by Emerys Grey
Aimee is taken hostage by an Ayakashi Warlord and plunged into an unbelievable adventure.
The Burning Man
For Tim, whose adventures delight us all.
Aimee thrashed in her bed, a cold sweat breaking out on her skin. She pulled the threadbare sheets half off the bed, clutching them to her with fisted hands. Her head tossed and one hand slammed into the peeling wall above as if fighting off an invisible attacker.
Smoldering red and orange lights swirled in the darkness surrounding her mind. It dragged her down like an inescapable riptide. Aimee’s breathing grew ragged.
She was asleep. She knew it. But she couldn’t wake up.
She’d always had horrific nightmares as long as she could remember. While most children dreamed of being lost or chased by bad guys from cartoons, Aimee dreamed of bloodshed, ghoulish monsters, and nightmares that left her screaming herself awake.
She fought the dream as hard as she could but it pulled her in as if she had no will at all. As usual, she had the feeling of knowing what was going to happen even as the thought slipped out of her mind, just out of reach.
Her stomach clenched sickeningly as her body and mind felt ripped between consciousness and unconsciousness. Her vision went dark and the world spun.
Then everything just stopped.
Aimee opened her eyes hesitantly then straightened from a crouched position. She was… hovering ghost-like off the ground in an underground tunnel. She lowered her hands from over her ears and grimaced. This was new.
She looked around with wide eyes.
The tunnel was roughly cut and dimly lit by millions of tiny colored glowing crystals embedded in the walls, stalactites, and giant boulders littering the floor. Aimee looked down at herself and saw that she glowed too. Though she cast no light.
She looked like a figure from an old black and white movie: a little fuzzy, colored in black and white tones, and dressed dramatically in all white.
Not my usual fashion.
Aimee guessed this was her subconscious’ image of herself, feeling a little like she’d stepped into the Matrix. I hoped I would have worn all black and a gun belt, not look all angelic in white. She thought.
Dark shadowy figures walked past her. A few walked through her before Aimee could figure out how to move out of the way. Her body bobbed and swayed, seeming impossible to control.
Maybe more balloon than ghost-like.
She gasped at the sensation of being walked through and rubbed at her chest. It hurt… and felt wrong wherever they touched.
The figures didn’t seem to see her. And Aimee had to squint and really focus to see them clearly too. Clearly, they were not what the dream wanted to show her.
Aimee managed to turn slightly to study them. They were huge and broad, over seven feet high, and dressed like Barbarian Warriors from some RPG. They were humanoid, some with pig-like features, and bloated, lumpy or bumpy skin. Their eyes were completely black, with tiny starbursts of burning red. Malice and bloodlust rolled off of them in waves even off the battlefield.
The swirling red and orange lights she’d seen before came from the end of the tunnel about twenty feet away. It opened up into a giant cavern. Aimee was reminded of a description she’d once heard: “cathedral”. The space looked like a giant natural cathedral.
It was easily twice as long as a football field and just as wide, made of grey-brown rock, glittering with crystals, with a soaring ceiling of jagged stone several stories high. Dozens of fire pits, bonfires, and torches dotted the floor and walls of flame lined several walls.
Hundreds, if not over a thousand, of the pig-like warriors gathered in groups and throngs around the fires. They were eating, drinking, brawling, and … dancing. Aimee watched their sharp almost battle-like movements. She guessed they were dancing. This was a celebration.
There was a sharp frisson in the air. Watching the horde of warriors, the phrase, “Tonight we live, for tomorrow we die.”, came to mind. That was what it looked like.
This was an army. They were preparing to go to war.
A scream ripped through the air, high pitched and hoarse, coming from somewhere in the cavern. Aimee’s head whipped around at the agonized sound, heart pounding. But she couldn’t see who had made it.
Her ghost-like figure bobbed and swayed towards the left wall of the tunnel as the pig-like warriors passed in and out. She tried to twist and turn but only managed to pitch forwards or backwards nearly upside down.
Unable to direct herself, she floated into a corner made by a squat boulder and the wall. Great. Just great. I can dream about watching solid rock until my alarm finally wakes me up.
Aimee tried to turn but it did nothing. Finally, with a grunt of effort she spun — and ended up whipping around upside down. “W—whoa!”, she chocked out, her arms windmilling wildly.
Her body adjusted for the movement, as if she could brain her non-corporeal head on a rock, rising a few more inches off the ground and slowly righting itself. Great.
She lifted her head and stared straight into a pair of inhuman green eyes.
Aimee jolted and would’ve jumped back if she could.
The boulder she’d been cornered behind wasn’t a boulder at all.
A wide, goblin-esque face with high cheekbones and a cold, cunning intelligence studied her silently. Aimee’s skin crawled at the look in those narrow, slitted pupil eyes.
A slow, sharklike smile curved the man’s too wide mouth as if happy to see her and Aimee suppressed a shiver. She had the feeling this was not a man anyone wanted interested in them.
The goblin-man stood, turning to face Aimee fully. He was maybe four-foot-ten and wore a deep scarlet top coat over his wide torso, and black fitted pants over his contrasting birdlike thin legs. His black hair was pulled back into tail.
Aimee blinked. What the hell was a guy like this doing in a cavern full of pig warriors? And why was he the only one who could see Aimee?
The goblin man tipped his head slightly as if in an old fashioned greeting. When Aimee stared stonily and unmoving back he smiled as if amused then turned to walk towards the cavern.
Aimee yelped a little in surprise as she bobbed and floated along behind him like a balloon on a string.
More screams suddenly rang out, agonized and gut wrenching. Aimee jumped.
Could the goblin-man and the horde not hear them?
The feeling of knowing what was going to happen grew, even as it evaded her grasp like trying to catch a fish barehanded.The closer they moved to the cavern the more the feeling grew, accompanied by a sickening feeling of dread. Whatever it was she was going to see, Aimee knew it was going to haunt her.
As they moved into the crowd the warriors parted for the Goblin man. Many turned and bowed. Others tapped their fellows on the shoulder — or punched them — whatever it took to gain their attention. More than a few brawls broke out. By the time they’d made it to the center of the cavern the whole horde had turned and was silently watching.
Aimee’s shoulders tensed and she felt the urge of flight or fight at the feeling of so many blood thirsty eyes turned towards her. There was nothing human about them.
The goblin-man stopped at the edge of a wide rectangular fire pit in the middle of the cavern. A wide flat topped railing encircled it and ran down the center the cavern back towards the tunnel’s mouth. It looked to be being used as a table of sorts. A large metal box stood on four short legs in the opposite end of the fire pit and a wall of fire as tall as Aimee shot up behind them where the goblin-man stood.
Four pig-warriors in special looking armor with giant swords, maces, or shields stepped up, followed by six shorter birdlike looking pig-people in long robes. They flanked the goblin-man. Two of the warriors leaned down and began speaking with him immediately.
The crowd looked on, eagerly tense and waiting.
The two warriors straightened and the goblin-man raised his hands and addressed the crowd.
It was just as well Aimee had no interest in hearing the goblin man’s speech. Her body began to turn towards the wide fire pit behind them. The goblin man’s voice faded into the background as Aimee’s eyes focused on the large metal box sitting in the back of it.
It looked like three large kennel sized squares welded together, with grates and doors here and there on each. There was something horribly disturbing and familiar about it. It niggled at Aimee’s brain.
She blinked and suddenly was so close her nose was almost passing through it. Aimee jerked her head back but, of course, her body stayed right there. “What the hell!”
Screams, those horrible, nightmarish screams started up again, punctuated by heavy thuds of a body hitting the metal. From inside the box.
Horror flooded her as the realization hit her. This wasn’t a box. It was a barbecue!
Her ghost-like body began sinking inside.
Oh, hell no.
Aimee squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced as she fought — fought to stop moving, fought to wake up, anything — to keep from seeing the nightmare she knew had to be inside.
The goblin man appeared in the corner of her eye. Aimee cracked her eyes open and stared at him as her nose then her front disappeared inside the box. The goblin man was leaning negligently on the railing across from her. He was talking to one of the pig-warriors as more gathered and caroused behind them. His eyes caught Aimee’s and he smiled a pointy cheshire cat.
Aimee suddenly knew that the other man was responsible for whatever nightmare Aimee was about to see. And that he wasn’t sorry for it. But looking forward to it.
Aimee squeezed her eyes shut at the last second and held her breath.
For a couple moments everything was black. She began to hope that she’d beaten it, maybe she’d ended the dream or was waking up.
Then her eyelids shot open to stare into empty, hollow, insane eyes.
Blood wept from open wounds all over the man’s face and naked body. He was tall and muscular with short hair trimmed nearly bald. His skin was pearlescent white, his ears and facial features long and pointed like an elf’s. He was bound wrists to ankles, jerking and writhing with insanity as flames licked through the open grate below to singe his skin
The man screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
Aimee screamed and jerked back but there was no getting away. The box was barely big enough to contain the man let alone Aimee with her.
The man screamed and thrashed weakly on the floor. His blood dripped through the grate making the flames hiss and crackle. His flesh sizzled and the edges of the open wounds blackened.
Aimee put her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut as she fought to drown the sounds out.
No. No, no, no. No!
Finally, after more time than she cared to track, she fell into blissful blackness. Or maybe she passed out. Aimee didn’t care.
She faded in and out of the dream.
The last thing she saw was the goblin man watching her silently. His sharklike pointed teeth were ripping chunks off a piece of meat still on the bone. The horde partied wildly around him. He chewed slowly, with obvious relish. His eyes caught and held Aimee’s.
At the end of that bone, was a hand.