The Nightmare: Part One
P The sun shined brightly in a dense forest. Evergreen trees surrounded the field in a thick shade, the leaves and branches rustling in the wind. A lone insect circled around, its wings fluttering, beating the summer air.
A pair of hands clasped together, missing the tiny bug by a hair. Arthur stood upright on his toes, smirking at the quickness of the insect.
He made a motion to chase after it, only to freeze in place when he heard a familiar distant call. His ears perked, he turned around, instinctively dashing towards the source of the sound, running through the thick forest at top speed.
The young Zafara gawked as he spotted in the distance another red Zafara, much taller and bulkier in appearance, eying the kid approaching him from far away.
Arthur rushed towards his father, who spread his arms, expecting his son to jump at him at any moment. Instead of an embrace, Arthur leaped high into the air and bent his knees, giving his father a swift kick to the torso.
The older Zafara winced; the impact nearly blew all the air out of his lungs as his son clung to him with a soft giggle into his arms.
After a brief embrace, the father and son made their way through the thick forest. The trees cleared, leading into a meadow. A tall, lean red Zafara awaited them, greeting the older Zafara with a brief loving cuddle before snatching the young Zafara in her arms.
As the sun set in the horizon, the family lay down on the ground to sleep. Arthur snuggled into his mother’s chest as she wrapped him in her arms.
“I love you, Mom.” Arthur uttered.
His mother gently smiled back, running her fingers through his tuft of hair.
“And I too, sweetie.”
The last rays of the sun sank beneath the horizon, the white clouds turned to a mixture of red and orange, bathing the turquoise sky in a fiery blaze. Arthur and his family looked on in awe, relishing every moment, until the blazing sky turned dark and all that was left was the faint glow of the stars lighting up the night. Arthur laid his head on the ground, keeping close to his mother, as he drifted off to sleep. ***
A sudden thunderclap woke Arthur from his slumber. He bolted upright, a cold draft of air whisked past his face as he found himself within a thick haze in the middle of a drizzle. He noticed at once the absence of the comfort of his mother’s embrace, he sat up, glancing frantically all around the forest. His parents were gone.
He slowly got back up on his feet; he turned back, facing the opposite side, expecting to find them close by.
Nothing. Not a soul in sight.
His heart sank; chills ran down his spine as he began to worry. He walked out into the mist, calling out his parent's names to no avail, growing more anxious with every passing moment, his heart skipping beats.
Arthur stopped dead in his tracks. His ears twitched, a rough growl echoed in the distance. He twisted his neck to his right, calling out again.
No response, nothing but the sounds of the rain splashing on the soil and the leaves rustling in the downpour.
He looked in the opposite direction. His eyes strained for a moment as he spotted a clearing in front of him. His eyes widened as his vision began to clear.
Several feet away, two large shadowy figures lay close to each other, perfectly still.
Arthur made a motion to move towards the clearing, he set one foot in front of the other, forcing himself to move.
He came to a sudden stop; a slight gasp escaped his lips as he heard the faint growling in the distance.
“If you're trying to scare me...you're doing a great job! You can stop now!” he said, raising his voice.
For a moment there was silence, but then the growling sounded again.
He turned half to his left, his eyes wide open, trying to peer through the mist, tracking the source of the sounds.
“I'm serious, you can stop!”
The growl sounded once more, this time much louder.
“This isn't funny anymore mom and dad!” he shouted, his lips quivering.
The mist grew thick; his heart began to beat faster, the growls growing ever louder. Now he was truly frightened. The young Zafara started running blindly into the mist.
Suddenly the growls turned to snarls, joined by the sound of heavy feet crunching the grass. He couldn’t bear to look back; he ran faster. As he quickened the pace, so did his pursuer. His anxiety was at its peak. He took one leap, both feet landing flat on the ground, his running turned to hopping; his powerful hind legs sending him speeding through the forest.
He is fast, but the sounds behind him grew ever louder. Coming closer...
Arthur could feel his own heart beating at a fast rate, his breathing becoming shallower and his nerves frayed.
The last row of tall grass cleared as he emerged into the clearing. As he leaped into the air; his eyes widened and the fur on the back of his neck pricked, as he suddenly realized one second too late, that the ground beneath him had vanished.
Arthur gasped as the sensation of falling overwhelmed him; he fell into the abyss, his limbs wailing as he struggled in vain to grab hold of anything. He could see the ground below, riddled with sharp, jagged rocks.
He shielded his face with his arms, shutting his eyes, gritting his teeth, his muscles tense, bracing for a very nasty landing.
He fell faster, the ground coming closer, closer, then…
Arthur’s eyes bolted open, he found himself head over heels not on rocky ground, but wooden floorboards. He frantically looked left and right as his eyes adjusted to the darkness; in front of him was a single bed, covered in red and white sheets. Next to him was an end table with a half-filled glass of water and a simple red lamp, the walls adorned in dark red wallpaper. He was in his room.
It was late at night. The rain battered against the window, breaking the dead silence.
For a short while he lay there, taking deep, controlled breaths until his heart rate stabilized. He was about to crawl back into bed when the bedroom door opened with a soft clack, followed by the creaking of the hinges as the door swung ajar.
“Arthur? Are you okay?”
Arthur’s ears perked as the familiar voice sounded. He turned towards the bedroom door.
Clara, a blue Acara, leaned behind the door, looking over towards the red Zafara as he was in the middle of clambering back onto the bed.
“Y--Yeah...I'm fine...I just fell off the bed. Did I wake you?”
Clara walked into the bedroom, wearing a pink robe, holding a glass of water. Arthur clambered back onto the bed. As he adjusted his blanket and bed sheets, he froze as he noticed her staring back at him.
“Are you feeling alright? You haven't been sleeping well lately.”
“It's nothing. Don't worry about it, Clara. It's--I was just having a bad dream that's all.”
She stared at Arthur for a few moments.
“Okay. I'm going back to bed. Good night.” She said with a sigh.
She closed the door behind her, which shut with a soft clack. Arthur lay down on his side, slipping under the sheets.
He was awake for a while that night, murmuring to himself over and over.
“It's only a dream...”
Seconds passed, then minutes, soon time held no significance as Arthur drifted off to sleep.***
“Seriously? The same dream for the sixth night in a row? I'll admit that's a bit unusual.”
“That's not all Wiley. I mean, it's the same dream, but each time I get closer and closer to hitting the ground. This time I was about a hairline away. It's kind of really starting to scare me.”
“Oh, come on Arth' don't be so superstitious. It's just a dream. It's not like you're actually in real danger or anything?”
“No, of course not, but...the weird thing is, sometimes it feels real, like you're actually there, in that forest, being chased, and you're really falling from that high cliff—“
“Yeah, that happens. But then you wake up and realize it was all in your head. Look, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Dreams are dreams and nightmares are no different.”
“I...well...I guess you're right. It's all just a dream.”
There was a pause. A blue Wocky approached the booth where Wiluite and Arthur sat, holding a cup filled to the brim with soda pop. Wiluite noticed the girl approaching them and scooted over. The Wocky stared at the green Kyrii for a second; she took her seat next to Arthur, much to Wiluite’s confusion.
“Hey Zemia, Arthur and I were just talking about nightmares.”
“Really? That's captivating.” The Wocky said, making no effort to hide her sardonic tone.
“See, he's been having the same dream for five—”
“Six.” Arthur cut him off.
“Six nights in a row. And you know what the weird thing is...”
Zemia ignored him while he blabbered, turning her attention towards Arthur. He drowned out Wiluite’s words as he was lost in thought.
Time passed. The full moon illuminated the cloudless sky, lighting up the ground in a radiant blue-gray tint.
The double doors of the diner swung open as Wiluite burst through, with Zemia and Arthur tailing close behind. The friends traversed along the dirt road; Wiluite blabbered on to Zemia, but Arthur paid no attention. He had his head hung low; he could hear the crickets chirping in the grassy knolls, the gentle breeze brushing against his face and the fresh moist air of the hillside landscape filling his lungs.
After a while they came to a stop at an intersection, a trio of paths branching out to different neighborhoods.
“Okay, we'll see you around. 'Night Arthur!”
Arthur nodded, parting ways with Wiluite and Zemia. He watched them walk until they were almost out of sight. When they vanished into the night, he made his way down the dirt road back to his home.***
Arthur eyes bolted open to the sound of thunder.
He clambered to his feet, looking left to right. He was in the familiar thick forest again. He mustered the courage to move, walking slowly into the mist, keeping vigilant, glancing from side to side. His ears perked as he listened closely to the world around him. The only sounds were leaves rustling and now and again the faint whistling of the wind.
Arthur shivered as the cold air chilled him to the bone.
He stopped in his tracks as he noticed the clearing from before fade into view; two silhouetted figures lay motionless next to each other.
Arthur froze in place as he felt his heart sink, his anxiety peaked, his breathing became frequent.
Despite his fear, he forced himself to keep moving; placing one foot in front of the other as he pushed himself onward.
The silhouetted figures came closer into view. He took a deep breath, only to cover his nose and mouth as an unbearable stench filled the air.
He came closer; he could feel his heart beating at a fast rate, his breath becoming more and more shallow.
Finally, the silhouettes came into view, the mist and the shadows retreating.
Arthur strained his eyes as he took a closer look at one of the figures as the mist began to clear. His eyes widened. In his horror, the figure's body was a bright shade of red, the torso strewn with various cuts, a horrific wide fissure running across the neck and its eyes half shut, just lying there. Motionless.
Arthur bolted awake out of bed in a cold sweat, forcing him upright. His eyes wide open in shock, breathing heavily, his heart rate skyrocketed. He glanced from side to side; he was back in his room. Moments passed as he gave himself a minute for his nerves to calm down. He stayed awake for a while that night, flashes of the nightmare raced through his mind, unable to escape them, his frayed nerves keeping him from falling sleep.
He looked towards the window. The rain drenched the windowpane, covered in a cold mist, obscuring the outside world in an icy barrier. He closed his eyes, listening carefully to the sounds of the rain outside and the droplets hitting the window. He took a deep controlled breath. As he relaxed, he lay back on the pillow, drifting off to sleep once more.***
Arthur sat on the couch in the living room, looking out the adjacent window, lost in thought. Clara sat next to him, doodling sketches in her notebook. She turned to look at him, noticing his depression.
She laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Arthur, what's wrong?”
Arthur turned to look at her. She could see that he had a strong look of concern in his eyes.
“It's that nightmare again isn't it?”
“You miss your parents don't you?”
He nodded again.
“I understand how you feel. I really do.”
Clara adjusted herself, sitting cross legged on the couch, giving Arthur her full attention.
“Dad—I…I mean Kain, told me that sometimes our emotions can influence our dreams. You miss your parents; that's why you keep seeing them in your dreams.”
“But they're both—“
“You should go see them. Stay with them for a while.” She extended her arm, placing both hands on Arthur's shoulders.
“Trust me, they're okay. Everything will be fine Arthur, I promise.”
Arthur stared back for a moment, then turned to face the window.
“You're right. It's just a dream.” He said.
But somewhere, deep down, he knew that it was only the half-truth. He had a sudden sinking feeling in his heart.
To be continued…