The Nightmarish Illusion
“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations.”
She shot up, covered in a cold sweat and reeking of a ghoulish nightmare. She panted as the dream played through her head, and her eyes screwed closed. It was just a dream, she reminded herself. Just another unreasonably early morning started with another bad dream. She sighed and glanced at the clock; 5:00 AM. She peered outside and was greeted by irksomely cheerful rain.
With an unpleasant groan, she dragged herself out of bed to get dressed, eager to shake off the night’s ordeal. She had just thrown on a shirt when her doorbell rang. Who was ringing her doorbell this early in the morning?
“Can you help me find my mom?” At her door, a little boy with rain-soaked hair and vacant eyes stood, clad in a red raincoat.
“Er, hello?” She peered into the empty hallway, searching for some evidence of the boy’s guardians and finding none. Her gaze landed back on the boy. “What’s your name?”
“Can you help me find my mom?” He repeated in a monotonous tone, ignoring her question. Abruptly, his blank expression melted in desperation as his eyes welled up with hopeful tears. “P-please?” His voice began to wobble.
“Yes, of course. Come in. Let me get you warmed up.” She ushered the boy in, silently attempting to conjure some sort of plan to find the child’s mother. She asked him to take off his jacket and his boots and was met with resolute refusal, as though she had offended him in some way. Kids, she thought. “Are you hungry?” He shook his head slowly before reconsidering and eventually nodding. She hastily moved towards the kitchen to raid her fridge and with a groan, discovered it was empty save for her leftover takeout meal from two nights ago and some orange juice. Naturally, it’s empty, she complained. What now?
She turned back to the boy, “Er, how do you feel about going out to eat somewhere?” She was answered with a slight nod. “You’re not much of a talker, are you?” He blinked and shrugged, the first act of normalcy from the strange child standing in her living room. Oh my god. There’s a missing boy looking for his mother in her living room.
The pair hurried into the pouring rain, and she spotted a diner across the street. As they crossed the street and cars zoomed past, she grasped the little boy’s hand. Bewildered and disgusted expressions greeted them. She glared and silently questioned them. What were they doing wrong? She was just holding his hand. People were racing past them, futilely attempting to escape the rain even though it was just beginning to cease its relentless downpour. She was just trying to protect him and make sure he stayed close. He was already looking for his mother; it would be rather counterproductive to end up losing him in the unyielding crowd.
The pair finally reached the small diner, drenched in water and leaving wet tracks behind them. She looked around to find the entire restaurant gawking at them. Sure, they were sopping wet, but it wasn’t as though they were doing anything obviously wrong.
“We would like a table.” She stated and added for good measure. “For two.”
A waitress timidly crept over to them, as though she was trying not to upset the duo. “M-ma’am? I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Her statement came out more like a cowardly question.
“Why?” She quickly glanced down at herself to make sure she wasn’t missing anything. “We’re only looking for a table and some breakfast. I understand it’s early, but your sign says that you’re open twenty-four hours.”
“Please, ma’am, or I will have to call the authorities,” she pleaded as if she was at a loss for words.
“No. We are staying.” The waitress gulped and nodded before scurrying off somewhere behind the counter. When she came back, an old woman accompanied her; the manager, she presumed. She wasn’t trying to cause a disturbance or bother anyone, and she explained as much to the stern elder before her.
The manager glanced at her waitress and inhaled sharply, “Alright. How’s this? We’ll give you your breakfast but you can’t eat it in here. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, ma’am, but my offer remains.”
“Is that alright with you?” She asked the boy, still holding her hand. He shrugged nonchalantly as if he expected this. “Fine.” She ordered her meal, and the previously silent little boy suddenly chirped to request pancakes. As promised, the manager came out with a smile plastered onto her wrinkled face and their food in her hands.
“Have a great d-“
“Yeah, yeah,” she interrupted as they stalked out of the diner which was filled with people who were trying to avoid making eye contact but couldn’t seem to resist gaping at her.
She found a bench for them to sit that was luckily one of the few things near them that was somewhat dry. “At least it stopped raining.” The little boy twittered as he began to pour an unhealthy amount of syrup over his fluffy pancakes.
She nodded silently as she bit into her egg-and-cheese-bagel-sandwich. After a few moments of silence, eating, and intro-spection, she scoffed, “That was about the rudest diner I have ever been to. The nerve of those people to just kick us out for no reason.”
“It’s not their fault. They couldn’t see me anyway.”
“Exactly! They completely ignored you. How dare they turn away a child like that?” She sighed irritatedly as she glanced at him. How could they just ignore him with his bright eyes and childish cheeks? “Well, at least the food is halfway decent.” Silence took hold over their bench again as they enjoyed the meal that was more than halfway decent.
“I’m bored.” The child next to her complained after he finished. “I want to go play.”
“What about your mom? Shouldn’t we go look for her?” In response, he jumped up and ran into the street, curls flopping as he jumped from puddle to puddle. “Get out of the street, please!” Suddenly, the once empty road was filled with the sound of a car rushing down the street.
The huge monster crafted from gleaming metal screeched and groaned with skidding rubber. The beautiful little boy turned to her with a toothy, dimpled grin that was met by her horror-stricken scream which was slashed with premonitory grief. Her legs burned and her sandwich plummeted as she raced towards him, arms outstretched.
“Move! Get out of the way!” She yelled. The little boy frowned in confusion when- No, no, no… She couldn’t possibly be too late. No. She lunged forward as the flash of red crumpled to the asphalt and cradled him in her lap, rocking back and forth and smoothing his tousled curls. Her throat constricted while her stomach plunged and his breaths grew ragged. Eventually, his labored breathing quieted to a stop. An unceremonious end filled with silent pain. Tears had already flowed freely down her cheeks in choked back sobs.
“No… You’re alright. Everything is going to be alright. Look at me. Alright? Just look at me. Come on… Please?” His form, once full of life and an entire future, grew cold in her arms. She hugged him to her chest as anguished sobs racked through her.
“What’s wrong?” She drew back, startled, and looked down to find wide eyes and a small smile staring up at her. As though he was never- “Did something happen?” He paused as she shook her head, relieved and inspecting him for any injuries. “Are you okay?”
“‘Am I okay?’” She repeated blithely with a small scoff. “Yes, I’m okay! I just thought… you just almost… Nevermind, you’re alright now and-”
“Oi! What do you think you’re doing?!” Her head shot up towards the man shouting from his car. She squinted to make out who he was when a fat fly buzzed into her line of sight. And another. And another. Until she halted her futile swatting at the sudden swarm when the air suddenly reeked of the crude scent of decay. She coughed on its sticky, sour scent when something small wiggled on her arm. She shrieked as she flicked off the maggot that was slowly inching up her sleeve. As the scene dawned on her, she horrifically peeked at her arms to find a grotesque sight while suppressing the compulsory urge to vomit.
In the place where the little boy once was, a rotting carcass was cradled in her arms. You could say that it resembled the child, with its dull, tattered, and tire-marked red raincoat draped around the decomposing remains. Scenes flashed through her memories: walking hand-in-hand with the boy and receiving disgusted expressions, the constant gaping and gawking, getting kicked out of the diner by a disturbed staff. All of which were now edited to replace the lively boy with the decaying carcass, who she had protectively held in her arms. She pictured herself swaggering into the diner demanding service and referring to herself and the remains as “us”. She saw exactly what the passersby saw when she ran across the street, clutching a rotting body.“They couldn’t see me anyway.” Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no… What had she done?
She shot up, covered in a cold sweat and reeking of a ghoulish nightmare. She panted as the dream played through her head, and her eyes screwed closed, trying to erase the image burned into her eyelids. It was just a dream, she reminded herself. Just another unreasonably early morning started with another bad dream. She sighed and glanced at the clock; 5:00 AM. She peered outside and was greeted by cheerfully irksome rain.
With an unpleasant groan, she dragged herself out of bed to get dressed, eager to shake off the night’s ordeal. She had just reached her kitchen sink with an empty glass when her doorbell rang. Who was ringing her doorbell this early in the morning?
As she opened the door, the glass in her hand shattered to the ground. The sound echoed through her apartment and rang out alongside the pounding in her chest.
“Can you help me find my mom?” No, no, no…
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”