THE MANIFESTATION • by Nicholas Ozment

Through long, dark tunnels, through subconscious labyrinths, finding his way through secret fungal forests, the pale figure came.

He was nearing the surface. The black-caped figure could tell–he sensed less weight of earth above him, and the heat from the world’s belly was increasingly supplemented by another heat, radiating from the distant star. That red giant repelled him even as it attracted him: he had been made to hide from its face, to draw sustenance from it only indirectly, in the night-shadows.

There had been obstacles to his trek. Now there was another one. He sensed it before he saw it. It barked a guttural yelp as it struck.

He ducked beneath the hairy arms, rolling several yards and springing back to his feet.

The towering, shaggy beast–fully three heads taller than him–proved faster than he anticipated. The moment he regained his footing, a massive arm batted him across the chest like a club.

With a hollow thud, his back slammed against the bole of a blood-red, gnarled tree.

The force of impact would have cracked a few ribs of a living man, but death had not leeched his bones and made them brittle; rather, they had grown tough as granite. No one had ever weighed a vampire, as far as he knew, but he suspected he must weigh twice as much as a man of his size. Paradoxically, he could move with the grace and agility of a jungle cat. It was not muscle and tendon that internally moved his limbs; it was supernatural force.

He scooted backwards up the tree’s trunk–a physical feat the sight of which would have been unnerving, had there been a human witness. He scurried from harm’s range like a spider, then launched himself from the tree and somersaulted in air, landing on the beast-man’s back.

His bony arms wrapped around his adversary’s neck, and he buried his face in its mane, nuzzling through the thick hair. His teeth found purchase.

The beast-man roared, trying to swat the parasite from its back. It suddenly went rigid, and toppled forward like a felled tree. A cloud of spores burst from the vaguely skull-shaped mushrooms in its wake.

He continued to drain, until he was sure the beast would not recover. Then he stood, irritably trying to brush the coarse, clinging hair from his cape.

Before he moved on, he glanced curiously at the beast-man’s feet–thinking of the moniker the above-worlders had christened such creatures. He decided that its feet were in normal proportion to its height–“big” only insomuch as every part of it was big. Curiosity and belly sated, he returned to his path.

He could smell fresh air before he came to the opening, the crack in the surface. “Fresh” was a relative term, for this air from above was saturated with poisons. He felt fortunate that his lungs were not finicky.

Clawing his way up, finding handholds on twisted pipe and blocks of cement and melted chunks of asphalt, he emerged.

He stood, a newborn from a crippled womb, and surveyed what was left.

He made his way to the object of his quest. His temple.

Cobwebs clung to his hair and cape. There was no light, but nocturnal predators didn’t need it. Still, he was hunting more than quarry. He procured a black candle from an inner pocket, and lit it with a kiss.

For hours he perused the stacks. Many of the books crumbled in his slim fingers, pages sloughing from their brittle bindings.

He held one a long while. A special book, written long ago by the Blessed Stoker.

He found books that depicted familiar foes on their covers. Here were the little grey men from the saucer. He had taken several of them down rather easily–strange, chemical taste to their blood–before the rest fled: All their weapons were of metal. And here was a picture of his latest adversary–kind of–it looked, rather, like a photograph of a man dressed in an ape-suit, mimicking it, walking away from the camera but glancing back over its shoulder. And here were the elves. They lived deeper down, much deeper down than he, and he feared them. Their magic was more powerful than his.

But nowhere here was there a sign of life. The humans were no more. The ones who had called them all into being, the ones who dreamed strong enough that their dreams manifested, were gone.

He had come to meet his maker, to embrace his father, to kiss his mother. They were dust.

He slumped onto a moldy, tattered high-back chair and stared at the books, all of them, too, inexorably turning to dust.

And he thought about the makers. The people who had written and bound and read and retold. When the sun rose and he slept, he dreamed about them. And he hoped that some of their subcreative faculty had been transferred to their creation. If so, then perhaps if he thought, if he dreamed, long enough, he could conjure them back. Through the life-germ they had implanted in him, they would be born again.

Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. In his spare time he does his best to add to the clutter of libraries and the World Wide Web.

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