's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Dreamlands: The Labyrinth

Submitted by TheRedRage

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

I have been within the Dreamlands many times since my encounter with the Red Ghosts but not all my ventures have been particularly notable. As I gained more experience with this realm, it became possible for me to control my destination, and many of my subsequent journeys were in the section described within the Dream Cycle. Not that I preferred the terror of uncontrolled dreaming, but losing that sense of spontaneity removes some of the wonder of the experience.

I shall not, therefore, regale you with mundane tales of encounters with ghouls, inhabitants of Ulthar or other such commonplace denizens of the Dreamlands. Instead, I shall tell the dreadful story of the labyrinth and the nightmarish thing that I found in there.

Upon beginning my journey for the night, I found myself lying on the ground in a cold, dark corridor of grey stone. The only illumination came from the ceiling, where patches of mildew gave off a whitish glow. I could hear water dripping down within the complex, and the general effect of the light, the cold and the dripping water was melancholy and dispiriting.

Immediately upon waking, I realised that I had forgotten to concentrate on a set point of entry, and that I was now in some unknown region of the Dreamlands. Before they learn to guide themselves, a dreamer's destination is determined by fate, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with the notion that I could be in an entirely different area of the cosmos. Then again, I could be within the ruins of some known city that I couldn't recognise from where I was standing. I resolved to exit the structure to get my bearings.

Upon standing, I found that the ceiling was lower than I was accustomed to, requiring me to stoop. I recalled that ancient peoples, even in the recent past, had been shorter than the men of today, and realised that I was within a structure from some far gone period

The corridor went on and on, winding through numerous corners and branching into multiple passage ways. As I went on, I was struck by the absence of life, except for the grey mildew. There was not even an insect in the labyrinth, as I realised the bizarre structure must be. Except for my footsteps and the dripping water, the place was as silent as a tomb.

I must have been moving along that passage for hours, before I encountered it. The thing that met my eyes was not altogether a bear, a bull, a lizard or a corpse but something I do not and cannot recall. There was a kind of hideous asymmetry to its form; though it stood upright, it's body was twisted sideways, as though its back were broken. Its lopsided mouth twisted into a needle-toothed grin and it hissed like a steam kettle when it saw me.

My flight was swift, yet I heard no sound of pursuit. Perhaps the thing only sought to frighten me.

When at last I could run no longer, I stopped and waited. I believe that I half expected whatever it was to get me from behind. As the seconds inched by, I relaxed, knowing that I was in no danger. It was in this state that I ventured to look over my shoulder.

Oh, horror of horrors! The beast was right there behind me! How could it be there when I had neither sensed its presence nor heard its approach? I did not wait to learn but set off again at a speed that would be the envy of the best of athletes.

Never since the Red Ghosts had I known this kind of terror. Here I was, imprisoned in some diabolical labyrinth, with a creature that could approach as noiselessly as a shadow. I was certain now that it wished me harm. Harder than ever I prayed for release but that mercy was ever denied to me. There was nothing for it but to continue my mad flight through the evil tunnels.

I cannot tell you how many times I thought I was safe, only to find that grotesque thing was still behind me. As soon as I turned away from it, I could no longer detect its presence. I could not conceive of any rational reason for it's strange behaviour. Why should a creature fast enough to keep pace with me, and stealthy enough to remain undetected, not kill me where I stood? I imagined it to be toying with me, and wondered how long it could keep up its deadly game.

I was answered when I found myself in a dead end of the labyrinth. The beast was large enough that it blocked the entire tunnel. The tunnel was not wide enough to allow turning; there would be no escape this time.

With the desperation of a cornered creature seeking its only chance at escape, I charged the creature. There was no rational thought behind this manoeuvre, and I had no illusions of its success. My eyes closed reflectively, not wanting to view my imminent demise.

I was surprised, therefore, that I passed directly through my assailant as one would thin air!

It was scarcely possible. Was the beast to continue its game, even now when it had me at its mercy? No, it was too wide by far. It couldn't have released me if it wanted to. Could it be that I, or it, was a wraith?

A glance behind confirmed that the beast was still there, seeming perplexed as to my absence. I left it standing, praying that it would not find me.

By now, I began to have an inkling of the labyrinth's purpose. I remembered a legend of my native world that described a similar structure, in which a monster was imprisoned. Although that beast bore only the vaguest similarities to this one, they were alike in temperament. If this labyrinth was likewise, I could have no hope of escape other than waking.

I do not know how long I wandered in the labyrinth. In a world without a sun, and no light except for the glowing mildew, there was no way to judge the passing of time. It could been days, as time passes differently between Earth and the Dreamlands. I moved now at a normal pace, searching in vain for anything that would indicate an exit to the monster's prison. There was no cause to hurry for I believed I was fully out of danger. I was wrong.

The next turn I made brought me face to face with the monster. How could this be? Even supposing it knew the layout of the labyrinth, the beast would have no possible means to find a tunnel that intersected my path. What evil god's will could result in an event this improbable?
At this moment, I should have turned and fled. By all rights, earlier's game of cat and mouse should resume.

But I did not run. Faced between flight and death, I chose a third option. With any other creature, this would be a foolish action that could only result in a gristly end.

I closed my eyes.

My waiting lasted nearly a half-hour. I opened my eyes, beheld the monster and closed them once more. Sightlessly, I turned and began to feel my way along the wall.

I did not run. I walked slowly, feeling the wall the entire time. For I had realised that, if my eyes remained closed I was in no danger.

I have conceived a theory to explain the monster's behaviour; it exists only while it can be seen. I do not just mean that it doesn't attack when you can't see it; it simply isn't there at all. But, whether in flight or at rest, some idea of it persists even unseen, ready to be fixed in place by the next observation.

This accounts for its silent but unrelenting pursuit of me, as well as my escape in an instance where there should have been none. If there is any other explanation, I have been unable to conceive it.

As for how such a monster could appear in my path, I believe that it can unconsciously teleport wherever there is a pair of eyes to see it. Evidently, the labyrinth is wider than its range of teleportation.

It was torture to be forced to move at a snail's pace, while every instinct screamed to flee or fight. Either of those actions would be to court disaster. This brute would be impossible to defeat unarmed, and to run would have me at the mercy of any unseen obstacles.

To distract from terror, I instead chose to marvel at the miraculous construction of the labyrinth. The people who built it, whether human or otherwise, must have the bravest and the best at all their craft. I could imagine the architects at work, their eyes averted, while one of their number would watch the beast to keep it fixed in space. Whatever bonds that held the creature whilst it was watched had been lost to the remorseless hand of time.

The watchers would stand in shifts until the maze grew so complex none could find their way to the central chamber.  When they exceeded the teleportation range of the creature, they sealed the labyrinth so that nothing could get inside. But they had not counted on dreamers.

I do not know which god led me to the exit. I suspect Nyarlathotep, since he never gives a blessing without a curse.

Regardless, a wall was revealed through which I could see daylight. The mortar here was thin and had crumbled in parts to form a chink, through which came the light that tantalised and tormented me. I struggled against the bricks, tearing my nails in desperation to remove them. They resisted valiantly, but at last my fingers did what time could not. As soon as a large enough hole was open, I was free.

I wept in ecstasy for the sight that had been denied me for so long. The labyrinth was in a jungle yet there was bare ground extending for six yards in all directions. There was not a living creature in that space but there were the remains of various kinds.

A pain in my heart persuaded me not to linger. No doubt the makers of the labyrinth had cast a killing spell, so that nothing could ever enter the labyrinth and no plants could weaken it by growing between the stones.

The truth came to me now, that they HAD given thought to dreamers and designed the labyrinth, not so that the monster could not escape, but so that a dreamer couldn't. It may seem cruel but they had no other way of containing a monster they knew not how to kill.

I barely reached the edge of the jungle before I collapsed from exhaustion, to return to the waking world.

You might think that is the end of my story, and in a way, it is. I awoke, never to return to that portion of the dreamlands. Only one thing remains to tell.

I had forgotten that, as easily as I escaped, so might anything else, now the way is open. If I tell you what I saw, you will understand, I believe, why I spoke of being cursed and blessed.

The last time I looked at that abominable labyrinth the escape hole was much wider than I had made it.