In a gust of wind, he stood out on the precipice behind his home. The building stood like a shadow of itself, cast entirely in a dark, featureless shroud. Up above, the moon glowed with a fearsome violet intensity. Large and daunting, it seemed to be drifting closer and closer to what had now become an island. The house was gone. The small cliff became all that was. Surrounded completely by violet stars and lit by a growing amethyst moon, this could not have been reality.
But to Sylus, as confused as he was, this was as real as anything else. Nothing that told him it was fake registered. Nothing that tried to pull him away from the edge of the abyss could tell him it wasn’t real.
Spinning around in circles, the stars swirling like a wild time-lapse of reality, his blurred vision finally landed on a lone shadow standing on the far edge of the platform.
“Why are you so weird…” it muttered, staring down into nothingness.
The sound of crashing waves began filling his ears. It was a deep, distorted sound, but still vaguely resembled nature itself.
The shadow shook its head. “Weird… That’s not the right word… Why are you such an abomination?”
The shadow turned to face him and while he could still make out no discernable features, his mind immediately told him it was Daniel.
“My dad. The freak. The monster. The outright monstrosity,” the shadow laughed, “How could I have been so lucky to win the lottery with such a terrible parent to call my own…”
“You know,” it chuckled, “Every time I look at you, all I see is a mother in denial.”
“You want so much to be something you aren’t, and I play along. But do you have ANY idea what that does to me? Playing your stupid little game? Why can’t you grow up? I had to and I’m supposedly still a kid. But I had to grow up so I could support whatever’s wrong with your stupid head!” It turned back to the cliff, “AND I’M TIRED OF IT!”
Don’t listen! It isn’t real! Wake up, Sylus!
“D-Dan,” a maddening grin widened across his lips, “L-look, y-you’re right, o-okay? J-just please… Come away from the ledge… W-we’ll figure something out so you d-don’t have to s-stay here with m-me…”
The shadow scoffed. “That aside, who brings a child into a place like this? It’s not just your toxicity wearing me down, it’s the literal poison I breathe every day and you know who’s fault that is?” it glanced over its shoulder.
“I-it’s mine, Dan. It’s all my fault… I-I know…”
“I hate it here,” it stared down at the raging ocean below, “And I hate you.”
This is not real…
Sylus laughed nervously, “I-I unders-stand, r-really! B-but we can work th-this out! J-just come away from the edge… C-come on, D-Dan… I mmmight not be your father, b-but I-I’m sssstill your p-p-parent! I… I sssstill l-love you! I-I’ll aaaaalways l-love you!”
The shadow shook its head. “It’s too late.” It took a single step forward, falling over the edge.
“DANIEL!” Sylus screamed at the top of his lungs as he threw himself to the edge, reaching down for his falling son, but it was too late. A body laid, in vivid detail, at the bottom of the cliff tangled in jagged rocks. “DANIEL!” Sylus bellowed, “DANIEL!” he called till his lungs gave out, “DANIEL!” he hissed though no sound came through, “Daniel…” he breathed, his voice nothing but a hushed lament of pain and anguish.
It is not real, Sylus…
A voice. Coming from the nothingness behind him. Jumping to his feet and spinning around he found himself alone on the island.
“My son is DEAD! BECAUSE OF ME! I KILLED HIM!” he had once more found the strength to scream.
Sylus looked down the cliff. Waves lapped at the blood seeping from his son’s body. Moving him ever so slightly like a limp doll left to the mercy of nature’s tide. Reality and rationality were gone again.
“My son is dead…” he breathed, “And it’s all my fault…” He fell to his knees. “Oh Daniel…” he wept, “I failed… I failed you… How… How could I let this happen… Been so blind…” Sobbing to the point of desiring his own destruction.
A rumbling shook the rock beneath him. The stars seemed to fall from the sky, streaking brilliant rays of light behind them. The island was lit with a blinding light, as the moon came ever closer. Staring down at his son’s body, he watched in apathetic vacancy as tendrils shot from the corpse. A brilliant golden yellow contrasting his violent world. The body was carried up along their length until it was pulled apart in a visceral display.
Sylus could do nothing but stare at the blood dripping down the tendrils’ length. The minuscule drops of flesh hitting the ocean below. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t scream. He could only stare.
Without a thought, he rose to his feet. His son was dead… He had to join him… He had to be with his son…
The tendrils floated like waves, inviting him to take that final step. Beckoning him toward his son’s remains that now resided in the ocean’s broiling depths.
“Daniel…” he breathed, “I-I’m coming…”
IT IS NOT REAL SYLUS! DO NOT LISTEN TO IT!
Air rushed through his hair. Seaspray bit at his flesh. He counted the seconds until he’d hit the bottom, eyes tightly closed, he didn’t want to see it coming. All he needed was the knowledge that it was.
Violet tendrils caught him mid-fall. Eyes shot open mere inches from the jagged rocks below. His son’s mangled and dismembered head smiling up at him.
“You can’t do anything right… Can you?” it gurgled and spat as the waves washed it away.
He spun around in the tentacles’ grasp. A shadow stood at the top of the cliff face.
“LET ME GO!” he screamed, “LET ME BE WITH MY SON!”
“It is not real, Sylus!”
“Oh but it is real, little one.”
“Do not listen to him!”
“Don’t you want to be with your son again? To be free of this anguished state?”
“This is not real… Sylus… Your son is in his bed. Sleeping. Just like you are! Wake up!”
“S-sleeping?” The slow realization that none of this was real, was cut off as yellow tendrils wrapped around his neck and legs.
“Come now, Sylus. Be with your son again. Be with him in a place where you can be whole.”
“It is all lies, Sylus!” The shadow on the edge yelled against a growing wind.
“B-but I-I want to be whole… T-to be a good… A good father…”
“Then come. Come. Come join your son in eternity. Be free of these mortal coils. Be free of the nightmares and doubt. Be free. Come to me. To him. Be free, Sylus. Be free…”
A yellow tendril began forcing its way between the violet folds of the ones that held him from falling the rest of the way.
“I-I just…” his consciousness began slipping from him.
The jagged rocks formed into rotten teeth as a gaping maw opened beneath him. The ocean became a pool of salivating liquid dripping from the edges of the jaws.
“Come to me, Sylus. Be whole. Be free.”
“SYLUS!” the shadow groaned as it struggled to keep its hold on him.
Giving in, he allowed himself to be completely taken hold of by the yellow tentacles. The violet ones were forced to release. His will to die had won out.
“Good. Good…” the voice echoed in his mind as he was lowered into the jaws of death. “Rest now. Be free…”
“SYLUS! SYLUS LISTEN TO ME! PLEASE! YOUR SON IS SAFE! THIS IS NOT REAL! PLEASE! DO NOT GIVE IN! DO NOT-“
A yellow tendril shot up, slamming itself into the shadow’s mouth, sending it reeling back out of sight. Something about the cry of it being thrown to the side triggered a sense of familiarity…
“Q-Qaitax…” Sylus muttered as a tongue coated in saliva reached up for him.
SYLUS! The voice was in his head now.
It was too late. The jaws had closed around him. A tendril that delivered him inside slipped out, releasing him to his fate.
“R-rest…” It was an easy command to follow in the damp heat of his demise.
“Qaitax…” he groaned as he could feel himself slipping away from consciousness.
DANIEL IS ALIVE!
“I’m here, Dad,” the voice called from deeper inside the nightmare. “Come with me so we can be together forever…”
“Forever…” he dragged himself to the back of the maw.
DANIEL IS ALIVE! THIS IS A DREAM! THIS IS A DREAM, SYLUS! IF YOU GIVE IN YOU WILL DIE! AND IF YOU DIE, YOUR FAMILY WILL DIE, TOO! EVERYONE WILL DIE! I’LL DIE! DO NOT LISTEN! DON’T GIVE IN! THEY’RE STILL ALIVE!
“I’m here, Dad,” the voice coaxed him deeper like a siren drawing him into the darkness of the depths. “Family forever, just a little further… You’re almost here…”
“Family…” his mind was so deeply addled, he failed to notice his arms being pulled into the nightmare’s throat, “I-I just… I want to…” Darkness completely overtook him, as the entirety of his body was drawn deeper to the point of no return.
“You’re so close now…” Daniel laughed, “We’ll be together forever, Dad. Just like you always wanted!”
“Dan-iel…” his mind was gone. There was nothing left but the hot, salivating darkness. It was over. Sylus was over. What little of him remained, was willing to accept this fate.
Sylus please… Please do not give in… Do not listen to it…
“Welcome home, Dad.”
Dropped into a fleshy cavern, Sylus woke up for barely a second. He knew what was happening, but he knew, that in the darkness, Daniel was here with him. Together forever…
IT IS NOT REAL!
“I-I just…” he could feel himself drifting off to sleep. “I just…”
“You’re safe now,” Daniel leaned closer to him, “Together. Forever.”
Through his heavy lids, he could see his son’s eyes take on a golden hue. They glowed in the dark of the cavern, a maddening grin on his lips.
“Come deeper with me, Dad. Come deeper… The deeper we go,” he wrapped his arms around his father, “The closer together we are… Forever, Dad, forever…”
Sylus smiled. He was too weak to do much else.
“Good,” Daniel grinned, wrapping himself tighter around his father. “No escape. There’s nothing out there for you now. I’m here. And I’m all that matters. Together forever, right Dad?”
Silence. Darkness. Nothingness.
Sylus… I know how easy it is to give in to a dream no matter how destructive it could be… I know how enticing a promise of eternity is, and how irrelevant the price may seem. I have fallen into this trap and for a million years, I have suffered the consequences. Perhaps I can never be free, but I will not allow you to suffer the same fate…
A violet light filled the darkness as Sylus’ eyes shot open.
“Don’t do this, Dad. You’ll never see me again…”
“You are not my son…”
“Qaitax?” Daniel recoiled, “H-how?”
“We are awake. We are whole. We will not be destroyed!”
“Go away, Qaitax!” A yellow tendril shot from Daniel’s back, slamming itself into their mouth.
Biting down, they severed a piece of the fleshy appendage. Swallowing it, they grinned uncontrollably.
“This dream… is OURS now!”
Violet sparks danced between their fingers.
“T-together f-forever, Dad… Come… Come with me…”
“You are not my son. You never were… How could you be…”
“I am the truth of all things, Sylus,” the voice was no longer Daniel’s, “The futility of this road you walk will lead you into nothing but misery. Please, let me spare you the pain of a hellish future. Death and destruction are all that await you if you go down the path Qaitax wishes to lead you…”
“Death and destruction are all that I will find here. I’d rather try to fight it in the waking world, then give in to a dream…”
They laughed, “I’d rather be a living fool than a dead pawn…”
Slamming their hands into the shadow’s form, a brilliant violet explosion evaporated the apparition. With the same force, they pressed their hands into their fleshy prison. Coursing every ounce of energy they could muster into their fingertips, they seethed with the searing pain of the energy coursing through their body.
“I. Will. Be. FREE!”
The sound of tearing flesh spilled around them as the yellow tendrils writing above them collapsed into the sea. Reaching out with their own, violet appendages, they took hold of the cliff face, raising themselves out of the depths.
Why did it have to be you… the voice faded from their mind as the monstrosity sank beneath the ocean’s waves.
Climbing the cliff face, they threw themselves onto the flat surface, fighting to catch their breath. They slowly sat up with a groan.
“You were telling the truth, weren’t you? That Daniel is alive?”
“None of this is real, but had you given in and died here. You would have died in the waking world. That is how the Dream affects us…”
“It is… Complicated… But for now, you are safe…”
They sat a moment in silence.
“I almost died…” their eyes began to burn… It felt like there were more than two… “A-and I…” they clapped their hands over their face, “And I was so willing to do it…”
“No matter how little sense they may make to the waking rational mind, dreams can be more real than reality itself when there is no reality to compare them to. You believed what you saw and seeing, to mortals, is proof of reality. Therefore, you responded accordingly.”
“But to die… To… Kill myself…” they shook their head, “I haven’t even considered that option since Daniel became part of my life…”
“Dreams can bring out the worst of mortal subconsciouses…”
They examined their hands carefully. They didn’t belong to them. Sylus slowly came to his senses. Standing up, he looked down at himself. He was… not himself… and yet… he was…
“Th-this isn’t… it’s not…” his voice was much deeper than it should have been. It carried a gravely tone that rumbled in his ears.
“Would you like to see yourself?”
“Th-this isn’t me… Wh-who am I?”
The brilliant moon became a mirror hanging in the pitch-black sky. There, Sylus saw himself. For the first time, in all his life, he recognized the person looking back at him.
“I-it is… I-it’s me…”
Qaitax grinned behind Sylus’ watering eyes.
I did my best, his voice had returned to the recesses of Sylus’ mind, I took some liberties based on extrapolation, but…
“I-it’s me… I-I’m me… I…”
Do you like what you see?
Sylus stood, staring up at the mirror-faced moon. He knew this person. It was the one that had burried so deeply inside of him for so long. Never had he even dreamed that he’d ever see this face reflected back at him, extra weight and all, much less with a writhing wreath of tentacles surrounding him.
“It’s me…” he straightened his shirt and tightened his tie, “The…” he sighed, “The me I wish I could be…”
A warm comforting feeling drifted up from the back of his mind. This is my offering to you, Sylus. This is the bargaining chip I place on the table. All of this can be yours if you free me from my prison.
“Tell me,” his voice was weak as he kept his head craned upward facing the moon, “Tell me, Qaitax, and please… I-” he looked down at his hands, “I know you have no reason to tell me the truth, especially if you are some kind of ancient evil, but please… tell me… Tell me you aren’t actually evil…”
There was a moment’s pause before Qaitax finally spoke up from the depths of his consciousness. I know little of myself and my disposition in the universe. I have been imprisoned for as long as I have been conscious. I know I hold resentment toward mortals. I know I care little for their lives as a whole. But I do know that in my time trapped in mortal confinement, I have found some mortals to be… Comforting. As though they understand my anger and resentment. Outcasts. Those who society rejected, they become my kin. I know not if I am evil, as you suggest, but I know not what evil means… I merely know intentions and my intentions are simple. I wish to be free. That is all. I know not what I will do with my freedom, but I cannot stay on this dead world for much longer or I myself will perish… I do not want to die…
Sylus smiled into the mirror, running a hand across the stubble on his chin. “Then I’ll take you at your word.”
Though I cannot entirely attest to being well-meaning…
Sylus shrugged, “That’s something we’ll figure out over time.”
If you will let me…
“What choice do I have?”
You always have the choice to leave this place. Your mortal companion was correct. If you leave the Mist, I believe you will be outside my influence. You can leave. The choice is still yours to make.
With a heavy sigh, Sylus looked down at himself once more, gently patting his belly, “But what has running away ever done for anyone?”
It lead to the extinction of my captors.
“Then I suppose I should avoid that…”
As I said, I know not my true intentions. I know not whether I am what you mortals call ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I only know that I exist and my sole desire is to leave this place. What that will lead to, I do not know.
“Should we find out?” Sylus turned to find his house coming back into focus. The moon was drifting away, the stars were sliding back into place.
I would like that, but the decision forever remains your own.
“How will I know when or how to get to you?”
When? Sooner than you think. How? My gift will lead you to me. It will have no choice but to draw you back to its point of origin. The only thing you’ll have to do is take that final step through the threshold. The rest, there was a brief pause, will fall into place.
“And let’s say I get there and decide I’ve changed my mind?”
Then I will send you home. But the catalyst that will send you to me, will still be waiting on the other side. And you will have to face it alone.
Your family cannot help you in this instant. Were they to try, they would surely perish.
“What’s going to happen, Qaitax? What do you know that you’re not telling me?” Sylus’ eyes narrowed as doubt slowly crept into his mind.
I am afraid I have naught more than a feeling. Though I hope this dream rings as supporting evidence.
“True,” he looked over the side of the cliff, “I was just eaten alive…”
And you understood it to be real… It will only get worse from here.
“I see…” Sylus’ mind wandered to the safety of his family. Of Jeron and Daniel. Of the people he loved more than anything else this world had to offer.
I know you want to protect them. I am not certain my presence would be enough, but at the very least, you could stand between them and that which would destroy them.
Sylus laughed, “Now you’re just saying what I want to hear.”
And showing you what you want to see. The irony of it all, is that I share similar desires. That is why, dear Sylus, we have been drawn together. I am certain of it. Your truth, could easily be my truth. We are more alike than you think…
The brilliant moon faded into the darkness of the sky. The stars twinkled across it before going out completely. A strange sound seeped into the air. A simple chime, distant yet familiar…
I believe… someone is calling you…
Sylus woke with a scream, throwing his cell phone off his chest.
“I’M COMING!” He screamed over and over.
Daniel ran into the room. “DAD!” His father’s eyes were rolling around in his head.
“I’m coming I’m coming I’m coming…”
“DAD! Wake up!” Daniel shook his father until his eyes finally focussed.
“Daniel?” His phone continued to ring, though his mind struggled to focus on it.
“Are you okay?” Daniel’s voice was shaking.
His son retrieved his phone. “It’s Jeron.”
Sylus had never moved so quickly as he did to take the phone from Daniel.
“Jeron?!” He gasped into dead air. “DAMMIT!” he hung up.
A series of frantic texts came through…
Sylus stared at the texts for what felt like an eternity.
“What’s wrong?” Daniel could barely speak.
“Dad?” Daniel’s voice was shaking terribly.
“Get dressed. Mr. Miles is missing.”