I closed the book about medieval times that I had been reading for school with a sigh and glanced at the clock. 22:49. Great. It was almost eleven. I dropped the book into my backpack at the foot of my bed and opened my bedroom door to let one of our dogs, Jumbee, in. “Go ahead, old man,” I said to him as he stepped heavily on the wood floor before plopping down on his memory-foam bed with a loud sigh. I smiled to myself and closed the door.
I yawned and sat down on the edge of my bed, staring absently at my cluttered desk. Milo, my cat, jumped on my bed and sat down behind me, where he immediately began to lick himself. I got underneath my covers, turned my lamp off, then stared up at the carbon monoxide detector’s blinking green light. I wondered what I would dream about tonight. It was always a mystery. Every night was different. I glanced over as Milo got up and laid down beside me, tucking his head underneath his paws. I stroked his soft fur and smiled as he looked at me as if to say "I just washed that!" before licking that same spot.
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, letting the welcome darkness of sleep overcome me.
The first thing I remember is running through a dark forest. The sky is black; clouds are obscuring the moon. Tree branches whip at my arms as I plow through the darkness, running from something. I don't remember what, but it's some horrible thing that stirs a deep sense of dread that something bad will happen if my pursuer catches me.
I burst from the forest into a meadow, slowing only to throw my gaze over my shoulder at the receding tree line. My heart fluttered as I saw a dark shadow—it had no shape or form, just a dark, foreboding shadow that moved like the wind. I ran faster. Oddly, despite the fact that I wasn't in the best shape, my legs and lungs didn't burn as I pumped them harder and faster. I practically flew over the meadow, my feet thumping on the ground.
Some part of me had always been fascinated with the supernatural. The only thing that keeps me from digging deeper is the fact that the Church frowns upon that sort of stuff. Which is disappointing.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a village appears on the horizon. I put on a burst of speed, sprinting to the potentially safe haven.
As soon as I reached it I tried to stop but stumbled and fell face-first into the dry dirt. Looking up and twisting around, I saw the shadow pause just inches from my feet, where the meadow ended and the village began. It hovered there, seeming to stare at me. Then I realized—it was staring at me. Glowing red eyes glared at me from the depths of the shadow, making chills go down my spine. I scrambled backwards, away from the shadow, but it just continued to float there, watching me. Slowly, never taking my eyes off of it, I rose to my feet and backed up. I hit something soft and I turned to look, startled. It was a man, dressed in clothes that no one had worn for at least six hundred years. He was holding a candle lamp and had a short sword at his belt. He glared at me, the shadows from the lamp flickering on his face, which was lined with a filthy beard.
I turned back to the village edge, where the shadow had been hovering, and my heart spasmed as I saw that it had disappeared. Gone. No trace of it.
Dread filling my body with cold, I turned back to the man, who demanded, “Dost thou know the time?”
I stared at him blankly, terror momentarily forgotten as my dream-mind struggled to make sense of this guy’s English. For some reason, even though I was short(er) in real life, I seemed to be this man’s height, even though he looked to be at least 5’7". “Huh?” Is all that came out of my mouth.
“I bid thee, lad,” he repeated. “Dost thou know the time?”
When I didn't answer, just continued to stare blankly, he said, “It be ‘round 2 o’clock in the morrow. Late, it is. Wherefore art thou not inside, asleepin’?”
Oh, please don't let this be what I think it is.
“Uh,” I said stupidly. Then it clicked. This guy was speaking Middle English (I think that's what it's called). The most well-known time that they did that was…
I swear, my subconscious comes up with the most ridiculous things.
“For one,” I growled, suddenly irritated. “I am NOT a boy. Two, why the heck are YOU out here, guy? Shouldn't you primitives be asleep?”
I should mention that I thought the way they did stuff in the medieval times was stupid (like the way they were religious fanatics, the way the Church had an iron grip on everything, and especially the way they reacted to disease).
The man glared at me, his eyes narrowing. “Who dost thou think thou art addressing, lad?”
I scowled and crossed my arms. “Alright, idiot, I'm a girl. Got that? Here, spell it out for me: g-i-r-l. Of course, you probably can't spell, either.”
The man didn't care for my attitude. His unoccupied hand reached for his sword. My heart began to pound again as I took a step back and quickly looked around for something to fight this idiot with. The man swung at my head. I ducked with surprising agility (like I said, I'm not in shape. But I guess I can do anything in my dreams) and thrust a fist at his exposed stomach. He recoiled and tried to jab at me. I sidestepped it, grabbed his wrist, and twisted. He helped and dropped the sword. I snatched it up and pointed it at him. He stared.
“Thou claim that thou art a female,” he muttered, face wrinkling thoughtfully. “What be thy name?”
I was at a momentary loss of words. I had expected him to try and yell for guards or even chuck the candle lamp at me, but he didn't. I told him my name and he frowned. “I know not that name.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, duh, Einstein. That's 'cause I’m—” I paused. When was I from, exactly? This was a dream, after all. I decided to blow his mind anyway. “—from about six hundred years in the future,” I said lamely.
He just stared. Then, “Come hither,” he snapped with the harshness I had come to expect. “Before I send for the guards.”
I shrugged and walked behind him as he stalked to a nearby house, the candle swinging wildly back and forth with each step. I glanced back over my shoulder again and involuntarily gasped as I saw the shadow hovering there, watching me with unblinking red eyes. I hurried my pace and followed the filthy man back to his home.
“You're a WHAT?”
This cry of disbelief echoed from my lips as I stared at the woman hunched before me. She was in a filthy garment, a color I couldn't see clearly because of the profound lack of electricity and sunlight.
Her eyes watched me through her ridiculously wrinkled face. “A witch,” she said patiently.
“A witch,” I repeated. “Right. And I can fly.”
The witch’s hairy eyebrows raised.
I waved my hand, frustrated. “Of course I can't friggin’ fly. It's an expression.”
A blank stare.
I scowled. “Forget it. And I suppose there’s dragons and elves and wizards and benevolent kings and queens with noble knights.”
The man, who had been leaning against the wall next to the door, watching, exchanged glances with the witch. “Aye,” the man said.
I threw up my hands in exasperation. “You've got to be kidding me.”
After the man had led me into his house, his wife—the witch—had greeted me, welcoming me. While I was grateful for the shelter, I was having a real hard time believing that magic found its way into my subconscious. The woman sat at a rough wooden table that was nestled against even rougher walls of the hut. Candles made dancing shadows on the wall.
Suddenly I heard a scream and shouts of anger and fear. I whipped my head to the door, adrenaline flooding my body. “What is that?” I hissed.
The witch had stood and pointed a trembling hand to the door of the flimsy hut. “The demon is back,” she whispered.
My first thought was that she was talking about a disease, which almost let me to retort something about lack of common sense when it hit me. Disease doesn't sound sudden like that. It sneaks up and kills quickly. It doesn't make a sudden scream come out of nowhere.
I grabbed the man’s sword off the warped wooden table and ignored his protests. “If you're coming with me,” I snapped, striding to the door, “then come with me. If not, then sit in here and cry like you idiots do best.”
I pushed the wooden door open, feeling the couple’s stares burn a hole in my back. I froze when I saw the cause of the panic.
Besides the fact that it was suddenly the equivalent of eight o'clock in the morning, there was something else that wasn’t right.
There was nothing there.
No dragon or red-tailed monster tromped among the panicked people running in every direction. There was nothing there.
Another part of me took in my surroundings, which were now better illuminated. A cluster of rough wooden huts with thatched roofs surrounded an open dirt clearing, which people of various sizes were running amuck. Past the huts I saw a blacksmith's quarters, a stable, and even a small pasture. I could've sworn that I saw goats.
I caught the sleeve of a man running past. “Oi,” I barked. “What the heck is going on here?”
Though I spoke a different English from hundreds of years in the future, the man seemed to understand. “Demon,” he babbled, fear dilating his pupils. “The Black Demon be back! Going to slay us all!”
I let him go to continue his frantic running. I scanned the sky, ignoring the other people.
Then I saw it.
It was the shadow.
It hovered above the village, glaring down on the fleeing townsfolk. As I watched, suddenly unable to move, smoky black tendrils drifted from the shadow and snaked over the ground. Every time it touched someone, that person vanished in a puff of black smoke.
I swore and ran around the wall of the man's hut, crouching behind a barrel of something foul-smelling under the shade of the thatched roof. Terror gripped my heart as I watched the shadow consume more and more people until nothing was left.
Macabre. No, not the piece written by Saint-Saëns, but the whole scene.
Then something clicked inside of me. Why am I afraid? This was a dream. Nothing could hurt me.
With renewed courage I leapt from my hiding spot and thrust the sword into the air, shouting, “HEY! Shadow! Over here!”
I thought for a second as the shadow’s wisps retreated back into the black haze hovering above the village. “Let my people go!” I added, chuckling.
The laughter died in my throat as the shadow turned to face me. Its eyes bored into mine, and I felt weakness in my knees. No, I thought fiercely. Get it together! It's just a dream. It's just a dream.
It became a chant as I held the sword in front of me, my hands shaking, my knees trembling, my heart pounding hard in my chest. It's just a dream. It's just a dream. It's just a dream.
The shadow floated closer, somehow blotting all the ambient sunlight out as it got closer. It's just a dream.
“Stay back, Shadow!” I yelled, my voice shaking. “I, uh, I'm a Christian!”
It ignored me and drifted closer. I backed up, still holding the sword out.
It's just a dream. The sword would be useless against the shadow. Was it a demon? I didn't know. But both my subconscious and my conscious self agreed to not find out.
A sudden shout in something that sounded like Latin reached my ears. Then… suddenly the shadow was gone. Remnants of black smoke tendrils wound into the air, then dissipated.
A group of six knights in metal armor—holy crap, actual metal armor—clopped into the village on horseback. The lead one—adorned with a blue feather on top of his helmet—wordlessly swept his gaze around the ghost village, then spotted me. He leveled his lance at me and spoke in a booming voice. “Who may thou be, strangely clothed one?”
I blinked and looked down at my clothes. Well, I was wearing… I don't know. I guess my subconscious didn't deem it that important. But whatever I was wearing, it didn't go with the current fashion trend.
I met the knight’s gaze, or where I thought his eyes were, and said slowly, “I'm not from around here.”
The knight’s lance lowered slightly in confusion. “Art thou a demon, too?” His Knights jerked their horses' reigns and surrounded me, lances raised, ready to impale me on a single motion or word from the leader. I tensed, ready to strike, but the Blue motioned and the Knights reluctantly lowered their swords, none of them looking away from me. Blue took his metal helmet off and shook his hair free. He was middle-aged, I suppose, about 35-40 years old. He had light stubble on his chin and short blonde hair. He stared at me with icy blue eyes. “What be thy name, strangely clothed one?”
I sighed and told him my name. “And no, I'm not a boy,” I added.
The knight’s eyebrows raised. “Not a boy, thou sayest? How strange.”
I sighed again. “Yeah, I've heard that before.”
The knight’s gaze met my eyes again. “Art thou the lone survivor?” Then his eyes narrowed. “ ’Less the demon is’n thou.”
“No,” I snapped. “I'm not a frigging demon. Geez! What is it with you people and friggin’ demons? Is that all you idiots can come up with for everything bad? No wonder the plague took more than half of you out. You did everything you could to help the disease spread!” I spread my arms wide. “And to top it off, you inflict damage on yourselves to show that you're trying to take after Christ’s suffering. That is possibly one of the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I mean, come on! You people have got enough problems, and you just keep creating more to complicate things! I can't believe I share the same genus as you primitive people!”
All the knights stared openmouthed at me.
I suddenly realized that I had had a rant in front of a bunch of medieval knights.
“Uh,” I said quickly, heat flushing into my ears and cheeks, “I, uh, didn't really mean that. Really.”
The knights suddenly burst into laughter. Stunned, I said nothing until Blue dismounted his horse, strode up to me, and slapped me on the back, still laughing. I coughed and winced.
“Aye, thou is a humorous lass,” he said through laughs. “How about this? Thou comest with us, to see His Majesty. He would want to see a survivor of the Demon.”
I looked up at him, frowning. “I thought you people didn't like giving women privileges like that.”
The knight looked puzzled. I sighed and shook my head. “Forget it.”
It turned out that Blue was a wizard (what the fuck?!) who had “banished” the Demon, whom I had come to know has Shadow.
“Aye, it won't show its ugly face until dusk,” Blue admitted as we strode toward the castle on horseback. The other Knights trailed behind us, talking and joking, seemingly forgetting about the strange outsider—a FEMALE!—who dared talk back to their leader. But this said leader seemed to be much more interested in me, though.
“Why?” I said suspiciously. “How do you know?”
Blue tilted his head back and forth, the metal creaking with the motions. “It always does,” he said finally. “Aye. Many a time hath seen me banish the Demon, but alas, it keeps comin’ back.” He shook his head. “Methinks it’s not a demon, but a beast, come to kill every man and woman it can touch.”
He sighed. “ ’Tis true that I have tried many a spell to destroy the evil spirit, but alas…”
As the castle's towers appeared over the horizon, Blue yelled out, “ ’Tis the Royal Escort,” he bellowed. “Raise the gate!”
The castle looked like your stereotypical medieval castle—four massive, cylindrical turrets at each corner of the many-stories-high walls. A metal gate blocked entry to the castle, and a huge wooden drawbridge was held up against the gate, preventing any unauthorized people from entering if they didn't want to swim.
The guards at the top of the castle wall disappeared behind the edge and a loud creak sounded as the massive wooden drawbridge lowered and the gate slowly rose. I looked around in awe as we entered the ornate castle.
Not long after that, I stood outside the throne room’s six-foot door, fidgeting with the sword that I had taken from the man. I wondered what had happened to them. I hope I didn't doom them by taking their sword. It would've been useless against Shadow anyway, I reminded myself.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind me and I turned to see Blue walking up to me. He wasn't wearing his armor anymore, instead a light blue tunic and—I shuddered to myself—tights. I sighed inwardly at the fashion in the Middle Ages.
He nodded at me. “His Majesty is nearly ready to see us,” he told me. I glanced at the massive doors, as if I could see through them. “Lovely. Well, as long as they don't behead me, I'm cool.”
Blue—whom I decided to think of as Wiz—gave me a sideways look. “Why would they do that?”
I was about to reply when a short, squat man cracked one of the doors open and whispered, “His Majesty awaits.”
Tensing for meeting this “King”, I took a deep breath and entered.
The room was massive, like a cavern. Torches flickered on massive stone pillars lining the red-carpeted walkway. At the very end of the room were two thrones. On each sat a person. Their eyes both widened when they saw me.
I approached slowly, then bowed before them, as instructed by Wiz. “Your Majesties,” I said, feeling stupid. This was so cheesy. I would definitely have to bulk up on science fiction once I was done with this weird dream.
I waited in the sudden silence that followed. Finally I heard a throat being cleared. “Rise,” a man’s deep, rich voice boomed.
I looked up and studied the king. Looking to be in his mid-forties, he had hard brown eyes, with a neatly trimmed beard. He was in soft red robes, and an ornate gold crown atop his head, flattening his brown hair. His wife, the Queen, had more gentle blue eyes, and a head full of long, silky brown hair. She was wearing a baby blue gown, and a less ornate gold crown on her head.
“Uh,” I said, my mouth suddenly dry. I felt uneasy... no, more than that. Dread snaked its way into my body, making chills run down my bones. “You, ah, requested me…?”
“Indeed,” the King boomed, his gaze locked onto me. “Who art thou, and for what reason dost thou wearest the odd clothing of a barbarian?”
I bristled. Did he seriously just call me a barbarian?
I opened my mouth to say something venomous when I heard Wiz clear his throat behind me. “Ah, Your Majesty, what the young lass is tryin’ to say is that she be not from ‘round here. She's actually quite civilized,” he added.
It took considerable effort to bite back an insult.
The king and queen just stared at me. Are they stroking out? Why are they staring at me? Do I have two heads or something?
The feeling of dread worsened. I felt lightheaded and swayed slightly on my feet.
Their eyes suddenly shifted to behind me. I turned to look just as I heard the same fat man who let us in burst in the doors, gasping. “Your Majesties,” he panted, his chest heaving. “Forgive my intrusion, but—the demon—‘tis returned!”
The king abruptly stood up and bellowed for his guards. I stood, watching, suddenly unable to move, as the shadow materialized in the throne room.
I stood there helplessly as the shadow moved slowly towards me. It was taking its time.
It's just a dream, I thought feverishly, my hands clenched. I felt sweat run down my shirt and fear constricting my chest. It's just a dream.
It stopped within two feet of me, lowering itself as if on an invisible cushion of air, and hovered, staring into my very soul with those lifeless red eyes. My vision narrowed in on the shadow. I saw nothing but it. Our eyes stared holes into each other.
Distantly I heard the king yelling, frantic footsteps, and the panicked voices belonging to them. I heard pounding on the throne room's doors, voices shouting to be let in to protect the king.
The shadow drifted closer.
I still couldn't move. IT’S JUST A DREAM! I screamed in my head.
The shadow reached out with its tendrils and went through my chest. It felt like a cold spike being thrust into me. I choked, suddenly unable to breathe, and the following panic spread like a wildfire through my mind.
IT’S JUST A DREAM. IT’S JUST A DREAM. IT’S JUST A D—
A huge explosion of ice in my chest, and the feeling of a thousand pounds on my heart, a blinding spike of pain in my head—
Then I was calm.
Everything was clear. Why had I been afraid in the first place? No, there was no enemy here.
I slowly turned to face the king, who stood in front of his throne, his face red with anger. The queen stood behind him, white-faced. I felt a smile tug at my lips. “Hello, O gracious Majesty,” I drawled in a voice that was not my own, a much deeper, sinister voice.
A small part of me realized that I had been possessed. You are mine now, a voice whispered in my head. You belong to me.
I was pushed into a corner, smothering darkness all around me. The darkness took all else in my mind. Only my mental part of me remained—the part that could only watch as the demon controlled my body.
Who? I asked into the crushing darkness of my mind. Who are you?
The voice seemed to laugh.
I am a Servant of the Prince of Darkness.
Dread filled me. Oh, no, I whimpered. No, no, no!
Oblivious of the internal conversation, the king had finally worked up enough courage to speak.
“Leave my castle at once, Evil One!” he shouted, his voice shaking.
A dry, deep laugh escaped from my lips. “I don't think so, Majesty,” I—no, it—sneered. “Now that I finally have a body, I will destroy all of you pathetic insects, as is the will of my Master.”
I felt a tingling in my hands. I tried to move my head to see, but I couldn't. You are nothing, the demon whispered. You are only a vessel in which I travel.
Get out of my head, I screamed. Get out! I belong to no one—except for God!
The presence in my head seemed to recoil. The Holy One, it hissed. The darkness enveloping me increased, smothering me. He who Banished my Master.
Yeah, I shot back. God. Jesus. Holy Spirit. Yahweh. Whatever you want to call Him. I'm His child—not yours, you floating gas pocket!
The demon hissed again. We will destroy Heaven and The Holy One, it hissed. My Master will rule.
I watched as fire—or something—enveloped my hands. I felt nothing as it swirled around. The king flinched and the queen took another shaky step back, eyes wide in terror. Of course, I realized. There's magic in this dream.
Wait. A dream. That was it! It was just a dream.
You're not real, I said, suddenly calm, into the darkness. You are nothing. I am me. You are nothing.
The demon hesitated, but raised my hands in front of me, the fire licking my skin, which somehow remained unscathed.
“Time to meet the Master, Majesty,” the demon spat. The fire around my hands glowed brighter—
—then died suddenly as a white-hot bolt shot through my head. Both the demon and I screamed in pain. I fell to my hands and knees, eyes squeezed shut, teeth gritted.
I was vaguely aware of someone standing in front of me. A familiar voice shouted something in Latin and another bolt of invisible fire skewered itself through my chest. Groaning, I collapsed onto the cool floor. I felt something being pulled away from me, feeling like someone was yanking something out of my body.
Since it was a dream, I didn't go unconscious, but some part of my mind zoomed out from my body, laying crumpled on the floor. I watched as Wiz, now in some reflective cloth that shimmered with unseen energy, crouched down to check my pulse. He was flanked by two priests in their black clothes (I've only ever seen priests in those black clothes or their robes), who stood nervously, Bibles in their hands. Wiz snapped something at them and they hurried away.
Suddenly I was back in my body. My senses flooded back. I felt my check resting against the floor. I heard hushed whispers and something that sounded like wind rustling through leaves. I smelled something that was like a cross between burnt plastic and water. I saw that Wiz was beside me, his hand on my back. I felt energy flowing back into me. Healing, I thought dimly.
Wiz whispered, "Come on, lass." He gently supported my waist as he helped me to my feet. I staggered and he gently caught me. “Aye, you've taken quite a thrashin’,” he said softly. “Take it slow, lass.”
I looked up, still leaning on Wiz, and saw the king, standing in front of me. Suddenly he bowed deeply and said, “I apologize for my hostility in pastime. Thou art a hero, young lass. I owe thou my life.”
Stunned, I could do nothing but stare openmouthed. Was a king seriously bowing to me? And how the heck was I a hero? The demon had just POSSESSED me. If anyone was the hero, it was Wiz.
Wiz coughed behind me, a not-too-subtle hint to say something.
I closed my mouth. “Uh, you're welcome?” I said, halfway between a question and a reply.
The king straightened and brushed his clothes off as if embarrassed. Which he probably was.
Still weak, I could do nothing as he stalked off into some other room that branched off the throne room, followed by the queen.
There was silence for a moment. Then Wiz said slowly, “Aye, methinks his Majesty is done talking.”
I nodded weakly and slumped against him. “Tired,” I muttered. He was warm. I listened to his steady heartbeat against his chest. A distant thought reminded me that this was a dream, and it didn't make any sense for me to be tired in a dream.
Wiz helped me limp toward the door. I was feeling better with each step, but still wasn't quite strong enough to walk without his help. As we approached the throne room doors, I felt the sense of dread pooling in the pit of my stomach again.
I turned my head to look at Wiz. “Don't open the doors,” I whispered. Actually, I was staying to yell, but by dream mechanics it came out as a faint whisper. No, I thought, my heartbeat increasing with my panic. Don't open the doors. Don't open the friggin doors!
Wiz looked strangely at me. “Why not?” he said. I almost shouted. His voice was deep and dry.
Suddenly I couldn't escape from the iron grip of Wiz—no, Shadow.
I whimpered as Shadow brought Wiz’s face closer to mine. His breath stunk like alcohol mixed with rotting flesh.
“All Humans belong to me,” Shadow said, its voice a cacophony of different ones, all blended together.
Then, still grinning like a madman, it opened the door.
For a split second the horde of shadows on the other side of the door stared at me and I stared back, terrified.
Then they all flew forward.
With a yell, I sat up in bed, my chest heaving as if I had just come back from running a marathon. Sweat soaked my clothes and the sheets surrounding me. Milo looked up, probably irritated that I woke him up. I stared past him, at the wall. I really hope that that was a figment of my crazy subconscious and not a premonition.
I didn't know if it was un-Catholic to think such things, but both the religious part and the much larger scientific part of my mind agreed that premonitions were highly improbable. But still. Every shadow leapt out at me, which made my heart jump even more. My hand shaking, I reached out and touched Milo (I could only see the white part of his chest and jaw) and stroked his fur. “Sorry, buddy,” I whispered. “Didn't mean to wake you.”
Alpha, my gerbil, ran on her wheel as if nothing was wrong. I laid back down and glanced at the glowing clock numbers. 02:37.
I drew in a shaky breath and turned over. Milo got up and laid next to me, purring. I smiled and stroked him. “Thanks, Mimi,” I mumbled, already on the shady path to sleep.
Based on some research I had done, I knew that it was uncommon for one to wake up in the middle of a dream, then fall back asleep to resume the interrupted dream. That thought comforted me as I closed my eyes and drifted back off to sleep.