didn’t dawdle, didn’t stop to ponder; they stampeded with thunderous fury out of the cellar, and the Chief and I followed close behind. The whole way there, the Dreamfeeder spoke again in our heads, demanding our attention.
WHY? Why do you resist? Why did you come if not to dream? Come back, Molly Harland and Bluewind. Come back, men of law. I mean no harm, no harm. Don’t fear, don’t fear me. You feel fear, needless fear. How dare you leave. How dare you. So hungry. You must dream. You must. Must. Don’t run. Come and rest. You’ll never have peace where the light...the light burns…never have peace where the light burns…