Chapter 4: Braving the Storm
Eventually, I concluded that I must be dreaming, though this dream was far more real and tangible then any I can remember having in the past. Okay, I thought. If I just wake myself up, then I can get out of whatever wacky place I was in at the moment. I started pinching myself, which did not work and only made my skin red and tingly.
“Ow!” I said out loud. Pinching myself felt just as real as it always had. But this place couldn’t possibly be real, could it? How had I gotten here? Why was I here? How do I get out?
I felt trapped. The storm clouds in the distance swirled ever more, a vicious dance that seemed to mock my futile efforts of escape. Involuntarily, I sank to the ground and hugged my legs close to my chest, trying to close my eyes and wish it all away. To will myself to wake up.
I heard movement in front of me. I opened my eyes and saw a tall, hooded man, leaning against the tree trunk. I stood up to get a better look at him, but it seemed like his face was blurry, or out of focus. It’s like his very visage was perplexing to my mind.
I was bursting with questions, but I wasn’t sure if this person was a friend or foe yet. Cautiously, I spoke. “Who…who are you? Where am I? Am I dreaming? How do I get out of here?” My voice rose with increasing panic. Instead of responding, he pointed to his mouth and shook his head. “Oh,” I said. “You can’t speak?” The hooded man nodded his head enthusiastically, happy that he was able to communicate that to me. “Look,” I said. “I don’t know where I am or how I got here, but I need to get out. Please.” Without speaking, the hooded figure pointed towards the storm off in the distance. “I have to go there?” I said. He nodded again, one solemn nod this time.
The storm looked so far away, so uninviting. I would rather do anything else than go into it. But, then again, I had tried waking myself up already, to no success. Surely this had to be some kind of dream, there is no way a place like this could actually exist. Even so, it seemed like my only choice at the moment was to do what the man said.
Looking down from the hill, I noticed a dirt path carved out in the grass, lined with cobblestone. Whatever this place was, it was obviously guiding me towards that storm. I traced the path with my eyes and noticed, just beyond the deserted playground, a last remnant of familiarity, was a…thing. I couldn’t quite describe its physical form, because it didn’t seem to have one exactly. It seemed corporeal in nature, a being made of clung together mist. Just looking at it sent shivers down my spine, urging me to look away.
“I have to go down there?” I said to my hooded companion. He nodded again and gestured towards the path. Gathering my courage, I started walking down the hill, gradually approaching the abhorrent creature on the other side of the park. I tried to reassure myself that nothing bad would happen to me, that this was just a dream. My dream. But even so, I couldn’t escape a horrible feeling that this was not a normal place and did not abide by normal rules.
The closer I got to the monster, the stronger the urge to look away became. I just could not look directly at it, it was so fundamentally repulsive. I could hear it though. I could hear its angry, inhuman breathing. I could feel its destructive energy charging the air around me. And the smell, a rotting putrid odor that filled my nostrils with every breath. How was I supposed to get past this? This wasn’t something I could run from or hide from. I had no hope of challenging it head on. Even so, I had to try something. I was not going to let myself be trapped in this place.
Without looking up from the ground, I could tell that I had reached the spot where the monster inhabited. I had to figure something out, soon. Suddenly, a voice boomed all around me. It seemed to be projected dead center of my mind, the sinister words of this creature etched directly onto the surface of my brain.
HAVE YOU COME TO CHALLENGE ME.
Its voice snarled and crackled with fierce guttural intensity. It was a simple question, but it took a while for me to answer back. What if something were to happen to me? What if I couldn’t beat this thing, this monstrosity? Maybe I should just turn back and sit by the tree and find another way to wake up. Though I knew, deep down, there wasn’t another way.
With a heavy breath, I uttered my simple response to its simple question, in a voice much quieter and less sure of itself than that of my foe.
I felt the ground shake as the monster lunged at me. Instinctively I dodged to the right and found myself unharmed. Even though I couldn’t get a good look, I could tell that it was much bigger than me, and moved slower than me. I could use that to my advantage. But I still had to tackle the problem of actually hurting it, especially since I couldn’t really look at it without feeling repulsed.
The ground shook again. I could tell the monster was winding up for another attack. I dodged again to the left, only to find myself flung back several yards by a powerful blow. I landed with a heavy thud, with the wind knocked completely out of my lungs. My ribs felt bruised, but other than that I felt alright. I didn’t know how many more of those hits I could take though.
The ground shook even harder. It was chasing me. Panicked, I looked around my surroundings for something to use as a weapon. There was nothing but dirt, grass, and trees. All useless. Severely panicking now, I started to crawl backwards to escape, wishing desperately I had anything to use against this beast. I would not let it get me, let it destroy me.
As soon I had thought that, I felt it. My hand was clutched around something, something heavy. I looked down and saw that I was holding a sword, glinting keenly in the sunlight. How? I asked myself. Though that didn’t matter. I had a weapon now. I had a means of defending myself. I got up and rushed forward, towards the monster. I felt the familiar rush of air signaling an incoming blow and dodged at the very last second to slash the monster’s near-intangible ankles. It let out a bloodcurdling inhuman screech that curled every hair on my body, but it didn’t stop me from slashing again, and again in a vicious rage. Suddenly, I was pushed backwards.
I was engulfed in total blackness. This creature had enveloped me, somehow. I could see nothing, not even my own body in front of me. Not that it mattered, because I couldn’t move my arms, my legs, or anything. I was paralyzed by my own fear.
I tried in vain to kick start my mind again and move. I could feel the creature stalking me, knowing that I had been beaten. It relished in my submission and was taking its time to reach me. Struggling, I regained some sensation in my feet, but before I could test it I was met with a crushing blow from above, pinning me directly to the ground.
Still unable to move, all I could feel was the sensation of the creature’s limb on my windpipes. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything. I was useless.
The ground beneath me rippled and changed. I was in my room at home. Back in my bed. I still couldn’t move. Standing over me, the monster had taken a new form, one of my own reflection, its/my hand pressing hard down on my chest.
STAY PUT. It spoke in an inhuman mixture being my own voice and its previous one.
THERE IS NO REASON TO STAND. NO REASON TO KEEP FIGHTING. ONLY PAIN WILL COME FROM THAT. GIVE UP.
I struggled against it, but it was in vain. I couldn’t do anything. It was exceptionally strong, and even if I managed to move, what was the point? It would beat me down again. I was trapped. My breathing started to quicken. In twice. Out three times. In. Out. In. Out Inout. Inout. Inout. Going faster and faster and faster.
And then I realized. I had been here before. I knew what this monster was. I knew what I was fighting. I had been fighting it for years. Ever since I realized the truth about my life. Maybe even before that. Though this time, I wouldn’t be able to get through it if I just laid down and wished it away. I hadn’t realized it, but I was tired of this. I was tired of letting this get the best of me. How dare this pathetic, worthless, unwanted thing take me away from living my life. Before now, I had nothing to defend myself with, and no will to even try. This creature had made the mistake of giving itself a form. This was the time to fight back.
My anger gave me an edge. I moved my free arm and grabbed the creature’s hand, pulling it away from my chest with more force then I thought possible. Surprised, the creature let its guard down, and I used that moment of advantage to take my other hand, still clutching the sword, and plunge it deep into the creature’s chest.
My reflection let out a scream of pain all too familiar to me, as my bedroom started to melt away. Just before it did, I saw the true face of this monster for a split second, an inhuman abomination to be sure, but a face that wasn’t exactly evil. It seemed like it was in pain. And then it was gone. It was over. I was left standing alone in the dirt path, a wave of relief washing over me.