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
The living room was lit only by dim starlight as a man in a well-worn uniform entered. He looked around his home at the grey walls and smooth contours of the cupboards. The kitchen was immaculately clean and the place smelled like oranges and ozone. Of course, everything always smelled like ozone, it was part of the job. He hung his jacket and hat on his coat hook and hummed along to the tuned that played from hidden speakers. It was one of his favourites.
He untied his boots then walked towards his favourite chair but stopped when he noticed a new painting on the easel by the chair next to his. He stopped and smiled at the beautiful colours and detail that had gone into it. He chuckled to himself as he glanced to the many other paintings that adorned almost every wall in the home. He leaned forward to examine the new piece in detail, when a voice sang gently to him from across the room.
“Do you like it Commander?” asked an ageing woman with silver hair as she walked towards the man. There were flecks of paint on her clothes and face. He smiled and pulled her into a hug, their old bones creaked with the effort. She giggled just as she used to forty years ago when they were dating. She gave him a peck on the cheek and whispered, “Miss me?”
“Every second” he replied as he let her go so she could get back to her painting. He plopped down into his chair and picked up the book he was reading. “So, any news from the kids beautiful?”
She shrugged as she did up a new shade of green on her pallet, “Not really, the girls are busy at the academy and as for…” She paused to flash him another smile, “Well you see him more than I do. I still don’t understand why you two don’t talk more?”
“Because I’m his superior officer sweetheart,” he sighed “it’s just frowned upon because it looks like I’m playing favourites.”
“Well that’s just silly,” she pouted, “I mean it’s not like there’s a war, humans haven’t had one of those in centuries so what does it matter.”
He rolled his eyes at the conversation they had had a dozen times before, “It’s just tradition sweetheart. Besides it helps build discipline and we still have the best science programs around.”
“So you keep saying.” She mused as she glanced around the room. “Anyway, Carina is beautiful and I love painting it, but I really can’t wait until we can visit the Pillars of Creation. I mean, you did promise me.”
The commander set his book down and got up to look out the window, “I know but it’ll be another two weeks before we can head there. We’re working as hard as we can but science doesn’t always cooperate.”
She sighed as she joined him, hugged his arm, and gazed out at the scenery, “I guess so.” Thye just stood and stared in silence for a while. “It really is beautiful isn’t it?”
He rested his head on hers and said, “Very beautiful. Just think, a century ago humankind was still just dreaming of seeing a nebula up close like this. You really are a wonderful artist sweetheart.” They shared another kiss like they had a thousand times and went back to staring at the green gas of the nebula swirling about the stars.
With a start he turned to her and asked, “Hey hun, why did you stop painting just now?”
With another giggle, she answered, “Because you were blocking the window.”
“Excuse me miss?” asked the frilly clad customer, “I’m sorry but I have a question can you please answer me!?” Octavia glared daggers at the angry Barbie wannabe screaming at her while she attempted to continue her conversation with the customer she was helping before she was so rudely interrupted. Her customer seemed uncomfortable but Octavia continued, politely ignoring the Barbie doll.
“I’m sorry,” said Octavia, “let me show you what we have for sound systems, we should be able to find one that will work for your grandpa with his hearing problem.” The woman smiled and as she allowed herself to be lead towards the speaker section and away from the rude doll like creature scowling at her.
Unfortunately, they didn’t make it far as Octavia was whipped around by a hand with overly manicured nails. “Excuse me, MISS! I’m a customer and I have a question!”
Octavia smiled politely as she replied, “Congratulations ma’am, I really thought that with all that makeup and attitude you were joking before.” The Barbie’s eyes widened in horror as she registered she had been insulted. “Oh my gosh,” Octavia said feigning concern, “you should be more careful. A question is one thing but it looks like you’re having a full blown thought, which seems dangerous given your obvious mental hindrances.”
“How Dare YOU!” screeched the mannequin, “Do You Know Who I AM!”
Octavia smiled, “Of course I do!” she reassured her, “You’re the dimwit with a rectally impacted cranium harassing the other patrons who are actually worth our time.” Before the raging fashionista could retaliate Octavia returned to the woman she had been helping. “Forgive the interruption,” she said to her original customer who was clearly trying not to laugh; “some people just need to be reminded that they’re human. Now let’s get back to helping you find what you need.” Octavia knew she would get in trouble for that encounter but honestly at this point she didn’t care. She was twenty-seven and working in sales. Everyday she considered burning the place to the ground or rubbing melted chocolate all over the changing rooms.
She hated the huge ‘one-size-fits-all’ vest that hung off her, she hated the stupid name tag that kept getting caught on her long brown braid and the steel toe shoes that hurt her feet and tore up the bottoms of her jeans.
She finally got her fifteen-minute break and went outside to get away from the drudgery and tedium that enveloped even the break room. She rubbed her green eyes as she sighed, “Why the hell am I still here?” she hadn’t expected an answer as she spoke but wasn’t surprised when one came anyway.
“Because you’re trying to blend into a world ruled by deluded apes blind to the truth around them.” The response came from a red lizard that had crawled up the wall beside Octavia.
“Hey Tinder, come to cheer me up or kick me when I’m down?” Octavia gently stroked the lizard’s back as he flicked his tongue affectionately at her.
“Oh, don’t be a sad sack,” Tinder replied, “I’m here to help remember?” It was technically true, he was her guide after all. Though most days she wished she could be like everyone else, she wished she didn’t have to constantly worry about what horror was going to mess up her day next.
“Thanks Tinder, but I doubt today is going to end well” just as the words had left her mouth she heard her manager scream.
“Octopus! Where are you!?” screeched a whiny masculine voice. Octavia sighed as she heard the footsteps approach the door beside her.
She turned to Tinder only to find him scurrying up the side of the building, “Traitor” she muttered under her breath as the door flung open revealing a four-foot-tall goblin like creature in a beige suit glaring at her. His mustache expanding and contracting as he fumed silently for a moment.
“What are you doing out here?” he snapped, “And why am I getting complaints about you ignoring and being rude to customers?”
“Sorry Mr. Grout, Octavia is off today, I’m Melanie.” She said in a higher than normal tone as she pointed at the nametag.
Mr. Grout squinted at the nametag, then blushed slightly, “Oh, I’m sorry Melanie I thought you were someone else.” Then he turned and shuffled back into the store screaming her name. He even took the time to lecture a few other peons to let him know immediately if they see her.
She sighed and checked her watch grudgingly accepting that it was time to return to work. She turned and walked back inside, being careful to avoid the management and their team of underperforming minions who would snitch simply to get a moment of attention from a deluded authority figure. She almost made it back to her department full of tall shelves, technical gadgets and convenient hiding places. Unfortunately, she knew she was spotted by the shrill “There she is Mr. Grout!”
Octavia quickly tucked her hair up and switched out her nametag for her real one as Grout and his minion stormed towards her. She turned slowly to meet them raising an eyebrow as she feigned confusion. “Do you need something boss?”
“I’ve been looking all over for you! How dare you treat our customers so poorly! I’ve had four complaints about you today alone!” he shouted. “Now explain yourself!”
“I’m over here,” She said, directing Grout’s attention away from the rack of clothing that he was currently berating. “As for the complaints, I was simply following procedure and dealing with one customer at a time in an understaffed area, dealing with the most complex array of problems of any department in this store.”
Grout’s “That is no excuse for your behavior and I will be formally writing you up for each and every…”
“I’m sorry but no.” Octavia chuckled
“Excuse me?” Grout hissed angrily.
“Well, considering that there is no physical evidence to support any of the complaints and given the fact that you just broke the law by bringing all this up in front of another staff member thereby harassing me and humiliating me in the workplace I suspect that none of those write ups,” Grout turned and glared at Lindsay who had been standing with a gloating grin until that moment. She blushed as she realized that her noisiness had just allowed Octavia a free pass for her antics. Grout whipped his attention back to Octavia; he was about to tear into her again but was cut off as she continued “So if everything is done here I’ll get back to work.”
Grout fumed at her silently for a few moments then turned on his heel and marched back towards his office as he screeched “Get Back to Work!” at anyone in ear shot.
Lindsay marched over to Octavia as soon as Grout was gone and spat, “Your tricks won’t always save you!” she stared in what she most likely thought was an intimidating fashion.
Octavia smiled and leaned in as she whispered “And when they don’t, that’s what I have you for Lindsay!” Lindsay’s face glowed red as she growled in response and stormed away.
Octavia returned to her department and hid in labyrinth of electronics, for the rest of her shift. She really did hate it here and wanted nothing more than to quit and get back to doing some real work.
“I know that look” Tinder’s reptilian voice made her jump as she was ripped out of her angry day dreams. “You’re debating putting up with this place, again aren’t you?”
“You make it sound like I ever stopped debating” she chuckled. “But don’t worry I know I’m stuck here until I complete my mission.”
The lizard made a noise that was a cross between a cough and a hiss as he laughed, “Well I don’t know if I’d call it a mission but on that note, we have a job to take care of right now.” Octavia smiled devilishly as she threw her vest behind one of the stereos. “Don’t worry,” he continued, “I’ve prepared a distraction so we can escape this pit of mediocracy and get to work.”
“Really?” asked Octavia as she pulled a round metal object from her back pocket and attached it to a nearby cupboard when no one was looking and turned it three times to the right at varying rotations until a light on the object glowed purple. She grabbed a bag and a red coat from within cupboard reclaiming the glowing disk as she closed it again. “What kind of distraction did you…” before she could finish her sentence the fire alarmed blared as smoke came from the bathrooms and one of the isles. Her eyes went wide as she looked at Tinder. “You didn’t? Not again?”
Before Tinder could answer she heard someone yell “Why Is the Toilet Paper on Fire!” as other vested employees scrambled aimlessly in a panicked attempt to deal with the flaming rolls of butt tissue.
“Old tricks are the best tricks,” Tinder mused “and besides we have a Waheela to track down before it devours the innocent or some other garbage sales pitch warning I probably should have paid more attention to.”
They made their way out of one of the emergency exits now that they needn’t worry about setting off the already blaring alarm and headed to the rear of the building where Octavia had parked her jeep. “Great! Beats putting out sales tags or listening to the tedious gossip of my coworkers. What is a Waheela anyway?” She asked as her jeep roared to life and they peeled out of the parking lot.
“From what I understand it’s an eight-foot-tall, webbed-footed, zombie-wolf that eats peoples heads whole.” Tinder educated as he hung from the passenger’s side visor. “Sounded like fun wouldn’t you agree?”
“Danm right!” said Octavia as she turned up the rock and roll, and followed a small blinking compass glued to her dashboard. It was time for another adventure.
To Be Continued…
Thanks for Reading, stay tuned for more next week as we explore deeper into a questionable reality.
***Dedicating this first part to a lizard named “Skimp” and their owner for the advice*
This is the start of a wondrous and psychotic adventure into the depths of insanity. Bring your, imaginary friends, toilet paper, lighter, towel and a squeaky toy and let’s get this circus on the road!