Earworm: Part 66 — Figment

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 65 — The Gargoyles

They were streaks of gray lightning. Two holding her arms on either side of her. Another behind her, holding her head with splayed, clawed hands, forcing her to watch as the final creature stalked toward her. The final gargoyle’s face closing in as if for a passionate kiss. Hope closed her eyes, awaiting the jaws to sever her flesh and grind her bones.

Oh, God, please help me.

But then there came an explosive crash.

Hope opened her eyes, finding that the gargoyle before her was now a shattered pile of stone pieces. A man stood over the broken gargoyle. Hope shook her head, trying to make sense of what was before her. But as her mind grasped for an explanation, the gargoyles at her sides released her and pounced at her rescuer.

The man caught one gargoyle like a ballet dancer receiving a leaping ballerina, and he tossed it over his head, shattering it into granite chunks at his feet. The other gargoyle vaulted onto the man’s back, wrapping its arms around his throat, its wings waving frantically as the man tried bucking it off. The man lowered his shoulder and the creature toppled over his head. The creature slamming onto the floor, splitting into sections—its legs running in circles, arms clawing at the floor, its wings flapping in fluttering confusion, its yelping, decapitated head rolling across the flagstone.

When the man turned to face Hope, she saw the strong, handsome features of her father. Not the eyeless corpse of William’s nightmares, but the vibrant, loving man from her memories. “Wake up, Hope,” her father called to her. “It’s a dream. Wake up.”

The final gargoyle released Hope, and she fell to the floor. “Daddy?” Hope said in a soft, detached voice. She then looked at William. William looking as if being confronted with someone he thought he’d long since murdered, and Hope realized, probably at the same moment William did, that her father was not an image William had called into the dream.

“No, you can’t be here,” William said.

“Hope,” her father said, “you’re stronger than he is, wake up.”

“Shut up,” William said like a child in the throes of a tantrum. “You’re nothing but a… fucking figment. Get out of my castle.”

“Hope’s castle,” Hope’s father said. And the castle’s stone walls returned to the gold of their former etched patterns. The flagstone floor bleaching to a smooth marble field. And beside William, the final stone gargoyle shrank into a gold cherub.

“No,” William said, his eyes shut tight, his hands balled into fists. “The castle is mine.”

A hand rose from the marble floor—like a King Kong sized hand of Michelangelo’s David—capturing Hope’s father in its grasp.

“Daddy,” Hope cried.

“Hope. Wake up,” her father said, struggling in the hand’s grip.

“It’s all mine,” William shouted as the toddler-sized cherub grew to a seven foot giant. Its body thickened with rippling, gold muscles. Feathered wings reaching from its back in a ten-foot span.

William closed his eyes, as if fighting off dizziness, and Hope noticed a ripple distort the castle’s walls. William opened his eyes again. His eyes filled with a cocktail of hurt, confusion, panic. “Hope, why are you doing this?”

“Let me go, William.”

“Why did you pretend to like me?”

“William, you can’t make me stay.”

“But I’m the only person that can give you what you want. I’m the only one that can give you your father. Do you really want to lose him again?”

“He’s been dead for six years, William. He never really came back.”

“Then who’s that?” William shouted, pointing at her father.

“That’s a cruel joke from a sick mind. Like you said, he’s a figment.”

The winged creature approached Hope’s father. William saying, “You know, I can have your father killed for you over and over again, every night for the rest of your life.” The creature lunged at Hope’s father.

“No,” Hope screamed, stepping forward. She felt the moon jewel bounce against her breast. The same moon William asked Hope to believe in and bestowed upon her, the same object that carried into each new dream. She yanked it from her neck, snapping the thread of stars. “William,” she cried, holding the moon over her head, “You take your moon and stars and you can shove them.” She riffled the moon at William.

With a flash of light and report of shattering glass, the moon disappeared at William’s feet, leaving a tiny hole about the size of a golf ball in the marble floor. The marble around the hole began to twist, drawn like water down a drain. The gold walls creaking and groaning, stretching, reaching in a slow, orbiting swirl, their gold edges running onto the floor. The hand imprisoning Hope’s father became smoke. The winged creature burst into gold dust and disappeared like sun-drenched mist.

“No,” William cried, scampering toward Hope, but Hope’s father pulled him back. Their feet constricting into the tiny hole. William screeching as his ankles and shins collapsed into the chasm.

Hope’s father called, “Hope, wake up,” as he and William continued sinking into the hole. William writhing and screaming, his eyes filling with terror, his neck twisting and collapsing into the hole. Hope’s father disappeared into the floor. William made a final, futile attempt at escape, letting out a scream of anguish. The scream cut short as the floor swallowed him forever.

The floor was now mostly etched gold and the mural ran onto the walls in stretching warped streaks. Hope slid toward the hole as it finished off the last of the marble and pulled the rest of the castle hungrily toward it. She shut her eyes. William was exorcised from her mind—the animal in her head expelled—yet the hole still drew her toward it. She strained her body, her heart feeling as if being yanked through her chest. She anticipated the horror of being crushed and sucked into everlasting darkness, and she screamed with one final tug at her soul, leaping, screeching, from her bed.

The bedroom’s door crashed open, light from the hall spilling in through the doorway and revealing Hope like a lone figure in a stage’s spotlight, hair in frenzied tangles, eyes ringed blue, mouth hanging with quivering lips.

“Hope,” her mother screamed—in a tone far exceeding that’s it—and she rushed to her daughter’s side, taking Hope’s face in her hands. “For God’s sake,” she screamed, “What is wrong with you?”

Hope didn’t answer as her exhausted, ringed eyes searched her mother’s face.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 67 — Epilogue

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Earworm: Part 65 — The Gargoyles

Continued from: Earworm: Part 64 — Into the Heart of Horror

As Hope ran through the castle’s main hall, she noticed two things. One: William’s grip on her mind was tightening like an out-going anchor line around the ankle of an unsuspecting sailor. And two: something was happening to the interior of the castle. The gold running out of the hall like liquid, the marble becoming flagstone blocks, the walls becoming the dark texture of granite. The ceiling’s moving mural became grotesque scenes of suffering and misery, and encircling it, the gold cherubim were now four, stone gargoyles. Their demonic heads turned to watch Hope run past them, their sneering mouths revealing caverns of stone teeth.

Hope ran for the castle’s front doors, trying to escape what was once her childhood solace. She reached for the doors’ wrought iron rings to heave them open. The wooden doors warped and twisted, carved dragon faces lunging from each door’s surface. The dragon faces reaching for Hope like attack dogs straining against leashes. Hope scurried back and stumbled to the floor. Climbing to her feet, she looked back at William. William standing in the center of the castle’s main hall, watching her like a child watching the futile efforts of a bug in a jar. That look enraged Hope, and she stormed toward him, wanting to smash that expression right off his face. Her bare feet pounded on the flagstone floor, the lunar jewel swung on its chain of stars.

“William,” she shouted, “that’s it. If you don’t let me go right now, I’m going to…” She stopped.

William was looking up, as if admiring a cloud formation, and it was the casualness of his look that froze her.

Hope heard the grinding, cracking sound of stone against stone. She followed William’s gaze to the ceiling. The gargoyles were stretching like cats waking from a nap. Then, with quick, heaving twitches, they freed their bodies from their perches. The four gargoyles dropping to the floor, landing, crouched, their wings spreading open to their full span. As the creatures rose from their crouches, Hope saw their talons and their chiseled, wiry muscles, their devil tails darting like barbed whips, their mouths gorged with teeth. Their movements had a deliberate quickness—stalking, yet explosive—and when they rose onto their back haunches—about five-feet tall at full height—they stood tensed, coiled, ready to pounce.

William stepped in front of the gargoyles. Panic was in his voice. “Hope, please, stop this,” he said, holding his hands at his sides and closing his eyes. “Just listen to me.”

“I hate you.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“The hell I don’t.”

“Hope, stop, our love can…”

“I don’t love you,” Hope screamed.

“How can you say that? Don’t you remember our times here in the castle? You don’t just walk away from someone you shared this much with.”

“William,” Hope said, her voice trembling, “none of it was real.”

“What’re you talking about? Look around you. This…”

Hope had had it. It really was “it.” She felt as if her nerves were now live wires jumping and darting out of control, and she leapt forward, screaming, “Let me go,” landing a punch across the tip of William’s chin. But before she could throw a second punch, or the several that would have followed if she had had the chance, the gargoyles appeared before her with blinding speed. The gargoyles hissing, their teeth exposed in crazed turmoil.

Hope stepped back, her eyes darting onto each gargoyle. William was crouched to the floor, his hands covering his face, his shoulders heaving. With what little cognition one can hold onto in such a moment of terror and panic, Hope chose to take her chances with the front doors, and she sprinted for the castle’s entrance.

A gargoyle streaked past her, running on all fours in the graceful, powerful gait of a cheetah. It then cut in a frightfully beautiful motion to face her, and Hope froze in her tracks. The thing backed her away from the doors with its empty, black eyes, its mouth full of razors and knives, its wings rising from its back. It hissed, and its companions behind Hope answered its call in a hellish chorus. “It’s not real,” Hope murmured, but her focus was on the gargoyle’s dagger teeth and how they would sink into her flesh, piercing and tearing. Maybe the dream wasn’t real, but could her sleeping mind endure being eaten alive?

She ran for one of the sweeping stairways, hoping to find somewhere to hide. Almost tripping on the first riser, she recovered her balance and bounded up the steps. But something stopped her as she reached the first landing. An echoing, wailing screech splitting the castle’s hall. Hope looked down to see a gargoyle standing at the foot of the stairs. It flexed its wings and leapt into the air, flying toward the ceiling. Then it folded its wings and, unleashing another screech, swooped down toward Hope.

Hope turned to run up the stairs, but this time she did trip, splaying on the granite steps. The gargoyle snatched her up, as a raptor snatches a mouse, Hope hanging from the thing’s clutches, limp and defeated as the gargoyle descended to the floor. The other gargoyles gathered like baby birds for a feeding. “It’s not real,” Hope said as her feet found the floor and the gargoyle released her.

William stepped between Hope and the gargoyles. “Hope, please, I can’t really control them,” he said, nodding over his shoulder at the creatures gathering around them. “Please, just listen to…”

Hope spat in his face.

William’s head darted back, his hand going to the wad of spit that crawled down his cheek like a slug. He wiped it away. “Hope.” His voice trembled. “Look, I just want to go back to the way we were.”

“We weren’t anything.”

“Hope.” William tried to meet her eyes like a parent explaining punishment to a child. “Let’s just start over. You’ll see, it’ll be great. I can give you anything. We’ll just start over, okay? So… hi, I’m William Knight.” He offered his hand to be shaken.

Hope swatted at his face. And the gargoyles were upon her.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 66 — Figment

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Earworm: Part 64 — Into the Heart of Horror

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 63 — Frenzy

William couldn’t believe she’d done it. And now he felt his thoughts and emotions running away from him. Something taking over in him. Anger hijacking control of his mind, and where it was taking him, he didn’t quite know. He only knew that he had been in control of this situation a moment ago. Literally having Joel underfoot. Joel being little more than a doormat at that point, the corpse and python having taken any fight Joel might have had left in him. And as far as William was concerned, Hope’s screams for Joel to wake up might as well have been the useless cheers she was so good at. Ra-ra, Joel, he’s our man, if he can’t wake up, no one can. It had been a beautiful irony attacking the real Joel Fitch with the same corpse that attacked Joel in Hope’s prior dreams. And the python was an extra nice touch. Joel’s latent childhood fears even providing the thing’s face and yellow eyes. But it was the rats William liked most. William pulled that fear from the deepest depths of Joel’s subconscious, digging and prying into Joel’s mind like the great and terrible Oz searching his bag of tricks. He opened the fabric of the dream—a difficult task, holding two minds at once—and there they were, a wave of squirming rats flowing onto Joel like a tsunami.

William had felt a bit dizzy—struggling to hold the illusion together—and he feared for a moment that he might lose Joel, or that the big oaf would at least be able to buck William off of him. But William shook off the dizziness and focused on the battalion of teeth and fur as the rodents gnashed and gnawed, the football star flailing comically. William thinking, Still think you and your buddies are gonna mess with me? How about your buddy Guard? He want to challenge me in here? But then something tapped him on his left shoulder.

He turned but saw nothing there. Then, turning to his right, he saw Hope, her mouth determined, eyes hateful, arm cocked with a fist like a wrecking ball. And that’s when she did it. She let that fist go, snapping back William’s head. And in the tug-of-war over Joel’s mind, William’s grip loosened and Joel gave one final jerk for freedom.

Joel disappeared beneath the carpet of rats. The rats scurrying about, confused and disoriented, searching for their victim until their dull, gray color faded to a polished, shiny white as they melted into the marble floor.

William touched his chin where Hope’s fist had connected. Hope screaming, “You freak.” The novelty of hearing such hatred spew from her made the words even that much more hurtful. She lunged forward and pushed William onto the floor.

A jolt of pain ran through his spine, his teeth rattling with an “Umf.” And as he watched Hope run off through the castle, William felt two things. One: with Joel gone, his grip on Hope was tightening. And two: he was losing control of the castle’s landscape, it was changing into something else, and Hope was running deeper into the heart of it.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 65 — The Gargoyles

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Earworm: Part 63 — Frenzy

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 62 — Face Off

Joel fought for breath, but it came in sharp, biting hitches. Rising to his hands and knees, gasping, he choked on a painful cough. He once cracked a rib playing football and the stabbing in his side was reminiscent of that injury. Can you really break a rib while dreaming? he thought. But with numb uncertainty, Joel questioned if this really was a dream. And with numb uncertainty, an even more pressing question arose in his mind. What just threw him across the room?

Staggering to his feet, Joel turned to see a decaying corpse standing before him. Rotting flesh dangling from its bones, a gaping wound slashed through its throat.

Joel clenched his fist, his arm winding back, and when the thing was upon him, Joel threw his hardest punch. He expected the punch to be like those in his usual dreams—feeling as if punching through a giant rubber band—but his punch was a hammer and on target. His fist burying into the open gash of the thing’s neck, Joel feeling warm, damp rot, as if a diseased mouth had sucked in his hand. Joel struggled against the enveloping tissue with a sickening slurping sound, trying to free his hand, but the thing was changing. Its body lengthening and smoothing into the spotted, brown scales of a serpent. It wrapped its tail around Joel and dropped him to the floor with a thud. Joel looked up to see the snake’s head hovering above him, and with a nauseating drop of his stomach, he recognized the incarnation of a childhood nightmare. Above him was the face he imagined for the monster in the pipe—the one he and Guard had set out to exterminate years ago. Its yellow eyes were that of a cat, its pupils focusing into two thin slits, its tongue darting from its mouth, and its constricting coils forced Joel to once again battle for breath.

Hope was screaming, “Joel, wake up. Wake up, Joel.”

Joel glanced up at her with pleading eyes—pleading not for rescue or help, but for an explanation. He tried swallowing air, looking like a fish on a dock, and he tried to free himself, but with each pull he made, the coils constricted. He felt the same sensation in his head, as if his mind pulled on a taught rope, but the more his mind yanked, the more tension reeled him in. But what was doing the reeling?

“Joel. Wake up. You’re dreaming,” Hope screamed.

Joel looked into the slit pupils of the creature he once tried to incinerate with a makeshift flame thrower, and he said, “You’re not real.”

The snake hissed, revealing long, needle fangs. But instead of sinking the fangs into Joel’s flesh, the thing released him and melted into the floor, fading into the marble. Joel gasped, trying to get to his hands and knees, but William jumped, landing with two feet onto Joel’s back. Joel made a futile, airless yelp and collapsed to the floor.

“I’m real, Joel,” William said. “We’re playing by my rules now, tough guy. No volleyballs to save you here.” It didn’t sound like William, his words the frantic truculence of someone losing control. “C’mon, what’s next?” William called down at him.

Joel’s heartbeat knocked on the floor. Smooth marble against his cheek. He felt the weight of William’s feet pinning him down. He heard Hope’s shouts. He also heard, with his ear pressed against the floor, tiny vibrations traveling along the marble surface. Joel groaned, raising his head.

Hope stood a few yards away, looking down at Joel with desperate determination. “It’s not real. Joel, wake up,” she said.

But the feet standing on his back and the pain running through his body felt real enough, and he noticed something flowing down one of the stairways that flanked the castle’s hall. Coming from the far recesses of the castle was a wave of writhing, gray forms flowing like solidified swamp gas across the marble floor. And with those gray forms came a strange, squealing, squeaking, and a padding rhythm like tiny, charging horses.

Hope turned to see what was rushing toward them.

What is that? Joel thought.

Hope faced him again with a new look of urgency in her eyes. She began shouting in panicked screeches, “Joel, wake up. Wake up, now.” And as she hollered, Joel noticed something about the gray wave as it swept along the floor, over Hope’s bare feet, and charged toward him. In that writhing mass, Joel recognized his worst fear. Tiny, glowing eyes.

Rats swept upon him, vicious, growling squeaks engulfing him, tiny claws scratching, needle teeth snipping and tugging. Joel thrashed like a man trying to swim in a desert mirage, pinned in a sea of pain and horror as the tempest of rodents bit at his hands and arms and legs and feet and face. Joel crying, “Nooooo.”

And then it stopped.

The rats’ feeding frenzy no longer engulfed him. The rodents’ squealing, Hope’s screaming, all gone. Joel sat up in his bed, his breath heavy. He searched his room’s shadows, awaiting something to crawl from the darkness. But there was only the silent night. He still felt the ghost of biting, physical pain following him out of sleep and he licked his stinging lip. It tasted of copper wetness. He ran his fingers across his chin. they slid away in a greasy smear. He snapped on his light and found his bed’s sheets soaked in a crimson wash of blood. Joel Fitch then began to scream like he screamed in a drainpipe so many years ago.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 64 — Into the Heart of Horror

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