13.2 And Madness Followed After

by Matt P.

Walter gasped as the door gave way and he found himself spilling out on to an aged and yellowed tile floor. He noticed dirt stuck between the tiles that indicated it wasn’t frequently cleaned, and then he noticed the weight that was around his torso. He was back in the real world, with a carbine on his back and a pistol at his belt. That felt good. He also noticed that Morgan was back to her regular self, although the hair that hang down to mid-back was still the fiery color that it had been in Nightmare. That too was good.

The floor was covered in fog, the mists of Nightmare that had followed them through the door. As he tried to reach out and lift himself up, he felt something sharp under his hand. He started to investigate, but then he heard something. He pulled his hand back and looked back to the door.

Then a full horse burst out of the open doorway, which seemed to distort momentarily in nauseating fashion to allow it through. Then the horse and rider were fully in the small room, somehow not crushing one of the eight people on the floor. The horse was midnight black, with black eyes rimmed in glowing red; the rider on its back was wearing a black cloak that pooled over the horse and covered all of the rider’s features. Even with the hood down, Walter got the feeling the rider was surprised that it had worked. They radiated an almost palpable feeling of terror, too many things wrong and inhuman for the world around them.

“They can be killed in this realm and be reborn back in Nightmare!” Morgan shouted, as she started to struggle to her feet. Walter didn’t need to be told twice; he rolled over on to his back and brought up his carbine just as the horseman began to spur his mount in to motion. Walter took half a breath to sight down the M4 before firing. The horseman exploded in a burst of black smoke, the horse following half a second later, trailing back in to the open doorway. An identically clad figure road out of the doorway almost at the same time. For a split second Walter thought it was the same rider until he noticed slight differences in build, and realized that it was a second Lord of Nightmare.

“Scratch one Nazgul, next up…” Walter began, before he realized that this one had a weapon out and was charging straight toward him. He started to roll away but only mostly succeeded. The sword sheared through the barrel of his carbine and gave him a cut on his head into his hairline, but didn’t kill him. Walter finished his roll away and grabbed down to reach for his pistol.

His blood froze as he saw the horse was a fraction of a second from crushing Antigone under it’s claws. He couldn’t reach his pistol in time, and every nightmare he ever had about failing his family flashed through his mind in a horrifying instant. Just as he thought he was going to have to live through every horror for real, the Nightmare exploded into another spray of black smoke and took the horse with it. All Antigone got as she sat up was a breath full of Nightmare dust, which Walter figured couldn’t be healthy but was unhealthy primarily in a long-term fashion.

He looked over to see Ryan Aquino, having risen to a kneeling position with his own M4. He gave a little nod to Walter and looked like he was going to make some sort of quip, until both he and Walter were hit by another pair of horses from behind. The world exploded in pain, dark walls closing in on his vision. It must have only been a grazing blow because his vision started to clear, and he was treated to the incongruous site of two horses going up a narrow stairway single file.

Morgan was already on her feet and beginning to chase after them, drawing her sword and cursing loudly. Walter staggered up at the same time as Ryan, Tennyson, and Ryan. Siobhan, Antigone, and their friends had apparently taken the lost moment Walter had suffered to retreat to the corner of the room away from the door and equestrian danger.

“Dad, what the hell is happening?” Siobhan asked, panicked. “Where the hell did you come from, and why are there horses?”

“If this is you finally getting me a pony,” Antigone commented primly, “It is more disappointing than I expected.” She had tears staining her cheeks that worried him, but he didn’t exactly have time.

“It was a trap, we all lived through nightmares, and then they escaped. You four okay?” Walter asked the group of teenagers as he drew his pistol and checked it.

The four girls exchanged shaky looks, and then nodded. But then Antigone looked at the copious amounts of obviously magical smoke still billowing out of the obviously magical door. “That’s not good, is it?”

“Annie, Bug? Get the door closed. Ryan, stay with them in case anybody else comes through. Tennyson, you want to prove you’re not an asshole?” Walter asked. When the man nodded and drew his sword, Walter gestured. “You’re with me, let’s go try to keep this off the evening news.”

They started to run up the stairs to chase after a Faerie Queen and two Lords of Nightmares. “How long do you think before they start to figure out how to do their tricks in this world?” Tennyson asked as he too drew a sword out of nowhere.

“I-” Walter began. He was cut off as the air was filled by the sound of a large crack, like a big tree suddenly giving way. Or a part of a building. Screaming followed a second later. “I think it’s too late,” he said, as they began to run.