At night I sleep darkly and as I drift away the wisps of his boney dreamfingers reach out. Poke their ways inside to the back of my eyes.
That’s where the man is. The Nightmare Man. His name is Spindly Ticks.
He greets me and welcomes me to his dream when we first meet. His voice is high and sing-song. It’s ethereal. He might be whispering in your ear, but his voice always seems like it’s carried to you across a void. He speaks mostly in rhyme–a habit that bores into your ears and mind and you pick it up and try as you like to stop well, you cannot.
I do it while I’m awake now too. It’s got to be something to do with–
He tells me his name is Spindly Ticks and that he has been watching me for some time. He tells me about the eggs we have laid together. They’re under my boxspring he says. The first time I meet him he tells me all this and I laugh. The name sounds like a joke. The eggs are a joke. A dream. A childhood game. A phantom used to threaten little brother ‘till he cries. Never real. Always part of a game. It’s a dream after all. In dreams everything’s strange.
In the Nightmare Man Dreams you always know you’re dreaming. He tells you right away. That’s one of the tricks. If you know it’s a dream you know there’s rules. You’re not supposed to break the rules. Each kind of dream has its own set:
In the flying ones you fly, in the sexy ones you fuck, in the dying ones you die, in the lucky ones good luck—and so on. You know them. If only I’d had a dream about the lottery instead.
But you don’t have the list of rules of what to do or to try, or what to avoid in the dreams through The Nightmare Man’s eyes. He doesn’t tell you what they are. You must learn it as you go. That is the trick. So he can give you the licks—the ticks. This was the first dream where I’d seen what happened if you broke one. Or three.
Spindly Ticks is very, very real despite how it sounds. When we first meet and I have my laugh, He tells me:
“That’s one tick. Just a few more tries. Just a few more ticks off my list and the Brown One dies.”
“The Brown One?” I laughed again at that. Nonsense. What did it even mean?
…believe me…I didn’t know.
“You laugh twice? The Brown One is you. That’s not nice. Sometimes Spindly Ticks is nice, but never if you’re laughing twice.”
And then I feel it. Excruciating pain like a while hot poker fresh from a fire, searing into my gut. I don’t see the poker. There’s nothing there and The Nightmare Man isn’t holding it. He’s not pressing it in–not with his hands. But I can feel it. Digging and digging. Deeper and deeper. It burns, oh, it burns. As I double over with the hurt he slowly steps around me to my backside and uses his sharp fingers to cut through the thin fabric of my shirt, leaving my bare back exposed and laid out for him like a drawing desk where I am doubled over, screaming in pain.
The ticks he gives me are tally marks four inches long and about half an inch apart. He digs them right into the skin of my back with his fingers which are razor sharp. I get three of them for offending him. Three in the first dream. He tells me this is unheard of.
Lately most of the dreams, I have been avoiding them. It’s been a few weeks. But over time, I have accumulated 29. There’s not much room left for more.
“Laugh at Spindly Ticks like a fool? That breaks a rule. Screaming is against them too. Each rule you break earns a tick for you. You earn three lickity split. Three. Now stop screaming. Or it’s more. Stop screaming or it’s four.”
I don’t want four of the gashes so I stop. I have to bite down on my tongue to comply. I am crying. I always cry. I don’t know all the rules but I’ve never earned the licks or the ticks for crying. Sometimes the rules seem arbitrary like he’s changed them on the fly. Maybe if he ever came to you, you might not be allowed to cry? It all seems so arbitrary and yet personalized. When he comes to you–if he comes to you–you must tell me is screaming allowed or does he tell you to stop? I don’t know the rules.
“You should not be proud. In the first dream nobody earns three, and there’s only so much room on your back to fit. Once we get to where there’s only one tick left the last tick that you get is right across the neck and out comes the red and then I laugh and I drink and touch and play with your sticky blood ‘til you’re dead.
“Do you understand? Two ticks for laughing and one for the scream. That’s three rules you break right there. In the future when we meet, you must take better care.”
When I wake up, my stomach still burns and my back is raw with what looks like a scratch but there is no lasting damage. Not from the first dream. There is damage now. It’s inside of me. Not in a place where anyone can see.
He comes to me almost every night now. Wisping his spindly fingers, covered in tar and they claw behind my eyes, reaching out through the dark. They’re long, like long spiders’ legs articulated too many times, bending, and churning, and spinning the night into a smoke that belches out from the tips, and then the smoke clears and a parched gray desert of nothing appears. And there he stands. The Nightmare Man. His name is Spindly Ticks—but as funny as you might think that is—
The sky in the Nightmare Man dreams is black and churning. There’s no wind. Everything is still except the swirls in the sky which occasionally flashes and is shone white with fingers of lightning. Lightning that’s never accompanied by thunder.
No sounds here but an ambient drone, low and continuous—more a sound felt than heard. A tone that stretches out ceaselessly, finding a way to bore into your bones, and get inside, and stay there; it lives inside the marrow. You can feel the vibrations. I am writing this and awake and away from them but just thinking about them gives me the phantom vibrations. Like how an amputee can feel a lost limb, I can feel the pulsating…But it’s really not pulsating, you know. It’s constant, the sound, low and humming. After a while you think you can feel a pulse. You can feel it like a heartbeat in your fingers, in your toes. But really you can’t. It is all in your head. The sound doesn’t work to a beat. It is a few discordant notes in a set stretching onward in time. And the Nightmare Man, Mr. Spindly Ticks, will be standing there waiting to give you your licks.
When you see him, do try to stay as still as possible. That seems to work best. Sometimes he speaks first–but sometimes you have to do it–I don’t suggest speaking first if you can help it. Never speak first if you can help it. I always end up breaking a rule. The best way to not break the rules is to wait. Only speak after spoken to. You will have to speak to him before you’re allowed to wake and leave. It might feel like days on this end but on the end where your body is left, upon waking you’ve only spent a few mere hours of rest. Just like any other dream.
Sometimes he tells me a rule or two. Or even things about him. This is how I learn how to make it stop. Well maybe not stop; these nightly jaunts with my spindle limbed friend. I won’t make it for forever, but the next dream might not be the end…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“I have always been and I have always watched. I have always tickled my spins and spindleyed my ticks. And I like to find the new ones like you that I can press my fingers in.
“Anywhere really. Sometimes the leg. Sometimes an arm. My favorite spot is the navel—such a great deal of harm I can inflict by sticking my ticklers into a belly button and pick, pick, pick, pick them apart. Organ by organ. Pulling each one out until I get to eat their heart.”
Coyly I replied, “Mr. Ticks, sir, may I ask a question?”
“It’s not against the rules right?”
He smiles so wide it’s unnerving. He likes it when you learn his rules but he will almost never purposefully teach you one. He likes it when you learn and he likes it when you don’t. Spindly Ticks has too many teeth and not enough lips and a smile spreads across the width of the sphere of his skull and the teeth are too big in size and there’s more and more of them than there should be. He sits now–on The Nothing. There is no chair. He just eases back as though there is and The Nothing holds him there, knees bent and then bending again. He crosses his left leg over his right and lifts the right from the ground until he sits in midair and his smile is unnerving and the floating is unnerving.
He makes the rules and I’m the one that dreams the dream, it still belongs to him and the rules belong to him and I can’t break them. I wait for him to answer.
“No Mr. Scott. Asking the question about the ticklers and their spindling is fine. I won’t punish you with ticks because you ask nicely this time.”
And as I am about to ask him, he already knows the question. He heard it pop up in my head so he answers before I ask it…
“Well, Brown One, you know I can kill you any time I like? Any. Time. I. Like. You’ll get your last tick and it will be across the neck and that’s the one that will stick because there won’t be any left. That’s the tick that sticks and blood will fill the bed and you will wake up for a moment, but you’ll find that you are dead. You wonder how can I make that tick stick? And steal the blood from your heart, when you wake the ones I give you now are just little puffy scars?
“Spindly Ticks does not live here in this land that you see. I come to meet you and make my demands. Yes, I come to play the games in your dreams. But I live where you do, right now we are neighbors. I made a nest in the tresses above you and stay there. You don’t remember but we laid the eggs. You and me and your lover, we were three. The final tick will be in your bed–in person. I’ll cut your throat while you sleep. I took your seeds and I came and crawled beneath the springs and laid the eggs. Then the eggs hatched and we were blessed. I’m watching you here and I’m watching you there. The babies make it so.
“When the babies hatched–the one and the two–they knew where to go to find the minds. They crawled inside eyes. Once the little babies crawled inside the eyes then I could go from beside your bed to inside your dreams. But why? But why not? Because fun little games. THAT’S WHY!”
He suddenly looked angry and stood from the Nothing-Chair. The thing I was thinking was breaking the rules. Stop thinking. Stop thinking. ‘Why?’
“Because I like to know,” he boomed “that there’s a little piece of me and it’s living inside and then I like to come to the dreams and make you play by the rules and give you the licks. Listen before I send you away, I will not give a lick or a tick to you today. Already you have 29. Only two more and then you die. I’ll cut off your head”
He paused, “Thirty-one and you’re dead.”
Spindly Ticks chuckled at this rhyme, but the laughter was another trick; to see if you’d join. My heart sank. I did not laugh. Laughing is against the rules.
“31 and you’re done. 31 is the throat and you’ll choke on the blood. Rules are rules are rules are rules and you always break the rules. You’ve had to learn the rules on your own since day one. Here is one that I’ll help you learn. So listen closely… I enjoy watching you squirm and bend but I don’t want you to die. We’re lovers. We’re friends. I don’t want our fun playtime to end…so I will tell you how to earn a reprieve so a little bit longer you survive…”
And he did. Spindly Ticks told me how to make him go away. Not forever but for a few days. He might come back, but that depends on how much fun he has with his new friends. You see, I didn’t know it, but I had invited him in with something I did and if I help him…well… Spindly Ticks wants more friends to visit to watch, to enter their dreams and stay in their thoughts. Spindly Ticks will visit you soon. Maybe tonight. There’s nothing you can do to stop this–that’s right. It’s already done. You’ve already invited him. Uninviting is against the rules and besides, its not polite.
He only visits one person at a time so you might not see him for a week or a month or if enough people read this, maybe even years. One at a time and it’s only a dreamer with his name on their mind. Think it three times in one day and you invite him in and after that he can come and go and come inside on a whim. You’ve thought his name much more than that. You thought it three times in the last paragraph. By the time I am done, in these 2961 words, I’ll have written it 16 times by the end just to be sure. The name is powerful. Three is all he needs.
Someone had written “Spindly Ticks” in the margin of a book that I checked out from the library. I understand why now they did it to save themselves. So he’d have an invite from someone else. The last time that book was checked out was in the 90’s though. It somehow had escaped probably a dozen cataloging and software updates and still had a stamp card. I don’t think sharing his name like that worked for that person. That was a long time ago. Maybe if they were good and followed the rules? I doubt they’re still alive.
Think his name thrice. Then he can enter whenever he likes.
Inside the walls or the roof or the floor is where he creeps
He builds a nest inside somewhere, near to where you sleep.
You’ll help him make the eggs that he lays beneath you in your bed.
And then the eggs will hatch and the babies will crawl straight inside your head.
You can’t lock the windows because he can somehow pass through.
He’s already been invited. Nothing left for you to do.
For men he takes the seeds and then lays the eggs.
For women he reaches the spindle tickler inside and plucks one free.
He fertilizes that then himself and it grows and grows exponentailly.
To the size of a fist and you’d never know.
Because hidden beneath the bed it goes.
He does this all while you sleep.
When you wake up tomorrow, check and see.
If they’re not cracked open it’s not too late.
Probably you will forget.
Probably the babies are inside.
By the time I found ours it was too late.
It will probably be too late for you too.
Once they crack open and get inside,
Then your babies let him see your dreams.
Big and smooth and black and round.
It hatches and crawls in through your eye.
Cracked open down the center with nothing left inside.
I can feel it now. In my head. Just like he said.
It will grow in there until it breaks open my head too.
Cracks it right in two. Just like the egg.
He’s got nothing to gain from this.
He told me himself.
Does it for fun.
To fill you with squirm.
It’s all in the rules.
As you go, you’ll learn.
I don’t want to die.
I never meant to hurt any of you.
Please believe me.
You’ll think this is just a big joke.
You’ll never remember to check beneath.
The eggs will hatch and I’ll stay alive.
I just have so much I want to do before I die.
To see my new stuff make sure that you follow me on Reddit.com/u/scott_savino if I stop posting things there, please send a message to my family that I love them and that I’ve fallen into an abyss. Except Uncle Jack. He’s an ass. Don’t tell him about it.
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