Anyone who knows me knows that you can find me doing one of two things when I’m trying to relax and let my brain rest after a long day of teaching needy selective students:
- Cooking (or baking bread, which I count as cooking but some don’t), or
- Watching video game streams (or occasionally actually playing video games)
Often I am doing both at the same time.
I will be the first person to argue with you about the cultural impact of video games and the way that they bring to the fore ideas that may not have been so easily accessible to people otherwise, particularly considering the way our world works these days.
While I do love to play games, the nature of my job along with my increasing responsibilities have pushed me to watch streamers while I’m making curries of ever-increasing complexity, marking essays, or baking loaves of bread or American-style “biscuits” – what we on the other side of the world would call savoury scones I suppose.
It was while watching a streamer named “Vinny Vinesauce” – yes they have silly names – that I was exposed to the Lovecraftian approach to writing, and his Weird Fiction called to me in a way the other writing hadn’t for a long time. I had never read horror, nor had I ever written it, but after seeing a game that drew from his style it wasn’t long before a picked up some of his work, which I am still working through to this day.
He is problematic, let me just put that out there. He was an obvious and overt racist and recluse, and to put it nicely he never seemed to see much of a role for women in his work, however the way that he sets up his stories, the tension that is developed, and the overall sense of dread that you feel by the end make him valuable despite the problems that he poses to us in a more modern context.
After reading some of his work, I came across a short story competitions asking for scary stories, and thought I’d have a crack at emulating his style. I didn’t win, but it was a good experience nonetheless. The piece below is obviously derivative of the Lovecraft, and by no means does any of what he succeeded in doing with the craft that he exhibited, however it was my first piece of prose since high school (back towards the middle of last year), and I think it is at least interesting.
The Waking World
I swear to you all that what follows is the absolute truth and while some of my memories of the events have faded somewhat, the key details are clear in my mind – so clear that they have made me question the very fabric of my being.
It was not more than twenty-four hours ago that it happened again, and after many nights enduring these horrors I have resolved that there is no certainty that the words I speak to you all now, while they are the truth as I can tell it, are spoken in the world I was sure I knew before. This is because over many nights in the month past I have woken startled from my sleep by a Thing in my dreams that I have not yet the words to articulate fully. On many occasions in such recent times I have woken to find the woman with whom I spend my nights standing over me holding my shaking hands, and wiping an icy sweat from my brow. On the first of these portentous nights she articulated the events as she saw them in such a way that was well beyond my own recollection of what had occurred, but is surely accurate as you will see when I relayed to you, as she did me, the events of the night.
“You were frightening,” she said. Her face was glazed over at this point, as if she was not only seeing the event play over again in her mind, but that with some kind of deeper sight could see the Thing beyond my own eyes in her memory. The Thing that has forced me awake so often of late.
At the time, I had sat there dumbfounded in the soft bed, head in my hands and with an unexplained exhaustion settling deep into my body despite the fact I had been sleeping seemingly soundly until minutes before. I simply said to her, “I’m sorry.”
“I thought we were being attacked,” she said, that look of deep horror not having left her face, “You were screaming ‘Go away! Go away! It cannot be true!’ over and over.”
The same weak apology is all I could manage.
“It must have been minutes – maybe five or more – before you woke up, but throughout the whole thing your eyes were wide open. You looked scared – terrified – and you were frozen still. By the time it was over, you were covered in sweat,” she lifted up the handkerchief she had snatched from my bedside table, as if to prove her point.
I went downstairs for a tea that night, and sat on my living room couch, staring at the blank, abysmal television and hoping that something would make itself apparent that could explain the Thing I had seen in my dreams not long prior. But as is so often the case, my memory of those images and the event faded quickly and I joined my partner in bed yet again to resume what was left of my night’s short rest.
The last moment I remember clearly from that night one that found me upon falling asleep again – it is the first clear image that I can describe to you of the Thing that has visited me repeatedly over many weeks now. The image was a face, or close to it, as I will describe it to you now. Even so, I am simply approximating from the other creatures it most closely resembles although it is not the same as any human or animal face that I have seen in my time in this world, such as it is, so far.
While the skin of this human-animal-thing inspires significant revulsion – a black, gloopy substance that seemed as though it would be corrosive to the touch, dripping constantly– and the eyes seemed to pierce mine in such a way that I know that if I had looked at them for long enough I would have simply burned where I slept, it was the mouth – oh that gaping, horrible mouth – that instilled in me the majority of my horror, and continued to in the nights that followed.
While eyes burned and the skin dripped, that rotten, gaping maw seemed to exude such toxicity that a mere breath would strip my own flesh from my skull. In fact, in dreams to come – or whatever they may be – this exact event occurred, I think even on more than one occasion. In that gaping mouth, beyond the toxic air I could see the universe glowing. I seemed to be sucked into it, moving quickly and for eternity through those beauteous stars, seemingly forever. And beyond that there was nothing until I found the face again, mouth open, staring.
I remember only that that night, the Thing’s face was the last image burned into my mind, and to this day I am not sure how I escaped that terrifying loop. However, I know that when I woke, I woke with the soft glow of the sun peeking through my bedroom’s blinds and when I rolled to my side my partner was laying there, sleeping peacefully as if that Thing did not exist.
Now I am afraid that it is the only thing that does.
* * * * *
What I have just described to you was the first I remember seeing that horrible Thing, though it may not have been the first time my dream-self had been within its grasp. What I am certain of is that from that night onwards my dreams were clear to me in a way that they had never been before. The reality that my sleeping-self inhabited was one that, my dear friends, truly only dreams were made of.
Oh, the things I have done with complete lucidity in those beautiful, terrifying places are such that I could not describe, for I do not have nor do I desire the words even in what may be my last few hours in this world. If only I could describe to you in our world’s words the wonder of the mountains, towering high above me. Mountains that I could scale with whimsy and once I reached the top would perform such acts of violent depravity to the humanoid inhabitants, that more resembled the Thing of my nightmares than any person I have known, that would be cause for imprisonment or worse if they had been committed in the waking world.
On some nights I would see my father, whom I had lost many years prior, chasing me slowly through decrepit, wooden buildings and across barren plains until I would turn towards him, manifest a knife from seemingly nowhere and sink it time and time again into his gaping chest. Blood would spray from his wound as I laughed, and at the end I would sit smiling at his still and broken corpse.
On yet other nights I would be in my childhood home, overlooking the Blue Mountains from which I came. From these mountains would spew billowing black smoke and I would see the bush around me burn as the trees were engulfed by the shimmering lava, dissolving into the orange sea. All the while my child-self would lay curled in a ball, sobbing until the flames finally engulfed me. In these dreams my mind would create and almost perfect resemblance of the pain I would have felt, were it that it was actually occurring.
No matter the nature of my dream that night, it would always end in the same way – that horrible face, with its skin peeling like a viscous liquid, burning eyes, and an endless, abysmal maw into which I would descend for eternity until I was woken by my terrified partner.
* * * * *
I will finish my last drink now my friends, and I will tell you the final part of this terrible story with as little censorship as I can afford and in spite of the madness that I can feel bubbling below the surface of my flesh. Then I will walk into the street.
Last night, she left. After a month of the terrors, the cold sweats and the screaming, she disappeared. Unreachable by text or phone, or any other media at my disposal, I have been left on my own. You see, it has been thirty days now since that first horrible dream, and every night my dear lover has woken me, wiped by frozen sweat and held me while I sobbed until I drifted back into my second, dreamless sleep. But after thirty days it is clear to both her and I that these terrors go beyond our imagining of our world, as I am sure you can also deduct from the events as described to you tonight. After thirty days of looking into my empty eyes, and feeling my clammy skin, she surely learned of the change that was happening within me.
My friends, I delayed my slumber as long as I could last night – as I have done tonight as well – but despite my efforts to the contrary I drifted off to sleep at some three-hours after midnight. Rather than that lascivious mountain, murderous chase, or burning bushland of my previous dreams, or any number of other places that I might describe to you if I had more time or the will to indulge you in the depths of depravity that these horrifying places brought out in me, I found a series of tunnels, moist to the touch and smoother than any substance which has contacted my sensitive flesh in the past. These tunnels were labyrinthine, and no matter which way I turned, I would come back to the same thing – a deep cavern, at the bottom of which was the universe splayed out to the furthest edge of sight. And while the universe below, above was out world, spinning slowly and held suspended in the air by some unknown force.
I stumbled in these tunnels for hours, for I no longer had someone to break me from the sleep which had taken me, and to my significant surprise I began to feel overcome by a tiredness I thought impossible in the dream-world.
My friends, I should not have stopped and sat. I should not have rested. I should not have close my eyes. For in that momentary rest, I became more aware of the world in from of me than any that I have encountered before or since. Through closed lids I saw the shape of my lover, running in the darkness, and my father sprawled on the ground and caked with blood.
When I opening my eyes again, I was in a clean, white, open space – for I would not call it a room as there was no discernible ceiling of flooring that my mind could settle on and a crisp white glow seemed to emanate from every direction. I stepped forward, and walked towards what appeared to be a single darkened space on what must have been the horizon.
As I got closer the form took shape. It looked almost human, but it stood so still that I was sure it could not have been so. The more I closed the gap between myself and this figure, the more unsettled I became and as I tried to turn and run I found that the Thing was suddenly standing not meters away, and towering feet above me.
I stood speechless as it grasped my hand, engulfing me with the terrible sight and feeling that consumed the essence of my being yet again. The universe began to cascade around me yet again, faster and faster as I fell into that gaping maw once more.
I woke from sleep aeons later.
I do not remember how I came to be here tonight, but I know now that I must go. I will walk until I can walk no longer and when I fall asleep once more I – nor you – shall ever return.