12.4 The Following Moments

by Matt P.

“Ok…” Morgan began quickly, looking between us, “maybe it’s good the others didn’t get through. This is going to get very bad, very fast. I need to explain and I don’t have a lot of time, so no pretending magic doesn’t exist or anything. Ok?”

Walter nodded, looking around at the encroaching mist. “Deal. What’s going to happen? What did he mean this place is Nightmare?”

Gabriel, for the first time since Walter had first encountered him, looked agitated. “There are a number of different realms that deal with dreams. Faerie, for example, is often said to be the home of creative dreams. What do you think comes out of Nightmare?” he asked sarcastically.

“Humanity has always had nightmares, and most nightmares are just…stress and concern or bad pizza and too much beer working their way out of the subconscious. Actual capital N nightmares are very rare, and most often experienced by those people who never seem to get away from their most terrible imaginings,” Morgan explained. “The Seven Lords of Nightmare rule over this realm the way that the Queens of Faerie, or the Neverborn Kings. They don’t play well with anyone else, and they haven’t made an alliance in millennia.”

“What do they want?” Walter asked, unconsciously edging closer toward the others as the mists continued to crawl toward them like the tendrils of a sleepy beast.

“They feed off of terror,” Morgan answered plainly. “So they want to generally increase it and inflict it on as many people as possible.” She motioned to the increasingly thick mist now beginning to lap at their boots. “But here is the important thing to remember: All dreams are connected. We are going to start off in terror, but the way out of the nightmares is through them.” Walter could hear more naked terror in her voice then he ever had before, and he found himself tensing up and shaking a little bit himself. The mists began to pool to their calves, little fingers reaching up to their knees and climbing higher as the whole landscape was washed out and lost.

“How do we do that?” Walter asked, reaching down to brush at the mist. The moment he touched it he felt his mind start going fuzzy, like those last few moments of wakefulness before you were embraced by slumber. “Oh that’s not good…” he murmured with a yawn.

“Somehow, someway, force yourself to remember that it is a dream. Once you know it is a dream, you can fight your way through it. Find your way from nightmare into regular dreams, or find one another, and we can fight our way out,” Morgan said with a shiver as the dream mist crept up to her waist. “I can try to contact Tania even though we’re in a dream, and get her help somehow.” She yawned, looking like she was going to say more, but then the dream mist was over her waist and she fell back in to it with her eyes closed. Walter was about to comment, but then he too felt his thoughts slipping away and finding the embrace of slumber.

**** ****

Gunpowder always smelled bitter and metallic to him. He thought about that as he ran, an idle little part of his brain churning away at something mundane to keep the terror from overwhelming him. The raiders had come seemingly out of nowhere, and the fact that their weapons looked like they hadn’t been cleaned since Khrushchev came out wouldn’t stop a bullet from catching him and ending his promising young career. His heart pounded in his chest as he raced for cover.

“Get the hell behind cover, Richards!” The sergeant shouted. Walter didn’t make him shout it a second time, coming around the humvee and bringing his rifle up to bear as he leaned on it. With the automatic movements of drilled in muscle memory he aimed down the weapon on one of the men with guns, and fired. There was a crimson spray, and that was it—no scream, no cry of pain, no sound beside the report of a rifle to mark the ending of a life.

The world froze, darkness curling at the edges of his vision like fire on the edge of a piece of paper. He stepped out from the humvee and walked toward the fallen man. His comrades stood or lay around him, frozen in the act of screaming or dying. He could see his boots crunching on the ground as he walked, but he couldn’t stop them from moving. He could feel himself pushing against it but they had the heavy step of inevitability, until he was standing over the body.

The bullet hadn’t done any favors, and Walter felt his gorge rising. Most of the skull was gone, blood and brain on the dirt and scrub. Even with the world around him frozen the body seemed more still than anything around it, life stolen out of it and sinking into the arid ground.

He looked up and the body was standing in front of him, staring at him with one unseeing eye. Walter could see how young he was, the same age as he was. His one eye blinked slowly and then focused sharply, locking on to Walter’s and holding it there for a very long moment.

“I’m sorry,” Walter said. The words rang hollow in the air, changing nothing. The body stared at him, and blinked. When the eye opened it was summer green with hazel streaks, and Antigone stared back at him. Walter stumbled back, falling to the ground as he began to cry out at the sight of his daughter with half of her face missing. Blood dripped down across her lips, bubbling as she breathed out a groaning death rattle. It started wordless, but as the life left her body it became a scream, a cry, and then she gasped.

“Why…” in a voice like razor blades. As she finished, Walter began to scream.