12.10 Future

by Matt P.

“Where am I?”

Walter let the question hang in the air, and noticed almost immediately that there was no resonance to it. It seemed like he was back in something related to him, but as he looked to the side he saw the others walking beside him. But none of them answered, their eyes fixed forward as they continued to walk. After a moment Morgan blinked, and looked at him. “What did you say?”

“I…” Walter began, but then the air rushed around them. It went from dark, generic and formless to very specific. The air around him grew thicker and he was suddenly surrounded by a lush, overgrown forest. He was surrounded by trees that shot up in to a sapphire sky, and despite the humidity it felt cold and sticky all about him.

He was walking in to a glade in which the largest tree of all stood. It reached in to the sky so high that Walter couldn’t make out the top of it for a long moment. As he stared at it, it seemed to shrink down to a more manageable size. As it shrank Walter could suddenly see that there was a figure hanging from it by his ankle, swaying gently in the breeze. As the tree top settled into normal oak tree size, Walter saw that it was him.

“What the fuck?” Walter asked, stunned. He looked over to Morgan but she was just staring ahead as if transfixed. “Why am I hanging from a tree?”

“Wisdom,” answered both the Walter that was hanging and Morgan next to him. Their voices were both their own, but they spoke with the same tempo and intonation. It sent a shiver down his spine as he looked between the two of them.

“Was it worth it?”

“That isn’t for us to know yet,” came the answer from both mouths at the same time. “It is the hope of life and joy that brings us here. It is for the eyes of the future to know whether or not it was worth the sacrifice.”

Walter considered that for a long moment. Watching himself hang there by his ankle from the tree sent coils of cold terror writhing through his guts like snakes. He could feel the terror coiling up his spine and sending little electrical jolts through his limbs. He didn’t like to look at himself, his mind trying to turn away from it—trying not to see it out of horror or self-preservation. Vines wrapped up the massive tree, vines that looked like they were sweltering in heat despite the cold air around him. He focused on them.

“How do I get out of here? I thought I was leaving Nightmare?” Walter asked.

“This is not Nightmare,” the voices answered. “This is Dream. But that does not matter. The exit remains the same. You must go through the darkness to the door; but the door is locked from the other side. Someone must help you, and you must hurry.”

Walter scowled a little bit, and he let annoyance drown out the fear that was still causing a cold sweat to prick on his brow. “Now I have to hurry? It feels like I’ve spent a month traipsing through people’s dreams, but now it’s a race?”

Both heads looked at him as if he were particularly stupid, but he just scowled at them again. If they had been less horrifying he thought they might have sighed. “It has always been a race. You are losing. If you do not hurry, then you will force that sentence to change to ‘You have lost’. You must find the door, and find someone who can open it. Before the Lords of Nightmare find another way in to your world besides their deal with the Proclaimed King.”

“How do I find someone who can open it?” Walter asked, baffled. He looked around for a moment, his eyes settling on Morgan. “Can Morgan open it?

For a moment the voices were quiet, and all Walter could hear was the chirping of the forest round him. Then he saw something return to Morgan’s eyes, as if he were dragging her away from whatever it was that she was seeing. She shivered, rubbing her arms, and looked over to Walter. “No, I can’t open it. If we were in Faerie it would be a simple matter, but I am not in control of this land.”

“Dream,” Walter supplied helpfully, shrugging. “Whatever the hell that means.”

Morgan nodded, looking around in consideration. Her eyes came back to the tree, and she shivered. “Dream is the land of prophetic dreams, of prophesy and the future foretold. It is where oracles and prophets touch when they see sleep or…well, prophesize.” She considered the tree. “Seeing one’s self hanging from the tree of life is an interesting omen at best, I would think, but it may be something we have to consider later.”

Walter pointedly did not look at the tree or his own face, lest he suffer a sudden aneurysm or something from it. “Can we never consider it? In fact could we never talk about it, since it’s causing me to almost crap myself in terror?”

Morgan laughed, and then tried to cover it with hr hand. When she moved her hand away there was still a smirk there, but it was balanced against the sadness in her eyes. “I doubt that we will be able to put off ever considering it, Walter, but we can certainly leave it aside for the time.” She turned to the hanging man. “How do we get to the door?”

The man did not answer, looking pointedly at Walter. He sighed loudly, and didn’t look at his reflection as he spoke. “What is this, a very special lesson? How do we get to the door and out of here?” He asked.

The hanging main pointed in a direction, and then repeated himself: “Hurry.”

**** ****

The pounding of hooves became apparent as they were walking. It was a low rumbling in the background that they first wrote off, subconsciously, as thunder. As they walked they realized that Gabriel and Tennyson were once more walking next to them. Tennyson again looked troubled, and Gabriel looked a little bit nonplussed. When pressed neither man would talk about what they had seen, instead shrugging.

“Do you hear that?” Tennyson asked, stopping to listen to the air. The rumbling grew louder as everyone paused to listen to it, and then shared a concerned look.

Walter winced. “I thought it was just thunder, do you think we should—”

As he spoke, the forest itself begin to wail with the shrieking of thousands of birds took flights. Animals began to flee in great numbers, and trees rocked with the passing of some terrible host. It was also shockingly close for how far off the rumbling had sounded. Sweat pricked on Walter’s brow, the familiar tingling of adrenalin as he decided on fight or flight.

“RUN!” Morgan said, and the decision was made. All four of them spun back in the direction they were going and began bolting as fast as they possibly could. The crashing behind them began to increase, and they tried to pour on every bit of speed that they possibly could. Low hanging branches whipped at their faces and arms, and Walter felt several stinging cuts that he knew would be a joy later.

Just behind them they began to see the forms of horses. Their forms were shrouded, as spectral and wispy as the long walks through Nightmare, but deep black. The fact that they were so close to something that he recognized and yet were so wrong, roiling and changing and hideous, made something in the center of Walter’s brain hurt. Fortunately that just gave him more reason to look ahead and keep running like mad. Finally they came into a small clearing, a glen like that which held the tree the not-Walter had been hanged from. Except in the center of this one was a door of the darkest blue, almost black, strewn with small silvery-white stars. The stars looked like they were tinkling against the dark blue paint, which still had the sheen of being fresh painted.

Morgan got to the door first and immediately began tugging at it. “Well you weren’t wrong, it is closed,” she said with a shake of her head. Immediately she tried to put her hand against the door. “This is the door of Dreams. We can use it to contact people in the mortal realm, but only if they are sleeping.”

Walter made it to the door, and put his hand on it. “Asleep? No one was asleep when we left!” The hoof beats grew louder.

“Walter, I don’t know how much time has passed. We’re in another realm, it could have been minutes or it could have been days,” Morgan’s voice was strained as if she was struggling to carry something heavy. “The girls said they have odd dreams sometimes, right?” At Walter’s nod, she continued. “Good…think about them. Tell them to find this door and open it!”

“I think they know where it is, they talked about a bunch of spooky doors,” Walter said with a nod. He put both hands against the door, and began thinking of his daughters. He could see them in his mind, and almost hear their voices as he thought about them. Their voices were muddled as if coming from a great distance, or as if he was hearing them from another room. He tried to focus on that, tried to hear what they were saying, and he began to talk to them as well.

As the hoof beats began to rain down around them and the Lords of Nightmare bore down on them, Walter reached out to his daughters with everything he had.