Chapters:

Prologue

Prologue

A Nightmare Awakens...


When they see my face, they scream.

Usually, the pattern is this: the beefier the subject—especially teenage boys—the louder and higher the pitch of my victim’s wail.

Here’s one now. Through the portal, I see my target, an acned, freckled-face adolescent boy just above me, asleep in his bed.

I have a scathing curse to place on this unfortunate fellow on behalf of a most unusual master. I shrug. I’m helpless but to fulfill his requests. Besides, it’s fun to scare, and my new young master in his naiveté has given me the promise of more. Much more.

My victim isn’t particularly large, but he is tall, lean, lanky—very quick on his feet and much stronger than he looks. His puddle of drool, and the primitive way he gapes open his mouth to suck in deep breaths like he’s devouring the air itself, makes him look none too bright, but that doesn’t matter. Imbeciles make natural subordinates.

Best of all, he’s filled with a rare kind of hatred and cruelty that I can draw out of him like venom. So much cruelty, in fact, that even I hesitate to make a night terror from his essence. But then again, I don’t have much of a choice if I’m to have my way with my unsuspecting master. In fact, I’m depending on my new creation’s treachery. And it’s fun to have a rival—I make a wager with myself that I’ll be able to outwit my new lackey the second he hisses into existence.

With smoky fingers that tremble with excitement, I wrench his shoulders down and shove, forcing him to spring up. The boy gasps, his eyes full of shock, then terror. They flash in the darkness, growing nearly as big as mine. And no wonder, he sees nothing. Time to take him down to my realm, let him feel the free fall in its entirety, and pass out from shock the way they usually do before we hit bottom.

But not yet…

I spin around (leaving my smoking hands exactly where they were, clinching his shoulders) until I’m hovering inches over the boy’s face.

My victim blinks rapidly, sure he’s seeing things. This thing… can’t be real? I hear his mind race.

Oh, I’m real all right.

My lidless, and as a result, oversized manic eyes are supported by smoking, detached stalks and the hint of a misshapen, crooked nose welded together by burning embers. There is little else to my being with the exception of a restless, ever bending, spine of toxic and suffocating smoke. Admittedly, I must be gruesome for living things to see.

When I don’t go away and he’s sure I’m really there in all of my apparent ghastliness, out comes the predictable scream that seems to shake the walls. I relax, bathing in the sonorous wake of his fear and helplessness.

“Bucky?” I hear his father call from down the hall. And then the delayed ruckus as the spooked parents clamber around and knock things over in their bedroom. Bucky doesn’t stop screaming; if anything, his shrill screech climbs a couple of octaves. Ecstasy.

I hear the cocking of a gun and squeaking floorboards as someone sprints toward the room.

For a moment I consider sticking around to complete the scare, see the parents’ panicked faces as they decide what to make of me, and watch them fill their son’s walls full of holes with that useless weapon. It’s likely they’ll shoot their own boy as no harm can come to me. Amusing to see? Maybe...

But not enough.

I leave them with something far more terrifying than a son’s night terror to deal with: an empty bed.