The Nightmare People

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The girl with the cleaver hesitated...

Submitted: September 10, 2018

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Submitted: September 10, 2018

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The girl with the cleaver hesitated. Her arm was raised high and the large sharp blade quivered slightly in her small hand as she looked down at the creature by her feet.  It was insectine with a sharply jointed angular body and huge eyes that bulged out of its head in obvious terror.  It's long filamentary antennae waved franticly as it searched for any small flaw in the cables that held it.  She saw in those huge alien eyes a plea that it could never voice in any language she could understand.  No animal cry for reprieve or blind survival, those eyes held a deep intelligence no mere spark but a green inferno of thought and feeling that tried in the only way left to it to reach out to another sentient creature.  And Olivia hesitated.

“What’s wrong?  Her mother asked placing her hand on Olivia's shoulder.

“Mom could you make it look away from me?”

“ No dear” her mother said in an uncharacteristically gentle voice.  “You have to look it in the eye that's the whole point.”

“But..but.. I  why?  It's easier to kill from behind dad always said so....”  she trailed off as she saw the warmth begin to drain from her mother's eyes.  Olivia braced herself, but before her mother could speak her father's voice froze the words on her lips.

“Don't punish the child for being curious.” He had a calm almost lazy voice but it could cut through even the loudest room and always left behind it the silence of a winter's night.  “Come here Olivia.” he beckoned her over to where he sat, very still next to the thrashing creature’s legs’.  She skirted around it careful not to look at it's eyes and stood before her father the cleaver clutched loosely by her side.

“Tell me what you know about Alistair Been.”  His face was impassive as she stood up straight to answer.  She closed her eyes and recited.

“He lead the retaking of earth and founded the fleet.  He was the first of the nightmare people.”

“Very good dear, but can you tell me how he became the first of us?

“Well, he, he fought the Masters and founded the...”

“No dear, not the facts, why did he change, how did he change?”

She struggled to find an answer, she knew this, her teacher had told them the story, something about dreams and insomnia but she had been too busy making ugly faces at Mohammad in the row behind her to pay much attention.  Her father knew, he always knew those pale eyes saw through her as easily as though she were made of glass and she shivered under his gaze.  Her mother's anger was something to be endured her father's was something to be feared.  But the moment passed and he smiled at her all the menace gone as though it had never been.

“Come here Olivia let me tell you the story”

 

Alistair Been suffered bad dreams, ever since he was a boy.  Bad dreams were the way other people described them.  The same way they described people who obeyed different traffic laws than them or the milk in the fringe.  Bad, not good, but manageable, understandable, normal.  To him they weren't bad dreams they weren't even nightmares, the nightmares the other kids had were about wolves or falling or their mom's being hurt, those were nightmares.  Al had something else.  When he eventually fell asleep at night coaxed down by his mother's insistence or the little pills she crushed in his milk, he was consumed by terror.  There was no plot to his nights no structure, just the terror and a constant following presence.  He couldn’t bear the thought of what followed him.  He could never see it clearly only at the edge of his vision as he desperately ran through landscapes that were so horrible he couldn't bring himself to remember them in the morning.  But as horrible as the land was the thing that followed was infinitely worse. Sometimes he suspected that he was merely running on its palm as it watched ready to snatch him.  When he thought this he didn’t sleep for weeks.

When he was 20 years old and had moved away from his parents he tried to confront it.  A friend had been spouting pop psychology at him and had said sometime transformative between the fifth and sixth drink.

“So people are basically everyone in their dreams.  Like not only themselves but all the guys and vases and elevators and stuff and they have to come to terms with....”

His friend had trailed off because, well Al didn’t really care it was the first part that mattered.  He was everyone in his dreams.  So he tried it what the hell.  That night he collapsed into bed half unconscious before he hit the mattress and fell into his dream.  As he waded, as fast as he could, through the lake of human viscera that stretched to the horizon the terror slipped little slimy hands over him.  But inside the terror was something else, was it hope? It felt like a little light in the center of his chest not very bright but just enough to turn the darkness away.  The fear was still there but it was his fear he could subdue it and drive it from him.  So with a supreme effort he turned to face his monster.  

The light died. 

He had hoped. He had known, that the monster could not be as terrible to look at as it was to feel.  He had always thought, hoped? That the things that frighten us most are the things we know nothing about.  

He had been wrong.

Alister Bean ran from his nightmare.  The thing behind him had been both more human than he had feared and less than he had hoped.

He woke up screaming; and huddled in his bed the rest of the night wide and irrevocably awake.  

He kept himself awake for a week, drinking caffeine and watching movies all night before dragging himself off to work.  He tried to live with the fear. He couldn’t, the worst part was that he could never describe it, never get anyone else to understand his terror.  A week after it happened exhausted and emotionally fragile he climbed into bed and let himself fall asleep.  It was waiting for him.  No longer at his back it stood before him and began to stalk forward.  He snapped awake and that night as he cried to himself in the dark he swore that he would never go back.

He didn't, Alister Bean stopped sleeping.  He thought after the first month that he couldn't do it, that he would inevitably collapse but he didn't.  He got into a rhythm.  Every day he would shuffle through work and every night he would sit awake in his living room in front of the tv or on the internet.  He couldn't sleep so he wasn't really awake.  He fell into a fog so deep that he barely noticed the people around him.  He replaced the vivid terror of his dreams with a slow agonizing monotony.

He was so oblivious that he barely even noticed when The Masters came.  

They didn't call each other The masters but humans have the wrong number of tongues to pronounce their true name so after they had completed their three day war of domination the humans were forced to refer to them as masters.  It was an apt title.  The masters didn't really need human labor.  Their machines took care of their needs.  The Masters came to earth to relive their ancestors glorious past they were of the firm belief that only through dominating weaker species could they live full, virile, lives.  Most members of their species found them repulsive and backward, a cult of little significance.  But as long as they weren’t hurting anybody they could do what they wanted.  Humans weren’t considered anybody. 

Alister Bean worked in a mine ever since he was 29.  It was easier than ever to keep his wakeful schedule, the masters kept the mine brightly lit at all hours to encourage productivity and the hard monotonous labor made his body ache and his head pound.  When the other slaves he worked with stopped for the day to sleep in the brightly lit shaft he would lay down beside them and stare at the lights until he was ordered to rise again.  The woman next to him on the line thought he might be a zombie.  He felt like a zombie.  And he was dying.  He had already been sickly from lack of sleep before the mine, but the constant work and cold had, over the years, sapped him.  The Masters sometimes gave them injections to keep them fit and healthy but Alister Bean was dying anyway.  It was the only form of resistance his sleep deprived mind could conceive of.

And he needed to resist because deep down under the fog Alister Bean hated the masters.  He hated them as much as any human being on earth and there were some who had lost much more than he ever had.  He wasn't sure why he hated them so much.  Maybe it was the friends on the line he’d seen beaten to death on a whim.  Maybe it was the humans who had fallen because of starvation or overwork or their organs failing.  Maybe it was the bodies of the dead piled carelessly against the walls to rot.  But deep down he feared that it was because the world they were creating looked more and more like his nightmares every day.  He hated the masters so much because they were taking away the only refuge he had from his dreams.  Until the only thing he still feared about his dreams was the presence.  Maybe that’s why he did it? 

In the middle of a shift a new master came.  He was tall and strong with dark red feathers in his rough and a knife in his hands.  He walked down the line watching as they worked and occasionally, casually, flicking out his arm and cutting the throat of a worker.  They would collapse in silent spasms and die clutching the blood as though that might stop it.  He was lecturing the Masters that were walking with him.  Alister couldn't understand a word of the master’s language but he could read their body language.  It was an important survival skill in the mines.  And this one was extremely self satisfied.  Alister clenched his fists.  A ripple of fear passed down the line.  The Master got closer, his arm flicked out more often.  People began to run.  Alister stayed.  The guards, humans who had been elevated to watch over their fellows tried to force the terrified workers to stop running.  They were trampled.  The Masters were laughing and pointing.  The new one grabbed a human the woman who sometimes sang as she worked and cut her throat.  Alistair began to walk toward them.  The fog still clung to him he couldn't think straight but the anger was so strong that nothing mattered.  He was half inside the mine and half in one of the hellscapes from his dreams.  He wanted to destroy more than he had ever wanted anything else in his life and nothing was going to stop him. He charged the Masters.  All the rage and strength he had built up poured out of him as he charged, nothing could stop him, he felt it.  

The Masters didn't even bother killing him.  One of them fired a blackout round into his chest casually as though he were shooting at targets while having an interesting conversation.  Alastair fell, hard, and even before he hit the ground he was asleep.  More deeply asleep then he had ever been in his life.

He instantly fell into his dream. It was as if he had never left and as though he had been gone a thousand years.  He was in the mine around him everyone he had known for the last few years lay dead joined by children he had known in school, his parents, his co workers every face he could remember from his short addled life.  Standing on top of the pile of the dead was the presence made flesh, he felt the terror grip him more powerfully than it ever had before and he desperately tried to escape from the dream.  Nothing worked all the long honed skills for keeping himself awake failed him.  He couldn't escape.  He couldn't run.  He didn't want to run.  The nightmare came closer.  He deserved this he was useless.  All the power he had ever had all the rage and the courage and the iron will to stay awake had gone into that charge and he had been brushed aside like nothing.  Who was this weak sad little coward on the floor of the cave too afraid to even face his own dreams.

He separated from his body in the dream.  He saw himself weak emaciated weeping on the floor the greatest efforts of his life spent for less than nothing and he saw his nightmare.  Even outside his body he feared it feared it more than anything more even than the Masters. 

The only thing worse than them...It came to him.  

The only thing worse than the Masters. 

And in that instant he gave into the monster at his back.  He allowed it to take him allowed it to consume him,

no,

he was the monster.  

In the cave of his dreams the nightmare that had been Alistare Bean ate the annoying human body that had run from it for so long.  He tore away the hated face with strong jaws and with every bite he felt the weakness and lethargy leave him.  When he was done eating he was alone an incomprehensibly terrifying monster in a cave of the dead.  Finally, he smiled, his needle teeth gleaming, he was alone, he was everyone in his dreams.

He awoke for the first time in years.  Around him other people were stirring but not many and the rest lay far too still.  He drew in a long deep breath and smelled the Masters on the air.  He had spent every sleeping hour of his life hunting he knew exactly what to do.  The first of the nightmare people stood slowly in the shaft of the mine.  Sniffed the air once more, and sprinted silently down the shaft toward his prey.  

 

Olivia's father stood and stretched.  

“So that's the story.”

“What happened next?  Did he get the masters?”

“Oh, yes, he hunted them all down.  slaughtered them like animals men woman and little children.  And after he was done he taught the other humans how to become nightmare people.  Some couldn't or wouldn't and they were left behind when our ancestors took the Master’s ships, but you should know all this.  The important thing is how he became the first of us. 

Now, Olivia enter your nightmare”

She knew how of course, they had been teaching it since kindergarten.  All she had to do was close her eyes and she was there, as easy as falling.  It was a terrifying place full of the sounds of screaming and her parent’s cold eyes looking down on her as she ran through the dark.  The monster came after her, whispering, gliding silently on the floor except for the occasional sound of metal sliding on metal.

“Now” her mother said her voice booming through Olivia’s nightmare.  “turn and face it”

She did.  It was worse than anything, worse than her teacher's screaming worse than the fights they encouraged in school.  Worse even than her mother's rage or her father's cold cruelty.  She wanted to run but she knew she couldn't she could never move again as her nightmare approached.

“Now Olivia, remember what I told you, you are the nightmare as much as the little girl.”

Some part of her still fought against it some part of her rejected the very notion that she could be something so horrible, but she had been trained for this.  Trained without even fully realizing what she was being taught to do.  She separated herself from the little girl on the floor the weak cowering thing that couldn't even run and allowed herself to become the nightmare.  It was both the easiest and hardest thing she had ever done. 

Before her lay her pray huddled on the floor trying not to look at her.  Olivia the nightmare smiled flexing her long fingers as she prepared to destroy this week little creature that polluted her home.  She pounced as fast as thought and grabbed the little girl around the throat she pulled back her other arm ready to rip the heart right out of the girl's chest and tilted her face up.  The Nightmare stopped, deep in those green eyes was a spark of defiance, eyes that had just been hers. 

For a split second Olivia was truly both, the nightmare preparing to kill and the little girl staring death in the face.  Olivia the nightmare put down the little girl.  They stared at each other for a moment that lasted centuries.  Then as fast as thought the nightmare drew a circle in the dirt around the little girl.

“Hide in here, don’t let anyone find you” the monster said it didn't even notice that those were its first words. The last thing Olivia the nightmare saw before she woke up was the little girl standing in the circle and giving her a pale frightened smile.

Olivia awoke to a world made new, for the first time she felt her own strength, she could sense every creature for miles around as the cool air of the cave washed over her. She smiled her predatory smile up at her parents, her father smiled back.

Smiled back and handed her the cleaver.

This time she didn't hesitate.  She looked the creature right in the eye as she brought down the blade again and again on its head until the green fire went out of its eyes and its blood covered her hands and arms.  It was incredible; she had never felt so alive as when she hacked away the other creature’s life.  And when her thin arms became tired and the creature on the floor was unrecognizable she realized she had been laughing with wild abandon her high musical voice made ugly by the effort of killing.  

She was weak and shaky as her parents led her out of the cave and into their ship.  As soon as she was aboard she stumbled to her cabin.  There she slept, and Olivia dreamed of a sad little girl in a circle of light who held her and told her it was all going to be ok.  

 

The nightmare child smiled as she slept, it was a very good dream.

 


© Copyright 2018 Benjamin M Glatt. All rights reserved.

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