's 2017 Horror Write-off:

In the Fading Light of Waking

Submitted by E. Lefebvre

Lisa crouched tightly in the corner of her room and hugged her stuffed bear tightly. Downstairs, her mother was screaming.

She knew what was happening. All too well.

She first met the witch when Kylie introduced the two of them. Kylie had been her best friend when they were younger, but they were growing to be less friendly over time now that they were both ten; Mom said that this was normal. But Lisa still liked Kylie.

Lisa wanted to like the witch, too. She seemed like a nice lady, but distant. So Lisa did her best to be friendly, because Mom said that it was important to be friendly.

There was barking from downstairs and the sound of something tearing. She winced, tears wetting her cheeks. Nothing she could do about it, but it was all her fault.

There were little things the witch asked for. She always said that things had to be freely given, or they didn't count. Lisa went along with it. When the witch asked for her pudding cup, Lisa gave it to her, even though it was a butterscotch one and that was her favorite.

She didn't know if the witch had wanted to be mean. She seemed happy at the time. "Good girl," she had whispered, leaning on the doorframe of her tiny hut, turning the plastic container over in one slender and bony hand. "You get a prize."

"A prize?"

"Your dreams will come true," replied the witch with a smile that seemed a bit too wide for her otherwise pretty-looking face. When Lisa had thought to turn around and ask her about what she meant, the hut was already gone like usual, leaving behind a single footprint that looked like a dinosaur track.

It had seemed to good to be true, and Lisa hadn't believed it until she woke up the next morning from a dream about having dozens of new stuffed animals. As soon as she climbed down from her loft bed, they were all sitting there, piled up, animals she didn't even think came in stuffed forms.

One of them was even a pangolin. She was very proud of herself for knowing what a pangolin was.

Her mother's cries had turned to weeping now, followed by a hard impact and a wet, choking noise. The barking reached a fever pitch, and Lisa heard something heavy and wet hit the floor. It sounded like when Dad had slipped down the stair and broken his ankle, but much worse.

She pulled her bear tighter, burying her face in it, wishing that she could change things. That she could go back to sleep, somehow. Undo what was taking place.

The rules of the witch's gift made sense, little by little. Lisa learned how it worked. Her last dream before waking up would come true, invariably. It wasn't always exactly how she had dreamed it - her stuffed animals that she dreamed were far more amorphous when she dreamed, of course. But the spirit was true.

It was only when her teacher was out sick that Lisa first had an idea that her gift might not be a universally pleasant thing.

She had dreamed the night before that her teacher had called out, that she had a substitute teacher named Mrs. Smeggles. Sure enough, the next morning Mrs. Smeggles was there in front of the class. But she wasn't right, on some level, and Lisa knew it.

In the dream, everything that Mrs. Smeggles did was funny. She had wild brown hair and she gave out candy and encouraged the kids to play and nap and have a fun time. But actual Mrs. Smeggles was scarier than the dream version.

Her hair seemed to twitch on its own, as if it were the alive part and Mrs. Smeggles was just being pulled along by it. Her fingers seemed too long, and one time she was sure the middle part of them bent like it wasn't supposed to.
The candy she gave out was covered in a thick syrup that smelled like honey and looked like what had come out of Lisa's nose when she had been really sick two years ago. None of the other kids cared. Lisa gave her candy away to her classmates, and Mrs. Smeggles watched. She seemed upset.

Worse yet, the other teachers didn't seem to notice Mrs. Smeggles. When Mrs. Rossini came into the classroom, she looked at the substitute teacher and her eyes seemed to glaze over. It was like Mrs. Smeggles wasn't supposed to be there, or wasn't really there.

But she didn't hurt anyone. Lisa spent the whole time being scared that she would hurt someone, but the worst thing she did was yell at serious-minded Reid for not playing enough and reading instead. She left in the afternoon.

The next day, Mrs. Albright was back in front of the class. She couldn't remember why she was sick or what had possessed her to call out. None of the other students seemed to remember Mrs. Smeggles, either; Lisa asked some of them about it, and they thought she had just been dreaming.

She had, of course. That was the problem.

Tearing sounds echoed up from the downstairs as Lisa crouched in her corner. The sink turned on alongside the stomp of heavy boots. Part of her wondered if maybe this time would be different, but then she heard the familiar call of the voice downstairs. It was all going to be the same as always.

After a couple of minutes, she heard the heavy tromp of boots upon the carpet, then to the stairs.

Most of Lisa's dreams were still pleasant, but she was more scared of them now. When she talked to Kylie about it, Kylie suggested not sleeping much, but after a week of looking tired Lisa's dad just moved her bedtime earlier. That didn't make things any easier.

She had kind of hoped she would get a dream about gliding. Those were always nice dreams.

Then there was this nightmare. It had been a bad one. She had heard her alarm go off in her dream, sat up in her bed to watch her dad go to work. It was their little ritual, and she waved to him as he stood by his car.

In the dream, he didn't wave back. That's when she knew that something was wrong. When she saw who her dad was talking to, that just made it worse.

She didn't know the Big Man's name, but she knew what he looked like all too well. She even knew why she was scared of it, from a haunted house down at the fire station that she had begged her mom and dad to take her to when she was six. One of the firemen had jumped out and scared her with a mask that, looking back, was just silly. He apologized. He even gave her a lollipop.

But the Big Man looked like a fireman. Only wrong. He had a big black raincoat and stompy boots, but his arms were too long, dragging along the ground, a huge axe in one hand beneath a tangle of black, greasy hair. She had screamed when she saw him, even louder as he buried that black axe into her dad's face.

Her dad screamed, too. The Big Man just laughed, and he put one of those huge, meaty hands on her dad's shoulder. Then he pulled.

Lisa had thought she was going to throw up, she couldn't look out the mirror. She knew that she should run downstairs, tell her mother, do something. She was so scared in the dream, all she could do was crawl down out of the loft, grab for her favorite stuffed animal, shivering.

It butchered her mother, too. And then it came for her.

She didn't open her eyes as she heard the squelching stomps of the boots coming down the hall. She didn't need to. He pushed the door inward, standing there, stinking water running down the surface of his coat despite the bright sun in the sky.

"Well hey there, little girl!" he yelled, dragging himself into the room. His face was a craggy mess of wrinkles and exposed, throbbing veins, but that wasn't what Lisa found most scary; it was the fact that it wasn't really a face. If she looked at the pits where his eyes should be, she could see things squirming around, too many eyes and mouths all shifting around beneath that shell of a face. "How you doing?"

Lisa didn't answer. She wished he would leave and knew that he wouldn't.

"Hey, little girl," he spat out in a voice dripping with malice and glee at the same time. "Want to see your mommy?"

This time Lisa spared him a glance before turning back to her stuffed animal, whimpering slightly despite herself. She didn't want to be scared, but she was. "No," she said, as firmly as she could. "You killed her."

"Aw, that's not fair. I did something real nice for her." He held up part of a head, cut cleanly from just below the eyes and the middle of the throat; it was ashen and bloodless. She didn't want to see what was left of her mom's face "Made her the best damn bowl my dogs ever had!"

The dogs, obligingly, entered behind him now. Hairless, knotted things, their bodies looking like tumorous masses hammered into the shape of dogs. Lisa had never liked dogs, but these were so much worse than any dog she had ever been scared of, even as they sloughed into the room like they were injured.

It was their faces that frightened her. No snouts; a pair of perfectly pointed dog ears in front of an undulating circle of teeth, a sucker filled for burrowing and devouring. The teeth pulsed in and out as they breathed, circling toward the girl.

One of them let out a gentle, eager bark.

"Do you like dogs, little girl? Because they like you."

Lisa wanted to cry. She breathed in deeply against the soft fur of her stuffed bear. And the worst part of it all was that she couldn't explain what really scared her.

It wasn't the Big Man or his dogs, even though they did scare her, even as she felt one of the tooth-muzzles nip against her arm and provoke a squawk of pain. It was the fact that the witch had promised her that her dreams would come true.

The last dream she had before waking.

The dream that started, in her dream, by being woken up by her alarm clock.

A shrill beep filled the world just as she felt one of the dogs bite down against her arm, and she woke up whole in her bed again, hoping the same way she had every time. Hoping that when she looked out to see her father, that he would get in his car and drive off for work.

Hope that she wouldn't watch and hear a nightmare butchering her parents again, only to be woken up, only to loop back around, over, and over.

She waved at her father. He didn't wave back, and Lisa let herself cry, slumping below the window, wishing she could sleep as her parents screamed in pain at what Lisa had made for them both.