By Shawn Carter (Multifire)
Edited by EnvyMachinery
Nathan awoke to the dark embrace of his room. The blankets fell to the floor and the cold formed an instant unnerving cushion around his body. Teardrops fell upon his legs as he formed a fetal position. The nightmare once again came for him, and the laughs now echoed in his mind. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he remained half sleeping, and the nightmares wouldn’t be satisfied staying confined to his dreams.
Moving with a steady fear, Nathan placed his feet on the ground next to his bed and walked to the wall. In the pitch dark he felt around on the wall searching for the light. The unfamiliar apartment didn’t calm his fear. He had just moved in.
“God damn it,” Nathan’s voice echoed through the silence of the room. “Not again,” he said as he turned on the light and leaned against the wall. He let himself slide down into a seated position and looked around the now bright room to ensure his safety.
Nathan remained on the floor for the rest of the night, although his position eventually moved to the corner of the room. Bags had formed underneath his eyes from countless nights of near insomnia. He couldn’t quite remember the day before today, as his life now seemed to blend together. His alarm going off indicated that his day had begun. As he went through his morning routine, he tried to calm down from the heightened feeling he had from his fresh nightmare.
As Nathan got ready, he constantly checked the corners of rooms and behind curtains. He couldn’t bring himself to believe he had escaped the taunting laughter that echoed so loud just a few hours ago. Finally ready, he grabbed his keys and headed down the stairs, tearing open the door and slamming it shut behind him. As he locked the door, he sighed in relief knowing that soon he would be among people. Most of the time he found company draining, but today he desired the security he found in friends.
Nathan adjusted his coat, walking down the sidewalk to the local café where an old friend waited for him. As he walked he felt the stares of those around him; he could never escape the idea that complete strangers were watching him. He often thought he saw them, out of the corner of his eye, stop and look towards him. However, when he turned towards them they were always still walking, and he appeared to be imagining things.
Nathan felt today had been destined to be an exceptional day for his paranoia. Everyone that Nathan passed appeared to turn towards him. The sensation of being followed chilled his spine. Soon, he found himself yearning for isolation once more. The fear of what Nathan experienced the night before drove him constantly forward and into Café Nightshade. He looked into the shadows of the back booth and there he saw the shape of his friend. Edging his way forward, he felt a familiar feeling. Looking around he saw everyone in the café staring at him, and this time they weren’t suddenly looking away.
Nathan stopped in his tracks. He grew frightened as he looked into their eyes. The eyes of the patrons appeared blank and haunting, as if they were looking into his soul and were unimpressed. He began to hear a slow rising pitch. It sounded like a baby screaming into his ears. The sound echoed to great enormity until suddenly it stopped, and with a flash everyone had once again looked away and went about their business.
“Hey,” a sudden voice boomed and made Nathan jump. He spun around to see only his friend standing in the isle with a concerned look on his face. “Are you alright?” his friend’s voice echoed with a tinge of pity.
“Yes,” Nathan replied as he looked around himself, checking to make sure the unusual gazes had ceased. “No, I mean,” he changed his reply. “It’s the nightmare, it’s come back.”
“Listen man, you’ve got to go see someone,” his friend replied cautiously. “You need to get some sleep, you look like shit.”
Nathan looked down at himself. His clothes were wrinkled, and it appeared he had forgotten to tie his shoes. His mustard-stained shirt filled him with discomfort, and he realized he had put on dirty pants from his laundry. Filled with a sudden feeling of melancholy, he looked back up at his friend. “It was gone for a long time. I thought I was better this time.”
“Sit down, breakfast is on me,” Nathan’s friend said directing him to the booth. “If you need someone to chill with while you get some rest again, I will understand. Couch is always open to you.”
“Thanks, I don’t want to always be known as that guy that stays on Jim’s couch though,” Nathan said with a feint sense of humor. They ordered pancakes as they began to catch up. It had been several months since they last saw each other. Nathan had a reputation for suddenly disappearing.
“So where have you been man?” Jim asked as he leaned forward, showing a genuine interest.
“Nowhere, just going to work and coming back.” Nathan gazed down into his coffee as he answered.
“Something interesting had to have happened,” Jim pressed.
“More interesting than the usual?” Nathan fired back almost defensively.
“Alright, we don’t have to talk,” Jim spoke with a tint of annoyance. “I don’t know why you invited me here if you didn’t want to talk though.” He had suffered through many days of hanging out with Nathan in silence before. Nathan had been a quiet type ever since his nightmares began.
“I do want to talk.” A sense of desperation arose in Nathan’s voice. “It’s just that…” he paused for a second and looked around the room to make sure eyes weren’t suddenly turned towards him. “I think he can hear me.”
“Who, the thing from your dreams?” Jim couldn’t help but to let a small scoff out. “It’s just a dream man.”
A loud slamming noise echoed through the room as Nathan brought his hand down on the table. “It’s not just a dream! You don’t know what I see when I go to sleep! I am not even sure what I see anymore!”
Jim looked around in embarrassment as he noticed people staring, “Alright, man, calm down. I am sorry.”
“I am calm!” Nathan said sternly, and then lowered his own voice when he saw his friends embarrassment, “I am just tired of people not listening to me is all.”
“Well, that’s what I am here to do,” Jim assured.
Nathan leaned back and let out a sigh and looked around the room once more as a feeling of paranoia began to overtake him. He leaned in and began to speak with a hushed tone. “I never get a good look at it, just like before. It’s different now, though. Before, it just chased me when I slept. Now it’s stalking me, and I can barely remember my dreams anymore,” he began.
“What makes stalking different from chasing?” Jim inquired.
“It’s there when I wake up. Then I think I see it throughout the day out of the corner of my eye,” Nathan answered as he observed a worried look over take his friend’s face. “Listen, it can’t just all be in my head. I can feel it, you know?”
“Why would a nightmare follow you around in reality?” Jim said as he folded his arms and leaned back. He couldn’t help but judge his friend. “Don’t you see how insane this sounds?” Jim asked as he faked a smile at the waitress who delivered their food.
“It’s not insane!” Nathan insisted to his skeptical friend. “Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it isn’t happening now.” He said as his gaze fell on his food and noticed a lump underneath his pancakes. “I always forget to tell them to leave off the butter.” He raised his pancake with one fork casually to look at the gooey butter underneath. However, he saw something large and white in-between his pancakes. It appeared to be stuck in his lower pancake and he began to try and pry it out with his fork as he tuned his friend out. Filled with a great sense of dread, he pried loose a human eye. It flung forward and landed on his shirt. He let out a powerful scream and leaped from his seat and fell to the floor, brushing the organ off of him with his eyes tightly shut.
“Jesus, Nathan, calm down!” Jim scolded his friend and he leaned next to him. “You are alright man.”
Nathan opened his eyes and realized his shirt and hands were coated in butter. He found himself unable to close his mouth as he observed the situation in total shock. Once again, everyone had begun staring at them as Jim began to rub his temples in frustration.
“I am going to have to ask you to leave, now,” the pudgy owner from behind the restaurant bar sternly informed them.
At the words of the owner, Nathan quickly exited the café and darted down the sidewalk. Jim threw money on the table and followed close behind. “Hey man, you can’t keep living like this,” he said as Nathan tried to ignore him. “What the hell makes you so sure you just haven’t lost your mind?”
“What makes you so sure I have!?” Nathan picked up speed in anger.
“Well, getting us banned from Nightshade is a pretty good indicator,” Jim fired back.
Nathan stopped and spun around. “Just forget it, I will figure this out by myself,” he said as he rubbed his eyes. “I just thought it would be nice to not go alone.”
“Go alone? Go where?” Jim’s curiosity piqued.
“A while ago, before this started, I was walking home from work when I came across this tiny cave in the forest next to my apartment. There was this book inside of it,” Nathan continued when he saw his friend’s interest. “I didn’t look for long, I just read the first couple of words and I had this strange, cold feeling and left.”
“Well, what did it say?” Jim asked inquisitively as he kept following Nathan, who had turned to continue walking.
“The first sentence, all it said was ‘Those who dream death, dream eternal.’ That’s all I was able to read before I got freaked out and left. I have been having nightmares ever since.” Nathan revealed.
“It’s just a creepy story,” Jim dismissed.
“I should have known you wouldn’t believe me,” Nathan shouted as he threw his hands up in the air in frustration.
“I believe that you found a scary story in a cave,” Jim said only noticing his friend’s rising anger. “But listen, if you think this thing is causing your nightmares, let’s just go up there and destroy it. It seems like a quick fix, right?”
“So you will go with me?” Nathan said as he stopped and looked to his friend.
Jim stopped abruptly, too. “Yeah, man, I don’t know if I believe everything you are saying, but I will go with you to a cave. If it will make you feel better.”
Nathan paused for a long time and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he gratefully stated as he looked around and noticed one or two people had stopped and were looking at them with the same soulless eyes he had seen before. A chill ran up his spine. “Let’s go quickly then.”
Nathan and Jim walked along the sidewalk as quickly as they could until they got to Nathan’s apartment complex. They entered and ran up the stairs to his apartment door. As Nathan opened it, a horrific smell wafted out and filled Jim with disgust. Jim plugged his nose and followed his friend into the apartment.
As Nathan ran off to his closet, Jim walked around the apartment and observed the condition of the area. The floors clearly hadn’t been taken care of, and trash littered the hallway. Jim followed the horrible smell that filled the apartment to the trashcan, where he found quite the brew of rotting food. Filled with intense nausea, he took out the trash bag and tied it up.
Nathan quickly found Jim after scavenging the house and acquiring the items he sought. Nathan had retrieved two large flashlights and a couple of bats. As he looked at Jim tying his trash up, he felt immediate shame. “It’s been a while since I have been out.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Tell you what man, let’s put this thing off and get your place back in order. You might feel a little better,” Jim offered as he took the trash to the door.
“No, we have to go now. I don’t know if I can wait any longer!” Nathan desperately explained.
“Alright, man, let’s at least toss this trash bag out,” Jim said, feeling a little frustrated. He wanted so hopelessly to help his friend, but the more this continued, the more he was infused with the feeling that he had become part of a child’s game. He opened the door as Nathan shoved a bat into his free hand. “I really don’t think we are going to need a bat to take down a book.”
“It’s just in case,” Nathan darted out the door and headed downstairs as he compulsively turned the flashlights on and off to make sure they worked. He felt his friend’s judgmental eyes as they stood by the dumpster and he handed Jim his flashlight.
Nathan and Jim didn’t say anything more to each other as they headed in the direction of the forest. Jim began to regret his decision to go along with this. He hoped that his actions didn’t fuel his friend’s apparent psychosis. As they ventured into the forest, Jim felt a sudden feeling of dread. He had played in this forest as a child, but now it felt very sinister. The trees almost felt like they were staring. He quickly wrote it off as Nathan’s behavior causing him a light paranoia.
“This is it,” Nathan said with a whisper. He pointed to a cave entrance. There were two boulders in the front that had been covered in strange red writing, and the top of the cave had the word “Eternity” in what seemed to be some sort of sticky, black substance.
“Hey man, I am thinking we should turn back and maybe report this to the cops,” Jim suggested. His words went unheeded as his friend plunged into the cave entrance and faded into the dark. “Hey, wait!” Jim shouted as he followed along. He turned on his flashlight and desperately searched for his friend. “Come on man, where are you going?”
“Here!” Nathan called back and waited for his friend to catch up.
Jim followed the voice of his companion and reached a rather large room in the cave. There were lit candles lining the walls, a tattered red carpet, and an altar with a large book at the end of the room. He walked along the walls and observed the runes as Nathan ran up to the altar and grabbed the book.
“Alright, man, let’s just burn that book with one of these candles and get the hell out of here. I think some freaky teenagers have been up here,” Jim suggested.
“No,” Nathan answered back, “We can’t yet.”
“What do you mean?” Jim looked to his friend in concern.
“Well, aren’t you curious what’s inside of it? What’s in here that caused all of my dreams?” Nathan said as he began to sweat. “I have to know.”
“Please man, let’s not do this. I don’t care what’s in the book, I just came up here to try and help you get over whatever all of this is. This book nonsense is starting to freak me out you know?” Jim’s fear grew as Nathan quickly opened the book.
“No, I have to know.” He began reading it out loud. “It says ‘Those who dream death, dream eternal.’ Then it has some sort of, diagram or symbol after it. It’s like a circle with a bunch of ancient-looking writing inside of it.”
“Come on man, let’s stop,” Jim began to walk forward to his friend.
Nathan turned the page. “There is more though, ‘Those who attempt to understand can never seek forgiveness.’ What does it mean?” He began to shake as he observed more symbols like the one from before and turned the page. “This, I can’t read this part, I c-c…” He stuttered and then stopped talking. He soon began speaking in gibberish as blood poured from his mouth. He covered his mouth as a feeling of dread over took him.
“Are you alright man!?” Jim shouted, but then noticed he couldn’t hear his own voice. He reached up and touched the blood that now poured from his ears. He then stumbled backwards from the sudden queasiness of seeing his own blood. Then he noticed a figure slowly emerge from the entrance, but it appeared incomprehensible to him. He couldn’t quite see it; he couldn’t quite understand it. The form of what he made out only caused a sudden migraine. As Jim tried to continue to observe it, his eyes began to bleed and he fell to the floor with a powerful shriek. His head appeared to collapse with a sickening crackle.
Nathan tried to scream in fear but began vomiting up blood. As he looked up at the figure, the candles blew out and he soon found himself in the pitch blackness. He began to run, and darted past the figure, but he had forgotten his flashlight. As he stumbled around in the darkness, he tripped over a large rock and fell through a hole and into what appeared to be a shallow body of water. Soaked, he sprung up and looked around himself, searching for some source of light. Every time he tried to scream for help, blood poured from his mouth. He began to let out a sobbing noise when lights shot on all around him. He appeared to be knee-deep in shallow water, and as he looked around himself he saw a horrifying sight. The decapitated, collapsed head of his friend had been relocated to a lone pillar. The eyes were entirely gone. As the head opened its mouth, it let out a horrifying shriek that sounded like an insane newborn. He stumbled back into the water and shut his eyes, and tried to believe that nothing happening could be real. As the shriek died down, another terrifying noise rose up from the pits of hell. The caves were filled with a terrifying laughter. Tears streamed from his eyes, and Nathan awoke to the dark embrace of his room.