The long afternoon grows longer and Amanda finds her life growing more nightmarish. Truth and fiction intertwine, creating a tapestry of veiled threats and lustful promises. She can’t figure out which to follow, her heart furiously beating in her chest or her head screaming at her to break free from the nightmare.
Yet even in the dimmest light there is yet some light, and she finds little pleasures in the darkness that embraces her.
Amanda was sure she hadn’t heard his name right.
“C-could you repeat that?”
“Professor Ward.” He held out his hand for her to take. “Shouldn’t we shake hands before we part?”
“But no, that can’t be true. There’s just no way.” Amanda felt as though she had entered into a reality that was twisting and warping itself to fit the wishes of some demented soul. First there was that haunted rock, and now this coincidence which she believed was not a chance of fate, but rather the plans of some being. “You should be dead.”
The Professor Ward from the early fifties had already been a man of middle age when he’d taken the group of students up to the mountain. There was no way he would still be alive, much less as spry as this stranger here. More to the point, he was exactly the right age to be the real instructor.
“Come, come, don’t you even want a shake hands with me?”
He stepped toward her, but Amanda slowly shook her head, and backed away from him. “I’m not a zombie, I swear.” He laughed at his own joke, but his voice rang false in her ears. There was a grating of something hidden beneath the intonations of every word, as though a spring was being tightened to the point where it would explode out from the pressure.
“You are him, aren’t you? The one from the article.” She glanced passed him to the freedom of the open hall, but his body blocked her escape. Amanda jumped when the person chuckled.
“You could say I am, and I’m something completely different.” The professor looked down and placed his hands palms down against his chest. “Yes, something not flesh and blood, but much more. A part of a great being with a greater purpose than my feeble grasping of false hypothesis and blinding scientific prejudice.” He lifted his eyes to look at Amanda, and she reeled back when she saw their color was now a coal black. “But you hold no such imperfections. To us you are pure, and we see you now as one sees an endless possibility.”
“Us?” Amanda didn’t understand what he was talking about. There was no one here but the two of them.
Amanda gasped and stumbled back when she beheld a change in the creature. She could no longer call it a man, for it began to take on a shape very inhuman. His arms broke out from the sleeves and stretched across the entrance. The trousers suffered the same fate as they exploded across the seams, and out poured an oozing mass of black tar. The mess puddled at his feet and the thing’s clothes soon followed, exposing the full horror of the changed body.
The chest, blackened with the ooze, bubbled and boiled over itself and onto the carpet. The great flapping arms stretched and thinned out backwards to entirely cover the door and her only chance at freedom. Small shoots of tendrils burst out from every part of the form and entrapped her in a large circle where its puss slunk along the floor ever closer to her feet. The figure was now some undefinable creature, but not unknown.
For Amanda this monster was very familiar to her, if not explainable. It was the thing from Arkaham Mountain, come down to torment her until her sanity was driven to the far corners of her mind. Tendrils licked at her heels and she found her safe, open space diminishing foot by foot. The creature reared up and hovered over her, its long shadow stretching out to engulf her in its clutches. Those long, thin arms reached out to grab at her and absorb her into the indescribable mass of darkness which made up its body. She clutched at the sides of her head and violently whipped her hair to and fro. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be real.
And she was right. It wasn’t real.
Amanda writhed and squirmed in the computer chair until it slid out from beneath her. She was promptly ejected to the soft carpet floor, but on the way down her flailing hands hit the edge of the desk. The young woman thrashed against tendrils which were no longer there and a creature which had only existed in her nightmare. Her eyes were the first to realize the horrible dream had vanished and been replaced by the normalcy of Tony’s bedroom.
She stopped her floundering, and slowly sat up to glimpse the empty room and listen to the quiet apartment. There was no Professor Ward turned giant creature, nor any indication that she had ever left the computer chair. Amanda wrapped her arms around herself and winced when she noticed her hurt digits. Rather than cursing the stinging pain in her fingers, she cradled her bruised hands against herself and silently thanked God for such a sign.
The pain told her she was not only alive, but awake.
Amanda, all smiles and jubilation, caught the edge of the desk and raised herself back into the chair. In her dozing the computer had also gone to sleep, and she moved the mouse to awaken the technological beast. There on the screen was the article about Professor Ward and his students, the inspiration for her maddening dream.
Then her eyes caught something at the bottom on the website, just a hint of a photo relating to the article. Unbidden Amanda’s finger set itself onto the mouse scrolling wheel. She slowly scrolled down the page and revealed a picture of the professor with his students. Amanda’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in a scream which begged to pour forth, but her vocal chords were stuck. The figure at the back of the students, the one marked as the professor, was the exact man from her dream.
That’s when she noticed the rock sitting beside the computer tower.
Amanda shot up from the chair so fast that the thing tipped over and crashed onto the floor. The mouse went flying as far as its short cord would allow and hung limp on the right side of the computer desk. She stumbled back and didn’t stop until her legs hit the edge of Tony’s bed, which caused her limbs to buckle. She plopped down onto the covers with her eyes still firmly stuck on the stone. Frantic thoughts rushed through her mind, many too panicked and garbled to make out but a few she plucked from the chaos.
The stone hadn’t been there when she’d fallen asleep, so how had it come to lay there? Had that been the cause of her terrible nightmare?
The weight of her dream doubled, and Amanda tried frantically to grasp onto the smallest details. Much as she loathed to recall any of the dream, she felt there may be something significant in what she’d seen and heard. That possibly, hidden in the terrifying depths of her nightmare, there were answers which were greater than anything she had found in those old newspaper articles.