The shadowy figure stood waiting, watching and wishing that he was wrong. He pulled a pocket watch out of his long coat and checked the hands on the face. It took longer than most people because there were seven hands all moving in a myriad of different patterns which seemed chaotic to the untrained eye. He frowned at what the watch, then tucked it back into his coat. He sighed impatiently at the empty cemetery in front of him. He had done this before but not in the last six or seven decades and it was far from his favourite way to spend an evening. Unfortunately, he was the only one available for awakening duty tonight and of course the one night a year he actually did the job they would get a hit.
He looked up through the trees and stared at the moon, two white birds spun and danced around it, playing with the moonlight. He chuckled to himself causing a small cascade of silver sand falling and making little piles around his feet before evaporating into fractals and vanishing in the night air. “Caladriuses” he murmured as he gazed lazily at the pair. He’d always thought they looked like moon phoenixes; not the immortal rebirth part but more their brilliance and glow as they flew through the air in what seemed like the definition of freedom. He found himself daydreaming, hypnotized by the show above, wondering when the last time he had just sat back and watched something so beautiful.
“Hey man, you okay?” The voice shook him from his blissful reverie as he stared down at the face of a girl staring at him. “What’s with the eyes?” The strange girl continued looking curiously into his yellow-sand coloured irises. The man scowled a little, which seemed to frighten his new-found admirer. He wasn’t upset with her he was just annoyed at himself for allowing himself to be caught off-guard.
He smiled at her apologetically, “I’m sorry my dear, I’m just not used to people being able to see me.” She stared at him suspiciously for a moment no doubt weighing out his statement. “As for my eyes,” he continued, “they became like this when I became who I am now.”
She seemed to accept his half-hearted explanation for now and her gaze returned to it’s earlier state of curiosity. “What do you mean people don’t normally see you?” she asked as she gripped an open and bloodied pocket knife in her left hand as she took a cautious defensive positioning. It was the first time he had noticed the knife, he looked her up and down taking in the small threat for the first time. She had a short boyish haircut and wore black jeans and a black t-shirt with a unicorn on it. A spiked belt around her waist and brilliant red eyes that matched the blood that spattered her clothes and exposed tan skin.
The man sighed and raised his hands as he smiled, “I have no money if that’s what you’re after.” He knew that she wasn’t mugging him but after centuries of experience he also knew that this was a good way to throw her off guard so they could speak more civilly.
Her eyes widened in shock at the comment, glancing at the knife and herself quickly realizing that she was coming off much more threatening than defensive in her current state. She stood up straight and dropped the knife showing him her hands were empty as she apologized. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… I mean I wasn’t… It’s just that…” the man held up a hand to quiet her as he turned and sat on a nearby bench and patted the seat next to him.
She raised an eyebrow cautiously as she grabbed and closed her knife but keeping it in hand as she walked forward and sat next to the strange man in the cemetery. “So, rough night I take it?” he asked obviously.
The girl whom he suspected at this point was no older than fifteen chuckled to herself as she stared down her hands beginning to shake slightly as the adrenaline wore off. “Yeah,” she scoffed “definitely a rough night. I’m Nadiya Kazuko” she extended a hand in the strange man’s direction as she tried to smile in a friendly manner.
“Nice to meet you Miss Kazuko,” he returned as he shook her hand gently, “My name is Morpheus Havilah, but most simply refer to me as the sandman. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” He grinned unabashed at his title.
“The Sandman?” she mused, “You’re kidding, right? And what kind of name is Morpheus?”
“Is it really the most preposterous thing you’ve heard or seen tonight?” he replied shaking some silver sand out of his sleeve which quickly evaporated and spun away into the night like before.
Nadiya stared at her feet, her hands shaking more as she stared at her pocket knife, “It… it was a monster. A real-life monster! At first, I thought she was a doctor who just got lost and was doing house calls but something seemed off about her. Her mouth kept twitching at the corners into a grin. I tried to close the door on but she put her hand on it and stared at me unnervingly then she just started asking ‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ it was really creepy. I wanted to tell her no and tell her off, but my mouth kept trying to say yes. It was like I was hypnotized!” tears formed at the edges of her eyes.
“Sounds like you ran into a Kuchisake-Onna, they’re ghouls of caretakers, nurses or other such medical professionals that dies from betrayal. Usually women but not always despite the legends and the lower half of their mouth peels away. They used to use masks, fans and the like to hide their real mouth but new prosthetics make them…” Morpheus stopped his informative tirade as she sobbed into her hands. “Miss Kazuko I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so descriptive, I know what nightmares those things can be believe me.”
She leaned back, and watched the Caladriuses in nuzzle one another in the trees above her as tears flowed over her cheeks. “Those are some big pigeons” she chuckled as the birds jumped off the branch to snatch up some insect in the grass a few feet away.
“Those are far from pigeons my dear, and I’m sorry you can see them, and me for that matter.” He mused, trying to lighten the mood. After seeing his attempts fail so miserably he decided to push a little more, “If you don’t mind me asking how did you get away?”
At this Nadiya burst out laughing, “I really didn’t think it would work but I remember my dad telling me ghost stories. He always stressed riddles and how to use them against ‘dark spirits’ as he put it. So, although I was forced to answer yes to her first question I was ready for her if she asked anything else. Just like you said her eyes went ride and dark and she tore her mouth off leaving a disfigured scarred mouth with sharp jagged teeth. Her fingers lengthened into blades as she stared at me and asked ‘Am I pretty now?’” she sighed, trying to compose herself before continuing.
“Finally, it was my turn and I was ready. I immediately countered with the first riddle that came to mind the riddle of the sphinx. She just stood there staring muttering the words ‘but pretty?’ over and over, I drew my pocket knife and readied it to stab whatever this thing was if it attacked again. I tried to make my way to the back door so I could escape and call my parents but her eyes moved and she saw me. She took a step forward and I panicked. I threw my knife at her and it stuck in the middle of her chest which stopped her dead. She looked at the knife which was causing a weird rash to bubble from the impact point. It covered all of her face and she glared at me in shock and said ‘Pretty?’ before she exploded in a ball of blood and fire.” Nadiya exhaled after her rant of earlier that evening. “Then I left through the back door running and trying to call my parents, but all I got was voicemails; and when I looked up I was in the cemetery and you were watching those birds and I forgot about all that had happened and just wanted to see what you were doing.”
The Sandman smiled at her reassuringly, “Well that was serendipitous at least. It’s been a long time since I got to witness an awakening like this.” He took some sandy bread out of his sleeve and tore some pieces off for the birds handing a few to Nadiya. “Nothing can hide from you know unfortunately.”
“What do you mean unfortunately? Are you saying all this garbage is real? I was hoping I was just having a bad dream or something?” She snapped a little hasher than she had meant to. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize, in fact I should be apologizing to you. I’m kind of an expert on dreaming and would have been more than happy to help ease that memory into fiction if I had caught it sooner but it’s far too late now, which makes my job that much harder.” He pouted.
“Okay? So who exactly are you?” Nadiya inquired.
“I told you already!” he said standing up and waving his arms so that a flurry of silvery sand went spewing in all directions forming various images, hopes, and of course dreams as it tumbled to the ground only to vanish shortly after. “I’m The Sandman, master of dreams and guardian of the gates between the physical and the imaginary.”
“Really? That seems a little far fetched, and what gates? I don’t see any gates other than the one at the entrance.” She interrogated
Morpheus dropped his hands in shocked annoyance, “They’re not that kind of gate miss, and it’s not far fetched it’s my job… well, part of my job anyway.”
“Whatever” she shrugged, “so you’re some kind of old imagination police who helps people with dreams am I right?”
“Well it’s a little more complicated than that…” the ruler of sleep started.
“Well, good luck with that, I’m heading to my friend’s house to wait for my parents.” Nadiya said as she started to walk towards the entrance of the cemetery.
“Oh, I see,” Morpheus chuckled, “off to slay more ghosts, ghouls, demons, and the like are you?”
She spun on him so fast he barely held in his surprise, “Listen you! I didn’t slay anyone! It was an accident and now I just want it to be over!”
“Well tough,” he retorted “I was sent to watch for an awakened monkey tonight and that’s you, which means you’re coming with me so that we can place you into a more secure arrangement until you’re ready to go back.”
“You’re kidnapping me?” She screeched, then turned and stormed away. “I don’t care if you’re a freaking god I’m not going anywhere but home tonight.”
“Well say goodbye to your family then for me Miss Kazuko!” He called over his shoulder.
Nadiya stopped again and glared at him opening her knife again, “Are you threatening my family?”
“Nope,” replied Morpheus casually “I’m telling you that after killing a Japanese ghoul of that calibre, do you really think other more ambitious monsters won’t take notice? And of course you’re aware of how valuable you would be to any monster clever enough seek you out as their new minion.”
“What are you talking about? It was an accident, I don’t want to hurt anything else!” she said pleadingly.
“That’s not how it works with them,” Morpheus said in an apologetic tone. “You’re awakened now, they’re sense it, feel it and want to kill you for it. They can’t hurt most people because they can’t interact with them properly, but you, you see them and they see you and that excites them; and when they get excited people die, not just you. They can use your perception to go after others, that’s why we come. That’s why I’m offering you a once in a lifetime chance to save some people and learn more about the universe as a whole. Otherwise I get to rest knowing that I tried.” He was bluffing of course but he’d seen teenagers enough to know that reverse psychology worked wonders.
She bit her lower lip and looked at The Sandman with tears forming in her eyes, “Okay fine!” She screamed, “Just help me okay, I want things to go back to normal. I don’t want to see weird crap anymore.”
“Well that’s too bad,” Morpheus apologized sincerely, “I can’t offer you a way back. It’s too late for that; but I can offer you a way forward if you like. It’s a way to deal with what you see and even help some people by manipulating what you see. All you have to do is trust me this one time.” He waved a hand causing sand to pour out and form a bridge that faded into a warping version of space. “The choice is yours and I’m hoping you’ll make the right one.”
She stared at him long and hard then glanced back at the cemetery entrance a few times before finally nodding and following The Sandman up the bridge, “Ok, I’ve seen so much lately and it all ended with that monster trying to kill me. If it’s only going to get worse than it’s worth a shot I guess. But I have one last question, where are we going?”
Morpheus smiled and said, “Why we’re going to where imagination comes from of course.” And with that he gently took her hand and lead her through the tunnel as the birds took to chasing moonbeams once more.
To Be Continued…
Thanks for Reading, stay tuned for more next week as we explore deeper into a questionable reality.
J. S. Figment