A Dream of Rampancy
In an expanse of white to lose one’s mind in, I sought that for which there were no directions. Homogenous miles of snow—undisturbed except by its own movement, of which there was little—hid the entrance to a cave of ice. In the cave of ice, I had come to learn, was salvation. I had no memory of an origin of this knowledge. I knew no voices, no faces, no times past; it was as if I had searched forever, and yet I had woken from some animated catatonia to carry out a conscious task. Here, now, at the cave’s opening, I was aware. I remembered nothing of the journey, only that I had walked forever on the snow.
A frosted arch of deep, polar blue engulfed my first steps inside, where the pure solar light chased along the frozen flow of the walls, which went up no more than twelve feet to the smooth, rounded ceiling of the tunnel. The light was tinted blue, and the air was perfectly clear. No particulates tainted the space save for my own breath. No minerals or life in this place, only water in varying states. I knew I was the impurity, and the thought drove my guts into a watery ache. This empty place had solicited fear. Awe. I was in a cathedral of ice, and though no entity existed here to judge me, my footsteps felt as sin.
I continued, and the snowy floor thinned until my boots struck the hard ice audibly. The light deepened into darker blue, then a hushed gray dimness. I was traveling downward, gently, on a slope that led more than a mile into the unpolluted world of ice and air. I knew peace and terror in a conflicting anxiety that punished me for every step. My heart paced faster, loud enough to assault my ears in the perfect quiet, exaggerating more with each inch traveled.
I should not be here.
My parka’s inner lining was soaked with freezing sweat, and my hands clenched into tight, numb fists within their gloves.
I should not be here.
The long hall of ice opened wide into a circle of perfect liquid water pooled on the ground. A solid shaft of white light fell from an opening in the ceiling, and lit the otherwise invisible clarity with the rays of a star, and none of the warmth.
I should not be here.
The pool rippled with each step I took toward it, the only motion it may have ever sensed. I knelt in horror at its edge, breathing hard as snot and tears poured down my face, coating it and freezing there. I could not feel my face, I could not move it to an expression of horror, or articulate my lips to scream against my actions. On my hands and knees I bent out over the edge and looked into the shallow, unfrozen depth. No reflection greeted my gaze.
Oh, God, I should not be here.
I peeled the gloves from stiff hands and forced my fingers into a crude cup. I could only stare, screaming on the inside above the din of my heartbeat and breath as I plunged my hands into the undisturbed clarity. A massive, overloading signal shot up the nerves of my arms and drowned out all else that I might have felt. It radiated into my shoulders and down my spine, disallowing even a shudder, stopping my lungs and even my stubborn heart, and for a moment all I knew was cold. My senses failed and returned, and my cupped hands were at my lips. I drank.
Please, let me out.
Unborn. Growing. Dead. Human. It was all starting and all over with the water in my system. I was there in the cave, and everywhere, and young, and old. The feeling was that of realizing something awful was over, and stepping into some new hell. I regained control of my awareness and saw my own tears, my own dirty water and salt falling into the pool. They struck its surface and turned black as if I’d allowed drops of ink to fall in. Then expanded.
The filth massed into a writhing ball of black beneath the surface, changing all that it came into contact with to match itself. It shuddered and breathed. Tendrils shot out across the pool to bury themselves in the ice, and climbed. I was free now, to move as I wished—and I wished to run—but my gaze could not be ripped from what I was bearing witness to. The place smelled of rot now; the sweet, earthy rot of decomposing fruit and the thick, harsh odor of dead flesh. The walls of the cavern were entirely black now, pulsing and writhing with vines of decomposition and running with sheets of dark, thick yellow like the worst pus of a mortal infection. Cancerous reds sprouted in bulbs and appeared to inhale.
The chamber was expanding, as well. Before my eyes the walls moved outward and the pool became a thick ocean of the worst biological runoff, bubbling and splashing violently as steam rose from its surface. A lake of decay, then a sea. I took a step backward to find the ground soft and yielding, changing under my very feet to match the walls and water. I wanted out. But I had to see the process done.
The boiling hate seemed to calm, then become very still. No longer was the sea itself a mass of running rot, but solid black and unmoving, like a sheet of volcanic glass. It was time. Ten meters from the shore, the solid surface rose in millimeters. First a dome of black obsidian emerged, then the rest of the head, devoid of all facial detail. This blank, black statue’s skull was followed by a neck and shoulders, and a chest which had curled about it four arms, three meters at least in length a piece, and which each split into two forearms at the elbow, for eight hands with foot long fingers and a thumb on each side.
As if hatching, it rose to the surface and stood on its long legs which ended not in feet, but in cruel points that did not sink below the surface, but instead sat gently atop it by some unknowable property relevant only to its being. It uncurled its long arms, this being of black, and turned its face to the falling starlight, stretching and flexing its limbs in freedom.
It was looking at me. Its featureless face betrayed no senses, no direction of interest, but I could feel its attention. It walked, crossing the ten meters between us in a few gentle strides. I ran. I pivoted on the floor of flesh and ran, with ropes of thick cancer obscuring the path and bulbs of sick pus exploding in my wake; I ran. The hall was breathing, and hateful, attempting to close me inside. I had to crawl, and claw, and struggle with all my will to grope the lip of the entrance, covered in whatever byproducts my sin had produced. Were I able to vomit, or to cry any more, I would have been more comfortable, but I could only heave and wince. I looked out on the horizon and saw all the miles of untouched snow turned to a black, organic hell. The whole world writhed and breathed with cancer.
I gave up. I turned back to the entrance to see the thick tangle of material part lovingly for its child, which stepped out to tower above me with malevolent grace. It opened its split, horrid arms in a gesture of embrace, and stared at me without eyes, smiled warmly without a mouth. It was waiting. I knew not for what, but it was waiting on something important to it, something it cared about in some alien capacity.
I could only wait to find out. I felt it first in my lower guts, where the water I had ingested sat just as cold as when I had first taken it into my throat. It moved, vibrating gently at first then thrashing, and boiling, and moving wherever it wanted up into my stomach, my throat, flooding behind my eyes and coming back up into my mouth. I was done. Something took shape inside my chest and became solid, tearing down into my bowels, down through the muscle of my legs, invading my bones and changing my marrow. I clawed at my chest. I screamed until blood lined my throat. The thing watched.
Something moved up my throat and into my mouth, and a massive hand curled over my lip to grasp my face. A second forearm split from this one and curled down, gripping my jaw and digging into my throat with harsh, sharp fingers. The two forearms pushed apart and my jaw came dislocated; my throat began to stretch, and then rip as my skull was shoved back away from my neck. I couldn’t scream anymore. A second set of dual forearms came up through the new space and pushed in different directions, then a third pair, and a forth, as the husk of my body fell to the living ground as a lank puddle of skin—yet I was still aware. A round head without feature emerged before a long body and legs that ended in sharp points rather than feet of any kind.
The two children of the water and my pollution moved together in a sick tangle of smooth limbs and hugged amidst the metastasizing landscape of illness made form, as I looked on, a puddle of blood that still had eyes and yearned for death. But death did not come. The creeping black of the ground explored what was left of me with cilia, then moved across my eyes and made me part of what I had created, to exist that way until the end of it all…
My eyes opened, heavily, slowly, to thin fluorescent light and a blurred room. I was restrained, icy metal over my chest and legs, biting fabric holding my wrists in their places. So tired. So groggy. I couldn’t find a coherent thought to grasp, or a memory to help me understand. Struts kept my head facing forward, against the steel table set at a slight incline. A strap over my forehead bore some metal apparatus. It would have been uncomfortable had I not been floating in a drugged peace. I was alarmed, but it was distant, easy to ignore. I just wanted to sleep.
I blinked the film from my eyes and glanced lazily around. Blue curtains made a barrier to the next room, like in a hospital. So much white, like a hospital. I could hear machines; there were tubes in my arms, monitors all over me. None of it mattered. Not the screens on the wall to my right playing back what I had just dreamed, not the people in lab coats watching raptly, not my burning hunger and dry mouth.
Nothing mattered until I panned my eyes left. I could see the end of another, much longer metal table, parallel to me, with legs restrained. Long, obsidian black legs that ended in points. Panic. Panic less distant than my initial alarm, but still muted, blurry. I wanted to go back to sleep. A figure in a lab coat walked past me and next to the table to my left. I heard suction, and a long sound like metal being pulled out of ceramic.
He approached me then, whatever sort of doctor this was. My panic got closer, and closer to reality. He held a foot long, clear glass container with a five-inch needle on one end in a gloved, sterile hand. In the container there was a semi-solid—thick blacks and dark yellows, the reds and browns of feces and cancer. I couldn’t speak to protest, but now I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to dream. I didn’t want to search the snow, or find the cave again. He lifted the huge syringe to the apparatus strapped against my forehead and lowered the needle down deep into my brain. I cried.
I glanced right again to see a feed of my own eyesight on the monitors where they watched my dreams, the picture obscured by my tears. I wanted not to sleep then, but to die. In the moment before he triggered the plunger and filled my skull with the container’s vile contents, I had to wonder if the creature strapped down to my left wanted to die as well.
We would meet again shortly in the cave.