Horror /contemporary dark fantasy
Date Published: April 15, 2017
Publisher: Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.
Gus Stevens has the worst of both worlds. By night, he resides in the Dream World, a place steeped in magic and exotic dangers. By day, a giant snow-lizard stalks him in the Real World, looking to make Gus its next meal. In order to regain control of his life, young Gus must undergo a psychoanalytic exorcism. But this comes with a high price—he must break away from everything he has ever thought was real. Author Abbie Krupnick blends the magical and the mundane in this avant-garde dark fantasy where nothing is as it seems.
The high-pitched scream of a predatory bird echoed from the direction of the Valley. The eagle was approaching at break-neck speed, a maroon streak under the stars. Then it braked and circled lazily overhead a few times before alighting opposite Gus, talons gripping the edge. Gus heard the volcano groan, its anger filling him. The mountain shuddered, its sides growing warm. He slipped out of his cocoon of heat, felt naked without it in front of the bird.
“Hello,” the Magician said, examining him with green eyes. “Why don’t you come down and we’ll talk about things in the grove.”
Gus wondered how much he had overheard.
The mountain was heating up by the second. In a few minutes the smooth stone would scald his feet. A pale orange glow flashed briefly at the bottom of the vent, then colored to yellows and reds too fast, too soon.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Language whispered.
“Don’t listen to him, Gus,” the Magician said. So the Magician could hear, too. What an unsurprising comfort that was.
“Boy, in a few moments, I’m going to flood the whole World with molten rock. Make your choice quickly, because this is the only chance you’ll get.”
“Gus Stevens, you get down from the volcano this instant!” the Magician ordered sternly. Gus couldn’t help snickering at that.
“What are you going to choose, a lifetime of pain here, pretending you’re happy when you can’t even talk about your sham of happiness?”
“I’ll give you a nice, relaxed ride down to the grove. Your Mothers will make your favorite foods. I’ll even make Spear Mother take off her helmet for you.” The last offer disgusted him.
“Gus, he’s a monster.”
“This renegade spirit is crazy.”
“He’s whoring out Spear Mother.”
“I would do no such thing. I’m simply explaining to my son—”
“Boy, friend, vessel, host, house, my stronghold, listen to me: Which do you want? The misery this poor excuse for a Person offers you or freedom?”
I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!
“Easy, Gus, easy,” the Magician murmured. Gus shot him a poisonous look, took several deep breaths while staring at the rising column of magma. A despairing question anchored him.
I’m going to suffer whether or not I’m free, right? he asked the rock illuminated like a burning mineshaft. The magma rose higher. The Dream World will go under and I’ll be the same?
The magma’s rise halted as Language stopped to think.
“Well,” it replied. “You’ll have me.”
What difference will that make?
“Do you promise not to be angry if I tell you?”
“The truth is, I don’t know,” it said, and the magma resumed its journey upwards. It had to be less than seventy feet away. Sixty-five. Sixty. It stopped again. “I don’t know what the Waking World is like except through what I’ve overheard you say.”
So how do you know you’re important there? You don’t even know if it exists.
“I don’t. But I trust Mathis. You do, too, don’t you?”
Dumbstruck, Gus replied, I guess.
“And he told you the mountain would explain everything?”
Yes. He didn’t tell me that the mountain was possessed by a crazy spirit calling itself Language incarnate.
“Exactly, Gus! Well done!” the Magician wheedled, “Don’t trust it. Trust ME. I’ll give you all the knowledge you’ve ever wanted from me if you return to the grove.”
The magma hadn’t started to rise again but its heat was baking his face.
Please, Language begged, now inside his head. Please.
You don’t care what happens to me. So what if I kill myself, right? You lose your chains. I’m still screwed.
I’ll be trapped in your soul again, but YOU will be free to use me. Which is how it should be.
Then you’re exchanging one prison for another.
If you were in my place, you’d be right, but the rules are different for me. Please, Gus. Let me go.
He had nothing to say to it.
Please, Gus. Please. PLEASE.
It was hysterical, its voice rising higher and higher with the magma. His ears were ringing again.
PLEASE. PLEASE. Let me go. Let me go. Let me go. LET ME GO.
Its hysteria was getting to him. He couldn’t stop his own tears from leaking.
Please, Gus. Please let me out. LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!
It was screaming bloody murder. He covered his ears as though this would muffle the sound inside his head. He was ready to smash the sound out of his skull on the vent but Language stopped him with a whimpering, Please.
“Please please please please please!” the Magician mocked, voice muffled. He kept chanting “please please please” as he cleaned his feathers. Gus tuned him out, waited until the bird had finished so he could see the hate on Gus’s face. Long-hidden vows to repay the suffering his mentor had caused him boiled to the surface. He chewed them all into a simple order to Language.
Abbie Krupnick lives in Summit, New Jersey. When she’s not writing, she trains Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes explosive quantities of visual art.