Nightmare diaries: Awake

I woke up to the sound of Kenny’s whisper.  She seemed to have been calling me for quite a while.

“Finally, you’re awake,” she said, sounding more frustrated than usual.

I suppressed a groan. I thought I had earned the right to sleep after nearly forty eight hours. Just when I was about to doze off to a deep, peaceful slumber, Kenny comes along and ruins it all. I can’t imagine what she wants from me now.

“Go away, Kenny. It’s late and I’m tired.”

I was angrily shushed in loud whispers for apparently rousing the rest of humanity with my question. I was beginning to grow resentful. Not only did she not let me sleep, she didn’t even let me ask why I was so brutally deprived of it.

I stared around at the darkness, trying to get my eyes used to the idea that there might just be a light, around here, somewhere. I fidgeted around my bed, trying to reach out for the switch to my bedside lamp. Kenny’s cold hand firmly grasped my wrist and she didn’t let me switch the light on.

“Kenny, what? I don’t want to go anywhere today. What….what are you even doing here?!”

“Shut up!”

I must have been really groggy to let Kenny get her way with me for this one. Too tired to ask any questions, I was about to sink back into my warm bed, when Kenny put her cold lips to my ear and said, “I know you’re tired. Just stay awake for a while more. Just for a little bit more.”

“Why? For what?” I asked, shrugging her cold, annoying grasp off me.

“Stay awake and you’ll find out.”

I decided then that I was about to curl back to sleep, feeling more annoyed with Kenny than ever. I was too tired to deal with her new mysterious demeanor.

“I don’t want to find out.” 

She held my cheeks in her cold hands. I still remember the fleeting impression I had of her fingers when she touched my face. It felt like frost growing on my skin, numbing my face. Kenny had always that effect on me.

“Listen to me,” she whispered, suddenly gentle. “I know it’s hard, but don’t sleep just yet. In a few minutes, let the nightmares will come by. You can sleep peacefully after they’ve gone. I promise.”

“Wha…? What nightmares?”

“Not just nightmares. Night-mares,” she said, carefully pronouncing each word separately to make a clear distinction, which I didn’t understand at all. I didn’t need to be protected from bad dreams.

Kenny waited for something.  In the distance, there was a growing sound of the clatter of galloping hooves. I was sure that whatever Kenny was referring to had arrived.

The rhythmic sound seemed to grow increasingly louder, until after a while I thought the entire house shook in resonance of those apparently powerful hooves. Things on the shelf began to rattle, the window panes quivered and I was a little too painfully aware of the dull crashing sounds coming from the kitchen — cutlery, no doubt — and the slow clouds of dust that seemed to be appearing from every corner of the house I had been too lazy to clean in all this time.

 The sound of this stampede succeeded in waking me up, and for a while, I was glad that Kenny was there. Though I didn’t want to openly admit that to her. What if I had gone completely to sleep, and not managed to wake up, when this pseudo-earthquake rocked the house? I clung to the edge of my bed tightly, marveling at this phenomenon.

Then, finally, all was still and quiet again. Kenny laughed softly, disrupting the silence.

“Well, they’ve gone, for tonight. They were much softer than I had expected.”

I was too shaken, almost literally, by what I had just witnessed. “Wait. What? What just happened? I mean, here you are in the middle of the night, waking me up to watch an earthquake?!”

“Night-mares,” she said, sounding smug. That word again. Night. Mares. Not just plain simple nightmares.

“You should be grateful to me. I saved you.”

“From a bunch of horses?”

“From Night-mares. They aren’t just ordinary horses. They’re looking for riders.”

Right. Bad dreams needed riders. Got that……somewhere in my head, at least.

“And this involves me how?”

” They choose the innocent slumbering people as their riders, and then lead them on to the world of all that is twisted and disturbing. If I had let you sleep, you would be hurtling into the abyss of your own subconscious, led on by a creature that feeds off your imagination.”

My sleep was returning to me now, and my eyes were almost closed. I vaguely registered parasite and dream somewhere in my head. My head, strangely enough, was beginning to throb. I really needed to sleep now.

“Can I please go to sleep now?”

Kenny laughed her soft, musical laugh again. I was too stupefied to register any sensible emotion.

“Yes, you can sleep now. Your dreams will now be yours to keep,” she said, gently caressing my face with those fingers.

I snuggled back into my blankets without further encouragement. What was all this? My puzzled brain kept asking itself. There was a mish-mash of coherent thoughts in reply. Big horses. Dreams. Cold. Kenny….

Wait. Kenny.

“Hmmph,” I struggled to say, before Kenny left, “how did you even get in the house?”

More musical laughter. More of the implied smugness. Some corner of my tired mind was feeling increasingly stupid.

“Who d’you think has been watching over you all these nights?” She asked.  She claims to be sneaking into my house everyday. Voyeurism. Or burglary, whichever way you wanted to look at it. My eyes were giving up. “Goodnight Kenny,” I said, and then willed my mouth with whatever feeble control I had left to keep it shut before I said something random, impolite and that would evidently reflect my sleep-deprived state.

As my head touched the pillow, I vaguely registered that Kenny’s goodbye was drowned out by the howling of the wolves.

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Control

Sub was Epi’s Under. Sub was Epi’s lover. Sub fidgeted restlessly, defended from the sunshine that made Epi glow.

If it’s so beautiful, why does Epi keep hiding it from me?

“It’s to protect you, Sub,” he said, looking immensely radiant and charming. He would talk to her of the beautiful world called Outside and all the things that comprised it. He would say they were dangerous, but Sub always imagined they were beautiful.

There were also moments when he could be cold.

There was once when Sub’s Unders were injured. Epi had been indifferent. “I am too large to worry about such minutiae,” he said.  His smooth vast being did not reflect any sign of the turmoil of the Unders.

Well, I’m the one who holds him in place, seethed the upset Sub. I’ll show him who really controls this relationship.

Sub saw her opportunity when Epi was about to stretch. On impulse, she let go.

Epi ruptured. A large metal intruder penetrated Epi and let Sub glimpse the blinding white of Outside. It was so amazing, that Sub retracted hastily, feeling the burning rays of the world beyond Epi.

“I hope you’re happy, Sub,” wept the wounded Epi.

His scars were eventually healed and he was granted a new face. But he never forgave Sub.

“I’m tired of you controlling me!”

“I am created to control my Unders,” said Epi, coldly.  Sub stayed silent.

What more could a subdermal tissue have to say to the epidermis?

Cyberpunk Logs #05: A Survivor’s Silence

Takeda Katsuyori had survived 14 flash-level conflicts, 8 complete immersions, 29 cases of circuitry failure and 5 invasions.  He was going to be awarded for butchering his friend and comrade, Kakare Minamoto, into multiple, non-merging, non-germinating portions. He was going to be awarded a Noble Citizen’s award for Exceptional Performance on the battlefield.

He had long-since forgotten what it meant to live without his suit. It didn’t have the new shine as it used to. It had survived many battles, and contrary to what the critics had said when it was released, it was indeed far more robust than the older version. He once wore the sleek armor as a token of his loyalty and pride, and indeed it was no small honor to be in service of the Shogun himself. But lately, he felt naked without it. Especially today, when he was going to be honored before The Shogun’s Consulate. All 12,000 of them.

The Shogun’s gathering was uncomfortably quiet.

He waited in the silence, watching all the dark visors of his troops show his own reflection back at him. They were silent and strong and multiple people. People, not monsters, reinforced the Shogun. They were not the killing machines that they wore on their skins. How natural it should be then that he was to commemorate a man who had slain his best friend. How natural it should be then that he should commemorate a man who had slain a monster.

Takeda Katsuyori had been asked to appear on the central podium seven minutes ago. His form had not shifted from the crowd. It was against protocol to violate explicit orders but the Shogun thought that perhaps Katsuyori needed a moment to overcome his emotions and let the silence simmer for a few more minutes. The Shogun felt oddly comforted by their awkwardness. It seemed to re-affirm the humanity behind the suits.

But it wasn’t just Katsuyori. Of all the faces that stood before him, the Shogun was sure that Katsuyori’s was the only one that was unafraid. He had survived his fifth invasion. Yet, he had not been taken. Neither had he defected. He had hunted down the Other forces with cold ruthlessness. The soldiers who worked under him said that when he lifted his visor, his eyes would appear to be blank and yet his grip firm. He did not care whether what he fired at was human or Other. This worried the Shogun somewhat. How was he expected to control a man who felt no fear?

In fact, any one of them could be suffering from the spasms of an invasion right now and he would never find out. Blood could drip on inside the visor for days at a stretch, and if for some reason the wearer of the suit struggled to open it, only then would the contamination spread. The Shogun could not deny that he felt helpless in being the only person present without a visor or a helmet or even a veil of sorts.

The change in interpersonal dynamics was noticeable more so after the Midori no kawa (Green River) mission. Midori no Kawa had once been a freshwater river that marked the longest stretch of uncontested border between their empire and the Other. It used to be called Green because scientists had discovered that it hosted a rare species of natural algae which made the water appear somewhat colored, but potable. But then, the Other had started discharging their radiological effluents into it, and now it was a toxic gush of chemicals.

The Midori no Kawa ran through a very barren stretch, having contaminated the region in about 50 km radius. Citizens of the village nearby had to be moved elsewhere, and in fact that was one of the strategic points of the conflict with the Others. The new suits that were designed for the samurai were designed to withstand the effluent and allow comfortable ventilation, while securing the wearer from toxins.

Except Minamoto’s suit had failed. The toxins had managed to invade his system and soon all the cells in his body were desperately splicing themselves, tearing through the restrictive fabric of the suit. What had once been Kakare Minamoto was now two sentient human beings smashed together in some haphazard freak of nature. His brain as unable to cope with the sudden expansion in multiplicity in organs, and he died a painful, horrifying, agonizing death. Katusyori still remembered Kakare’s fourth arm trying to force its way into his mouth as he started screaming. Katsuyori suppressed the urge to fidget nervously and wipe off the imaginary flecks of what had once been Kakare’s blood off his feet.

The Shogun called him out again. Katsuyori started the slow, halting walk to the podium.

The other visor heads tilted slightly towards him as a token of respect for his accomplishments. For some inexplicable reason Katsuyori started feeling nervous. His rational mind  justified it was stage fright, puzzled somewhat at the sudden outbreak of sweat within the helmet. The other attendees watched the visor falter slightly from it’s upright position. Was Katsuyori losing his sense of balance?

Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.

Katsuyori walked firmly, in fact he even possible marched up to the podium and dropped into a graceful, neat, practiced bow before the Shogun. The same bow that Kakare had dropped to. But he did not dare to think about Kakare now, especially now that his sole achievement to glory had been slaying that very person who had been his best friend. Even then, even then, there must be some strength in the person who could see that his best friend had morphed into a monster and wasn’t the man he had trained with and laughed with.The Shogun stepped closer to him on the podium and Katsuyori felt that in order to suppress the huge waves of disgust, he had better stare down at the floor and keep swallowing his own saliva to dry up his rapidly drying throat. Within the suit, the temperatures began to sore uncomfortably, and it would have been a breach of grace if Katsuyori upset his position to start a self-diagnostic on the suit. Come on man, you have survived 5 invasions from the Other. You know how to control your mind.

But when the helmet visor flew up, for the Shogun requested to see his face before placing the award onto his now-shivering outstretched arms, Katsuyori raised his head looking for that desperate source of fresh air. Yet even he, the experienced, the survivor, the brave had no idea what was coming.

And fresh prey.

What had once been Katsuyori started bursting through the reams of the suit, expanding the human form at an alarming rate. The cells in Katsuyori’s body forgot their genetic instructions, and parts of his human anatomy that were not designed to stretch pulled himself apart and Takeda Katsuyori exploded in gruesome mass of rapidly multiplying and self-morphing cells. One of his four malformed arms was creeping towards the Shogun and another large limb, stretched out as a tentacle, blocking off the Shogun’s access to help. One of Katsuyori’s own hands tried to strangle him to death while his skin ruptured and there was blood all over.

The Shogun struggled in the creature’s grasp as more of it tried to make it’s way inside him, through his pores, his eyes, nose and every open access to his body. The Shogun’s silent, suffocating protests seemed to accentuate the horrible tragedy of Katsuyori’s rapidly dissolving voice. The acoustics of the podium had been designed to magnify the sounds on the stage and indeed 11, 999 of the visor signals picked up the audio from the stage.

It was an awful spectacle indeed, to watch a comrade give in to an invasion. It was perhaps still more awful that the Shogun submitted to an easy and equally painful death, because he was defenseless and unprepared. As Shogun, he was dying a disgraceful and pathetic death, having been caught at the hands of the enemy when he least expected it. He was dying simply because he had been unprepared for this contingency. He had been stupid to assume that behind the visor was a man who had survived 5 invasions, after all, no human being had ever been able to survive five consecutive invasions and still function normally. Katsuyori had been waiting to blow, for a long time, and the Shogun’s neurons had been ripped apart too long ago to experience the consequences of his stupidity.

There were 11, 999 soldiers tasked with the duty of protecting their land and protecting the Shogun and his legitimacy to rule them. Not one of them moved in the slightest as the greatest mutiny of their time happened right before their eyes. Not a single one came to the rescue, no more was there any awkward shuffling. They simply stood there, rod straight, silent and watching.

There was no remaining human left to tell the deceased Shogun that behind those black visors were the green radioactive ghosts of smiles.

Conversations in the darkness

The beautiful woman sat in the corner of the room, anticipating the questions from the semi-secluded stranger who stood before her.

“Do you believe in love at first sight, madam?” came the dreaded attack. It was loaded with powerful words. Belief. Truth. Love. In the simple act of this overt flirting, the stranger had already thrown away the comforts of subtlety. He was inviting the raw truth to him, so he would have it unfiltered.

For a moment, the lady gathered her arms and her words around herself.

“…I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight,” said the plainitive honesty.

Indecision was perhaps worse than a decline. But pushing any further would have been indelicate and the stranger, already ashamed that he had crossed one boundary, hesitated before breaching another. Perhaps deflecting through ignorance was merely to spare the horrors of an outright anticipatory rejection.

“I believe in attraction at first sight,” continued the lady, oblivious to the several branching outcomes that had played on in the stranger’s head.

“I believe in infatuation at first sight sight,” she mused, stumbling through the words, drawing them out through the nostalgia in her voice and  re-populating with the hint of forgotten memories.

“I definitely do believe in bad decisions at first sight but I still don’t believe in love at first sight.” she smiled brightly, knowing that this could have been a generic observation.

The stranger chuckled as he knew that he was being led on by his own curiosity and the flow of the conversation. “Why?”

“…Because I was taught, given, conditioned to feel that the true real, glorious and worthy feeling called love….”

The stranger shuddered as he felt the words power through him.

“…love is mutual, no?”

It was now the stranger’s turn to discover that he did not know the answer.