Halloween Short Story: The Collector

Nightmare
Nightmare | Source

Step carefully, the cobblestones are slippery. I don’t want you falling over and hurting yourself.

Here, let me light this torch. The fumes are acrid, but the flame is bright.

Step carefully, the cobblestones are slippery. I don’t want you falling over and hurting yourself.

Here, let me light this torch. The fumes are acrid, but the flame is bright.

Don’t stand there staring at me. I know my appearance is not pleasant in conventional terms. I am too short for one thing. And yes, I hate this tail too. I cannot help such things. It is how I was born. It is how I will be. My skin too hairy, my hands gnarled, my eyes bulging and my feet clawed.

Say something.

No?

Well, I suppose your silence is to be expected. It is not often that you go to sleep in your warm and cosy bed and then wake up in a dark and damp dungeon.

I don’t suppose you remember your previous trips. May be not. You were younger then. You had woken up too soon. You ran to your parents’ bed, screaming, crying to be comforted.

Let me remind you.

The first time I came, you were dreaming of school, of exams and such mundane nonsense.

I could see your face screwed up in concentration, your eyeballs rolling rapidly under your translucent lids. You were a frightened child, hugging the sheets for comfort, curled up in your bed.

I was in the corner of the room. Perched on your cupboard. Watching you dream. Those little jerky movements of your hands; the way you smack your lips and moan; the tossing and turning. I liked watching you. I knew you were ready for me then.

So I climbed down the cupboard and scurried across the floor. Your toys were scattered all around. I remember knocking over something. You flinched at the sound while I froze in the shadows with only the glass eyes of your stuffed toy staring back at me.

You didn’t wake up.

I climbed onto your bed and leaned close to your face. You were innocent and charming then. Breath whistling through parted lips. A gossamer strand of saliva in the corner of your mouth. Smooth brows, and none of these worry lines you sport now. Untainted by the world, yet.

I moved over and sat on your chest.

You must remember that. That is what most people remember. Falling into an endless pit, a sudden heaviness on your chest and the feeling that you cannot breathe. You struggled, eyes tightly shut, as my weight crushed your ribs. You tried to scream, but words didn’t escape your dry throat.

I enjoyed that moment. The moment of helpless thrashing your body underwent. I enjoyed the fear that oozed from your skin, the thudding of your heart and the dampness in your hands that clutched the sheets.

I let you simmer in that pit of fear for some more time.

But you were not ready for your trip. So I jumped across the room, releasing the pressure. Your breath came out in a massive whoosh. You screamed, calling for your mom, for your dad.

I left as the lights came on. I knew I could visit you again. There was no hurry.

There would be other nights.

Nights of fear and loathing. Nights of despair.

I climbed onto your bed and leaned close to your face. You were innocent and charming then. Breath whistling through parted lips. A gossamer strand of saliva in the corner of your mouth. Smooth brows, and none of these worry lines you sport now. Untainted by the world, yet.

You once saw me. I was careless that time. I thought you were asleep. You were merely shutting your eyes. As I crawled over to my corner, you opened your eyes. I moved flat against the wall as you looked directly at me. You frowned and paled, as you caught a glimpse of my eyes in the dark.


You shut yours immediately, hoping I would go away, hoping it was a trick of the shadows.


I escaped then, quickly climbing out of your open window.


When you opened your eyes again, you would have just seen the familiar shadows, the angular lines of darkness you were accustomed to seeing every night. No doubt you went to sleep again, sighing.


Hiding your head under the pillows, may be.


I do not like being seen. I prefer loitering in the shadows. I do not mind being seen in my own domain but not in others’.


It used to be so easy when people used oil lamps and candles. Shadows ruled then. None of these artificial lights with their shadowless glares. It makes you humans look sickly and inanimate. There was beauty in the flames. Beauty in the shadows that danced on the rough walls.


Sorry, just musings of an old, old fool. I had to adapt with your kind. My playing field might have diminished but it makes the game more exciting.


Don’t just stand there. It is getting cold. The gusts of night wind will run havoc through these corridors soon. Can you not see the flame dancing madly?


Come, follow me.


I know what you are thinking. That this is a bad dream. That you would soon wake up in your warm bed. I am afraid that is not to be.


Not this time.


This time you are on your first tour. I am your host. I will show you my collection.

I must admit I am rather proud of it.


You wonder who I am? There is a smile on your face. You think since this is your dream, you might as well play along with it. I am afraid the amusement is purely mine. But come along, the dungeon has many corridors. Like the roots of an old tree. It grows with me. The more I collect, the more it expands.


Can you feel that wind on your skin? Those thin clothes do not protect you. As for the draft, I am still uncertain where it blows from. I have closed the main door, and I know for sure there are no openings.


No windows or holes. Yet there is a wind. My predecessor told me it was the dungeon breathing.


Who knows?


Sometimes I wonder if the dungeon has a life of its own. I wonder if I am just a pawn in its game. I wonder if the dungeon spawned me. Just look at those walls. They glisten and sometimes move sinuously. Like the insides of a living predator. Sometimes when you touch the walls, you can feel an ancient pulse. Throbbing in a rhythm of its own.


Walk closer to me. I am here to guide you.

Sometimes I wonder if the dungeon has a life of its own. I wonder if I am just a pawn in its game. I wonder if the dungeon spawned me. Just look at those walls. They glisten and sometimes move sinuously. Like the insides of a living predator. Sometimes when you touch the walls, you can feel an ancient pulse. Throbbing in a rhythm of its own.




We will take that turning to the left. That corridor hosts some of my newest acquisitions.


What do I collect? You mean I didn’t tell you yet? Sorry.


Make a guess.


Souls? No. I am not interested in souls. There is another who pursues that interest. Not for me, thank you.


Dreams? No. I cannot collect dreams. They are too hard to contain. They cannot be held or controlled. They hate staying in one place. They drift. To contain a dream is to kill it. Nightmares are a different matter. They are claustrophobic. They can be contained.


No more guesses? You give up too easily.


I suppose I’d better tell you.


But first, you have to see some exhibits. Here.


The pleasure of collecting is to admire your gathered treasures one by one. Sometimes in solitude.


Me, I also like showing them off.


Look at that one. A dark cloud coalesced in that crystal bubble. You can just about see his face contorted in anguish. I brought him here, not literally but brought his essence, his despair, last week. He went to sleep fitfully after his wife and children left him for good. He used to drink. He was launching himself deeper and deeper into the pit of despair. He didn’t wish for happy dreams; he wallowed in loathing and fear. So I brought him here.


He lives no more. They thought it was the drink.


It was I.


And this woman encased in the glass wall. She lost her job. She succumbed to a night of despair when she thought all was lost. Just enough for me to lure her into my dungeon. They could not explain her passing. Some thought it was suicide, but there was no evidence of self-harm in any manner. They did not know that I had paid her a visit.


This child, yes. Despairing after the birth of a sibling. Worrying that he will be neglected. Just a single night of depression, deep enough for me to be there. He was ready.


There are many more. A doctor who was so empathetic that he took on other people’s despair; a writer with years of unpublished sheaves cluttering up his dank room; the dancer who broke her leg; a mother who lost a child; a student who thought he had done badly at an exam – if only he had waited for the results; a dejected politician who lost the election amidst a spurious scandal; an unrequited romantic who saw his lover walk down the aisle in the arms of his best friend but failed to notice the admiring glances of another; a failed sportsman who came close to the glory of a medal but not close enough; an ageing actress who ached for her fickle fame but achieved it after I got her…The dungeon is vast.


They chose to seek me out while others like them lived in hope. They chose to come here in a moment of weakness.


Lately I have been busy. It is getting easier to lure them into my abode. Hope doesn’t exist much. Fear, paranoia and distrust rule. All the better for me.



Dreams? No. I cannot collect dreams. They are too hard to contain. They cannot be held or controlled. They hate staying in one place. They drift. To contain a dream is to kill it. Nightmares are a different matter. They are claustrophobic. They can be contained.

Yes, I am a collector of Despair. Yet I can only come to collect you in your nightmares, in your sleep. That single night when you think nothing will ever be right again. When you do not want to wake up to see the morning. And when you really ache for sleep from which you do not wish to wake. That is when I come to pick my trophy.


I visit often. But there can be only one night when everything feels right for me. There maybe many false alarms but only one night when all comes to fruition.


Then, then only, you will be mine.


Do these people live?


Of course, they live here, free of their mortal remains. They live with that last thought of despair swilling through their minds in an ever-growing cauldron of darkness and depression. They will live here for eternity. In the dungeon that breathes and lives. In this dank place smelling of tears and loss, misery and mistrust.


No this is not Hell. Maybe this is far worse, may be this is better. I do not know.

Maybe hell doesn’t exist.


I have always lived in my Dungeon of Despair. Always collected your kind.


Why did I bring you here?


Maybe to amuse myself. Maybe to taunt my prize.


Sometimes there is pleasure in the hunt too.


No, this is not a warning. I will let you go back to your nice bed, back into the safe arms of your family, of your friends, of your securities.


I am not in a hurry.


I know there will be days when you will sink to the depths. When hope sets on your horizon. Days when you will seek the cold hands of despair. When you embrace the seductive allure of melancholy.


Do not open your eyes then.


For you will see me there, sitting on your chest, my hideous face smiling at the pleasure of acquiring another for my collection.


The smile of a satisfied collector.


For you will see me there, sitting on your chest, my hideous face smiling at the pleasure of acquiring another for my collection.

The smile of a satisfied collector.

© 2010 Mohan Kumar

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Comments 17 comments

Abby2034 profile image

Abby2034 6 years ago from New York, New York

Wow. This is realy good. You made it feel like he was talking to me.I'm leaving my light on when I go to sleep tonight...


Docmo profile image

Docmo 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Abby!


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Mohan, You made this so real, so "possible", and who among us would never receive that visitor? I know of no one who does not succumb to dark thoughts and depression. This short tale is so powerful, aside from the excellence in your style of writing, because it rings so plausible. You knock me out with your imagination and firm fix on the reality of the unknown. Powerful, perfectly executed, horrifically real, reminiscent of the "boogy man under every child's bed, "I will sleep with the lights on" masterpiece. You are an "outer limits" talent.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Amy, I wanted to do something away from the traditional spooky tale- unlike a ghost or a slasher tale but rooted in 'real' fears of childhood shadows that could still haunt us as adults. I am glad it is a successful exercise in spooks- as you may have guessed I have been writing each story in a different genre trying my hand at each to see if it works! Thank you.. I've dropped you an e-mail about links.


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I never received your email, Mohan. I hope you don't think I was ignoring your request. Your email is not available or I would have simply sent it to you that way. I'm sorry. Please try again as I think you would like the website.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

I sent it two days ago, will recheck the id.


Pedroemose profile image

Pedroemose 5 years ago

Wow. Just...wow. You really have well crafted sentences and careful wording -- not just the imagery, but the sound of reading the words itself is smooth, soothing, creepy poetry. I am in awe. Thank you so much for giving me an example I can look closely at and learn from...I want to figure out how you write the way you do. And if you aren't a famous Author yet, I know it's just a matter of time. Thank you for writing.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Oh, thanks for making my night! I am pleased that you like what you have read and bless you for wishing me the success in authorship. As long as I have appreciative readers like you who value the power of the written word, my dreams of publication can progress safely. See if you enjoy the other work and I am looking forward to reading yours. Much appreciated!


Neville Walk 5 years ago

This has to be the best hub I have read, having the quality of a published author and the ability to draw the reader in by making the creepy so recognisable. I know too well that horror in the middle of the night, when, staring at the figure at the bottom of the bed, not knowing if I am awake or dreaming, or struggling to move, yet stuck to the bed, as if a great weight were holding me down. I remember too, as a child, lying in bed, too terrified to look at the top of the wardrobe, convinced that there was a witch sitting on top of it. I think this tale is successful because its horror is so familiar and the emotions it evokes are easily understood, proving how similar are our experiences, no matter how unique we think they are.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

@NEville, thank you so much. I also believe that true 'horror' stems from those primordial fears that creep on us unsuspected.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Wonderful story, good thing I don't have nightmares.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Becky. you make me wanna write more and more.


jonmcclusk profile image

jonmcclusk 4 years ago from Cinnaminson, New Jersey

This story is imaginative and on the high-end when it comes to detail and emotion. It gives me plenty of ideas for stories that I may write in the future and for that I thank you my friend. An amazing story by an amazing writer and true gentleman.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Wow! Not many can bring me to a cold sweat with a story.

Only Poe...and now, Docmo!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK Author

Jon... thanks for championing this little tale. Much appreciated!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK Author

Will.. thanks for a great compliment. All the more sweet coming from a short story writer I admire.


carrie Lee Night profile image

carrie Lee Night 4 years ago from Northeast United States

Docmo: Good story.......I did not find this story to be creepy or scary in it's right, but it was interesting and Halloween worthy. Thank you for writing this story......your dungeon lives on :)

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