The Horrorterrors visit him in his sleep. Watch him squirm, watch him whimper and come so close to crying out, watch his hands—watch as they close, as they squeeze and worry. John Lalonde is so young, even with the way he dresses. His closets are full of suits but in his sleep he is still a kid, still a child. The Horrorterrors wrap their infernal tentacles around him. They pull and suck and hug. They whisper words of comfort and his head lolls and his eyes flicker behind his lids. The Horrorterrors kiss him with their beaks, with their suckers, with their mouths like Venus Flytraps and the steel grilles of cars.
Their language: stars and astronauts rotting inside their suits, the movement of seaweed on the shores of the deepest ocean. They whisper, with their mouths like the broken shards of lightbulbs and the sweet petals of an open rose, and he understands them. He hears them. They hold him so tightly, and they will never let go.
They need him, they say, and his own mouth tightens in sympathy.
They are scared. They are dying and they don’t know why.
They need him.
They push against his mouth and eyes and ears and nose, force their way inside. They need him they need him they need him, and he must carry them with him. John Lalonde wakes from every dream with an aching face, with dried salt-tracks on his cheeks. They slide inside his brain. He slips, draws tentacles in blue pen on his school notebooks, and doesn’t know why. He listens in class and writes his notes in another language, a language full of slithery sounds and hard consonants and odd symbols, and doesn’t notice until someone looks over his shoulder.
The Horrorterrors kiss the bags under his eyes, cry over him. Their Heir is fading. John wakes up already tired, hands hurting. He finds that he scratches himself in his sleep, finds blood under his fingernails and long deep marks down his arms and chest and belly. The Horrorterrors hold his hands in their own, when they have hands, tangle around him like fishnets, and he is underwater. In his dreams, he is always underwater. He is always floating.
He wakes up choking, coughing for breath, throws up water in his bathroom. He closes the door, makes sure not to wake his mother.
Dave is the first person to mention anything. What he says is, ‘ha ha dude they just wont leave you alone!!!!’ verbatim. Dave is a Prospit dreamer, and he sleeps in cities of gold.
John remembers his own dreams, sometimes, gets flashes of rich purple velvet and dark waters like wine. His friend Jade is a Derse dreamer, she says, and what he describes sounds like Derse, to her. She never sees him. She dreams of lavender towers and sparkling mirrors and dresses like layer cakes, all sugar-spun and covered in rosettes. John doesn’t know what he wears, when he dreams, but he suspects it’s a funeral suit, a suit with the fly and jacket sewn shut.
The Horrorterrors try to open the suit for him, try to rip every stitch apart, because he starts to choke in his dreams, too. He cannot get enough air. They press themselves into his lungs and they do not understand why he cannot get enough air. They fill his chest with seawater and sand and tiny starfish and when he wakes he throws up again and again, shells hitting the cold ceramic of the toilet.
“Heir,” they whisper to him, cradling his head in their multitude of arms, “Heir, win. Win for us.”
John whimpers and murmurs and they lick away his tears. They shed their own tears.
Mother allows him to miss school for a day, two days, and he is healthier at home. Walking hurts. His body is heavy and aching and he falls asleep at his computer, hands covering his face. He dreams the same thing every time, or almost. His dreams never change. He never goes anywhere else.
They hold him and they tell him to win, they cradle and coddle and call him Heir. He does not know what he is the Heir of.
Dave tells him, in a moment of silliness, that he needs to wake up.
He is awake, he responds, his tone more curt than usual, vision blurry and eyes red-rimmed. When he gives his hair a gentle tug, strands come away. He does not mention any of this.
Not now, Dave says, and ends the sentence with multiple smiley faces. When he’s asleep!
I think I see things under my own skin, John doesn’t say. They look like tentacles, and I am losing my mind. He deletes the sentences as they sit in the message box, replaces them with a quick ambiguous ‘okay’.
When Rose asks him if he’d like to play a videogame, he says yes. Immediately. Without asking any questions, he agrees. Anything to distract him from his sleeping life, anything to keep him up late and wake him up early.
The Horrorterrors shift and change in response, hug him close, move like fractals. They are excited, too.
He orders a Beta, under Rose’s instruction, because he can’t focus enough on the screen to see the checkout button. She tells him, bluntly, to get more sleep.
Haha, he types, face curling into a frown, yeah, I will!
She knows he won’t, but she doesn’t say anything.
The Beta comes in the mail, and his mother places it delicately on his desk. It is his birthday.
The day John turns thirteen, he rips Sburb from it’s packaging. The tentacles curl around the disk, momentarily, and he almost drops it.
He tells Dave that the game is installing, and Harley’s response, the entirety of it, is ‘oh man :(’, and then he goes offline.
The Horrorterrors wait. They do not have much time, but they wait. They worm their way into John Lalonde’s heart as his eyes finally, finally, flicker open.