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T. N. Allan
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studyloss.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

A Study in Loss & Hunger

by

T. N. Allan

 

Given the time I have spent upon this Earth - years which seem to have passed as though subdued by setting amber—it is reasonable to assume that I have grown used to the arcane nature of my dreams. They are empty things for the most part; strange uninhabited landscapes conjured into being by my over-active mind. Recently, however, I have found myself the recipient of the most peculiar dream, a recurring nightmare in which the empty sanctity of my dream state is invaded. I have thought of putting this particular dream to paper several times before now, but have found the details somewhat intangible upon waking. This then, shall serve as my attempt to piece together the various fragments of narrative which I have managed to retain, so that I might better study the individual memories as a coherent whole. It must be stated here that I seem to play no physical role in the events as they are set out below; rather, I am present merely as an observer; a ghostly watcher who could neither affect nor be affected by the incidents which took place before me. For this reason, as narrator, I must forego the familiarity of human form, and speak as though I were as insubstantial as the very nature of dreaming itself.

                                        ***

For all the discordant efforts of the lone winds, the mournful melodies which seemed to carve erratic patterns into the uncaring canvas of dust, it was a landscape grown unused to the tread of living creatures. I somehow knew there to have been a great civilization present at one time; a race of industrious creatures who had taken their world and molded it into great works of architectural engineering, sculpting the pliant earth into entire cities of steel and glass, but any physical traces of such a civilization had long since been eroded from this world. Now, as I understood it, was a time after the cities of glass had been returned to their formative state of sand, and the sands themselves had in turn been eroded down into so much dust. Even the once great seas had withered and died, leaving behind nothing more than a perpetual, desolate shoreline, awaiting the arrival of a tide which would never materialize. There were no more stars left to shine their celestial light high up in the night sky, nor even a day with which the darker hours could be more happily contrasted with. Had the wind been capable of speech, it might have cried out in chill despair for the lost memory of tree and leaf, for the forgotten sensations of waving grass and roiling waters, but without a voice with which to speak, the wind merely howled with a singular melancholy, the like of which had never been heard by mortal ear; my own present dream state not withstanding.

                                        ***

When the creature came, it appeared from out of the endless dust storm; a grossly misshapen silhouette advancing with measured difficulty through the flat and barren wastelands. Being in possession of the omnipotence which I’ve found comes often with dreaming, I felt an inexplicably complete understanding of the creature before it had even fully resolved into full view. Of consciousness, which is to say intelligence, I sensed that the creature was poorly served. In essence, I intuited it to be a gestalt entity, comprised of an uncountable number of feeble and inferior intellects. The component parts, which together formed the dark bulk of the steadily approaching monstrosity, retained only enough autonomy sufficient to ensure they could effectively serve their sole purpose in keeping the gargantuan frame of the beast in motion. I knew those components to have been people once, the final remnants of the lost civilization which had once dominated the world so utterly. Now, they were so much muscle, and nothing more.

As the creature further approached my imagined position, I began to better distinguish the individual bodies, each of which served as a single constituent piece of the creature. What looked to have once been fingers and toes now intertwined with the corresponding digits of the bodies immediately above and below, flesh and bone meshed together by the combined forces of both time and gravity. With a wearisome effort, the creature shuddered one leg—spindle thin when compared with its bloated body—up into the choking air, before driving it’s needle point tip back down into the dead earth below. Another leg followed, then another, and another. The ground seemed to quake for untold miles around me, as the creature raised and lowered each of its eight legs in turn.

          For the poor unfortunates who found themselves positioned at the very tips of each of those arachnid legs, pain must surely have been the totality of their sorry existence. Their own legs had long since fused together, now tapering to spear-like points where once there had been feet. While those situated in those points dwelt in constant, unending pain, I knew the collective hive mind of the creature felt only one primary sensation, knew of only one motivation with which to shape its continued existence.

          Hunger.

          And the spider’s hunger knew no bounds.

                                        ***

Time, such as it had been understood in the age of civilization, had been rendered meaningless when faced with the harsh reality of a dead world, but in the sense of time which my presence brought to the dreamland, I knew the spider to have been up and walking for millennia. When stripped down to the most basic of needs, this obscene parody of Humanity had formed itself into the perfect creature with which to stalk the world, hunting all living things into the abyss of extinction; all down to its desperate quest to satiate it’s abhorrent appetite. Over the course of its wanderings, which I understood to have taken in the entirety of the globe, the spider had devoured every kind of living creature; tasting of the flesh from the largest cattle, all the way down to the most insignificant of insect life. Every last one of the spider’s victims had been consumed whilst still alive, so that each of the animals had understood the true nature of the horror which lay ahead of them, as they were fed into the slavering abyss of foetid teeth which served as the spider’s mouth.

          Occasionally, the spider would ingest something rotten, some fell creature whose flesh proved anathema to even the cast iron stomachs of the gestalt beast. These poisoned scraps would be vomited back out of the spider in great black chunks of acidic darkness; something which always proved to be an entirely joyous occasion for the spider, as it allowed for the hunks of dead meat to be consumed a second, third, or sometimes even a fourth time. Eventually, the meat would be persuaded to stay down.

          Aided by the vagaries of dreaming, I was able to discern the inevitable sequence of events which this mockery of evolution had caused. In due time, all animal life in the world had been consumed by the spider, so that no living creature, save the monstrosity itself, could now lay claim to stir upon either land or sea. Still slaved to its insatiable hunger, the spider learned to adapt its diet towards the plant life, leading to its carving of many ravenous paths through the great forests of the world. The tallest and mightiest of oaks shattered beneath the creatures advance, spearing splinters of wood, arrow-like, into the ground. Eventually, once all the trees had, in turn, been consumed, the spider returned for those splinters, which were inexorably followed by the still budding shoots which sought to regrow the fallen forests.

          Finally, there was nothing left. Nothing but the lonesome winds, the cracked, dead earth, and the intangible mountains of dust. Yet, still, the spider wandered across the crusted scab of the world, seeking, without success, a fresh source of food with which to feed its hunger. Periodically, the spider would open wide it’s repulsive mouth, allowing for clouds of dust to enter the yawning chasm, but the dust had little effect on the creatures’ ferocious appetite.

          After a sufficient passage of time - a period which I felt to have surely extended into years - the hive mind of the spider began to accept that it had, indeed, devoured all the life from the world, that it had bled it’s homeland dry like an over eager leech. Hungrily, it raised its congealed mass of eyes up towards the sky, as though it might have plucked the stars down from out of the night, like burning apples from a blackened tree. Alas, the stars had already been extinguished, though whether through age or through fear of the spider’s noisome maw, I could not tell.

          Even in a world so distant from the normalcy of waking life, and within a creature so far removed from anything known to mankind, despair followed keenly in the wake of hunger. The spider became frantic, assaulted by the new and previously unknown sensation of panic. Its enormous legs thundered wildly up and down, snapping some of the component bodies into compound angles. In desperation, it drove its head, jack hammer-like, through the scab like shell of the earth, bursting sections of its gelatinous eyes in the process. A deep rumbling sound, emanating from beneath my dreamer’s feet, was all I required to be sure that the spider had turned it’s hunger upon the very earth itself.

          With this newly discovered taste for earth and silt, there was no stopping the spider. Steadily, though still retaining the manic anger with which it had first broken through the crust of the land, the creature set about its ultimate task; the devouring of the entire world. Time turned to fluid as I watched, until the spider, with no thought for its own future, finally ate its way to the very end of the world.

          I, now, seemed suspended within a void of Stygian darkness, just as the spider clung, upside down, to the final piece of earth evident in the never-ending nullity of this existence. With a dreadful inevitability, that too was consumed, so that the spider began to plunge into a bottomless chasm of nothingness. I seemed to follow in its fall, though my dream self-possessed an almost avian grace, which the ungainly spider could not hope to imitate. All eight of the spider’s legs twitched repulsively as it tumbled end over end, as though it were combing the darkness. A sickening sight in and of itself, I took this to be the mindless constituents of the creature reaching out for a surface on which to anchor the greater whole of the gestalt, but I was quite, revoltingly wrong.

For as the spider continued on its never-ending descent, it stretched its own legs up towards its mouth, and began to chew.

                                        ***

On each of the occasions I have been unfortunate enough to have to suffer through this dream, I have awoken with a frightful start, my heart pounding as though it were myself, and not the monstrous spider, who were falling down into that endless night. A temporary wave of confusion seems always to follow the dream state, a period of unreality in which I am incapable of discerning which was the greater hunger, the colony of the spider, or the total abyss into which it fell. This quickly passes, as reality reasserts it’s dominion over my brain, while the memories of the dream soon begin to fade.

          Within an hour of my waking, I force the dream aside, remaining ignorant of the dream’s meaning, if it should possess any. Following that, all that remains for me to close out the dream, is to immediately appease my own burgeoning hunger.





Hailing from the oft-contested northern realm of Northumberland, England, T.N. Allan is now resident in the Scottish Borders, having studied creative writing at Edinburgh University from 2012–2013. Recent publications include flash fiction published online by 365 Tomorrows, and The Flash Fiction Press, while poetry has appeared in print, published by the Horror Writers Association, and Cemetery Moon Magazine.

In Association with Fossil Publications