Random Nightmares (d65)

Description (more info)

Nightmares: Through history humans have put a great deal of stock into their dreams. The chaotic, ethereal worlds of nighttime fantasies can be a blissful place of rest, inspiration and unparalleled artistry. But as wondrous and magical as sweet dreams can be, far more stock and power rests in the realms of bad dreams. Nightmares, are a source of grim omens and bleak tidings for the future. Dark visions of death, cruelty or surreal fear can be the herald of plagues, droughts, war or that the Gods are displeased and demand appeasement and sacrifice. Unspeakable, nonsensical night terrors, worse than the strongest of bad trips on mundane hallucinogens, exist to prey on adventurers who have seen more than their fair share of trauma. A cleric’s healing words can mend the flesh but nothing truly mends the mind from the aberrant horrors, monstrous beasts and undead abominations, whose defeat is an adventurer’s main source of income. The brave souls who leave the comfort and shelter of their homes to sleep in poisonous swamps, dark dungeons and unhallowed crypts, wage a private war against their own psyche each time they close their eyes. This table grants a DM a first person narrative experience to present to a player or a whole party. Instead of simply saying, “Everyone who scored lower than 14 on their wisdom save experiences a nightmare during their rest.” a DM now has a host of specific examples to represent the PC’s nocturnal deliriums. —Note: Fair warning, these nightmares cover a wide range of terrors from psychological horror and humiliation, to themes of murder, suicide, torture and death. DM’s should speak to their players about topics that they do not wish described to them in graphic detail, before forcing them to listen to something that may be emotionally disturbing for them.

d65 Result

1

You and your fellow party members are all dancing a complicated waltz with your most hated enemy and their minions in an elegant ballroom. Midway through the dance, the villains disperse into wafts of smoke but the dance continues. You find yourself in a circle with your party members, facing each other’s backs. The dance steps are becoming increasingly difficult to remember and you keep getting them just a bit wrong. Your allies seem to be having the same dilemma with their choreography. Your hands, as required by the dance, alternatively stretch out to the sides, reach forward to touch the back of the person in front of you, raise up high into the air as your hand swivels about its wrist, or drops to your side to clutch the hilt of your weapon. As the music reaches a crescendo, your hand drops and grasps the hilt, but this time you draw it from its sheath and in the final move of the dance, you plunge it into the back of the comrade directly in front of you, as they do the same. You look down at the blade projecting from your chest, and observe the spurt of blood before you all collapse, the dance at an end. As the world begins to darken and your life ebbs away in pools of radiant red, you notice the orchestra who have led this dance. It is you and the rest of the party and they too have collapsed over their instruments above pools of blood. You awake from the nightmare with a half-strangled gasp, sweating profusely.

2

You are delving into a dungeon, exploring a side passage when the floor gives way unexpectedly. You fall into a deep pit, your fall cushioned by a thick carpet of maggots. You can feel the crawling mass engulf your body sucking you deep into its depth as they worm their way down your shirts, into your ears, nose and mouth. You can see your companions are there with you, but appear to be unconscious. You make your way to one, turn him over, and see a desiccated half-eaten face stare back at you and smile. You awake in a cold sweat.

3

You are have been trekking through a damp cavern for hours with your allies in search of treasure. You find yourself in a larger opening with a great many mushrooms and fungi of unfamiliar species. There is a small pond at the side and you are reminded it has been some time since you had something to drink. As you bend down to fill your waterskin you catch your reflection. Your face is covered in large pus-filled wounds. As you turn to look at your companions a large wound on the cheek of one of your party members bursts forth in a spray of spores directly into your face. You stumble back and fall into the water and awake in a cold sweat.

4

You are walking along a safe and familiar path having a conversation with a loved one. You are having a wonderful time catching up and telling them of your adventures and exploits. After a while you realize that something is amiss and your loved one’s responses have become slow and stilted as if they aren’t quite themselves. You turn and inspect them when you realize in horror that it is not your loved one but in fact your most hated enemy who has cut off your loved one’s face and crudely affixed it to theirs. You scream as you remember every secret, detail and weakness you just admitted to the villain and there is no way your loved one is still alive after having their face flayed off. You sit up wide awake and it takes you a few moments to realize that you are still screaming.

5

You have been called to the royal court to be acknowledged for your service to the realm and to be handsomely rewarded. You have an audience with the king himself and you are greatly looking forward to it. When you arrive you notice the retainers are laughing behind your back and that no one is congratulating you. You try to rise above the lack of respect and the snobbish nature of the nobles and the king enters the chamber to address you. As soon as his majesty sees you he begins laughing as well. You look down in horror and realize you are naked.

6

You are staring at yourself in the mirror with a small basin resting on the table before you. You watch yourself open your mouth and begin to pull out your own teeth, one by one. You try to stop yourself but you are trapped within your own body- forced to watch yourself as blood cascades from your mouth and you drop the teeth one by one into the basin with a slow, methodical plink… plink…plink…plink.

7

You are with your lover, lying in bed after making love. The room is hot and sticky, and there are an unusual number of flies that buzz around annoyingly. You reach over and run your fingers through your lover’s hair and notice a bump at the back of their head. They ask you what’s wrong and you tell them. They roll over so you can see the bump. You part their hair, and in doing so the “bump” opens. Their entire head is hollow and filled with black flies that pour out in a never ending stream. The room fills with flies and you can feel them begin to bite at the back of your head, burrowing into your flesh to nest within your skull. You wake up writhing around swatting at the imaginary storm and frantically touching your head looking for bumps.

8

You are a child with your mother sitting comfortable in the place in which you grew up. The hearth is warm and inviting and your mother is sewing a tear in your clothing. You watch as she pulls the thread in, out, in, out, until the tear is closed expertly. She looks up at you and says kindly, “One more tear to fix.” And takes the needle of black thread and brings it to your face. In, out, in, out, and expertly sews your mouth shut. “There, that’s better” she says. You wake up clenching your jaw out of fear and for a moment believe that your mouth is actually sown shut before you’re able to relax and open your mouth.

9

You find yourself chained to a wall in a jail cell, opposite something humanoid but almost completely covered in chains. You’re able to determine its general size but the creature is so covered in the rusted metal that its appearance, gender, or even species is completely unidentifiable. It seems to realize that you are awake and leaps for you but the chains stop it just short, leaving your back against the wall and its fingertips inches from your face. Its breath is foul and pungent from between yellow teeth, and you can barely see pale skin and dry-cracked lips. It strains against the chains for hours lunging at you, trying to claw your flesh with its filthy unkempt claws, always coming close but never quite making contact. When you eventually wake up, the foul odor of its breath seems to linger for a moment before dissipating.

10

You are walking through a moonlit garden when you see in a secluded corner a pair of young lovers meeting. You watch as they stare adoringly into each other’s eyes and whisper promises of the future to one another. The shadows ripple near their corner and you see a number of black cloaked assassins creep out of the hedges with drawn blades. You try to call out a warning to the couple but your voice sounds weak and far away and they cannot hear you. The assassins kill them both at the same time, plunging daggers deep into their eyes and holding them down until the screams and struggling come to a stop. You sense something behind you, and as you turn you catch only the glint of steel before blinding pain erupts in your head. You awake immediately and your eyes have a hard time focusing for a few moments.

11

You are plunged into a body of cold water that saps the heat from your skin. You swim upwards, flailing your arms, and you feel your fingertips break the surface, but something keeps pulling downwards all around you. Though your eyes sting from opening them in the salty seawater, you can make out the outline of a pillar of water that seems to rise all around you, keeping the open air just out of your reach as a strong current shoves you back down over and over again. As you become desperate, something suddenly wraps around your head, and water pours into your mouth as though it were a living entity intent on filling your lungs and crushing your organs. You awake gasping and drenched in cold sweat.

12

You dream that you are falling through the sky engulfed by a cloud that never ends. You hear the echoing voices of angry children and suddenly there are actual youth falling all around you. They are smiling and seem content but their words and tones are of absolute hatred and malice. As more and more of them fill the sky around you, drifting closer with their hands outstretched to grab at you, their enraged voices rise to shouts and screams, while still looking so childlike and perfectly happy. They all close in and you feel a heavy mass of bodies crushing you from all around. When you wake up, you are tangled up in your sheets as if the fabrics had tried to strangle you.

13

You are in the middle of combat fighting a horde of skeletons. You destroy dozens but their numbers seem infinite and there is no escape that you can see. As you grow more and more tired you see the skin on your arms become pale and tight. Blue veins bulge out until they burst through your flesh causing it to slide down to your elbow in a thin jelly. Your tight skin dries and peels off and you feel your shriveled organs tumble out of your body. You glance up in horror to see another you looking at you with anger and disgust. Fueled by rage you reach out your sharp, skeletal fingers to claw the imposter you to death only to be easily cut down as the doppelganger shatters other walking skeletons left and right. Rather than the sweet embrace of death however your find yourself trapped in your own skull staring at a plain grey stone. Eventually the sounds of combat fade as does any source of light leaving you in silence, darkness and forgotten.

14

You’re standing near the end of a large and ornate temple. The seats are filled and everyone is staring at you. You feel a chill and look down to realize you’re wearing only your undergarments. The crowded temple begins laughing at you, their mocking tones fill you with shame. The laughter reverberates throughout the temple, slowly building in volume. The cackling is deafening, but none of their laughter changes, except the smiles you saw on their faces at the beginning of the laughter are gone. Each person now sports a blank, almost pained expression as they convulse in laughter. Hearing the unending guffaws now physically hurts as the sound continues to grow in intensity, like a roaring waterfall next to your head. Eventually the hundreds of pained laughing husks and the literally thundering laughter causes you to black out and awake.

15

Almost as soon as you close your eyes you are beset with a vision. You see the world spread out below you, the order of laid out fields and roads balanced against the verdant beauty of the wild places outside of man’s control. You realize that you are on a cloud, and across a relatively short distance you see another cloud, dark and roiling. On that cloud you see more observers. One is your God, and he’s (Or she’s) straining to reach you as the clouds drift apart. But the distance widens into a chasm as the stormy winds separate the two of you. The gap broadens still more, and you realize that the God is being carried away by forces beyond even their control. Thunderheads billow and rise between you, and you are completely cut off from them now. Then the rains come, and the world below darkens, your view of it obscured by storm and chaos. You find the cloud you stand upon dissolving, and you fall with the rain. The beauty, the balance of order and chaos you saw from on high is vanishing as you lose that godlike perspective, and are once again thrust into the here and now. And you feel cold and alone, an emptiness where the spirit of your god once was. The ground rushes at you and you awaken, sweating and shaking.

16

You are going about a typical daily routine when you notice your teeth beginning to grow longer so they no longer fit together properly. You find it odd but decide to deal with it later as you continue on with your day. Your teeth continue to grow steadily and you can no longer close your mouth and drool is freely running down your face as it becomes nearly impossible to swallow cleanly. By the end of your day your mouth is stretched to the limit and the pain is beyond belief. The growth continues and with a sickening popping noise your jaw dislocates and you gain a temporary respite from the pain until your cheeks start to tear, ripping open slowly from your lips back to your throat and the last thing you remember is drowning in your own blood after hours of unrelenting agony.

17

You slowly become aware of your surroundings as you rise stiff limbed and cramped from a long table haphazardly with large tomes. As you gaze about you recognize the endlessly array bookshelves as the Great Library of Knowing, the physical domain of the God of Knowledge. The countless rooms and halls are silently save for the faint sound of candles and the rustle of turning pages, you are all alone. Despite being in a place of boundless, readily available information you are unable to determine how you arrived here and more importantly, how to leave. Although you find that the physical necessities of hunger, tiredness and thirst are greatly lessened when actively reading or writing, you begin to waste away as there is nothing to consume between the never-ending stacks of books. After weeks of desperation you begin consuming the tallow candles to ward off starvation and in a state of delirium you attempt to drink molten wax to sooth your parched throat. Recoiling at the pain of your scalding flesh you throw a lit candle igniting a row of tightly packed scrolls, causing an inferno as the entire domain begins to fill with smoke and flame. You flee across endless corridors and antechambers from the blaze that consumes every scrap of word ever penned to paper. You feel the furious gaze of the God of knowledge upon you and are deafened by the deity’s enraged cursing. Hoping to save yourself from being smite by divine power you turn back and jump headlong into the fire, your emancipated body lasting only a moment before being turned to cinders. You aware feverish with a terrible hunger and a thirst that cannot be quenched simply by the knowledge that it was a dream.

18

You are looking through the clear pane glass window of a small bedroom. The lack of curtains allows the moon’s cool light to enter the room and barely highlight the curled-up figure of child hiding itself under a desk. You sympathize with the youth and reach out in an attempt to comfort them but recognize the expression on the child’s face as abject terror. Realizing this, two gleaming yellow eyes appear in the reflection of the glass, your own eyes. You grow ravenous, and know that it will intensify as the witching hour creeps forward. This hunger is an all-consuming one and you know somewhere deep inside that although you must soon feed, there is no escape from the foul cravings

19

You are walking in familiar area when you perceive eight red, beady eyes staring out, without expression, from a shadowy corner. As you bring your face closer to inspect the sight, you feel the pull of silken spider threads that cover your body like ethereal ropes. Sensing the tension of the cords, the crouching spider lashes out, biting into your hand. The necrotizing venom surges through your veins, burning your flesh before the world goes black. The next thing you’re aware of, you and your companions are cocooned in unbreakable spider silk, suspended in darkness awaiting the inevitable. You can do nothing but watch and weep in your silken death shroud as the monstrous arachnid kills and feeds from your companions one at a time over several days until you are the last to feel the burning pain of the spider’s digestive fluids injected into your body.

20

You’re sitting in a tavern and on the table in front of you rests a wooden chalice etched with a horrifying visage and topped with a bone covering. As you lift the lid, a cloud of red vapor wafts upward, carrying with it the scent of blood. You drink deeply and are suddenly aware of the heartbeats of all the creatures around you. After a few moments you experience more than their pulses and can sense the illness eating away at the bartender, the drunkenness of the bum outside, and the various longings of the other patrons. The area of the effect continues to expand and as the pains and sufferings of the innocent townsfolk around you continues to intensity and intrude into your mind, you begin to feel your sanity crumble. It does not take long before there is nothing but pain and you rationalize that ending their suffering would be a good and noble act to which no sane creature could fault you for. The nightmare ends as you stand up from the table, raise your weapon and go out into the street to put the entire town out if its collective misery.

21

As the nightmare begins you finds yourself in the bedroom of your childhood home. There is no door to exit the room and your parents (Or parental figures) are in the room staring at you intensely. You are unable to move, speak or even blink, as your parents begin to decay. Their flesh and hair blacken, shrivel and fall to the ground in ever increasing clumps until they crumble to the ground under the weight of their instantly desiccating bones. After a horrifyingly long length of time nothing remains but piles of dust, at which point you awaken.

22

As the nightmare begins you find yourself in the area and position you fell asleep in but are unable to move, speak or even blink. A shadowy figure stands off to the side just out of arm’s reach. Its limbs are mismatched and the monstrous creature looks like it was sewn together from assorted parts of nightmarish monsters. You want to move to confront or flee from the sinister being but your paralysis traps you in unmoving flesh barely even able to breath. The shadow vanishes and you wake in the same spot as you were in the dream and can still feel the shadow’s malevolent presence.

23

As the nightmare begins, you finds yourself in absolute darkness. In the silence you can hear your own heartbeat. You begin to feel the prickling sensation of pins and needles spread slowly from your extremities towards the center of your being. As it spreads, the sensation becomes more unpleasant as it pushes past the border into acutely painful. At a certain point you feel as though you were being stabbed unendingly with thousands of white hot needles. As the excruciating pain reaches the point the where you pray for death as a release from the torture, you see a pinprick of light burst from one of your fingers, finally illuminating the eternal darkness. The blazing needles of pain are replaced by razor thin rays of light bursting from patches of skin. The scattered rays multiply exponentially and each stitch of light-burst skin’s pain is replaced by a sense of overwhelming bliss. The nightmare ends as you see rays of light burst from your own eyes and your last few moments before waking are blinding white.

24

As the dream begins you find yourself floating in a deep pool of dark liquid in which float hundreds of severed heads. None of them are recognizable and you’re forced to tread water to stay afloat in the literal sea of faces. You feel a strong pressure on your head that wildly overpowers you and forces you below the liquid. When you resurface, the faces have all been wiped away leaving featureless heads. You hear laughter that is not your own but feels strangely familiar and you notice that the dark liquid that covered you is fresh blood. The sanguine baptism causes a feeling of…joy.. and you swim tirelessly among the heads until you awaken.

25

As the dream begins, you find yourself in a graveyard with a blood-red moon hanging low in the sky. A heavy fog wafts across the ivy laden tombstones, tinted crimson by the moon above. The beads of dew left by the thick mist are like droplets of blood coating every leaf and stone. Turning your head you see a small child whose eyes and mouth have been crudely sewn shut. The child’s head tilts to the side as a flicker of recognition seems to pass over it. After a moment of consideration, the mutilated youth drops to it a crouch and burst into a dead sprint on its hands and feet directly towards you. The monster crosses the graveyard in a matter of moments and leaps as it reaches out its small hands covered in grave soil towards the dreamer, who awakes the moment before contact is made.

26

As the nightmare begins, you find yourself in a dark, unfamiliar forest. In the corner of your eye, you see something is following you. Turning back, you see a menacingly large wolf, standing on its hind legs. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you notice the monster’s throat has been slit cleanly. The gaping wound opens and closes noisily with it’s the creature ragged breathing. As your gaze drifts downwards, you can see a large silver dagger covered in blood, clutched in one of your hands. Your heart pounds in your chest as both you and the wounded werewolf settle into fighting stances and sprint towards each other. Both parties crash into each other and grapple for dominance. The silver dagger plunges into the wolf’s furry hide as it’s monstrous claws flay your skin straight down to the bone. You manages to sink the blade between the creature’s thick ribs and into its heart but the dream ends as the monster clamps its toothy maw onto your neck causing your life’s blood to spurt out onto the forest floor.

27

You awaken in a blank room, surrounded by people you trust encircling you, past them, people you know less, and less going on and on until every acquaintance, every passer-by you’ve ever seen is there. You smile and open your mouth, and as you do words as white text physically escape your mouth, slowly at first but soon coming out like a waterfall, every secret, every lie, every horrible thing you’ve ever said, coming out and encasing you win a white sphere. Everyone around helps to dig you out, tears through the false words. It takes years, taxing, tiring years, but they finally do, only to find your shriveled corpse beneath. The last thing you hear before waking is one of your closest, most trusted friends asking “Was it even worth it?”

28

You’re standing in front of a mirror, looking at yourself. A silver strand connects you through the mirror to your refection. Your mirrored image suddenly smiles and puts their hand on the thread. It grabs hold, tugging slightly and you feel a stabbing pain in your chest where the silver thread has pierced your skin. You tell the reflection to stop but they pull harder and the pain gets worse. You scream in agony and the thread starts to drag out of your body. You grab at the thread to stop your reflection pulling more of it out of you, but the blood coating the thread as it leaves your body makes it too slick to get a good hold. Eventually you start to get weak, collapsing to the ground, and you fumble without any strength at your chest as something big pushes against your skin from the inside. The pain reaches an explosive climax and your vision fades, the last things you see is of your reflection holding the thread, attached to a heart, dangling it above their open, grinning mouth as your blood drips down their throat.

29

You stand in chains in an impossibly crowded courtroom, on trial before all those who have been affected by your rampant killings and other heinous crimes throughout your life. A wife who committed suicide after you killed her husband; a bandit. A son, clinging to his mother and asking when his father will be home. A woman, weeping for the loss of her daughter. A man brought to tears by the loss of his husband. An entire village that was attacked a year after you razed a nearby goblin fort. The scattered remnants of the goblin horde desperately attacked the village for food, supplies and revenge. A countless number of people whose souls were never able to move on and became restless angry ghosts because you never perform proper burial rites of any sort after killing them. The citizens of a large city where you aided the guards route out a major crime lord and his extended illegal operation. The resulting power vacuum created generations of gangs openly fighting for territory in the streets, harming thugs and innocents alike. Countless speak of the first or secondhand emotional trauma of you and your roving party of sociopathic mercenaries drifting through their lives, doling out violence, taking whatever you wanted, using them and discarding them the moment they had nothing more to offer. They all weep and ask why you brought them such pain and why you never considered the consequences or made amends for your actions. Not a soul speaks on your behalf and the judge and bailiff seem to only exist to keep you from speaking or running away. After what seems like an eternity the last witness speaks and the judge says that you are finally allowed to speak in your own defense and present evidence that you are a good and decent soul. As your mouth opens to present your good and noble intentions or your weak excuses placing the blame on others, you wake up before uttering a single word.

30

Your eyes open and you see a beautiful field with rabbits, deer and other fluffy creatures frolicking in the lush grass. The sky turns a dark angry red and the ground rumbles as the fields explode into rivers of magma, dark shadowed creatures rising from the depths. The land is a dark parody of what was before and one of the creatures take notice of you. A horrific aberration of twisted flesh, steam vents from its nostrils as it rears back and releases a blood-curdling scream before charging you. You awaken just as its unnatural claws wrap their jagged edges around your throat.

31

Your dream is fueled with terror as you watch helplessly while your friends, allies and family are tortured and flayed, one by one, by an unseen interrogator. You are bound in a comfortable chair in silken ropes and soft supple leathers that cause not pain but are too strong to break free of. You hear their screams and pleas for you to rescue them, or as the torture goes on, for you to put them out of their mercy with a quick end. You are not gagged and curse out the invisible torturer and attempt to comfort your bloodied companions until they expire from blood loss and exhaustion. The process lasts for days to weeks, you have no way of telling time in the torturer’s windowless dungeon and you never seem to hunger, thirst or tire. It occurs to you after the second or third of your loved one’s is murdered in front of your eyes that the unseen tormentor has not asked them or you a single question. The realization that there may not be a point to the torture simply sadism for its own sake, cracks your sanity and you drift further into madness with friends flayed to death before your increasingly deranged gaze.

32

You find yourself in a battle for whatever cause you champion, whether it be the safety of a loved one or the annihilation of your most despised enemies. The battle is a crucial one, one you’ve prepared for months; however, every strike you make falls short, your body feels sluggish whenever you move to attack and all your spells fizzle and fail as you find yourself unable to speak. You watch helplessly as you fail to protect your loved ones from horrible fates, your empire crumbles around you, and your every last pleasant dream lies in shambles at your feet.

33

You go out for a night on the town with your friends. All is well and you are having a great time. Eventually the inevitable time comes when you must rest. Finally alone, the faint music and noise of the tavern behind you, you feel relaxed and at ease. Strangely relaxed, even as a hand morphs out of the wall in front of you. It gives a slow wave, so you feel like it is friendly and even wave back. Strange, when did it get a friend? Why do they keep trying to touch you? You decide to leave and try to turn away but there are more hands beside you now grabbing you. No matter how hard you try, you cannot break free, more and more of them grab at you, pulling you towards the wall. You manage to get out a loud, panicked scream as they somehow pull you to the wall itself but you are cut off as a hand covers your mouth and pulls you through the wall. You see your friends rush into the area and you bite the hand, trying to shout to them, but they cannot hear or see you from this side of the wall. You watch them search for you fruitlessly until you are pulled screaming further into darkness.

34

You dream that you wake up normally and begin going about your daily routine, however as soon as you speak for the first time, you are interrupted mid-sentence by biting your own tongue. You try to curse the pain away only to spit blood and teeth from your mouth. Frantically you scramble to grab them with one hand while trying to stop the flow of blood from your mouth with the other. You can feel more of your teeth falling from your gums into the sea of blood filling your mouth. Strangely, the person you were talking to does not seem shocked by this and continues on normally. You try to shout to them for help, hell, for anything, even a bowl to catch the pieces of you falling off, but only succeed in spraying them with a mouthful of blood and your remaining teeth. They still seem unphased, even as you raise your hands to your mouth in surprise to feel it, only to have your lower jaw slough off. Panicking you reach for them, only to find that your limbs crumple at the joints as you try to move them. Your entire body slowly crumpled as bits break or fall off until you are nothing more than a blob of mangled human parts in disarray, staring up at your friend as breathing becomes harder and harder to do. You wake up just after you black out.

35

The weight of a cask of ale presses down upon your back as you return to your home village from the city. Birds sing as they fly through the sky’s bright, cloudless blue. You set down the cask for a rest and begin to play a joyful tune on your ukulele. Gray clouds begin rise over the horizon but they don’t look quite normal. After some thought you realize that it is smoke coming up from the only place you’ve ever known. The birds go silent as you leave the cask behind and start running. The cries of your people blend with screams of the invaders before echoing across the landscape. Praying to all of the gods, you continue only to run face to face with a strange person clad in dark armor and wielding a shining sword. Past them you can see your parents on the ground crying over the body of your sibling. Your childhood friend sees you and shouts to run while you can. The attacker grabs you and kicks you to the ground. Another one approaches and begins to mock you. You wish you could do something to stop this. You would willing surrender your life to end the suffering of your people. But that chance never comes, a sword pierces through your heart and you fall to the ground. The last sounds you hear are the cries of your parents and the angry shouts of your friend. Your vision fills with red before fading to black.

36

The bustling crowds push past you as you walk to your favorite bar. Once you arrive at your normal seat an unfamiliar dwarf comes up to you and sits down. “I have an opportunity for you.” Intrigued you start paying very close attention. The dwarf pulls out a rune covered deck of cards, “How many do you want.” After some questioning they explain that the cards are items of great power. You agree to take three cards and pull out the first one. On the first card a bright, golden, almost glowing orb appears. Years of experience flood through your mind while a belt wraps itself around you causing strength to surge through your body. Extremely satisfied with the outcome you pull out one more. On this card the image of a golden key glows before a powerful magic sword appears in your grasp. You can sense the sword would strip away the soul of anyone unfortunate enough to be killed by it. The third card has a cloaked figure on it and no apparent effect occurs. You try to thank the dwarf but find they have already left. After celebrating by getting thoroughly drunk you return to your home and pass out almost as soon as you enter. You awake to find your spouse standing over you and bring down your new sword on your throat. The air escapes your lungs and you hear nothing from them before your vision fades to dark and you are subjected to the unusual agony of your soul being ripped from your body and shredded on the weapon’s impossibly sharp blade.

37

You are sitting in a small sidewalk cafe in the open market, your body feels heavy and you are unable to stand. Waiters and then passers-by stop one after the other in front of you placing plates full of offal on your table. Disgust colors their faces as they take the plate away empty. You don’t remember eating but feel fuller and fuller with each departing plate. The crowds begin cutting of their own body parts to set on your table only to react in fear and loathing as empty plates are taken away. If you ever try to actually consume what is in front of you, you look down and see your own half eaten body and a thick coating of dried and fresh blood covering your hands before screaming yourself awake.

38

You are a gentle shepherd, tending to your flock of sheep. You feel relaxed as you count them jumping over a fence, one by one. After a few minutes the slow pace of the leaping increases steadily until the line of sheep coming over the fence or more akin to an avalanche of white wool. The animals swarm around you, and there is no escape from the torment of their inhuman bleating as they stare at you with their alien eyes. The sound is unbearable and the heat from the friction and pressure of thousands of sheep complete surrounding you builds and you scream in frustration, spooking the herd. The resulting stampede tramples you to death in a manner that is as painful as it is ridiculous.

39

You are traveling down a simple dirt road by yourself. The path begins to wrap around and suddenly you realize you’re traveling in a circle you can’t escape from. Nowhere to go but forward, you continue on and up ahead in the distance you see another traveler going in the same direction. As you catch up to them you notice that the person seems strangely familiar, although you are too far back to place them. As you get close enough, you see it is yourself, only horribly disfigured. There’s a gaping wound in your chest and your face horribly scarred. This future version of you gasping for air says “Don’t trust them…” and falls over dead. You hear a noise on the path behind you and turn swiftly only to awake suddenly before seeing whatever was sneaking up on you.

40

You are reliving the important parts of your life; the loss of your family, your hard upbringing, your first foray into adventuring, your first successfully cast spell or the first time you held a magical weapon, the first time you killed, or the times that you nearly died. Reexperiencing these character defining moments of your life you feel as though you personally had no choices in the matter and that oftentimes you charged into danger, murdering and looting with sociopathic abandon. Feeling that the choices made were not your own you look around in the midst of another memory to find that towering over you are a number of oddly dressed giants sitting behind enormous books, numerous dice and loose sheets of paper. One of the giants speaks and your body, mind and soul is compelled to follow the being’s commands regardless of how much you try to fight against. Unable to move your mouth of your own will, you scream internally at the revelation that you are nothing more than a puppet dancing to the tune of laughing, godlike beings who decide your fate with a casual toss of dice.

41

The dark takes your dreams, sleep brings calm, brings peace, brings rest. There’s a soft hum that seems to radiate around you. A welcoming softness. A light, not quite white, not quite dark, it’s a grayish, strangely familiar light. You feel it pull you forward, through stars. The distant night sky. You see beacons of light coast by. You see a dark sphere before you. Then there’s a flash of light, and you’re standing there and you’re holding the object in your hand which you keep. It’s welcoming. You look into it for a moment, and look ahead, and you see yourself. And you see another self and another. And a fourth you, fifth and an endless row of yous, all distinctly unique. All begin walking in different directions at once. You look down at the object and back up again and they’re all gone. You see a distant flame flicker and you feel yourself hypnotized by its movement. You look down again at it, and there’s something wonderful and ancient about this thing. You can’t grasp it, its scale is both too large and too small, too wide and too narrow all paradoxically at once. The more your mind tries to make sense of it, the more you feel yourself walking in an infinite amount of different directions at once. All those versions of yourself you saw before are all within you and they’re all pulling at different sides tearing your mind into scraps of memory and personality. The intense dissociation scares you for a moment but once again you focus back on this object and the warmth is comforting. You look up again at the stars; they’ve stopped passing by. They’re held in place. Looking down at the object under the light of the stars shows it for what it truly is. In your hands you hold your favored weapon covered with dried and fresh blood. Looking out you see that each and every one of the infinite versions of yourself are markedly different; strong, weak, whole, noble, peasant, damaged, mages, fighters, thieves but in all of their hands, the righteous and the wicked alike, every single one holds a bloodied weapon in their hands. In all of the infinite multiverse of endless, uncountable possibilities there is no world where you are not a killer. Not one where the blood of others never stains your hands and fuels your inner desire for sociopathic adventure and wanton destruction. You and your infinite selves close your endless eyes and for the first time in a long time, you feel at peace knowing who you truly are.

42

You’re wandering alone in a forest. It’s dark and cold but there’s no snow, just a bitter frost that clings to everything. You can feel the numbness in your fingertips slowly spread up your hands and arms. You vaguely understand that you won’t last long, and that you will die if you don’t find shelter from the cold. Up ahead you see a light, maybe an inn? Just a small cottage? At this point anything will do. You try to walk towards it, but you can’t control your shivering and you collapse on the forest floor. You can’t move your fingers, but you can claw your way forward, inch by inch. Finally, you’re at the edge of the clearing, but you’ve used the last of your strength. The cold binds your screams in your throat and your body shakes uncontrollably. Eventually even that ceases, and all you can do is watch the people through the windows as the frost covers your eyes. As you struggle to hang on to your last breath, knowing that once you breathe out no more air will enter your lungs, you wake and realize your chest hurts from holding your breath.

43

You are going about a daily routine when you begin to have trouble focusing on your surroundings and the task at hand. You were supposed to be doing something or going somewhere…what was it? You grasp your situation for a second but then it slips away again. The people around you suddenly seem unfamiliar, and you don’t know where you are. You realize with a shock that you can’t remember who YOU are. The distinction between your sense of self and your environment is starting to unravel. Your body collapses onto the ground, but you don’t really feel it because it doesn’t seem to be your body anymore. You are now in the world like a drop of water falling into an ocean. You are one with the universe, which feels impossibly vast but also completely contained within a single tiny atom. You are nothing and everything at the same time. You awaken slowly after what seems like an eternity of being an infinite universe and feel wildly claustrophobic in your own skin and bound by your own fleshy senses.

44

During your travels you come across a small chapel and enter for prayer and rest. The interior is well lit from the bright sun pouring through the stained glass windows. The sanctuary is beautiful and obviously well cared for despite the lack of a priest or attendant anywhere to be found. A quick glance around reveals a small door built into the ground covered with dust and notably shabby compared to every other square inch of the building. Filled with curiosity you pull open the door, revealing a ladder downward. Climbing down the rungs you find yourself in the an nearly identical chapel than the one you were just in, except that it is dingy and grimy where the last was clean and polished. This version of the chapel is just as void of anyone to speak to as the last and you find an identical trapdoor as the one above, also leading downwards. You continue to descend through dozens of similar chapels, each more decrepit and desolate that the one before. The light from the windows fades and in some the glass is broken or missing completely, layers of dust accumulate in some places inches thick as if no one had entered here in hundreds of years. With each battered incarnation of the building a feeling of being watched grows inside of you. Eventually you find that the front doors have be reinforced from the inside and that the small windows have been boarded up and seem heavily damaged. Descending even further you sees monstrous eyes looking into the chapel through the broken boards in the former windows than are now arrow slits. As the alien eyes focus on you with ravenous hunger you are startled by the sound of banging from the familiar trapdoor. You hear a muffled voice scream that the beast are inside and that you must open the door and help. You begin to open the door but stop suddenly as you recognize the terrified voice as your own. The walls shake with the meaty thumps of the monsters throwing themselves at the chapel’s narrow openings and you flee attempting to go back up the ladder to the previous level to find it locked. One of the damaged arrow slits collapses inwards and a nightmarish aberration slithers into the chapel’s sanctuary unconcerned of its desecration of the holy ground. You scream at the trapdoor that the beasts are inside and that you need help and you hear rustling above as the door’s latch starts to creak open before the sounds stops and the person above flees. You gaze down at the parade of fiends who enter the chapel, breaking and defiling every stone and you wake just as they pull down the walls atop your head, collapsing the foundation of the countless chapel’s above.

45

You carrying out your day to day goings on, when you come across the most wondrous and attractive person you’ve ever met. You decide to make a life with them and the two of you grow old together. Your lover is kind and giving, buying you presents, baking you cakes and massaging your feet after a long day. On your deathbed your lover is at your side, caring for you even in the twilight years. As you lay dying peaceful and comforted, your lover whispers into your ear “I’ve actually been two smaller people in a trenchcoat this entire time.” You wake up confused and with a strange interest in your future lovers wearing trenchcoats during intimate occasions.

46

As darkness takes your mind, dreamless like most, you await the emptiness of sleep to carry you to the day. Your sense of body fades, but your mind and the dark linger. Minutes, hours, days. Time loses real sense and meaning, but you’re conscious for it and its nearly maddening, in that split second or endless stretch of experience that you’re currently unable to express. As the time passes, the air grows colder around you. The faint shimmer of shifting midnight blue, muted and distant, now showing endless depth before you, rippling. You begin to flail about, your senses returning with the dropping temperature, but there is resistance to your limbs as you push in the space around you. You’re sluggish. There’s force. It’s not air, it’s water. You suddenly feel the burning pain in your lungs as your breath fights to escape you but you hold tight. You seize and swim in desperation, choosing any direction but the shimmering blue is directionless. There is no up, there is no down. There is only depth and movement. The universal shadows dance as one, right to left. With a speed that pulls you along with the current, you feel yourself being jostled. As it shifts again to the left to right, around behind you, you find yourself toppling, head over end, eventually coming to rest again. You spiral over and over again, the darkness swallowing you, tightening around you as this dance, this shape, this endless coil, this spiral around you. As the current tugs at you, battering you, you cannot fight any more as the increased power of the current pulls on your form. You cough, and the freezing waters rush into your body, the briny taste of salt water stinging your insides. Your wincing eyes open with the pain that clutches the interior of your chest, only to see a gargantuan mass moving through the water around you, like a massive noose closing in. The pain in your chest vanishes. As your breathing normalizes (Thicker than air, but breathable all the same) it feels strange yet weirdly familiar. In that moment, yellow light bursts before you in the shape of an enormous yellow eye. An impossibly low tone rumbles through the waters around you, shaking you to your core, like an organic war horn the size of a canyon. The eye narrows as the tone grows stronger. A thought enters your mind, a jumble of emotions that your brain attempts to make sense of until a word congeals into the center of your consciousness: “Watching.” The eye just looks at you, waiting expectantly. As you beg for mercy, threaten violence or babble incoherently, more words penetrate your mind “Learn. Grow. Provoke. Consume.” Before you can ask questions, the eye closes, and the light is gone. You feel the darkness and the cold completely suffuse your entire world as the panic and solitude, the true quiet of your unconsciousness, begins to take hold. At that moment, you gasp for breath, and your eyes open, coughing and sputtering in the morning air.

47

You find yourself at a gathering of all those you admire. Great heroes, beautiful lovers, and influential figures. Some are from your lifetime while others are heroes or legends from ages long since passed who have traveled across time to see you specifically. They’re all looking at you with respect and admiration, waiting in great anticipation for you to speak. You step forward slowly and deliberately, savoring being the center of attention, taking in the sights of your personal idols gathered here in the flesh. You notice them in detail, some fanning themselves, others fidgeting with drinks, compulsively adjusting clothing and a ripple of other clearly anxious ticks. Your pride swells as you realize you are inspiring such nervousness in a gathering of famous figures and you approach a podium and ready yourself to address the crowd. You open your mouth to speak, but you feel your teeth begin to fall out. As each one clinks to the stone floor, you can feel their sudden and utter disgust roll over you. You attempt to soldier through your speech but your gathering of personal heroes jeer, hiss and boo at your misery. Their insults become personal, cruelly mocking your few “accomplishments” as petty and amateurish. The last of your teeth falls out and a steady stream of blood pours from each hole. The taste of your blood filling your mouth and running down your throat faster that you can spit it out makes you violently sick and you wake up gagging.

48

You are in the city of Baghdad, wandering through the marketplace buying provisions for your next journey. As you step out of the way of a horse and carriage you bump into a women dressed in long flowing robes with her hood pulled low. You begin to apologize for jostling her, you freeze mid-sentence as her hood raised up slightly and you recognize her as Death. The incarnation of mortality makes a threatening gesture towards you and you flee as quickly as you are able, away from the grim specter. You buy the first horse you see and ride it nearly to death, escaping to the town of Samarra, dozens of miles away where you believe Death will not find you. Taking a rest you visit Samarra’s marketplace still needing to resupply. At the third stall you come face to face with the robed woman you recognize as Death. Your hopes dashed, you ask Death why she made a threatening gesture towards you before. Death replies that is was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. Death was astonished to see you in Baghdad, for she has an appointment with you tonight in Samarra…

49

It’s hot. Humid. You’re holding an unfamiliar crossbow-like weapon. You lie motionless in a row of bushes along the edge of a flooded grain field. Dragonfly-shaped airships circle overhead with a powerful thumping sound, and begin to debark men clad in green. With a stuttering roar, some kind of automated wand sprays red magic missiles into the green-clad men from somewhere on your left. Their crossbow-like weapons glow with flickering star-shaped flame as they respond. You hear your friends and allies scream in great pain and you raise your weapon and pull its strange trigger. Your fire-crossbow launches a hail of metal towards the invaders and the shock waves of the recoils, pains your arm and shoulder. Your enemies are alerted to your incredibly loud weapon and you feel heat and pressure over a dozen places along your body before you fall face first into the water of the flooded field. You wake with a start, wondering what that even was.

50

You are in complete agony, far and away the most extreme pain you have ever experienced. You place your hand over the source of the pain and pulling it away from your mouth you see your entire palm coated in fresh blood. Your mouth continues to drip blood down the sides of your face. Unable to stem the tide, you run to the nearby commoners walking among the streets begging for help except nothing you say makes sense. The words appear to be gurgled by the amount of blood. They look at you strangely and push you away as you bleed on their clothing. Looking into a mirror placed in front of a store, you use your hands to spread your mouth open and realize that your tongue has been crudely extracted. The amount of blood begins to overtake you and you begin to choke. It is at that moment you wake up with a burning sensation in the back of your throat. You were choking on saliva in your sleep.

51

You are wandering aimlessly in a beautiful garden filled with blooming flowers being pollinated by fat buzzing bumblebees. You come across a hedge maze and spend a few hours walking through its twists and turns in the light of a gorgeous day with a gentle breeze blowing fresh clean air over the tops of the bushes. You find a peaceful grove at the center of the maze with comfortable wooden benches and a pond of clear spring water. At the center of the grove stands a magnificent tree, spreading its full branches to provide shade and respite from the heat of the midafternoon. Hanging beside the glossy green leaves are luscious fist sized fruits of a species you’ve never encountered before in your life. They smell fresh and sweet and telling yourself that nothing in this charming garden could ever be harmful, you pluck one of the ripe fruits and eat from it. When bitten into, it fills your mouth with acrid blood. Inside the fruit is a fetal body of a monster, that twitches, mewls and wriggles its underdeveloped sticky pink appendages before dying and emitting a horrific stench. Horrified you stare in shocked silence for a moment before throwing the abomination into the pond. The water turns grey then black and red as dead rise float to the surface and the grass around the pong shrivels and dies. The dozens of others “fruits” on the tree begin to shake and make struggling crying sounds like newborns first gasping for air. The grey wave of death continues to spread outwards from the now fetid pond and you sink to your knees with the knowledge that not only have you tainted the pristine glade but you will never be able to rid the sight of it from your mind. Though you only had a moment of time before throwing the fruit, you know that you saw only half of a monster in the uneaten half and that in the shock of hurling the fruit and hyperventilating out of fear, you swallowed the portion you bit into. The whispering knowledge that fruit is simply a plant’s reproductive system slithers through your mind. That a ripe luscious fresh smelling fruit is simply an edible lure designed to house the seeds of the plant in order for it to propagate. You gaze down at your belly and you can see unnatural surges from it, like the fetal kicks of a heavily pregnant mother and you hear from your abdomen the same struggling, strangled cries that are emanating from the unplucked fruits. Bringing up your fingers to make yourself vomit up the profane seed, you double over in pain as your stomach feels as though you had swallowed a mouthful of broken glass. The last memory you have of the nightmare is a fleshy tearing sound coming from your torso before hearing the bawling sounds of a newborn.

52

You come to your senses slowly, the air is stale and you feel cramped and sore as if you’ve been resting in one place for too long a time. You move to stretch but immediately feel wooden confines surround you on all sides. Lying flat on your back on a bed of satin, you see in the pale light that you seem to be dressed in your best clothes. Cold, stomach dropping shock fills your veins as you are faced with the reality that you have been buried alive. Filled with rage, terror or simply a desire to live at all costs, you scream and yell at the top of your lungs as you scratch your nails bloody and ragged against the inside of the coffin’s lid. Faintly with you see that although the clawed gouges in the wood are deep, the lid is far too thick to break through without a miracle. Cursing yourself for a fool you realize that you shouldn’t be able to see at all while buried and wonder how there is any light in this coffin. From near your feet a faint beam of dim white light and as you inhale deeply to help assuage your nerves, you take the scent of freshly turned earth and cut grass. Fortunately for you the graveyard has followed the ancient practice of leaving a breathing vent to the surface just in case you were buried prematurely. Unfortunately they seem to have buried you the wrong way, the vent is at your feet rather than head. Remembering a key detail of burial practices you know that there should be a cord within reach of the bottom of the vent that attaches to a bell at the top. Pulling the cord will ring the bell, alerting the gravekeeper that you are alive and need to be rescued. Desperately you shrug off the footwear you were interred with and use your bare feet to search for the cord and upon finding it, pull the cord with your toes. The sharp clear ringing of the bell carries down the six feet of earthen tube down to your coffin and is the sweetest sound you have ever heard. You hear movement above and feel the thumping and pounding of shovels above you, frantically digging you out. You yell out encouragement and thanks offering great rewards to those who rescue you but you hear no words in return, only digging. After only a few minutes of frantic digging your rescuer has somehow began thumping on the outer shell of your coffin. Blackness covers the tube and you feel movement along your bare feet, chilled, wet and unpleasant but a better feeling than dying of thirst in your own grave. Clawing, thumping sounds come from all areas of the top of your coffin and pale moonlight breaks through the wood in a dozen different places at once. The holes are empty for a brief moment before they begin to smash open as black tentacles begin to writhe themselves inwards slowly filling the coffin with their cold, slimy touch. Your scream in horror as the unnatural appendages sap the heat from your skin and warp around your arms and legs pinning you down. The last thing you feel is a thin, slick tendril tickle the side of your face before wriggling up to your ear and in one motion plunge straight through your skull and coming out the other side.

53

You are putting on your coat in anticipation of leaving your house. You feel you like are forgetting something midway out the door and chuckling to yourself you turn back to grab your hat. The hat stand is strangely empty. You feel empty. Utterly empty. Hatless, you walk to work taking your usual route. Everyone you pass has a hat and is silently screaming, their eyes filled with agony and despair. You enter your work and pass your associates, all wordlessly screaming as they go about their daily tasks. You reach your workstation. There’s your hat. A standard hat, well-made but fairly unremarkable. Nothing sinister about it at all that you can remember. The wooden on which the hat rests is cracked and etched as if acid had been oozing from the hat for hours. Your emptiness is being replaced by fear. By Dread. Horror. Unable to stop yourself you reach for the hat…

54

You awaken on a wooden slab when some cool, heavy liquid cascades onto you. It’s hard to move or see, burning your eyes when you open them, but you can vaguely make out a gargantuan humanoid looming above you and skewers your chest and chops of your arm. You attempt to scream, the salty sweet liquid fills your mouth and drowns out your calls. The creatures picks up your severed arm and tosses it in its mouth, full feeling remaining as it masticates and swallows. As it drops in its stomach you are fully and agonizingly aware of the broken bones now being dissolved by the hot acid, and the serrated knife coming down for a second cut…

55

You awake to find yourself standing on something solid but looking down shows you nothing but air separating you from a long fall to the ground below. The world is bathed in twilight, the afterglow of a sunset that seems to never fade. You see the twinkling of lanterns and torches in some scattered villages far, far below you. Looking up, you see a gargantuan eye, floating in the void. The eye’s gaze roves about the sky, focusing on clusters of stars twinkling in the distance. As the eye settles on each cluster in turn, you see them suddenly winking out. The sky darkens to unending black, an endless void that weighs upon your soul. They eye turns, focusing on you, the only thing separating it from the twinkling lights on the ground far below you. The void screams in your head, then everything goes silent. Everything is black and never will the light shine again…

56

You heeded the ancient warnings when the fog came to your town. You gathered together with all of your friends and neighbors every day to count your numbers and ensure everyone was safe. You were so proud after a week with no one taken. How proud after a month with each and every one accounted for. It was only when the fog cleared that you looked out at your once proud town and saw too many empty homes. It was only then that you began to realize the fog had not spared a single soul. You had simply forgotten the ones it took.

57

There are no fish in Mirror Lake. They all died and washed up on its shores. The people in town don’t believe you but you saw them flood the beach. Their bodies were rounded up and eaten by the creatures in the woods. The few bones that are left are buried in the sand, but no one will come see them. The fishermen lost interest in the lake long ago. No one comes to Mirror Lake. No one except you lonely few who live on its edge. The others that live on its edge say the fish are still alive. But you know the truth. There are no fish in Mirror Lake. There is no life in Mirror Lake. Every ounce of living flesh tried to escape; the fish and the toads, the bottom dwellers and the reptilian. Everything that has tried to survive in Mirror Lake has failed. Now all that stays are the cold dead plants and the rotting bodies of the deceased. If you speak to the others around the lake they will tell you the lake is filled with life. They say the fish and toads are all around, and the bottom dwellers and the reptilian are only hiding. But you know the truth. There is no life in Mirror Lake. There are no waves on Mirror Lake. Its waters stay still through violent winds and pouring rain. A pebble can serve no ripple on its surface. A boulder would only sink calmly into its murky depths. The people believe that its surface moves. The others on its edge say it moves more than ever. But you have watched the water and you know the truth. There are no waves on Mirror Lake. There are no reflections on Mirror Lake. There is only the opaque pitch on its surface. Your image will not show on Mirror Lake if you look from above. The many trees and few houses are not displayed on its still water. The people in the town do not dare look into the murky water in Mirror Lake. The others that live on its edge say that they see the reflections on its surface fine. But you have stared into Mirror Lake for hours, and you know the truth. There are no reflections on Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is dead. Its water is deep and unmoving. Its life is all dried up. There is nothing left on Mirror Lake. But you still do not dare look out my window at night. For you might see something that stirs its waters. You do not wish to see the thing that moves in Mirror Lake. Because you know there are no fish in Mirror Lake.

58

You and your two companions in the carriage were silent as you rode past the blank “Welcome To” sign and into the town with no name. The people all watched you with the same slack expression, their heads tilted at identical angles as if listening to a single far-off sound. For a moment, you heard it too. For a moment, the people in the carriage seemed like strangers and you couldn’t remember who you were or where you were going but then you passed the last house and it came back. You were all old friends. All travelling together. All Safe. All four of you.

59

You continuing along your day to day goings on when you come across the most wondrous and attractive person you’ve ever met. From the moment the lock eyes with the person it is love at first sight and you know that no matter what happens you want to spend the rest of your life with this person. Together you go on quests and brave the challenges of adventure and romance together as lovers and best friends. Wildly successful at both, the pair of you cement your relationship as true life partners in a ceremony of your choosing surrounded by all of your friends and family. The spoils of your adventuring lead to an early retirement and a shared life of pursuing passion projects, traveling, raising children, learning new skills and anything that sparks joy in you and your partner’s life. Each day you inspire each other to be better and to learn and grow and have fun and novel experiences. The obstacles in your life serve as life lessons, interesting encounters and puzzles that can be solved and they keep your life from being boring and monotonous without causing you undue stress harm or loss. As you grow older together, you and your soul mate plan for the biggest obstacle and milestone the two of you have faced. You strategize and communicate together like a well oil machine, each of you able to support the other’s flaw with your own strength and magnifying each other’s potential plans into strokes of pure genius. The night before the big event, you lay sleeping in each other’s arms, in a position of absolute trust and unconditional love. No words need to be said, you are both ready for anything that comes your way. As long as you are both together, no forces in the universe can stop the pair of you working as one. You gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes as you drift off to sleep. You wake up from the dream cold and alone, stiff from the uncomfortable surface you were forced to sleep on. You look around confused and realize in slowly growing horror that the idyllic life with the soul mate that you spent decades living in harmony with was no more than a dream. You remember every picturesque detail and feel an unspeakable loss knowing that you will never be able to hold your lover again, hear their voice or see their smile. As all dreams do the memories begin to fade the longer that you’re aware but the knowledge that you will never experience love and happiness like the life you just woke up from haunts you deeply. You are left knowing that deep inside, in your heart of hearts, that any future relationships you will have will be a pale imitation to the vague memories of the perfect soul mate that you left behind in the dreaming world.

60

You awake at home with huge, insect like creatures looming over your bed and scream your lungs out. They hastily leave the room and you stay up all night, shaking and wondering if it had been a bad dream. The next morning, there is a tap at your bedroom door. Gathering your courage, you open it to see one of them gently placing a plate filled with fried breakfast on the floor, then retreating to a safe distance. Bewildered, you accept the gift. The creature chitters excitedly. This happens every day for a few weeks. At first you are worried that they are fattening you up but after a particularly greasy breakfast that leaves you clutching your chest from heartburn, they were replaced by fresh fruit. As well as cooking, they pour hot steamy baths for you and even tuck you in when you go to bed. It is bizarre to say the least but you quickly grow fond of these strange creatures. One night you awake to the sounds of crossbow fire, combat and screaming. You race out of bed to find a decapitated burglar being devoured by the insects. You’re sickened but you dispose of the remains as best you can. You know that they had just been trying to protect you. One morning the creature won’t let you leave your room. You lay down confused but trusting as they usher you back into best. Whatever their motives, they aren’t going to hurt you. Hours later a burning pain spreads throughout your body. It feels like your stomach is filled with ground glass and razor wire. The insects chitter as you spasm and moan. It is only when you feel a terrible squirming feeling beneath your skin that you realize the insects haven’t been protecting you. They had been protecting their young.

61

You have arrived in Hell. You can’t quite remember how you died or what specifically you did to deserve punishment, but nonetheless you are here. The legends and myths aren’t true in most respects, Hell is not ostentatious or grand filled to the brim the pitchfork wielding demons. Hell is a room with two doors. The first shuts behind you as you step inside. It locks into the frame, never to open again. The second door stands at the opposite wall, a solid implacable barrier, its purpose utterly inscrutable. As soon as both doors are closed, your torment commences. The room houses a single unique punishment, dealt out at the deft sadistic hands of your custodian. You scream, you cry, and you watch your wounds heal just enough to keep the pain fresh, there is nothing you want more than escape. Once you have endured 24 hours of punishment, you are generously permitted a day off. The second door will swing open, revealing a bare, soft lit room. Any time you wish you can pick yourself up and shuffle, unimpeded, through the doorway into the grey stone room. The space is featureless except, as always, for two doors. As the door shuts behind you, your wounds will heal, your pain will subside and for 24 hours, nothing will happen. There are no special comforts, but in the quiet absence of ceaseless torment you drink every second like ambrosia. Hell is never without a catch however. When your time is up, when the second door opens and you are pulled inside, you will be in a new room, with a new tormentor and, importantly, your new punishment will be noticeably worse. It may take you a while to notice the pattern. You may notice immediately but just can’t take the pain. You may dash through the door as soon as it opens, eager for a day of peace. If you do so you’ll have it the worst. You’ll descend quickly beyond realms of imaginable suffering, and your yearning for release will only make those 24 hours more inadequate. You’ll start to think of their earlier punishments almost fondly, lamenting that you ever set foot in the grey room but unable to stop. But the real trick is played on you should you learn restraint. If you realize the bone rending torment you’re undergoing is better than anything beyond the grey room. Your heart breaks a thousand times, every moment you decide not to step into that next room. Your soul shatters the moment you decide they’re going to stay in that room forever. Your Hell is a room with two doors. The first shuts behind you as you step inside. It locks into the frame, never to open again. The second door stands at the opposite wall, open and waiting. Reminding you with every agonizing second, that this is a Hell you chose.

62

The person that you treasure the most in your life, your heart and soul, your dearest love dies as a result of your actions. Something that you could have prevented. Something you should have prevented. Something that you can undo. For 30 years you have brought the body of your loved one to the churchyard on new-moon nights to attempt the ritual. For 30 years they did not stir. It wasn’t until the men with picks and shovels came to dig up the groaning earth that you realized the ritual had worked every single time. Just never on the corpse that mattered to you. Never on your mistake.

63

When the world fell, the last thing your mother told you was “Follow the tracks.” You walked through dead cities and empty towns, “Follow the tracks.” Past trees of hanged men and campsites strewn with corpses. “Follow the tracks.” You killed and bled and stitched yourself up more times that you could count before you realized that your mother never knew where the tracks led. But she knew that hell is easier to walk through when you pick a direction. Doomed you follow the tracks for years until your body gives out and your feet refuse to take another step. Falling forward, the last thing you see before waking up are the tracks leading out to the apocalyptic horizon.

64

You dream of the world after when end. Flashes of civilization collapsing and order dissolving race through your mind without explanation or reason. All that matters is the next meal. When the granaries were emptied and the root cellars picked bare you started hunting in the ruins. When the deer and rabbits died out you ate raccoon. Then pigeons. Then rats. When the rats went, you looked at each other, at your wet, red knives, and knew: Food is anything you are hungry enough to eat. You survive years after the extinction of the last rat, becoming a meal to someone finally hungrier than you.

65

Eight young friends in rows of two, knife scarred oak between, a table set with love and care, a host remains unseen.
Though plates are full, they’ll wait to eat, for manners must be shown, The Kindly Man prepared a treat to Seven it’s unknown.
A host appears! A Kindly Man! His smile lights the room! Seven grins reflect his face but One still hangs in gloom.
A Kindly Man with bell like voice addresses One of Eight “Come dear friend, you may not leave until you’ve cleaned your plate”
One of Eight now rises, “You are no friend of mine. For though they have forgotten, we came to you as nine”