The Nightmare world is worse than I imagined. The horrors I see at every turn, the screams that resonate through my skull, the eyes looking at me through holes in the walls... I don't know how much longer I can last, in truth. This is only the first day and I fear for my life. I will attempt to log every encounter, every story another stranded soul has the courage to tell me. I cannot promise my survival. I cannot promise my sanity will remain intact. I can feel small, tiny hands on my arms, pulling me back away from the portal and I am utterly unable to stop them.
I think I've wandered too far to reach the real world, now. The Nightmares are everywhere and one can simply not say what is real and what is the fruit of one's terrorized mind. The only thing that's keeping me alive is this journal, in which I can log one entry a day - when I can. I am so afraid, any lesser person would have succumbed to the sins and pleasures of the place. But not I. I will be back, friend, I promise. I simply do not know who I will be at the end of this Nightmare. Perhaps only a ghost of whom I used to be. But I will be back.
Her name is Magda Pines. Her voice is soft and the holes where her eyes once were look like empty pits ready to swallow you whole. She heard me writing in my journal earlier and after I tell her about my goal, there was a certain sadness in her features. How strange that she is still capable of conveying so much of it without any eyes to reflect her thoughts. The phantom presence of the small hands that dragged me away from the portal tickle when she grabs my arm, but I say nothing of it to her. Magda's fingers dig in my flesh and for a wild moment I am horrified of the possibility of giving her the satisfaction of harming me, but quickly enough I realize it is not her objective. The eyeless woman proceeds to bring me to her hiding corner, a mock-up tent made of a couple branches with an oddly out of place baby blue blanket. She tells me the blanket was her son's, but his name she cannot recall. How torturing it must be, I think to myself, not to remember one's own child's name.
Once we are sitting down and her back is leaning against one of the sturdier branches, Magda Pines begins her story after a deep breath. Her hands join on her lap and I notice her fingernails are also missing. A small shiver of disgust runs up my back, but I try not to let it show. It would be impolite, after all. The woman's words are transcribed in my journal but I cannot take my eyes off her while she speaks, even if she can't see me.
Everything went wrong on the last Friday of August. The streets were busy with parents and kids rushing for last-minute school supplies, and stores had line-ups stretching to the sidewalks. The sky was a dark grey, as though it was about to rain, but the dryness in the air told another story. Magda Pines was in the line for the ice cream counter at the mall. It wasn't as busy as usual, but one could not say it was quiet either. The small amusement park in the center of the mall, next to the food court, was filled with yelling children of every age, while their exhausted parents were sitting nearby enjoying a coffee break. Magda could tell most of them were exhausted and were probably counting the days until their kids were in school for entire days. It brought a small smile to her face; not unlike them, she was looking forward to next week but for an entirely different reason.
Magda pushed the sunglasses further up her nose and paid for the two ice cream cones before slipping away quiety towards a table where a small boy was waiting. The woman smiled again, this time much more warmly, and sat across him. He accepted the ice cream cone happily and indulged in the delicious cold sweet.
"How did you know my favourite was chocolate?" His brows were drawn together in a frown, as though the situation were truly mysterious.
"I know all your favourite things, dear. And chocolate is the best." Magda attacked her own cone while keeping her hidden eyes straight on the boy in front of her.
"You do?! Wow, even I don't remember all my favourite things. That's a lot of work." The boy shrugged and went back to his ice cream. They both sat quietly and only exchanged a few additional words about the wonders of chocolate ice cream.
Magda held the boy's hand on the way to the car and they talked about the recent book she had read to him before bedtime.
"I want scary stories, please please please!" He tugged on the sleeve of her sweater, giving the woman pouty eyes with a quivering lip. Magda laughed and ruffled his hair before reaching to unlock the car door.
"Scary stories? Maybe when you're older!" They both settled in the car, with the boy in the backseat and Magda in the driver's seat.
"Older doesn't even mean anything! Pleaaaase." The boy tried to catch her eyes in the rear view mirror but he only caught the small smirk on Magda's face. The radio was turned on and they both rode out in silence as old tunes played quietly through the speakers.
Despite his request for scary bedtime stories, he fell right asleep once he was comfortably tucked in. Magda was back in the living room, legs curled on the sofa and a late night snack of pretzels. Every news network was broadcasting the same thing:
"A six year-old boy went missing earlier this week, and the authorities are still without a trace. No ransoms were demanded, and no one has spotted the boy in any public space. According to experts, the chances of the boy having been murdered are very likely and are increasing with every hour. Stay tuned for more in--"
The television was flicked off before the reporter was done speaking. Magda's knuckles were white from gripping the remote control too hard, but she barely seemed to notice. Her eyes were empty and it felt almost like an hour went by before she stopped staring at the television. She had things to do and bags to prepare, and so with a jolt she pushed herself off the sofa. Throughout the week, she had bought enough preserved food and bottled water to last the two of them two weeks. She was positive the trip wouldn't last this long, but one was never too careful.
The house still felt like a stranger's house. Every creak and groan of the wooden floor and doors tickled the back of her neck, as though someone was watching her, spying and noting every movement she made. Especially at night. It felt like the house had been built so that its occupants were sleeping at the crack of dusk. After that, the spirits came out to play with those still awake, tricking and terrifying them. Magda wasn't easily impressed, but perhaps it was why the boy was sent to bed relatively early every day.
Her own bed was large and soft. The feathered pillows still had a distinct smell of dust and some old detergent from before, but they were comfortable enough to be forgiven. The comforter was heavy and warm, the patchwork so expertly done that Magda wondered if it was even handmade. Sleep came easily for her as well, but not before she set the alarm clock for an early rise in the morning. They had to be gone as soon as possible.
Magda Pines did not sleep for long that night.
There was an old saying about witching hour being the prime time for spirits and the like to visit the real world, as though the door from the ethereal world had a small crack. Magda didn't believe in such folklore tales, as there were no such things as spirits and ghosts. This night, however, would prove her wrong.
A small and light presence in the bed was what woke her up. The boy, she thought sleepily. He must have come joined her in bed, perhaps because of a nightmare. Her hands slipped out from under the covers and flailed around trying to grab hold of him, but nothing was in the bed. Slightly spooked, Magda finally opened her eyes to see what could possible be on the bed. It was too dark to see properly and so she stretched her arm to pull on the string of the night table's lamp.
The light flickered for a few seconds before dying. But during the few seconds while it was on, Magda saw enough. It had translucent skin, dark black holes where the eyes should have been. They were glinting like obsidian, reflecting the light at every flicker. Its clothing were vaguely familiar, but Magda Pines knew it was not the boy's clothes. His face, hair, and voice though -- all were too alike the boy's sleeping in the next room. The lips had previously been sewn tight but the stitches were hanging loose now, dried blood decorating its chin. She assumed it was blood at least, since its smoke-like appearance didn't tell much in terms of colours.
A scream died in her throat, stopped only by the loud thumping of her racing heart. Terror paralyzed her in the soft bed, though she could see from the corner of her eyes that the spirit of the boy was not alone.
"You are a bad person." The voice felt like it was coming from inside her skull, the spirit boy simply sitting beside her and smiling. She remained quiet, unable to make any word come out of her mouth. "I will make him punish you."
This time Magda managed to shake her head, and her legs tried to jerk up from the bed -- but they were pinned there. She was trapped by spirits and the only thing she could think of was the boy. They were going to--
"Stupid Magda Pines. Dumb dumb dumb. We don't want to hurt him. He wants to hurt you." Many small giggles resonated in her head, and she knew they were coming from the things holding her down in the bed. Without warning, something started to gnaw at her fingernails. Biting them away but not stopping even when they started bleeding. The woman wailed in pain, her terrorized expression shifting to a pained one; her brows arched and pulled together at her forehead, while her body squirmed helplessly and her hands tried to break free. It was all for naught: the spirits had an iron grip on her no matter how much she tried to move.
The gnawing went on for what felt like hours. Blood was staining the white bedsheets under her hands, and soon the sensation of tiny teeth began along her legs. They quickly transformed into razor-sharp bites, creating a warm flow of blood that also seeped into the bed. The pain was making everything foggy and the smell of copper filled the air. Magda groaned in pain but had stopped trying to struggle against the hands holding her down.
"L-leave him alone..." Her voice was a croak, a pleading sepulchral whisper. The spirit boy laughed harder in her head, sending shock-waves of pain through her body once again.
He suddenly disappeared, but the pressure from the other spirits was still there. She could no longer feel her legs below the knees, couldn't even make her toes move, and her struggle seemed to make the other spirits snicker playfully in her skull again. It didn't take long for her bedroom door to creak open, and standing there was her little boy in his stripped green pyjamas. He was looking at his feet as he walked to the bed, unperturbed by the strong smell of blood and sulphur. He climbed on the bed, face still down with his hair covering his eyes, and sat on Magda's torso.
"You're a bad person, Magda Pines." He finally lifted his head and where his eyes had once been, the spirit boy's black pits had taken over. The boy's voice was clear and pure, and it did not occur to Magda that he would do her any harm.
"My dear, my boy, please, help me, just turn on the light--"
"NO! NO! NO! YOU'RE A BAD PERSON!" His high-pitched screams caused Magda's ears to ring, and this time the razor teeth eating her legs reached her thighs, taking entire chunks away rather than nibbling slowly. Tears streamed down her face, but before she could talk again, the boy leaned down closer and dug his nails in her face.
"Stop, stop right now! No, no! This hurts mommy, stop right now!" The woman cried and attempted to turn her head away, but it seemed only to infuriate the boy in pyjamas.
"You are NOT my MOMMY!" He pulled off her eyelids, earning a pained shriek from Magda, but he didn't stop. "He told me what you were planning. YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS MAGDA PINES!" The voice was both out and in her head this time, but before she could even think about anything other than the pain, the both gouged out both her eyes, his tiny fingernails scraping the sockets until he was scraping bone. Warm and wet stuff covered the remaining of her face, while the teeth finally stopped eating her thighs.
The boy wrapped his small fingers around her throat, and with the strength of a larger man, he pressed down her windpipe and crushed everything. Magda heard the crunching sound of bones shattering, and for a wild moment she wondered how the fuck she was still even alive. As that thought slipped away, more giggles resonated in her skull, louder and louder and louder and--
I look at the blind woman intensely, my pencil hovering away from my journal. I ask her what happened after, but she keeps quiet and smiles. My eyes wander to her fingers, blood matted around where the nails should be, then to her legs. It is only there that I realize she has no legs. Only pieces of wood that allow her to walk awkwardly from one place to another.
I ask her if the boy in her story was the one that had disappeared, and who those other children had been. This time, Magda Pines looks up at me with her empty black eye sockets, the smile slipping away from her face. Every ounce of sadness disappears, replaced with red-hot anger. I can feel the change in the air around us in the makeshift tent, so I back-pedal and thank her for the story. The woman remains there, immobile, as I slip out of the tent as quietly as possible.
Once I am back where at the same strange corner as earlier, I realize that Magda Pines' baby blue blanket was splattered with blood on the inside of her tent. The boy's name was Oliver.