The last echoes of the child’s scream faded away into the bustling metropolis of the city. While he screamed, the sounds of the traffic, the skyscrapers and the unspoken voices of the multitude drifted in and around him and did nothing to save him.
Cauchemar prepared himself for a second round. He needed to prove himself to be a good nightmare.
At least he had started by choosing the right victim. Children with wild imaginations were such good targets. They were so fragile, and so filled with fear that they could spontaneously generate the most horrible fantasies of their own. Cauchemar wove in and out of the recesses of the child’s mind, pulling out horrible secrets from the subconscious, absorbing all the violence and pain and anguish that the child’s mind had registered from his immediate environment. Cauchemar crafted them into shapes, characters and scenarios and let them wreak havoc upon the sleeping child’s eyes.
The screams became progressively louder. Very encouraging. Maybe this time, he would frighten out the very soul of the child.
“Stop,” said Karabasan, watching his protege at work. His command interrupted the continuity of Cauchemar’s work and the child woke up and wept into his pillows. Immediately, his parents and guardians rushed over to him, calming him, comforting him, telling him that it was just a bad dream.
Cauchemar watched in seething dismay as his victim wept into the arms of his mother. “Why did you stop me, Master?”
He almost had him. Almost. In a just few minutes, he could have scarred the child forever. But now, the dream was interrupted and no more could he claim another soul.
“You’ve been doing well,” noted Karabasan casually. A little too well, he wondered.
“Thank you, Master” bowed Cauchemar, confused and flattered at the same time. How could an incomplete task prove that he had done his job well? As long as the Master was satisfied, he was pleased.
“I think it’s time we take you to the next level,” said Karabasan, the older, deadlier vision.
Cauchemar paused to consider the consequences. He was no stranger to ambition, but then Karabasan had a reputation for escalating matter rather quickly. But then again, he had not been asked. It was a command. Subtle, but assertive. Nowhere had Cauchemar been given a choice.
“Come,” said Karabasan, deciding for Cauchemar. He pulled up a new portal to another world. “You’re going to find this interesting, I promise,” he grinned, somehow adding more evil to a face that embodied it. And Cauchemar was whisked away…
They appeared in a gloomy, forgotten lane. It was now surprisingly quiet, and appropriately horrible, just as the nature of their deeds should be. There was black muck that slithered along the drains and the road was a shabby city of grey.
“Where are we?” asked Cauchemar, arriving after his Master.
“Telling you would spoil the fun,” countered Karabasan. Cauchemar wondered if it was appropriate to press further for a response.
The sky was white, but as they moved into brighter regions, the environment blurred around them. They were still in the city, the skyscrapers were still there. But the environment convulsed and quivered often.
“I’m going to wait here,” said Karabasan pointedly, finding a sacrifical altar that sprouted from the middle of nowhere and sitting on it.
“Well, go on. Creativity counts.” he suggested to Cauchemar, gesturing over the dried black blood that coated it.
Cauchemar paused. This was a test. He had better not fail it.
He started with looking for a victim. For a while, he let his mind search for someone with passion, someone with secrets, someone who had something they were earnestly trying to run away from. He turned around to look at Karabasan, who wasn’t there anymore. The altar, the shrine, the cities had disappeared. Black grass sprouted from a grey forest instead. It grew in huge incoming waves and swept over the terrain, over running civilization, pushing out the remnants of sanity.
When Cauchemar finally realized what was going on, he couldn’t help but smile. Of course, Karabasan wasn’t going to let him find a victim. He was already in the mind of a victim.
Cauchemar waited until he had the victim’s attention. He had finally found it. He had found the victim’s subconscious. He was a man curled up on the center of the ground. Asleep and completely at Cauchemar’s mercy. As he watched the grass take over, random black vines sprouted over it, poisonously grouping the grass together, spawning into more hideous shapes.
Good, now he could begin weaving the images and characters.
He started with horror of death, and the fear that followed. Images and memories of death sprouted all around him. Titans of gore, grey blood dripping from their black fangs appeared from nowhere and sought to rise the man from his sleep. He awoke and gazed at them all around. But he did not register fear nor surprise. These were expected demons of his head. He yawned and went back to sleep. Cauchemar conjured up more blood and gore, each new phantasm taking on a more hideous role than another, and yet he was not afraid. His fearlessness seemed to breed from intimate familiarity with the subject.
Cauchemar was confused. For the first time ever, he had encountered a victim who was not afraid of death, not afraid of murder or crime or any form of violence. He had utilized every possible terror in his sleeve. Who was this victim, so unafraid? So corrupted by horror that he owned it as the brainchild of his own?
Karabasan appeared beside Cauchemar. “Making progress, are we?”
Cauchemar floundered. He did not want to fail this test. From having his last victim lost in residual nightmares, this one appeared to simply yawn and go back to sleep. Beyond a point, he wasn’t even roused.
“You can’t frighten a killer with death, because he already owns it from within,” Karabasan sniggered.
Right, or course! That would explain everything. Cauchemar cursed himself for not seeing the obvious. Well, it was an unfamiliar environment and this wasn’t a victim of Cauchemar’s own choosing, so he felt that he was allowed to make a few mistakes. But then again, he had been upgraded to this level for a reason.
Then the next target of his attention moved to guilt. If it wasn’t fear, it must be guilt. Cauchemar scanned for memories. As he searched for them, he realized that the victim had seen images of such evil in his waking life, that there was no nightmare that could hope to instill fear by conjuring up images of the same. More so, he relished those images. He had relived there motions several times, without once hesitating at the sight of violence again.
Guilt, guilt. He searched for guilt. Motivations as to his crimes would have worked as well. The closer Cauchemar penetrated to the victim’s fear, the more restless the victim seemed to become. Finally, he had some progress to show the non-present Karabasan.
It struck him as very odd that all the memories were black and white. From his mind, Cauchemar could see the entire city relived in black and white and shades of grey. A life without color. But wait, wait, from this panorama of grey, a shadow peeked out at the sleeping figure splaying restlessly in the middle of it all.
Day would be here soon. Cauchemar was running out of options.
Instead of waiting for her to come to him, he chased her. He found her memory watching the victim, and she flitted in and out of his grasp. Cauchemar chased, pushing her out of the woods, out of the weirdly morphing scenery that changed from the city skyline to an overrun forest and had shortly been a butcher’s warehouse. With every change in scenery, the victim flailed in his sleep as Cauchemar approached nearer. It was so easy to create nightmares in a mind that was so filled with them anyway. If there was any way he could automatically harness this spontaneity, he would be the terror of all nights very soon. But ambition follows later. First, the task at hand.
Cauchemar morphed into the girl and watched her as she approached the victim. She had a soft, sweet voice and the terms she used to address the victim were loving, almost endearing. The victim seemed to be sensitive to the sound of her voice. Cauchemar egged her on to the victim. She reached out a pale, fragile hand and touched him, rousing him instantly. He was already terrified.
It struck Cauchemar as somewhat odd that something so innocuous as a girl who addressed him lovingly could incite so much fear. When the entire spectra of horror had been splayed in full view, the victim hadn’t even flinched. Cauchemar had used up every single trick in his book to incite fear and failed. But this girl was the key.
Cauchemar waited for her to sprout into a monster or something more hideous. Perhaps she was something else . A phantasm in disguise, a horrible memory masked by a pretty face? But no, she stayed the way she was, harmless in comparison to any other terror that Cauchemar had conjured up or seen or dreamed of.
The victim was now literally shivering as she approached nearer. Cauchemar crept up behind the victim’s back to watch their physical interaction. She didn’t even do anything.
That was when Cauchemar noticed it. Color dripped from her lips. The only form of color in a world that was black, white and grey.
The victim was now driven to a wild screaming frenzy, desperately trying to escape that vision in his dreams, hopelessly thrashing for some form of assistance, any form. Interrupted for the second time in the night, Cauchemar waited between dimensions, dizzy and wondering what cataclysm had struck his victim. The victim awoke, just like the last one, but no comfort came to him as the time-pressed Cauchemar slowly sucked his soul out of him.
Karabasan was also leaving the mind environment. “Well done,” he beamed at Cauchemar, who was still tidying up his business. He pulled Cauchemar out into the real world and they watched as their victim woke up, picked up a loaded syringe lying beside him and pulled the plunger as deep into his arm as it could possibly go.
They watched as he died a quiet death.
Karabasan broke the silence. “You have passed the test. I’m very proud.”
“Evil doesn’t take on traditional forms always.”
“How does the memory of a harmless girl….?”
“….Not so harmless. Remember, she had color dripping from her lips.”
“To someone who sees the world in stark differentiations of black and white, the idea of color is something else entirely….You are still a young nightmare, Cauchemar. We have more souls to conquer,” said Karabasan indefinitely, shrugging his shoulder.
They watched the victim’s soul drift up into the stars. They were back in the city, surrounded by the pressure and heat of the metropolis. But now, the streets were empty. Even to the callous Cauchemar, they seemed a bit cold. Too cold.