Have you seen this man? It’s near certain he’s seen you. It’s said he visits everyone eventually. Maybe only a few times, maybe so often he thinks of you as an old friend, though he knows you don’t view him as such. Rest assured, in the end you will see this man and he will see you straight back in return.
You probably wouldn’t have noticed him at first. He only comes on bitter winter nights, when the sky is jet black and the air is chilled, so it can be difficult to see his shrouded figure hidden in the shadows of your room. He comes to wherever you rest your head. A house, a flat, a hotel. As a long as it’s dark and as long as your sleeping, he will find you. As you laid there, you may have caught a glimpse of his tall silhouette watching you from a far, but by then it would have been too late to panic and search for a light. Your eyelids would have been too heavy to keep open and your muscles too hard to move. Despite your better judgement, you fell asleep.
The dream was likely simple, just the fantasy of a normal day in a normal city. You could almost call it mundane, but even slumber you could tell something was wrong. The sense of dread hung heavy in the air, weighing you down like iron chains around your shoulders. There was definitely something in your head that shouldn’t be there, something that had followed you from the waking world and stalked you in your defenseless dream state. You knew he was there. Still, you could see him. He blended in with the crowd of fabricated people who existed only in your mind. They were featureless and non-distinct. If they had faces, you’d be hard pressed to describe them now. From time to time you would spot him, the one who was different from all rest, but you could never get a clear look. By the time you turned around, he would always be gone.
It was impossible to tell how long this little game went on for. Time never works right in dreams. It could have been mere minutes in the waking world, but you could have sworn it had been hours. For a brief second you wondered if it had been days. Would anyone know or care if it had been? Was anybody out there worried about you? Eventually you resolved to search for him yourself, pushing your way through the maze of identical streets. Why was he doing this to you? Was he toying with you? You were sure that this had happened before, that it had all happened before, but when you tried to focus on the memory the streets warped and strained your eyes. The light hurt your head until it forced you to stop trying. You didn’t try to think about before again.
At last, you found him. He lurked there in the corner of your eye and for once you spun around fast enough. He didn’t try to run from you. He stood staring at you across the street in the clear light, daylight. In that place, it was always daylight. You couldn’t see his eyes under the hood of his black cloak, but you could see his mouth. His thin, pale lips perked up into a smile revealing perfect, sparkling white teeth. You looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this stranger pinning you down with his hidden glare, but the crowds that had slowed your movement mere moments prior had all but disappeared. There was nobody there. Nobody had ever been there. It had always been just him and you.
He started to walk towards you; a slow, creeping approach. He was in no hurry. For him it had always been as much about the hunt as the kill. It had been a cat and mouse game in which the prey sought out the predator. And now he had you, a little mouse who had run gleefully into its claws. It would be rude to ruin the cat’s fun by rushing things. You didn’t try to run. There wouldn’t be any point. He had always been able to find you. Besides, even if there was somewhere within your mind you could tug yourself away and beg for morning to arrive, you found that it was awfully hard for you to move. Even thinking about moving took much more energy than you could afford to expend. So, you let him reach you. You always let him reach you in the end.
He reached out a boney, wrinkled hand towards you and you found yourself extending your own arm with little hesitation. The touch of his palm closing around your wrist was ice cold, yet his skin was soft and gentle. Still, it was hard to ignore his yellow, dagger like nails pressing into your skin, digging and digging until they drew blood. Digging further still to root themselves into your veins. Through the dull aching, you didn’t notice at first the itching sensation creeping up your arm. It didn’t register until you caught the ink coloured substance seeping from the creature’s talons and painting paths beneath your skin. Your veins turned to fire dark infection flowed freely up your arm and through your neck, reaching across your face and making its way without care or thought into your head, filling your brain with brilliant white light.
As the dazzling light behind your eyes blinded you, you remembered every time before. So many times before. This city where the people never existed and will exist, this sleeping place where the day never ended. You remembered that though this was your dream, it was his domain, and though neither of you were really physically there, that didn’t mean what’s happening to you wasn’t real. It doesn’t mean you’re safe. You remembered all the times you learned the truth. There were creatures in the world that never got the chance to become legends, for there was never anybody able to jot their experiences down. Creatures who feasted upon the psychic energy of humans, and there was nothing richer than the taste of a nightmare.
And just like that it was over. Your skin was clear, your room was empty, your window was wide open. Had it always been open? Perhaps you got up to close it, perhaps you let the crisp night air lull you back to sleep. Either way, you were alone. The man was gone from your life and your mind with your dreams remaining uninvaded for the rest of the night.
Does any of this sound at all familiar? Does any part of you recognise the man I have described? I thought not. Perhaps I’m asking the wrong questions. Let me put it another way for you. Have you ever woken up in the night, unable to remember your dream?
(c) C.E. Tidswell