Phoenix Rising from The Valley of Death

It’s been more than two decades since the Columbine murders, and Marilyn Manson (aka Brian Warner) is no longer the literal devil of pop culture as he was once portrayed, but rather a boomer rockstar in his fifties facing accusations of rape, torture, and abuse from at least 15 women. Whatever anyone may have thought before, he is now regarded as a sort-of incl-adjacent edgester long past his prime and relevance.

Speaking of Columbine, it’s painfully ironic looking back how Manson was connected to the shootings in the first place. In those days his image as a satanic media personality fit perfectly into the religious right’s perception of all that was wrong with culture. Despite his obvious intention to fit that mold, he was also given a fair amount of sympathy and support from other artists and media personalities. Controversy was the brand, after all, and as his lyrics soon after stated, “the more that you fear us, the bigger we get!”

Holy Wood: In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death,” is Manson’s 4th studio album and his response to the Columbine murders. In light of his accusers’ revelations, it might be worth revisiting his message regarding the tragedy. 20 years ago, he made a case for artists like himself accused of being responsible for mass violence. Given the dramatically violent nature of his alleged crimes, what he has to say about violence, manipulation, and abuse in general, is quite revealing.

Holy Wood: In the Shadow of Death Valley

Cover art for the unreleased Holy Wood novel

Before anything else, I’d like to properly review the album. Holy Wood was Manson’s first release following Columbine. As two armed students at Columbine High School massacred a handful of their peers, initial news reports told viewers that the killers were wearing Marilyn Manson T-shirts or were dressed as Marilyn Manson. They were actually dressed in black trench coats in association with their High School clique and were ultimately mistaken as Manson fans. Still, some damage had been done to Manson’s reputation and such heavy implications could understandably wound an innocent person. Manson went mostly quiet following the shooting but returned in 2000 with a message for the world.

On its surface, Holy Wood might seem like an almost stereotypical proto-emo rock record from the 2000s, mixed with the kind of imagery that would fascinate rebellious Christian kids from the Midwest. To its creator, it’s more like a dark and satirical dystopian novel, tying together much of his ideals and previous work. It is, also, a deeply fascinating album.

Imagine a metropolis combining the aspects of Hollywood, Disneyland, and Washington DC. According to Manson, “I thought of how interesting it would be if we created an entire city that was an amusement park, and the thing we were being amused by was violence and sex and everything that people really want to see.”

Adam is a teenage rebel living in Death Valley, the land of Holy Wood’s disposed children, left to rot in an inhospitable wasteland. Just beyond Death Valley, Holy Wood stands as an authoritarian entertainment Mecca, broadcasting all the sex and violence the world wants. The elites of Holy Wood rule their citizens with a militarized police state, as well as by propagandizing narratives around religious, political, and entertainment martyrs. This enables a system of celebrity worship known as Celebritarianism, blinding the masses with the splendor of fame and theatricality while the elite reside in a world of amoral luxury.

What happens when Adam leads a revolution of forgotten children against the Holy Wood establishment?

Holy Wood: The Album

Official Holy Wood Album Cover
  1. God Eat God — The album opens with a series of clicks, the sound of cameras, fireworks, and a solemn minor chord progression on piano. In this song, Adam laments the death of God, personifying him as both Jesus and JFK, making pointed references to the type of violence that was done to them. It’s the first of many Kennedy references on the album, who along with several other people made famous by death, are frequently represented in this way. “The only smiling are you dolls that I’ve made, but you are plastic and so are your brains.”
  2. The Love Song — Drums crash in loudly, followed by bass, Manson’s voice, and quiet sinister guitar. The song goes hard into the 1st chorus, building up each time. We hear the first of Adam’s slogans, singing sarcastically “Do you love your Guns, God, the Government?!” to which his audience vehemently replies, “fuck yeah!” Throughout, Adam sings about his desire for his teenage girlfriend, Coma, analogizing that he is the bullet to her gun, as well as a Christ-figure and celebrity to her. Their parents disapprove, but Adam believes more in the Love songs in his head than anything, igniting a rebellion in their name despite their superficiality and meaninglessness.
  3. The Fight Song — Catchy 2000’s rock anthem. Adam is alienated and dissatisfied with daily human events. Craving the beauty and excitement he’s come to expect from media, he throws himself into the role of a rockstar and leader of the youth rebellion. He leads a hollow anthem rebelling against everything and nothing, rejecting the beliefs, values, and traditions of his childhood. “You’ll never grow up to be a big rockstar, celebrated victim of your fame.”
  4. Disposable Teens — Another anthem, this time with a bit of Adam’s true feelings. He repeatedly laments the dispensability of youth, and evokes the “end of history” response, which is to be a “Rebel from the waist down,” that is to say, a self-destructive pleasure seeker, intent on screaming his anger into the void. Ironically, this sells, as the more attention he attracts with this behavior, the larger his movement becomes. “The more that you fear us, the bigger we get.” At this point, Manson also reveals a bit of himself by calling out the hypocrisy of the revolution to begin with. “You say you want a revolution man, and I’ll say that you’re full of shit!”
  5. Target Audience — Things finally slow down, mournful electric guitar leads into a slow and steady rhythm. Now that he has attained the power he has, Adam begins to see the reality behind the veil of entertainment and celebrity. He sees how the deaths of famous media figures are capitalized on, and how their ideals can be used to manipulate an audience. Kennedy and Oswald, among several others, are used as examples, both killer and victim being killed before an audience and used to suit the narratives of those with the cameras. The chorus arrives loud and quite crunchy. Adam points his finger at those in charge, later on encouraging his fans to recognize the patriarchs or “fathers” who’ve trapped them in this system. “Valley of death we are free, your Father’s your prison you see.” As the song winds down, Manson chimes in, “You’re just a copy of an imitation,” referring to Adam.
  6. President Dead — High tempo swing beat with bendy, heavy guitar. “President Dead,” Holy Wood’s celebrity leader, is an actor like everyone else, portraying a patriarchal authority written and directed by other minds. He is portrayed as Godly, and he is militantly authoritarian. He is also very childish and stupid. State violence is glorified like any other violence on tv, and the president’s fans have their own slogan. “And we don’t want to live forever, and we know that suffering is so much better.” As a celebrity, President Dead is marketed in much the same way as Adam, JFK, or the image of Christ. He is a savior adored by his people, whose fame can be used to influence his audience, alive or dead. The president’s team also has another slogan, “Getting high on violence, baby.”
  7. In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death — Sad, downtempo guitars, crying infants, quiet synths blending into Manson’s melody. Reflecting on his fans, his girlfriend Coma, and himself, Adam recognizes that burning out to enter hell as quickly as possible is worthless. Maybe, if he was somehow famous or powerful enough, he could change things and wouldn’t feel so alone. In the media, religion, and everyday life, death is everywhere. Coma is his muse, and he imagines her burning out like a string on fire while he is reborn in the ashes, her faith in him transforming him into a God-like superstar persona.
  8. Crucifixion In Space — Muted, distorted guitar plays repetitively over a steady clicking beat as synths bend and the bass drops ominously. Adam chants “This is evolution, the Monkey, the Man, then the Gun.” He evokes several signs including the hammer and sickle, the only son, Jack Kennedy’s skull, and Atom bombs. Another punchy chorus and Adam continues to repeat his mantra. Knowing how the powers that be will use his movement for their own ends, he sacrifices himself to become an even more powerful and influential entertainer, allowing his message to spread but causing him to become nailed into the Holy Wood system. “We are dead and tomorrow’s canceled, because of things we did yesterday” his fans lament. Adam and his followers are now a weapon aimed at the top of Holy Wood itself. Flies are waiting.
  9. A Place In The Dirt — “Put me in the motorcade, put me in the death parade, dress me up and make me your dying God.” Adam sings a ballad, knowing he and his followers are condemned to die and that he has led them to this point. He also knows that Holy Wood will likely resurrect him afterwards and, like JFK and Christ, distort his message to suit their own ends. He accepts this, only hoping that he can become powerful enough for his message to make a difference and change the world.
  10. The Nobodies — Manson’s most direct reference to Columbine, in which he imagines two fans of Adam commit an act of mass violence and suicide, which is broadcast on TV. Feeling worthless and destined to be worthless, they take out their rage on everyone around them. The sensationalism of Holy Wood turns the event into a media spectacle, the scope of the tragedy and its celebrity connection proving well for ratings. “Two children died the other day, we fed machines and then way prayed, puked up and down in morbid faith, you should have seen the ratings that day.”
  11. The Death Song — Gentle rhythm leading into a catchy rock song. The rituals and beliefs of the past have become mere tools for marketing in Holy Wood. The mourners, the hopes and prayers, that follow violence are made hollow by spectacle. God is just another way of numbing one’s material condition, the same as psychiatric medication or the pursuit of beauty/pleasure, “We take a pill, get a face, buy a ticket, and we hope that heaven’s true.” Under such conditions, Adam’s fans perceive futile violence as their only outlet of rage against this system. “We write our prayers on a little bomb, kiss it on the face and send it to God.”
  12. Lamb Of God — Sad, soft, spacey rock song, with Manson singing in an agitated whining kind of voice. We hear his most introspective moments regarding the themes of the album. More references comparing Jesus, Jack and John Kennedy, John Lennon, and Mark David; as well as imagery that intertwines religion, entertainment, and politics. “If you die when there’s no one watching, then your ratings drop and you’re forgotten, but if they kill you on their TV you’re a martyr and a lamb of God.”
  13. Born Again — “I’m someone else, I’m someone new, I’m someone stupid just like you. ”A hollowed, mechanical version of Adam sings an uptempo rock anthem. He’s as famous and powerful as he’d imagined, but he has also been transformed by Holy Wood. His message is synthesized by the media into a commercialized form of rebellion for everyone. A born-again, superstar, imitation of Christ.
  14. Burning Flag — Unable to escape being destined to live meaninglessly until death, powerful as he is, Adam leads a last punk rock anthem aiming himself and his fans at an upcoming election. A final, hopeless rebuke intended to capture as much attention and cause as much chaos as possible. You can point your gun at me and hope it will go away, if your God was alive he would hate you anyway” He calls out the hypocrisy of the media being willing to let him burn for the violence he inspires, while they use their own synthesized version of culture to justify their own. “My right wing is flapping, the left one is gray, let’s hear it for the kids but nothing they say, they gyrate and G-rate on election day, we got our ABC’s and our F.U.C.K.”
  15. Coma Black — “A loved one laid his head in her lap, red roses fell to the floor, and the world stood still.” Coma, Adam’s lover and muse, is dead. Another senseless death that the media uses to create a new narrative. “I burned all the good things in the Eden Eye, we were too dumb to run, too dead to die.” Adam is both desensitized to and traumatized by her assassination. He states that she was the only one he could love, but that the word love itself has become meaningless. Being born to burn out and die, her death is nothing shocking, but the callousness of exploiting her life after death is overwhelmingly bleak. Much religious imagery is used in this song, heavily entwining innocent and beautiful Coma into the Christ allegory prevailing through the album.
  16. Valentine’s Day — “Flies are waiting,…” Like the Friday the 13th Valentine’s day massacre that resulted in the mass arrest and execution of the Knight’s Templar, Adam and his followers are blamed for the death of Coma and are likewise targeted. “Slit our wrists and send us to heaven, the first flower after the flood.” Coma’s death as a justification for violence contrasts with the violence Adam is accused of inspiring with his music.
  17. …The Fall Of Adam — “When one world ends, something else begins, but without a scream. Just a whisper because we just started over again.” A self-fulfilling prophecy is completed. From the beginning, Adam had anticipated his incapacity to change things. Hard distorted guitar thunders through Adam’s last rant, whipping his remaining followers into a frenzy with an old slogan. Their voices fade into a mechanical whirring noise; animatronics on rails, as blinded by their devotion to Adam as any other extremist is to what they believe. The song ends with the sound of flies.
  18. King Kill 33 — Possibly, the only song on the album told exclusively from the perspective of Marilyn Manson. Essentially saying, “look at what you’ve done,” in reference to the violence portrayed in the album as well as in real life at Columbine. He absolves all responsibility from himself, emphatically stating “I am not sorry, this is what you deserve.” As always, Manson portrays himself not as the corrupter, but the corrupter’s mirror image, suggesting that those who scapegoat others for the world’s miseries should look at themselves.
  19. Count To Six And Die (The Vacuum Of Infinite Space Encompassing) — Adam faces judgment. As the music fades, a series of revolver clicks firing empty rounds flows perfectly into the opening noises of the album. “It spins around, we all lay down, some do it fast, some do it better in smaller amounts.”

Phoenix Rising: The Film Documentary

Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood

The film and novel versions of the album, like many of Manson’s non-music projects, were never released. Much better for the purposes of contextualizing the album is the two-part documentary Phoenix Rising by actress Evan Rachel Wood, Manson’s ex-girlfriend. The film follows Evan’s story from the time she met Manson through the years of alleged abuse, and her subsequent rebirth as an activist for domestic violence.

Evan was a teenager when they met. By then she was already an established actress known for taking angsty teen roles, as well as for her doll-like Lolita-esque persona/aesthetic. The movie frequently portrays her as Manson appears to have seen her, as Alice in Wonderland. A naive, innocent, and bright young child. She talks about their shared love of art, her sincere belief in his creative genius, and the way he made her feel special. From her perspective, we learn that being the muse for a broken human being is far from romantic, and that behind the curtain, artists can be as monstrous as corporations, politicians, and religious leaders.

He just represented all of those things that I wanted to unleash and not be ashamed of.” — Evan Rachel Wood, Phoenix Rising

Being a sheltered, closeted bi-sexual teen, it was easy for Evan to look up to Manson as someone with the courage to be themselves. If there were red flags, they were easy to dismiss as the eccentricities of an unstable genius. Evan admits that she first thought Manson was ironic or doing commentary when acting inappropriately, though this appears to have been a smokescreen. His pseudo-irony allowed him to get away with things no one else could. It created an illusionary distance between his real-life sadism and his persona of misunderstood artist.

Details about what Manson did to Evan are discussed at length elsewhere. What interests me more is the cult-like behavior she describes. The likeness between Brian Warner and Charles Manson is never clearly stated, but painfully obvious. It strongly suggests the moniker is not analogous, but literal.

According to Evan, Manson had an inner circle of close associates whomst he blackmailed and manipulated. Reportedly, those in his inner circle acted as though his message was bigger than anyone. By the time they had gotten close, Manson was well-equipped to keep Evan isolated to himself and fully indoctrinated in her belief in him. He could threaten or punish her as he saw fit and reinforce her dependence on him by giving her drugs and keeping her in a constantly fatigued state through starvation and sleep deprivation. Around this time, Manson painted several portraits of her, creating “art” out of the broken person he’d made.

The only smiling are you dolls that I’ve made, but you are plastic and so are your brains.”

Though she eventually managed to escape, Evan was neither the first nor last of Manson’s victims. Along with several of the others and their allies, the film shows us Evan’s efforts to pass the Phoenix Act and get some kind of closure. Thanks to their efforts, the statute of limitations was extended from 3 years, to 3–5 years in the state of California. Even then, it was still too late for Evan to make a case, though it was a victory, nonetheless. The film ends with Evan naming Manson as her abuser publicly for the first time. Since then, several women have come forth to accuse him. There is at least one pending court case and an ongoing police investigation at time of writing. Manson’s career as a musician effectively ended that day, though no legal consequences have found him yet.

Media Manipulation & Fascist Fetishism

An essential part of the Marilyn Manson philosophy comes from “The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell,” the story of Brian Warner’s transformation into his full-time persona. Several of its passages are read aloud in Phoenix Rising, mostly related to Brian’s accounts of his own trauma and violent behavior. For the purposes of the movie enough is said, though it winks at something even more revealing. Evan herself says “He manipulates the truth so much it’s hard to know what’s true.” An interesting statement given his own admissions and the way he glamorizes himself in the text.

Originally, Marilyn Manson was a fictional character created by Brian Warner when he was an aspiring writer. “He was a character who, because of his contempt for the world around him and, more so, himself, does everything he can to trick people into liking him. And then, once he wins their confidence, he uses it to destroy them..” One wonders in retrospect if the starlet/serial killer combination was less commentary, but more of a bait and switch.

Abuse is a major theme in the book, itself being the title of a two-part chapter documenting the creation of the “Smells Like Children” EP. A release famous for Manson’s cover of Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams.” “Some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused.” These chapters could almost be a microcosm of the whole book, or even of Manson’s whole career. The better part of part-one is spent on the band’s drug problems and their fascination with torturing vulnerable women while on tour. Several occasions are described in which Manson and his friends commit physical, emotional, and psychological abuse on young women for the apparent thrill and satisfaction of it. While justified for the sake of art, there’s no doubt that Manson was able to take full advantage of the power balance in his favor to simply get a reaction from people. Not only that, he wrote about it, pondered it, became transformed by it, and made it part of the show. It only took nearly three decades before anyone examined these accounts critically.

If Holy Wood is Manson’s most idealistic version of himself, then The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell is probably his most revealing. As a teenager, I read this book imagining it was about someone like me. The story of a kid that didn’t fit in, growing up to be a musician and exposing the hypocrisies of religion and popular culture through art. A monster to the religious right, but an angel to his fans. Now, it seems more and more like he was really just a monster, and that I and the rest of his fans had fallen for the image of a rockstar.

Manipulation and abuse as showmanship has existed for a long time, though one has to wonder how far the limits could be pressed. In the book, Manson meets one Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of the Satanic Bible. A mutual interest in carnal pleasure, mass psychology, fascism/”social Darwinism,” and a general interest in the hypocrisy of organized religion, seemingly brought them together.

Marilyn Mansons and Anton Lavey

LaVey is described as a showman, appearing in puffs of smoke in his own house, spying on his guests, and telling stories about famous people he’d known. Manson seemed impressed by how he was able to use his natural talent to entertain in order to maintain control. A brilliant performer controls the narrative around them, crafting their own public image to their greatest advantage and benefit. It’s a skill that could be very effective at spreading a message, as well as to conceal oneself in plain sight.

The manipulation techniques used by these two men as entertainers are not dissimilar to those used by fascists and other authoritarians. Manson quotes Anton LaVey in his book as saying, “Hitler was smarter than people realized.” A line that stands out among the several coy references to Nazism throughout the text. While characterized as a mere fascination with the darker elements of psychology and history, it seems clear that there was also a fascination with gaining power and controlling others.

This, of course, draws obvious parallels to Phoenix Rising. Much of the symbolism in the film is either in direct reference or contrast to Manson’s work. Parts of it are obviously scripted and acted for the camera, though they’re presented as organic. Evan Rachel Wood is a celebrity selling a media product she wishes you to consume. This is not to say the film is dishonest, merely that Evan is clearly constructing a narrative about herself in order to achieve a desired effect for a mass audience. The evidence she presents is difficult to dismiss, and despite what she may have learned from Manson, her claims have enough credibility that I don’t think I could doubt them. The question is, if Evan Rachel Wood can use these techniques to do good, then what of Marilyn Manson?

Holy Wood: In the Shadow of The Valley Of Death

If you have at any point in your life, fallen for a pop-star rebel, imagine marching up to the Capital to one of their hardest songs and dying for them in an orgasmic fit of nihilistic terrorism. Imagine what would happen in the media after such an event; what they would talk about, who they would blame. To answer, we can look at any number of other massively violent acts we’ve seen. Columbine, 9/11, Boston Marathon, Sandy Hook, etc. We see enormous amounts of activity surrounding the events; mourning, analysis, debate, retribution, but no perceptible change in the status quo. The system absorbs violent shocks like these so well, that they become part of the system itself; and maybe there isn’t anything we could ever do except make art about it.

I could almost hear Manson saying, “I could do it if I wanted to, but there would be no point but to amuse myself. It’s better if I make art about it.” The sound of Adam’s fans’ frantic chants turning to mechanical screams strikes an especially sinister turn when you think about it that way.

There’s a watercolor painting by Manson shown in Phoenix Rising of Hitler portrayed as a sort of angel of death, flying over his destroyed victims. Evan claims he told her that “Hitler was the first true rockstar.” Another equation of media manipulation and celebrity, and also a contrast with the Christ metaphors on the album. The question he obviously wants asked is whether he is more Christ or Hitler, more Marilyn Monroe or Charles Manson. Obviously, his point is now proven. He is now an angel to some and a monster to others, broadcast globally to anyone who cares, meanwhile casting aside the people he breaks along the way.

Could you really perceptibly call this art? If so, is it good art? Is this article, or Evan Rachel Wood’s movie, entertaining? If it all amuses people, and its effects ripple and fade so as to make no significant difference to the status quo, doesn’t it add up to what Manson has always said?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how Manson was planning to make a movie about Lewis Carol, the author of Alice in Wonderland. He was to play Lewis Carol while Evan would’ve played Alice. In a new light, he seems more like “Lolita’s” unreliable narrator, perhaps not unlike Lewis in some ways, but much sadder. He seems like a monster who would do about anything to hang on to his own dignity and identity, but who could never really face what he’s done.

Evan Rachel Wood’s activism has managed to make some small progress for victims like her, and if making a two-part documentary about her experience helped her recover something of herself then fantastic. Saying it makes no difference would be wrong, even if it’s a small one. Maybe it’s a speck of dust overall, but millions of specks could still ripple out strongly over time. And as we’ve seen, art can definitely influence the way we weave our own narratives of our lives.

Having been a fan of Manson’s as a teenager and continuing into adulthood, his narrative has been one I’ve cared about and which has unquestionably influenced my life. Reading his book at 16 and listening to his albums felt like finding the first artist I could relate to on every level. We were youths disaffected with our religious upbringing, on some level traumatized, and looking for a new way of participating in the world. What if everything you believed was a lie, the authorities in your life were insincere or malevolent, you can’t heal your pain, and you realize that there’s nothing you can do to change it? Why not turn your pain into art, pursue pleasure and fame, and become a messianic mockery of everything that’s hurt you along the way?

The problem is that turning pain into art won’t heal you in itself. Knowing about it, singing about it, won’t make it go away. Your pain doesn’t make you stronger, it brings you down until you pass it along to others. You can scream it hurts all you want, or you can hug those close to you and do your best however you can to feel something better.

Last Manson was seen in public, as far as I know, was at the Kanye West worship service. I don’t know if it’s me, but in the photo he seems to look like he’s worried, or scared. If this is the last we see of him, I couldn’t think of a sadder ending. He’s practically a Christian morality tale straight from the Satanic Panic era, a parody of what we thought he was, a real monster, and also, it must be said, not entirely wrong in his beliefs.

Holy Wood, the album, used to seem romantic to me. A real rock opera. Now it seems more horrifying to me than ever. The potential truth it may tell haunts me, but there is part of it that holds up. Whether it’s Christ, Kennedy, a Fuhrer, or a rockstar, some will see angels while some see devils. We may never really know who they are deep inside, but there’s power in that ambiguity. Think of all the people just going along for the ride.

Eternal Recurrence

I’m writing this during the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial, which brings to mind that Manson and Depp have both said in the past that they were close friends. That may seem like an accusation of guilt, though it isn’t my intention to come down one way or another on that issue. It just strikes me how obvious it is that both sides are trying hard to appeal their narratives to the media and that their trial is getting plenty of attention. Again, we have a story about abuse where, apart from seeking justice, everyone surrounding these people are trying to control the narrative to suit their own ends. As often as we learn the lesson that sensationalism of abuse only breeds more abuse to sensationalize, shouldn’t we be wiser by now?

Holy Wood is a flawed album written by a flawed person, but in a way, it’s the perfect album for explaining the darker side of all media. If nothing else, it mirrors the darkness inherent in our culture and demonstrates exactly how controlling the narrative can be so powerful. The next Manson, or Epstein, or Hitler, or Kennedy may be someone you already admire or respect. Before falling for the icons we love, it would be wise to remember how much of them you really know, and the depths to which a person could sink and still be perceived as Christ.

Back cover of Holy Wood album

The Spider And The Wolf

In the cleft of a remote mountain lived a harem of ravenous spiders. Sheets of webbing stretched from end to end, defining the extent of their domain. Its sides were steep and treacherous. Rabbits, foxes, and the occasional stray elk that wandered too close would inevitably wind up trapped there. Many desperate crows also found themselves entangled in their webs in search of carrion. All other animals avoided the place.
For the spiders, the mountain’s cleft served as an ideal home. The mountain itself provided consistent shade from the hot sun. The surrounding country was plentiful, providing for an abundance of wildlife in which to prey upon. Rainwater settled into shallow pools that could last for weeks between storms. The spiders lacked nothing, and most deemed their society good and prosperous. They grew fat, feeding and mating as they desired and giving little thought to any affairs beyond their borders.
“The mountain breeds the sweetest meats,” the old spider mother Esmeralda would often cackle. “Twas a time when I was young and we had naught to eat but flys! The birds and beasts of warmer blood are better to eat by far!”
Esmeralda had been the oldest spider of the harem for many years and was well respected by the young spider maidens. Though most of the younger generations hadn’t so much as seen a fly, let alone eaten one, they were well prepared to take her word for it. The variety of prey that wandered into their nets was enough to satisfy even the most eclectic of tastes.
“Eat your fill dearies, eat, eat,” Esmeralda would entreat them. “Slack not a pace! Healthy and fat, that’s the ticket m’dears. All you can stomach and more. The king’s sons love-em a spider maiden that’s fat!”
The maidens gladly ate all they could, savoring every morsel with thoughts of becoming fat enough to please their future mates. The spider king was master of all spiders living on the mountain. He and his sons took as many mates as they pleased at their leisure. Often, they mated several times a day with their favorites and largely ignored all the rest. Winning the affection of one of the king’s sons was therefore considered essential. The older maidens gossiped freely about the paragons of ecstasy they experienced while mating.
“The old king, he loooved him a large back,” Esmeralda would tell them gleefully. “The times he used cling to me, shaking all wild like a crow caught in webs, until he fell flat atop me drained as could be! Hahaha! Many a good rump the old king had with me!”
These tales from Esmeralda and the other older spiders were devoured lustily by the young spider maidens. It seemed none of them could wait until the day they experienced for themselves, a “good rump.”
The mating experience, for one young maiden named Sofina, had indeed proven to be as pleasurable as the elders described. She’d managed to attract one of the king’s youngest sons, a somewhat gentler spider named Rownos, and fulfilled her desires for the first time. What started as a pleasant tingle elevated into wave after wave of shivering delight. The peak of delectation fell simultaneously with the moment of orgasm from her lover, followed by his immediate exhaustion. Once it was over, he fell to her side without a word and slept, leaving Sofina brimming with freshly satiated lust.
Now, Sofina stood by one of the shallow pools alongside her sister Ollga, discussing the whole experience in depth.
“I’d never guessed rightly how it felt to be touched in that spot,” Sofina told her. “Like a secret pass to some unnatural good feelings”
“Ha!” cackled Ollga. “I never heard it said like that before! It was good, that’s all that need be said.”
“I suppose. I just felt like,.. like maybe good was too short. Lots of things are good, but this was better.”
“You’re dreaming. Good is good, and that’s all it was. It was a good thing.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Sofina pondered her own thoughts for a moment, wondering if she’d been right to embellish the way she did. Her sister had, after all, been through the experience many more times than she. If “good” was all there was to such a feeling, then “good” as a word, would have to do. Still, she imagined there was more that could be said, more to the effect of how she’d really felt at the time, though it was difficult to think what. Perhaps, she thought, she really was imagining more than there really was.
“Drink, Sofina!” entreated Ollga. “Tis good to drink lots after mating, it’ll keep you strong for the next time!”
“I don’t feel thirsty.”
“Eat then! My sister, you must fill your belly to keep the pace! An empty stomach will flatten your back and leave you too laggard to keep up!”
“Yes, I know. Perhaps I’ll see what’s hanging in the webs today.”
“Go! Eat your fill! Rownos might be wanting more of you back tonight, haha!”
Sofina left her sister by the pool and crawled leisurely up towards the webbing. In truth, she was not really hungry, but she knew her sister was right. It wouldn’t do to let herself go unfed and disappoint her newfound lover so soon. That, and there simply wasn’t much else to do. She reasoned that by the time she reached the webs, she may have worked up an appetite. Since there was no rush, she took her time climbing the mountain’s walls, thinking of all there was to do between mating.
“Drinking, eating, sleeping, talking,” she named each thing out loud as she thought of it. After the first four, she found it difficult to remember anything else, until she reached the first layer of webbing.
“Checking the webs!” she shouted, laughing to herself.
Today, as usual, the first layer of webs didn’t contain much. Only a few large rats that must’ve lost their way up the mountain. Further up were plenty of crows, magpies, a rather ancient looking owl, a few small goats, and several jackrabbits. Sofina passed them all without the slightest inclination to eat. None of these familiar tastes felt appealing at the moment, so she kept climbing and looking out for whatever else there was.
Nearing the top of the mountain’s cleft, she espied a creature still alive, struggling in the webbing. It was an unusually large creature, and its writhing was so fierce as to sway the entire structure. Even so, Sofina knew the creature’s efforts were in vain. Once any animal had been caught, there was no chance of it escaping on their own. She laughed to herself, imagining the poor beast’s naivety, and raced forward to investigate more closely.
There, entangled in the highest bed of webbing, was a snow-white wolf. Sofina had never seen such a creature before, and at first mistook it for a large fox. Then she remembered that she’d never heard of a white fox before, and she noticed this animal’s features were actually quite different. Its limbs were more muscular and powerful, and its fur was rough but also sleek. It made a most pitiful moan as it struggled, braying helplessly from its snout as it rocked back and forth within the web. Driven by curiosity, Sofina inched closer, stepping out onto the web and gently crawling towards the captured beast.
Sensing the shifted weight of the webbing, the creature’s eyes found Sofina and it howled aggressively toward her.
“Leave me alone!” it cried. “I’ll bite you!”
The creature thrashed about, and Sofina could see it was indeed capable of biting her at a close distance. Timidly, she ventured as close as she deemed it safe.
“What are you?” she asked. “Are you a white fox?”
“I’m a wolf pup!”
“A what?”
Sofina had never heard of such a thing. The words were unfamiliar and made her giggle, as though it were joking. The beast snarled at her. That brought her laughter to a halt. Her curiosity, however, increased.
“I’ve never seen one of your kind before. Where did you come from?”
“The north,” responded the wolf brusquely.
“I see,..” said Sofina, not really comprehending. “So, why are you here?”
“We’re starving. My pack is searching for prey. We crossed the mountains yesterday and I could smell the dead things here.”
“I see.”
The wolf continued to struggle. He was perched so high, Sofina wondered why he even bothered. Even if he freed himself, there would be nowhere to go but straight down. He would either plummet to his death or be caught in the webs further down.
“Settle down,” said Sofina. “You’re caught, that’s all there is to it.”
“NOT FOR LONG!” roared the wolf.
His response almost set Sofina into a fit of titters, but she held them in for the sake of adding insult to injury.
“You can’t break these webs,” she pointed out. “And even if you did, you’d just fall even more.”
“My pack will free me when they get here!”
“Your pack?”
“They’ll hear me! When they get here, you’ll wish you never laughed at me like you did!”
The wolf howled loudly. It was a long and piercing wail that sent a chill through every hair on Sofina’s legs. There was a feeling, like something wild and dangerous that lingered in the ensuing silence. The idea that others of his kind, other wolf pups, would hear his call and descend upon their mountain, with their powerful limbs, their teeth and their claws, and rip them all to pieces, was palpable.
Words failed her. Sofina wondered what she should do, given her premonition of impending peril. Perhaps, she thought, she should tell the spider king there were wolf pups about. He and his sons could maybe kill them before they arrived, if they could be roused from sleep, that was. On the other hand, she could kill the wolf pup herself and eat it. That seemed like the best thing to do. The others may not have heard him yet and maybe wouldn’t come if there were no more howls. The beast had gotten itself caught after all, and that had been the whole point of checking the webs in the first place. The only problem was the beast’s jaws waiting to sink their teeth into her at the first chance.
“Are there many more?” Sofina ventured to ask. “In your pack,… many wolf pups?”
“How many more?”
That, in Sofina’s estimate, was hardly many. Their harem had hundreds, maybe even thousands of spiders. The spider king had at least fifty sons himself. Almost, she laughed aloud at her previous worries, but she remembered the strength the wolf pup before her possessed. If it weren’t ensnared, she reasoned it could easily dispatch her and several more spiders before it was brought down. Perhaps fifty wolf pups really could pose a threat.
“Where are they?”
“Your pack, where are they now?”
The wolf didn’t answer immediately. It turned its gaze and stopped struggling for a brief interval before growling back his response.
“They’re close by, on the other side of the mountain! They’ll hear me howl! They’ll be here soon enough if you don’t set me free!”
Sofina considered his words.
“Why are they so far if you’re here?”
“They’re not far! They’ll be here soon!”
“But why are you alone here? Why are you here and they’re on the other side of the mountain?”
The wolf snorted.
“I smelled the dead things,” he said. “I came looking for food, that’s why I’m alone. The others will follow my scent. They’ll know I’m here and they’ll kill anything that gets in their way!”
“When will they be here?”
The wolf emitted another howl and Sofina fell silent. Again, she was confused on how to proceed. Killing the pup herself no longer appeared possible while the beast remained vigilant. She considered going down to find Ollga and some of her other sisters for help. That, she determined, was absolutely the best thing she could do. Two or more spiders would certainly be capable of killing him regardless of how powerful his jaws were. She was in the process of backing off the webbing when the wolf barked at her.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
Sofina froze.
“Nowhere,..” she lied.
“You aren’t going for help?”
“No, no,… I’m just,…” but she couldn’t think of anything to say. The wolf pup watched her expectantly, but she said nothing more. In truth, Sofina didn’t know why she lied, as there was absolutely no need for it. She could easily go for help whether the beast knew what she was doing or not. Again, she started to back away.
“NO! Don’t go! Wait!”
“Just wait a second! Why don’t you just let me go?”
Sofina pondered this . There really wasn’t any reason to let him go as far as she could see. He’d been caught in their web and so had become food, and he’d threatened their entire harem. There wasn’t any profit in letting him go.
“Why should I?” she asked.
“If you let me go, you’ll be spared!” exclaimed the wolf. “We’ll leave all the spiders alone! If not, you’ll all soon be dead!”
“If I let you go, you’ll all go away?”
“Far away! Back over the mountain! Let me go and we’ll leave all spiders alone for good!”
Now Sofina was absolutely baffled. If there was a chance their harem would be attacked, then surely she should do whatever she could to stop it. Killing the wolf pup still seemed like the best way to do so, but with this offer she couldn’t be sure. Releasing him from the webs alive was unheard of, almost comically insane, yet it might save many of their lives.
“You’ll promise to go away?”
“YES! Yes I promise! I DO!”
More hesitation. Now that she considered the idea, it didn’t actually seem that ridiculous. It was actually quite as easy thing to do, she realized. Even so, there was something strange, something simply unnatural about the whole idea.
“Are you lying?” she asked.
“No, no, no, I’m not lying,” responded the wolf. “Promise, I’m not. Please, let me go,… we won’t kill you. I swear.”
That was all well and good, but still.
“You’re prey,” said Sarafina. “You fell into the web. A spider should not make deals with prey. This, I was taught as a young maiden. I think you are lying.”
Sofina turned and made her way off the webbing, quickly this time. She’d made up her mind that killing the wolf pup was the only thing to do. It was the only sensible thing any spider could do regardless of the circumstances. It was the only thing that made sense, but the wolf pup howled once more, a pitiful wailing this time, shivering the very flesh of her bosom. It was uncomfortable to listen to, almost painful.
“No! NO! NOOOO!!!!” howled the wolf pup. He howled again, louder this time. “DON”T LEAVE! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!”
Sofina stood motionless. Seconds later, she detected the quiet sound of whimpering coming from the web. The wolf pup was crying. She didn’t understand why, but she discovered then that she hated the sound. It almost made her want to cry too, and she almost did. She imagined how it would feel to be trapped, waiting to die, knowing what was going to happen. It wasn’t a good feeling.
The wolf pup continued to cry and Sofina staid where she was. It had become impossible to follow through with her decision, to seek help and end the poor beast’s life. As much as it made sense to do so, the wolf’s crying seemed to have made her immovable, stuck where she was. She couldn’t go down to find her sisters but neither could she go back out to the web. She waited on the mountainside, watching as the wolf pup continued to cry, swaying futilely in his diminishing struggle to break free.
It was growing late in the day and the sun sank behind the other side of the mountain, casting a deep shadow over the cleft. The wolf pup’s struggling had all but ceased. Twice more he’d howled loudly to the sky, staring longingly into the distance. His crying had gotten quieter, but Sofina could tell he never really stopped. She frequently heard him sniveling from her place on the mountainside. Hours passed and the sun had all but disappeared, but nothing happened. No wolf pups came to rescue the poor beast, and no spiders came from below.
A chilling wind began blowing, and Sarafina could no longer bear staying where she was. After listening to the wolf pup cry for so long, she decided to at least attempt to comfort him. Killing him in such a state would feel simply terrible, and in any case, there no longer appeared to be any threat from his pack.
“Are you cold?” she asked, having made her way back onto the web.
The wolf pup nodded weakly, his eyes wet with tears. He shivered so violently, Sofina realized she need not have asked.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Let me help you.”
Working carefully, Sofina propped herself back to weave a little more webbing of her own. The wolf pup watched her, which she intended, knowing it would set his mind at ease to see what she was doing. Using her front legs, she wove fresh webbing into as fine a sheet as she could. She’d never done such a thing before, but had seen older spiders doing it for their young maidens when they got cold. Soon she had a thick sheet long enough to cover the beast from his neck down, which she draped over him snugly, proud of how well it covered him.
“How’s it feel?” she asked grinning.
The wolf pup gave no answer, but after a few seconds gave a single nod. At first, Sarafina thought this rather rude, but considering his position, she thought it was probably difficult to show gratitude when trapped in a spider’s web.
“Your pack hasn’t come yet,” Sarafina pointed out.
The wolf pup nodded, but said nothing.
“Do you think they still will?”
Still no answer, but the wolf’s eyes spilled over with fresh tears and started to weep. Something icy cold and sharp felt like it was pressing into Sarafina’s heart, and she begged him to stop.
“Don’t!” she entreated him. “Please, don’t cry! I’m sure they’ll come eventually, They’re probably just lollygagging is all!”
The wolf shook his head, tears pouring down his snout and gritted teeth. Low wails escaped in short bursts from his mouth which he seemed unable to control.
“I’m sure they will!” Sofina insisted. “Stop that now! It’s a bad feeling, what you’re doing. Your pack won’t want to hear all this, would they?”
The wolf pup answered her between fits of ragged breathing and sobs.
“I lied,” he said.
“… you lied?”
“No one’s coming for me. My pack is,… I don’t know where they are. I lost them.”
“Lost them? How could you have lost them?”
The web trembled as the wolf pup’s entire body shook violently.
“I ran away,” he whispered. “There was no food, my pack was starving, we fought with the pinnacle pack for their lands but we lost. My older brothers all died. We had nothing to eat and the Alpha began eating the younger pups. I knew I had to leave, I walked by myself as far as I could, and I found this place with all the dead things in the nets. I tried to sneak just one, just one dead crow for myself, I was starving for days and days, and now I’m caught. I’m caught and I’m all alone, and I’m still hungry!”
All of this was said between continued heavy sobs. They showed no signs of slowing, like they might go on forever. Clearly, the wolf pup was too badly hurt. Divining a remedy, Sofina scurried away to the web below them. Here, she pulled a crow loose and brought it back up to where the wolf pup lay suspended. She helped him raise his head enough to swallow and held it close enough for him to eat. The pup finished the bird in seconds, quaffing every bit of it down until nothing but bones remained. It seemed to have done the trick, Sofina noticed with satisfaction that the beast no longer cried.
“Does that feel better?” she asked.
The wolf pup nodded, emitting a contented sigh as he rested his eyes. Sofina brushed the fur around the back of his ears gently, proud of herself for taking care of the wolf pup so well. Having taken care of his needs and eased his pain, she found it was a good feeling to take care of something else. A feeling unlike others that were also good, but satisfying for reasons she couldn’t really think to explain.
It had grown dark and the moon was now their only source of light. The wind blew harsher, swaying them both on the web, but Sofina hardly minded. She was enjoying her time with the wolf pup, stroking his fur and listening to his breath. Eating and drinking hadn’t so much as crossed her mind, even though she hadn’t done so for hours. Letting Rownos ride her into ecstasy didn’t appeal to her at the moment either. There would be plenty of time for that anytime, she reasoned, but this wolf pup was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime happening. She might never get the chance to see one again, which was a shame she thought, given how interesting and gorgeous they were.
“Are you going to let me go now?” asked the wolf pup.
“I,.. well,…” said Sofina, embarrassed.
Now that she thought about it, she realized she no longer had any desire to kill the beast. Since he had no pack either, there didn’t seem to be any danger of letting him go free. The reason she hesitated, and why she didn’t answer, was that she had a new reason for keeping him there in the web. Now, it was because she wanted him there with her. She wasn’t ready to part from him yet. The wolf pup’s clear bright eyes looked up at her, all semblance of trouble in them gone, and she knew she would have to do it. What good would it be to kill him after all the trouble she’d gone through to comfort him? She was about to say yes, when they were both startled by a voice from behind.
“Sofina! Still up on the webs since the morning?! What’ve you got there?!”
It was Ollga, making her way towards Sofina and the wolf pup on the web. It was like reawakening after a vivid dream, realizing her sister had found her comforting what should have been prey. Instinctively, Sofina attempted to conceal her embarrassment and responded with the quickest answer she could think of.
“It’s nothing Ollga. Just a wolf pup is all.”
“A wolf pup?!?!”
Ollga raced furiously to their side, bending around Sofina’s body to see the beast herself more closely. Her mouth fell open and emitted a gasp so full of joy it could’ve been orgasmic. Spittle dripped down freely, falling carelessly on the beast’s pelt. The pup had frozen, watching the newcomer with widened eyes.
“Clever girl, Sofina!” Ollga cackled. “Look how precious he is! I bet this is the first wolf to come along in twenty, no, thirty years! Even old Esmeralda hasn’t had one herself! Oh, let’s eat him now Sofina! Now, before anyone else sees!”
“I don’t think I want to,” Sofina said.
Ollga stared at her dumbfounded, then fell into a cackling fit of laughter.
“Whatever you say sister!” she said. “Doesn’t want to eat, doesn’t want a snow-white wolf, won’t want to mate next! Hahahahaha, I swear. Suit yourself then.”
She made to occupy the space where Sofina stood to allow better access to her prey, but Sofina stood firm.
“Budge up, Sofina! Let me in!”
“No, I don’t want you to eat him either.”
“Why NOT?!?!”
“Because,… I like him. It’s a good feeling to take care of him. If you eat him I’ll feel bad, Ollga, and I won’t feel happy for you.”
Ollga stopped trying to get closer to the wolf and stared at her sister, her chest rising rapidly from barely contained excitement.
“We don’t take care of prey, Sofina,” she said. “This every spider knows. You should have eaten it!”
“I don’t want to,” Sofina stated.
“Then go away! And don’t talk anymore foolishness if you know what’s good for you!”
Ollga pushed her way to the wolf’s neck, mouth open, ready to sink her teeth into its flesh. Sofina couldn’t allow it. It was awful, terrible, not good at all, to think about the poor beast dying now. After losing its brothers, running away from its pack, starving for days, falling into their web, and after everything Sofina had already done with him. No, she couldn’t let him die. It was a bad thing to do. That’s all there was to it. It was a bad thing.
Sofina pushed her sister roughly away from the pup with both her front limbs. Her sister fell back, but quickly sprang forward to attack. The web swung wildly as the two sisters battled furiously, all semblance of empathy for the other gone. Limbs and teeth lashed and bit into each others flesh. The wolf pup howled fearfully. It was all Sofina could do to keep the fight away from him while infuriated as she was. Ollga had bitten into the tendon of her strongest front limb, nearly succeeding in tearing it free. Sofina rolled onto her back, holding Ollga in her clutches as she did and pushing her forcefully away. Her sister had no chance to recover. She tumbled off the side of the web and fell through each successive web below them until they heard her hit the solid earth.
For several seconds, Sofina couldn’t move. She was out of breath, her limbs hurt where she’d been bitten, and she could scarcely process what she’d done.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time enough to waste recuperating. The spiders below had already seen the fall and could be heard murmuring curiously, some of them already on their way to investigate. As swiftly as she could, Sofina set herself aright and worked to free the wolf pup from the webbing.
“You’re setting me free?!”
“Yes,” said Sofina, tearing away the last shreds of webbing binding him.
The wolf pup balanced precariously on the web. He almost fell, but Sofina steadied him and helped him off to the mountainside. The other spiders were quickly approaching.
“Run away,” she said, and the wolf pup obeyed. In seconds he vanished over the side of the cleft.
A troop of male spiders ascended to the highest web at Sofina’s side, led by the king’s oldest son Uruk.
“Your sister is dead,” he declared. “And here you are where she fell.”
“There was a wolf pup,” Sofina said. “She fell trying to trap him. I managed to fight him away.”
The spider prince took a look at Sofina’s battered body.
“Which way did he go?”
Sofina pointed across the cleft to the other side of the mountain. Uruk and the others immediately set forth upon the trail, passing over the side of the mountain in a wave, leaving Sofina to herself.
It was quiet. And cold. There was nothing to do there anymore, so she turned and descended into the cleft.

The male spiders returned empty-handed after only an hour. After reporting to his father, Prince Uruk declared to the rest of the spiders that the wolf had fled the mountain and that they were safe. The excitement that had been flowing freely through the harm since Ollga died faded. Her body was buried and normality was restored. The spiders readily resumed their eating, drinking, and mating as though nothing had ever happened.
Rownos found Sofina later that night and the two of them mated for the second time. It was almost identical to the previous experience, only this time Sofina found her mind wandering far away from the act. After it was finished, Rownos fell back asleep and she scurried off to a find a quiet corner to herself.
So much had happened, it seemed, yet no one but herself seemed to notice. Her sister was dead, but this wasn’t an inconvenience to anyone. As long as the rest of them were safe from the beast that killed her, they wouldn’t spare a passing thought for their dead maiden. Only Sofina, who realized that she’d never contemplated life without her sister before, could feel the difference. The fact that it had been she, and not the wolf pup, who had killed her, added more to think about than anyone else could’ve guessed. She wasn’t sorry, she decided, though there was still a strange feeling when she thought about it. It wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t good either. It was somewhere in between, somewhere Ollga would never have thought to look, or any other spider for that matter. Only she seemed to understand such things.
Later, after the moon had sunk behind the mountains and everyone else was asleep, Sofina rose from her quiet corner and journeyed back up the mountainside. She reached the highest web where she’d first seen the wolf pup and kept going. The web was now empty, but she hardly noticed this as she crept over the mountaintop and crawled carefully down the other side. Here, there was an abundance of trees that blanketed the ground in total darkness. Her spider eyes guided her through the thickly crowded trunks, journeying deep into the heart of this strange country. She’d never seen it before, had never even been outside the mountain crook, yet something told her she was going to be okay. She wasn’t scared of losing her way, as she didn’t intend to find her way back again anyway.
It may have been ten or twenty minutes before she found what she was looking for, or rather until he found her. From out of thicket of ferns sprang the beast, the young wolf pup, bounding with energy as it barked and bared its teeth. Sofina smiled at this display, reminded of how bold he’d been when she first espied him in the net.
“No need for that,” she said. “I haven’t come to hurt you.”
“Then why are you here?”
Sofina sighed, and thought carefully about her next words.
“I’ve decided to run away too,” she said. “That was my sister who fell back there. Now that she’d gone,… I guess I thought I’d rather be with you.”
The wolf pup looked confused, but no longer appeared hostile. His posture slouched into a more relaxed position and he spoke plainly without aggression.
“Why though?” he asked. “You could’ve eaten me. I was starving for days out here and you have all those dead things to eat. Why come with me?”
“Because,… I don’t really know. I guess I liked talking to you. I liked it when I helped you, it was like,… it was a good feeling, but it was more than just that. It was more than good. I guess I’d rather help someone like you and feel better, than just feeling good on my own.”
After a moment, the wolf pup snorted and pawed at the ground. It looked like he was thinking, and Sofina held her breath. It he rejected her now, she didn’t know where or what she would do. At length, the pup looked up and crawled gently to Sofina’s bosom. He licked the wounded spot on her shoulder delicately and nuzzled against her cheek.
“You can join my pack if you like,” he said.
Sofina smiled.
“How many are there?”
“Only two, for now. But two can survive better than one.”
“True,” said Sofina. “Thank you.”
“No problem. I guess I owe you for not eating me when you had the chance. What’s your name then?”
“Sofina. And yours?”
“Are you sleepy Anwill?”
“I’ll weave us a blanket.”
The two of them retreated into the thicket of ferns. Anwill lay tucked between Sofina’s legs, resting his head against her bosom. After weaving a blanket over them both, Sofina lay snugly with Anwill comfortable below her. As the wolf pup’s breath slowed and his belly rose and fell peacefully with the breath of sleep, she closed her eyes savoring how much better it felt to care and be cared for by someone else. It was a lovely feeling, better by far than good.

Pleasant Springs

I don’t know why,

But cruelty always lived in that town.

Maybe it was in the water,

Regularly dosing the inhabitants

As it was swallowed every day.

Perhaps it was under the influence

Of some madness inducing parasite,

Indifferent to it’s casualties.

Or maybe it was cursed

By the remnant of some spirit,

Exercising wrath against the living.

Or maybe it was just cruel.

All I know,

Is that it was hardly innocent.

Behind the pleasant persona

Of a quaint woodland town

Lurked a sea of illness,

Brutallity, and active hate.

To walk the streets

Was to be exposed

To those who stalk the weak

For hardly any cause at all.

Stories of random beatings,

Robberies, and rape

Would circulate so often

To be an ever-present rule.

The law,

The real law evident to all,

Was the Melian Dialogue.

Never spoken, but even so,

Obvious to all who saw.

Small town America,

Christianity and moral life,

Those superfical platitudes applied

So heavily to disguise

The ever-present disscordance

Dancing before their eyes.

The same persons clamoring

For prayers in church gatherings

Walk out continuing

To prey on one another.

Maybe it’s the water,

Some parastie, or spirit.

Maybe it’s a culture

Of sickness they inherit.

I don’t know

What caused the place

To be the way it is,

But cruelty lives there

Nestled deep

And all do as it bids.


Jane’s Therapy

It must be said that I don’t expect this story to be in any way believed. That being so, it doesn’t trouble me one way or another. I’m not hoping to convince anyone or solicit any kind of sympathy. I’m only hoping that the act of writing will provide me with some kind of catharsis. Some way of processing everything I’ve seen. Maybe by the time I’m finished, I’ll have found some release from this,… moral terror, that I’ve been feeling.

It helps, I suppose, to start with the person I was before.
When I first left my childhood home, I was admittedly of poor experience in matters of love and intimacy. In fact, the first “real” relationship I had as an adult was also the first time I ever felt for sure “in love”.
Jane was a kindhearted person with a gentle soul. A pretty good match for someone as inexperienced and tender as myself. Of the two of us, I was perhaps the more hardened. There were times I thought of her as oversensitive or even naive, but I always kept such things to myself and thought little of them. Whatever flaws I may have seen were eclipsed by the sincere adoration I had for her.
I was intoxicated.
The sensations of physical affection, vulnerability, and explicit trust were new and magical to me. For weeks we spent nearly every spare moment of our lives together. We went out occasionally to movies, or restaurants, or any other place young couples are supposed to go. The best times though, were when we were alone. As soft, or perhaps as pitiful, as it may seem, I absolutely adored those occasions. I had never been more content than when it was only the two of us and nothing else in the world.
As the months began to pass I learned more and more about her. The more I learned, the more I realized how much tragedy she’d seen through her life. It soon became apparent that she was exceedingly more familiar with suffering than I was. I learned that she’d been diagnosed with severe depression at a young age, that she’d once been addicted to opiates, and that she’d been estranged from her parents for several years. She rarely went into details about her past, preferring to explain things only in the broadest sense. I quickly came to understand that there was a lot about her she wasn’t prepared to discuss, at least not for the foreseeable future.
The brief illustrations I had of her troubles left much for my imagination to piece together. Often, the things I imagined were so horrible I wasn’t sure if I’d be prepared to know the truth. I was concerned for her, and also curious despite my misgivings.
Perhaps my ignorance had blinded me initially, but once I knew about her past I began to notice things I had never previously perceived. Though she was almost always cheerful while we were together, I began to notice brief instances in which she would appear almost paralyzingly dispirited. On two separate occasions, she appeared to me with a face so pale she could have easily passed for dead. She drew no attention to this fact and acted as ordinarily as she ever did, but there was no concealing that there wasn’t a drop of color in her flesh. The matter cleared up within the hour, her face returned to normal, and I said nothing.
The third time this happened, I could no longer hold back my disquietude. Tentatively, I asked if she was alright. Her answer came with a most re-invigorated smile.
“I’m good,” she responded simply.
I could scarcely believe she was sincere.
“There isn’t any color in your face,” I said. “Did something happen?”
She looked at me strangely, as though pleased with something, and laughed casually. Her reply was not to worry and that everything was alright. When I persisted, she told me she had only just returned from therapy and that this was to be expected.
“What kind of therapy makes you so pale?” I asked.
“The only kind that’s ever worked for me,” she responded. “Trust me, I always come away looking a little sick, but I feel great.”
She refused to elaborate any further on the matter. For my part, I couldn’t imagine what kind of therapy could make someone feel good while making them look so unwell. However, her cheery attitude did seem genuine. Perhaps my concerns had been misplaced, though my curiosity was far from abated. I continued to question her but received no further information in return. At length, I was forced to concede that she was unwilling to share any more.
It was easy to restrain my concerns for a while. As long as we were happy together, I felt I could remain reasonably secure about her secrets. Several times afterward she appeared to me as pale and sickly as she had prior, but as she always seemed more elated than depressed, I said nothing. Eventually though, her moments of disparity began to tally, and I could hardly pretend I didn’t notice. It seemed her therapy, however helpful it may have been, couldn’t keep her from succumbing to depression time and time again. It was agonizing to see her in this state, and even worse to know there was nothing I could do. Anytime I ventured to comfort her, she would only respond with disinterest or tell me not to worry. It came to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand to watch her being miserable and feeling helpless to do anything about it. I told her that the next time she went to therapy, I wanted to go with her.
She smiled mournfully after I said it, and sighed.
“Would that make you feel better?” she asked me.
“It would,” I responded. “Whatever you’re going through, I’ll go through with you. You don’t have to suffer alone.”
Her lingering smile was one both pitiful and amused. My ignorance must have been all too plain for her to see, yet I’m sure she believed I meant what I said. In fact, I did.
“Alright,” she told me. “You can come if you want to.”

I was expecting to find a more professional looking establishment when we arrived, but as it turned out Jane’s therapy took place in a house. The reason for this, I was told, was that her therapist preferred to work in a more intimate setting. A lavish flower garden and perfectly trimmed lawn greeted us as we made our way to the door. The house itself was relatively charming and rather well-preserved compared to others in the vicinity.
Our host stood waiting for us as we entered. My initial thought was that she looked quite young for her profession. Her hair was curled in shimmering strands of blond and she wore a soft and glistening black dress. She and Jane greeted each other like old friends, sharing a warm and prolonged embrace on the spot. I was offered a handshake for my turn, at which point she introduced herself as Adreena. Just Adreena.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she told me smiling. “I can’t tell you how much good your relationship has done for her. She’s been coping much better than she ever has.”
I offered her a smile in return, somewhat reassured by her pleasant demeanor and attitude towards our relationship.
Jane and I were quickly led into the living room where the three of us settled into a matching set of chintz chairs. So far, the entire place seemed both lavishly decorated and exceptionally comfortable. I found no difficulty in relaxing there, the three of us chatting casually as though this were nothing more than a social outing. I’d assumed from her appearance that Adreena must have been around our age, but it soon became apparent that she must have been quite a bit older. I learned that she’d been practicing psychiatry in her home for several years, that she had worked briefly as a professor, and had even developed her own techniques in psychotherapy. My concerns for Jane rapidly evaporated as I came to understand that she was in the hands of a genuine prodigy.
At length, Adreena asked Jane if she was ready to get started, to which Jane animatedly consented. I was asked to remain behind as the two of them left to a more secluded room upstairs. In consideration of my solitude, I was left in the company of Adreena’s assistant who introduced herself to me as Aeris.
She too looked much younger than I would have expected. Her hair was jet black, with vibrantly red lips, and curiously bright brown eyes. She also wore a dress, this one a sparkling scarlet reminiscent of a film noir. So far, she and Adreena both seemed more like movie stars than therapists.
I’d assumed that Aeris must have been a student, but I was vastly mistaken once again. It turned out she already had a masters degree in psychology and had worked for two years as Adreena’s assistant.
“I was a good student,” she told me in response to my amazement. “I was even offered a university appointment after graduation, but I chose to work for Adreena instead.”
“Why?” I asked, brimming with curiosity. “Why be an assistant? Surely you could have accomplished more at a university.”
Aeris smiled.
“Because of Adreena,” she said. “I may be talented, but I’m practically inept next to her. I don’t think I could’ve learned more anywhere else than I have here.”
“That’s astounding,” I replied earnestly. “I know Jane really depends on her, but I never imagined she’d be this impressive.”
“She does things no one else can,” Aeris said. “Her patients are lucky to have her.”
“What’s it like?” I asked eagerly.
Her cheeks flushed feverishly, as though she experienced a rush just thinking about it.
“Like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” she said.
I was reminded of the way Jane looked whenever I saw her after leaving these sessions. How depleted she appeared and how wonderful she reportedly felt.
“I can’t imagine,” I said at length. “I’ve never thought of therapy being so intense.”
Immediately after I said this, Aeris rose to her feet.
“Maybe you’d like to experience it for yourself?” she asked.
Her forwardness drove all other thoughts from my mind. At that moment her offer felt more than enticing, as though it were a rare treat in which I’d been privileged to indulge.
“Can you explain it to me?” I asked, doing my best to at least appear sensible.
“You’d understand better if we just tried it,” she said. “It starts by placing the patient in a state of deep trance. I assure you it’s very relaxing.”
“You can do that?”
“I learned from Adreena,” she said. “I could take you through the entire process right now if you want to.”
It wasn’t exactly what I had come for and despite my inclination to accept I almost refused. Some lingering sense of responsibility made me think I should refrain from getting involved, that it would be irresponsible without consulting Jane first. Then I remembered, as though bidden, that I’d promised her I’d go through whatever she went through. It seemed like the opportunity to prove myself had come.
“Alright,” I said with conviction. “I’ll do it. What must I do?”
Aeris’s smile grew immensely as she leaned forward, our faces so close that our noses nearly touched. Her eyes stared warmly into my own, welcoming my consent.
“Lay back,” she said, pushing a hand to my chest.
I did as she bade, laying as far back as I could in the chintz chair. Her face followed my own, hovering just inches away with her eyes completely level with mine. Within moments my breathing fell into synchronicity with her own deep rhythm. I felt my heartbeat slowing, palpable through her hand resting gently over my chest. When she spoke, it was barely louder than a whisper
“I want you to relax,” she said. “Let all your thoughts drift away, all your worries and fears fade, like smoke rising into the clouds. Be at peace with yourself. There’s nothing to worry about, no places to be or things to do. There isn’t anything here to hurt you, or control you, or make you do anything. There’s only you, me, and this place. Nothing more.”
My eyelids were already drooping. It was easy to listen, to follow her suggestions and forget everything else for the moment. The atmosphere had already left me more relaxed than I’d been before we arrived, and now I was practically soaking in it.
“It’s alright for you to close your eyes,” Aeris said. “Rest as deeply as you like. I’ll be here to watch over you, to guide you through this trance. Leave everything to me. Close your eyes. Rest.”
My eyes were shut. Already her words seemed more from a dream than reality. I could still feel her presence hovering over my body, enveloping me like a soft blanket, and I could still see her eyes as though they had become ingrained within my own mind.
“I’m here for you,” she said. “There isn’t any need to stay awake if you don’t want to. Everything is perfectly alright as long as I’m here. Let yourself go, your mind free to wander as it pleases. Sleep, my precious one. Sleep.”
Those were the last words I can remember hearing.

I don’t know how long I slept, but I know it must have been immeasurably deep. My mind seemed to waken in slow steps, as though it were only realizing itself for the first time. By the time I was fully conscious of my body once more, I discovered that I had great difficulty moving. Every part of me felt weak and unresponsive, as though drained of all energy. It took some moments for me to even remember where I was and what had happened.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at a white and unfamiliar ceiling. My body lay flat on its back with my head propped only slightly above it. I wasn’t in the same chair I’d fallen asleep in. In fact, I wasn’t in a chair at all. I’d woken up in a bed inside a room I didn’t recognize. Evidently, someone had moved me while I was asleep. With some doubt, I wondered if this was meant to be part of the therapeutic process or if something has gone wrong.
Turning my neck was uncomfortable, almost painful. Clearly, my physical condition was in a delicate state. I willed myself to sit up, but the effort was both futile and excruciating. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, I couldn’t move my mouth well enough to speak, and I could feel cold sweat dripping down every part of me. It was simultaneously freezing and blistering warm. Every muscle was alive and screaming as though each one suffered from its own insipidness. The longer I was awake, the more I came to dread my condition. It wasn’t long before I began to question whether or not this was hell, or simply death. Sleeping had been better, I reasoned. Sleeping had been painless. All the while, there was no one there to help or comfort me in any way. I knew I was alone, that I was in ever increasing agony, and I could see no way out.
Then, I saw the needle.
The thick, long, silver needle sticking out of my arm. A hideous broad tube stuck out from the end of it, with dark red fluid flowing perceptibly from its source. My blood was being sucked.
However terrible this realization may have been, it was nothing compared to what I felt when I noticed the other bed beside mine. There was Jane, laying flat on her back with her eyes closed and an identical horrid needle protruding from her right arm. Both of us were being drained of our blood by some machine between the beds I couldn’t clearly see. Instinct took precedence over all else, and I began to scream. Hardly a sound came out and the endeavor tormented my every nerve, but once begun it was impossible for me to stop.
My pitiful shrieks did not go unnoticed for long. Within moments the familiar trim of a certain black dress wandered into my field of vision. I could only manage to gasp and gurgle feebly by this point. My listless babblings were met with a sigh and the most dispassionate voice of the prodigy Adreena.
“Aeris, come and look.”
I heard footsteps, followed by the appearance of the hem of a shimmering scarlet dress.
“What is it?”
“He’s awake.”
The hem of the black dress moved closer and a sharp biting pain hit my neck. Adreena’s fingers felt like teeth puncturing my skin as she forcefully positioned my head back into place. I could see the pair of them staring down at me now. The one critical and the other coldly intrigued.
“I did everything you -”
“I know what you did,” said Adreena. “You put him under too quickly, you were impatient. Your hypnosis wasn’t strong enough because you didn’t take your time.”
I saw Aeris look away for a moment before cautiously stepping forward.
“You want me to -”
“No, I’ll take care of it. We can go over your mistakes later.”
Aeris bowed and turned away leaving the room. It was only the three of us now. Jane was still asleep and I had barely enough strength to keep myself breathing. Adreena’s fingers drummed irritably against my chest, each tap like a sharp piercing pin. I wondered if she understood how much the slightest touch tortured me, if she was idly toying with me like a cat would a mouse. At length, I watched her sigh and drag her fingers down my arm towards the needle. She pulled it out gently and began to treat my incision with rubbing alcohol.
“It’ll be at least another hour before you can move,” she told me. “Aeris is a bright girl, but she’s still a novice. Too young and eager to do a job properly.”
My incision disinfected, she reached for a cotton ball and some gauze from a nearby table and administered a bandage for me.
“It’s a shame for you I’m afraid. If the hypnosis had worked as intended, you need not have suffered. You’d have slept through the entire procedure and woken up feeling as refreshed as you ever had in your life. You’d have loved it, you really would. Jane could tell you how marvelous it feels.”
She gestured towards the other bed. My wounds now properly addressed, Adreena stood and sighed once more.
She isn’t to know about this, understand,” said Adreena pointing towards Jane. “If I were you I’d keep my mouth shut about what I’ve seen here. If you tell her anything, it could jeopardize everything I’ve invested in her, and she won’t believe you anyway. I like my patients to be satisfied with the results and coming back happily. If you say anything, if you try to keep her from me in any way,… well,… just don’t let that happen.”
With one final stare, Adreena turned away and left my field of view. Already, my nerves were burning as life began flowing through them freely once more. With some difficulty, I managed to turn my head just enough to see what was going on beside me. Adreena had removed the needle from Jane’s arm and was attending to her just as she had to me. After she was finished, I saw her tenderly stroking Jane’s hair. Her voice changed to that of a gentle mother waking her child from sleep.
“Jane my dear, it’s time to wake,” she said.
I saw Jane’s body stirring faintly, her eyes fluttering between consciousness and sleep.
“It’s time to wrap this up, my dear. You did an amazing job today. You’ve really made a lot of progress. When you leave, you’re going to be amazingly happy. Absolutely, positively, cheerful and at peace. I know you will, Jane. You always feel so much better after your therapy, don’t you? I know how much you love it. You just hold onto that feeling until the next time we meet, ok? Take your time and rest before you get up. I know how exhausted you get after your therapy. Take as long as you need darling, there’s no rush. No rush at all.”
I watched Adreena lean in and place a gentle kiss on Jane’s forehead before turning away. In a few minutes, Jane’s eyes were fully opened and she was smiling contentedly. After a yawn and a feeble stretch, her face turned to see me lying next to her in the other bed.
“You did it too?” she asked, beaming appreciatively at me.
I don’t know whether I was still too weak or simply too appalled to talk back. All I know is I could only stare back with my mouth agape and no way of communicating to her what had just transpired.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked. Then she giggled, laying her head back and softly closing her eyes, soaking in gentle bliss.

The Dream Puller: Part Two

It was time to tell her the truth.
Shaking nervously, Mandy looked up to the open window of Sam’s apartment. It was so cold outside, Mandy couldn’t imagine why she would have left it open. The girl had some unusual habits, but that was one of the things she’d always liked about her. Sam was someone that stood out, who wasn’t afraid to do things her own way.
For months, Mandy had been waiting for a night like this. A night when she’d be able to summon enough courage to do what she knew needed to be done. It was a scary situation, especially not knowing how Sam would react. Mandy had learned long ago how these kinds of things could go wrong. She’d also learned that no matter how wrong it went, it was something she still had to go through with. There was no way she could go on knowing her without explaining the way she felt, at least not without making herself miserable.
The stairway to Sam’s apartment on the 2nd floor was outside. By now, Mandy was shivering just as much from the cold as from her nerves. Taking a deep breathe and swallowing her inhibitions, she knocked three times on Sam’s door and waited.
It took nearly a full minute before the door was opened. There she was, her blonde hair flowing nearly to her waist, wearing an expression of amused surprise. For a moment, Mandy was too struck by her appearance to even move. There was no way around it, the girl was simply beautiful.
“What’s up?” Samantha asked.
“Um,… Hi,.. I’m just,…” Mandy stammered. Her thoughts felt like they’d just been warped, and it was hard to find any words at all.
They stared at each other awkwardly. Then, Sam opened wide the door and gestured welcomingly.
“Come in,” she said.
Mandy did as suggested, smiling coyly as she passed but quickly averting her gaze. The apartment was cozy. There was a velvet fold-out sofa which Mandy settled into with Sam following soon after. The only light in the room came from a shaded incandescent lamp sitting next to where Mandy sat. It wasn’t a fabulous apartment, but Sam had managed to transform it into something lavish. A number of paintings hung on the walls, most of them rather grim landscapes of foggy forests and snowy mountains. These were just another aspect of Sam’s tastes.
“It’s a bit late to be out isn’t it?” asked Sam, looking curiously at Mandy. “Don’t you have physics in the morning?”
“Yeah,…” said Mandy, nervously fidgeting with her fingers as she endeavored to recover her ability to speak.
Silence passed between them, and still Mandy was having trouble. Sam was staring at her expectantly, waiting to hear what she’d come to say. It was evident that the only thing Mandy could do was dive straight in, say what she needed to say, and hope for the best.
“Sam I,… I’m sorry to come over all late like this,” said Mandy. She was stalling for time, still searching for words. “I just,.. I need to talk to you. Actually it’s just, I need to tell you something.”
Mandy hesitated, and still Sam waited. Then, as if though they had been building up inside her, a rush of words came pouring expeditiously out of Mandy’s mouth.
“Sam, the truth is I’m in love with you ok,” she said. “I know, I’m sorry to tell you like this, but I just can’t let it go. It’s been bothering me every time I see you and I think about you all the time and I know you probably didn’t expect anything like this from me but I need you to know, ok? Just,… just tell me what you think,.. whatever it is, I can take it,…”
It was difficult to force herself into silence, but Mandy held her breathe and waited for Sam to react. Her heart was pounding, painfully aware of how much she’d just exposed herself. She searched Sam’s face desperately for some trace of recognition or emotion, but her expression hadn’t changed. Sam was still staring at her as if totally unfazed by everything Mandy had just said. Frightfully, Mandy began to think that she’d gone too far.
“It’s okay if you don’t love me,” Mandy said, hoping to soothe over any damage she may have caused. “I know I’m,… you know. It’s okay. I just needed to tell you to get it off my chest,… you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.”
Mandy hung her head, still waiting for a response but unable to look at Sam’s face any longer. She knew that she couldn’t expect much, her past experiences had taught her that. Still, as long as she got something from her, just some kind of assurance that it was okay, that was all that she would need.
From the corner of her eye, Mandy noticed Sam rise to her feet. Looking up, Mandy was horrified to see Sam’s finger pointing towards the door and her face wearing nothing but the same blank expression.
“Get out.”
It took a moment for Mandy to register those words. Did she really just say that?!
“Sam, I -”
“Get out!”
It was chilling. No emotion, no empathy, just a command. Mandy gaped horror-stricken, unable to believe that this was what was happening. Sam had always been distant, but she’d never imagined that she would behave like this. This was cruel.
“I’m sorry,” Mandy muttered, slowly rising to her feet. “I’m sorry, I’ll just leave.”
She made her way slowly to the door, all the while unable to escape the harshness of her friend’s immediate dismissal. It was exactly the worst thing she could have received. Worse than if Sam had been angry or disgusted. It was as if her feelings weren’t even worth considering, that she was unworthy of any human response.
The cold enveloped Mandy once more as soon as she stepped outside. She turned to see Sam staring out at her dispassionately, and tried once more to get something, anything else from her.
“Sam, I really – “
The door shut in Mandy’s face, and Sam was beyond her reach. It had taken her scarcely five minutes to ensure that they would never speak again. All she’d needed to do was express her feelings and a friend was gone forever. It was typical.
Mandy turned and began to make her way down the stairs. If she had been younger she may have cried or else pounded on the door until Sam came back, but she was well beyond such things by now. She had already experienced losses of this kind and knew there was no point in dwelling on them or making them worse. That didn’t make the experience any less painful though. She really had expected more from Sam. If not acceptance, then sympathy at the very least.
Her heart heavy but contained, Mandy began making her way home shivering in the chill wind.

Samantha stood with her head leaning against the door, breathing heavily and doing her best to calm her furiously pulsing heartbeat.
This is bad.
It was all she could think. Over and over again those words echoed through her brain.
This is bad, bad, bad, bad,bad,…
There wasn’t any other way to maintain her self control. Her emotions were screaming for some kind of physical release, for catharsis, but there was only so much she could do. Sam knew better than to give in to her feelings. Doing so would surely lead to the result she most feared.
Eventually, Sam’s adrenaline wore off enough that her body could relax, but her misgivings were far from eased. The problem was that it was impossible not to feel something after what Mandy had said. Such a thing hadn’t happened to her since the boys in Sam’s high school learned she wasn’t interested in them. It had made her unpopular, and she’d never made any close friends since she was a child, but avoiding people had become so familiar by now that it was practically mundane. Now, this girl whom Sam had known scarcely more than a few months had broken through her defenses and penetrated deeper than she’d been prepared for.
Sam had been working on the same bottle of wine for the last hour, but she ignored it now. Her hands shook too chaotically to hold onto a glass and she was in no shape to be amplifying her emotions anyway. Sam knew she had to get her feelings out somehow, whether she had to scream or throw her belongings against the walls, she absolutely had to expel the negative emotions from her mind. She’d become a professional at such things, but tonight was especially difficult. .
Mandy had been a sweet girl. She may not have been very charismatic or ambitious, but she was nice and Sam had liked her. Never in her life would Sam have considered her as a romantic prospect, but the reality was Sam never considered anyone in that context. It had been decided long ago that there was no way she could ever be close to anyone and she’d abandoned the hope of finding romance before she’d even reached puberty. Even so, this sudden revelation from Mandy could have been dealt with civilly if it hadn’t surreptitiously stirred something so heavy in Sam’s core. Of all the people to fall in love with in their city, Mandy had chosen her and had come all the way to her house on a cold night to tell her. Poor girl.
Sam might have worked something our with her, but as it was there couldn’t be any compromises. Sam would never be able to acknowledge her again. They would never speak, lock eyes, or be in the same room together as long as Sam could help it. Imagining how that would make Mandy feel was heart wrenching, but it was unavoidable. The only thing that made any of it seem better was the knowledge that Mandy hadn’t meant to do what she did, she’d been incapable of knowing and had simply chosen the wrong person. This fact alone seemed to be enough of a catharsis to get the closure from the matter she needed.
I’m so sorry, it’s not your fault Mandy, Sam intoned quietly to herself. It’s not your fault you poor girl,… It’s me,… I’m tainted,…
Exacerbating her empathy towards Mandy helped to relieve the distressing sentiments that had so suddenly flared up. Sam found it was easy to distance herself from people the more she pitied them. It didn’t take long to let go of whatever feelings Mandy had stirred within her and return to the state of solitude she was comfortable with. It wasn’t a positive state of being, but it was comfortable enough to live in. As long as she felt alone, Sam knew she wasn’t going to hurt anyone. As long as she felt alone, she could sleep.

The fairy-tale palace of her dreams had always changed as Sam grew older. By now it had adapted into a cross between a luxurious lounge and a shrine to her most private impulses. There were plush sofas and chairs with glass coffee tables and beautiful ornate rugs throughout the whole entrance chamber. Aside from these, there were also plenty of objects for decoration that would make any casual visitor instantly disquieted. There were more than a few disfigured human-like statues standing here and there between chairs, as well as sculptures reminiscent of living organs and paintings of vast empty landscapes tucked away here and there. All of this combined with the architecture created a space both modern and fantastic. It wasn’t exactly accommodating, but for Sam it was familiar enough to finally let herself loose.
“I’m back!” Sam called expectantly.
From out of the shadows, from behind chairs and under tables, the slendery pale forms of her friends twisted and crawled their way into the light, groaning winsomely.
“Did you miss me?” Sam asked as the closest one approached her.
Congested wet groans were the only reply she was given. Her friends were gentle, idly tapping their pincers on the tiled floor and stretching out onto the sofas and rugs. They were never much for conversation, but Sam had always felt as though they listened to her. Even now, their faces followed her wherever she moved and their gargles fell into a rhythm with the way she spoke.
“Today was tough,” she told them, making sure not to sound too upset. “I really struggled to stay faithful to you,… but I did.”
Her friends gargled and moaned appreciatively. Sam smiled sadly at the roomful of her comrades, and sighed mournfully.
These were the only friends she was allowed. These misshapen inhuman monstrosities that shared her sleeping hours since as far as she could remember. There were times when she loved them, when she counted on them, when she knew they would always be there when no one else was. For that, it was impossible to hate them, but it wasn’t easy to appreciate them either.
Tonight, Sam decided to sit in her throne at the end of the chamber and watch them as she almost always did. When she was younger she had occasionally gone exploring with her friends or played games with them, but such things no longer appealed to her. She was much happier sitting and doing nothing until her mind finally decided it had gotten enough sleep. There would be plenty of time for dwelling until then.
Loneliness was such a constant part of Sam’s life that it hardly even registered as an issue anymore. Tonight was different though. Tonight, her loneliness had been put into sharper focus than it had ever been since her childhood. The fact that no one, not a soul, had even tried to form a real connection with her for so long, left her more aware of her isolation than ever before. She’d survived all this time with the most minuscule human contact imaginable and she’d been numb to the fact for too long. It had been easy after so many years to accept this as inevitable, that other people were simply beyond her reach. That all changed the moment Sam understood why Mandy had come to her. For another person to actually confront her, to insist that she was in love and force her to act, had thrown everything into sharp relief. Sam was alone, had always been alone, and that was never going to change. She would never know what it was like to kiss someone, or hug them, or hold them in her sleep.
“Thank GOD!!”
The voice rang out across the entrance chamber. On the far side of the room a woman came scampering into the torchlight looking frantic. It didn’t take long for Sam to recognize her as Mandy.
The woman came pelting across the chamber towards the throne, alerting Sam’s friends who hastily hid themselves in the shadows. Mandy dissolved completely into anxiety by the time she reached Sam’s throne. Her sudden presence drove a cold shaft a fear directly into Sam’s heart.
“SAM!! Thank GOD!! Help me, please Sam, help me! I don’t know where I am, I’m lost, and I have no idea how I got here! ”
“Mandy,… Calm yourself please,… I know what’s happening and I need you to be calm,… just trust me.”
“Calm myself?! Sam, I’m scared shitless!! Where the hell are we?!?!?!”
Sam’s friends shifted agitatedly in their hiding spots. A few of them were already creeping forward, drawn to the sound of Mandy’s distress.
“Mandy,…” said Sam gently, taking hold of her hand and forcing herself to smile even though she too was scared. “It’s ok. Everything is ok. It’s just a dream. There’s no need to worry as long as we both remain calm, alright?”
“I’m dreaming??”
“Yes,” said Sam shiftily. In truth, she couldn’t say for certain that this counted as dreaming or not. “You’ll see. Soon enough you’ll be awake in your bedroom. Why don’t you just sit with me until then?”
Mandy looked hesitant and there were still traces of disquiet in her eyes, but eventually she did as requested and sat on the steps of the throne next to Sam. Sam’s friends had quieted and returned to their hiding places, but Sam knew that they would be watching them sharply. They had always been shy and mistrustful towards other people. Unless there was trouble, they typically liked to remain unseen. That was what Sam had hoped for. As long as they could avoid any turbulent emotion for the next few hours, her friends wouldn’t feel the need to act.
“Are you dreaming too Sam?” Mandy asked after a length of silence.
“Yeah,” Sam replied. “We’re sharing a dream together tonight.”
“That’s so confusing,… I don’t understand how this is happening,… How could we both have ended up here?”
“I don’t understand it either,” Sam replied, somewhat agitatedly. “Just try not to worry about it now. Wait until we’re awake and I’ll explain it to you.”
“When we’re awake? What difference does it make if -”
“Just trust me, ok? We NEED to wait.”
The echo of their voices reverberated through the entrance chamber. Sam could hear her friends shifting agitatedly by the harsher tones, but they still remained hidden. Mandy hung her head, and Sam could tell she’d been upset. As long as she did as Sam told her until they awoke that was fine, but then Mandy started to sob. It was soft at first, barely audible, but the volume slowly rose until Sam’s friends began to notice.
“Mandy!” Sam exclaimed, endeavoring to sound both cheerful and comforting at the same time. “There’s no reason to cry, really! Try and stop for me, please? I really really need you to stay calm!”
“I’m sorry, I-I was just th-thinking,” Mandy said through her garbled tears. “I’m s-s-sorry I ever came over to your apartment today. I know you probably j-j-just wanted to be left alone and I ruined that.”
A few of Sam’s friends were getting bolder. The pale shambling forms of a few were lurking steadily into the light towards the throne, groaning as though ravenous. They were still cautious for now, but Mandy’s continued sobs were clearing drawing them out.
“Don’t worry about it Mandy,” said Sam. “Seriously, don’t even worry about it. None of that was your fault.”
“It IS my fault though,” Mandy continued to sob. “I should know better than to s-s-show up like that,… I was just SO desperate for you that I -”
“Mandy, I said it’s FINE. Please stop crying now, it’s only going to make things worse!”
“I’M SORRY!!” Mandy blurted.
Sam’s friends were especially interested in the pair of them now. Mandy hadn’t noticed, her back was to most of the room, but most of them had already left their hiding places and were shuffling their way towards them. If it weren’t for Mandy’s crying, she might have been able to hear the steadily increasing moan they were collectively emitting.
“I’m sorry Sam! I know you probably don’t want to hear anything I have to say but I’m dying! I can’t stand being alone Sam! I’ve been alone for so long,… I just wanted to feel loved again, ok?! That’s all I wanted! I never meant to hurt you -”
With those words, Sam’s friends lost all pretense of caution and swiftly closed in for their assault. The first one to reach the throne jabbed one of its enormous talons directly into Mandy’s shoulder, pulled back, and set loose a stream of blood pouring down Mandy’s chest. Mandy’s eyes widened with shock and her entire body went rigid. Before she could even process what had happened another talon came slashing down across her back leaving a deep trail of open flesh. Sam’s friends had nearly encircled her. They were going to pounce and in moments there would be nothing left of Mandy but blood stains on the floor.
It was simply intolerable. Watching it happen just as it had happened to so many others before, Sam found for the first time that she was simply incapable of letting it happen. With a burst of terrifying adrenaline, she launched herself towards Mandy, pushed her to the ground, and screamed.
She had Mandy pinned beneath her. Blood from Mandy’s wounds continued to spurt out over both of them, but she was alive. Sam could hear her frantic breathing as her face contorted in confusion and pain. Her friends stamped and wailed angrily all around them, but their onslaught had been halted. It seemed they were reluctant to attack with Sam coming between them and their victim.
“Stay under me Mandy,” Sam ordered through heavily panting breath. “Just stay there, I’ve got you. You’re going to be ok.”
Mandy was either in too much shock or pain to respond. She simply kept crying, but at least she stayed still. Hopefully, she would hang onto enough blood to last the night.
“Leave us alone!” Sam yelled, turning her attention back to her friends.
Their wailing had calmed slightly, and some of them looked curious with the heads tilted to the side in a questioning manner. Still, their agitation had clearly not subsided. A few of them crept closer and started prodding whatever bits of Mandy they could reach with their talons.
“No!” Sam yelled, as one of them nearly stabbed through one of Mandy’s thighs.
Sam shifted her weight to protect Mandy’s exposed thigh, and the creature immediately withdrew. If anything, this made the rest of them even more agitated. First there were only a few, but pretty soon there was a whole group of them crowded around the pair of them on the floor; poking, prodding, and scratching at Mandy wherever they could find a gap. Sam fought with them, throwing her weight wherever she could to fend them off, but they were persistent. The more she exerted herself, the harder her friends tried to get past her to resume their bloody festivity. Sam resorted to kicking and punching her friends to keep them at bay, but this wasn’t an effective deterrent either. Her friends were either too strong or she was too weak to deal any significant damage to them. Eventually, her friends seemed to decide on a new strategy, and began locking their talons around Sam’s limbs in an attempt to drag her away.
Sam writhed and twisted as forcefully as she could, freeing herself and hastily attacking every one of the creatures within sight. Luckily, she was able to get back to Mandy before any more harm could be done to her. Her friends still surrounded them, but their onslaught had ceased. It appeared that they had given up on reaching Mandy while Sam covered her. Even so, they continued to hold a tight formation around them, watching and groaning without moving in too close. Sam knew that they were just waiting for an opening, that as soon as they saw her guard slipping they would move in.
Hours passed this way, while Sam did her best to remain vigilante and adequately covering Mandy with her own body. Every so often, one of her friends would try sneaking in to take a poke, but Sam quickly discouraged them and they would immediately retreat. Mandy had stopped crying and here eyes were closed. She was still breathing, but Sam couldn’t tell whether she was conscious or not. It had taken a long time for her bleeding to stop, and by now their clothes were both drenched in rapidly drying blood. After what felt like days, Mandy’s eyes opened slowly and Sam could see the passive fear present within them. Then she spoke.
“Are,.. we.. still.. dreaming… Sam?”
“Yes,” said Sam somberly. “It’s just a dream Mandy. That’s all it is. You’ll be ok.”
Mandy nodded, and her eyes dripped shut once again. For another hour they huddled together on the floor until daylight finally came in to the waking world.

When Sam woke up in her bed, she found her clothes were still soaked but her sheets were relatively clean. She breathed a massive sigh of relief and nearly choked on the unexpected sobs escaping her throat. She’d been lucky. It could have been catastrophic, but she’d managed to save a friend from a another cruel and merciless fate.
It was a new day. There were things to do, but first, Sam took out her phone and immediately dialed Mandy. There were things that needed to be explained.
A few seconds of ringing, followed by the voice of a scared and confused person who just woke up to find open wounds in their flesh.


The Dream Puller: Part One –

The Dream Puller

Andrew regretted his actions almost as soon as they’d concluded. In an instant he knew that he’d screwed up, that he’d let his emotions get the better of him and hurt someone he cared about. He’d gone from being truly mad to being guilty and ashamed. The consequences from his teacher and parents were nothing compared to knowing that he’d betrayed a loyal friend.
There wasn’t anything to do now but sleep. It was still early in the evening and the dim amber rays of the setting sun still shone through the blinds of his window, but sleep was the only thing worth doing. He’d already been sent home and sentenced to a weekend alone in his room for the crime he’d committed. It was just as well, as Andrew wasn’t in the mood to do much else. Until he could make up with Samantha in some way, he wouldn’t have the heart to do anything that would make him happy. Perhaps he would call her tomorrow, if she’d even consent to speak to him.
The memory of Samantha’s stricken face persisted into his thoughts as he laid in bed trying to rest. It simply wouldn’t leave him alone, as if deliberately reinforcing his guilty feelings. As his mind grew more and more dim, that face continued to confront his mind’s eye until he was scarcely conscious of anything else.
“Samantha, I’m sorry,” he whispered aloud to no one before finally drifting off to sleep.

It was foggy and gray, with a chill breeze blowing like a distressed whisper through the trees. Clouds of mist unfurled from the low wooded landscape up the side of the hill where Andrew now stood. Everything was quiet, without a bird or cricket or chattering chipmunk to disturb the serenity. The wood was thick and the trees were tall and imposing, like silent guardians of a sacred wilderness. Traveling through the brush would be difficult, but at the very bottom of the hill there was a narrow path which Andrew began making his way toward.
Once beneath the canopy, there was little enough light to see the path at all. What small amount of sunlight that persisted through the clouds and trees was barely enough to illuminate the forest floor. Andrew walked slowly at first, taking his time in descrying the path ahead of him. After a time his eyes began to adjust and he was better able to see the scenery he was enveloped in.
The trail was narrow but it was exceptionally clear. Not a single fern, or weed, or sapling stood in his way. In contrast, the forest on either side of him was thick with weeds, grasses, bushes, and immense towering trees. Their branches often interleaved with one another overhead, creating a sheltered archway for Andrew to pass through, as if the forest itself was a sort of wooded palace. The deeper he journeyed, the taller and thicker the trees on either side became. As far he could tell, Andrew was the only creature passing through those words. There were no other sounds but his own footsteps and slow steady breathing.
In the gloom just ahead, Andrew perceived a doorway with a stone arch barely discernable in the dim light. It was only a few feet away by the time he noticed it. At first, it looked like a relatively small structure but upon arriving at its entrance, Andrew realized it was actually massive.
A fifty foot tall stone tower stood before him, surrounded on all sides by near impenetrable forest. It was soon apparent that there would be no going around it. The trail ended here and the surrounding forest was much too dense. The gray stone stood out so peculiarly from the environment, that Andrew couldn’t help but feel curious about its place here. Clearly this was where the path was meant to lead, but what purpose could an enormous tower have in the middle of a desolate and deserted wood like this? Guardedly, Andrew grasped the wooden handle of the door and pulled.
Andrew was taken aback by what he saw next. There was a stairway here as he might have expected, but instead of leading up the length of the tower it went straight down. Lit torches adorned the wall every few feet but the bottom was too far down yet to be seen. He knew instantly that wherever this path led, it had to be somewhere deep underground. It was uncanny, and its appearance did not inspire much confidence, but it was still the only way forward.
Andrew had only taken a few paces down the stairway before he heard to door slamming shut behind him with a bang. The torches flickered and the echo reverberated ominously through the deep passageway below. Andrew swallowed and steeled himself to go on. He told himself that it had only been the wind. He walked on, wondering as he did if it wouldn’t be wiser to turn back. He couldn’t say, but he couldn’t help himself from feeling curious either. He had to know what secrets this trail might lead to, wherever he ended up in the end.
Deeper and deeper her descended as the torches grew further and further apart. The air grew hotter and heavier until it was almost difficult to breathe. The moist aroma of earth enveloped him, assuring Andrew that he was indeed completely underground.
The descent was so long and the air so thick that before long Andrew could feel himself slowly giving in to panic. His pulse quickened and he began to step faster and faster down every stair. His vision grew hazy and the walls began to look as if they were closing in, as if the passage was constricting, getting smaller and smaller, and that they would surely suffocate him if he didn’t make it to the end soon. He flew down the stairs, jumping several steps at a time, desperately hoping to reach the bottom before something terrible happend. Then, slam! His feet hit solid and level ground, the stairway ended and he was staring straight through an open archway several feet ahead.
Cautiously, still catching his breath, Andrew proceeded through the stone portal to find himself in the most dazzling room he’d ever seen.
A wide open chamber lit with dazzling golden chandeliers opened up before him. It looked like a palace out of some fantasy novel. The floor was marble white, stone gothic columns adorned the walls on either side, and ahead of him was a magnificent jewel encrusted throne upon an ornately sculpted marble dais. The air was much easier to breath here, and Andrew found himself unable to do anything but marvel at his surroundings for several moments. It was like waking up into a beautiful new world, so staggeringly gorgeous that it was a wonder why such a place would be hidden so far underground.
He wandered awestruck down the hall between the columns as if he’d been enchanted. It may have been several minutes before he even realized that he was not alone. Sitting in the throne at the end of the hall was a person whose eyes had been silently watching him this whole time. Her face was stern, and by all appearances she wasn’t happy to see him. Andrew couldn’t believe his eyes, but here she was, the person he most needed to see.
“Samantha!” he yelled, urgently sprinting towards the throne.
“Shhhhhhhh!!!” Samantha hissed. She stood and held a finger to her lips, glaring at him warningly.
“Sam!” said Andrew, lowering his voice. He ran all the way to the foot of the dais and stopped. “Sam,… I’m so glad it’s you! Listen, I need to apologize – “
“Shut up!” Samantha hissed dramatically. “Andrew, not now! Please, don’t say anything about what happened! It doesn’t matter!”
“Yes it does,” said Andrew earnestly, hanging his head in shame. “It does matter Sam, I shouldn’t let my anger control me like that. You’ve never done anything but try to help me. You’re the last person I should take my anger out on.”
“It’s okay Andrew!” said Samantha impatiently. “It’s okay! Just stop talking or they’ll hear you!”
“Just let me say I’m sorry, okay?” Andrew begged. “If you don’t want to talk to me after that I understand. I’m sorry for losing my temper and I’m sorry for hitting you. It’s just I-”
There wasn’t time to say another word. Suddenly, from every corner of the room came shadows. Dark silhouettes that sped towards his position until Andrew was surrounded. For a brief moment he could see them clearly, human-like figures clothed in black but terrifyingly inhuman-like in their features. Their faces were exceptionally pale and wrinkled. Their eyelids were shut tight as if they’d been sewn together that way. Gray tufts of thinning hair hung limply from their scalps and long dripping fangs hung from their grimacing open mouths.
Andrew was encircled by the things. Helplessly, he turned to Samantha who only looked down at him pityingly. In the next instant the were on him, jabbing, biting, pulling, and ripping. Every angle of his body felt like it was being torn apart at the same time and the creatures that were devouring him were all that he could see.
“I’m sorry Andrew,” said Samantha, her voice sad and possibly teary. “I didn’t want this to happen,… I’m so, so, sorry,…”
The pain was excruciating. Andrew could barely believe it was really happening, but his flesh and blood were flying all around him. The creatures dove hungrily into his skin and pulled away grinning maliciously as they devoured him. Andrew screamed loud and piercingly, until quite suddenly he was silent. Before long not a trace of him remained to be seen but bloody stains on the marble floor.

Samantha woke shaking from her bed. She grabbed her pillow and wept into it bitterly while curling herself into a sad ball. She hadn’t meant for it to happen, it wasn’t fair, but there wasn’t anything she could’ve done to stop it.
Her cries must have alerted her mother, who appeared outside the doorway of her bedroom worriedly.
“Sammy,…” whispered her mother delicately. “What happened…? Did you do it again?”
Turning toward her mother, Samantha sat up straight and nodded sadly. With a sigh, her mother walked in and sat next to her on the bed.
“Who was it?”
“My friend Andrew,” said Samantha, gasping quietly through her tears.
Her mother nodded solemnly, holding back tears of her own.
“The one who hit you today?”
“Yeah,” gulped Samantha. “I must’ve,… I must’ve been thinking about him before I fell as-s-s-sleep. That’s why he -sob- I pulled him in with me.”
Her mother stroked her hair comfortingly wearing the bitterest look of sorrow that a mother could.
“Mom,” Samantha gasped. “I-I-I’m so sorry! I didn’t want to hurt him! I just couldn’t control myself! H-h-he apologized and they just ripped him to pieces once they knew what h-h-he’d done!”
“No one will ever know child,” her mother said somberly. “Know one will ever know.”
It was what she’d always said, the only thing she could ever think to say. Indeed, no one would ever think of tracing his death back to Samantha. No one could have suspected that she had anything to do with the deaths of all those that had wound up in her dreams. It didn’t take much, just a slight annoyance was enough to decide their fate if she couldn’t keep them out of her mind. She was a danger to anyone that crossed her, and nobody would ever suspect it.
“Go back to sleep dear,” said her mother consolingly. “What’s done is done. Try not to dwell too much on what can’t be fixed.”
“Okay,” said Samantha resignedly.
Samantha watched her mother get up and turn out her light. The scars on the back of her neck served as a constant reminder of what she was capable of. Even my own mother fears me, she thought depressingly. Anyone who cares about me is going to wind up dead!