“You didn’t listen. You mortals never listen. Story of my eternity…”
Sylus blinked awake in an unfamiliar land. A barren world. Remains of derelict of buildings stood in the distance as ravaged reminders that people once walked this world. Debris hung in the air, suspended in time and space. The sky was a sickening mix of green and purple. Dull and muddy. A light of some kind shining from behind it. It swirled slowly around itself like a thick, viscous sludge. Tendrils hung from the sky, writhing in place. They reached for nothing. They simply were.
An all too familiar Mist surrounded everything.
“I need you to remember this place. This place where your kind was brought low.”
“Who… Where…” Sylus slowly stood up. His movement kicking up a cloud of fine violet dust that coated the otherwise bare stone beneath him. “Who are you?!”
“I should ask you the same! Dream walker! Invader!”
“Invader!?” Sylus bellowed back, “I didn’t ask to come here! I didn’t ask to BE here! I don’t even know where I am! I just woke up and here you are, whatever you are, giving me orders. Show yourself! I’m not afraid!”
There was a long palpable silence as a gentle breeze swirled through the Mist making a light ringing sound. Sylus could feel a sharp tingling sensation on his cheek.
“Crystals,” the voice explained, “That’s what happens when you don’t sweep up your dead.”
Sylus’ gaze shifted to the dust. It was then that he noticed his legs weren’t exactly solid. Holding his hands in front of his face, they had the same translucent quality about them, yet he still felt some kind of residual pain. His mind slowly clicked into position as his gaze traced the dust settling back to the earth.
“Oh don’t worry. You’re not desecrating anything their descendants haven’t already. Besides, they’ve been gone for… A while…”
“Who are you?!” Sylus screamed, desperation growing within him.
There was another short pause.
“Do you think I brought you here?”
“Of course I do! How the hell else would I be here?!” his breath was getting caught in his lungs.
“Try not to breathe this substance in. Not only is it mortal remains, but it’s razor-sharp and can easily cut up your fleshy innards.”
“This isn’t even my body!” Sylus spat, “Where am I?” he sobbed, “Let me go… Please…”
“Only if you leave me alone! I’ve put up with you lurking in my dreams for years! My dreams are all I have and you dream walking mortals violate what little control I have over myself. I banned dream walking, yet here you are! Traipsing around my mind like you own the place! The NERVE!”
“I-” Sylus was caught off guard, “I never… Y-you were the one lurking in my dreams! You! Whatever you are!”
A very long, uncomfortable silence settled in.
“I believe we have a misunderstanding on our… appendages.”
“Really?!” Sylus couldn’t help but laugh, “A misunderstanding? Is that what this all is? Not sleeping, losing my mind… A misunderstanding?”
Tendrils rose from the earth weaving themselves into a tall, slender form that vaguely resembled something humanoid. A single violet eye opened in what could be understood to be the head. Two thick tendrils folded across its front like frustrated arms.
“Allow me to recount our conflicting testimonies.”
“I just wanna be left alone… I just want to go home and try to lead a normal life…” Tears were burning in Sylus’ eyes, “Please. Let me go. I’m not worth it. Find someone else worth driving over the edge.”
Memories of what lead him to this place flooded his mind. He could see himself walking toward a cliff. Toward what looked like writhing hell bursting from the sea. He could hear Jeron and Daniel as if they were worlds away. They were calling to him, begging him to wake up. He couldn’t…
“Were you the one walking me to my death?” Sylus’ disposition shifted drastically. No longer was he afraid. He was enraged. “You… You endangered my son! I-I could have walked him off a cliff!! You want me gone so badly? Then just let me go! I didn’t ask for this! ANY of this! Just leave my family alone!”
The creature thought a moment, “I’ve never knowingly taken control of you. It’s very difficult for me to possess mortals. Besides I don’t believe I’m strong enough to even consider it. But before you continue your little mortal crisis, allow me to evaluate our current predicament.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Sylus spat. He turned away as if he knew where he could go to be free of this hellscape. But he didn’t. The same dead world sprawled in every direction.
“Oh, but my dear mortal,” a tendril slid up behind Sylus forcing him to fall back into a seated position, “You have eternity in this place.”
Before Sylu could even try to stand up, another tendril wrapped its way around his waist, forcing him back into the “chair”. Two more lashed themselves around his wrists.
“Stay a moment. We have much to discuss.”
“Then say your piece so I can be done here.” Sylus kicked up some dust before his legs were restrained.
“So ferocious for one in such a vulnerable position. You do know I could have wrapped myself around you and dragged you down into the abyss to dine upon, yes?”
“Well if I understand anything about what’s going on, neither of us are actually here. It’s a dream, right?”
“Sometimes I fail to see the difference…”
“Say what you have to, then let me go. I want nothing to do with you and whatever this place is. I want to go home.”
“Home…” it’s gaze drifted away from Sylus.
“Yes? My home. Where my family is. Where my son is. The people you nearly killed trying to kill me!”
One of the folded tendrils reached up to the face as if emulating a quizzical expression. “Interesting…” it muttered.
“Speak,” Sylus growled, “I want to go home.”
“Simply put: If neither of us realized we were sharing a dream and just assumed each other the invader… Then… What exactly was going on?”
“Shouldn’t the eldritch horror have the answer to that?” Sylus shifted in his restraints, “Besides, you’re the one randomly invading my thoughts regardless of dreams or whatever contrivance you’re using to defend yourself.”
“Eldritch… Is that a mortal term? I’ve not heard that one…”
“It’s a human term,” Sylus snorted.
“Human? Excuse me…” there was a moment’s pause, “That is your… Species?”
Sylus nodded unsure of whether this was something he wanted to admit or not.
“You… You are not…” the tendrils restraining Sylus slipped away. “You are not… Q’taxian?”
“N-no… I-I’m not…” Sylus spoke slowly trying to gauge the creature’s reactions.
An unearthly screaming-growl came from its form. Agony and joy mixed in their guttural tones. Sylus cringed, unable to cover his ears.
“Father provides!” The creature’s “arms” reached out to embrace Sylus, “I may yet be set free…”
Sylus snapped awake once more. This time in a familiar setting. The Diner. Something was restraining him. Tendrils? Fear flooded his mind until he recognized a pattern wrapped around him. He was home. Trying to wriggle his way out of the blankets, he found they were firmly secured around him. Refusing to call for help, he began straining himself to the brink of tears. He really didn’t want to bother anyone… Not after what just happened…
Daniel… his mind raced. His son had been there. Where was he? Was he okay?
Use your damned voice, mortal.
“Daniel?” his voice was broken and shaky.
“DAD!” The shout came from deep inside the Diner’s kitchen. “DAD!” Daniel burst through the door, Jeron slowly appearing behind him, lingering in the doorway. “DAD!” Daniel wept as he threw himself onto his father, “You’re back… You’re…” Daniel began sobbing uncontrollably.
Jeron slowly approached to remove the headphones and the pillows they held against Sylus’ head. “Welcome home, Sy,” he smiled as he stepped back giving them some room.
“Hey, Jer,” Sylus’ throat ached, “Mind letting me out of this comfortable yet restrictive prison?”
With the warmest smile Sylus ever felt, Jeron untucked some of the blankets.
“Thank you,” Sylus was beaming. Exhaustion was clearly written on his face, but he was nonetheless smiling with all his might.
Jeron stepped back and watched as Sylus managed to free his arms. He embraced his son so tightly it nearly brought Jeron to tears.
“Leave ’em be, boy,” Jeron’s father hollered from the back.
“Y-yes, sir,” Jeron gave a slight bow before disappearing back into the kitchen.
Sylus watched in silent agony as Jeron retreated. Holding Daniel warmed his heart in ways different from Jeron’s presence. He wanted them both with him.
Why are you silent? Speak up! Demand your needs be met!
“Why are you still talking to me?” Sylus muttered under his breath.
“Dad?” Daniel looked up to him, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Dan,” he smiled weakly.
“A-are you sure?” Daniel leaned back with hesitation in his voice.
“I am. Help me free my legs so I can help you guys in the kitchen,” Sylus smiled softly.
“I’ll unwrap your legs, but we don’t need any more help in the kitchen. Mr. Miles keeps saying something about ‘too many cooks’.”
They both chuckled a bit as Daniel undid the confining blankets. Sylus sighed with relief as soon as he was freed.
“Thank you, Dan.”
“Welcome, Dad!” Daniel leaned in for a quick hug, “Stay here. Lunch is almost ready.” With that, Daniel darted back into the kitchen.
“How long was I out…” Sylus muttered to himself.
You wanted that mortal’s attention. Why did you not demand it?
“Why and how are you still bothering me? Go away. Please.”
Sylus caught sight of Jeron peering out a porthole in one of the kitchen doors. The moment their eyes locked, Jeron ducked away.
Summon this mortal to your side.
“I… I can’t…” Sylus sighed, “I… I really can’t…”
And why not? You desire his attention. His presence. His… touch…
“You can stop now,” Sylus abruptly stood up from the booth. A wave of nausea flowed through him as he struggled to find his balance. His vision blurred and his breathing became short. Darkness was encroaching. He was passing out again. “Look, this isn’t normal. Whatever you are, go away. Please.” He groaned.
Silence. Finally. With a heavy sigh, Sylus sat down on the edge of the booth. Just in time, too, as he felt the inescapable pull of unconsciousness nearly consume him.
I only have one other being to speak to… It gets very… lonely at times…
“Lonely!” Sylus bellowed, “What do YOU know about loneliness?”
Another pause. This time it was riddled with a strange sense of anxiety. It wasn’t Sylus’ anxiety either.
I-I think… I know it better than you assume…
“We. Are. Not. Talking. This isn’t a conversation! You’re telling me what to do and I’m trying to not look insane talking to myself!”
Sylus immediately stood at attention. The rush of darkness started flooding in almost immediately.
“Where have you been?” Henley huffed from the doorway, “Your shift started hours ago. I can’t cover for you all the time. Get to work! Unless, that is, you prefer working as a busboy for some has-been Diner nobody even eats at anymore.”
“Well that was simply uncalled for,” Mr. Miles stood in the kitchen door, “This Diner has been in the family for…”
“I really don’t care,” Henley sneered, “Get to work, Synclaire. Observation. Immediately. NOW!”
“Y-yes, sir,” Sylus did his best to salute his superior.
“If I don’t see you clocked in in 15 minutes,” Henley’s eyes were bulging from their sockets, “You won’t have to WORRY about being on time anymore.”
With that, Henley disappeared.
Sylus stood frozen in place. His mind suddenly blank.
“Dad?” Daniel approached him slowly from behind.
“Dad?” Daniel put a hand on his arm, “A-are you… Are you okay?”
“Kill the bastard. Rend his flesh from his bones! Devour him! Do it, mortal, DO IT!”
“Dad?” Daniel stepped back. For the first time in his life, his father was scaring him.
Jeron burst out of the kitchen.
Sylus spun around, his eyes alight with a violet glow. No pupil, no scleras. Nothing. Just violet piercing light. “Why should I be the one to suffer fools? Why must it be me! Never again. Never again! AH!” His legs gave out beneath him. “An eternity of fools… Why must it be me…”
Daniel was nearly in tears. The only thing holding them back was the paralyzing fear that his father might not be his father anymore.
Jeron rushed into the situation. Rather than reaching for Sylus, he took hold of Daniel.
“Sy?” Jeron yelled, “Sy is that you?”
Sylus’ head slowly turned to them. Looking up from his place on the floor, it was clear he wasn’t the same person. It was more than the eyes. His face looked wrong and contorted in some way. Neither Jeron nor Daniel could figure out what it was, but somehow they both knew that the man they saw before them was not Sylus.
“Who the fuck are you?” Jeron breathed as he lifted Daniel into his arms, backing away as slowly as he could.
“Who am I?” it paused as if thinking, “Who… am…” it looked down at its hands, “These are not mine…” it sat up on its knees, “This is… not me…”
“Then who are you!” Jeron screamed.
“Stand aside, boy,” his father had appeared beside him, a crucifix and a bible in his hands, “My time has come.”
“Dad, stop, please… You can’t be serious right now!”
“Boy! I didn’t spend forty years of my life in the clergy NOT to be ready for this moment!”
“Dad…” Jeron wasn’t sure if he should be mortally afraid or mortally embarrassed. Either way, he held onto Daniel tightly and did his best to keep the boy from seeing his father this way.
Sylus stared up at them. A foreign yet confused look on his face. “What are you doing mortal?”
“Sending you back to hell, demon!”
“Demon? Is that more human-speak?”
“Whoever you are, let Sylus go! Please!” Jeron was slipping into desperation as his grip on Daniel tightened.
“Sylus?” it looked back down at Sylus’ hands. “Is that what they call you?”
Get out of my head! Get out! GO AWAY!
“How can I leave when I am here against my will!”
Silence filled the room. The only sounds were heavy breaths and Jeron’s father flipping through his bible for the correct passages. Muttering as he went.
Sylus began blinking uncontrollably. Like someone flipping a light switch, his eyes would light up and go out in rapid succession. Finally, they closed. He didn’t collapse, but he sat upright, his head turned upward to the ceiling. His body deathly still.
“I-is it…” he slowly opened his eyes, “Is it over?”
Everyone in the room held their breaths.
I don’t know how that happened…
“Tell me. Right now,” Sylus struggled to speak with his head upturned so far, “Are you the one who tried to kill me?”
What could I say that you would believe to be the truth?
“The TRUTH!” Sylus roared, “THE TRUTH DAMMIT! Are you the one who tried to kill me!”
Jeron and his father backed away slowly.
No. I have never once willingly placed myself in control of your body.
“Until now,” Sylus finally lowered his gaze.
It was not willingly. We need to talk.
“Go. Away.” Sylus snarled. “GO AWAY!”
Silence. Real silence. Finally.
“S-Sy?” Jeron finally stepped forward.
“I-I’m fine,” Sylus stumbled to his feet. Placing his hand against a pounding headache, he slowly shuffled out of the Diner.
“SY!” Jeron handed Daniel off to his father before running after him.
“You know I’m old enough to not have to be held, right?” Daniel did his best to shake the fear from his nerves.
With a short laugh and a smile, Mr. Miles put him down.
“SYLUS!” Jeron yelled across the parking lot. “SYLUS SYNCLAIRE GODDAMMIT LISTEN TO ME!”
Already making his way down the street toward the ‘Works, Sylus paused a moment.
“It’s that fucking place! It’s doing this to you!”
“Where else can I go?” Jeron could barely hear his voice, “Who would ever really want me?”
“Sy…” Jeron ran down the parking lot.
“No.” Sylus turned to him. Jeron stopped in his tracks. Resentment. Anger. Sadness. Exhaustion. All worked into that single expression. “I’m nothing. A freak. A MONSTER! A FUCKING MONSTER! How could I… How could I be so selfish… To do this… My son… my poor fucking son… all I do is hurt him. All I do is scare him. What good am I, Jeron? What good am I if I have no control over anything including myself?” With that, Sylus darted away.
“Sy…” Jeron called out to him in a whisper that barely escaped his lungs.
“Prepare to be sanitized.”
With a guttural roar, Sylus slammed his fists into the forward console.
A red light flooded the chamber. “Error. Error.”
“You’re goddamn right I’m a fucking ERROR!” he screamed like a madman at the machine that couldn’t hear his pleas.
The forward hatch slid open revealing a rather distraught Henley.
“Here to fire me? Save me the effort of gathering my things? Here,” he threw his key card at him, “Take it. Take everything. Take my home, take my life, take my soul… my mind… take it all! I don’t fucking care! It’s all gone anyway!”
“Sylus…” Henley sighed, “I-Look… I’m sorry… About before… I… Here,” he withdrew a key card from the pocket of his lab coat and offered it to him.
With a snarl firmly planted on his lips, Sylus slowly approached the offering. He felt like an animal. Devoid of any meaningful thought. Reduced to his basest instincts. Fight or flight. His mind could only handle those two options. Words were not there. Feeling was missing, too. All that remained was this primal rage.
As he finally sought fit to examine what was being held out to him, he slowly realized it was a key card… with his chosen name on it. His mind went blank. Everything went blank. The fear the anger the rage… all blank.
“It’s yours, Sylus. Please take it.” Henley waved it gently in front of him.
Without a thought, his shaking hands took hold of the object.
“There you go,” Henley smiled, “I know this doesn’t really fix anything, but its the least I can do after giving you so much trouble. I shouldn’t have done that. It was uncalled for and unprofessional.“
A deep shuddering overcame the entirety of Sylus’ body. His breath turned haggard and strained. His vision darted around uncontrollably. He was falling apart. Sylus was coming undone.
“H-Henley?” Sylus’ voice shook as tears burned behind his eyes. Fear of losing control was once more rattling just beneath the surface of his mind. “S-something is very very wrong with me…”