Craig Boone stood on his knees, his ankles attached to chains. He was a grizzled man in his early 30s, with a afternoon shadow growing across his face. His eyes, wild and green, gazed around the dungeon, looking for anything to help him out of here. A single brick had fallen from the dungeon wall, sometime ago, he supposed, although it was pitch black inside. He wasn't wearing anything except his boxers, which left his skin open to attack by the flies.
The flies were the worst part. Craig would bolt his body in any direction he could manage, trying to shake them off. The flies were like vultures across him, and he could feel their soft bites gnawing across his flesh. He was in absolute hell, which wouldn't surprise him if he was actually in hell, all things considered. He wasn't the best man, but surely he didn't deserve this, did he? The gray brick dungeon held no answers, just chains and flies. There was a steel door, rusted and ruined, just across from his view, but he knew that even if he managed to get free, it'd have a high chance of being locked.
Every so often he would hear a cackle of laughter, a woman's, usually sometimes followed up with another laughing fit from another woman. It was so faint, but aside from his grunts and curses, he was the only one in the room that was making noise aside from the irritating buzz of the flies he loathed so much. He spat at the ground, screaming in agony. "What's the joke?" he hollered. The cackling stopped suddenly and he could hear a table moving, screeching against the floor as silence filled the room. No footsteps.
He found his eyes darting across the room nervously, shuddering his body as flies flew across it and leaped across his skin to bite it. Just as things had gotten completely quiet, where the flies were at a standstill, the door slammed open and the flies flew off his skin. He was at first glad to see them all fly away, but what he hadn't known is that they left his fate to something far worse.
"Morning!" a woman excitedly hollered. The woman had a set of hair that practically dripped down her face, in a bright neon color, topped off with a naval officer's cap in black. She wore a tight leather leotard, adorned with feathers, with blue nylons wrapped across her legs with swirling black patterns spinning across her lower limbs. Her horns, matching her white skin color, poked out like blades through her skull, looking as sharp as a good sword too. To top it all off, she had a pair of bat wings that were attached to her hips. She cackled, confirming it was her he had heard earlier. "How's our little patient doing?"
A grim specter crawled across his face. "What do you mean," he shivered. "What the hell do you mean?" he screamed at the woman. The woman chuckled in his face, her leathery wings flapping quietly behind her as she stroked her blue hair to the side.
"Oh, you don't know, huh?" she giggled. "I suppose patient is the wrong word, more like contestant. Although I don't know if that's the correct word either, because this isn't a game we plan you to win." she curled her hair around her fingers, smirking as her sharp teeth showed. She was strikingly beautiful, with her voluptuous shape fitting perfectly in her outfit. It was very apparent though, that despite her good looks, she was far from good herself.
He spat at the floor. "I don't know what the hell you have planned for me, but make it quick…" he croaked. The woman just shook her head, Craig's worst fear coming to life.
"Oh… this isn't meant to be quick… no, you've got a lot of time… as do I and Nezzy," she sharply smiled, her fingers morphing into claw-like appendages, stroking at his chin, teasing the nicks of the skin with her sharpness without actually touching it. A second woman, with a mop of red hair much like the woman before her, entered. She wore a white naval cap, and her eyes darted around in their cherry red irises. She wore a identical outfit with the other woman, save a pair of red nylons instead. There were subtle differences between the two, but they looked so strikingly similar. "Ello Nezzy…" purred the woman with the blue hair. The red haired woman giggled.
"What do we got here, Alice?" asked Nezzy. The blue haired woman, Alice, glanced at Craig.
"Oh, you know exactly what we have here, Nezzy," cackled Alice. "Come on, you grabbed him yourself when he fell asleep…"
"This is a dream?" asked Craig, trying desperately now to wake up as he scrambled in the chains. Alice merely giggled.
"No… no… this isn't a nightmare either. It's a crossroads. A… limbohold, I suppose." shrugged Alice.
"A… limbohold?" asked Craig.
"You're not dead or alive in the real world. Hell, you're fast asleep, and would have stayed that way if it wasn't for ol' Nezzy, who snatched your consciousness up before you entered a dream state. And now... " cackled Alice. "We get to play with you until you break and you die in the real world."
"That's… that's… cruel!" hollered Craig. Alice pricked his skin with a claw.
"It is, yes, but we don't do it because it's evil… we do it because it's fun!" cackled Alice. She smirked. "There is a way you can win, so it's not entirely unfair, but that means you have to do the challenges we provide, answer the questions we ask you. Succeed and you'll win the grand prize, your life. Fail, and you die. Here and in the real world. Your spirit will forever be bound to this realm for eternity."
"I suppose I don't have much of a choice…" pondered Craig.
"You really don't," Alice cackled. "Oh… and I just remembered this..." she ran a claw across his skin, splitting a section of his arm vertically across and started to lick at the wound, suckling at the blood. She did this for a while as Craig could only suppress his screams, before she finally pulled away, his wound mostly fading from his skin. "Every scar you earn in this reality shows up in real life too." Her mouth was messy, dripping with blood. She looked to Nezzy, walking over to her.
Alice and Nezzy silently locked lips, Nezzy licking at Alice's tongue, which was dripping with blood. Alice gripped Nezzy's hips as Nezzy moaned softly into her mouth, wrapping her legs around her. They were so close together, so intense in this bizarre blood-sharing ritual. Alice panted hard into Nezzy's open mouth as she clutched her ass, pressing ever close to the other woman. Craig could only sit and watch, before coughing uncontrollably. Alice and Nezzy stopped, pulling away from each other and becoming rigid as they faced Craig.
"Alright, we best give you something to actually do, huh?" asked Alice. She snapped her fingers as the center of the room began to collapse brick by brick, falling apart as Nezzy and Alice took off from the ground, their bat wings flapping hard. Craig, chained to the collapsing room, could only gasp and fall as it fell apart.
As he came to, he found that the chains had snapped off during the fall, which was frankly good news as far as he was concerned. He had miraculously survived without fall damage, but frankly he wasn't about to question it. He dusted himself off as he watched a black beetle scurry away into the brick ruins. A red brick building, overgrown with vines, was not too far away. He honestly wish he had more clothes on, but whatever. He pushed forward toward the building, opening up it's rusted door.
Inside was a relatively empty room with a single, off kilter table jutting in the center. Sitting on the lone chair was Nezzy, who lit up the room with a gas lamp. She stared intensely at Craig, who just stood there. "Take off your underwear, you look ridiculous," she sneered, a look of disgust in her eyes evident. Craig sighed as he pulled his boxers down past his knees, stepping out of them. There he was, fully nude. "There you go." she replied.
"What's the task…?" asked Craig. "Or is it a question?" he looked around nervously.
"You get to…" Nezzy began. "Wait for it…" she paused. Craig stared at her straight on, nervously sweating. "Eat bugs!" she finished excitedly. Craig shifted his eyes across the room as he noticed the bowl of bugs that Nezzy had set on the table. Had that always been there?
It was about as gross as you expect. Worms squirmed as if they were nervous, beetles flailed on their backs, and Craig could hear flies buzzing inside. He looked dead straight into the bowl. He looked like he was about to be sick.
"None of them are gonna fly away or crawl out of the bowl." Nezzy stated. "Oh, and we want you to have the whole plate. If you have problems gulping it down, we have some bug butter prepared for you to slather on some burnt bread… as well as some bug milk." She pointed to the greenish, goopy butter next to a roasted loaf of bread, with a cup of greenish milk with flies floating in the liquid. Craig suppressed his gag reflex. His life was on the line. He looked at the bowl and grabbed the knife, slathering some bug butter across the burnt toast and then using the knife to pack on as many bugs as he could, which stuck to the surface like flypaper. He slammed another slice of burnt toast on, making a fucked up bug sandwich, repulsive to just look at.
"Here we go…" Craig felt his lips squirm as he could feel the bugs moving, breathing under the bread. He closed his eyes and just wolfed it down, against everything his body was telling him. He choked and gasped against the table, trying really hard to not spit anything out because that would have been arguably been worse. After carefully sipping some of the bug milk, which tasted absolutely rancid, he slammed his hands into the table. Nezzy had her feet up, watching him struggle greatly.
"You ape people fascinate me so much…" Nezzy stated. "You have something against eating bugs, that's so stupid... it comes from Mother Gaia, yet you won't eat it because what? It has a shell? A lot of your Earth food has some kind of skin or shell, yet… bugs are crossing the line for so many of you…" she pulled out a apple and chomped on it.
Craig took a deep breath and looked at the bowl. He could see the bottom of the plate. He just had to do it again, one more time. He swallowed his gullet, although he knew that it wouldn't help him wolf down the rest. He felt his body already aching, gripping the bowl with his hands. He grabbed the knife, scraping the burnt bread with bug butter, repeating the events all over again. He crushed the burnt bread together and just chowed down, his eyes, squinting hard as he chewed into the black bread. He gagged hard as he drowned it down his throat, trying to keep everything inside. The bugs were all gone.
Nezzy put her legs down and looked at him. "Took you long enough. 15 minutes? Really?" she sighed. "Alright, let's move on, huh?" she stated. The red brick building collapsed on top of him as Nezzy fluttered away. He put out his arms but the bricks just fell on him, and everything went dark.
The bricks floated away but it was still dark. As he felt the wet rock under his hands and feet, he realized that he was inside of a cavern, a soaked one at that. Light dimly shone in his horizon and he walked carefully, being sure not to slip. As he arrived at the light, he discovered it was a lantern, and that it was placed on a rock next to a chair that Alice was sitting on. He could still taste the bugs in his mouth.
Alice passed him a knife. "What's… this for?" he asked. She snickered.
"I wouldn't say it's for you. It's for someone else, although you will be stabbing them. To kill them." she replied. She had a particular way of talking, as if the words weren't words but drops of cold water pouring down his skin. He shivered, holding the knife.
"What fucked up thing do you want me to do next, huh?" he breathed heavily. Alice snickered more as she brought out a young girl, out in a white dress. She had brown hair much like Craig, and his same wild green eyes. He didn't have a daughter, but his mind told him that this was who it was. He put the knife down a bit, but Alice gently lifted it upwards.
"...No…" he shivered.
"This is how babies die. This is how future children die in the womb… surely you value your own life over hers, you don't know anything about her. You will never know anything, because while she will cry out in pain, she will never say anything else," Alice replied. "You humans are so silly."
"Of course you wouldn't be able to understand, because you two are a bunch of inhuman monsters." he growled. Alice gently caressed his hand as he choked up.
"Come on, do it already." Alice commanded, pressing her pale fingers across his knuckles.
Craig took another look at his future daughter and then glanced at Alice, pouting. "Please, literally anything else," he said, holding the knife to his target. Alice shook her head, although with a creeping smirk crawling across her face. "ANYTHING but this," he croaked, tears streaming down his face. "ANYTHING."
"Sorry, you gotta do it if you value your own life…" she said, growing her fingers into clawed appendages. Craig shivered intensely as he could feel her brush lightly against his skin. He raised the knife and glanced at the area where he figured the heart would be. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes tightly. He felt the knife go inside and he felt terrible about it, shaking terribly. The child screamed, but it was too late. It had happened. He shoved the knife a couple more times into the child and screamed himself, trying to drown out the noise of what he had just done.
The body collapsed, twitching lifelessly before finally becoming still. Craig didn't open his eyes for a long time.
When he had finally opened his eyes again, he was on a studio set. There was cameras and seating for a studio audience, but there were no people, nothing living. He turned around to see a giant rat, who was no longer alive, although it had it's stomach pulled open by a couple of hooks and its guts were spilling out in a bloody spool onto the floor. There was a table, a sofa, and a armchair. Sitting at the table was Alice, and her partner Nezzy was sitting in the arm chair. Alice had her hands folded over each other, glancing at Craig.
"Come up, Craig. There's nowhere else to go." Alice spoke into the microphone, which echoed in the empty building. A couple crows flew from the darkness and vanished into the ceiling, a void of emptiness. Craig couldn't argue with that and walked up to the sofa, sitting down. If nothing else, they had recreated a typical talk show set pretty well, with the blue curtains in the back and the brown static and hard carpet below him.
"Craig, this is your last challenge before we let you go. Just gonna keep it simple, with a couple of questions." Alice stated.
"Alright, just… just lay em on me. I don't really care how this goes down." depressingly replied Craig.
"Do you regret anything?" asked Alice, flipping through a bunch of note cards, as if she wanted to make the act of conversation as stiff and cardboard as possible.
"I regret killing my future child, but I didn't have much choice there, did I?" replied Craig. He still couldn't get the taste of bugs out his mouth. "The bugs… were a regrettable choice as well."
"Do you know what a fucking bore you are?" asked Alice, completely monotone in her voice.
"...what do you mean by that?" asked Craig.
"You have done nothing interesting since you got here. Frankly, I'd rather just kill you, but you made that impossible because you just do whatever we tell you to do. This is so frustrating and it's all your fault!" Alice shouted, her eyes pulling away from the cards.
"I don't have anything to confess!" Craig shouted.
"Don't fucking shout!" Alice shouted at the top of her lungs.
Nezzy sipped on some tea before crossing her legs. "Answer the question, Craig Boone."
"What… what question?" asked Craig. He still had the knife with him, thumbing it in his hand.
"Why you're such a bore?" Nezzy replied, sitting back in her armchair. "Man, look at this, look at how comfortable this armchair is," she stated, purring as her chin tilted down to her chest. "Bitch." she said, softly.
Craig had enough. "I just ate a bunch of bugs, killed my future daughter… hell, I'm sitting here naked on a couch, between two of the most repulsive beings I've ever interacted with like we're on some kind of talk show! What more do you want? I'll fucking stab one of you."
"There you go…" Alice cooed.
Craig had enough. He stabbed Nezzy in the arm, screeching at the top of his lung as her hacked away at her shoulder. She just glanced at him, watching him saw with the knife. He took a moment to breathe before realizing not even a mark had been placed on her skin. The knife wasn't dull, her skin was apparently made of something else, something too hard to cut through. He felt himself collapse onto the floor, crying.
"Aw, poor Craig is tuckered out…" Alice cackled.
"Well, we're about done with him anyway, yeah?" asked Nezzy.
"I would say so…" said a mysterious voice, with the sound of giant insect-like legs crawling across the floor approaching Craig.
"Boss…" cooed Alice.
"Hmm, you really did a number on him. Can't say I've seen anyone attempt to attack Nezzy, they usually go for you, Alice." the mysterious figure said, revealing himself from the shadows. His black, gooey limbs pressed coldly against Craig's bareback.
"Who the hell are you?" shivered Craig. "Answer me!"
"You don't need to know my name. But… if you have to know, it's (oo)ber Nightmarecoat," the creature replied. He dug into Craig's back, creating deep cuts. "Unfortunately, I do have to punish you for attacking one of my lovely ladies." Alice and Nezzy giggled as cohorts.
"F-fine. When will this nightmare end?" asked Craig. "I want to wake up."
"Oh, it'll end right here if you're willing to cut a deal. I run through all the realities except for one like knife through warm, sticky g(oo)ey bug butter…" Oober Nightmarecoat began. "But… I've decided my plague of fear isn't cutting it from what I really want," Oober continued. "So we end it here. You exit from the Limbohold, you're none the wiser from your experience here. You walk away without the trauma, and these two don't fuck you up further like a rat into a rotting melon..." Oober pressed forward. "By the way, love what you've done here!" he remarked, looking at the rat pulled apart, hanging across the stage.
"Ah, it was nothing…" remarked Alice. "Big rat pulled apart with h(oo)ks… ain't gotta be a genius to pull that off."
"But, with your early escape from here, comes my price. The price you'll be paying is far more than some sandwich with pickled duck vagina… I'll be giving you wings." Oober remarked.
"Wings? That's it?" asked Craig. "Elaborate, man."
"A dark angel of sorts... " Oober remarked. "Your dream self will be trapped in my form of ch(oo)sing, and whatever you do in it, well, that's my command. You'll remember what happens if you want to, like any dream or nightmare. Or it can fade away and you can delude yourself that it didn't happen."
"...I mean, I'd rather that than being tortured anymore." Craig stated. Oober cackled.
"Well then, it's a deal." Oober replied, his limbs making a horrible cracking sound. Craig cried out in pain as new bones emerged from his back, being wrapped in a horrible, viscous fluid, suddenly sprouting black, blade-like metal feathers. His fingers grabbed the ground, and his skin turned a deathly pale as his veins turned a coarse black. He shut his eyes.
Not a second soon after he opened his eyes, he was in a cold sweat. He needed water to drink. He groggily got up and turned on the faucet, dipping his head in to drink directly from the tap. The funny thing was that he couldn't remember anything he was just dreaming about. It was a new bed after all, he was certainly having trouble sleeping in it. He laid back in bed, staring at the ceiling before going back to sleep.