Mike was having another nightmare.
A giant snake with the head of a woman chased after Callie. There was a tattoo on the woman’s forehead, of a spider; and the spider seemed to wiggle as if alive.
Mike himself was trapped in a cage, helpless to do anything but watch as the snake woman caught Callie and began to devour her, feet first. As Callie’s head disappeared screaming into its maw, the snake woman looked over at Mike, and spoke the following in mocking tones:
“Poor Eternus! Left for dead!
In his heart, not in his head!
For the Man Aghast we wait.
Blood upon the Darkling gate!”
This was followed by gales of derisive laughter, which ended abruptly when some movement caused her to glance over at something behind Mike, who suddenly realized he wasn’t alone in the cage. He turned around to find a dark and frightful creature staring back at him with red bestial eyes.
“Will you ever take that off?” it asked.
Mike touched his face with his hands, and felt its falseness. It was a child’s plastic mask, with an elastic string around his head to hold it in place. The elastic was worn down and would not hold for long.
Mike felt under the mask and touched a smooth formless softness that moved and changed under his fingertips. Fear overcame him, and he held the mask tight against his face.
“What am I underneath?!” he asked the beast.
“Guna shaal isanno a’dahj.” the beast replied.
“What? I don’t understand---“
“It’s not your place to understand, but to burn.”
The beast advanced on him. It extended it’s claws, which were molten with fire. Mike tried to back away, but there was no room to do so. The beast grabbed the sides of his head.
“Burn for me, Michael.” it said.
Mike screamed as fire engulfed his face, mask and all.
The dream changed.
Mike now found himself in his father’s house; the kitchen, in fact. The daylight that came in through the window looked noonish, perhaps late morning. The window also afforded a view of a dusty brown car, parked in front of the house.
There was a body on the kitchen floor; a butcher knife stuck in its back.
The body was that of a tall middle-aged man in a bland blue suit. Splayed out beside him was an open briefcase; its former contents spilled on top of and around the dead man.
Mike walked into the living room and looked for his dad, but found only the empty chair tossed aside in a corner. The TV was on, but showed only static. Strips of cut duct tape were scattered everywhere on the floor, along with pieces of sliced up rope.
Mike heard a noise and turned to see his father walk out of the bathroom. His hair was wet, and he had on a clean set of clothes.
His eyes were blacker than the darkest night.
Mike awoke with a gasp.
I don’t think I’ll tell Callie that one.
He had no watch, but guessed it was around three or four in the morning. As quietly as he could, he sat up and looked over at the back seats. Good, Callie was still asleep; he was afraid he had woken her up. He knew he talked in his sleep, sometimes loudly; not to mention the times he had woken up screaming.
That’s two nightmares since we left home, he thought to himself, that can’t bode well.
He looked out the driver’s side window and saw the MACATTO INSURANCE car pull out of the parking lot. Its bleary-eyed driver headed off in the direction they had come from.
The pattern of their next three days on the road matched that, more or less, of their first.
On Sunday, they feared they were about to be pulled over by a frain officer (not a good thing as Mike did not have a licence), but he was after someone else. Halfway through Monday, they ran out of stocked food (despite their half-assed attempts at rationing), and had to start buying it. The bruising on Callie’s face was starting to fade by now, but the gash on her cheek still looked nasty. By Tuesday night they had reached Kraddok, the last town before the Rough Country.
“Tomorrow morning, we start off across the Rough Country.” Mike said, as they stopped for the night, “We’ll be in Metromax City by noon.”
But he was wrong about that.