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Halloween Writting Contest Entry 15

The following story was submitted as an entry in The Wanderer first annual Halloween Writing Contest.
The winner will be announced in the October 25, 2007 edition.
Stories will be posted on-line as they are available in print.

Dreaming Children Fed the Ravenous Beasts

A cold breeze blew through the streets of this small, coastal community Halloween night. The ocean's waves could be heard lapping the shore and splashing against the rocks in a way that always seems a little more sinister in the dark, cold of Fall; when the moon alone lights up the rippling ocean surface, leaving far too much unlit and unknown. The dead elm leaves rustled with a whispering sound that could only be described as conspiratorial. The bare branches of the trees banged against each other with the coaxing of the breeze, as if they were the clapping palms of a drunk who'd just heard a good joke. Deep in the shadows, far from where the people ever saw, the predators and their prey were driven by desire.

The time was 2 a.m., and had there been a giant bell tolling the hour the sound would have been deep and echoing, but there was no bell, only the complete silence a small town will make when there is no one awake to make a sound.

It was then that the nightmares descended upon the children of the town. A nightmare, can there be anything more terrifying to a sleeping child? But what is a nightmare? Is it just the latent fears and anxieties buried in the subconscious coming home to roost one dark night when we are least prepared for it, or is it something more? Perhaps dreams are creatures feasting on the fabric of reality, and just as there are both pleasant and fearsome creatures, so the same goes for dreams.

I don't know for sure what a nightmare looks like, because I have never seen one, but I imagine it looks a little like a fox, moving through the darkness with speed and cunning. It stalks its prey with impossible patience, and when it strikes it takes great pleasure in tasting what it has caught. I imagine a nightmare stalks a child similar to the way that a fox stalks a rabbit.

Little Tommy was barely eight years old and sleeping in his bed. His room was typical young boys; pictures of athletes adorning the walls, toys and trophies occupying spaces on shelves. The Halloween goblin mask he had worn just hours before sat on his desk at the foot of his bed, and seemed to stare at him as he slept. The room was dark and quiet, except for the deep sleep breathing on Tommy.

A beam of moonlight coming in through the window displayed his sleeping form in the bed, curled up with his eyes closed. Not quite perfectly still because every so often there would be the slight kick of his foot, or a twitch of his head.

Tonight, in his dream, it was a bright summer day, and he was walking under the still canopy of elm trees which lined the sidewalks. The day seemed typical of summer days. It had that perfect feeling which becomes all too easy to take for granted, and disappears all too quickly. Tommy walked down the street kicking the pavement with his heel and enjoying the sound that it made.

As he approached his house, he saw his neighbor Mrs. McKinnerny sitting motionless on her porch, and scowling at the world at large. She was in her sixties, but Tommy would have placed her at about one hundred and twenty, She had a long mane of shock white hair pulled back in a severe pony tail, and blue eyes that passed over you in a manner that was similar to a blind person's. She wasn't blind and even though she acted like she hadn't seen you, you know that she had. She was dressed in tennis clothes because it was summer, and that was her way.

Tommy passed by without any sign of acknowledgement from the old woman. As he walked by her porch, he ran his fingers along the side of her car partially to feel the smooth finish of the car heated up by the sun, but mainly because he knew that it was something that would upset the old woman. Like all of the neighborhood children he enjoyed making her scream and jump up and down with anger. It was something that made him giggle.

But today was different, because rather than jump out of her chair and demand that he step away from her vehicle she had mysteriously appeared behind him. "So, you enjoy tormenting old women," she whispered maliciously in his ear. "I wonder if you enjoy it as much as I enjoy hearing the screams of children." With that, she grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled him off of the sidewalk and into her yard.

Tommy was surprised by all of this. He honestly believed that her reaction was far beyond what was warranted for the situation. He could not believe her speed in coming up unseen behind him, and was shocked at the strength of the grip she had on his head because he knew that he should be able to get away from an old woman, but try as he might he could not break free of her grasp. Perhaps most shocking were the sobs and pleadings that escaped him. "Please, Mrs. McKinnerny. I didn't mean,"

"Oh yes you did," she hissed back at him. "Do you really think that I don't know what you and your little delinquent cohorts are up to? Nothing better to do with your time than to disturb an old woman. You're all just vicious little creatures."

They were well into her yard now and moving past her house, and towards her shed. Tommy knew that unspeakable horror lay behind those doors. He played his trump card. "You can't do this. My parents,"

"Your parents can't help you now," she said opening the shed door with one hand and pushing him inside with the other.

She closed the door behind them. The shed was all darkness except for a single ray of light coming through a small octagonal window above the door. Dust swirled in the light, disturbed by the pair's sudden intrusion. The small bit of light offered Tommy a view of rows of jars on shelves containing odd fluids, nails, and screws. Some saws, hammers, and other implements of progress hung on the walls. Tommy instinctively knew that these had belonged to Mrs. McKinnerny's long deceased husband.

Mrs. McKinnerny left Tommy to walk into a darkened corner, and started pulling jars off of the shelves. Tommy wanted to run out of the door, and he probably could have, but he stood frozen. Perhaps it was fear that forced him to stay, or maybe he was just in the habit of doing what he was told. There was really no time for him to decide, because in less time than it took for you to read the last sentence she was back with an old peanut butter jar half-filled with a rusty colored fluid.

"So, you want to rub your grubby little fingers all over my car, hmm?" She unscrewed the cap and grabbed both of his hands.

Tommy resisted, but couldn't overpower the old woman. She submerged his hands into the solution which began to bubble and smolder at once, as if something long dormant had been awakened. Tommy could no longer see his fingers and knew that they existed solely by the excruciating pain. They were burning, most probably the jar contained some kind of acid. Tommy was surprised at how calmly he assessed the situation, and began to cry.

"There, now this will no longer be a problem," she pulled his hands out and patted him on the head.

Tommy stared down at his hands which were quickly becoming stumps, because his fingers were now just pulsing, bloody, blistering things. Tommy screamed and all at once they began to drip, slowly at first but quickly gathering speed, until what had once been his fingers pooled on the floor in a bloody mess. Tommy looked down and could see his screaming face reflected on the surface of the bloody pool.

Back in his bed Tommy awoke with a start. He felt for his fingers in the darkness, and although he felt them he had to turn on a light just to be sure. His fingers were all there. It had just been a dream, but it was a long time before Tommy went back to sleep.

A few streets away, in a bedroom furnished for a tiny princess lay Amy. She was a simple, vain, six year old who had simple, vain dreams. That night she dreamed of waking in the morning and gazing at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled contentedly as her pearl handled hairbrush worked its way through her mane of long, blond hair. She had dimples in her cheeks and eyes of blue comparable only to a flawless summer sky. I'm so pretty, she thought to herself.

Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, time moved at an alarming and surreal pace. Slight wrinkles appeared in her face, then deepened as her face grew longer. The skin cracked. One by one her teeth fell out of her mouth, until there was nothing left but rotted, empty sockets in her gums. Her fair complexion turned grayish, and blue veins sprang up at her temples. She watched in disbelief as her hair which was once so luxurious, turned white and dry as straw. She was like a beautiful rose that had been forgotten in a vase and left to wilt. She could do nothing but stare helplessly at the horrible face in the mirror, knowing that it was her own, but still feeling disconnected and not allowing herself to own it.

The face in the mirror laughed bitterly and asked, "Am I still pretty?"

"No," Amy replied with disgust and horror. "Who are you?"

"I am you, just as you are me." The face in the mirror licked its cracked lips with a rotten, diseased looking tongue. "I'm your future, but I'll be with you your whole life."

"No, you're not me." Amy had begun to cry.

The face in the mirror laughed again. A worm had begun to work its way out of her eye socket. Her face had begun to decompose and a piece of her ear fell off. "I am you, and this is your future. Take a good look."

The face in mirror had grown arms, and they reached for her. Amy screamed and tried to back away, but she couldn't move as the arms encircled her writhing, screaming form. The smell of rotten flesh was all around her. She was being pulled towards the horrible face with slow and inevitable progress.

Amy woke up with little beads of sweat running down her face. She jumped out of bed and raced over to the mirror, turning on the lights as she ran. She was relieved to see that it was the same beautiful face that she had always known. She laughed a little, took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but she couldn't get the image of that horrible face out of her head. She realized that she would get old and that her beauty would fade; that permanence was just an illusion. She began to cry as she was overcome by a sadness so profound that it made her heart ache. The world of the fairy princess that her parents had built for her had been disturbed by the sudden knowledge of her own mortality. How would she be able to enjoy the present knowing what the future held in store for her? When she looked in the mirror she knew that a horrible, old woman was waiting for her.

The nightmares were visiting all of the children of the town. There were dreams of young ones who fell off of cliffs and awoke just before they hit the earth. There were those who dreamed of the beloved family dog cornering them in their bedrooms and lunging for their throats with powerful, snapping jaws. There were even those who dreamed that their arms and legs had disappeared. Of course, the children all awoke to find that everything was as it had been before they went to sleep. All of the children except Jenny.

Jenny was a gentle child, eight years of age, who filled the space around her with a vitality that had to be experienced to be believed. She was an active child, always outside running around and exploring. She smiled at everyone and exuded happiness which she left in her wake. She was simply impossible to dislike.

That night, she dreamed of a cold, crisp January day. This is no surprise since she looked forward to winter. She dreamed she was skating on a large, frozen pond. She'd never been to this particular pond before, and was delighted by the enormity of it. As she skated around she realized that she couldn't see where the frozen part ended and the snow of land began. She wasn't worried, but even she enjoyed the feeling of her skates cutting into the ice and gliding against the brisk air of this frozen world, she knew that there was something odd about this place.

The sun shone brightly, and the clouds made pleasing shapes in the sky. A bird called from somewhere, but Jenny couldn't tell what direction the sound came from. There were giant trees all around the ice, covered in snow with long icicles dangling from the branches, but no matter how far she skated towards them they always remained distant and she never seemed to get any closer to them.

Now she was starting to panic. There was something that just wasn't right about this pond, or the place. It wasn't just the enormity of everything, although that was certainly part of it, there was something else that she couldn't put her finger on. She wanted to get to the edge of the pond so that she could find her way back home. She didn't like not knowing where she was. She skated and skated, but couldn't make any progress towards the edge.

Nothing changed. She didn't have a watch, but she knew that she must have been out there for hours. Still nothing changed. She knew that the sun should have changed direction in the sky, but it remained in the same place. The trees remained distant, and the clouds were motionless in the sky.

Jenny sat on the ice, not caring that the cold quickly worked its way through her clothing. She was tired and there was a feeling growing inside of her that she was never going to see her home, her friends, or her parents again. She looked down and saw the faint outline of a figure beneath the frozen surface of the pond. She wiped the frozen pond with her hand, trying to see more clearly. It was still difficult to make out the figure, so she kicked at the figure with the blade of her skate. The figure lunged towards the surface of the pond, until it was just under the ice. Jenny no longer had any difficulty making out the figure, it was her mother trapped under the ice.

Jenny didn't bother to scream, but worked frantically to free her mother. She took off one of her skates and chipped away at the ice. She could see her mother under the ice, attempting to claw her way out, bubbles poured out her mouth, and her hair flowed out around her head. Her mother looked ghostly and blue.

Jenny worked and worked, but no matter what she did she was never any closer to getting to her mother. Her mother continued to claw at the ice, but it was no use. Nothing changed.

That morning Jenny didn't wake up. Not even when her mother shook her and slapped her trying to get her to open her eyes. Not even when her parents rushed her to the hospital where the doctors could do nothing more than to shrug their shoulders and offer an assortment of tranquilizers to the frantic parents.

That's not to say that Jenny will never come out of her dreamy state. Her parents haven't given up hope, and neither should we.

When the morning came the nightmares left the children and drifted into the air with satisfied grins and buoyant spirits. It may seem cruel that they thrive on the misery of children, but they are really no different than the fox who has to hunt the rabbit for its survival. I can't say for sure why the nightmares enjoyed feeding on the sleeping children, but once I asked a fox why it seemed to enjoy killing rabbits. The fox looked up at me, with blood dripping from its jaws and steam rising from the freshly killed rabbit.

"Because they taste good," the fox replied.