Chapter 9: Because it is bitter

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I stood in a room made of darkness, and I didn't even question it.

That's how dreams work. Somewhere deep down, you're aware that what you're seeing isn't quite real. Whatever your subconscious forces you to deal with, it's too surreal, too crazy to be happening in your actual life. But when you're dreaming, you don't realize that: you accept that your teeth are falling out or that you move in slowmotion, and that's the end of it. It simply doesn't occur to you that it's all ridiculous until you wake up, laugh the experience off with a nervous smile, and forget what you saw forever, trapping it in your subconscious once more.

But in the dream I had, my teeth remained in my mouth and the speed with which I moved wasn't different than usual. I looked around, saw nothing but that total absence of light; there didn't seem to be a floor beneath my feet. Still, I took a few tentative steps forward. When in darkness with nothing to see or do, wandering about aimlessly isn't the worst idea by far.

The sound of a rope creaking and the soft glow of a blue light caught my attention.

I looked up and my eyes widened in horror. Though all my senses felt muted, the sulphuric stench I'd smelled when the corpse candle came to my door still reached my nostrils, making me gag as I took a shocked step back. The girl, the omen of my death, hung above me, a frayed noose tight around her neck. She was giggling, laughing, making that awful gurgling noise again as she dangled there, eyeless sockets in a rotten face fixed on me.

"Beware of death on your doorstep!" she cackled, finding all of this far more entertaining than I did.

God, she was despicable. I didn't want to look at her anymore, and yet I couldn't tear my gaze away as I recoiled. If possible, I wanted to be as far out of her reach as I could be; no risk of blackened teeth sinking into my flesh, no deformed hands clawing at me hoping to tear me apart. With each step backward, my breathing quickened, and my body felt fragile in the omen's presence, as if my life could fade away any moment.

My heel dug itself into something slippery and slimy.

I stopped dead in my tracks, confusion at what I'd stepped into overpowering my fear of the omen. The weirdest thing could be expected; I'd once had a dream in which Vladimir Putin taught me the secrets to breakdancing perfectly. But what I saw wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all.

Entrails on the non-existent floor of blackness. Bloody, fresh, viscous. My breath hitched in my throat. Who had they belonged to? An animal? A monster? A person? And why, in the name of everything unholy, did my subconscious do this to me?

"Truly a crime to remember, is it not?"

My head snapped up as I searched for who- or whatever the voice belonged to. The sound startled me, melodious as it was; it managed to be haunting and peaceful at the same time, melancholic in a beautifully eerie way. It sent goosebumps prickling all over my arms. I searched and searched for the voice's owner, and eventually found her.

The shadow lady.

Like Harris had said, she went cloaked in shadows; they obscured almost every part of her body, leaving only her hands and mouth exposed. The air around her felt heavy, and a ringing in my ears grew louder the more I stared at her in fearful anticipation. She held something in one of her pale, bony hands. Meat, squishy, the size of a fist, red liquid trickling down and painting the lady's fingernails crimson. She brought the flesh to her mouth and took a bite.

I wondered why I couldn't feel my heart pound against my ribcage.

"Is it good?" I asked the lady, instead of bolting into the darkness to find an escape like real-world Jack would have done. I didn't even understand why I wanted to know the question's answer in the first place.

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