Owls & Ashes

Nightmare

A Ghoul's Bad Dream?

Several pairs of eyes, golden and green, regarded Joseph with dispassionate interest as he cracked open the door of the house and slipped inside, squinting against the bright morning light. Carefully securing the locks, he sealed the door and turned to look back at the cats—and dog—watching him as he made his way through the living room.

Despite his newfound . . . condition . . . he was still in need of some rest. Mila’s Vitae was still keeping him going almost all day and night—the thought of even another tiny drop of her on his tongue sent a shiver up his spine—but every once in awhile, the need to sleep would kick in, leaving him to pause, stretch, give a jaw-cracking yawn.

The soft occasional yowp from the housecats brought him back to the present moment, and he nodded to them. “Hang on, hang on . . . let’s get you all something to eat first, huh?” Dispensing kibble into dishes, refilling water bowls, giving the animals brief pats and skritches, watching the dog as he watched the cats, then looked to Joseph as if to ask, ‘What about me?’

“Nope, haven’t forgotten you either . . .” Joseph set out another dish of food for the dog as well, pausing to let out another wide yawn, and then shuffle sleepily down the hallway (past the cellar door, locked from inside, its occupants downstairs laying in state, silent, awaiting sunset), and into the bedroom, where he stopped just long enough to unlace and pull off his boots, before looking mutely at the mattress and tangled blankets (rarely occupied these days, especially by more than one), then slumped into the bed, pulling blankets and pillow around him into a nest and closing his eyes.

Just a couple of hours. All I need—

Smooth, blank, gentle darkness and silence of sleep . . .

“Open. Hm. Open? Hmm. Open. Open, open, open . . .”

Soft breeze and the sounds of nature and daily city life drifted in from open windows, curtains gently stirring. But he’d sealed all the doors and windows before he slept.

Hadn’t he?

Joseph shifted on his back, tried to sit up. Pressure on his chest. Pinned in place. It was suddenly hard to draw breath. He opened his eyes, lids parting in glacial slowness. Beheld a nightmare perched atop his chest.

“And doesn’t this remind you of when you were a little boy?” A figure, muscled, in jeans and t-shirt, hovering over him. Eyes a terrifyingly brilliant yellow-gold, regarding him with dispassionate interest. The same man from nights before, tearing open the throat of one of the Kindred. Bounding across rooftops like a character from a Chinese wuxia kung-fu movie. Watching him now, eyes wide.

“Asleep. Dreams of something holding you down . . . breathing your breath. Stealing your secrets. Giving you its instead. Have you been studying your lessons, my little boy? Mmm, no, not mine, certainly. HER little boy? Yesss. You’ve been a good boy for mummy, haven’t you?”

Joseph could only regard the figure, the face, with terrified stillness. He couldn’t get away. He shifted on the bed, but his hands were crossed at the wrist, pinioned under another hand, pressing to his chest with bone-bending force.

“And you were such a good boy, to give me such a wondrous gift,” the speaker continued. “Even hand-delivered!”

Timothy showed his teeth in a broad grin, parted his jaws, ran the tip of tongue over the points of his teeth.

“What—” Joseph got out, before Timothy put another hand over his mouth, lifted away, pressed a claw-like fingertip to his lips.

“Ssshhh . . .”

Timothy was one of them. The Kindred. The vampires. Or something like them. Sunlight was spilling into the room along with fresh breezes—every window opened—and yet here he was, wasn’t he?

Timothy turned, peering around the room, one long arm still holding Joseph to the mattress, hands pinned to sternum. WIth his other arm, he stretched out, pulling open a drawer, rifling through it.

“Open—” tossing out a handful of clothing.

Another drawer. “Open—” more clothing.

His eyes widened further as his gaze passed over the glass-windowed cabinet full of artifacts. “Ah-hahhh . . .” His tongue ran over his teeth again, before drawing back in, teeth clacking together in a feral smile.

“Ssstay . . .” Timothy warned Joseph, raising his hand from his chest in a ticking “ah-ah-ah!” gesture before returning his attention to the cabinet.

“What are you—”

“Shush!” Casting a hand backward in the same motion, then reaching for the cabinet with his other hand. “Keep silence inside, lest I need open you to find the noise.”

“Hmm. Open—” pulling one of the doors open, nudging objects around inside, going from door to door. “Open . . . open . . . open . . .”

Joseph watched Timothy, brow furrowing in puzzlement as the vampire—or whatever he was—rifled through the cabinet.

“Hssss . . .” the creature’s indrawn breath between clenched teeth was predatory. Long fingers stroked and petted a stuffed owl on a perch, talon-like nails giving shaky caresses, before snatching up the object.

Mine!”

Joseph very slowly began to sit up as Timothy tucked the owl under an arm possessively, and continued examining the cabinet’s contents. “Well-prepared. You’ll need these, oh yesss, good boy that you are.” Timothy grasped at an urn, shook it gently, a powdery sound coming from within. “Not the remnants of ages and flames. But close enough. Good enough to remind the others where they came from. One-two-three-four-five! Yes?”

Timothy turned, holding one of the canopic jars, teeth parted in a grin, eyes wide, then pausing and giving Joseph a dismayed look.

“Ohhh, not such a good boy after all, tsk tsk tsk, no, nooo. Can’t have that.” He heaved the jar underhand at Joseph, who scrabbled to catch it, keeping it from spilling its ashes.

“Good catch!” Timothy darted forward, pinning Joseph to the bed once more with one hand, fingers spread wide, dagger-points of his fingernails digging into shirt and skin. “But bad boy. Ssstay, I said. Stay!” His head moved closer as he craned his neck, bright yellow eyes glaring into Joseph’s, somehow luminous in the daylight filtered through curtains.

“I can’t smell them here,” Timothy told him, eyes unblinking. “They keep . . . ssscattering. Like the little bugs that run when you turn on the kitchen light.”

His fingers scrabbled across Joseph’s chest in a parody of insectdom. Joe startled at the crawling sensation, almost threw him off, but was pinned down again with unholy strength. Timothy’s eyes bulged, bright yellow flashing, face contorting in horrific ways for a moment.

“Disobedient!”

An almost pained, rasping hiss from his opened mouth, before his jaws clamped shut again. This time a tiny sliver of flesh was clipped from the tip of his tongue, landing on Joseph’s chest like a tiny blood colored slug.

Joseph struggled against the hand pinning him, clutching at the canopic jar. “What are you doing here?” he finally managed to ask, breathless.

Timothy grinned again, teeth streaked with a little smear of blood. Even in the breeze coming through the windows, Joseph could almost taste it, smell it. The miniscule trickle of garnet against ivory fairly glowed in his sight.

“Paying a visit. One visit. Saw you napping. Tell you a little bedtime story. And you do know . . . aaallllll good stories begin with a creation myth, don’t they. Mmm?”

Timothy sat down on the edge of the bed, shifted closer. Joseph winced, tried to move away, was pinned down harder, breath squeezing out of his compressed lungs. His heart thumped faster as he tried to draw a breath.

“In the beginning.” Timothy said, seemingly unconcerned with Joseph’s lack of oxygen. “God was without form, and Void. And the Darkness moved within the face of the Deep. And said, let there be Night. And there was Night. And it was so. Very. Good.”

“And then God said, ‘Let there be Light,’ and divided the Light from the Darkness.”

Timothy gave a sudden bone-cracking head turn, yellow lantern eyes glaring out at the sunlight.

“But your mummy—and her friends,” Timothy’s head whipped upward, gazed out the open bedroom door. “All fast asleep, now. But they gave me a place to stay. I won’t be staying much longer, though. I’ll be moving on up.”

His hand suddenly took flight from Joseph’s chest, gesturing like a flapping wing. Joseph whooped in a breath, and tried to sit up, but Timothy’s head snapped around to gaze at him again. The owl tucked under his arm dropped to thump softly to the mattress as his hands lashed out, clamping tight around Joseph’s head instead. Bones creaked dully and and an instant headache began to pound into his skull.

“My little siblings.” Timothy leaned closer, tilted his head in a quizzical, predatory motion. “My kith and kin, we came here to play. But they broke the rules. Mmm. Don’t blame them. No, no, no, no, no. But now it’s time to put them in a time-out.”

He drew Joseph closer, his face filling Joseph’s vision. His breath smelled of stale blood, dust, dead things, a weird dry sweetness like a snake’s terrarium or a shelf of old lumber.

“Sssh, sssh, little boy,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep. It’s all just a bad little dream. A secret. Just between you, me, your little family. They can see the writing on the wall. And you can too, can’t you now?” Joseph’s head pounded, tilted back, gazing upward as Timothy stood, hands still wrapped tight around his head, fingernails pressing into skin. “Tell them. You tell them to find them for me, little boy. Find the five for me . . . maybe I’ll . . . let you be when all is said and done.”

His lips parted to flash another broad grin. His eye shone bright yellow, but infinite darkness lurked inside the pupils, and Joseph’s vision drifted into that darkness as it obscured everything else.

“Tell mummy I said ‘hello’!” Timothy’s voice hissed.

Joseph sat up, clutching his own pounding head. A slowly-building migraine was threatening to split his skull.

So much for a nap—

But in the midday light, the windows and drawers were all open. The cabinet’s contents were shuffled around, the owl missing, the canopic jars full of ashes arrayed on the foot of the bed.

And as Joseph tilted his head, looking down, he could see a few tiny streaks of blood on his t-shirt, on the sheets . . . and a withered shred of flesh among the folds of cloth.

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Zsander

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