Plaything

You close your eyes and try to shut out the cold, sterile light of the room. Every movement is stiff, painful and unnatural. You are sick of waking up. All you want to do is roll over and die. Even death is a privilege that you are denied.

“You can’t die,” says the familiar gleeful voice in your ear.

The voice confirms her presence. She giggles at your feeble attempts to fight the frayed sheet off. That singular sheet was supposed to be your sole defense against the snow. Just as how this room was supposed to be your defense from her. The stray threads of the cover clings to you, trying to comfort you, to embrace you. It feels like they are suffocating you.

The little girl laughs when you wince to sit up. “You look tired and ugly!”

She gloats as she skips around in front of the bunker. She personifies joy. She stares at your charred, scarred, wounded body, in fascination, almost as if intrigued by the depth cast by the shadows. She bobs up in front of you, her singsong voice echoes off the cold, brutal walls.

“Is that a new one?” she asks, reaching out for a particularly deep gash on your shoulder.

You shrink from her image. From the touch of her soft, small hands. You cannot bear to acknowledge her presence. Almost as if in empathy, the wounds begin to hurt all over again. She is surprised to see you back away from her.

“You’re scared of me?!” asks the little girl, barely taller than your knee. She finds this amusing, as she does about everything about you. You cannot help but suppress an involuntary pang of terror as you hear her innocent, childish laugh. The laughter echoes around the room. Maybe it’s just you, or maybe it sounds louder than the last time. You cannot deny the truth to yourself. You are scared of her. She haunts every living memory and every dream that plagues you.

But this emotion, is it fear? No. Not just fear. It’s awe as well. Overwhelming awe. You have been reduced to her plaything. She laughs at you. She mocks you. She controls you. Her innocent face knows every thought in your head. She manipulates you in ways that are so subtle, so insidious that you are torn between wondering if you were listening to her or acting out of your own volition. Of course, you’re scared. Wouldn’t anyone be if they had to acknowledge the absolute and complete loss of self-control? You have long since surrendered the right to live, especially when confronted with the intensity of the power she wields over you.

“Come on,” she says,perched at the edge of your cot,” let’s play one of your drawing games.”

Your body protests. But it protests in vain. Your aching, throbbing hands automatically pick up a sharp, jagged edge of a stone lying at the corner of your room. Your back hurts violently as you stoop over, on your unbending knees on the floor. Even on your knees, you tower over her. Your eyes water as she holds your gaze.

Then the cramps come, and all the scars hurt and your body registers its displeasure by forcing you to collapse. It’s a struggle. It always has been. You pick yourself up until you are back on your haunches. It’s a wonder how you manage to live from one moment to the next. But you do, don’t you? If this can be called living?

Your hand marks out a large, smooth ellipse on the floor with the sharper edge of the stone. It is a practiced movement. A closer scrutiny of the floor proves that the ellipses and circles of previous games are already caked with years of dirt. How many times have you done this before?

“Now, fill it with pictures of your life,” says the little girl, sounding more authoritative than her age betrayed her to be.

It is a command. Not a request. You close your eyes for a moment, wishing this world, and this girl would just go away and maybe you would open them up to some infinite ocean of darkness. Maybe that would have sounded terrifying in any other context. But the void is soothing. The nothingness would save your soul from bearing any more scars of this world.

“Tell me the story,” she giggles, reverting back to an adorable child.

You try to ignore the cold pit of fear in your chest. No! She cannot be doing this to you! Your body and soul urge you to defy her power. Your tired eyes try to focus on her bright image, staring at her. Your voice doesn’t have much to go on. Why does she keep asking more from your broken soul? You try to tell her that you can’t play her games anymore. You don’t want to play her games anymore. The wheezes and the coughing are incomprehensible, and they crumble to silence in the dust.

“What happened? Why aren’t you playing?” asks her voice, louder than the truth of reality, itself.

You must resist. Hold strong, with whatever you have. You cannot let this go. Your stories are all you have of yourself. You cannot relinquish them without a fight. Even if this struggle leads you onto death, sweet death, you cannot let go of them. They are your last anchor.

She senses your pathetic attempt to acquire self-control. Anybody else would think that a child liker her would burst into tears or throw a tantrum. She merely smiles. It is sneering, derisive, contemptuous. Strangely enough, it looks cute on her, as she stares back you and says, “Play.”

Your fear is too strong. It takes you hostage and forces you to behave. You have failed yourself, again. Your strength must not dwindle. You must go on. Your hand continues to fill the ellipse with lines and shapes. Your tortured throat must narrate the story of your life. Reliving the entirety of your once wholesome experience in the shadows of hoarse words…

You don’t remember when the game was over, or when she was gone or when the cruel floor had been colder, or when the walls had shrunk so much around you. You are sprawled on the floor, wracked with some unknown agony, so real and yet, so intangible, that you feel a little bit more of your soul give up inside. Your body is devastated.

But, there is a silence. Your brain wants to soak it in, drown itself in this fragment of an eternal, soothing silence. Random thoughts, which had never before resurfaced, flit through. Thoughts of a normal life. Breakfast. Pancakes. They used to smell so warm, you know? So warm. Like colors, like the reds and oranges of an existence passed by. Children loved warm colors. Toys and games, so brightly colored, so vibrant with life, with being. Games.

“Miss me?” asks her voice again, soft, persistent and dreadful.

She is back again, to take away another part of your memories, of your stories. You can taste your hate and fear at the back of your throat. Your mad scramble for some semblance of sanity gives you strength. Strength to pound the floor, strength to attack the walls, strength to force life into your abused body, for however short that moment may be. You beg, you plead, you screech for mercy. Doesn’t matter if you feel your voice break up. Dying now would be better than continuing her games. This cannot happen again. No, no,no, no, no, no, no, no, no……

Arms pick you up and strap you to something. The handcuffs they place are cold, yet the touch of the cold metal is reassuring. This is not a story. This is not a dream. This is not one of her game. This. Is. Not. A. Dream. This. Is. Not. A. Game.

Or is it?

You are escorted out somewhere that is illuminated in a blinding white. You want to instinctively shut the world outside. And for that moment, for that little while, she is silent. Your head throbs as though a million angry thoughts were pounding on the skin of you walls, trying to break free from a desolate realm. You are made to walk. Your feet stumble, unable to grasp the motions of actual, real motion, unable to believe in how alien that familiar motion had become.

Your eyes open into the darkness. You are too shocked to believe your final wish will be granted. Is this death? Was all that walking, the restraint of metal all the route to death? It felt too bland, to painless to be death. Your eyes get accustomed to the light. A voice begins to speak. You almost cry out in delight for it being the voice of the Interrogator instead of the little girl. Anything, anything is better than the little girl.

“It’s been three months since we last met. Has your story changed?” the Interrogator asks.

The same voice which forced you to lie, the same voice that refused to believe you. Everything that you said was a lie. Nothing that the voice asked of you could be satisfied with the truth. This is that voice. The voice that laughed as you cringed in pain, the voice that demanded answers, the voice that warned you of dire consequences. Now, it is asking for another fragment of you soul, in that unflinching clear voice. Hesitation is a liberty for liars.

Your fractured mind cannot comprehend the depths to which you have sunk. This is the person who has tortured you so much. Your body bears evidence of his wrath. You are disgusted at yourself for being delighted at hearing the voice of someone who has scarred you beyond measure. You wonder why. Why is it that you seek an almost rabid attachment to this voice? Probably because the Interrogator is the last tangible thing in your reality. No matter if the Interrogator attaches those painful cables again, no matter if you must scream till every vocal cord is ripped apart, no matter if another bone is shattered, no matter at all. As long as the Interrogator is there, the little girl is not. That is all that matters.

The Interrogator tells you a story. It is one that will inevitably bring you a sense of déjà vu. It speaks of you. It speaks of a horrible crime. The ghastly details are accurately described, and your mind attempts to paint a picture in your head with the knowledge coming in from your bleeding ears. It tries and it tries, but it is so tired, it fails. Then the story goes on about a little girl. The little girl who died. The Interrogator describes her funeral, wishing to evoke more emotion in you than you possibly have to give. It is pointless to deny. That girl is not dead. She is alive. She is so alive that she feeds off you. She is a parasitic memory, draining you more powerfully than any physical torture possibly can. How can she be dead when she’s right there in your cell, before your very eyes, in that small, cramped, claustrophobic room?

The Interrogator laughs at your refusal. The voice that demanded so much of the truth is reduced to spouting lies and laughing at you for denying them.

“…..solitary detention?” finished the Interrogator. You don’t remember when that blow came, and at any rate it was too fast for you to react to. The lower jaw is the first to feel the impact and the shock travels through your body, combining the shattered whole together for one instant till it leaves behind a million new fragments in its wake.

You do not want to surrender. You do not want to accept defeat, even as the blood streams down. In the midst of this pain, your brain slowly realizes the meaning of the little girl’s game. The ellipses you scratch out on the floor are her stories, but now they have become yours. You earnestly try to will your mind to stop existing. But you cannot. You are too weak.

The Interrogator continues with the regular routine. It is surprising why he expects a different answer to the same question every time. Each jolt of electricity, each bone-crumbling blow and each excruciating slice gives you something to hold on to. For that while, your mind numbs itself with enough physical pain to stop itself from seeing that girl. Such relish.

Initially, these sessions seemed too long. But now, they are too short. You do not know how many days, weeks or even years will pass before you are blessed with another touch of reality. You cannot even try to protest as you are knocked out cold, muttering your supposed lies. Some dim thought at the back of your head registers that you will be dragged back to your eternal hell. How could a body that was designed to resist death to such a degree want it so intensely? You hope that this time, maybe this time, perhaps you are so weak and their force is so strong that you do not have to ever wake up again. You do not have to wake up and play the little girl’s games again.

But you cannot choose your torture. You are left to crawl on the cold floor, sinking deeply into the silent terror of being alone. Can you live with yourself in the supposed silence?

Your body has forgotten how it returned back to the floor, or how it overcame the fresh wounds to begin again. Dread and the little girl are your constant companions. You are back on your haunches, your fingers desperately grasping onto the stone edge, holding edge smooth from use and ready to scratch at the floor in some futile exercise. Your cursed eyes look up to the little girl at the edge of your cot.

“Play with me,” she says sweetly, gently, almost persuasively.

Your hand obeys by drawing out a fresh ellipse on a floor etched with infinitely many. You cannot stop. As long as her memory lives, as long as death doesn’t come to rescue you, you cannot stop. You have to play her games. You are her plaything. So you must tell your story again and again and again and again……

 

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Ashes

Death was all around me.

I woke up in the dungeon, certain of wasting away another eternity. But I had found an opening that led away from the ground. My luck even threw me a chance savior to complement this discovery.

“Come, you’ve waited for too long,” said the hooded figure. I could not tell if it was death, or if it was indeed some mortal who was saving me. I hadn’t seen the light of the day for so long, yet when his clothed head hovered into sight, I could tell that it was dark outside. There was a lasting hint of smoke and the strong, painful scent of ash. Ash that had formerly been the greatness of an empire. Ash that had formerly been people, and homes and lives.

“How did you find me?” I asked, not wishing to know this savior’s identity. If he meant to wear a hood, it probably implied that he wished to remain a secret anyway and I did not want to lose his good favor by asking him a question that might offend him.

“It is my duty to find that which is hidden,” was the cryptic response.

I decided not to ask him any further questions. Perhaps he was a thief, who had shared the dungeon space with me. Perhaps he too was someone who abhorred secrets and could only express his curiosity by being offensive. Perhaps his crime was so heinous, he would rather leave it to silence.

I had expected that if someday I could flee the dungeon, I would be asked what my deeds were to have warranted criminal punishment. But this stranger in a hood, this man who rescued me, literally pulling on my hands in order to get me out of the coal-filled dungeon remained silent.

“How are we leaving?” I asked, trying to focus on the present. My knuckles and fingers were white with holding on to the rock crevices that dotted the steep upward climb to freedom.

“I have a chariot,” said my companion, in a tone that neither extravagant not modest. A chariot, plain and simple. Horses seemed to paw the ground and I felt the tremors as fingers heaved the entire weight of my body upwards.

When I had finally reached the surface, I was panting and puffing and grunting, much like a petty fugitive. I was given to understand that I would have to move quickly in order to make my escape successful, but I was merely too weak and too exhausted to continue without rest. In this brief moment of respite, I took stock of my scenery.

The sky was dark, yes. But it was still day. Cloudy and seasoned with ash and dust, the diffused light seemed to color everything with a desolate shade of grey, and in the corners where light refused to touch, the grey saddened to black. Perhaps it was my poor vision, but the beautiful green scenery of our countryside was now the favorite color of death. I could not tell if all the land had been burnt or enough dust had settled on them to color them all grey. Mountains, hills, valleys had forgotten what green looked like.

In the midst of this transformed view of my world, silence and the hooded savior punctuated the scenery.

“Wh-what..happened?” I asked more to myself than to anyone else.

“Surely you know of the war?”

Of course I knew about the war. The war was one of the sole reasons that I had been in the dungeons to begin with. But this ominous silence, this grey world did not speak of glorious battle and all it’s frenzied, furious colors and aggressive participants. No, no. This stench was that of defeat.

The contemplative silence was interrupted by a distant echoing screech. It was the cold, echoing kind that made the raw, exposed skin on the back of my neck crawl and my fingers convulsively close in on themselves.

“The dragons came. Your kingdom was defeated,” said the voice underneath the hood. It was perhaps too succinct for me to believe it, especially from a word-of-mouth perspective. But when I saw the black, wing-like creatures I had mistaken for birds grow into something immensely larger with the distance, I felt the full impact of what he had said. Dragons. Blood-thirsty and angry. If they had found us, we were sure to have been decimated. Is that why there was nobody around? Not a single soul in sight?

“Are we the only ones left?” I coughed up.

“It does not matter. We will leave anyway.”

Yes, yes. In a chariot. I was going to run away. From one dungeon to another, I seemed to be constantly escaping.

The carriage of the chariot was an open, iron enclosure. It seemed too heavy to be pulled just by two white horses, yet in my earnest yearning to depart, I was all too eager to forget just how much it seemed to be another method of taking a captive. I jumped into the metal cage, and all too soon the metal locked itself shut.

“What’s going on?!” I said, paranoid, grabbing onto the coarse metal texture of the cage in fright.

“It is a precaution. If anyone sees us, they will think that I am merely transporting you to a greater punishment,” said the voice under the hood, perhaps with a tinge of a sneer.

His lie would have been more believable if I could find any evidence of another person being alive at all.

“Let me go!”

There was no response. He picked up the reins and they burned under his clasp. The horses, threatened by fear, or the spectacle of ruin or through some supernatural strength began their journey across the grey plains.

“Who are you?” I asked. It was time to get some answers. This had been a trap to get me out of prison and in my desperation to escape, I had given in to the traps of naiveté.

The horses’ hooves attacked the ground like alien beasts and the dragons circled in the distance, screeching in joy to each other of probably the singular discovery of viable prey.

“I deserve an answer!” I hollered over the sound of accelerating hooves. The ash kicked up by the horses made me cough, but the metal contraption refused to give in to my persistent claustrophobia.

“You deserve nothing,” said my companion coldly. His voice sounded like the black ooze of hate.

I tried to lean against the metal, but the constant motion chafed my skin. The large gaps of the cage were not big enough to let me out of this sudden dupe either. I had not borne a weapon in nearly two decades, if I could get myself out of here….

But then, as my companion rode on, the grey expanse seemed to stretch to infinity. The hills, the shadows, the sky, they all looked the same. If it weren’t for the hoof-marks left on the dust, I would have imagined we were stationary.

I was however, solitary.

If indeed I do escape where would I go? I had never imagined that such a day would come when I would be granted freedom, if indeed this travesty could be called that, and wonder what to do with it. What was the worth of freedom when all you escaped was from one hell to another?

“Are you enjoying the sights of freedom?” asked the hooded rider, jerking the reins back suddenly and sending me skidding to the back of the cage, where I dangled dangerously over the charred remains of human corpses splayed over the field. A closer look at the ground revealed that we weren’t even traveling on grass anymore. An occasional skull and semi-decayed bone brought fine shades of white into this monochromatic world. For a moment, images of those skulls and bones being a part of a human being, with flesh and blood who walked about and spoke and fought flitted through my head. Perhaps the land had been green then.

I had been asked a question and I did not answer. My rider cracked his flaming whip again, capturing my attention.

“I am not,” I replied simply, exhausted, anxious, tired and saddened beyond measure. It occurred to me that the traveler might be riding me on to death. Surely whatever death he was leading me to would be more pleasant than having my bones picked clean by dragons. I suppose I should not have protested so much about being inside this cage.

“Who are you?” I was encouraged from his last response and roused to a query.

The horses jumped over the debris of homes and villages. I waited in the eternity of the grey of the dried blood and the aura of nausea and hate that encompassed the world.

“Do you know who you are?” asked the rider this time. I did not know how to respond to the absurdity of the question. I obviously knew who I was. I wanted to know who he was, saving me, showing me this, dragging me against my will to some unknown destination that very well could be the fantasy of the dead. For if it was something that I knew for certain, from my time in the dungeon and from my escape outside, death was all around me.

“Yes.”

“Then you should be enjoying the sight of your own handiwork,” said the hooded figure. Perhaps I had inhale too much ash and seen enough dried blood to understand that he was accusing me as the sole cause of this pseudo-complete destruction. Fugitive as I was, I refused to let the guilt of the apocalypse weigh down on my shoulders. Without proof and reason, I did not have to believe this hooded figure’s words.

“Stop your games and set me free.” I countered.

“Set you free? In this land where there is no life and where there is no world?”

“I cannot believe that this is my home. You may have spoken of dragons and destruction and even claim the right to have saved me, but I do not recognize this place and I do not know you.”

“Despite your disbelief, tell me, have I been lying to you?”

I chose not to answer that. Whatever else he was, he had not lied to me. He spoke of the dragons and I had seen them with my own eyes. He spoke of the destruction and I had seen it with my own eyes. Unless his spoken word could conjure up phantoms at his will, he was telling me the truth.

“Who are you?”

The horses were settling down to a gallop. I recognized from the hoof-prints that we had been here before. There was a large hole in the ground, from where it seemed as though robes of a person had been hauled up.

“This happens every time, doesn’t it?” said the rider to his horses. They neighed in response, as if understanding his question. I didn’t understand anything at all. “What is all of this? I demand answers!”

“Quiet,” said the being under the hood. “It is time for you to rest. Here is a spot where the dragons won’t find you.”

The location seemed all too familiar to be unknown. It was the dungeon. Again.

“Why have you brought me here?”

“This is where you rest.”

“Who are you? And what is the meaning of this pathetic realm?!”

“Ask no more and rest yourself. Tomorrow, I will come again.”

The metal locks on the cage opened and against my will I was dragged from it to the ground. For the first time I was holding on to the metal bars in some expression of yearning instead of disgust.

“Who are you?! Please!”

The hooded figure stroked my face with a cold, grey hand. “This world is your hell. Tonight you will rest. Tomorrow, I will come again.”

“Why? To show me the grey world?”

“It is your world. It is my duty.”

“But…but …but…I don’t want to go. I want to escape.”

“There is no escape from infinity. However, there is rebirth. You will forget today and begin anew tomorrow. You will know who you are.”

I was not understanding at all. I am fairly sure this was all a dream. But this dream, and his voice and his cold, soothing touch killed my keen spirit slowly and gradually. The last I remember was him promising to come again….

…..Death was all around me.

I woke up in the dungeon, certain of wasting away another eternity. But I had found an opening that led away from the ground. My luck even threw me a chance savior to complement this discovery…..

Nightmare diaries: Greyscale Lessons

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.”

 “What did you expect me to learn from this, Master?”

“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.”

“Color?”

“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.