Laura was at a loss to explain to herself what was going on. They had left Hayvan, fleeing the poisonous cloud which had been consuming the town, and when they had arrived on the other side of the between world, she had fallen quickly into a heavy sleep. Suddenly, after what seemed like the longest nap ever, she had been jolted awake by a sudden, searing pain in her chest, right below the heart.
Ku had told her it had something to do with Benny, or more accurately, Benny’s physical body in the upper realms. He had felt it himself, as mind and matter of the echani had grown so intwined over the years of incarnation, excarnation, and reincarnation, that even across the cosmic dimensions of the human mind, pain could be shared among them.
Ever since awaking, Laura had been afflicted by a terrible tightness of the chest, though it was more uncomfortable than painful. Fusa had lain her near their fire, and was babying her like a giant mother while Ku On Hu did some sort of ceremony, which from what Laura could tell didn’t consist of much more than sitting still with his eyes closed, mumbling incoherently under his breath.
She tried her best to allow the cool night air to refresh her consciousness, but try as she might, things swam in and out of focus and she had very little way of keeping track of time passing. Fusa insisted that it was best for her to keep warm by the fire, and so the cool air was only on the rare occasion of a breeze. Now and then she could perceive the transition between Fusa and Ku as they took turns dabbing water on her face.
She had dreams of torrents of blood raining down from the hills and mountains, consuming a valley in which her double, Benny, rode tied to a cart, helpless against the flood of blood. In her dream she viewed everything from a bird’s eye perspective, and she tried to move closer to Benny to save him. As she approached the bottom of the valley, and the blood rushed down the hills, the cart below Benny grew and grew while Benny stayed the same size, until Laura had to swoop back up for fear of her life.
During one of her more lucid periods, she grabbed Ku’s arm and asked him why she was seeing these strange visions. She had never dreamed before, and when she had, it had always been about mundane things Benny was doing, or echoes of Benny’s dreams. Ku explained to her that something had happened to Benny’s body, and that it had been severe enough to reverberate even through the strange, time-warping effects of crossing over into the Inner.
He said that Benny was most likely experiencing something very similar to what she herself was feeling at that moment, and Ku even said that he had confirmed Benny’s location and assured her that even when she passed out, they still traveled. It seemed as if the old man was extremely eager to keep her from thinking of herself as a burden on them or on the success of their goals.
But when things finally began to regain focus, she was glad to find that she had only been delusional for a little under three hours, and that the extreme stretching of time she had experienced was merely a side effect of the feelings being transmitted across Brynj.
Apparently the wise old man had seen things similar to this, and he called it the Double Pain Syndrome, in which the Inner double would enter a state of shock after something traumatizing had happened to the Upper double. He knew she would become worried if she had thought that they were no longer moving toward Benny, and so he had kept her believing that days were passing as well as miles.
In reality, though, they were still in the same campsite that had been set up as soon as they had crossed over from Hayvan. She had asked for help in being propped up against a tall tree, so that she could look into the fire as she ate the soft mushy stuff they had prepared for her meal. She hated the look of it, with its lumps and odd coloring, but it smelled wonderful, and to her astonishment, tasted even better than it smelled.
Looking deep into the fire pit, watching the embers glow white hot before turning to ash and condensing at the bottom, while new embers fell from the logs to repeat the cycle. She was thinking about her father, even though she had come to the conclusion that she hated him and never would have wanted to see him again, anyways, even if he had somehow survived the mad man Natas’s genocide.
Thinking about it more, she came to the conclusion that the man whose name she had adopted was probably still alive somewhere, and had probably been privy to the entire extermination scheme. She had never known many friends, being the sheltered ‘daughter’ of the most Elite citizen of her home, and in fact the only people she had been close to were right here with her. But she still couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt and loss. Guilt at not having been able to do anything for the people she had seen struggling towards her through the green mist, and loss at the place which had been home to her since she had appeared, full grown, in the willow garden in Hayvan.
She also thought about Benny as she stared into the flames. She wondered just how well he was coping, whether or not he had met anyone or if he was traveling alone and miserable, coming to the ends of the meager supplies she had been able to send along with him. She hoped the latter wasn’t the case, and she knew that she would be able to feel it if any real harm had befallen him, but ever since finally being able to talk to him in person, to hold his hand in her own and see him in a way other than the perspective of her imagination, she felt lost without him.
The strange onset of delusion and pain when Benny’s physical body had undergone some sort of trauma, caused by her deep connection with every part of the boy who had created her, she had slowly begun to realize through the dense fog of her pain that the one thing she wanted to do before dying was help him win his body back. His freedom. Then she would die when Benny died, the way she felt it should be, and her life would be complete.
By the time she was able to piece her thoughts together in a coherent fashion, she understood on some level that she had been created for this. Somehow the cosmos had known that Benny would undergo such a trial, and she was to help in some way. Laura didn’t have a grasp on just how she was going to achieve this, but deep inside she knew it was the truth.
Ku On Hu, her mentor, the only person she acknowledged as a father figure now, came and sat beside her with his legs crossed. It never ceased to astonish Laura that the old man could move about so well, as if age meant nothing to him, and tasks like sitting cross-legged which would cause pain to the typical elder in Hayvan seemed like the most natural thing in the world to Ku. She watched him watching the flames for a moment before asking him the thing which had been nagging her.
“Did my father conspire with Natas to do that to all those people at home? Because he thought he would kill Benny?” As the word home came off her tongue, she felt a pang of nostalgia. She would probably never be able to return there again.
Ku looked momentarily sad, but then he smiled and turned to look at her. “The man named LeVille who was the recent leader of that town did indeed do as you say,” he replied slowly. “But you asked if your father took part in this thing. To that I say only this: if that man were related to you in any way, through blood or through life’s energy, he would never have allowed a man such as Natas to work his slimy fingers into the reigns of control which allowed such devastating preparation. For what we saw back there was no spur of the moment thing. The mechanisms of that conspiracy had been being lain for quite some time before our Benny showed up on the scene.”
So then it isn’t my fault, she thought incredulously, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from her chest.
“I thought that maybe I had somehow caused it,” she confided.
“Why would you think such a thing, my girl?” Ku asked with heavy concern in his voice.
“I thought that it was just part of Natas’ attempt to kill Benny,” she said. “I thought they had all died just because Natas wanted to kill the person that I brought to our town.”
To Laura’s surprise, Ku began to laugh his wheezy, raspy laugh, lighting a cigarette as the fit passed. “My young Laura,” he said, still smiling, the cigarette dangling between his lips, “you underestimate the precision with which the Madman has calculated the workings of the minds of men. Everything he does has been long planned out, no matter how chaotic or spontaneous it may seem. Those people were marked to die, a part of his lifelong quest to create the army of Feeren with which to take over Valence and ultimately, I suspect, destroy the pillar of Brynj which keeps this world and the higher strata in such perfect harmony. No, Benny had nothing to do with that, though I do bet that Natas figured he would take you out in the process of it. That would make things much easier for him when it comes time to face Benny once again. I am most certain that he knew you had helped Benny escape, and in fact he was probably happy about it. You said yourself that you had overheard him discussing the complications of Benny’s arrival at Hayvan. He didn’t want another of us echani around, because even without training, in the event of imminent death, Benny would have been able to tap into some of his vast amounts of power and cause a lot of problems for Natas, even if he didn’t stop him.
“But that does not mean you should feel bad about helping Benny, either, just because it is something Natas wanted. Getting Benny out of the way was a smart thing, and the histories will thank you for it much later.”
“Why couldn’t you do anything to help them all?” Laura asked, and immediately regretted it when she saw the deep look of pain come over the sweet old man’s face, filling him with an intense enough sense of shame that he turned away from her.
“I wanted to, child,” he said. “Gods, please believe me that I did. Unfortunately, when I was a little younger, more fresh to the Inner and its wonders, I loved to create grandiose objects, monuments of wonder. The Great Cell was my crowning victory, the thing that won me the respect of the Council and all of the Inner. Having to break from my own cell was nothing I ever planned on, and though I may have been able to continue on with you and Fusa, my mind was drained, my energy depleted, and I could not have done anything beside stall us more, which would have only led to our deaths, as well as those we witnessed and heard in Hayvan.”
“I’m sorry,” Laura said, her cheeks becoming hot as she began to blush. “It was rude, I shouldn’t have asked-“
“It is quite alright, young daughter,” he said, his smile and warmth returning to his wrinkled old face once again. “When we are in doubt, we must ask, must we not?”
Laura nodded and returned her gaze to the flame. Across the clearing, it appeared that Fusa had taken up whatever it was that Ku had been doing. It was the first night since entering the Inner, and Laura relished in the wonder that was the weather. Night or day, the temperature remained relatively the same. There were no seasons in the Inner, so every day was a pleasant, mild summer type day, and the evenings felt just the same.
The smell of the fire was wonderful, because Ku had placed some sort of meat over the fire that grew as it cooked. It had started out the size of a fist, and Laura had expressed her doubts about it being able to feed them all, but now it was the size of a small ham and would be the size of a large turkey by the time it was done, Ku had said. Supposedly the meat never went bad after being cooked, and so they would have cold rations for at least a few days after it was done.
It seemed as though in the few hours she had been incoherent with pain, they had accumulated everything they might need for their trip. They had entered the Inner with virtually nothing but the pack Fusa had prepared before he and Laura had set out to find Ku. Even though it was magically proportioned to fit extra stuff inside, Laura had still been fairly certain that whatever was in there would run out pretty quickly. But when she had awoken, their camp had looked fully stocked, or at least close to it. Even though she had believed it before, now she was coming to know that these two men really could do just about anything they wanted once they combined their wills toward something.
Listening to the sound of the crackling and the hum of Fusa’s chants, Laura drifted further into a sense of peace. Even if something terrible was happening to Benny’s body, they were now on their way to actually helping Benny himself. The thought filled her with enough joy that she could almost forget about the travesty back in Hayvan. She just kept telling herself that she had never really known many people anyways, and the most important ones to her had survived, so she should be happy.
It just seemed to eat at her inside that they had been unable to help them. They had had to flee for their lives, leaving all the innocent men, women, and children behind to die in the fog.
But once the Madman is stopped, she thought, there won’t be all of this bloodshed. We can fix whatever has gone wrong with the Council because of him, and things will go back to normal.
They were big things to hope for, she knew, and she was aware that the odds were stacked against them. But she had always loved the stories from her childhood where the good guy won, so she kept the hope burning in her heart, feeding it like the air fed the fire she was watching.
All of a sudden she noticed that the fire was looking back at her. Or rather, a face had now appeared amidst the flames and embers and seemed to be staring back at her. Fusa stood just beyond the flames, facing them, his eyes still closed and the constant murmur still coming quietly from his mouth. As she watched the face, it seemed to materialize more fully, and Laura instantly noticed that it wasn’t actually staring at her. In fact, the face seemed to have no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, not even eyes. Where they should have been there was only a dip in the facial skin, and the nostrils and mouth were both absent as well. It was as if the skin had grown over a skull, without forming eyelids or any of the other normal features of a face.
She looked over at Ku On Hu to see if he was seeing the face as well, but his eyes were closed. However, he said quietly, “The Unborn Son.”
Laura turned her gaze back to the fire, and the picture there began to change. The face twisted away and began to form into the shape of a man’s body. He was fat and sat on what appeared to be pillows, and leaning forward a little to focus better, Laura could finally make out enough detail to see that the fat man was smoking a pipe.
“He infests another,” Ku said. “But not this one, Fusa, not this one.”
Ku was giving commentary to the projection in the fire, it seemed. Laura listened and watched closely. The flames once again swirled away and reformed into the shape of a girl. A beautiful girl. “Yes, this is the one,” Ku said.
Just like the other images, this one took a few moments to come fully into detail, but when it did, Laura was speechless.
The girl in the fire was her.
Benny had only caught fleeting glimpses of the darkness from the area where Natas had started his terrible reign within the Inner. Once he thought the tall mountain had regained its appearance of a building, but it was only a shimmer of light coming off the snow, making the mountain dance in the sunlight.
It seemed like they had traveled for a lot longer than normal that day, and he was beginning to develop a dull ache in his chest. Whistling at Brun in his mind (a skill Benny had been avidly trying to perfect,) Benny stopped and leaned against a tree to catch his breath, hoping the stitch in his chest would subside.
Brun had been levitating through the forest, showing off, in Benny’s opinion, and Benny had needed to run to keep pace. Since he was also charged with carrying all of their supplies strictly with the power of his thoughts, his concentration was somewhat scattered and he often found himself holding his breath as he concentrated on the objects floating beside him, trying to make sure all of them passed through the trees without touching them. Brun insisted that this would teach him to respond quickly to a changing environment, when he would need to be able to adjust the momentum of objects he was levitating at the drop of a hat. To Benny it just felt tedious, and with Brun whizzing along through the trees at a much faster pace than Benny could run, it had not taken very long to become exhausted.
Brun allowed him respite, for once. Usually the tiny man seemed to push Benny to the brink of his patience, until he was ready to quit whether his little teacher allowed it or not. This time, however, he had seemed to actually be keen to the idea of stopping for a moment.
“We have made good distance,” Brun said. It was the morning after Benny had been shown the Mad Keep, where he had supposedly been taken to have his life force stripped from his body. He could still remember the faintly familiar darkness swirling around the gargantuan black building, with a million windows covering its dark façade, taller than any sky scraper Benny had ever seen, and indeed almost a contender for even the largest mountain he had seen.
“Are you sure?” Benny asked. “This whole damned forest looks exactly the same in all directions, and that ugly mountain of a building doesn’t seem to be approaching us at all. If I were the one doing the judging, I would probably venture so far as to say we hadn’t made any progress at all.”
“And that is why you are still a dead man walking,” Brun said, pulling out some meat and dried vegetables from his personal pack. At least he carries that for himself, Benny thought.
“Oh, whatever,” Benny grumbled. “Stiff.” He wasn’t particularly in the mood for Brun’s insulting style of training, especially after he had spent the entire morning ‘training’ by transporting their luggage. Even if he wasn’t lifting the objects with his arms, the exertion of it left very little energy for the rest of his body, so even just running through the woods had been increasingly difficult.
The ache in his chest was irritating, and he tried breathing deep with his head between his legs as he sat in the shade of a tree, but it didn’t seem to be doing much good. His thoughts drifted off to Laura more and more for some reason, and for a moment he almost forgot about his chest. But it was brief.
Brun was watching him from across the clearing, puffing on his little pipe. He didn’t seem to have much of an expression, except his normal wild eyed stare from that one eye, the eye which seemed to be the focal point of the tiny man’s abilities.
“I don’t know what it is,” Benny said, knowing the little man was probably looking into his thoughts, perhaps even feeling the pain for himself. “It started back there and I thought that it would get better if we stopped for air. But Jesus Christ, I think its getting worse.”
“Have you tried the Lana?” Brun asked. He continued to stare at Benny. From across the clearing, through the shade which half concealed him, Brun’s large blue eye glowed faintly, and the other looked like no more than a black bead in the dim light.
“No,” Benny replied, looking around the camp for his pack. Suddenly, part of one of Brun’s lessons from their long week together, the one about seeing with your mind before ever even attempting to see with your eyes. In the Inner, he said, the mind was the much more accurate tool of perception, and the eyes could scarcely be trusted, especially if you were one from the Upper Realms. So he had been taught to spend an hour each night envisioning a color for everything, different hues for different categories of items, and to try to see the objects imbued with those colors.
He had chosen light bluish green for the Lana plant, but at first when he unfocused his eyes and began feeling the slight hum in his head which always seemed to accompany this visualization process, the items piled together at the far side of the camp looked more like a peacock, a jumbled rainbow of colors all heaped together, and the thought of picking out one very specific hue seemed almost impossible at first glance.
But Benny had been warned of cases like this by Brun. The world was full of different types of matter, and when you had color coded damn near all of them, ‘seeing colors’ as Brun called it could be very disorienting and at times confusing. But he had been ensured that with practice, it would be like looking at the world in any other way, just an everyday occurrence with few of the disorienting effects he was still experiencing.
He focused his mind on the thought of the very specific shade of green he had chosen for the Lana. He saw a color similar, but his mind vaguely registered that no, this was not the Lana plant, this was the meat. Another close hue was actually the pipe, which meant he was close. Then he spotted it. It was just a tiny sliver of green showing between a purple and a red, and he instantly knew that this was the one he was looking for.
He allowed the colors to fade, but kept his eyes trained on the spot where the greenish blue he had been looking for had shown forth. He stared at it for almost a minute, and he almost gave up, thinking that the distance was too great to move it and bring it up out of the ramshackle pile of stuff on the other side of the clearing. But then he remembered Brun telling him that distance and height only gave the illusion of making it more difficult. In actuality, his telekinetic abilities would be just as strong anywhere that he focused them, whether the object be a mile, two miles, or a hundred miles. That was when the pile shifted and the bag burst from the pile of supplies and hovered across the clearing to Benny. He reached out with his right hand and grabbed it. The pain in his chest did not seem to be getting any better, but he was managing to deal with it. In fact, he noted, while he had been concentrating on locating the blue green hue within the spectrum of colors which made up the pile of their luggage, he had ceased to notice the pain because his mind had been so wrapped up in what he was focused on.
He now took out a little chunk of the Lana plant and smelled it. He still couldn’t get over the aroma. The stuff he had tried in Minde on the Day the Shit Hit the Fan (Benny had decided to call it this for lack of a better title,) had been good, but it would have paled in comparison to the purplish Lana plant. The little amethyst looking crystal which covered its surface smelled almost of strawberries, mixed with a thick skunky fragrance which was so subtle that it could barely be associated with a skunk at all. Benny rubbed his chest where the pain was and sucked in the sweet smell of the plant.
Looking back up at Brun, Benny found the little warrior apparently asleep. His one large eye was still open, of course, for he never slept without his magical vision. He told Benny one day that he could go to sleep and allow his mind and visual faculties to shut down, but the eye worked almost like what Benny thought of as a security camera, monitoring the things around the small man while he slept and alerting him to anything which would warrant waking up.
Benny had been thinking about the jerky type stuff which was somewhere in the small pile of supplies, but he hadn’t tried to make it move at all. Suddenly, the small sack which contained the meat bumped into his head with a soft thud, and he decided he would eat and drink before smoking his Lana. They had heard a stream while still trekking through the woods, and Benny decided he would leave Brun sleeping in the clearing and head down to the water to refill the small skin which had been provided for him by Beaner along with the Hide Pack.
Brun had stressed the importance of staying together in the dangerous wood, but Benny figured the stream to be only about twenty or thirty yards from their makeshift camp. He would be gone for only a few minutes, and besides, Brun was perfectly capable of defending himself. Besides that, Benny himself was beginning to feel a bit more confident about his abilities to defend his own life, as well. As more and more of his abilities revealed themselves, he slowly became less frightened of this endless Unalla Wood, and the prospect of facing Natas no longer seemed like a dreaded challenge. It now seemed more like a welcomed challenge.
As he set off down the small bank in the direction that he last remembered hearing the running water, he allowed himself to begin to see the colors again. The trees were a bright luminescent green, a color he had chosen for the simple fact that it would make any other changes in color all the more obvious, therefore giving himself a better likelihood of spotting any approaching predators. For the last few days, however, the worst things they had needed to deal with were the lightning snakes. They would coil themselves up and thereby complete an electrical circuit within their bodies, much like the Tiger Maggots Benny had attempted to use to make fire when he first crossed over into the Inner.
But the snakes were nowhere near as docile. They didn’t just glow and get hot like the tiger maggots. No, these little ferocious snakes stayed coiled up, building electric energy within their bodies to such a point that their eyes glowed blue, and then as soon as you noticed those tiny blue eyes, it was too late unless you knew how to defend yourself. At that point they would spring forth, releasing their energy so that their entire body shown forth with that eerie blue light which was so much like the light Benny would see in Brun’s eye when he was working some wonderful feat.
But despite the shock Benny had received when first caught off guard by those sneaky little snakes, they were relatively easy foe. Benny was beginning to savor challenges, mostly due to the elation he would feel when successful. Brun’s extreme tactics might be tiresome, but Benny did not doubt in any way whatsoever the effectiveness of that tiny man’s methods anymore. He had come to finally accept Brun as a teacher, instead of a burden which had been forced upon him by a cruel universe.
Finally, pushing through one last dense set of bushes, Benny located the clear stream they had heard from the clearing. It almost seemed to beckon at him, it looked so cool and refreshing. He had intended to only go down there long enough to get some water, and to breathe by the cool mists thrown off by the quickly moving stream, hopefully easing the stitch in his chest.
Benny had done some pretty strenuous things, including smacking a girl in the face with a two hundred pound log, but none of it had caused him this much pain. His best guess was that he had forgotten to breathe while levitating their luggage, like Brun had told him to be sure to do. One day I’ll listen to that little bugger, Benny thought, reaching his hand into the creek and scooping up some of the pleasantly cool water.
As he drank from his bare hands, Benny felt some small relief, but only to his parched throat, and not to his chest, which now positively seemed to be on fire. He began to realize that something else had to be wrong. He was out of shape, but not that out of shape, and even so, within the Inner he had been able to keep himself fairly free of overall exhaustion. When he slept, it was either extremely peaceful, almost blissfully dreamless sleep, or he was riddled with vague dreams of the thing which possessed his body in the Upper Realms, but he always, always awoke feeling refreshed.
As the last of the water went down his throat, Benny tried to take in a breath and found that he could not breathe. He pulled in air as hard as he could, but it did no good. It was like a fifty pound weight was pushing on his chest in the place where he felt the pain, just below his heart. It certainly wasn’t a stitch, he realized with dismay.
He began scrambling back up the bank toward the clearing where he had left Brun, at the same time attempting feebly to call out to him. But there was no sound coming from his mouth, due to the fact that he had no air on which to carry his words. The pain he had foolishly mistaken for a stitch was now too intense to bear. The fifty pound weight had become a two hundred pound weight, and the only sound escaping his throat was a terrible rasping noise as he attempted again and again to suck in air.
Brun, he thought desperately. Brun, I need you!
The only sound he heard was the faint rustling of the wind through the trees and the steadily flowing water from the stream. As he climbed toward the top of the little bank which led from their clearing down to the stream, Benny began to lose his strength as his muscles and organs became starved for air. The ‘stitch’ now felt like a knife in his chest. His brain was losing oxygen as well, and suddenly he couldn’t even remember the name he had been calling for help. Something with a B, like his own name, he felt sure, but his oxygen deprived brain couldn’t place any more detail.
His limbs had long since begun to feel heavy and tired, and the only muscle which did seem to be functioning at full force was his heart, which beat faster than Benny would have thought possible, thudding against his chest but missing a beat every now and then, pumping the stale blood to every part of his body.
One moment he was looking at the ground as his hands struggled from root to log to rock, trying to find any way at all to get back to his teacher, whatever his name had been, and the next moment the ground was being replaced with the trees and then the sky as he fell backwards.
His head hit a thick root with a sickening thud, but the bank was too steep for the log to stop his fall as he tumbled down the steep incline. The sky became the river, but it was upside down, until he hit a log, which hurt considerably more than the root. The force caused him to spin to the side, and he felt a severe shock as his arm twisted beneath him, catching his fall. Suddenly he was surrounded by cold, and only vaguely could he discern that he had fallen all the way down the bank and into the river.
Whoever you are, I need you, Benny thought, the despair welling up inside so heavily that he felt he could almost die of fear. His heart was now beating so fast that it felt more like the damned thing was vibrating in his chest, instead of beating steadily. The cold water flooded around his face as his fall came to that sudden, wet stop.
For the briefest of moments, the cold rejuvenated his thought process and he mustered all the will he could manage, yelling as loud as he could in his mind, BRUN! BRUN, TO ME! In the last moment before losing his thoughts again, Benny managed a long, deep whistle within his head.
He thought he could faintly hear some sort of response, but there was always the possibility that it was just an echo of his thought, reverberating inside his mind, which now could have very well been a big empty chamber, for all Benny knew.
As his brain used up the last of his oxygen, the world began to fade to black, and his thoughts ceased to come whatsoever. I promised myself I wouldn’t pass out again on this journey, he managed to remember. But sure enough, the darkness was creeping in from all sides, and he felt his consciousness slipping away.
He’s surrounded by darkness. He thinks he sees light above him, but he isn’t sure. The wind in his hair is incredible, and he becomes only slightly aware that he is traveling at great speed through the darkness.
In the gloom, off to his left, Benny can sense something large and terrible, and looking in that direction he sees that it is a cliff covered by holes. Some of the holes somehow seem more dark than the others, and a few seem to be moving, but how this can be, Benny does not know.
Suddenly he is moving away from the large and terrible, hole-covered cliff, and the sky above is filling with the red light he first spotted while emerging from the abyss. At first, he can’t believe his eyes, but as the light of the sky fills the world, a rosy glow is cast upon the Pillar.
This must be Brynj, he thinks. I’ve been here before. But this is something new.
As he continues to back away, the pillar hardly seems to change at all, it’s so big. He only knows he is indeed moving away from because the holes were getting smaller.
Suddenly he finds himself a long distance from the supposed cliff, and he realizes that it is no cliff at all. It is a giant column, a sort of Pillar emerging from the depths and disappearing overhead. He can finally make out the holes, now that the light is closer, and inside them he sees terrible black creatures, sliming the walls with their acidic spit, causing hissing noises to erupt from the pillar.
He is still moving up, toward the redness of the sky. Benny knows that this all must be a dream, but he cannot remember the events leading up to it, or what he is doing here in this between world.
Suddenly the Abyss below is not as frightening as the Red Abyss above, and the pillar is quickly becoming no more than a faint line, stretching from one abyss to the other.
Before he can think too deeply about these strange events, his eyes close and open on a new scene. His vision is now filled with a blue sky, and Benny can faintly hear someone speaking in the background, as well as the white noise caused by some sort of crowd.
“Arise!” he hears, and in the right of his vision, Benny sees the body of his old sheriff sit up and grab some sort of crude weapon which had been flung in their direction. It looked like a spear, but Benny could easily tell that it was only a broom handle with the end sharpened. As Benny watches, the large man throws the spear back to wherever it came from.
His own body begins to ease its way up, and he can feel the gunshot wound in his chest healing up. This is another mystery to him, as he didn’t know he had been shot. But somehow, instinctively, he knows that his body has been shot and is healing. However, he also cannot look directly in front of himself, for the vision in the middle of his eyes has ceased to work, leaving only the peripheral.
He feels someone watching him, knowingly. The thing which has his body can sense him, can feel him creeping around in its head. It’s just like when he saw the thing kill his mother. It somehow knows that he is there.
Get the hell out of here, comes a throaty female voice, growling into his thoughts. This is mine now.
Somehow Benny manages to force himself to say, No, it isn’t, and I am coming for you. Then his vision recedes and sweet, dreamless sleep sets in.