My name is Ezekiel Young and I am a nightmare salesman. It's a subtle business, one replete with psychological dangers, and not one that I would suggest you enter into lightly. I first learned of the trade through my uncle, Barnibus Von Gogh. He was a great bear of a man who was more enamored with the dark arts then anyone else I've ever met. He taught me (after I had paid a fair price) the way of buying dreams. That was why I came to him, only eighteen and oh-so-full of myself, to try and cash in on his shady workings. I thought it would be an easy life- one led by the strength of my cunning instead of my back.
I got my first lesson that very day. He told me that nothing in this world, his world especially, was free and that I would have to pay the price. Cost of apprenticeship into the dark arts is your very body. I was his slave, bound in contract, and only paid in information as he used me for all his base urges. It was a humiliating year and a day but perhaps almost worth the skills I acquired. Under his tutelage I learned many things. I learned things about poisons, mind-control, and getting what you want through any means necessary.
Yes, during my period of indenturement he showed me many things but the one that changed my life forever was when he showed me my first nightmare. He had talked of his business at the family estate, arguing with my father mainly, but I had never seen the fruits of his labor. That first day, after he savagely took me bent over his desk, he went to a very large and ornately carved cabinet in his study. He unlocked it with no manner of key that I saw but I heard the tiny clicks and clacks of many small devices keeping the cabinet shut. He swung open the doors with a flourish and looked very pleased with himself as I took in his collection. On the shelves, all on tiny individual cushions or metal stands, were what I took to be blown glass.
There were about thirty pieces, all would fit in my palm, but they varied greatly in color, shape, and delicacy. "Now," he said, "there are many ways to enjoy these dreams but being as this is your first time I think grandeur is best." He stroked his chin in an almost comical gesture of deep thought and then selected a lumpy green shape from the third shelf. I knew better than to speak any doubts. He'd slapped me once for that already after the contract had been signed. I simply did as he said. He told me to lay on the couch, so I did, and then he brought the figurine over to me along with a small silver ball-pein he picked up off of his desk blotter. "Breathe in the smoke." He said, and then smashed the green thing in his palm with the hammer. I breathed in.
I dreamt of the Gods of the Forests in all of their majesty and horror. There was no transition from wakefulness to dreaming- and indeed, no sense of unreality about the visions I received. I saw before my eyes beasts of patchwork design, divine chimera, whose only desire was to wreak their vengeance against mankind for the atrocities visited upon their charges. I could not tell if it was many Gods before me or one that was ever changing but I saw The Eye and it saw me.
There was a great white eye among the canopy of the trees. So wide and gargantuan was it that I first mistook it to be the sky. It's iris was the color of loam and moss but only a thin band around a pupil of unimaginable size. It slid into view behind the leaves and contracted. The gaze of such a thing is unknowable. It pinned me where I stood. I could only gaze back and wonder at my own helplessness. My ego, my so-called power and intelligence, were stripped from me. I was filled only with the knowledge of my continued existence as an act of mercy, or perhaps torture, at the behest of this behemoth.
I cried unto the heavens, "Release me! I can not bear it!" but I was not released. My body was tensed, my arms slung back, and I felt a physical pull upwards as if my heart might burst from my chest to appease The Eye. As if such a creature, with the hate of a thousand thousand tortured animals behind it, could ever be appeased.
The Eye, after what felt like a rise and fall of empires, finally slid it's horrible gaze away from me and I collapsed heavily into the moss at my feet. I was dimly aware, behind the screaming static of my thoughts, that a root was digging into my shoulder and that I had wet myself. My pants stuck to my thighs and the heavy smell of ammonia reached my nostrils. I was just an animal. No, worse than that, for no animal is as cruel to it's fellow creatures as man. I realized then the truth of man. We are but a blight. A curse of demons, fallen angels, and this is the rule of Hell.
I was so affected by the experience that after I was released into the world to make use of this myriad education I decided to pursue the nightmare trade. My first act of business was to remove my most ambitious competition, dear Uncle Barnibus. I would tell you it was quick and painless but I try never to lie about business. I indulged in some base urges of my own that night and secured an impressive client list. The depraved don't care who's supplying the filth as long as they can supply the goods- and that's my specialty: the acquisition of high-quality goods.
The very first nightmare I ever purchased was from one of those very clients. I had a small stock of my Uncle's acquisitions to peddle but I was eager to see my collection grow. I approached Malandra, a lady with interests in subtle but intensely disturbing dreams, with a very odd dream wherein the dreamer stares at an empty chair in an empty room for an exceedingly long time before finally looking down to see a knife in their clenched fist. She was, as I expected, quite taken with it and I traded her that and a lovely hand-made journal for one of her own dreams. It was too visceral for her tastes but I thought it rather charming.
I was sitting on this hideous antique couch. The colors woven into the fabric were lurid and strange. I was in the stuffiest room, I believe, ever to have existed. Old women sat around me on equally awful furniture and discussed taxidermy (in great detail) in quiet, tremulous voices. I wanted to leave desperately but I knew I couldn't- one of these women was my Great Aunt and she would be ever so angry with with me. It was then that I realized that I literally could not leave but I wasn't stuck due to familial obligation... Oh no, because somehow my pants and sleeves had been sewn to the couch while I was sitting there.
I jerked my arms around wildly to try and rip the new seams but they stayed strong. I was stomping my booted feet up and down in irregular beats like mis-firing pistons. I don't know how long I kept it up but no one seemed to notice my distress. I collapsed, panting, having essentially just had a violent seizure. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my forearm and sighed heavily. That was truly terrible. I looked at my arm, completely free to move, and felt instantly sick to my stomach. How had it come free? I looked down quickly and sure enough, none of my limbs were restrained at all. Perhaps it had only been a seizure?
"Auntie Tessa, I think something-" I looked over to her but all eight women in the room were staring at me in a shocked silence.
"Malandra," She said acidly, "You've sullied your riding pants and Lady Yvette's fine couch."
No one said anything. They all just looked at me- accusingly, hatefully. So, I looked down and a dark stain had spread across my crotch, thighs, and all of the couch around my bottom. "A-auntie, I... I'm sorry, I think I had a fit or something! I couldn't move!"
She bolted up out of her seat and strode across the room with an authority her long years should have denied her. In front of me she slapped me hard right across the face and several of the other ladies tittered. "Well, Malandra, that was a damn shameful thing to do in company." She slapped me again this time across the other cheek. "If you insist on being such a disgusting little bitch I'll disinherit you. Is that what you want, hm?" The giggles were coalescing into full-blown laughter now. "Do you want to be bereft as well as a filthy pant-wetting slut? Your cunny is too weak because of all that God-damned rutting you do with that wastrel you insist is your fiance."
The women weren't just laughing now but howling and slapping their thighs. Lady Yvette was so over-come with mirth that she slid out of her chair and onto the rug. "Give it to her, Tessa!" She crowed, "Tell her what we do to ungrateful little trollymogs!"
"We sew up their cunnies, don't we girls!" Screamed another.
Then someone I couldn't see handed Aunt Tessa a needle and thread.
I was rather pleased with it but could see why Malandra might find it too distressing to keep. It was years before I found a buyer for it but when I finally did it was well worth the wait. A politician from a very powerful nation gave me a brand new BMW and a bottle of rare wine for the dream and for my vow of silence. You see, he liked to put on silk panties and touch himself to dreams. He petted himself furiously to the humiliating dreams of powerful women. I imagine it is a dangerous, and expensive, fetish to have when your career relies solely on public opinion.
The most powerful dream in my stock I bought very recently, and quite cheaply too. That day I was doing a bit of what I like to call 'blind-fishing'. I go to little coffee shops, or cafes, or even libraries (I find that people who read have very vivid dreams). In these places it's easy to approach strangers and start a little dialogue. I broach an offer (always acting slightly embarrassed) for them to tell me about their dreams over a cup of coffee or small lunch- at my expense of course. I like to tell them that I'm doing research for a book, or a college thesis, and occasionally I even present it as simple morbid fascination. The dreams acquired this way aren't usually worth much but there is always the proverbial diamond in the rough.
On the day I found my diamond in the rough I happened to be at a coffee shop. I spotted my prey in line. He was young, probably only 17, and handsome but with that haggard look that can only come from bad sleep. I took out a notebook and pretended to be engrossed in it's contents while I walked straight into the boy's back. I let out a startled grunt and fell onto my hind-quarters. I was apologizing profusely and pretending to look frantically for my notes. He responded perfectly. He turned and offered me a hand. I saw another opportunity and pretended to lose my balance as he was pulling me up so I could fall against his slender chest. "I'm so sorry!" I stepped back quickly but he kept his hand on my arm.
"It's okay. Are you alright?" He looked around and saw my small leather-bound book on the ground right next to him. "Is this yours?" He picked it up to hand it to me and I made sure our fingers brushed.
"Oh, thank goodness, yes! That's all my research notes."
"Can I ask what the project is?"
He only looked mildly interested so I decided to play it coy a little longer. "Well, it's my thesis..." I silently thank the cosmos that I can still pass for twenty-three. "I'm thinking about doing it over-"
"Excuse me, sir, may I take your order now?"
Perfect. I step slightly in front of my new friend. "Here, let me pay for your coffee. It's the least I can do for trampling all over you. Then I'll tell you a little about my paper, yes?" I shot him a questioning glance and he shrugged then nodded. "Excellent. I'll have a small black coffee and whatever this lovely gentleman is having."
We sat down in some comfortable arm-chairs that were side-by-side in the corner and after a bit of small-talk (and a bit of flirting) I broached my offer. Tell me about your dreams, I said, and consider it a trade for the coffee- it would really help me out. He declined my offer but responded with one of his own; "I've been having this recurring nightmare but I don't really feel comfortable talking about it in public. My parents are out of town." He takes a sip of his mocha and gives me a long look. "Why don't you come over to my house where we can have some privacy?"
The rhythm of my heart almost doubled. "Oh, I couldn't inconvenience you..." I meet his eyes and quickly look away.
His hand slides over mine on the arm of the chair and when I look back he is leaning very close. He says then, very quietly, he says: "Perhaps there is something else you can give me for telling you about it?" I only nod.
His name, it turned out, was Scott Malone and I followed him to his house on foot. It was only a few blocks away and a lovely mid-century colonial at that. He took me inside of his house, his bedroom, and then himself. His price was passion and it was, as I said, cheaply given. He was young, handsome, and like a man in a desert offered a glass of water. He slaked his thirst, his lust, on my body for almost two hours before finally collapsing against me on his twin bed.
It was then, laying in the rosy light of dusk, that he told me of his dream. His naked body was pressed to mine and I stroked his hair as he gave me my crowning jewel. He spoke with passion, with terror, and I could feel the magic of the transaction taking root. Ownership of this very personal fear was being transferred and it was almost as intimate as the sharing of bodies that had preceded it. He spoke:
I'm sitting in English class. It's first period and I'm only half listening to Mrs. Trunsky talk about literary devices. I think she's explaining dues ex machina but I'm tired and can't be bothered to take notes. It seems dark in here today. I glance up and notice that several of the fluorescent bulbs were only flickering fitfully. That's odd, I think to myself, did they replace the ceiling tiles? The rectangular foam tiles I'm looking at are all a uniform dingy black. I'm pretty sure that they used to be white. I bet these black ones were just on sale. I look back down at my paper and at the non-sense doodles all over it. I seem to have drawn several stars and little imps cavorting about. It's kind of creepy looking, I think, and then notice one of the little imps appears to be eating of it's brethren. Another imp gazes up at me defiantly. Yea, too creepy. I turn the page.
It can't just be the new tiles. It is way to dim in here. I try to see out one of the windows on the other side of class but they're largely blocked by some kid I don't really know and Mrs. Trunksy's desk. There doesn't seem to be much light coming through. Maybe it's going to storm. I'm not very convinced or comforted by this thought. My eyes drift to the ceiling again and I can't help but shudder. I don't like these new black tiles. I don't like them at all. They look... dirty. I think there is rust smeared on them. No, there is definitely rust on the metal grid holding up the tiles. That doesn't seem right either. I could swear my school isn't this dilapidated.
I turn to the girl sitting next to me, it's Jenny Holmes I think, but when I tug on her sleeve the girl who turns to look back at me is my best friend Stacy. How did I forget that I sit by my best friend? Something is very wrong and I suddenly have the suspicion that it's me. I feel sort of sick- shaky. "Stacy- when did they replace the ceiling tiles?"
She blinks very slowly, owl-like (my mind whispers), "What? Jesus! Scott, your nose is bleeding!"
I bring my fingers to my nose, and yes, my lower face is hot and slick. I'm looking at my hand and it's trembling ever so slightly. There's something wrong. There's so much blood. My whole palm is covered in it. "Wha-what?" I look down and there is a glut of blood down my front. There's something wrong with me. I may, in fact, be sitting in a pool of my own blood. The crotch of my jeans is dark with it. It's not even my time of the month! I let out a high jittery laugh and turn to Stacy only she's just staring at me. She's just staring at me.
Her eyes seem flat and blank, maybe even dead. "Stacy..." It comes out a long moan. Maybe it's me that's dead. I shake my head and little drops of blood fly speckling my desk and Stacy's slack face. There is a noise now, small but persistent, underneath the low drone of Mrs. Trunksy's lecturing. Scrabbling. I look up slowly, my nosebleed temporarily forgotten, and it seems to be now that they ceiling is... what, shaking? No, trembling. Trembling as if it were a small child anxious to divulge some dark secret. This isn't good. Somehow I knew that soon little black hands with little dirty claws would start to come out from behind those tiles. I'd seen it before! I'd seen-
I'm in a dark hallway. It's filthy and so am I. My jeans are sticking to my legs. I don't really know why but I think I'm glad I can't remember. There is some limited ambient light but I'm not sure where it's coming from. A flashlight behind me seems likely. The walls are covered in very dark wooden paneling. In this narrow hallway, oh god it's so cramped, my shoulders are hitting both walls. I'm trying not to admit how claustrophobic I feel. There's plenty of air. There is plenty of air. The hall makes a sharp right and the carpet is getting noticeably darker- filthier. There are flakes of paneling, white powder from degrading sheet-rock , and random earthy debris like leaves and dead june beetles littering the carpet. Every step some of the debris crunches loudly under my feet.
More of the crunching noises are behind me but I'm not alarmed. The other survivors, I think, and then dismiss them because there is another sound on the stagnant air. A fell sound. It's a kind of scratching. I think it's the sound a fork would make scraped against paper... lots and lots of forks."What's that noise?" The voice is coming from the line of people following me. I turn quickly to look at them (a very scruffy group of four men and six women with nothing obvious in common) and someone else says; "It's them- they're scrabbling. They'll be here soon."
That noise is coming from the walls- it's coming from inside the walls. There is another sharp right just a few feet a head of me. I wonder briefly who designed this crazy place- there is a CRUNCH noise. Whatever it is (it might be the beams in the walls breaking) the whole place shakes with the force of it. "IT WANTS IN!" Someone behind me is screaming; "DEAR CHRISTING FUCK!" adds another voice. I dash back to see, to help, and near the back of the line (at the previous corner) a woman is sitting slumped on the carpet. I can see blood in her hair. She must have fallen and hit her head when the building shook. "Can she walk?" I ask frantically, "We have to keep moving!"
The man beside me grabs my shoulder and whispers; "It's in her brain."
"It's what?" I glance back at the woman. She looks like shit. Pale and slack. What did he mean by that? Did she have a stroke or something. "What's wrong with her?"
Everyone else is backing away from her. They're edging around her to continue down the hall. An older woman pushes me roughly to the side as she goes past; "We have to get out of this fucking building!" I ignore her and her hissed command. I crouch and extend my hand to shake the collapsed lady.My fingers are inches from her sweater when something growls. It is a very unpleasant and wet noise. You shouldn't talk with your mouth full. I can feel hysteric giggles just below the surface and I bite my tongue to quell them.
There is a crack in the wall near the far side of her head. She must have hit the wall pretty hard (I still don't quite get it, or don't want to, but I will). I lean in even closer and hear, very distinctly, the sound of sloppy open-mouthed chewing. Her hair is twitching, like there's a breeze, only there isn't any. The air is this awful place is still and hot and... those are little black fingers. There are little black fingers moving in her hair. Another loud BANG tears open the air and I scream and fling myself away from whatever horrible truth is hiding in that woman's skull.
I scramble to my feet and turn to run only everyone else is cowered near the other corner, pressed up against the opposite wall, and screaming. They are all screaming. It's like a horrible song but it's all too easy to see why they sing. There are small black hands with viscous looking tiny claws forcing their way out of the crack in the paneling at the corner. I stumble over, pushing at them, "Leave!" I scream, "GET OUT!", adding to the song. I look at the crack (helpless not to) and see one giant eye, hugely disproportionate to those tiny hands, press to the crack and then the darkness screams back.
The screeching, at least, seems to motivate the others and they burst forward down the next stretch of hallway. The woman who pushed me, Eliza Shitcunt I decide to name her, pushes one of the men into the crack to buy herself time. I sprint forward while the creatures are distracted and grab that bitch by the hair. "IF YOU EVER EVEN FUCKING THINK OF DOING SOMETHING LIKE THAT AGAIN I WILL KILL YOU MYSELF." Spittle is flying off my teeth and into her shocked and terrified face.
"Ar-are you crazy?" She flails weakly at me and tries to get away but I've got my fist wrapped too tightly in her nasty ratted-up hair.
I shake her. I use all my might to shake her fast and hard. Her face goes white and I can see I've got her full attention. "I just fucking might be but at least I'm not a cold-hearted cunt." I push her back towards her victim who is still screaming even as the wall-beasts devour him. I walk off then not caring if she decides to follow. This is a school of hard-knocks and Eliza Shitcunt just failed a test. I sprint down the hall, ignoring the walls as they shake and creak, and after running for what seems like ages I burst through a tiny doorway set into the end of the wall and into-
I burst out of a locker into the wide deserted main hall of my school. I don't know what happened to the other survivors. I take a few steps to the left and then change my mind and turn to the right. I think I can here footsteps thundering away in that direction. The lights are all blinking and stuttering here as well. I glance in a shadowy classroom as I run by and then come to a jerky stop. It's empty. Totally empty, but there's something not right about it. I take a few steps forward, glancing around cautiously, and when I'm almost to the door my mind finally gives me the answer.
Those aren't shadows. In the corners of the rooms and pooled around the legs of desks are piles of leathery tentacles. I can't see any sort of body anywhere. There are just... tentacles. I let out a sort of horrified grunt and they start to move. They're slithering, questing, and someone is chanting; "No. No. No. No. No." I don't even realize that it has to be me. I just take to my heels and run down the next hallway.
It's darker down this way but I could swear I can hear faint foot-steps. I want to call out desperately, to ask them to wait- to come back, but I'm afraid it will attract the beasts in the walls. There are several large pools of total darkness around some of the banks of lockers. I have a very strong feeling that I shouldn't venture into those shadows or, very likely, not-shadows. I skirt around the edge of one and hear a disturbing scuttling noise from the darkness. It sounds like crabs on glass, or maybe I should say, very large crabs on ceramic tile.
I'm just walking now, more like creeping, skulking down the hall trying to avoid detection. There is something near. The shadow pool at the next bank of lockers extends all the way across the hall. I turn back, but that shadow has grown too. Trapped. Trapped. Fuck, trapped, I'm trapped! I circle around frantically looking for something, anything, and I notice a door in between the two forbidding banks. It's an open section of wall with very thick plastic hanging down in wide strips. I don't remember there being a door like this at my school. I'd seen similar plastic curtain-ways at grocery stores... usually leading into very cold rooms. I step through and my heart sinks. Several feet in front of me, and just slightly to the right, is a large wooden cart- even the wheels are great carved slabs of wood. In the back, piled carelessly, are bodies. In the middle of the stack I see familiar ratted blonde hair. It must be Eliza although it's hard to tell since the mutilated corpse has no face. I'm just staring at the cart. I don't know where else to go. I notice that misguided Eliza has no arm either, just a bloody torn mess where her shoulder used to be.
I hear foot steps to the left and whirl in that direction. Someone is backing into the room through another door. I guess I should say something because whatever that thing is- it's no man. It has a lumpy misbegotten head on it's impossibly broad shoulders and appears to be naked except for some kind of thick and filthy apron. I think the apron is made of out some kind of leather but it's hard to tell. The creature itself seems to be made out of scarred and pitted leather. It isn't until I see what he's pulling that my paralysis breaks and dive into the cart of the dead.
I burrow under the top couple of bodies and try to breath through my mouth to ease the stink. He was pulling a wheelbarrow full of tools. Rusty and stained steel tools for cutting and rending, for breaking, and for smashing. He had hammers and saws. He had pincers and vices. He had mallets and chains. I'm shaking and my face is wet but with tears or blood I don't know. I can hear the thing moving around in lumbering shuffling foot steps. There are clanks and scrapes of the tools being distributed or arranged. I have no idea how I'm going to get out of this- maybe if he leaves the room again? Just then his steps quiet and I think maybe he has. I can sneak back out into the hall- but an incredibly strong and clammy hand closes around my ankle. I start to scream but deep down I know it's only what I deserve.
Scott finished and just lay next to me, almost panting, utterly spent. "Thank you," I whispered. "It was lovely." He gave me a strange look and I sighed. I knew he couldn't appreciate the beauty behind the terror. That's alright though, few can, especially the darkness of their own souls. Instead of pursuing this ill-fated topic I got up and fished deep into my coat pockets to pull out a tiny blue egg. I handed it to him and he took it, but still with a distrustful puzzled look. "It's a gift. A dream of beauty. Crack the egg and inhale the smoke before you go to sleep."
He looked down at the egg and finally smiled. "Is it some kind of drug?"
I chuckled. "Something like that, Scott. I have to go." I pulled on my clothes hastily- eager to be home and see what shape his dream would take.
"Can't you stay?"
I looked at him again, a sad and beautiful young boy, and my heart softened just a little. "No, but I'll leave you my card. If you want maybe I can teach you some things- useful skills if you will." I turned and walked out. I'm still not sure whether or not I want him to call. I want him again, his heat and his tears, but I also know that it's beauty and light that creature deserves not my treasures of the night.