Nightmare Rising by Brandon Scott

For Joshua, who thinks in both languages.

“I now appreciate the darkness.” Those were his last words.

And then the darkness appreciated him. He clasped both hands to his chest, folding them like a mummy in an old cracked tomb, and fell back into the churning mass.

I reached forward to stop his fall, but my hands met only air as the entirety of his frame, slow sinking at first, then gone at once, disappeared into the mass.

It shook like a silent laugh, and I stepped back in alarm. An inch forward it bulged out, taking inside it pieces of the ground.

I looked around at the lab tables, and the random beakers, and the bric-a-brac of his room and could find nothing even remotely helpful—nothing even indicating a way to stop this. To staunch its mass of eating.

I scooped up a beaker with my hand and chucked it, but it too went into the mass with no issue.

“What the shit are you?” I yelled at the blob before booking it up the stairs. Like it had been waiting for me to break eye contact, it made more noise, and I heard the breaking of glasses and tables knocked over onto the hard ground.

As my knees shot up with each lurching step, I felt my phone vibrate. This, somehow, was the most surprising thing about the last few minutes. I quickly glanced behind me and pulled out the technology. I knew of only one person who had this number—and his calling was impossible.

The stairs groaned as the dark did what it could to ascend. My eyes felt blurry from concern, but beneath the simple message of Hey, I got the thing working. Come by and see. I saw a new message.

The darkness is comfort. I can see you.

I ran out the front door with my phone clutched in moving hands. The words, only read once, burned in my mind even as I took another stop out in the yard. When the house remained still, I looked at the phone again, my breathing loud in my ears.

How r u txting? I sent out. U died.

With no lag to it at all, the response came. The darkness is not death. Come back inside, and we will show you the eternity of void and shadow.

No thx.

Then perhaps the outside is more preferable.

My teeth set on edge as the sound of wood ripping filled the air. Around me, I could see people poking their heads out of doors, and peering out windows. The din reached a peak, and it took a second for me to see the source, but at the top of the house, the roof shuddered, soon enough filling like an about to burst balloon.

A tendril of darkness slithered out of the open space, looking wrong on the backdrop of a sunny day, and the house expanded even further with pressure. Until, finally, the wood shattered and collapsed into the mass of black.

I stood, horrified, as a pair of long stalk eyes sprung up and swiveled around with irregular pupils.

Do you think the rest of humanity will appreciate the dark?

I was already in my car when the phone rang. I put it to my ear and peeled out, leaving my neighbors to their fates. The sound of another house breaking echoed once from behind me, and then again in the phone itself.

Before the darkness could say anything, I shouted “No!” My finger stopped above the end call button when I heard the reply, still in my friend’s voice—but warped and strained and sleepy.

“Let’s see, shall we? I think it is worthy of a few more tests.”

My hand shook. After a second, I tossed the phone behind me and kept driving. My foot pushing the pedal to the floor, hearing the sound of police and helicopters going in the opposite direction.

Despite being in the back somewhere, the voice came through the phone like it was on a concert speaker.

“Reality is not enough. Never enough. Join the dark. And be free. All of you.”

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