The Second Tale - Nightmare
Simon P. Clark
Every night Lucy had the same dream. Every night the dream said things to her.
It all started when she was sick. Her fever spiked, her forehead burned, and she saw things that weren't there, or shouldn't have been. Doctors shook their heads. Her father looked away. She heard them talking in the hallway.
'There’s no more we can do. It’s up to God now.'
Shadows crept in the night and Lucy cried in her bed. But then the fever broke, and her father smiled, and her strength returned.
'A miracle!' they said. 'Our special, miracle girl!'
But then the dreams came. They came on her thirteenth birthday.
It was a cold, red-earthed place. The sky burned blue and crimson and gold. Wind threw dust into the air. The dust formed the shapes of beasts and birds with mad black eyes and sharp yellow feet. There was a tree growing in front of her. She watched it grow, hugging herself.
'Hello?' she said. She knew she was dreaming. It was just like the fever – the same feeling, the same fear – but everything seemed real now, and everything was worse.
There was something sitting at the top of the tree, and it smiled at her with a row of sharp teeth.
'Hello, little girl,' said the thing in the tree. 'Have you come to tell me a story?'
Lucy woke up, her heart thumping in her chest. The curtains were flapping, hitting the wall. She put her head on the pillow, scrunching her face up. A dream, she thought. Only a dream. She did not sleep well for the rest of the night, and when morning came, she ran from the bed.
The next night the tree was back, the red sky burning above them. The thing looked down at her and smiled.
'I only want to play,' it said.
'This is only a dream,' said Lucy. 'Leave me alone.'
‘Oh?' said the thing, ‘Oh, really? Did you say only a dream? Only? What on earth does that mean?'
It jumped down from the tree and moved towards her. Lucy blinked. What was it? A kind of monkey? She rubbed her eyes and when she opened them its face was right in front of her. She screamed and jumped back. Dust rose all around them.
'Why would you think a dream is any safer than your bed?' said the thing.
‘This is just a fever,' said Lucy. She didn't like this. She wanted to wake up. 'It's not real,' she added. Her mouth was dry. She swallowed.
'Oh, but it is,' said the thing. ‘Dreams are realer than real. Don’t you know that? Why don't I show you?'
It stepped forward again, and it was smiling now.
'I don't want you to,' said Lucy.
The thing blinked and then it snorted. 'I don't care,' it said, and it reached out and grabbed her hand. Two wings, rough and leathery, burst from its back, and before she could even cry, before she could pull away, they were soaring up into the air, the ground already too far away to jump.
'Let me go! What do you want?' Lucy shouted.
The creature laughed and shook her as they flew. 'Want?’ it said. ‘Why do you think I want anything? No, no, it’s you who wants things. You want to know what’s real, don’t you? You want to know what this is, don’t you? I see your heart, Lucy Weaver. I see your soul. Don’t lie to me. I will teach you what’s real. I'm going to show you what your family really thinks of you!'
It changed course, turning away from the sun, and Lucy saw a black, dead forest in the distance. Tree trunks, bent and thin, reached up into the air. They looked like they'd been through a fire.
'My little forest of dreams,' said the creature. It laughed and gripped Lucy tighter.
'Who are you?' she shouted again. 'What do you mean, my family? This – you’re just a nightmare!'
The creature bent its neck so it could look her in the eyes. 'Nightmare? Yes. Yes, that works! That's my name, girl. Nightmare. Pleased to meet you!'
It laughed again and flew lower. They were over the dead forest now, Lucy's feet almost brushing the branches. The creature’s wings flapped, and the sticks looked so brittle they might break in the wind.
‘Nightmare?' said Lucy. She was afraid now. It felt too real. But you couldn't be hurt by dreams, could you? They couldn't actually harm you.
'Oh, I'll show you what dreams can do,' said Nightmare. 'I'll show you how thin the veil is. I’ll show you how close dreams can be to the world. Oh, I will, I will.'
Without a sound, it let Lucy go. She fell, screaming, crashing through the branches. They snapped and scratched, cutting her face, catching in her dress. She landed hard on the ground, her leg twisting painfully. Nightmare landed softly beside her, folding his wings and giving a small bow.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘the importance of dreams, and what they can mean. Let's start with Mummy, shall we?' He tapped the nearest tree with one claw. The bark shuddered and began to move as if it were made up of thousands of snails, the wooden knots sliding slowly around the trunk until the whole tree looked as if it were made of liquid, swaying and pooling and drifting up and down.
'What's that?' said Lucy, still not standing. Nightmare ignored her. He stuck the tip of his tongue out, frowned, whispered something under his breath. He shuffled his feet and rustled his wings.
'Aha!' he said. 'Here we go.'
He tapped the tree again. A pale light shone out from its branches, reaching up into the sky. The light grew brighter, changing until it was a pure, burning white, filling the world above them.
'Look, look,' said Nightmare. He put one hand under Lucy's chin and moved her head so her face pointed upwards. 'Let's watch your mother's dreams, shall we?'
The sky flickered and changed again. Lucy saw her mother. She was sitting in a field of green moss, smiling to herself. A river flowed next to her, and she dangled her hand in the water. Lucy could hear her humming. She was wearing a white bonnet and a pale yellow dress.
‘Your mother’s dreams!’ said Nightmare. ‘Now, what will we see, hm?’
Lucy knew she should look away. Wasn't it wrong to look into someone else’s head? But still, she kept her face turned upwards, staring at the sky.
Beside her, Nightmare sniggered. ‘Good girl,’ he said. ‘You just keep watching. Ah! Here. You’ll like this. Watch this bit!’
In the dream, across the field, Lucy saw her father. He looked younger, stronger, with a darker face and brighter eyes. Lucy’s mother ran towards him, jumping into his arms and laughing as he span her around.
‘Henry!’ she giggled. ‘Henry, I’ll be dizzy!’
They fell on the grass together and laughed, and then they kissed. Lucy blushed. Nightmare spat on the ground. In the dream, Lucy’s parents broke apart and lay side by side, their hands touching lightly.
‘I want to stay here forever!’ said her mother.
‘That would be nice – but you know why we can’t,’ said her father. The dream-sky darkened. The river, so calm and gentle before, began to flow faster, its water turning white on the rocks.
‘Why can’t we?’ said her mother. ‘Why can’t we stay, just us?’
‘The baby needs watching,’ said Lucy’s father. He frowned and cleared his throat, and then he stood up. ‘She needs feeding,’ he said. ‘She needs watching.’
Lucy’s mother reached out for him, but suddenly, like in so many of Lucy’s own dreams, the ground changed, and everything was out of reach. Lucy’s father was still frowning. ‘The children always need watching,’ he said.
‘No!’ said Lucy’s mother. She jumped to her feet and tried to follow her husband, but he was too far away, and then the ground was shaking, and then he was gone completely. The river roared, its water spilling over the banks, flooding the fields. Lucy gasped as her mother tried to get away from it, but even before she could run, the flood had reached her shoulders.
‘No!’ Lucy’s mother kept screaming. ‘No! I want to stay!’
And then the water filled her mouth, and she couldn't scream any more, and the whole sky was dark, and the dream faded away.
Lucy was shaking. The light from the tree dimmed and spluttered out. The world was black and grey again.
‘She woke up,’ said Nightmare. ‘End of the dream. For now.’
‘You drown her!’ he said. ‘The pressure. The boredom! Oh, what would her life have been like without you? What would she have done? I mean, she says she loves you – I suppose she does – but dreams tell the truth, girl. They show her heart, and her heart says you are a weight around her pretty little neck.’
The world was completely still. Lucy felt tears in her eyes.
‘Why would you show me that?’ she asked. Nightmare smiled, his teeth shining.
‘You said I was just a dream,’ he said, and he shrugged, as if that were enough.
‘That wasn't my mother,’ said Lucy.
‘This isn't real!’ she shouted. Her voice echoed among the trees. Nightmare stared at her. He reached out with one hand and took hold of a single branch.
‘Your mother’s tree,’ he said. ‘Her every dream. Her every desire. Her heart, this is. Her stories.’
He jerked his hand, his teeth snapping together, and with a terrible crack the branch broke. Thunder rumbled in the sky. Nightmare shuddered and wobbled backwards.
‘No!’ Lucy shouted. She rushed forward, but he was too quick, and before she could stop him she felt his claws around her throat.
‘If it’s not real,’ he said, his breathing ragged and uneven, his eyes mad and wide, ‘why do you want to defend it? Hm?’
He threw her down and reached for a second branch. He winced, biting down on his own tongue, and began to bend it, splintering the bark.
‘Please, no!’ screamed Lucy. ‘It’s real! It’s real! I get it! Just don’t hurt her!
Nightmare froze. He turned his face towards her. His wings rustled. He giggled and snapped his teeth again.
‘And so the lesson is learned,’ he said.
‘Don’t hurt her,’ said Lucy. She was crying now. She got to her feet and wrapped her hands around the tree. ‘Please. Her dreams. Don’t.’
For a second, the whole world was still. Then, slowly, Nightmare nodded.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Good. Another student learns the truth, and dreams get the respect they deserve.’
His wings flew out, throwing clouds of dust into the air.
‘I don’t think I shall see you again,’ he said. ‘Though I think, perhaps, that you shall see me, in the dark moments, and the long days, and when the shadows from the candle are just large enough to be monstrous. Wakey wakey, little Lucy. Time to go back to the real world. Ha!’
He spat again, like he was trying to get rid of a bad taste in his mouth, and then he beat his wings, and the whole world shook, and Lucy was falling through blackness and silence and terrible, freezing cold.
Henry Weaver sighed. He took out his handkerchief and cleaned his spectacles. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said. The doctor – a grim, graying man – cleared his throat before speaking. ‘She isn't sick in the medical sense. She has no fever, I assure you. She seems to be a perfectly fit young lady.’
‘But she barely sleeps! And she’s so … so distant.’
‘But that is her choice, is it not? She eats. She drinks. She seems to be scared of the dark, Mr. Weaver. She’s a child – perhaps her imagination is running a bit too wild.’
Lucy’s father laughed without smiling. The two men were standing in the corridor outside his daughter’s room. He was sure she could hear them, though that didn't seem to matter. It was two months, now – two months since these problems had started. His daughter seemed to be losing her mind. She was scared, but if they asked her why, if they tried to get close at all, she would laugh, and talk about flooded green fields, and then she cried, and pushed them away, and asked for more fire to stop the shadows growing.
‘Perhaps she has got too excited?’ said the doctor. ‘By something she read, or a story she heard?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Henry Weaver. He straightened his jacket. Neither man spoke. Somewhere, a clock ticked. Somewhere, a cat yowled. Behind the door, her face white, her eyes staring and cold, Lucy waited for her dreams to begin.
Nightmare, Eren Tales © Simon P. Clark 2014. All rights reserved.
Photography © Brandon Rechten 2014. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission
from the author or publisher is prohibited.