Diana settled onto the couch with a sigh. She had spent hours finalising her blogging projects and her eyes were making their discomfort known. Letting her lids fall, if only for a moment, she felt her muscles relax; one by one, until she was floating on a sea of tranquillity.
That was her first clue that something had changed. The second came when she opened her eyes again and found herself in an unfamiliar room. She wasn’t alone. Diana was surrounded by faces which were at once familiar and out of place. She studied their expressions; surprise, shock, confusion, doubt and fear – a sea of emotion she felt mirrored deep within.
It might have been a simple dream, but she knew differently, and so did the others. It was too real, they were all too aware of each other’s presence. Diana scanned the faces of those she knew but had never met; Hannah, Allison, Natacha, Urszula, Alex, Robin and Mel. Had her brother, Gene’O been present they would have had a complete set – her current contributors at Part Time Monster.
“As much as I wish I’d thought of this impromptu get together, something tells me someone else is pulling the strings,” Diana said, allowing her gaze to drift around the room.
Her friends began to speak at once, their voices tumbling over one another in a need to be heard.
“We saw her.”
“She’s gone after Gene’O”
“We’re stuck here.”
“This is about to get ugly.”
The information came at Diana like cold slaps of reality. As she listened, a part of her could feel the couch beneath her body, feel a heavy weight pressing against her chest – like she was stuck in a dreamlike state.
“One at a time,” she said, pressing her fingers to her temples. “If we’ve been drawn into a dream, how are we lucid?”
“It’s what she wants,” Urszula said. “She needs us to know what’s coming.”
“We’ve been trying to narrow it down,” Robin admitted. “This particular monster has the ability to control dreams, so we’re betting she’s an Alp.”
Hannah stepped forward, knowledge alight in her eyes. For a moment it extinguished the fear. “The female version at least. The Mare, or Nightmare.”
“There are lots of names for her,” Mel said. “Urszula was just filling us in on the Scandinavian legend.” She nodded to Urszula.
“Basically, the Mare gives people bad dreams by sitting on them while they sleep.”
“But tell her about the Scandinavian words for Nightmare, meaning Mare-ride or Mare-dream,” Melissa cut in.
Urszula raised her eyebrows. “I think you just did!”
“Okay, let’s focus.” Natacha began to pace the small space. “She brought us here for a reason, and I think we need to be prepared for what happens next.”
Allison gulped, her eyes flickering between them. “Which means we’re about to be stuck in a nightmare and we have no idea why.”
As though to punctuate her words, the door swung open with a resounding thwack. All eyes turned to the figure silhouetted in the doorway – Kuchisake Onna, the Slit-Mouthed Woman.
“Oh crap,” Alex whispered, in equal part fascination and fear.
“You got that right.”
They all watched as the silhouette morphed into one monster after another, like a slideshow of Part Time Monster’s greatest hits; La Llorona, Rodzanice, Medusa, Ursula, Dola. The show ended when all the lights went out and they were plunged into darkness.
The noise came next; a terrible ripping sound, which seemed to represent the hold on Diana’s sanity. She felt a wave of nausea. The swell of tension pressed against her. It was a living, breathing thing; like the icy fingers of her fear.
Something hit her from behind and she fell to her knees. The ground was soft beneath her. It vibrated against her fingertips, travelled up her arms, making her teeth rattle. Diana tried to pinpoint the sounds now; hissing, scurrying, laughter. Underneath it all was a hum that was surely inside her head. She began to call for her friends; repeating their names over and over again. But her words were swallowed by a vacuum of noise she didn’t understand.
Her skin began to itch, the sensation building slowly until she felt it like a burn across her entire body. It centred in her chest, stole her breath so she couldn’t even beg for it to stop.
Her eyes flew open, relief flooding her system and making her dizzy. She was with Gene’O, they were… her mouth dropped open when it registered. Gene’O was with her, but she was still asleep. She was looking down at herself; watching her brother try to rouse her from her slumber.
She thought of the others, wondered if a similar scene was taking place as loved ones tried to wake her sleeping friends.
The Mare gives people bad dreams by sitting on them while they sleep.
Urszula’s voice echoed around Diana’s head. She began to swat the space above her chest, her fingers travelling through Gene’O’s shoulder. The thought of being trapped forever on the outside filled Diana with a sense of urgency, and she slammed a fist against her own heart. She felt it, the echo of it, like a bruise. But she didn’t care about that.
Diana could see it now. A small, goblin like creature, who had fallen onto the cushions of her coach and was scrabbling for what looked like a hat. Understanding struck, and Diana lunged for it. The moment her hand curled around the foreign object the monster screamed. This was the source of its power, a power that was now in her hands.
“Let go of us, you evil bitch or I’m going to burn this.” Diana waved the hat.
The scream intensified, until she had to cover her ears against the sound. The Mare exploded in a fit of rage, hitting Diana with a blast of light so strong she was blinded by it.
When she was able to focus again she could feel the couch beneath her, and her brothers fingers gripping her shoulders.
“Are you okay?” he asked, frowning at her.
She nodded, putting her hand to his to steady them both. “I am now. And I just had a really great idea for a post.”