Request for answers: Received. Answers: Delivered., by Bryan Nickelberry
I lay there looking up at the darkness, trying not to focus on the light coming through the still open door. ‘What dreams will come to me tonight?’ I wondered. Or was it, ‘I welcome dreams coming to me tonight’? I shrugged. ‘It’s been too long, and I need something, anything to write about. I’m so used to being a font of ideas; of things just coming in from out of the aether, that having to stop and wonder what to write is something almost new to me…’
Then a voice responded from within my own head, ‘Dreams?’ it asked. ‘What kinds of dreams would you like/shall we give you?’ It’s times like these that worry me just a bit. Logically it’s just a voice that I’ve constructed to answer myself with, but given a familial history of Schizophrenia, it always makes me a bit wary when I get unique answers back to dialogue I’d been making to myself.
My whole life I’ve looked for signs and portents, evidence of the miraculous; but always these things seem to remain just beyond my reach. Just close enough to feel, but never close enough, nor open with me enough to hold in hand. Of course there are those who would argue that my life is already more than miraculous enough for most… but the incredible things I encounter on a seemingly daily basis are of so low a level and of such an often occurrence that they are for the most part just additional pieces of the background and landscaping.
Over my lifetime; (not even a third of a century,) I’ve had friends, enemies, and family members capable of doing incredible things. Some of them could turn their abilities on and off as if with a switch. Some were always on. One or two denied their abilities to themselves and to my face. And one or two grinned at the cruel ways they’d found to lord their talents over others, and at the fact that while I recognized them for what they were; I was powerless to stop them. My own ability meanwhile, to connect on an empathic and intuitive level to any concept, space-time point, or being, some might argue philosophically to be the most powerful of all. And yet, between the subconscious nature of my ability, and it’s low level; this incredible ability is near enough to useless to me. All of this flashed through my head in less than 7 seconds as I lay there in the dark, wondering both what my response should be, and wondering for the briefest of moments who or what my ability may have connected me to.
‘Nothing too horrific.’ I thought back in reply. ‘Nothing that I can’t come back from. And yet, something interesting. Something worth writing about.’ I remember getting back the impression, or the feeling of a smile as I drifted off. I woke up needing to use the bathroom.
There were memories of something, but they were pushed out of my mind as I carefully navigated my broken leg between the crutches, to the bathroom, and back to bed; pausing only to wave at my brother: still playing computer games, even at three something A.M. Settling back down into bed and feeling the dull ache of my ankle recede, a shard of memory prods me to call out to my brother. There’s no reply. He’s off in his own world, and for that period of time, whether by intention, or by accident, any other world, especially that outside of his head is meaningless to him. I fall back to sleep immediately, and find myself inside a tumble-down shack in coastal Scotland.
The fiery red hair of the man’s head and beard were just as tangled as they were wild and free flowing, and they matched colors with the body hair visible between the sewn-together patches of his just-barely-there clothing. Having decided that we should go down and see some of his friends, he stood up, while I carefully stood back to make way for him. Then he lead me out, through the clutter, past the door, and into the forest.
In no time at all we’d broken the forest line, shuffled down a steep hill, and found ourselves climbing the rocky, scru- grass-covered side of the generous ditch that bordered the road. Looking both ways I saw that there were no cars. I hadn’t expected there to be, with as small of a town as this was, but one never knows. Looking back the way we’d come something seemed off. The tree line giving way to grass, which gave way to rocks and scrub grass at the bottom. The ditch lining each side of the road. The ramshackle town, not in disrepair; but small, wood-built, inland leading, nearly deserted, and only a football field’s length or so from the piled black rocks marking the ocean. The light rain sprinkling upon us, and tanged with the scent of the ocean. Was this Scotland, or was this somewhere in the Puget Sound of Washington, my own home state back in America?
Turning back to my guide, I stopped. He was almost to the road, but he was wearing a pair of long overused flip flops, and something like a loincloth, with the back nearly all gone. Why did I remember him having more on before we’d left his shack? I called out to him and asked him to stop for a minute, as I searched the litter on the ground for something to cover him with. The litter was sparse, but for whatever reason, there’s always at least one piece of clothing among the trash on the side of the road. Explaining that he might want to cover up just a bit before he saw his friends, I found gold: a discarded, green, long sleeved, long john-material-esque shirt that looked long enough to reach past his waist.
Rolling it up so that I could slip it over his head, somehow the buttons for the front kept ending up at the back, no matter how many times I turned it around. With a gentle smile he offered to try it himself. I didn’t have the greatest amount of faith in his ability to dress himself, but sure, why not. What’s the worst that could happen? Plus if he was putting it on, that meant that I was still in control of the situation, since he was agreeing with me. He took the shirt, unrolled it, slipped it over his head and on. As it settled around his broad shoulders, it occurred to me that when I’d handed it to him, it hadn’t been a rich royal green, satin tunic, ending around the knees. But as he tightened the sash, I saw that not even the bits of grass and dirt still stuck to the tunic could hide it’s royal nature. He smiled and thanked me then, calling me a true friend, and clasped my shoulder before heading across the street and into one of the wooden buildings. A part of me realized then that I may never have been in control. Still, I followed him inside.
The building seemed to be a too-small community center, and people were beginning to gather inside. Some were male, some were female. Some looked lean and wiry, others looked large and powerful, and all body types, mixed, matched, and in between were represented. All appeared to be of either Native, or Pacific Island decent; and I didn’t think anything about it, since that wouldn’t be strange in an old Washington State fishing village.
I sat back and watched as the gathered people began to stretch, and take different positions. It never occurred to me to ask where my guide had gone. Then I saw one young man grip the wall, with his fingers and toes. He climbed part of the way up the wall, and turned himself at a downward angle concentrating on keeping position while he wrote furiously on the whiteboard in front of him before dropping off the wall and onto the floor in a low crouch. Part of my mind pointed out that he should’ve needed another wall, or support of some kind to brace himself against to achieve that feat; but the rest of me recognized the stance and power he received from the yoga posture he’d had on the wall. And that seemed to cause the entire thing to make sense. “I’m a yoga practitioner too,” I said, “though a bit out of practice. What do you call that pose?” Instead of answering he got shy all of a sudden, and looked to the others. I realized that it was time for them to begin.
They moved with a grace and fluidity that defied envy, and made me embrace awe. Shifting seamlessly from yoga to dance, martial arts to ballet, break dancing to tantric expression; all of these and more. Every movement that a human body was capable of producing by itself or with a partner was expressed at some point, by someone. Why was the room so dark all of a sudden? Where had the latex masks, armor pieces, and costumes come from? Just how many people were in the room now, and where had they all come from? Why did so many props, costumes and bodily features seem to disappear only to reappear somewhere else, or on someone else? Some of the things they did I recognized from within my own head. But who’s head did they pull the rest from? And more importantly, when did I stop watching… and begin moving as one of them?
It was early morning now. The light of the sun filtering through the clouds gave the world a blue-greyish tinge. There were four packs of cigarettes on the counter, all wrapped up as a neat little two by two pack package. I didn’t recognize the brand. I grabbed the neat little plastic tab on the side, and pulled it, neatly slicing apart the two stacks of golden labeled cigarettes. Then she… it walked out.
Exactly six feet tall, just enough height to look down on me, with skin alabaster white; and short cut, inch and a half long, rumpled hair that actually glowed a vibrant orange in the pale light of morning. It was barefoot, but it’s black lycra pants didn’t seem to match with it’s slightly too big grey sweatshirt. Every motion from it’s wiry frame exuded barely contained, carefully controlled power, and when it took a two pack of cigarettes from me, it’s long, thin fingers brushed mine, giving me a glimpse at the world through it’s own eyes: The cellophane wrapping the two boxes, just wasn’t there anymore, and then one of the boxes was gone along with part of the foil wrapping, though the cigarettes, (formerly? Still?) within the box hadn’t changed their position. Suddenly I understood that boundaries meant nothing to this thing; and this particular exercise of it’s power allowed it to see all twenty carefully packed cigarettes so that it could select the one of it’s desire without it having to open the box or even unwrap the cellophane. It lit up it’s cigarette, and I said with a sudden realization, “I don’t smoke cigarettes.”
I left the two packs of cigarettes on the counter as I turned to face it fully, and looked into it’s eyes. They didn’t seem to glow, but I felt as if they should have. It took a gentle drag of the cigarette, and I formed a multitude of questions in my mind before I spoke.
‘What are you? Who are you? What did you do to me, and how did you do it? Where am I? Wait! Where am I now and where have I been?’ I opened my mouth and asked a single question. Strangely it wasn’t any of the questions I’d just thought of. It laughed then, and the world slid into pieces at angles. Things: people moving from last night. A two dimensional background of long, thin, moving shapes, always shifting from hard edged geometrically angled shapes into flowing thin organic shapes and back, pushing out toward me from different places at different times; only to flow in all directions and fall back apart into the writhing ever-changing mass from which they’d come.
Scents! The faint smell of rotting and sweetness; the memory of my mouth locking onto something; the sounds of so many things moving in the darkness, and the color black. Then the front of a seven inch vinyl record cover: Done in black and white but with just a bit of red. It’s out of focus, but wait… if I concentrate, I can make out the letters… “N… Y… A… R-Y-T-L” I turned away quickly, since I didn’t need to see anymore; and then there it was back in the chair, it’s perfectly androgynous features looking mildly amused.
“Thank you,” I said with a wry grin, “But I think I’ll head for home now.”
It smiled then, and said, “You can’t go home. You feel that rubbery dryness in your mouth? You’ve already drank the mother’s milk.”
Beginning to remember now something of who I was, what I was, and why I was; feeling the dull ache of my broken ankle and using it to hone in on my body, I replied, “That’s just the mild dehydration of the last few days. A few sips of water, and I’ll be fine. I’ve woken up like that every day for the last few days.”
“But you don’t know that for a fact now do you?” it asked. “The mother’s milk-“
“Will do nothing.” I replied. “The other psionic species created yours to bridge the gap between the psionic and the physical worlds.” I said with conviction. “Since it’s source is a psionic creature, the mother’s milk is a psionic substance. It only has as much effect upon me as I allow it to. And since this is a dream, I declare it to have no more effect on my physical body, than that of a dream. And even if it did change me some, the words of Johnny cash down on the bar room floor would guide me through.” I said letting the dull ache in my ankle begin to take me back. “I would keep myself. I would find… a way.”
I open my eyes to the clearing darkness above me, and the bluish-grey light of pre-dawn outside my window. Every time I close my eyes I still see the tendrils, constantly shifting into new forms, and I can hear a faint mumbled whisper in the back of my mind. But that’s alright. They have no power over me. I put my glasses on, and the world comes into focus. I call for my brother. He doesn’t hear me. He’s off in his own world. The dog hears me and begins to bark. My brother gets the now barking dog out of my parent’s room and closes the door so that they can sleep a while longer, while I hobble from the bed to the reclining chair so that I can put my foot up again.
Much of the dream is still in my head, and I begin hammering more of it out of my memory so that I can write it down. I need to write. It’s been too long since last I did, and I’ve been given something that just might be good. I ask my brother what world he goes to when he plugs his headphones in, and reads on the computer, or plays his games. Where does he go? What color is the sky, and what sorts of creatures live there? I start to explain that I’m not mocking him, I’m genuinely curious… but then I realize that he’s already plugged in, and tuning out the outside world. He hasn’t even heard the initial question. I smile at the irony.
I open my mouth again and for no apparent reason he turns to face me. Giving him a slight twitch of the hand, he understands that I have a wish to communicate, and he removes the earphones. I tell him that Ineed to type and that I’m going to have to kick him off to do so. Further more, he is going to help me either get the laptop over to the chair, or get myself over to the laptop.
He sighs, hearing the determination in my voice, and points out that moving the laptop is not advisable due to the lack of extension cords for the internet cable. Furthermore he says he doesn’t feel like getting into more trouble by trying to mcguyver the laptop over to me, than he’ll already in for helping me access the computer when I should be resting and healing. I inform him that in that case he’s going to set up the laptop’s area so that I can put my leg up while typing. He reluctantly agrees and asks to finish reading the story he’s in the middle of. I tell him that’s fine. As I suck the last few drops of water from my cup, and enjoy the way they wet my mouth, I remember my question from hours ago, and ask him if he’d like to watch a new cartoon that I’ve recorded with me later on. He says no, because the show currently has no value to him. Once I’ve watched it and found it to have value, then he’ll consider it, but not before then. I ponder this.
While I’m using the bathroom, he informs me through the door that the computer is mine now, he’s set up the extra chair for my leg, and that he’s going to bed. I ponder the lack of interaction between us as I wash my hands and hobble to the computer. I reverse the set up, sit down, put my leg up, and ready my fingers to type. I can still see the writhing mass in the back of my mind though the whispers are inaudible, and I feel now that it was nothing more than a very interesting dream. I smile though as I try to remember just what it was that I asked which made the thing tell me it’s name… And I begin to type.
Bryan Nickelberry is a life-long resident of the greater Seattle area in Washington state. His love of well-written stories began at an early age, and continued until he couldn’t help but begin writing his own. His first published story, “Boredom” came on Christmas Eve in the Were Traveler anthology, “The Day the Zombies Ruled the Earth.”
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, short stories, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.