The Return

The Visitor held out a rotting hand, fingers outstretched. Graham, battered and bloody, did not have the energy left within him to resist. He handed over the remaining eye to the skeletal figure.

The Visitor snatched the orb greedily, as though a terrible hunger had gripped him and the porcelain sphere was the only way to quench it. It rotated gently in his palm, the skin twisting and turning a little too loosely for something so tightly attached to the bones.

The dark spaces in the head of the Visitor regarded the eye for a moment. They started to convey confusion, although Graham was still unsure as to how voids could convey anything. The Visitor pulled his gaze from the eye and returned it to Graham. He knew what the visitor was going to say before he parted his hideous eternal smile.

‘Where… is the other… one?’ The Visitor croaked. There was anger in the voice, but not the heartless surface anger of an idle threat; it was a deep, brooding anger that Graham recognised as a sign of deep trouble. It was an anger that shook the room with a quiet sense of a very real danger.

‘I don’t know. I put them both in the safe but one of them isn’t there any more.’

The Visitor lurched revoltingly at the news. Angrily he popped the eye back into his head, the grinding resuming almost instantly. The pupil-less eye swivelled around, regarding the room, as though The Visitor was just getting used to seeing again. The grinding was aster than Graham remembered it, but the steady stream of dust fell at the same pace.

‘Show me… this safe.’ The Visitor demanded, the subtle anger in his voice stumbling slightly, letting through a thin vein of fear.

‘I can’t… I can’t get up.’ Graham replied, ‘It’s on the top floor. The only room on the top floor. Surely you can find it yourself?’

The Visitor leant in close to Graham’s face. His new eye swivelled angrily in his head as a vile sneer crossed what passed for his lips. Graham was sure he should have been able to feel the creature breathing, but he could not. What he did experience, however, was the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh mingled with the pus of oozing boils. It made his stomach turn and his eyes water. He tried to look away but a bony hand seized him by the chin.

‘It would… not be wise to get… vocal with me… Graham.’ The Visitor spat, ‘Midwife or no… I could end you if I needed. Do remember… I still hold… your soul.’

They stared at each other for what Graham was sure was over an hour, then The Visitor released Graham from his grip. Graham’s head sagged back to the floor as The Visitor stepped over him and began to awkwardly climb the stairs. Graham surmised that whatever The Visitor was truly he was not used to the form he currently inhabited, he wasn’t sure how everything worked. The legs were giving him some bother, it would seem.

Graham’s left eye twitched involuntarily. It was somewhere between a nervous tick and a violent seizure, and it put Graham on edge. A couple more twitched followed, each as jarring and disconcerting as the last. Graham put a hand up to try and hold his eye still, but it did little good. His left eye was rolling around on its own orders now, throwing his sight around into a maelstrom of confusion and vertigo. He tried to close his eyes yet only his right would obey him anymore.

He felt dizzy and nauseous, he was sure he was going to vomit. The acidic taste in his throat lodged on his Adam’s Apple, liquid fire roasting away at his throat. However, just as Graham was convinced it was going to burst its dam and spew forth, the voice returned.

Now would be as good a time as any to make an escape, don’t you think?

The Descent

His lungs and throat burned with a contemptuous fire as air suddenly forced itself into his body. Graham coughed and spluttered back to life as oxygen filled him with painful speed. He could still feel the hands at his throat, the fingers of The Visitor holding him at the creature’s twisted mercy, but they had eased enough to allow him to breathe.

His vision came back reasonably quickly, although the colour was hesitant at first, but his legs remained as cold as lifeless as when he had fallen. Worse in fact, as now they were numb and alien to him, bolted onto his body but no longer part of him. Graham considered the possibility that this was something to do with whatever The Visitor had extracted from him and came to the conclusion that he did not want to know. The quicker he retrieved the eyes the sooner he would be released from this terrifying sensation, at least that was what he hoped.

He rolled over slowly, his innards cursing him violently, and began the long crawl to the safe. Graham had placed the safe in one of the many empty bedrooms in his house, the only one on the top floor, and had done so primarily because he was doubtful of any burglar’s intention to climb that many stairs. The room itself contained only the safe, an empty bookcase and a decade’s worth of dust, minus a few footprints from Graham’s recent journey to the safe. He had never liked the room from the moment the house was bequeathed to him. It felt occupied at all times, as though invisible eyes were watching him with unnerving interest.

Graham felt the invisible sentinels gazing upon him as he dragged himself across the floor, the small wound on his head leaving a subtle trail of blood behind him and his useless legs aiding in displacing a nebulous cloud of dust. By the time Graham reached the safe he had sneezed half a dozen times.

The safe itself was the oldest thing in the house by a clear margin. The dial was reddened by a thick layer of rust but the remainder of the safe was in pristine condition. Ordinarily Graham had no need of a safe and, in fact, his need to store the eyes had necessitated his first use of the device. As such it took Graham far too long to open the door, despite having memorised the combination. His hands, shaking as they were, made it difficult for him to rotate the dial sufficiently accurately, clicking over combination after combination until he finally managed to steady himself.

A light rumbling sound signalled to Graham that he had entered the correct combination. This had taken him by surprise the first time, expecting a click rather than a rumble. He pulled on the door with what little strength he had left and it creaked open ever so gently, flakes of rust revealing themselves on the rear of the hinges. Graham reached up into the safe, pawing the interior shelves for the eyes. He swore.

One of the eyes had, for want of a better word, melted. In its place lay a fine puddle of white goo. Graham believed, quite wrongly, that it was paint of some description and absently dipped a finger into it. It was cold, unnaturally cold. There was no aura of cold, no projection like most things with a definite temperature, only in the touch did it give any indication of how icy it was. The sensation caused Graham to retract with enough speed for him to catch his hand on the safe’s casing. He swore again and vowed to leave the gelatinous substance alone for now.

The remaining eye was still slowly rotating on its axis as it had been when Graham had locked it away. He grasped it with weary fingers and felt it straining to continue its little dance. Graham locked his fingers tightly around the sphere as best he could, locked the safe, and began his trek back to the staircase.

The return trip felt like crossing the Alps. Each skewed floorboard (of which there were many) seemed to have doubled in size in the time it had taken for Graham to conclude his business with the safe. His hands scraped timidly on the wooden floor and Graham made very slow progress, the speed of which would only decrease.

The deadening numbness of his legs was spreading fast. In the time it had taken Graham to cross the room it had already reached past his navel, and as he returned to the room’s entrance its icy fingers seized his left shoulder. His arm immediately went dead and began to flop limply on the floor. Graham’s last source of movement was doing double duty in both moving him and carrying the orb, the nature of multi-tasking meaning that it was doing neither job to any real satisfaction.

Despite this, Graham managed to drag himself to the top of the staircase. As uninviting as it had looked from below it now looked ten times worse. On the way up the loose nails and whatnot had acted as anchor points and, should he slip, the potential source of largely superficial scrapes and grazes. From above this notion seemed laughable. The helpful handholds were now nothing more than jagged death traps designed to skewer Graham during his descent. There was no upside to them any more, they were hideous instruments of torture put in place by some gnarled hell-god with an axe to grind, a malformed bastard from the dawn of time with more hatred than sense. Graham damned the younger version of himself, the one that had neglected the staircase for so long, and slowly tried to lower himself down.

It was difficult to move downwards with only one hand to provide motion, and Graham failed spectacularly. After progressing 3 steps he lost his grip and began to roll clumsily down the staircase. He struck nail after nail on the way down, large chunks of flesh being torn loose on the fall.

After what seemed like an eternity Graham finally hit the ground. He rolled, battered and bloody, in the direction of The Visitor. There was a languid, cancerous form stood in the doorway nearby, its overly dark voids studying him while a putrid hand kept its grip on some invisible object. The Visitor took two long strides towards Graham before stooping down over him. He gave the impression that he was frowning, although what skin there was on his face seemed incapable of such an expression. His lipless mouth began to move.

“I believe… you have some… of my property?” He said and held out his free hand.

The Ascent

Graham’s legs did not work properly. Whatever The Visitor had done to him had seriously impeded his ability to walk. Slowly he staggered his way across the room and into the hallway, all the time accompanied by the eerily pained and strenuous voice of his unwelcome house guest.

He would need to climb the stairs to reach the safe, a task that, with his legs in their current state, he did not relish one bit. Each step seemed more difficult than the last, as though the bones in his legs were steadily transforming into rubber. He fell a number of times before he even reached the stairs, the final tumble cutting open a superficial wound on his head. Yet, with great perseverance, Graham finally made it to the staircase, albeit crawling the last few feet.

Mr Nips was sat on the lowest step, his creaky little legs folded underneath him like a child at a school assembly. He regarded Graham with a professional indifference that few other humans, let alone spiders, could achieve. Graham stared at the bloated spider for a moment before hoisting his rubbery body towards the stairs.

He made it two steps before he slid backwards again, catching his chin on both steps on the way down. When he looked up again he was greeted once more by Mr Nips, who perched himself firmly on Graham’s nose.

Behind him Graham could hear The Visitor urging him to hurry up. “Faster, Graham” it tolled, like some hideous wooden bell, “I would prefer not to snuff out your existence.”

Scared, Graham flicked the spider from his nose and began to slither his way up the staircase once more. Five steps this time. Five steps before an unpleasant sensation halted his advance. His head felt like it was shrinking, that suddenly it was not big enough for its intended purpose. The intense displeasure of the feeling caused him to loose his grip and slowly slide down the stairs once more, again bashing his chin on the way down.

You’re doing it wrong. A snide voice chimed inside his head. Mr Nips was talking again. You’re supposed to use your feet.

I can’t use my feet, they don’t work any more!” Graham shot back.

Well you either use your feet or you die. On your belly. Imagine what they’ll think when they find you. You’ll be quite a humiliating sight.

I hate you.”

I’m not the one crushing your soul in his vice-like grip, chap.

Mr Nips left Graham’s mind again and gently squeezed his way through a nearby hole in the wall, disappearing. Graham surveyed the staircase a third time. It was tall as staircases go, and thoroughly dusty. What carpet there was had been ripped hundreds of times, each new rip having to be held in place with a nail or two just to maintain some semblance of order. Graham had begun to think of the carpet in the same terms as an amoeba.

The first few steps, maybe the first seven, were respectable enough, but the ones after that were in serious need of refurbishment. Many of the nails had worked their way loose, creating evil little crags that would be perfect for slicing the skin from a face should someone end up sliding face first past them. Someone like Graham.

He tried to stand but his legs gave way yet again. This time, on his way to the ground, Graham managed to catch the banister at the side of the staircase and narrowly avoided crashing to the floor once more. With this external support Graham wobbled like a house of cards, his crooked legs barely able to hold his weight even with the banister’s aid. Even with the ability to stand, however, the problem or movement still remained.

Graham tried to release the banister but that resulted only in his unreliable legs giving way once again. The only feasible method of ascent that Graham could see required him to lift each of his legs manually, using his hands.

This is getting… intolerable.” The Visitor intoned from the adjacent room and Graham slowly started to climb his way up the staircase, step by step.

Graham made it more than halfway with no problems, and would probably have made it further, were it not for The Visitor’s impatience. The second floor was a few steps away when the voice boomed up to him.

Squeeeeeeeeeze!” It said in a tone reserved for the types of children who dismember dragonflies, “SQUEEEEEEEEEZE!”

Graham suddenly could not breathe. Any control left in his legs was gone, and with it went the feeling. A creeping coldness started to rise from his feet. It swallowed his legs almost instantly, hurling Graham to the floor with alarming speed. He spun as he fell, resulting in him catching the back of his skull on one of the steps. A loose nail narrowly missed embedding itself into his skull, although the pain from the impact almost fooled Graham into believing it had succeeded.

As he lay there Graham could feel the atrophied fingers of The Visitor at his throat, choking him. Graham could see himself dying, his body being found lifelessly attached to the stairs like some urban artist’s impression of Jesus. He managed to turn his head and garner a look at the steps he had left to climb. The staircase looked as though it went on forever, yet he was sure it was only a matter of a few more steps.

With grim determination he forced himself to climb once more. He crawled, slowly and breathlessly, up step after agonising step. The wound on his head was bleeding profusely now, Graham reckoned his recent fall having succeeded in opening it even wider. On each step he left a small puddle of his own blood and, on one occasion, almost slipped on it.

Then the stairs stopped.

One hand reached up onto untarnished carpet. No loose nails, no wooden inclination, just firm and pleasant and even floor. Graham hauled himself fully onto the second floor and rolled onto his back. He stared at the ceiling, still willing his body to let him breathe, and felt as if he had just been on a gruelling mountaineering expedition rather than a mere ascension of his staircase.

As he lay he saw his vision start to darken. If he had tried he could have reached out to the door of the room wherein the safe was kept, but he did not. He just lay there as everything slowly faded to black, all the while cursing The Visitor and his spectral grasp.

The Demand

The Visitor looked somewhat pained as he walked. He seemed stiffer, more wooden as he moved. His face seemed different now also, less pronounced and a little skewed. The left-hand side of his face didn’t even seem to be properly attached, a fetid flap of skin waving in what appeared to be the wind.

Graham stared at The Visitor for far too long. By the time he managed to motivate himself to move The Visitor was reaching out toward the surface of the mirror. The glass on every mirror stretched angrily as The Visitor pressed his weight onto them. They bulged horrifically, thick bubbles of glass. Hundreds of little cracks announced themselves with a torrent of creaks as the mirrors struggled in their frames.

Graham turned and tried to force the door open with all his might. He drove his shoulder into the door time after time but it gave no indication that it would ever move, as far as Graham was concerned it had become a wall. He wanted to break the mirrors, shatter them into thousands of pieces, but was worried that in doing so he would release The Visitor. He stared at the nearest mirror as a small diamond of glass gently tinkled out of the frame, landing by his foot. The Visitor had his empty eye-socket pressed to the hole but had seemed to stop his advance.

Seconds passed as The Visitor’s black recesses studied Graham. Graham did not dare move, afraid that somehow The Visitor would reach him, stop him, kill him. How he wished he had his cane now.

“Bring me… the orbs…” The Visitor croaked dryly. His voice was still as dead as it had been before, yet there was the hint of weakness behind it now, a pathetic undercurrent to a sinister and unnerving tone.

“I can’t! I can’t get to them!” Graham replied.

The Visitor seemed to consider this for a moment before pushing harder into the glass. The mirror had stretched a metre and a half from its frame and was getting closer to Graham. He took a few steps back but found himself pressed hard against the black door. With nowhere else to retreat to, this was Graham’s last stand.

The mirror stopped just short of Graham, more of the glass cracking and falling to the floor. The hole was quite large now, nearly large enough for The Visitor’s head to poke through. At this distance Graham could see just how tight some of the skin truly was. He could see the skull beneath the flesh and the beginnings of tiny little rips. The skin around the eye sockets seemed to be the only part of The Visitor that maintained any colouring of life, a sickly red colour ringing where the eyes should be. Graham was sure that a disgusting pus would be welling in the red bruises.

The Visitor pushed his lipless mouth to the hole in the mirror and spoke once more. Though his voice remained even and calm Graham felt that The Visitor was angry and had lost patience with him.

“Where… are the orbs!” The Visitor screeched, his dry throat ill suited to higher volumes.

“The safe! They’re in my safe!” Graham admitted. He was too scared to lie and felt that it would do little good to do so anyway. The Visitor would find out the orbs’ location one way or another, and Graham had no doubt that many of those ways would involve pain.

The Visitor paused for a moment. Graham thought that he might be taking a few deep breathes before realising that The Visitor did not seem to be breathing.

“They are not yours to possess… yet.” The Visitor finally said, after almost a minute of silence, “You are ill-prepared to wield them in your current state.”

“Wield them? What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

“Exactly…”

The Visitor shifted his gaze, what there was of it, to the black door behind Graham. There was a deep rumbling at the heart of the building, Graham thought, and the door began to crumble. As Graham lent on the door the fine powder that it had become began to cascade over his shoulders until, before he could catch himself, it gave way under his weight. Graham tumbled backwards through the sandy remains of the dark door and fell heavily onto his back, striking his head. Stars danced around his eyes for a few moments and somewhere in the back of his mind a little voice shouted out: Idiot.

With much effort Graham managed to refocus his eyes and sat up. For a moment he hoped that he had been dreaming, that he had fallen and hit his head and that all that had just transpired was some concussion-induced nightmare. Then he saw the hand coming towards him.

The Visitor’s arm was unnaturally long, reaching from the mirror in Graham’s former bathroom and into the adjoining room. It deftly reached out and seized him by the throat, hoisting him to his feet. Graham could feel it pulling yet did not feel and compulsion to move. It wasn’t pulling him, it was pulling something inside him. He struggled and kicked but could not shake The Visitor’s grip. It pulled and tore at him and he felt something inside start to slip loose. Graham tried to hold onto whatever it was but it was like grasping a wet rope. It slid from his grasp and came away in The Visitor’s hand.

Graham stumbled back somewhat and tried to spot what The Visitor had taken. The hand was grasping onto something, something big, yet he could not see it. It was invisible but, to Graham at least, very real. Something was missing from inside him, something important, but he could not quite place it. Before he had too long to ruminate on this, The Visitor’s voice floated menacingly from out of the other room.

“Hurry,” he said, “I can… survive much longer without my eyes than you… can without a… soul.”

The Spider

Graham liked noon. The feel of the sun being directly overhead soothed him somewhat, like it was a giant fiery guardian watching him from the sky. He almost felt certain that it would save him if another skeletal visitor came knocking on his door.

It helped, of course, that noon was pretty much equidistant from Graham’s bed time and his time of waking. It was the one point in the day where he was completely separate from the nightmares, when he wasn’t fearing their approach or shaking from their prior visit. He was at peace, with his amber bodyguard observing him from the beautiful blue sky.

Graham was sat in his study, a dusty copy of Poe’s ‘The Raven’ draped across his knee. He had been reading it when he had noticed it was noon. There was something comforting about ‘The Raven’, something that nestled in the darkest pit of Graham’s understanding, shifting about just enough for him to notice it. He wasn’t sure exactly why it comforted him – the poem hardly has an upbeat ending, what with the sinister raven refusing to leave the man alone – but there was something in the words that relaxed him.

The book’s spine was heavily creased and a number of pages had come loose from the binding. Graham had read the book a lot, almost every day in fact. Originally it had been part of a compendium of Poe’s works but Graham had removed it and bound it into its own tiny book. It was like a talisman to him, something to ward off the creature and the malformed visitor.

The clock on his desk clicked rustily past noon and Graham turned back to his book. His guardian was moving away now, so it was time to trust himself to his talisman again. Graham picked the book up from his lap and stared at the pages. A spider had crawled into the book at had taken up residence on the page Graham was reading. Graham slammed the book shut, squashing the spider between its pages. However, when he reopened the book the spider was still there, alive and well.

Graham took a closer look at the spider. It was a plump little thing with legs that seemed far too spindly to support its weight. It was turned away from him, almost as if it hadn’t notice this giant upon who’s book it was sat. Graham reached out and prodded the fat little beast. It wobbled drunkenly before slowly scuttling around to face him. It had a big head for a spider, about the size of a fingernail, which only compounded Graham’s disbelief that the legs could support this aberration.

The spider finished its little rotation dance and looked – for it really did look, instead of the compound eyes of an arachnid it had tiny human eyes – at Graham. Its gaze seemed to say hello? I didn’t see you there, what can I do for you?. The spider seemed to show no indication that it had noticed Graham’s attempt to kill it. The tiny eyes in the creatures head were ice blue and deeply penetrating. There was a wizened quality to then, a world-weary gleam of a creature far older than it should be. There was intelligence in those eyes and Graham knew it. Gently he placed the book onto his desk and adjusted his chair so he could lean forward to be eye-to-eye with the bulbous arachnid.

The spider didn’t move as Graham put the book down, its eyes fixed firmly on him. Graham leant in close, his dark-rimmed eyes perfectly level with the icy blues of the spider. He couldn’t think of anything to say. He wondered whether anyone had ever talked to a spider before and decided they probably hadn’t. People talked to cats and dogs, some even had brief chats with hamsters, but there was something deeply alien about a spider, something menacing about their abundance of legs and their general form that didn’t seem suited to a nice fireside chat. Luckily the spider broke the silence, its bulbous form wobbling to the bottom of the book to get closer to Graham. Then it spoke to him.

It didn’t actually speak – spiders aren’t equipped with the necessary parts for speech – but Graham heard it anyway, inside his head, like a tannoy down a long corridor. You want something? It said in a tone that Graham would almost have taken to be annoyed. I don’t have all day.

‘What were you doing in my book?’ Graham asked.

I was reading. And looking for you. Mostly reading though.

‘Why were you looking for me? Do you know me?’

A lot of people know you, Graham. You’ve never met them, of course, and you’re not too likely to if you set about grinding every emissary to dust.

‘Emissary?’

I saw you with those little orbs. You took them from him when you shattered his skull. Well, I say his, but I suppose he did borrow it…

Graham didn’t like this feeling, an extra voice inside his head. His brain felt crowded, as if this voice was a physical infestation, or a balloon slowly inflating inside his head. Still, he felt what the spider was saying would be important to him at some point so he persevered.

‘Do… do you have a name?’ Graham felt quite stupid as he asked this. Why would a spider have a name?

Yes, but it’s very long and tedious to pronounce. Anyone who needs to talk to me just refers to me as Mr Nips.

Graham must have looked amused by this, although he didn’t mean to, for the spider scuttled menacingly close to his eye.

I didn’t choose it. Now, shall we stop with all the small talk and get down to business before I burst something in your head? I was sent to deliver a message. Go into that room over there. That’s the message.

Mr Nips extended one of his spindly little legs toward Graham’s bathroom. Graham heard tiny little creaks from the other legs, no louder than the sound a pin makes as it penetrates fabric. He was sure they’d snap, sending the malformed Mr Nips tumbling to the floor but they didn’t.

Graham opened his mouth to reply to the spider when he felt the second voice leave his mind. The ever-swelling balloon in his brain had burst, giving way to the overwhelming sense of euphoria that comes prior to the realisation that the pain has gone. Mr Nips had delivered his message and clearly had no desire to converse further. He made sure that Graham had understood the directions he had given then scuttled away from him, back to the prose of ‘The Raven’.

Graham got up from his chair and slowly made his way to the bathroom. He considered heading downstairs and getting his cane, but felt that may have been a futile move. Besides, time may have been against him, and he didn’t want to miss out on information that would explain what was happening to him.

The bathroom door was made of thick ash, and was probably older than the house. It creaked loudly as Graham pushed it open and stepped into his bathroom. Except it wasn’t his bathroom. Gone was the porcelain toilet. Gone, the fine metal bath. Gone, the proud pearl basin. In their place stood thousands of mirrors, lined up in a horrid little zigzag formation that reminded Graham of the circus. But these were different to the ones at the circus, these were ugly and imperfect. The surface of each mirror was littered with chips and irregular bubbles, and some even featured small cracks that were reaching into the centre like nasty little tree roots. All the mirrors showed the same image, in the deepest distance of their view lay a white light getting ever closer.

Graham had seen enough and turned to leave. At first he thought the door had shut behind him, then he noticed that the door blocking his path was not the same door he had opened. This door was black and sleek, a polished stone rather than wood. There was no sign of a door knob on this new portal, only a large keyhole in the centre even hinted at the objects purpose.

Graham turned back to the mirrors to see that the light had grown much closer, and darker, while his back was turned. He stared in horror at the nearest mirror as the features of a face began to emerge from the diminishing light. It was a face he knew all too well. He had stared at it as it shattered into a fine dust. It was The Visitor, and he was coming for his eyes.

The Visitor

It was a knock at the door that woke Graham that night. The first night without the nightmare and someone had chosen it to hammer on his door. Groggily he made his way to the front door, throwing on a night gown along the way, not as a means to maintain dignity but purely to keep the cold at bay.

The knocking was continuous. A steady stream of bangs for a good minute before Graham started to unlatch the door. When Graham opened the door he was startled by the visitor. Stood before him was the most remarkable looking fellow. He was unusually tall, yet not quite a giant, although he lacked the girth to match his height. He was terribly thin, almost skeletal, his skin stretched tightly over his bony figure. Graham was sure he could see small rips in the flesh, like ladders in a woman’s tights, but in the poor light he just assumed his tired eyes were deceiving him.

The man’s face was what intrigued Graham the most, however. The eyes were wrong. They weren’t eyes, they were balls. Cracked porcelain balls rolling constantly within the man’s head. They were grinding in the sockets ever so gently, reminding Graham of the sound a pencil makes when run over a file. Tiny specks of dust were cascading down the man’s anorexic face. They were barely visible, but they were there all the same.

The man took off his hat, a large black item, and brought his “eyes” to bear on Graham, at least he gave that impression. His cracked lips slowly began to open. Graham got the impression that the man had not opened his mouth for a good while, an impression that gained some serious momentum when the man began to speak. There were no words at first only a dry rasping sound. The man persevered however, forcing the words through this dryness like a river bursting its dam.

‘You… are… Enoch.’

The first few words were strained. The man had forced them out with all his might. He coughed violently for a moment before talking again.

‘I have been sent to prepare you, Enoch.’

The words seemed more natural this time. The man had regained his verbal footing. Still, the fact that he knew Graham unsettled him.

‘Prepare me? For what?’ Graham asked reservedly.

The man’s expression didn’t change yet Graham could have sworn he looked confused. ‘For the birthing’.

Graham was shocked by this. He remembered what the dream had told him, about him being the midwife to something the creature called the Last Scion. Did the creature in his dreams send this man to him? This man with no eyes, no meat on his bones. Was this man a messenger of the creature?

He took a step back from the door, nearly tripping on his umbrella stand. The man stepped through after him, his legs appearing brittle and creaking with each movement. The unnerving balls in his eye sockets changed direction as he reached out a hand towards Graham.

‘Allow me to teach you what must be learned.’ the man said.

In the light of his hallway Graham could see he was right about the man’s skin, it was torn. There were tiny tears all over the man’s hand as if his skin was too small for him, as if it had been taken from someone else and forced over another’s skeleton. The skin was starting to go green in places too, especially around the tears, yet there was no smell of decomposition. It turned Graham’s stomach. He couldn’t trust someone that could be connected to the nightmares. Not until he knew more about them.

He snatched his cane from its place in the umbrella stand and levied at blow at the man’s stiff left knee. The cane was made of strong word and was designed for use rambling, it smashed straight through the man’s knee, rending his leg into separate pieces.

The man didn’t cry as he fell. In fact he gave no indication that he even realised he had been hit. Silently he folded to the floor, the only noise being the crack as his aged hips splintered upon contact with the floor. He lay perfectly still as Graham stood over him, cane in hand. His putrid lips opened again.

‘You have fire in your heart. That will serve you well. You have the instincts of a Myrmidon. That will serve him well. You first lesson is almost complete.’

The “eyes” span faster. The grinding became the only noise in the silent corridor. It was calling out to Graham. Pleading with him. Instructing him. He brought the cane down with all of his might, smashing the man’s skull to dust. The stretched skin sagged around where the man’s face used to be, losing its features. All that was left were the eyes, still spinning, unharmed by Graham’s assault.

Graham bent down to study the orbs. They were spinning on their axis like tops, ever so gently. They seemed important to him. Precious. He picked them up with his left hand and brought them close to his face. They were porcelain, that much was certain, yet they also were anything but. There was a power to the orbs that Graham didn’t understand, but he could feel it as sure as he could feel the night breeze blowing through the open door.

He shut and bolted the door. He could deal with the man in the morning. There would be no unwelcome visitors come the morning, the decent folk having decided to give Graham a wide berth recently, and it was unlikely the man would be going anywhere. The orbs would go in his safe. They needed to be protected, Graham knew that much. Why they needed to be kept safe? Graham couldn’t say, which was very different to not knowing, but much more frustrating. The reason was in his mind, floating through the fluids like a raft on a river. Yet, try as he might, he couldn’t get a clear view, he couldn’t crystallise it in his thoughts.

The creature put it there. That was the only explanation. It was putting things into his mind as he dreamt, inserting directives as though he were some sort of automaton. The orbs were important to the creature, but why? Graham considered destroying them but decided against it. It would be unwise to act so rashly and without reason. If the creature prized these orbs so much then perhaps he could use them against it. Perhaps not, but it was worth exploring. If not then he could always destroy them later.

But Graham didn’t destroy them later. They stayed in his safe, locked tightly and securely, until his second lesson began.

The Terror

Graham Enoch was tired. He hadn’t managed a full night’s sleep for over a month. The nightmares kept him awake.

He’d had the nightmares for as long as he could remember. Every Wednesday they would come, waking him with terror. After a few years Graham had grown used to this, come to expect the terror invading his dreams, but this all changed about a month ago. The dreams changed, they grew more vivid and clearer. They also began happening at random, abandoning their Wednesday only routine that Graham had become accustomed to.

The last week had been the worst. Every night the nightmares came, each night more clear and real than the last. Graham would be in a dark room, a room saturated by a foul smelling mist. It was so thick that Graham found it difficult to breathe, but he managed.

He could hear water sloshing somewhere nearby. There was a gentle rhythm to it, as though someone was playing with a giant water balloon. The sloshing would get closer and closer, the sound becoming louder and louder still. Graham would try to run but would find he couldn’t move. When he examined why he would discover a mass of tiny black tendrils pinning his feet to the ground. The tendrils would writhe over his feet like snakes but would be tough as steel. Graham would try to pry his feet free, the tendrils slashing a deep gash into the palm of his hand as a result.

Rooted to the spot he would see the creature coming. First, its wake would displace the stifling mist. As the mist moved it would do so like a cloud in the sky, with a speed and coherence all to alien to the movements of man. Graham would be left staring into the darkness for what felt like eternity. It would be about this time he would realise he was asleep, but with no amount of will could he take command of this dream. The darkness would start to move. It would peel away like the ancient paint on the wall of a run-down cottage. Strip by strip the creature would be revealed to him.

The creature defied description. Its form would shift rapidly from one grotesque monstrosity to the next, always sloshing its great weight towards Graham. There was an overall fluid nature to the creature as well as its watery sounding movement. The shifting of its form was like seeing faces in the endless crashing of a waterfall, seen so briefly but never forgotten. Its eyes, however, would never change. Their position on the creature would change, but the actual eyes would remain constant. Three giant, red orbs would stare down on him with their yellow pupils ringed by thick, black irises. Graham could feel them looking through him, as if staring straight into his essence rather than taking heed of his physical body.

The creature would slosh its way to within 6 feet of Graham. Looking like a sentient waterfall it would stoop – at least that’s how Graham would describe it – to look him in the eye. A mouth would form somewhere on the creature, a cavernous maw filled with millions of dripping fangs. Graham would be reminded of needles as he viewed the fangs and could almost feel the pain they would cause. He would try to run again, this attempt as futile as the last, and the creature would slide 3 feet closer.

It would stay at that distance, glaring at Graham as he trembled before it. Time would pass slowly. A minute would clank by before the creature spoke, its ugly mouth rounding out alien syllables. Graham couldn’t heard the words, quite the opposite in fact. The creature wasn’t silent, it would suck away ambient sounds to leave silence. Graham thought of it as like cutting letters out of a sheet of paper, the gaps in the paper would be as legible as the letters themselves. This was how he believed the creature spoke.

It would be unnerving for him to “hear” the creature speak this way. The human mind is wired to notice the presence of something more than the lack of something, and it would take Graham a few moments to “hear” the creature. He did not know the language in which it would speak but that didn’t seem to matter. Graham may not have known the words but he knew what they were saying.

‘Reborn he shall be,’ the creature would spew out in its strange language, ‘and the world will be remade once more, in his image. The Last Scion of the Age of Repentance will awaken at the anointed hour. You will be his midwife.’

The creature would repeat this hundreds of times, its “voice” getting more deafening each time. The silence would beat at Graham’s eardrums harder and harder, pressing in on his head with a great power. Blood would start to drip from his ears and his head would start to pound.

A fourth eye would open on the creature, larger and more brilliant than the others. The entire eye would be empty, a void, apart from the gleaming pupil in the centre. Graham would stare into it and would see something. He could never remember what he saw, and every attempt to do so would leave him with the sensation of his sanity starting to fray, like an ancient tapestry, brittle and worn.

It was then he would awake with a start and peel himself out of a sweat-sodden bed. He dare not try to sleep again that night, too afraid of another audience with the creature. It was still there when he was awake, sitting at the back of his mind, speaking to him in its alien “voice”. He could feel its teeth dripping on his head, soaking his hair in gelatinous spittle. A brief glance in the mirror would abate this feeling for a while, but only because of the disgust in his looks. The dreams had made Graham gaunt and pallid. He looked wasted and sickly, a vile half-man of the shadows.

Graham had contemplated suicide five times in the last month and each time it was the creature in his mind that stopped him. The large, enthralling eye would open and Graham would falter. He wanted to remember what he had seen, what the creature had showed him. Why was his memory sealed from him, why did he not understand what was happening? He knew the creature had those answers and he suspected it would tell him eventually. The silvery pupil would dilate, filling his mind with a bright light, blinding his perception to the outside world. Graham would come back to himself an hour later, in a different part of the house, and would feel at ease.

The ease would pass of course, it rarely lasted more than ten minutes, and the sickening terror would creep back in. He could feel the terror waiting just outside the boundaries of his mind, like a vast river dammed by an eroding dam. The cracks would spread and the river would flow, but until it did Graham was happy.