(With special thanks to Rogan for giving me the original idea)
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Leo Parish came knocking at my door one fine Saturday morning. He looked like death on horseback, and I told him so.
He was dressed in a black turtleneck sweater, over which he wore a brown sweatshirt with the hood up. There was nothing wrong with this dress itself, but it was the middle of spring and at ten in the morning the air was already warm. Leo should have been drowning in sweat. Instead he was shivering. I ushered him quickly inside and sat him down in my study.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked. “Maybe a hot chocolate?”
“B-brandy, please. If you have it.”
“Coming right up.”
I poured him a generous brandy, fixing myself a rum and cola while I was at it, and returned to the study with both. I took the chair opposite his and set the drinks down on the table. My study is a very oldstyle sort of place. Leather high-backed chairs, ornate mahogany tables, and every other adornment a rich fop like myself would want to be surrounded by whilst taking an afternoon nap. I got back up to turn the heat on, then sat and waited for Leo to speak.
“Thanks for the brandy.”
“Not at all. It comes with a price, though.”
“You need to tell me what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into, old friend”
“D-do you promise not to tell another soul?”
“I promise, and I do not make promises lightly. Now talk. Why are you wearing all that clothing on this fine warm day? Are you that cold?”
“No…well, yes, but that’s not really the reason. The cold doesn’t go away, no matter what I wear.”
“So why the clothing?”
“I needed to look normal.”
“Normal?? Leo, what’s wrong with you?”
“James…I’ve known you a long time. I know you’re an honorable man, and not easily shocked, but please…don’t be disgusted with me.”
“Whatever it is, James, whatever’s wrong, just show me. Please?”
“Okay.” Leo grabbed a double handful of his shirt and jacket. In one motion, he peeled them both off his back. He was wearing no undershirt. I think I gasped- I couldn’t help myself.
From the neck down, Leo Parish was absolutely covered with tattoos. He’d also shaved his head bald, though no ink yet graced his skull.
“Leo,” I whispered. “What have you done?” This was a perfectly idiotic question- it was obvious what he’d done- but it was the first thing that came into my head. You might say I was shocked stupid.
“It’s a long story, James. Get me another brandy, and something strong for yourself- you’ll want it before I’m done.”
I was prepared to believe him.
The nightmares had started roughly six months ago. He’d had no idea what to make of them- towering, cyclopean horrors that faded almost immediately upon waking- but they preyed on his mind when he turned out the lights. For a while, he’d ignored them as best he could; always aware that his stability in the waking world was slowly being eroded, like some sandy beach that is suddenly pounded by unquiet waters.
Then, one night, nothing. He did not dream any other dreams, but he slept peacefully, and that was enough. The nightmares slipped quietly off the radar screens of his mind.
About one week later: He dreamt of a towering stone building- a house maybe. Behind this building there were earthen walls bracketed by marble, stone, and other materials. All around, there grew a garden of immense lushness. In this garden, he saw plants he did not recognize. He stood on the cobblestone path, amidst this impossible greenness, and was content. His path was shadowy, speared by tiny slices of light. He looked up and saw that the vines met and intertwined above his head, creating a natural tunnel where sunlight was filtered into dimness.
When he looked back down, she was there.
This woman stood, her back to him, wearing a gown of doeskin green intertwined with the selfsame vines that looped and hung all around him. Her hair was an unblemished shade of black, and it cascaded over her shoulders in a perfect, beautiful waterfall. In his dream, he was enraptured. He had to have this woman, this mysterious stranger whose face he did not know. He stepped forward to touch her. Suddenly he was awake. He looked down at himself and noticed that he had an erection.
He went about his day with a strange detachment. His dream did not fade, as almost all dreams do. Rather, it intensified. Every moment of his time in the garden replayed itself to him, over and over again. Each time he saw the beautiful woman with the black hair, a surge of passion overcame him and the world seemed to waver. He did not attend his last class that day. Instead, he sat in a bathroom stall and thought of the woman with the black hair. And masturbated.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.