22 - The Night the Dreams Started

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That was the night the dreams started. 

Nat had gone to bed thinking of nothing in particular and everything at once, her mind spiraling with half-formed thoughts. The message from Celia replayed in her mind, interrupting abruptly whenever she tried to think too long or too critically about what it might mean. 

Surely Celia Rivera would be upset, considering what had happened. And it was likely that she was accustomed to being hounded by questions about her son. Nat could hardly blame her for -- 

(if you know what's good for you you'll burn it all) 

-- but why would she want those things destroyed? They hadn't even been in the house at the time of the murders. They couldn't have been, or they wouldn't have found themselves in a storage unit. Unless maybe the unit hadn't belonged to Anthony and Suzanne at all but had been rented by someone else, maybe even Celia herself, but if that were the case then why had the rent defaulted 

(burn it all) 

and why hadn't Celia destroyed everything, if that were the case? If she had been so concerned with destroying 

(burn it) 

everything, why wouldn't she have taken steps to do so herself? Even if she hadn't been the one to put the items in storage -- if they'd been stored before the murders -- she could easily have come to the auction to buy them herself, or reached out to the storage facility, and surely they could have worked out some kind of deal 

(burn)

Looking back, Nat couldn't recall where waking had ended and the dream began. Somewhere along the way, her thoughts had begun to drift from her control, ideas turning to images and images into sensations. She couldn't concentrate on any line of thought. Words simply repeated, growing nonsensical, like the skipping of a malformed record. 

She heard something down the hall, like an otherworldly yowling; a low growl, the hiss of an angry cat. Fluff, but was that part of the dream? Or was she still awake at that point? The noise distorted, rising in volume and pitch even as it twisted into something unearthly, a noise no mortal cat had ever made. And beyond it, too, some other noise, some low rumbling sound like the earth itself beginning to rip apart. 

Nat climbed from the bed and walked down the hall, feeling the eyes of a dozen paintings follow her down to the sitting room. She could see herself from behind, the bed-rumpled mess of her hair. Over her shoulder, she was aware of the painted faces moving in their frames, eyes shifting in their sockets, heads turning around on static shoulders, until every painting stared at her from behind. Their eyes were white and empty, vacant, shining softly in the darkness.

She stopped at the end of the hallway, suddenly frozen with fear.

Her awareness, catching up now with her, stuttered into her body. She lost the peripheral view of her back, of the hallway behind her. Lost sight of the paintings on the wall with their wide blank eyes, and of the existence of walls and ceilings and doorways entirely. Her vision narrowed to a black tunnel, focused purely now on a narrow strip of carpet that led like a stretched-out arrow in front of her, pointing toward some dimly glowing space just beyond view. 

In that other room, just past the end of the hall, something made a terrible noise, unlike anything she had ever heard. It sounded like something heavy being ripped apart, like metal being wrenched in two; but it sounded also like a voice, or the snarl of a dog, like all of these sounds blended together into one terrible symphony. It was loud, unbearably loud, but also low; a sound felt more than heard, rumbling up into her body from the ground beneath her. She could feel the sound waves vibrating the air around her, an oppressive and relentless bass line that threatened to crush her with the weight of its sound. 

She was frozen in place, too frightened to move, caught up now in the rolling waves of sound, like the fierce current beneath the still surface of a riptide. She was certain that if she stepped out into the open room that she would be swallowed up, dragged down into hell.

Ahead, a dark shadow cast itself against the wall: The shadow of a dog, its snout turned upwards, sniffing at the air. As she stood frozen, her breath catching in her chest, her heart in her throat, Nat watched as the shadow grew, twisting and stretching and coming closer. Then it turned, somehow, ripping itself from the wall, no longer flat and two-dimensional. Its broad head turned toward her, and the eyes focused upon her were deep crimson pools, flickering like fire in the dim light. They saw her, and saw through her, and the growl rumbled up through the floor and off every wall, filling the house with its sound. She felt its reverberations in her chest, and something seemed to coil within her and wrap around her heart, squeezing it still.

She awoke gasping, disoriented.

She was sitting bolt upright in bed. Her feet were tangled in the sheets, the blanket on the floor. Her skin was damp with sweat, and she felt hot inside, feverish.

The bed was empty. Liz was gone. 

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