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The corner of the tower wasn’t actually a corner when he rounded it, panting, hounded by something intangible. It opened up into a crevasse, a scar emitting a crabbed greyish light. There was something violently ugly about it. There was also something alluring.

Go inside. Goinsidegoinside.

He couldn’t step away. There was no away. He felt unsafe in all directions. There was even something eerie about the ground, how it didn’t quite seem perpendicular to the buildings but seemed—at a closer look—to slither under them, not touching their colossal foundations. It was a creatureless city, but the lines of it gave him the impression of will, of malevolent intention. Deceiving, evading, luring.

Then one of the lines—he could barely call it a wall, as it seemed not to support or protect or hide anything—snapped out at him. With the trajectory of a cut throat spraying blood, a violent, liquid, sickening arc with a taste of metal. He cringed from it in fear. He gripped his gun, raised it, fired. The bullet practically crawled away, dragging itself heavily through the air. Curving around the buckling wall. He’d aimed right at it.

The bullet came back around. Seemed to have gone right through the building, slicing through one of the corners effortlessly. Clinked against his gun and dropped to the ground. It rolled. Kept rolling as if on a steep incline. Shouldn’t have rolled. The ground was flat.

The line of the building undulated again, almost grazing him. It occurred to him that he hadn’t even tried to move, in he had no idea how long. He’d given up on moving. He was forced to look closely at the line, and noticed to his horror that it seemed to have an animal texture. Something like hair. Not quite hair. Coarse, like tiny anemone palps. Hunting. Sensing.

Then the horrible city began to dilute. Even its fading was sickening to watch. Pulsating, gray like a dead snakeskin wrapping tight around the city, preserving it, embracing it with love.

He woke up at last. Reached for his totem, tossed it, tossed it. He was in the flesh-world, had woken from his dream. But there was no PASIV hooked up to his arm.

Arthur was dreaming on his own again.


“Arthur, you have to sleep,” Eames coaxed, stroking his hair. He’d been awake for five days now. He was constantly hearing echoes of things that had not been said, thinking of names, nodding along to strange meters. The mundaneness of their room was taunting him. How there could be such things as bedspreads and chairs and clocks still, and how he had to pay lip service to their existence, when he was tipping into the maw of something unearthly, that could snap the world of human comfort at any time.

“It’s not like sleep anymore,” he whispered.

He went limp and let Eames pull him close, on top of him, though he was staring at the wall. The warmth of the human body under him felt good but laughably flimsy, as though the horrible truth was going to burst right through Eames like a broken hydrant.

“Next time you won’t go alone,” Eames murmured in his ear.


“Try to stop me.”


Everything looked normal enough. He’d constructed a version of Baltimore, modest skyscrapers, exuberant overpasses, cranes rising saurian through the fleecy primordial fog of the very early morning. Taupes and ochres, like the suit he now wore to remind himself that clothes still existed.

“Something’s about to happen,” he said softly, even though nothing had happened yet. Eames’s hand in his was clammy. Perhaps shaking a bit.

There were still cars creeping across the overpass, still lighted windows in the buildings. A projection spilled coffee from a cup with a loose plastic lid, cursed and caught its ankle on a chained bike.

When the projection tripped, it fell to its knees. The pavement gave way under it, shaking it, and it stood up and tried to run. Its foot snagged the crack in the pavement. It sucked it in, as if it were a piece of paper being fed to a printer.

Eames reached for his gun.

“It’s no use,” Arthur shook his head.

They walked on—Just stay away from lines, any lines; keep to the planes, Arthur warned—as the city transformed. The lights went out. The projections melted into taut silvery threads, vanished into the crisp lines between air and stone. Buildings struggled against their sizes, became bulbous, full of contortions and wrinkles. They looked like bodies cobbled together in pain.

“Arthur, my God,” Eames gasped. “What is this?”

“I think it’s what’s underneath everything,” he said, eyes fixed ahead. “I think it’s trying to show us how meaningless we are.”

“We’re not meaningless.”


“What has this—thing—done that we can’t do?” Eames laughed. “We can enter dreams. We can terrify people. We can bend reality.”

“Telling yourself that won’t stop what’s happening, Eames,” Arthur said sadly. “I’ve done my research. They get what they want.”

“And that’s to kill us.”

“I don’t know. It might be.” He gazed upwards, at the sky warping against the burgeoning of the slimy stones. “It might be they want our minds. It’s been said that they need human thoughts to free them.”

“Maybe we’ll be lucky. Or smart.”

The city was beginning to bend around them, throwing impossible shadows in every direction. The shadows, like everything in the dreamscape but the humans, seemed to have volition. They crept unctuously toward Eames and Arthur, and Arthur could see the space between ground and shadow.

“Yeah. That’s not going to happen.”

“I could try to change forms, try to scare it.”

“Eames.” Arthur sounded as if he would have laughed if he could. “You are not going to scare Cthulhu.

Eames turned toward him, ran his knuckles tenderly down Arthur’s upper arm.

“Arthur, I know I’ve never said this before, but…I love you. I have for awhile. And whatever happens, whether this drives us apart or drives us insane or kills us, if we forget our own names, I want you to know that.”

Fissures were beginning to form in the ground, and something seemed to be lashing it from underneath. It was shaking to a slow, guttural drumbeat, dust rising with every boom.

“I’m not even sure if love means anything anymore,” Arthur said leadenly. “It can’t keep us safe. It can’t survive…this. I know it can’t. All I’m capable of feeling these days is fear, and disgust, and this…sick compulsion to come back here.”

“Maybe love is worthless,” Eames agreed. “But it’s the reason I couldn’t let you face this on your own. It’s why I’m going to fight this horror with everything I have, because even if it’s inevitable that you’ll succumb I couldn’t stand the thought that I didn’t even try to keep you safe, that there was something I could’ve done to keep you with me for even another second.”

“And that’s exactly why it’s worthless,” said Arthur. “If you hadn’t come here with me, it might not have touched you. But you can’t go back now. “ He paused. “No one ever does.”

“It hasn’t touched me. What do you mean?”

The ground was opening further with each strike. A pulpy, gelatinous mass was becoming visible in the rift. It looked as though a thousand terror-stricken eyes were trapped inside it, bobbing beneath the gelid surface. Arthur felt his stomach convulse.

“It’s allright, love,” Eames whispered, but his voice betrayed his certainty that nothing was allright at all.

“I—I” Arthur couldn’t say what he meant to say, transfixed as he was by the object that was now lifting the ground up like a flimsy crust.

At lightning speed, a thin proboscis shot out of the ground, aiming for Arthur.

Eames saw it and lunged in front of him, eyes crazed with wonder and determination. Arthur watched in horror as the appendage coiled rapidly down Eames’s throat, as he struggled with it in vain, wrapping his dwarfed hands around its greenish phosphorescent thickness, trying to pull it out or scratch it, trying to do something. Arthur tried with all his might to move, to help him, but he was rooted at the spot. His mouth wouldn’t work. His limbs felt heavy as planets.

I am dead, was the last thing he thought. I am worse than dead.


He regained consciousness.

Finding himself able to move, he wrenched the PASIV out of his arm, then scrambled over to undo Eames.

Eames was cold. It wasn’t the usual cold stillness of someone under heavy sedation. Arthur grabbed his wrist. No pulse. He put his fingers to Eames’s neck and that too was still.

“Oh God.”

He laced his hands together, one on top of the other, and pumped Eames’s chest angrily, desperately. Counted aloud. One, two..Twenty, twenty-one…Forty, forty one…Fuck—oh--how—no--God.

I love you.

He felt something stir beneath his hands. The chest no longer felt leaden, hollow; there was a vibration there, lurching but unmistakable.

“Eames,” he whispered, raising his shaking hand to his face.

For a moment all thoughts of Great Old Ones and sickening dreams were cast off. Eames was alive.

There would be further horrors, worse horrors, he knew. But they would touch again, possibly hold each other through their nightmares, before they could no longer turn back from their journey to the deep and ancient and nauseating, before they would be impelled to turn away from each other.

Eames opened his eyes and turned his head.

“My Arthur,” he whispered. His voice was hoarse, deeper; it sounded somehow disembodied.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“You’ll never lose me, Arthur,” he said, a small smile forming, voice sounding eerily as though it had to travel a very great distance from his larynx to his mouth. His eyes, Arthur noticed with uneasiness, shone with an odd light; his irises were translucent, betraying flashes of an alien color. “I’m much too strong to die.”

He raised his hand and pulled Arthur down for a kiss.
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la pellegrina

May 2012

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