12,076 / 50,000
Here's the next section of story, an interlude exploring Charlie's dream visions. I hope I got across even the fraction of what I wanted to with this section. This is a complete section, as I wanted to keep writing to finish it out and present it as a whole. Unfortunately, what I thought would be 1k to 1500 words ended up being more like double.
Interlude - What Dreams May Come
It was happening again. It happened a lot. Charlie did not know where he was, and yet he did at the same time.
He always was in the same place, but it was a place he had never been before.
Wherever Charlie found himself, he was so familiar with it. He had come here all his life, as long as he could remember. The idea of his life without this place had no meaning to him. This place was to Charlie, what the forest behind someone else's house was to them. Familiar, yet dangerous, and always present when you look.
Or in Charlie's case, didn't look. Charlie only ever saw this place when he closed his eyes. It used to be whenever the deep, dark of sleep claimed his body, curled up under a mountain of blankets. As time wore on, this place seemed to be everywhere. Every time he closed his eyes, every time he blinked, Charlie would be here, for just that miniscule fraction of a fraction of a second. No longer was he certain if it was truly becoming more frequent, more powerful, and no longer requiring him being asleep, or if they were always there, waiting. Waiting for Charlie to stop looking at his world, and look into the other one.
It had become so bad that Charlie was no longer clear if his eyes were open, or if they were closed. No matter what, he saw sunlight, or buildings, or creatures.
Whatever it was, again Charlie found himself where he shouldn't be, where he could not be, where he had never been before, yet always returned to.
He didn't know if he had closed his eyes, or fallen asleep, but he seemed unable to escape his latest vision. He was sure he was asleep again. Everything felt too real, like he was walking down any other street in the real world. Charlie thought of this as a fake world, but truth be told, he sometimes was not sure which one was more real than the other. When he was awake, this other world had a different quality to it, ephemeral, whenever he closed his eyes. It was as if it had no time to fully form around him when his eyes fluttered closed for a mere moment. Only in the throes of a deep sleep could it grab him this much.
Charlie tried to open his eyes, to no avail. He even tried closing them, just to see what would happen, but all he was greeted with was darkness. Which in itself was a welcome change of pace.
He looked around at the familiar sights surrounding him. Familiar because he always came to this exact spot whenever he had this vision, but otherwise alien. Always the same spot, whenever he dreamed. It was as if someone had put in his favourtie movie, and it was the only one that could be played, whenever the tv was turned on. Charlie had seen this play out often enough, and knew just what would happen, and yet he always had to look around in disbelief. How could something so routine still hold such fascination?
Deep down, Charlie hoped to memorise every detail, the better to look things up back in the waking world. It never worked, but maybe this time, maybe now something would stand out, some detail he missed.
The first thing Charlie always noticed was the heat. Wherever he was, it was tropical. Maybe that was why everything looked so exotic? He remembered seeing pictures of creatures from the Amazon in his books, but still nothing like this.
Charlie was surrounded by plants, even on the ground, although they were mostly beaten down, forming a natural, winding path through the vegetation. He wasn't really sure if they were plants or not, but they looked like plants he was familiar with, save for their purple leaves. There was no greenery here that caught his eye, and in the sea of purple, Charlie thought any green may well stand out.
There were what seemed like trees, stretching up into the air, air that was a ruddy pink shade, not the familiar blue of his own world. The trees, if that is what they were, were stranger still. Not just the colour of their foliage, but the bark. Rather than brown, it was white, and mottled with black spots, not unlike a birch tree. The bark even seemed to have the same paper-like consistency of the familiar birches. Unlike the trees of his world, or his time, or dimension, Charlie saw that these trees' skin was pulsing, as if they were alive.
Of course they're alive, Charlie thought, they're trees. This was something different, though. Charlie could almost see a heartbeat, a rythmic undertone to the trees' movements. As he watched, Charlie thought he could feel his own heart beating in his chest matching that of the tree he was watching.
Charlie tore his gaze away from the beating tree, and forced the sound of his own heart from his ears. He shifted his eyes down to the path, where purple blades of something like grass laid. Upon closer inspection, each tip of othergrass was tipped with smaller blades. When he first saw them, Charlie just thought it was like a tree trunk that split off into smaller branches as it grew taller.
With subsequent visits, and more time to observe, Charlie once saw a lone strand of this odd grass like plantlife grab at an insect as it tried to pass by. The small tendrils atop the blade wrapped around the tiny creature like a squid's tentacles, and squeezed into the chitinous shell of the thing cracked and popped.
When he saw that, Charlie woke up in an instant, and when he next returned to the alien world of his nightmares, he tried to find some place to stand that was not a potential target to be grabbed by the grass.
Nowhere seemed like a safe haven, as every corner of this world posed hidden dangers. The grass would grab you. The trees were living things, lying in wait for who knows what. The colours were all wrong, like seeing the world with the tint knob on your television forever turned too far into the reds. Upon an earlier visit, Charlie had brushed up against some of the leaves of whatever was lining the path, and not crushed beneath some other creature's passing. The leaves cut deep into him, the pain causing him to awaken that time. A hostile world, no place for a soft, fleshy human.
But again, here was Charlie, waiting for the inevitable. He was long past fearing what the grass might do to his toes, or what may cut him, or break him, or any of a number of things. He was just so tired of it all. Tired of being afraid, tired of being tired.
So far, anything Charlie had encountered and hurt him, and faded with wakefullness. Both physically and in his mind. The longer he spent here, the more he became used to it, like sinking into a hot bath. Except one with boiling water, and filled with piranhas. And a spiky base to sit on. And someone hitting your head with a mallet.
No cuts ever appeared on his body, if he was cut. No bruises, either. Nothing ever left a trace upon his skin. Only memories were carried back with him, and like all dreams, they would fade with time. Charlie was never given the time for them to fade entirely, and thus it was always fresh in his mind, but on occasion, he would find himself not thinking of this awful place.
Enough was enough. Charlie had at last had it with this place. Too much of his life had been wasted here. Too much time being afraid; being hurt. He knew what would be coming soon, and he would stand and face it. No more fear.
Well, plenty of fear, but it drove Charlie forward, not backwards.
He waited, standing, as the grass swayed beneath him, not by an unseen wind like he once thought, but waiting for dinner, or a threat.
The wait was not long, as off in the distance, Charlie heard the sound he knew was coming. He had heard it almost every time since coming to this place. Like waiting for a quote from a favourite movie to be uttered when you expect it, so you can say it along, Charlie waited. When he heard the sound, a sound like a chainsaw trying to cut its way through a metal pipe, Charlie called back to whatever made the noise. If he wasn't wracked with fear, Charlie may have been surprised at how close he came to matching the sound. A deep part of his brain hoped he did not just answer a mating call, but those thoughts were shoved to the side.
When he called out - was that the first time he'd made any noise in this world? - birdlike creatures took wing from the othertrees nearby, launching into the air upon gigantic wings that could have wrapped around his body. Their flapping sounded like wet meat slapping against itself, amplified a dozen times for each creature he saw take to the air.
He heard the cry once more, but this time remained silent. The sound of something dragging along the ground grew closer. It was something heavy, something thick. It almost sounded like an elephant moving through mud, but without having to pick up its feet, just every sliding closer.
More noises erupted all around Charlie; gutteral rumblings, chittering rustlings in the bush, hissing, and other noises that sounded nothing like he could describe. Noises that got deep into his skull, making it hard to think at the mutterings of some creatures hailing from another world.
The noises around him began to feel like a swarm of mosquitos attacking him, making it harder and harder to focus. He could no longer hold it back at all the strange noises coming closer and closer, calling his name, whispering for him, enticing him.
The path he stood upon dipped down along a hill, and then into a thickening, purple forest in front of him. As the buzzing around him grew, and the squelching, slithering, dragging drew near, he watched where the path met the forest, and saw as a thick tentacle pushed out of the woods.
It was a dark maroon shade, like rusty cranberries, with she same sheen to its skin as if a can of cranberry sauce had just been opened and slid out of the can. It even had ridges that were somewhere between the designs imrpinted upon cranberry sauce from its can, and an earthworm. Although this was certainly nothing of Earth.
Another similar tentacle burst forth from the forest on the opposing side of the trail, and both planted themselves onto the ground, and pushed. They were dragging the body of whatever they were attached to closer to Charlie. He could see other spots upon the ground around the trail where the vegetation had been beaten down during other trips this thing had taken from the forest.
The head, or at least the nearest end of the thing was dragged forth from the forest along the path, a path it surely was responsible for creating. Charlie had seen this thing before, whatever it was, but never really looked at it. It was often seen over his shoulder as he ran from the noises it made.
This time, he stood his ground. No matter how much his legs cried out to do his usual and run, he would stay.
Whatever exited that break in the trees along the path matched the colour of the tentacles dragging it. Its skin looked thick, ridged and cracked, the colour and texture of a dark, reddish carrot. At the very end was a gaping maw, perfectly round, surrounded by a thicker ridge, not unlike a lip. All around the hole, it was lined with teeth, each one coming to the sharpest of points. Like a shark, this thing had row upon row of teeth, going back into the put if its mouth until Charlie could not see any deeper, even if he wanted to do so.
He expected to just see a pair of eyes staring at him, but instead, Charlie saw numerous eyes, covering the body everywhere, with no clear rhyme or reason to their placement. Each one looked in a different direction, but none seemed to actually see anything. No two eyes were the same colour, and none of them any colour seen in nature. They slowly blinked with thick lids slowly sliding over the bulbous, clear lenses, all of their own accord. None of the eyes seemed concerned with Charlie, but the creature continued towards him, like a man crawling forward only with his hands.
As Charlie got his first, real glimpse of anything moving upon this world, he began to side with his legs' desire to run. It took every ounce of strength to stay rooted to that spot.
Again the creature cried out, and the teeth in its mouth rattled as spittle shot out of its mouth onto the path, only to be lost beneath its body as it lurched forward.
Charlie's head was still abuzz with the other voices around him, and again he swore he heard his name as the rhythm to the melody of the noise.
Hearing these things calling to him specifcally, if that was what he heard, and not just his imagination, drove him to do what he did next. Before he was content to just stand and face his fears, but the idea that these things may know him scared him more than anything.
And why wouldn't they know him? Did he not know them? Had he not been coming here since he was a child? Would not this world study him as he was studying it?
The thought that he could be as much an experiment as anything else made him snap. Charlie reached out without looking, grabbing a branch he knew was there. He was so far gone hearing his name in the wind that he did not even notice the pulsing of the tree limb beneath his grip. It snapped off with ease, like a rotten branch. More of something soft tearing apart than an actual break. The tip that hd been connected to the rest of the tree was soft, wet and pulpy, and the branch in his hand squirmed in his grip before stiffening as it died.
The pulp on the end of his improvised club still dripped with the colour and consistency of porridge off a spoon as he finally gave into his urges and ran down the hill. He holwed as he picked up speed, barreling down the hill. Each footfall felt like he was bringing it down with the force of a hammer into the other grass.
The monstrous thing cried back in response, and spit flew past Charlie by pure chance.
Charlie brought the branch high over his head, and swung it at the ring of teeth in front of him. The cudgel connected, and several teeth shattered, with the sound of glass hitting a marble counter. Several pieces embedded themselves into Charlie's weapon, and he saw the glint of the strange sun off the stuck, sharp pieces as he raised it once more.
This time, he cut into the flesh of the beast's lip, and it howled again, this time in pain. The noise sliced deep into Charlie's brain, as much as his blade was slicing into the monster. Still, he heard his name buried in the noises around him. He kept slashing, trying to make them stop.
One of the tentacles wrapped around him, trying to pull him away, keep him away. In his confusion and pain and rage, he kept swinging at the limb, burying it deep.
Black ichor poured forth from each cut, but Charlie kept hacking. The voices only grew louder. They were calling his name. He kept hacking, and yelling for the creature to stop saying his name.
Finally, his name was shouted out, almost right into his ear, and Charlie woke up. He was covered, soaked. It had been such a long time since he had wet his bed, and he knew his mother would be upset when she came rushing in to comfort him like she did at the end of every nightmare he couldn't control.
No, Charlie knew something was wrong. He wasn't covered in what he assumed. It was darker, thicker. As he stared down at himself, he had several realisations. Charlie knew he wasn't in bed. His sister was there, shaking him, shouting out his name, trying to wake him up.
His mother was there too, just like he knew she would be. However, she was not where she should have been.
Laying at his feet was his mother's body, slashed up and bleeding out onto the hardwood floor of the hall at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor of his house. Charlie could see the blood on his hands, and staining his white t-shirt and boxers a dark crimson. The clothes stuck to his body.
In his hand, he gripped a knife that was just as bloody. and when he released his grip to try and drop the weapon, it stuck to his hand for half a second before dropping and sticking into the floor next to his mother's unmoving leg.
On a rare night he had been home, Charlie's dad was awoken from the commotion and stomped down the stairway and stopped behind his children, staring down at the dead body of his wife.