's 2016 Horror Write-off:

The DreamLands - Red

Submitted by TheRedRage

There is a world inside the minds of men, a world where reality is an intruder and all dreams are true...

One of the earliest visits to the Dreamlands began when I found myself in a red desert. A red sun glared down from the sky like a malevolent god, and the sky itself was red, although paler than the glaring sun. The dunes themselves were an especially dark shade, as though a great army had fought here for a thousand millennia, until their blood soaked into the sands and stained every single grain. The desert stretched, without interruption, as far as the eye could see and, as I looked at the horizon, the sand, the sun and the sky seemed to blur into each other, so it was hard to tell which was which.

I was utterly alone in this hellish landscape, yet I had an inexplicable sensation of by watched. I wandered aimlessly, hoping to find the watchers or anything else to banish my solitude, but I saw nothing. If the creatures in that desert were as red as the sands I would have had no hope of finding them, but I had a feeling that the place was lifeless and had been for some time. So why was I paranoid of watchers?

The entire experience was accompanied by the sensation of powerlessness that I have since come to associate with the Dreamlands. It is the knowledge that that all you have to do is wake up to escape this nightmare but you cannot do that you have wait for sleep to end, in its own time.

As I despaired of losing my mind to the blood-red emptiness, I found something at last. At first I couldn't be sure I had seen anything, as it was the same colour as the sands, but then I realised I could see a humanoid figure perched atop one of the dunes. I felt an unaccountable sense of dread upon perceiving it. 

 As I came closer I realised that the creature was not standing atop the dune but floating a few centimetres above it. It was wearing a red robe with long sleeves and seemed utterly motionless. I was beginning to wonder if it were a bizarre work of art, when it slowly turned to look at me and I swear by all the gods there was no face inside that robe.

I froze at the foot of the dune, staring in terror at the empty robe. When my eyes met that dark emptiness, I experienced a vision that was so sudden and fleeting that I couldn't make out what it was. The experience broke through my paralysis and I started run for my life in the opposite direction. I had barely gone a few yards, when a second abomination confronted me, and then a third until I realised the entire desert was filled with the creatures.

I curled up and waited for the Red Ghosts, as I named them, to finish me off, but they never moved from their places. They merely floated in the air, staring without eyes. As time inched by, my terror receded and I began to realise they did not fill the desert completely. Rather each ghost was positioned an identical distance from every other ghost so that they formed a pattern of squares across the whole of the desert. As far as I could see, they were all alike in every way. They had been invisible because of their colour.

Eventually curiosity overwhelmed my fear and I approached the nearest ghost. I was by now almost convinced that they were harmless. In spite of the eeriness of their presence, I never suspected them of harbouring any special malevolence.

When the vision came it was less intense than the the previous one, and this time I could make out more details. I saw the desert as it was many aeons ago, when it was not a desert but a city. A city unlike any man had ever made.

Hemispheric buildings nestled among vast towers, reaching for the sky. The towers had no doors and vast tubes connected them to the hemispheres. All traffic was skywards, in vehicles suspended from wires that draped across the city like metal vines. Only the hemispheres seemed to have doors and these were few. The doors themselves were small, less than a metre in height, and circular in shape. The whole city was made not of stone or metal but mirrored glass, shining like diamonds in the sunlight.

The city's inhabitants were not men, but strange, fungoid creatures, less than a metre tall. The 'cap' of the mushroom had two small eyes, mounted on stalks like a crab. About halfway down their bodies, they had a lipless mouth, shaped like a 'v'. They had four thin tentacles for legs and moved in a slithering motion. Two tentacles were level with their mouths and used used for manipulation. Their were pale pink in colour, with patterns of brown, red or yellow, that varied between individuals.

In spite of their strange appearance, I did not fear the creatures. Rather I felt kinship with them, as if they were on level ground with mankind in the hierarchy of the cosmos. They didn't notice me as their went about their routine; I was merely an observer.

The vision vanished and I was thrust back into the desert with the Red Ghosts. I tried to make it return, but it was a memory of a time long gone, nothing more. I decided then that I would leave the desert and the Red Ghosts, for I despised both of them. So I set off to east, letting my intuition guide me in my quest to escape this hellish place.

I never thought to ask how the mushroom city had turned into a desert filled with Red Ghosts. But I was fated to learn soon enough, for every time I looked into a ghost's 'face' another piece of the puzzle presented itself.

Through innumerable visions, I learned the history of the desert. At first the visions were a comfort but, as the full story came to me, they compounded the nightmare I was imprisoned within.

It was revealed that my visions of the city were those of the Red Ghosts. To say they remembered what they had seen was incorrect as their intelligence was not like man's. Rather, they seemed to record everything they had seen, in order to "play it back" to anyone looking upon them. The reason for this behaviour has always escaped me.

As time went on, the character of the visions changed. At first I merely observed the City Builders, as I call them, through the 'eyes' of the ghosts. The ghosts could only show me what they had personally seen and, as there were few ghosts at first, my vision was limited. Soon, however, they became common enough that I could see one of them in each vision. Eventually, I started to see how they came to the city.

The Red Ghosts appeared by descending from the sky. They never moved sideways in any direction; they simply floated straight down. Every single ghost always positioned themselves precisely level with all the others. If an object, such as the roof of a building, got in their way, they would simply phase through it. It was uncanny.

It was during this later period that I began to see the inside of the buildings: concentric circular walkways, with very low ceilings. There were far more of the mushroom creatures inside the buildings than without but, as before, they never noticed the Red Ghosts. If one of the ghosts was blocking the way, the City Builders would instinctively avoid it, without giving the slightest sign they knew it was there. The revelation of the Red Ghosts' invisibility unsettled me. Could it be that I had not seen them at first because they did not choose to be seen? It was a most disturbing thought.

But not as disturbing as what was to come. As the ghosts became more numerous, the City Builders began to exhibit the most bizarre sickness. The first symptom was the darkening of the skin. Following that, their stalked eyes began to droop, as though tired (or maybe I was anthropomorphising). They were certainly slower to move and react then before.

The sickness became more and more widespread and worsened as it did so. Soon, the majority of the City Builders fell ill. Their skin began to peel, exposing the disgusting grey flesh beneath. Foul ichor bled from the wounds. The infected became so weak they could only lie there, howling, I was certain, in pain. Eventually, the wounds ceased to bleed but then the creatures began to shrivel. Eventually, the howling ceased and, shortly after, they died. 

The City Builders shunned their dead, as if frightened for their own health. I could hardly stand to look upon them myself, disgusted at the suffering I had witnessed. It was plain to me that the Red Ghosts were responsible for this travesty. I could not be by chance that the sickness began when they arrived, and worsened as they became more numerous. They seemed to be draining the life force of the City Builders, causing them to fall ill.

It wasn't just in the city either. I began to see that the scourge of the Red Ghosts was infecting the entire planet. Every plant shrivelled, every animal fell victim to the sickness that had killed the City Builders. The final horror came when I saw the dead crumbling into the very sand that made up the desert!

It was then that I began to run in a panic, screaming that the sand was people, the sand was the bones of the dead. I didn't want to see any more, I didn't want to see how the buildings decayed and crumbled, how the sun bloated and darkened, how all the seas boiled away. I couldn't tell if this too was the fault of the ghosts, or merely the passing of time. I understood now that the desert covered the entire world, that you could never escape but I wanted to escape, I wanted to go home.

I woke up eventually, screaming at the horrors I had witnessed. It was still an hour before dawn, but I did not dare to sleep again. But that is not the end of my tale. On subsequent visits, to the Dreamlands, I asked about the Red Ghosts, but it seemed that most people knew even less of them than I did. In all the time since that first encounter, all I have learned is a single fact.

The Red Ghosts fill a section of the Dreamlands. No, that is incorrect; they are a section of the Dreamlands. Each ghost is like a section of space, drifting through to other realms, and no matter how many leave that space, it never grows any smaller. There are infinite numbers of ghosts and they are all the same entity.

More than ever, I find, it is not what I know of the ghosts that terrifies me but what I do not. I do not know if they are real, or simply the echo of a long forgotten nightmare. Likewise, I remain uncertain whether the world they devastated was ever a real place. What kind of mind could have dreamed the Red Ghosts and the world they destroyed? Do our nightmares come from the Dreamlands or vice versa?

There are times when I wonder if the doom of the City Builders shall ever come to any other world. I do not want to think about men dying in the streets and then turning into red sand. Rather, I hope that that the Red Ghosts will stay upon that planet for all time and that none will ever again emerge from that foul section of space that is their cradle.