From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the tenth chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel. (Reformatted for web presentation). This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.
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A coin flips into the air, lands, flips again. Cold oozes over me and pools on my bare chest and legs, bleeds through my shorts and presses on my skin. Something brushes against a nearby window.
“No more deferments, Mr. Crichton, for the hour grows late. Time has become too meager for your self-deceptions.”
I keep my eyes closed and think to myself, What in hell is this? Haven’t I already come to terms with this crap? I know your secret name, buried memories, so you’re disarmed. Stop tormenting me with these tedious nightmares.
Chills run up and down my spine. Something scrapes against the window immediately to my left.
The coin flips continuously, deftly, never missed and rhythmically thumped skyward a breath after landing.
The room feels icy, shivers settling over me with frigid intent.
Thump! Something leans heavily against the window at the far end of the room.
“Humans are blind to a thing that is near enough and large enough, Mr. Crichton.”
“The forest for the trees.” I keep my eyes closed.
“Indeed. You however are the Untouched, Mr. Crichton, and you perceive both the forest and the trees while others cannot. We are out of time. You must confront that which is both proximate and substantial. Now, Mr. Crichton.”
Such authority in the voice, his voice, the sound of that formless thing my mind seems to know about without letting me in on the secret. A nameless shape speaks the words, a numinous power that should scare the hell out of any who hear it.
He’s not just unreal, he’s inhuman.
“Quite accurate, Mr. Crichton, but let us not incommode ourselves with inconsequential appellations or misemploy seconds endeavoring to explicate that which disavows elucidation. Open your eyes, Mr. Crichton. NOW!”
I rocket into a seated position and my eyes launch open. Gooey blackness drenches the sunroom, sheeting and dripping outside the windows, a wet impenetrable lightless fog billowing and roiling with liquid intensity, carrying with it countless pairs of fiery eyes so crimson they seem bathed in flaming blood.
Along three glass walls shapes of protean abominations too horrible to look at slither and stumble and rasp and stare, each a thing nature could never design, each a horrible incarnation of everything that cannot exist, each fading in and out of the ebony abyss around it, each made of darkness. They emanate a malignant hatred as their eyes bore into my being.
They’re hunters, these things, and I’m the hunted. They would have me for dinner but I would not be a guest.
“Indeed they are hunters, Mr. Crichton, predators of those who dream. Nevertheless you need not experience trepidation. You are the Untouched. They cannot injure you. Though you must comprehend this is their world, thus while you are in attendance you can perceive them. They will utilize that datum against you, attempt to fracture your sometimes tenuous embrace on reality by wielding terror.”
“They’re doing a pretty damn good job of scaring me,” I say with a bit too much childish complaint in my voice.
I’m almost whining. It’s unbecoming.
Those eyes. Those innumerable ruby eyes lit from within. Were I on the screened or open porch, I would have pissed my pants already. This new experience doesn’t compare to the previous dreams. Malice comes from the seething darkness, iciness seeping through the windows. And they hunger, those baleful things out there, those raven grotesqueries trying to take shape and pressing against the windows, those monstrous … those monstrous monsters. They offend me because they offend the universe.
Look at them licking their chops as they size me up. They have me completely trapped within my little glass world. But it’s not my world. No, he—the unnamable he—said this is their world. I’m in their world. And they despise me.
Avoiding the windows as much as possible I ask, “So who are you? What are they? Where is this? If time’s so important, maybe I need some answers.”
“Many of the remedies you seek you already possess, Mr. Crichton.”
Thump! Against the window next to me.
If eyes are windows to the soul, this demon peers into the depths of my being, the darkness’ own Peeping Tom. I do not want to look into those eyes yet cannot look away for fear it will interpret the move as a sign of weakness or an opportunity to act. Despite its nearness, confusion reigns when I try to focus on and comprehend the body that owns the horrible and death-filled flames that glare back at me from the empty nothingness beyond the glass. A terrible shape, a formless monstrosity, a vile and horrible thing.
I look away, I look into the room, and I ask of the coin-flipping voice, “What am I supposed to call you? Give me something to work with here.”
“You may call me Mr. Coin.”
In the corner of the room across from where I sit—nay, not sit, but where I cringe and cower on the couch hoping to wake up soon—in the opposite corner an eldritch form rests against the wall. This does not belong in my sunroom. I glare at it, trying not to notice movement outside, trying not to hear unmentionable things moving against the walls and windows, trying not to wonder what might happen if those dark things break the glass.
That form in the corner. Perhaps a white tee shirt. Definitely short sleeves. Blue pants. Jeans? Possibly. Nondescript shoes, probably sneakers but could be deck shoes. Hell, could be galoshes for what it’s worth. This thing is taking shape, it, him, Mr. Coin if you will.
“We have already established you are a visionary, Mr. Crichton, an imaginer of tales, a servant of words, so tell me what an avatar is.” The form continues solidifying, mist coagulating into fog, into a dense wall of blinding condensation.
Yes, definitely an unembellished white tee shirt. And yes, definitely blue jeans. And three for the score! Sneakers.
“An avatar is a god in bodily form. It’s a physical theophany, that which is without form taking unto itself a form.”
Inside the clothes, a man. He’s young, average looking, maybe twenty or twenty-five, but no older than that. His hair is white as snow, the peroxide look of the 1980s, but he wears it shorn close to the scalp which makes the unnatural color more apparent. Because he has skin the color of caramel. Beautiful, smooth, healthy looking skin. And frighteningly luminous.
And he’s flipping a coin. Repeatedly. Without looking and without missing a catch or a beat.
“Mr. Coin, huh? Banal, but it’s your avatar. Does that mean you’re related to Mr. Hat?”
“I am not your encyclopedia, Mr. Crichton. Let you and I minister to the concerns at hand.”
“Sure, let’s do that. Let’s start with an explanation for what’s happening.”
I shiver, the chill deep and penetrating. The billowing abhorrence outside transforms me into a piece of food on display.
I’m a lobster sitting in the tank at the entrance of a seafood restaurant awaiting the next customer to identify me as their meal. I’m a desperate animal wanting to live, yet this room offers me up as an unintentional entreaty to eat me.
Eyes … They surround me. They stare as they slowly change positions with each other, a bizarre waltz performed by the voracious dead that contain them. They consume me without being near enough to do so. They scare the hell out of me.
They must be the Dreamdarkers, and damn me for taking her story and filling in the details on my own.
“You are the Untouched, the appointed visionary, he who dreams in the light. The nameless cannot injure you. But you alone are safe from the lightless, Mr. Crichton, and no other.”
“What is the Untouched?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, you are the Untouched, Mr. Crichton. You are he who stands liberated from Dominion, the sole mortal insusceptible to the gods and the power they wield.”
Nodding toward the glass walls I snidely respond, “Okay, sure. That’s nice. And what are they?”
“They possess no name. You call them Dreamdarkers. That epithet will suffice.”
“But what are they?”
His form looks solid. He leans in the corner against the rough-hewn lightly-stained pine walls. His eyes shine with a penetrating blue of crystal clarity. They contain a depth and wisdom that fail to match his young ordinary looks. When his eyes meet mine, I feel him as much as see him. They contain the same depthless, ancient, otherworldly wisdom I see in Mr. Hat.
Oh, and those are blue Converse high-tops on his feet. All-Stars if I’m not mistaken. How anachronistic. His appearance seems drawn from the 1950s, the punk kid riding around in his ’57 Chevy, flames painted on the sides, pack of cigarettes tucked in one of the rolled short sleeves of his white cotton tee shirt.
Mr. Coin also flips a coin with obsessive frequency and machine precision.
“The nameless are thoughts who dwell in the dreamworld, who see mortals as anathema. They are the lucifugous foes of he who dreams in the light. The Dreamdarkers represent the opening salvo, Mr. Crichton, the advanced guard dispatched to initiate a war.”
“The war against humanity.”
A chilliness knifes through me, this one unrelated to the insufferable cold spilling through the windows from the darkness outside. I shiver. Horripilation explodes along the back of my neck, hair dutifully standing at attention, a primal response from our feral days when our ancestors had to fluff up to look bigger, a way to face a threat, a response we see in animals these days but which evolution translated for us into a primitive warning system that tells us we know danger is afoot.
“As the Untouched you alone can endure what comes, Mr. Crichton. You are the visionary, he who dreams in the light, destined to dip your quill in the substance of the universes and write mortal future on the parchment of time. You alone can see beyond what is too large to see. You alone can bear witness and find within what you see the wisdom to guide mortals to safety. Or to watch them shrivel and die. You alone can face Dominion and remain unmoved by its force.”
“Conundrums don’t clarify.”
My response sounds caustic. I find myself growing pissed and frustrated. It stems from withering fear, for deep inside me in places I have never traveled, places where the shadows remain too deep to penetrate, a burgeoning sense of understanding lights up, a certainty, a revelation. An epiphany.
Occasionally from a murky realm of thought akin to genetic memory, intuition provides innate knowledge no human can contain, a natural understanding of the hidden and the obscured. It contains no information taught but instead burgeons with secret intelligence. From its impenetrable gloom timely illumination shines. This thing, this shapeless being who calls himself Mr. Coin, he comes from beyond—Well, not beyond a place so much as beyond everything. He represents that which we cannot name, that which has no name, that which takes unto itself the form it wishes, an avatar. The power behind the avatar is greater and more mysterious than any we humans have dared imagine.
He scares me. Him and Mr. Hat.
“The war against humanity commences, Mr. Crichton. Will you clash on behalf of your race? Will you pen the future on behalf of mortals? You are the Untouched. The fate of universes now rests in your hands.”
I cry anew, this time not from emotional turmoil related to Beth. These tears come from unmitigated terror, a fear so palpable it freezes me to the couch. The weeping comes from an overwhelming sense of hate for this thing, this Mr. Coin and his lofty proclamations of destiny. They come from lack of doubt in his words.
“I don’t believe in fate. It’s the refuge of the servile unwilling to chart their own course. You’re full of hokum, Mr. Coin.”
My words sound empty. The not-man in the corner flips his coin and simultaneously stares at me and through me. He represents a great and terrible threat. The things outside fear him while they drip with overflowing animosity toward me. The scales over my eyes of remembrance slip away, revealing more truth buried somewhere in the wreckage of my past, buried not by forgetfulness but by force. For I do not forget anything. Ever.
A new sound forces me to look away from Mr. Coin, to look toward the windows. Such a noise has never before reached my ears. Acrid, painful, loud and thunderous, the sound of the universe ripping asunder.
“We no longer enjoy the luxury of moments to squander, Mr. Crichton. This is, as I said, their world. Though I find conversing with you delightful and entertaining, your sometimes-plodding mentation represents a tiresome incongruity. Neither of us can afford such intermittent obtuseness.”
My ears will surely bleed. The assaulting sound has become so grave and intense that I slam my hands over the sides of my head. But the horrible din enters my mind anyway. It comes from this place, it defines this place, it is this place.
At the far end of the room glass bubbles and bends, an obscene image, some giant malformed infant trying to break through the window’s placental walls. It looks almost fluid, melted plastic stretching and bulging. Behind it, pushing against it, trying to pierce it, outside the window an obsidian mass of inexpressible ferocity, a foul fire-eyed fiend made of blackness that defies comprehension with its limitless depth.
More disturbing than raven pestilence filled with glowing jewel eyes, more disturbing than hearing that dreadful sound that surely represents that thing trying to tear a hole in reality so it can climb through the fabric of the world into my sunroom, more terrible than listening to Mr. Coin and realizing I must hear him and have faith in him no matter how much I do not want to … More frightening than those things and more disturbing than the overriding impression of dread and hopelessness that threatens to suffocate me, a new sound invades me and freezes my tears to my face with unadulterated horror.
From out there in the darkness, from that writhing mass of abyssal death that takes shape at will, I finally hear them, the bane, the Dreamdarkers. Distant yet real. Children singing. Oh but they do not sing. Chanting perhaps. Oh but they do not chant. The unbearable noise violates me, abuses me, sullies me. It is them, it is the Dreamdarkers, it is the end of the world.
My mind wrestles with voices welling in the background. A chorus of voices. Children’s voices. Yes, definitely children. Definitely chanting and singing a regurgitated horror. Definitely wounding me with words. The dissonance pains and defiles. It cuts and pierces. Their voices vandalize.
Above the growing clamor Mr. Coin says, “The universes resound with the music of existence, Mr. Crichton. It comes from all voices, from all places, from all times. It can sound like all things and like no things. It can sound like flowers blooming in the first warm breath of spring. It can sound like the whisper of a breeze through summer grass. It can sound like a thousand waterfalls rumbling in the distance. It can sound like the promise of change that comes with winter’s end.”
Their voices faint, I hear them without question. Children. The most awful, terrible, frightening children imaginable. Their words fade in and out, sometimes overshadowed by the rending, stretching, trying-to-break-through tearing of the world’s fabric that emanates from the end of the room.
We are pleasure’s anguish
And pain’s desire
Mr. Coin begins fading, as if seen through rime on a window. I don’t want him to go, not now, not when I want this to end. Yet I can’t stop watching the unnatural pushing through taking place at the far end of the room. The glass and wood distend and stretch and ripple, things these materials cannot do together. That thing, that shadow made flesh, that demonic filth has almost forced its way into the room. No more than a few seconds remain before it and its ilk pour through the barrier and fill this space.
We bring death to hope
And end of days
“But when the Dreamdarkers sing it, the melody is the sound of teeth tearing through flesh. They are the vanguard, Mr. Crichton, those sent to pave the way for what follows.”
He continues dwindling, now a vague impression of what was, a reminder that once a man—an avatar—stood in the corner flipping a coin, looking nonchalant, the revenant of James Dean who gives no thought to what presses against the windows. He fades and I can’t say a thing to stop him.
Those voices. That thing coming through—
Oh God, it’s almost inside, the glass stretched beyond imagination, the buttery wood rippling and sizzling, Oh Jesus Christ it’s getting through, it’s tearing through, I’m going to die.
We are the first blow
We are the wedge in the doorway
We are the army of your flesh
We are the crushing fist of the gods
We are legions of hate
And cruel uncare
“Dominion is the volume of that song, Mr. Crichton, and you are its composer.”
Fear paralyzes me. I accept my fate. Not the one Mr. Coin spoke of, but the terrible future I will experience when that thing breaks through. And when the voices reach me, tear me up from the inside out, consume me. I will die here in this nightmare, this nightmare made manifest in the darkest ways, this nightmare bursting with lightless malevolence. I will die at the hands of the Dreamdarkers.
“Reflect upon the future you wish to write, Mr. Crichton.”
His voice remains barely audible. I no longer see him in the corner. I no longer see a hint of what once stood there.
He’s leaving me. Deserting me.
“Consider the song you wish to hear. You are the Untouched. You alone can decide who sings loudest and what words their chorus brings. We will speak again, Mr. Crichton. Soon.”
He’s gone. I’m alone. The noise has grown deafening, the wall and windows now draping the dark beast with silky precision, existence stretched thin over its terrible, horrible, unmentionable self.
Pulled to its limits, the universe rips wide open. And a bloodcurdling scream rends the darkness as it pours over me.
The scream keeps flowing from my mouth when I jerk awake and leap from the couch. In the sunroom. Unscathed. Shaking uncontrollably.
Stippled morning sunlight shines through the windows. I blink repeatedly trying to wipe away the mist of tears, trying to wash away the fog of sleep, trying to comprehend where I am and when I am.
The scream dies on my lips—finally—though my trembling continues unabated. I glance around, but mostly my eyes yank back to the far wall, the windows, the place where some appalling and indescribable thing broke through a moment before.
No, that was a nightmare. Wasn’t it? It’s not real. It wasn’t real. Nothing came through. Nothing ripped into this world from the dark hell on the other side.
Thoughts do not convince my body. Tremors slowly subside until I stand rigid, yet palpable fear courses through every fiber of my being. Nothing—naught in the history of the world—has so terrorized me. In my years of diving deep into creativity to dredge up the next frightful vision, never have I discovered anything so overwhelming, so … so unimaginable.
I wipe sweat from my brow as it drips into my eyes. It drenches me from head to toe, my bare torso sodden and my shorts pasted to skin with the sour musk of terror.
The laptop sits quietly on the table. A half-empty beer bottle rests next to it. An empty pie wrapper gently seesaws on the floor where currents from the ceiling fans blow it to and fro. The world looks precisely as it should appear.
Or is it? Do we know the real world so we can juxtapose that with our perceptions in order to find where our understanding falters?
No eyes surround the house. No gentle, firm, young male voice speaks from the corner where an avatar named Mr. Coin once appeared. No impalpable monstrosity made of shadow digs through the fabric of the cosmos trying to reach me in my sunroom.
Morning light reveals the same world night covered when I passed out on the sofa. And yet I can feel the presences that shared this space with me, I can smell a hint of control, and the tinkling chorus of children’s voices echoes inside my head.
How can such blameless voices embody such wickedness, such malign force? How can children’s voices produce such intolerable anguish, such emotional suffering? How can those voices make me feel so abused and raped and filthy and disgusted?
That scream, primitive and brutal, a man disemboweled, a man dismembered, a man in the throes of his own murder. Remembering it sends a shudder through me.
That sound came from me. From me …
I keep expecting to hear the coin flip through the air, the slap as it alights on skin, the sharp hint of a fingernail sending it heavenward one more time.
It was a dream. A dream. Just a dream.
My thoughts give no salve. William Dement once wrote in Newsweek, “Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.” He has no idea.
My dreams—No, my nightmares do not feel safe. Does this constitute losing one’s mind? These experiences more than discomfort me.
Having come to a clear understanding of the previous dreams, my uneasiness with the third one greatly exacerbates the apprehension I laid to rest. Orders of magnitude worse than the previous two, its severity took on a life of its own. It came flying in from left field with no warning and smacked me upside the head with unbelievable potency.
Some part of me continues feeling the pain of the voices. They cut me, wounded me with their soulless stabbing.
Hannibal the Cannibal whispering until I swallow my tongue would sound like Gregorian chanting in comparison. Those children were worse, more painful, more threatening. More vandalizing. More real.
How completely out of touch with reality it left me, how threatened in the relative security of my own sunroom on a perfectly normal day.
Our assumed ontologies have changed. No, more fundamental than that. While our theories of existence indeed suffered cataclysmic alteration such that it leaves us reeling, the change comes at the behest of reality itself, which pulled away the veil to show its true face, a terrifying, beautifully insidious visage hiding behind the perceived safety of its disarming smile.
Perhaps the sleeping sickness does start this way. That would explain why investigators have discovered no predictive symptoms. No one would report the insanity that clutches the mind. No one would report the tangible sense of an artificial world ripped away to reveal the horrible truth hiding beneath. No one would admit how violated and adulterated they feel afterword, how soiled the soul and how mangled the mind seem in the aftermath.
The collective experience leaves me transformed. By dreams, by nightmares. The old ersatz world passed away while I slept. I now stand cognizant of, if still unfamiliar with, a whole new world a hell of a lot meaner and nastier than the old one, a place where nature is not indifferent and unrelenting but instead is a vicious mean-spirited bitch with a painful backhand she dishes out unstintingly. And she very much dislikes us. That vile truth explains the terrible thing I now begin to understand, the essence of this new reality which represents the real reality illuminated.
Okay, let’s put it on the line. This is real. This is happening. If I’m not coming down with SACSS, if this isn’t how the illness starts, then the pieces slowly fall into place and they indicate the shit’s about to hit the fan. Dreamdarkers. Mr. Coin. The Untouched. Visionary. A war against humanity.
And what about Mr. Hat? Coincidence or no? At this point, I vote against coincidence. Those for signal with aye. Good. Those opposed signal with nay. Nay! And the nays carry it. Not a coincidence.
Contemplation cannot deter horror. Something terribly wrong has unhidden itself. Maybe they are nightmares, but they represent more than that. Something in those sleepy places has as much reality as the floor upholding my drenched body. The sleeping sickness fails to explain it because one clue exists in the real world—Mr. Hat. He clearly demonstrates out here that the things in dreams can be the same as the things in the physical realm.
“‘All men do not dream equally, Mr. Crichton,’ he said. No, definitely not a coincidence. So what else did he say? Come on, David Allen Crichton, think!”
I scratch my scalp absently in thought, my hand coming away soaked with heavy sweat. At least the shaking stopped.
“Things aren’t always what they seem.”
Carrying on a vocal conversation with myself bothers me not one iota. In fact, it helps in some small way, perhaps giving me a chance to regain authority over the mayhem of head and heart while distracting me from the severity of what happened.
“Yes, he said that. ‘Things are not always what they seem,’ he said. But what does that mean? That sometimes a dream is more than a dream? Sure, that makes sense. He was warning me not to take for granted what might once have been regarded as a bad nightmare. Or did he mean that what seems like more than a dream is just a dream, perchance a nightmare, but nothing more than that? Crap on a cracker!
“No, wait a minute. He said a visionary dreams in the light—Mr. Coin said the same thing—a visionary dreams in the light whereas most people dream in the dark, and the dark can’t be fought with the dark. ‘And darkness cannot stand against darkness.’ Right, okay, that’s what he said. And something about those who dream by day—in the light like a visionary—wield strength. Potent strength.
“This is totally screwed up!”
I shake my head, drops of perspiration flying. No interpretation can deny Mr. Hat’s involvement. The world does not conform to the idea we hold and peril lurks right around the corner. Mr. Coin implied time has run out. “No more deferments,” he said.
“Oh, and no problem on self-deception, you vaporous tease! We’re on the same page now.
“A war against humanity …”
There’s something else. Those voices, the singing, the children’s chorus straight from the Village of the Damned. The Dreamdarkers, they said something. What was it?
“Christ on a crutch.” The words roll out breathless and weak.
“Mr. Coin said a war against humanity. They said, ‘We are the first blow.’ The vanguard of an assault? The first wave. The opening salvo. Mr. Coin called the Dreamdarkers that.
“They’re starting a war. A war against humanity. But starting a war for whom? Come on, memory, shake off fatigue and fear and give me all you got—”
My eyes grow wide and a spike of terror pierces me. My breath catches, my heart skips a beat and I begin shaking. “Oh no … ‘We are the crushing fist of the gods.'”
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Note that this is the last part of the novel to be posted—at least for now. This represents a sixth of the novel and half of its first part. I decided to share this much because it demonstrates the novel as a whole while also ending with identifying the challenge faced in the novel and the series it starts.