Fiction: The Savage Dreamer

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By Joshua M. Reynolds

It was 1920 and Charleston withered beneath the glare of an angry Apollo. Or so it seemed to Randolph Carter, late of Boston, late of Arkham. Dressed in his grandfather’s stiff, starched black, the long-jawed Yankee looked archaic even by the standards of coastal South Carolina.

He slipped and stumbled slightly on the cobbles of the High Battery as he hurried towards his destination. Palmetto trees rustled in the wet, salty breeze coming off of the river and Carter shuddered slightly as the tang of fish insinuated itself into his nostrils.

Running a finger around his sweat-drenched collar, he hurried on. On the horizon, he could see a tangled haze of gray and black rushing over the water. The low, coiling wind promised a scalding rain.

The houses that lined the Battery sat in defiance of progress, white-pillared echoes of what had been. Despite the peeling paint and moldy trim, there was still a despairing nobility to them.

All except for one.

It hunched like a tombstone among flowers, a gaunt, gray house that made the others around it seem blindingly bright in contrast. The shutters were closed, where they were not broken, and the railing of the front porch hung sideways like a snapped length of spine. The porch itself sagged in a way that Carter found faintly obscene. The whole house expelled the faintest whiff of sweet rot.

On the whole, not a scene to engender confidence. Especially in a man of Carter’s nerves. He ran a trembling hand over his slicked-down hair and looked around. In the distance, he could hear a rumble of what might have been thunder.

He stepped onto the porch. The knocker was iron and ugly. Rust flaked off, sticking to his sweaty palm. He let the knocker thud into the wood once, then twice. He fancied he could hear the echoes of the sound somewhere within the flabby house.

He turned, loosening his tie. He could see the water from where he stood. Sullivan’s Island hovered in the distance, a shapeless mass. Beyond it, lightning struck the water and Carter flinched. Thunder crashed and he felt the wood beneath his feet tremble. He turned.

The door was open and the smell of incense wafted out. It was a heavy, oriental odor and made him think of swirling vistas of sun-baked streets and men in strange clothes. He coughed and dug in his coat pocket for a handkerchief.

“Can I help you?”

The voice was the hiss of a snake shedding its skin on a rock, a gentle rasp. Carter felt his nape prickle. It took him a few seconds to pierce the tendrils of accent wrapped around the words.

“I…ah…I’m…ah…,” he said. Or tried to say. Words tripped off his tongue in a babble. Eyes like pools of melted brass pierced him to the quick. He turned, intending to run.

“Wait.”

A hand fell on his shoulder. Lightly, lightly. Iron rings coiled tightly around long, graceful fingers. He was pulled back, enveloped in the scent of foreign places. The eyes – those strange, terrible eyes – caught him again and this time, held him.

“My name is…is Randolph Carter. And I have come to be your apprentice, sir,” Carter said. Then, “I…that is…if you’ll…ah…have me, I mean?”

“Apprentice?” The horrible eyes blinked. Confusion flooded them.

“You are…ah…Mr. Harley Warren of Charleston?” Carter said, a bit of Yankee iron creeping into his voice. He had to be sure. Had to –

“Warren?” A smile. “I am Warren.”

“We have corresponded many times over the past few months, Mr. Warren. I…” Carter hesitated. “Randolph Carter.”

“I heard you the first time, Mr. Carter.” Warren cocked his head. A generous mane of loose, curly hair hung around his oval face and, combined with the shock of his eyes, made for an altogether too-leonine aspect. “The man with the dreams. I was merely wondering why you were here. Now. At this time.”

“I…my letter…” Carter made a helpless gesture with his hands. “I wrote – ”

“Many people write me. Some of them write to you, possibly.” Warren stepped back, the edges of his silk robe brushing the door frame. It was untied, displaying his bare torso, and a length of strange, circular, reddish scars that crossed his chest from kidney to shoulder. “Do come in, Mr. Carter.” Warren pronounced it ‘Cahr-tah’.

Carter hesitated then stepped past the other man. Wood creaked beneath his feet and the cloying tang of incense he had noticed earlier struck him full in the sinuses as Warren closed the door behind him.

“So.” Warren leaned back against the door, his bare feet scuffing at the floor. Carter glanced at the other man’s feet then up, at the strange serpentine scars, and finally, at his face.

Warren was younger than he had thought. His face was unlined, his mouth full-lipped and feminine. But there was nothing feminine about his shape. Broad shoulders strained at the seams of the robe he wore and his carriage was atavistic. Carter swallowed thickly, trying to dredge words out. Warren smiled.

“Cat got your tongue, Mr. Carter?”

“I…no. You aren’t what I expected, I hope you don’t mind me saying.” Carter looked around. Curtains of thin, rustling silk hung from the ceiling all over, seemingly taking the place of walls within the house. Warren stepped past him and pushed aside a curtain.

“You must be parched. Would you like a glass of tea?”

“Y-yes.” Carter followed Warren.

Warren led him through the labyrinth of curtains and into a larger room. The kitchen was small and surprisingly neat. It opened up onto a screened-in porch heavy with bookshelves. Carter moved through the kitchen and out onto the porch without realizing, his eyes drawn to the books. He let his fingers trail across the spines, mouthing the titles to himself.

There were books clinging to the sagging shelves that he had only read of in other, equally-rare tomes. Books in Latin, Akkadian and other tongues that defeated Carter’s limited experience.

“Here. Drink up,” Warren said, appearing behind him. Carter whirled, pressing himself up against the bookshelf.

“I…ah….”

Warren proffered the glass of chilled tea again, and took a sip from his own. Carter took it and held its refreshing coolness in both hands. Warren sat down in a wide-backed wicker chair.

“So, boy. Why are you here?”

“To learn,” Carter said, after a moment. He cast a glance at the books. “Everything.”

“Everything? Tall order. Don’t think I can deliver, as such,” Warren said. He pressed the bottom of his glass against his temple. “I am not, in the parlance, a follower of the Socratic method.” His odd eyes rolled down, bobbing beneath heavy lids, pinning Carter in place. “Nor would I hope you’d expect such, from our briefest of correspondences.”

“I don’t know what I expected,” Carter said. He looked around and collapsed into a similar seat to Warren’s. “I am utterly at a loss, Mr. Warren. That is why I’m here, I think.”

“You think?”

“I cannot say for sure, you see. What are my desires and what are the desires of another, altogether different me.” Carter smiled, or tried to. Warren frowned.

“A different you?”

“Me, myself, I. Old granddad and young fool, wrapped up in one, I feel at times,” Carter said. “My mind is split, quartered and scattered across the boundless plains of Hypnos – ”

“You seem fairly well-composed to me,” Warren said. “But then, I have my own difficulties in that regard.”

“Which is why I came,” Carter said. He made a helpless gesture. “Who better to help than one who has had similar experiences?”

Warren was silent. He gazed at Carter, unblinking. Then he said, “No.”

“What?”

“No.” Warren took a sip from his glass. He did not elaborate. Carter stared at him for a moment, stupefied. Then his mind and mouth abruptly reconnected.

“May I inquire as to why?” he said stiffly.

Warren cocked his head. “Does it matter?”

“Yes, I believe it does.” Carter shifted, jaw working. “I was given to understand from our correspondence that you had some understanding of my plight. And while said correspondence was hardly voluminous, I thought – ”

“That I would happily extricate you from whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself in?” Warren said. “No. No, I think not.”

Carter seemed to sink in upon himself, long neck disappearing into his stiff collar, lower jaw enveloping the upper, eyes squeezing shut. An overgrown child resisting the urge to tantrum, or a Victorian gentleman striving against apoplexy.

“Why?” he said again.

“Because it is not my place to rescue a fool from his fate,” Warren said. “You sought out the outer reaches and they followed you home. So be it. More than you have paid the price for less than that.” Warren idly traced the scars on his chest as he spoke. “Go home. Enjoy what time you have left to you, in the bosom of your family.”

“I must insist that you help me, sir,” Carter said. He didn’t look at Warren. “I must….” His fingers slid beneath his coat and an old Army revolver appeared. Warren froze as Carter used both hands to point the pistol at him. His hands shook, but not so much that the barrel didn’t point straight at Warren’s heart. “I must,” he said again. His eyes were wide, his face fish-pale.

Warren uncoiled slightly, a small smile playing across his lips. “So I see.”

“No. You don’t. You can’t. You can’t imagine the things I’ve seen. The things I’ve experienced,” Carter said softly. “It’s all too much….”

“I think I can.” Warren sat back in his chair, fingertips pressed together beneath his chin. Carter once again found his eyes drawn to the strange marks on Warren’s torso and he shuddered. “But unburden yourself, if you must.”

“I….” Carter’s jaw clenched. “You read my letters.”

“Your dreams. You’re a remarkably lucid dreamer, I must say. Too lucid, perhaps.”

“You’re saying that I-I made it up?” Carter’s voice had a shrill edge to it. Warren’s eyes were solemn.

“No. Only that you remember too much.” Warren tapped the side of his head. “Why is that, I wonder?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know!” Carter yelped. “I only know that the memories invade me, my life, with increasing frequency. I cannot tell fact from fancy some days. I-I am trapped in a web of dreams and the more I struggle, the more I….” He shuddered. “The more I am ensnared.”

Warren watched him without speaking. Outside, a gentle rain had begun to fall and a warm wind gusted through the porch, ruffling the pages of several books. Carter shuddered again, reminded of something that he could not quite recall.

“I’m sorry,” Warren said finally. He gestured towards the pistol. “You were in the War, then?”

“I…yes. I thought….” Carter shook his head. “I don’t know what I thought.” He looked at his host. “And yourself?”

Warren said nothing. Carter frowned. “Your scars….”

“Before the War, by several years.” Warren leaned forward abruptly. His eyes gleamed. “Beauty and horror often go together, don’t they?”

“Yes,” Carter said, without hesitation.

“Yes. Sometimes more the one than the other.” Warren rubbed his chin. “In your dreams, of which you wrote, you named places which do not exist. Things which cannot be. Horrible, beautiful things,” Warren said. “Things you forgot, but are now remembering.”

It was Carter’s turn to fall silent. Warren nodded. Then, “Kadath, in the Cold Wastes.”

Carter shivered. He looked at the pistol in his hand, as if not quite recognizing how it had gotten there. “You’ve been there?” he whispered.

“No.”

Carter looked up. “But – ”

“I dream within my own mind, Mr. Carter. I do not allow myself the luxury of doing otherwise. Not these days.” Warren made a complicated gesture. “But there are those who have. Yourself, for instance.”

Carter put a hand to his face. He was sweating. The heat cloaked him. Smothered him. “Perhaps. I only see snatches. Brief glimpses of memories that I do not remember making.”

“The human mind has a blessed inability to consider all of that which it records. If you have forgotten it, perhaps it is best left that way?” Warren said softly. His hand reached out, fingertips pressing against the barrel of the pistol.

Carter looked up. It was not Warren sitting in front of him but something else. A mocking, androgynous face with eyes like twin hell-suns. Then, a voice like a panther’s rumbling purr echoing within his mind.

Pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms….

Carter screamed. He pulled the trigger and the pistol belched.

Luckily, Warren had already shoved it aside. As Carter thrashed, the other man held him flat against the back of his chair.

“Carter! Calm down, damn you!”

IA! IA! HEI! Aa shanta ‘nygh! The Crawling Chaos!” Carter screamed, flopping like a fish in the bottom of a boat. Warren yanked the pistol out of his hand and tossed it aside. Then, face set, he backhanded the thrashing man. Carter rocked backwards and slumped.

Warren pulled him back up and took his chin, shaking him. Carter’s eyes fluttered.

“Bag of nerves, aren’t you?” Warren murmured. Carter mumbled, but his eyes, despite their movement, didn’t open. Warren grunted and sat back in his seat.

He examined the man before him. Carter was one of those men driven to age before his time. The Great War had contributed some to that, obviously, but the rest…ah.

Warren stood and belted his robe. The air had turned cool and in his backyard, the palmetto trees rattled. He went to his books and let his fingers drift until he found a particular title. Sundry Masks by Anonymous. It was a re-binding of the original 1778 edition, rumoured to contain clues as to the author’s identity. The book itself was little more than a series of lists and descriptions, but that was all he needed. He flipped through the pages, looking for specific phrases.

“Ah.” His finger pinned a word to the page. He closed the book and tossed it on a pile on the floor, then looked back at Carter. He considered the other man for a few minutes, wondering how best to proceed.

By rights, he should send him packing. No sense getting involved in something like this. No sense in attracting attention.

No, he’d learned his lesson, hadn’t he? The scars on his body were one thing, but the ones on his soul….

Outside, the rain was coming down harder. It hammered like bullets on the tin roof of the porch and Warren closed his eyes, listening.

Like Carter, he had been in the War. He had sought to lose himself in the fury and fear, to forget certain things he had learned. Not everything, but just enough to be safe. Like an ant seeking to avoid the tread of heedless giants.

He looked at Carter again. Sometimes, though, the giants followed you no matter what you did. Particularly, if they were the type to brush aside anthills.

“Nyarlathotep,” Warren said, rolling the alien syllables around in his mouth. They left a greasy feeling on his tongue, but he resisted the urge to spit. Not quite Egyptian, but they tried. Like something someone only passing familiar with how names worked might come up with. Still, it was closer than some of the others. At least it could pretend to be a proper name rather than a fart of glottal mumbling.

He sat back down and watched the rain, thinking of the months before the War, when he had been visiting friends – back when he had had friends – in New York. Of a strange and terrible show in a back alley theater, where lightning danced overhead, flitting between coloured spheres suspended from the sagging ceiling, and a phantasmagoria played out on a silk screen. And the dark, thin man who stood on the stage in his fine suit, with his thin, intent features and his eyes – so like a panther’s eyes.

Nyarlathotep. The Crawling Chaos.

It was a nonsense term for a nonsense thing. Something which the five base senses could not discern. A storm occurring just out of the corner of God’s eye.

Warren brushed his fingers across his cheek, catching a drop of sweat before it left his face. Taking a breath, he reached over and shook Carter back to sensibility.

“I…what?” Carter blinked rapidly and looked around, suddenly panicked. Warren pressed him back down in his seat.

“Easy. You’re fine. Just had a bit of a shock, I warrant.”

“Forgive me.” Carter wiped his mouth with the back of one trembling hand. “I’m…ah…of a nervous disposition. Always have been.”

“No reason to apologize,” Warren said, cutting off Carter with a gesture. “How long have you been a man of dreams, Mr. Carter?”

“What?”

“Your dreams. How long have you had them? Have they always been this strong, or….” He trailed off, waiting. Carter bent forward, running his hands through his hair, visibly trying to compose himself.

“I stopped. When I was younger. Stopped almost entirely. No more jeweled vistas or wondrous, ice-capped peaks. My dreams were mundane, Mr. Warren.” Carter spoke softly. Hesitantly. “And then I went to war.”

Warren said nothing. Carter swallowed. “I went to war. I was a volunteer. From the first, with the Legion etrangere. As were you, I believe, sir,” he said. Warren nodded.

“For a while.”

“You know what it was like, then. I was less affected by it than my companions, though not due to any personal bravery, I assure you.” Carter gave a sad grin. “No, for it was in those muddy, bloody trenches that I began to dream once more. We all did, I think.” He hesitated. “Our dreams were at war, even as we were, and we moved through our days and nights half-asleep and half-mad and could not tell fact from fancy. And maybe there was no difference. Not then. We dreamed the same dream of cyclopean monstrosities rising up over jagged worm tunnels and the dead….” He paused. “The dead squirmed through those tunnels in legions.” He closed his eyes, his voice stuttering to a halt. Warren waited. Eventually, Carter began again. “That was the first time. Verdun. I could almost see it….”

“What?”

“I don’t know. It prowls the edges of things.” Carter shook himself. “When I returned home, to Arkham, my dreams continued. But not as strongly as before, yet more sinister. It was as if I were of two minds,” he said, looking at Warren. “As if there were the dreams of some other man – some other Randolph Carter – pressing into my own. Inundating them.” His hands became fists. “And the sensation of being hunted, circled by some great predator, grew stronger. The less mundane my dreams became, the more the sensation increased. I could feel it. Feel it waiting. Watching. Inhumanly patient.” He took a breath.

“I started my correspondence then. With you. Others. Men and women who might be able to shed some light on what ailed me. But….”

“But?” Warren said. Carter gave a weak laugh.

“Frauds. Or worse.” He looked at Warren in reproach. “How can this be my fault if I remember doing nothing? Why am I expected to pay for mistakes I don’t recall making? What is the mocking laughter I hear in the darkness on the edge of sleep? Why – ”

Warren held up a hand. Carter fell silent, trembling in obvious agitation.

“Have you ever seen a reef, Mr. Carter?”

“A reef?”

“Yes. A reef. Branches of curved coral, coiling back in on themselves in a cramped space. Home to a variety of colourful fish and insects. They are quiet places. Safe. Calm. But outside, the other, larger fish wait hungrily.” Warren stood and went to the bookshelf. Carter twisted in his seat.

“I know what a reef is. What does it have to do with anything is what I’m asking.”

“Sometimes, an inhabitant of the reef darts out, by mistake, into the vast ocean beyond. And, inevitably, it is noticed. Sometimes, it is devoured then and there. Other times, it makes it safely back into the reef.” Warren pulled a book of matches off of a shelf and lit one. He held up the flame for a moment then blew it out. “And sometimes, very rarely, it is followed.”

“Followed,” Carter said. He was pale now. Trembling.

“Yes. Those of us who make it our business to study life outside the reef have learned the importance of avoiding notice. To do otherwise, well….” Warren sat back down.

“I didn’t – ” Carter began.

“You did,” Warren said, gently. His voice was low and soothing. A steady rumble of sound, like ocean waves. “The dreams of humanity are simply part of the ocean. You left the reef, purely by chance, through misadventure, or maybe you subconsciously intended to. Regardless, there was something waiting. But….” He lit another match. Carter stared at the dancing flame. “But. But, but, but. Perhaps it can be thrown off your trail.”

“My trail?” Carter said. Warren snuffed the match and lit another. Carter’s eyes locked onto the orange glow and shifted as Warren moved the match slowly back and forth.

“The scent of your mind and soul, trailing back through your dreams and out across the arc of space and time, drifting like blood on the water. Attracting things. But what kinds of things? A fish? A shark? Or something worse?”

“Oh,” Carter said, his voice muffled. His eyes were wide but dull. Warren snuffed the match. Carter didn’t blink.

“Time to jerk the line, then,” Warren said. “Sleep, Carter. Don’t fight it. Let your mind relax. Relax. Relax.” Carter slumped, his eyes fully closed. Warren bent and scooped up the pistol, laying it close to hand, before settling in to wait.

Minutes passed. Then an hour. Warren watched, listening to Carter’s silent breathing. His own eyes grew heavy. He blinked, fighting the urge to sleep.

Something chuckled.

Carter’s eyes opened and idiot chaos looked out through them. Warren froze, his heart almost stuttering to a stop.

“Ahhhhhh,” Carter – the thing in Carter – breathed. “I can smell yellow jasmine and honeysuckle. And you, of course, lovely Warren.” It had none of Carter’s physical mannerisms, none of his hesitancy. And its voice – God, its voice – thrummed down through him, impossibly deep. It splayed itself out in the chair, as if luxuriating in the feel of Carter’s thin muscles. “Where are we, Warren?”

Warren said nothing. He remained still. It looked at him, eyes swiveling in Carter’s sockets. “Ha. Afraid, Warren?”

“No,” Warren said, finally. “Curious.”

The thing was silent. Then, “Oh? Do tell.”

“You know my name.”

“I know everyone’s name.” It winked, somehow making the gesture altogether more obscene than it should have been.

“Do you? Or does Carter simply think you do?”

“Ha,” it said again. There was a smell on the air. Rank. Animal-like, but familiar. Warren had smelled the odor before and his hand pressed against his chest briefly before falling to the pistol. He hefted it, feeling the weight.

“Are you going to shoot me, Warren?” it asked.

“No. Does Carter think I would?”

“Stop asking me about Carter. I’m not Carter,” it said.

Warren nodded. He was testing fate. But, if he were correct…. “No. You’re not. In fact, you’re nothing.”

“And everything. Both and neither,” it said, stretching Carter’s arms out. “Idiot chaos. Crawling madness. Where I walk, unborn infants drown in the womb so as not to face me.”

“I wonder who told him that,” Warren mused.

“Pay attention to me,” the thing said, standing. It was a command, not petulance. Carter’s face twisted, becoming leaner, darker.

“Another mask,” Warren said. He stayed seated, but raised the pistol, aiming it in a general fashion. “How many are there, I wonder?”

“A thousand,” it answered then shook its head. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“A thousand is just a number. Just like the masks are just faces. Definitions for something which, by its nature, is indefinable.”

“Somehow, I do believe that you are still ignoring me,” Nyarlathotep said, stroking the golden sheath which bound his tightly-wrapped beard. Even in Carter’s clothes, he looked every inch the Pharaoh. His eyes were like twin suns, boiling red and yellow and orange in their sockets, a hideous light which made everything so much darker.

“I’m not ignoring you. Just your mask,” Warren said. He made a show of looking around, fighting the urge to flinch as he felt Nyarlathotep’s eyes crawl across him. “You aren’t really here. Just the idea of you. The real you, if there can be said to be such a thing – something I very much doubt – is obscure and unutterable.”

“Oh?” Nyarlathotep sounded curious. Warren kept going. Indeed, couldn’t stop himself. The old hunger was coming back. The need to know, the lust for knowledge, no matter the cost. His side and chest – the scars – burned.

“Yes. You’re far too big to do otherwise. Even Great Cthulhu cannot perceive you, so massive is your presence.” Warren’s thumb caressed the hammer of the pistol, pulling it back with an audible ‘clunk’. “You’re the lure of an anglerfish. A shiny thing that attracts minds and souls and dreams, like poor Carter there. An idea that they can grasp.”

“I am the Black Pharaoh. The Messenger of Infinity – ” Nyarlathotep began, smiling widely, showing off impossibly-white teeth.

“No. No, that is what they think you are.” Warren said.

Nyarlathotep straightened, seeming to loom, his shaven pate scraping the ceiling of the porch as his hands descended on Warren.

“Even figments can be dangerous, Warren.” Claws sank into Warren’s flesh and he screamed as he was lifted and hurled into his bookshelves. The gun slid away as he tried to pick himself up. Books flopped open beneath his flailing limbs. He stared at one for a moment. The words were blurred and jumbled.

“Ha,” he said. He knew then, where he was.

Something wet and long wrapped around his ankle, yanking him backwards. Nyarlathotep’s face had split open from crown to chin and a tendril of raw, red meat exuded, the end of which had caught Warren.

“Figments have memories. Personalities,” Nyarlathotep said. “Desires. Enemies. Are you my enemy, Warren?”

Warren’s hand found the butt of the pistol. He grabbed it and looked over his shoulder. “No. Something that doesn’t really exist can’t have enemies.” He shoved the gun beneath his armpit, its barrel extending towards the thing, and fired. Nyarlathotep staggered then straightened.

“Then whyever did you just shoot me?” Nyarlathotep said, sounding amused.

Warren twisted and took aim again, lying on his back. “I didn’t. I shot Carter.”

“What?” Nyarlathotep blinked. Blood ran down its chest, a darker stain against the black of the suit. Nyarlathotep raised trembling fingers to its chest. “Oh.”

The tendril whipped away from Warren and he fired again. Nyarlathotep screamed, sounding like a thousand whippoorwills crying out at once, and its form began to balloon up, growing and spreading like a puddle on sand. Warren watched it for a moment, watched the edges of everything waver and crumble as Carter was jolted awake. Then, without changing expression, he pressed the pistol to his arm and pulled the trigger one last time.

His eyes opened and he took a shuddery breath. Carter looked even worse, if that was possible. But it was Carter who sat there, and not something else.

“What….” Carter began. “I fell asleep. I – ”

“Should have no more problems,” Warren said. He rolled up his sleeve and looked at the bruise on his arm that matched the bullet wound. He felt lighter than he had in years, somehow, despite the aches and pains. More fulfilled.

Carter slouched forward, rubbing his chest. “I…ah…what happened? What did you – ”

“I baited a trap and caught what decided to poke its nose in.” Warren said. He let his sleeve fall. “It might not work a second time.” He reached over to the table beside his chair and found a pack of cigarettes. “It wasn’t anything, really. Just a little nightmare you made into something much worse. If it had been what you made it out to be, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” He stuck a cigarette into his mouth and lit it.

Carter stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“Nyarlathotep isn’t an Egyptian. Or a magician. Or a demon-god. Those are simply masks we give it to make entropy into order. To make the incalculable understandable. We bring it down to our level and it, in turn, preys on us once we do so. But if you recognize the mask, if you look beyond it, you see that it is nothing but flotsam. Debris from something we cannot even conceive.” Warren inhaled, filling his lungs with smoke. “Still dangerous, but only if you get too close. The reef, Mr. Carter.”

“Then, what do I do? What if it comes back?”

“It won’t. If you learn to control your dreaming.” Warren pointed at him with his cigarette. “You need training. Discipline. You need to be able to recognize the signs that – ”

“I’ve left the reef?” Carter said, the trace of a smile on his lips. Warren smirked.

“Exactly.”

“And where would I find this training?”

“I went to Tibet,” Warren said. Carter’s face fell. Warren laughed.

“Or, perhaps, if you wish, you could stay here, Mr. Carter,” Warren said. “I find myself thinking that I may need an assistant sometime near in the future.”

“You’d let me stay?” Carter said.

“If you wish.” Warren stood and went to the front of the porch, a trail of cigarette smoke marking his passage like a twitching cat’s tail. “Yes. An assistant.” Outside, the rain was still coming down. A storm had rolled in off the ocean and on past. Only the dregs of its fury remained.

He turned, glancing at one of the books on the floor. The title was simply Incorruptibles. He frowned. There was a place he had been meaning to visit, before the War. Before…everything. A little spot out near the Gainesville Pike. He turned back to Carter.

“Well, Mr. Carter?”

Randolph Carter sat quietly, for just a moment. Then, hesitantly, he nodded. Harley Warren smiled and turned back to watch the rain.

THE END

Bio: Joshua M. Reynolds is a freelance writer of moderate skill and exceptional confidence. He has written quite a bit and some of it was even published. For money. By real people. Feel free to stop by his blog, Hunting Monsters, and cast aspersions on his character.

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