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The Abstract

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You had thought the low rent had been a gift. It really, really hadn’t been. There was always a price with these things, and you hadn’t done your research. Now you lived next to cursed grounds, and your lease meant you were stuck there for five years.

If only you could go back in time and smack yourself. If only you could make your past self read the paperwork. But you hadn’t, and it was too late to change anything. You had to live with the consequences.

Those consequences turned out to be dire. Extremely supernatural, too. It was the worst possible combination you could imagine.

The neighboring town of Whyshburg always had something going on, and it always bled over to your neck of the woods. Sometimes it was as simple as a fish person that just needed to be chased off with a broom. Other times, it was that weird pale dude who always lugged a shovel around. And when it was the worst, it was some brainless monster that stomped through looking for more victims or whatever. You always holed up in your townhouse then.

This time, though, it wasn’t ‘some monster.’ This latest incident wasn’t some creature you could run off of your puny lawn. It was a whole damn storm, and it whipped through your area so relentlessly that you thought your roof would blow off. It never did, but you weren’t sure how long your luck was going to last.

You learned very quickly, however, to keep the lights off. The storm brought weird creatures you had never seen before, and most of them weren’t very picky about who they went after. Most of your days and nights turned into calling into work and holing up in the closet, holding onto your baseball bat for dear life. The sweltering heat in there didn’t make that easy.

You heard unnatural -- inhuman -- screams and roars from the outside, but tried to pay them no mind. Your neighbors were smart enough to do what you were doing, so no one was getting hurt. The monsters usually passed through after breaking your windows. Annoying, but not horrible.

This wasn’t your issue. Right? Right. It couldn’t be, because you couldn’t fix it or help anyone. You just had to ride it out, just like the last couple of years. It would pass, and then things would be back to normal.

You had to believe that.

The howling winds and the constant thunder made it very hard to rest. Any sense of normalcy, however, was desperately needed. You curled up on your bed, covered your head with the thick blankets, and tried desperately to fall asleep. It never worked, of course. Who could sleep during a storm like this?

Still, though, you kept your eyes shut and yourself quiet. Maybe your whole body was tense, but that was just to be expected. All you had to do was relax amidst the cyclone of horror, and you’d be fine. You told yourself that over and over, but you still couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was because of the noise, or maybe it was because the room was cold.

... Wait. Why was it cold?

You squeezed your eyes shut tighter, but the damage had been done. You couldn’t unrealize what you had realized. Your room shouldn’t be cold, and it was. That meant that something was probably in here. You hadn’t heard anyone crawl in, so it was probably ... not dangerous. Right? You hoped as much.

You dared to hope enough to crack an eye open. You froze in your bed and clutched at your blankets, trembling when you saw the mist in your room. Mist wasn’t supposed to be here, and -- oh, God, were you fucked? You were fucked, weren’t you.

It was easy to assume as such. Once your eyes adjusted to the dark, it was impossible not to see that something stood there. The wind from outside didn’t move the mist like it should, but the rags the creature wore billowed in the harsh breeze. It whipped them around, and for a moment, it was hard to get a look at their face.

Once you did, you wished you could unsee it.

The damn thing had teeth everywhere on the lower half of its face. There was no discernable pattern. You looked at its dark gray skin, its beady white eyes, and eventually allowed yourself to (somewhat) admire the jagged crown that sat atop its head. It shifted, showing some spines that jutted out from its upper back.

Mist continued to swirl around the creature, but it waved it away with a brush of its massive claws. You swallowed nervously, too scared to even breathe. You remained perfectly still, eyes locked with its own.

You were definitely screwed.

It took a step forward, opening its jagged mouth to reveal even more teeth than you thought a creature could have. They glistened, unnaturally so, and were fresh with blood. This guy had gotten some other poor sod, and you were next.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!

Your entire body trembled in pure terror, and while that baseball bat next to your bed was in reach, you couldn’t will yourself to move. All you could do was stare. It seemed to revel in this. How could you tell? The damn thing chuckled in your head. It rumbled through your core, making you shiver with fear.

I do so love when a mortal trembles before the Nightmare Kings,’ he gloated. ‘ But it’s hardly fun when they don’t run.’

Wait. What?

I refuse to let you go so easily,’ he continued. He flexed his claws, making you flinch. You didn’t want to imagine what it would feel like to be ripped up by those things. ‘I want to hear you scream for your life.’

You, being a stubborn person, just shook your head. Defying this thing might not be your smartest move, but you were never the smartest person. Besides, spite was a powerful tool. You wouldn’t die begging.

The Nightmare King laughed outright, and you wished he would laugh in your head again. His actual voice was far, far worse. Perhaps he reveled in that.

‘Oh, I can make you quake with fear,’ the Nightmare King said. ‘Everyone has a nightmare. Everyone has something they hate most. Something that makes them want to run away screaming. And yours will be easy to find.’

... Wait a fucking second. You squinted your eyes at the Nightmare King, and dared to shift somewhat in your bed. That seemed like quite the bold claim to make. You didn’t hate clowns, the fish people didn’t scare you, bugs were pretty chill ... you almost wanted to see what he would do.

The Nightmare King rasped quietly, reaching towards you -- and then he paused. He even blinked. You had never seen a monster look so confused, and if it weren’t for the fact that you were almost certainly dead, you’d laugh.

He shut his eyes, clearly trying to focus. A moment later, his eyes shot open again, this time betraying his befuddlement.

‘Failure? Abandonment?’ The Nightmare King hissed in aggravation. ‘ These are the things you fear?’

“Uh ... yes?” You hated how meek you sounded. “Doesn’t everyone?”

‘They are abstract concepts! Impossible to turn into, impossible to embody --’

He almost sounded ... angry? Frustrated? You couldn’t quite parse the tone in your head, but he wasn’t looking at you. He was too busy throwing a punch at the wall. It really was the perfect time to grab your baseball bat. You slowly shifted on the bed, praying that the creak from the mattress wasn’t heard over the howling wind.

‘I refuse to let you die to my true form. No one deserves that honor!’

Sucks to suck, you thought as your hand wrapped around the base of the bat. You slowly -- carefully -- stood up, readying your feeble little weapon. You were going to go out swinging, if nothing else. Your knees may knock together, your hands may shake, but you were going to swing this wooden thing at this monster until one of you went down.

The Nightmare King looked back at you after putting a hole in your bedroom wall. He paused, glanced at the bat, then glanced at you. He did not look impressed, but he did look very baffled. Had he seriously never met anyone that wasn’t afraid of bugs? It made you cocky.

Dangerously cocky.

“Sounds like someone doesn’t know how to deal with weird shit!” you called over the howling storm. “Like hell I’m going to die to some little bitch that wants to be a fucking clown!”

‘You dare --’

“Damn right I dare, and if you don’t get the fuck out of here with your shapeshifting bullshit, I’ll beat you until you’re just a mess on the ground!”

It was an empty threat, but apparently the Nightmare King was grappling with his threats, his pride, and the fact that he couldn’t shapeshift into anything other than a big fat ‘0’ on an essay. He hissed at you, but it seemed a lot more empty now.

You roared with the wind, charged, and promptly ran into the wall. The mist had moved, and you were too caught up in your own burst of bravery to see it. Brilliant. You stumbled backwards, shaking off the force of the ‘attack,’ and looked around trying to see where the bitch Nightmare King had gone.

He wasn’t anywhere.

Now you were the one who was confused. You looked around, trying to find the creature that had invaded your home.

‘If you fear abandonment so, I will leave,’ came an echoing thought. It sounded so far away. ‘But I will be back.’

You really wanted to tell the Nightmare King that this didn’t really qualify as ‘abandonment,’ but you were too stunned about the fact that the thing had no idea how to act with you and just gave up. You stood there, in the middle of the room, with a throbbing headache and knocking knees.

What the fuck had just happened?