The War Beneath, Dreamer Vision Excerpt

From The War Beneath, Chapter Six

US Highway 1. A gray snake of concrete writhed past her. The Oceanrest exit let off onto an artery road, two lanes on either side of a double yellow line, a dying pulse bloodletting into the sea. Before the iron lung economy, there’d been a trailer park by the highway, and an ice cream shop, and a very large church. Their razed bodies curled in shallow graves, their bones hidden in underbrush. A monster licked the skulls empty, scavenged the flesh.

Teeth clattered against teeth, claw against claw. Hungry things fought over rubble and salvage.

Mountains moved. Vertebrae aligned. The black sea of the cosmos rippled.

Deirdre crawled over cold dirt, panting, her calves tattered by jagged teeth, skin sore from sandpaper tongues. Behind her, a pair of hungry jaws gaped forever. She screamed at the sight of their bottomless throats. Their bodies uncurled in sun flare, a scream of light ending in darkness.

Zoom out.

Warehouses rusted, windows broke. Vermin bred in the walls. A graffiti artist found a homeless man discolored with frostbite, ice-skinned.

Time passed. Warehouses shed exoskeletons and became artist lofts. Collapsing Victorians and colonials slouched into their roles as homeless shelters. The suburbs hunched into Squatter City. Malleus Industries International relocated its North American East offices to Oceanrest. Highrises sprouted overnight, a newborn downtown squealing in glass and neon. Oceanrest shivered out from its old skin. Everything became something else, eventually. Seeds sprouted in a hydroponic basement and stems of mystic flora crawled from tender earth.

do you hear me, Deirdre? a voice whispered from behind a too-thin wall.

This was not Gaea, this was not Luna.

This voice had no vined arms, no deep soil, no warm sun.

This voice scared her.

She stumbled through coils of vapor, no longer bird’s-eyed on the city but fish-lens’d somewhere new. She clambered up Escher stairs and pulled herself into the stomach of a warped tower. Words pressed against the insides of her skull and none of them were hers. Bellowing beasts roared over each other, vying for dominance. They gnashed teeth, hissed. Their war banged a frenzy in her head. She pressed on. Somewhere above, a prophet sat on a holy throne, his face a squid.

One of the voices in her head belonged to the priest. Which one?

let’s make a deal…

Not that one.

Who owned that voice?

Or what?

She reached up, rung after rung on an endless ladder. Pulled. Panted. Pulled.

A clawed hand grabbed her calf and skewered the muscles there.

She screamed.

Dirt silenced her. Raw dirt, stuffed in her mouth, down her throat. She clawed her way out of a shallow grave. Trees loomed overhead, branches knit to hide to the skies. A truck rumbled down a nearby street, headlights pointed south. A voice whispered inside her skull. The voice of a vast shadow, of a thing scraping its way through a paper-thin wall.

what do you want? It asked, It with a capital “I.”

your enemy has an enemy, dear Deirdre.

The voice could deliver desires on silver platters, courtesy of its silver tongue, but the server was the one being served. The consumer, consumed. The shadow, honey-tongued, lured victims to Its jaws by granting djinn wishes.

It, with a capital “I,” was one of three voices in her head.

One of three monsters.

One of three.

The high priest prophet put on a magic show, a shadow play. He puppetted shade-shapes against reality, gestured at their illusory forms, made them flesh. One hand waited behind his back, a hungry blade sleeve-hidden. He dug a barbed tongue into frightened hearts while the audience watched the puppet show. He licked bones. He lived inside the ribcages of old dead, sucking dry the marrow.

From the docks, she saw Paul’s houseboat rise and fall on slow Atlantic waves. A woman stared at her through the marina-facing window. No. The woman didn’t stare—couldn’t. She had no eyes. She’d felt her way to desperate hope on instinct after digging herself out of a shallow grave. They’d cut out her tongue, turned her skin into a dress of grue and glyphs.

The woman’s tongueless jaw unhinged, and a shriek slit the firmament.