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Mike Dowd ~ June 2014

Page history last edited by michianawriterscenter@... 6 years, 4 months ago
 

In his own words:

 

Mike Dowd is a sophomore in high school. He has lived his entire life in South Bend, Indiana. He excels in science and math, and he loves to write. He lives with his father, mother, and twin brother. He also likes to run cross country, throw shot put in track, and practice karate.

 

Yersinia Pestis

by Mike Dowd

 

     I giggled as I skipped down the dirt path. My mother had released me a little while ago after using me as a dress-up doll. At least it got me out of weaving, but her idea of clothing was so hot, especially in the summer’s heat. Some of my friends were probably around, so maybe we could play.

     I glanced to the side, looking for some children in the field. I could see no children, which wasn’t surprising, but I could see a man. He was laboring away, sweating in the summer heat. He looked oddly lethargic, despite the sun being high in the sky. I stepped off the path to spy on him.

     As I crept closer, a faint smell of rot whispered through the air. “Sir, are you all right?” I called. He looked towards me, and I stopped in my tracks. Droplets of blood speckled his tunic, and his nose and lips were black pits. Dark knobs littered his flesh, and his eyes looked sunken.

     “Sir…?” I asked again stepping back in fear. He began to walk towards me, his whole body shaking. I shrank back as he fell to the ground. The knobs burst, and putrid yellow pus began to leak from the wounds. The smell, even from a distance, was overwhelming.

     “Help!” he moaned, before a coughing fit overtook his body. I turned and ran, not paying attention to his bloody plea. I followed the path back to the village and sprinted to my home. The houses around me were fairly small wooden structures. Those bright colored houses probably held many animals at night. On cold winter nights, I wished we had animals to keep us warm, but as we were not a farming family, we didn’t own any. Besides, we had been given some blankets as gifts from the Italian men a few days ago.

I flew past some other urchins as they called out to join their game. I ignored them and entered my house. My mother sat in a corner on a small stool, weaving wool. Meanwhile, my father sat on the earthen floor in another corner, his head bowed. For a moment I could see him muttering prayers. He promptly looked up upon my entrance, noting my distress.

     “What’s the matter, Celestria?” he asked, worried.

            “I saw a man out in the fields!” I exclaimed. “Something happened to him!”

            “What happened to him darling?”

            “He smelled of death, and his skin was covered in pus. He suddenly fell down coughing blood!”

            “Take me to see him,” my father demanded. I nodded and led him outside. The children had disappeared from the streets, and the whole village seemed oddly quiet. As I led my father into the fields, I could hear muffled coughing from a few houses. We reached the field and I saw the man still on the ground, and he didn’t seem to be moving. A group of men surrounded him, and moved aside quickly when my father approached.

            “Father James? What is it?” one of the men asked.

            My father looked over the man and then stepped back as the horrid stench overwhelmed him. “A punishment, I believe. Our God has punished us for our sins.”

            The men’s heads looked down as they whispered quiet prayers. They began to disperse, silence amongst them. Tonight they would pray with their families.

My father took me home, and I realized the sky was beginning to darken. A sudden drowsiness passed over me, and I stumbled into my father. He looked down at me and quietly shook his head. “Stay home with you mother, and don’t leave the house. I believe the pestilence has come to the area. May God watch over our souls.” My father dropped me off at our home and continued into the village.

“Father, where are you going?” I asked.

“The plague doctor accompanied the Italians four days ago. He may be able to help us.” He closed the door, giving a slight smile to his wife behind me.

            My mother was never very perceptive of the outside world, but she understood what had happened. I explained the story to her and she nodded. For a moment, I was sure she was going to start crying. Instead, she began to prepare dinner. I knew she wasn’t telling me something, but I decided to let it go. While my father was gone, she retrieved dark bread and dried pork from a chest while I did some weaving. Even if I hated to weave, at least it took my mind off the events of the world.

            Father returned home eventually quietly, setting a small block of cheese on the table. He told us of his visit to the plague doctor in hushed tones. The bird-like practitioner had scared me a little when he first arrived in town. Now to learn he had visited some corpses already today, the scavenging bird theme seemed a little too real.

 

            I woke up the next morning to the sound of my mother coughing. My father was gone, but some bread lay on the table. I opted to break my fast and feasted on the coarse bread. My mother began to cough more, and I turned to her; blood splattered her gown as she lay against the wall. A fit of coughing overcame me for a moment, and she joined me for a few seconds. When my breathing came under control, I looked at her in horror.

            “Mother? Are you all right?” I asked.

            “No, my dear,” she responded. Her voice was raspy, and I noticed a slight bulge on her neck. Tears welled in my eyes just as the door opened. I twirled around and saw my father standing in the shadow of our house. It was past noon, as the shadow fell over him, and the sky was cloudy. I fancied I heard some rumbling in the distance.

            “The plague doctor is dead,” he said as he walked inside. He looked afraid as Mother began to cough again, and my father looked at her.  He stopped and looked up. “Why do you punish me so?” he whispered, his voice cracking. He knelt down next to Mother, and I could hear him sobbing.

            “Goodbye, James,” she whispered.

            “Goodbye, Victoria,” he responded. She fell into a coughing fit before her breathing stopped in his arms. Blood splattered his face, but he simply moved back from her, not bothering to wipe the droplets off.

He looked at me, and a fresh sob burst from his mouth. He walked to the door, and I followed him from a distance. We went out into the field, and I watched him look for something. He seemed to find what he was looking for and turned back towards me. He waved and then shuffled his feet across the ground.

            Suddenly, he fell, and a bloody spurt flew into the air. I gasped in horror and ran towards him. I passed a scythe at his feet; how could he be so clumsy as to trip? A rusty spike protruded through his chest, but my father was still breathing.

            “Why, Father?” I whispered.

            “It is my punishment,” he gasped in pain. He was dying in obvious pain. “Celestria, please, finish me.” I stood and looked at him.

            “How dare you!” I screamed and kicked him in the face. My eleven year-old body couldn’t hurt him too much. “Why do you do this to me? Why God?” I shouted.

I turned and walked away, his pained moans echoing through the air. I went back to the village and heard wailings from most of the houses. I peeked my head inside some of them and found parents lying on the ground, their extremities blackened. Many children were dead, covered in pus and blood. Tears fell from my eyes for a while, but soon enough, no more fell.

            I wandered home and looked for food. I ate feebly and then curled up in a blanket. I didn’t feel hungry. In fact, I felt oddly hollow, not sad or angry like I thought I should be. I soon fell asleep.

 

            The next morning, I awoke to coughing. This time, it was my own. Suddenly, I felt my stomach roil, and I turned quickly as I vomited dark blood. I slowly got up and made my way outside, still nauseous. A sudden heat washed over me, despite the dark, foreboding skies. I looked around and saw the houses around me up in flames. Ash and smoke floated into the sky. The metallic smell of blood filled my nostrils. I began to cough again, but was intent on looking for people. “Ring O’ Round the rosie, pocketful of posies…” There was nobody around; I could hear no cries. “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down…”

 

Nightmares and Dreams

by Mike Dowd

 

I wrapped my thin, bare arms around my chest as I walked across the desolate plain. My feet were stained red from my blood and the red dust making up the land. I continued to walk slowly, occasionally stumbling.

My gaze rose to the sky where I saw the dim red sun. There was something near it, but with the haze of the landscape, I couldn't make it out. I looked back down and continued to stumble forward.

A strange hum began to fill the air, its beat was oddly, and distractingly, tiring. I could feel my muscles grow tired and I slowly began to sink to the ground. My eyes grew droopy and I felt like I could slip into a slumber. A sudden thought filled my mind and I woke up. The image filled my mind, and I knew I had to find him. He would protect me from the

I banished the train of thought before I could finish it. I didn't dare think of it, lest it appear before me. I took a few deep breaths and opened my eyes. The plain seemed dimmer; something was different.

I looked back to the sky and saw the sun was rapidly dimming, as if something was covering it. I suddenly understood, as the corona blazed outward, that the sun was being eclipsed.

A hum filled the air, louder than before, and I had a feeling the moon would not move from the sun. "Erebus... Where are you, our young child?" A voice whispered through the air. No... It wasn't a voice, it was hundreds, thousands of voices speaking in unison. The image of my protector flashed through my mind. I had to find him quickly if I wanted to survive.

I looked around, looking for cover. I wouldn't be able to find him in my current condition. I was hoping I could find a place to rest, at least for an hour. I didn't see anything, but after a third revolution, something appeared. It appeared to be a structure, but I wasn't positive.

Nevertheless, I ran to it, hoping for the best. As I got close, I realized the structure was a small stone tent. It was open on one side, and I promptly crawled in. There was a slight rumble, and then a stone closed over the entrance.

Panic began to overwhelm me as my situation unfolded. I was alone, in the dark, inside a small stone tent. I began to hyperventilate as I thought of the monsters following me. They were the worst, each a nightmare worse than the last. I began to imagine them, and I could feel a presence grow around me.

"Erebus!" A voice exclaimed all around me. My train of thought crumbled as I latched on to the voice. It was of my protector, I knew he could help me. I tried to calm myself, but it was no use. I was still claustrophobic, and the dank darkness was suffocating.

"Erebus, calm yourself. I can't find you if you've already been consumed," the voice whispered. "But I can help you, even from a distance."

A soft golden light began to fill the air around me. There was one problem fixed. I began to calm as I watched the flow begin to swirl, as if it was dust. In a sudden, soundless burst, the dust disappeared, and I found steps leading down. I began to follow them, and found it opened into a large cavern. There, another fear was taken care of. I still felt alone, but to know my protector was looking for me was a relief.

"I have one last gift for you, Erebus. Find me, and you will be safe forever," the voice whispered. I looked around the cavern and saw a small fire burning. It was smokeless, thankfully, and a bedroll lay next to it. A sudden tiredness fell over me as I walked to the bed. I could hear the sound of rushing water, and I decided to walk a little bit further past the bedroll. There was a small stream coming out of the wall, and I quickly began to drink. The liquid had quickly reminded me of my parched throat. As I drank, I could feel my wounds begin to heal. Eventually, I stopped drinking and looked at my reflection. My skin was still pale, but it looked healthier than usual. My eyes were deep brown, almost black, with flecks of gold around the pupils. My hair was cut short, also black, and I wore a dark gray shirt and jeans. They were too large on my slim frame.

I stepped into the bedroll and curled into a ball. I instantly fell asleep, the soft glow surrounding me keeping me safe.

I don't know how long I slept, but it was time to go. The light was fading, and I could see dust begin to fill the air. He couldn't keep the shelter permanently, and the world would be trying to fix itself. I looked around quickly, and after seeing nothing, I ran up the stairs and stood in the tent.

A low groan filled the air and the tent burst apart in fragments of rock. At the same time, a jagged crack ripped through the ground, pulling red dirt into the cavern. In a matter of seconds, the crack was filled and I could not tell that there used to be a shelter here.

I turned away and looked out over the plain. The sun was still eclipsed, so it was hard to see, but I could make out a shape I hadn't seen before. It looked like... a forest. But there was no sign of the forest before my rest. I began to walk to it, when a sudden hissing filled the air.

I twisted around and a giant snake filled my vision. It was a cobra with scales the size of dinner plates. The creature was colored scarlet, and coppery red blood dried along its back. Its eyes were gold and red, and its teeth were pitch black. They glistened with venom.

The snake flicked its tongue out, and I could hear a voice in the air. "You will not succeed; we will consume you." The cobra seemed to curl up, and then it shot forward. I froze, unable to move. The creatures had found me.

The cobra slammed into me, and I fell to the ground. It spread its cloak out and readied its fangs to attack me, but a sudden gold light filtered over me. The cobra slammed down, but the light defended me. "Erebus, get behind me!" my protector commanded. I turned quickly and saw him.

He was just like the vision, his chocolate brown hair glittering as if wet in his golden aura. His eyes were a piercing green color, even from a distance. He wore a thin white shirt and gold shorts. From his back, golden wings seemingly made of dust held him aloft.

I tried to crawl forward, but the golden shield shattered in dust around me and the snake slammed me into the ground. I felt my back wrack with pain and I cried out. Suddenly, the ground seemed to shift and thousands of spiders crawled out from beneath me. Their legs felt like needles as they pierced me. I could feel blood spill from my body, and I could feel poison begin to replace it.

"Jason!" I shouted in fear. For a moment nothing happened except the spiders continued to crawl over me. Then, a ray of light fell over me and spiders began to smoke. They skittered away before they burst into flames. The snake tried to still attack me, but the light was burning away.

"Burn," Jason muttered. The light turned brighter, and I began to feel the heat. Then, the snake began to shrivel, the scales flaking away. The creature, however, would not leave. Luckily, it turned its attention away from me. Then, it charged Jason.

The light spun out of control, and I was able to stand up. I wanted to help him, but I was useless. Besides, Jason was magnificent. Twin blades of gold dust spiraled around his hands, and he slashed like a master swordsman.

The cuts he made were small, but every slice cut under a scale, revealing the tender muscle. He was amazing, and I knew he could defeat the snake. Then, the cobra changed its tactics.
It coiled and then shot into the air. Jason got ready to dodge out of the way, but the monster dove into the red dirt.

Jason twisted, and then caught sight of me. As if he was suddenly remembering my presence, Jason ran towards me. His swords dissolved and he took to the air, his wings flapping like a hummingbird.

He reached out his hand for me to grab, and I realized too late why he did that.
The ground opened beneath me, the cobra somehow grinning at me. Jason was too slow, and I began to fall. He tried to grab me, but the cobra twisted in the dirt, slamming its tail into Jason. I could see the breath leave his lungs as he struggled to stay aloft. It was useless as the cobra shot at him. Before I could see the result of the attack, I had fallen too far and all I could see were the stone walls of the crack.
I suddenly slammed into the floor and intense pain shot up my spine. For a few seconds I was in a daze. Then, my vision began to clear and I realized I was in the dark once more.

My fears welled up inside me, and thoughts of the monsters filled my head. Unlike before, Jason couldn't stop me and pressure surrounded me. There was a moment of vacuum and then a crack as nightmares surrounded me. In the dim light of the eclipse, I couldn't completely make them out. Then, one of the creatures began to produce light.

It was a dragon, made completely of bones, with spectral fire filling its chest cavity. Blue flames filled its eyes, and as I watched, more flames spread out across the wings, forming a thin membrane.
I stumbled up and turned to run away but found myself up against a wall. I turned back in fear, looking at all the creatures before me. There were more spiders; they were all at least as tall as I was. Their beady eyes spoke of an unnatural intelligence. Hundreds of black snakes slithered over each other, making a humanoid figure, and millipedes the size of buses crawled in the background. The dragon stalked towards me slowly, its fire illuminating the cavern.

I tried to think of a way to escape, but I felt paralyzed with fear. "Erebus! Don't fear the nightmares, control them! You have the power of dreams!" Jason shouted. I looked up and saw him flying down. He looked wrong, his skin too pale. His shirt was torn, and a piece of cloth wrapped around him. It was soaked with sickly black blood. He must have been bitten by the cobra.

Anger filled me, and I was suddenly not afraid. The dragon glanced up at Jason and its eyes flickered. Then, it turned back to me. Suddenly, something shot from the wall and slammed into Jason. I couldn't make it out, but it took Jason to the wall. The light around him faded and I lost sight of him.

The dragon suddenly charged me, bringing its claws up me to rake. I tried to fall to the ground, and surprisingly, I was quick enough. I got to the floor and the skeletal dragon raked its claws through the stone. In a frenzy, the other monsters attacked.

The spiders seemed to disappear in the air and then reappear beside me. Their legs looked like swords, and I desperately tried to dodge their strikes. Meanwhile, the snake creature was trying to engulf me. I was doomed unless I could somehow fight.

One of the spiders stabbed its leg forward and I thrust out my hand. Time seemed to stop as the sword leg came close. Then, a pink dome spiraled out of my hand and surrounded me. The shield intercepted the sword and time sped up. The spider fell back off balance as the tip of its leg had broken off inside my shield.

The dragon had backed up and looked at me, seemingly calculating something. The dragon turned and flew into the air. It turned back to me while hovering and I saw the blue flames roil. I suddenly understood what was happening and braced myself against the wall. Fire shot from the dragon’s mouth, rolling over the shield. The monsters crawled out of the way, but a few of the spiders were too slow. The millipedes seemed to be gone; I had never seen them leave.

The flames felt like a solid pressure against my whole body as the shield held it back. I could feel my muscles tense, and thin, jagged cracks spread along the shield from my hand. It was about to crack.
Then, Jason appeared behind the dragon. He looked exhausted, and his body was a mess of wounds. Still, he fought on.

He twisted sharply, twin blades materializing as he sliced through the dragon, severing its head. Just as the fire stopped, my shield fell. The spiders charged at me, but I was ready.

As if I had been doing it my entire life, I summoned two blades. Like the northern lights, they flowed out of my arms into thin blades. I stabbed, and two of the spiders were impaled. Then, I twisted and slashed. With a thought, the twin borealis radiated cold light. The spiders instantly backed up, but the snakes were not as quick. The cold light began to cover the ground in frost, and the snakes began to freeze. While immobile, I spun forward and slammed the two blades into the ice.

The blades expanded and flattened, and the strike shattered the ice, with the frozen snakes, into pieces. I turned back to the spiders and found them impaled by Jason's blades.
He grimaced at me as the blades seemed to melt away. I rushed forward and got under his arm as I helped him up. His breathing was weak, but he would live, for a time. Slowly, a gold light filled the air, and I felt happiness settle over me. I began to feel revitalized and I realized Jason was trying to heal himself.

Instinctively, I began to release a soft light. Jason breathed a sigh of relief, murmured "Thank you" and then nodded off. I set him down and sat against the wall. Maybe together, we could survive.
"The Nightmare will never stop," a single voice whispered. Suddenly, a hand wrapped around my neck, trying to choke me. My vision wavered as I tried to fight. Nothing was working, it was as if some power was stopping me.

The arm suddenly disappeared and I breathed in a huge gasp of air. Something leapt over my head and slammed me to the ground. Jason was unconscious, completely vulnerable, but apparently I was the target.

The creature stared down at me as it wrapped its clawed hand around my throat. It reeked of decay. In the light radiating from me, I could see it as a gaunt, skeletal thing with a long, spiny tail. It had five more arms, two grabbed my biceps, two grabbed my calves, and the final one plunged down my throat. It let my neck go and gripped the back of my head. Then, it jumped. The arm down my throat was choking, yet I could still breathe, as if the monster wanted me to feel as much pain before dying. That was probably the truth.

The creature’s tail wrapped around my body, the scorpion like stinger trailing down my spine.
It continued jumping, and occasionally running, for a few minutes. We eventually reached an open cavern, and it let me fall to the ground. I gasped in pain as the creature looked down at me. It seemed to smirk and then it stabbed its tail into my chest.

Excruciating pain came over me as blood began to fill the wound. I coughed up blood and realized the creature had disappeared. "What is your choice, Erebus? Will you destroy the Heart of Nightmares?" the voice asked. I tried to look around. There, glowing on the ground, was an amorphous black blob. It seemed to radiate a malicious evil.

As I watched it, the blob morphed and a thin tentacle streaked out towards me. It stopped inches from my face, and then the tentacle disappeared as a glimmering eye formed on the blob. A moment later, small tentacles wriggled out of it and a tiny spider crawled across the ground, disappearing into the shadows.

"It is the Heart of Nightmares. If you destroy it, there will be no more nightmares within dreams." The voice reminded me of Jason's, but it was slightly off.

"Go ahead," it whispered. I crawled forward, breathing raggedly. No more nightmares would be great. I summoned my blades and tried to stand up. I couldn't, but I stabbed forward. A sense of wrongness passed over me, and I almost stopped. But the blades continued forward and I heard a banshee wail. The sword burst, and the stone shattered in a rush of power. A thud slammed by next to me and I turned to see Jason unconscious. The creature was above me; it was smiling.

"As I promised," it whispered, "no more nightmares within dreams." The power I had felt coalesced in front of me in a swirling orb. The creature reached an arm to it, and the creature seemed to be sucked into it.

I waited for a moment, and then hundreds of creatures crawled into the cavern. They disregarded me and disappeared through the orb. I tried to pull Jason back, but it was hard. I began to fall unconscious, but then I began to release light. The wound began to knit shut, but I was still in pain.

 

Hours passed before Jason woke up and I was healed. "What happened?" he asked.

"I destroyed the Heart of Nightmares," I whispered, afraid. Over the hours, I began to understand what the creature meant.

"All the nightmares have been released into the world," Jason whispered in fear.
My fears were confirmed and I bowed my head. Tears began to fall from my face.

"Erebus," Jason whispered. He wrapped his arms around me and put his lips to my ear. "We can do this. We'll learn to control the nightmares, and we'll protect the world," he told me quietly.

"You're not mad at me?" I asked quietly.

He didn't respond, but I could feel him shake his head. "We'll get through this."

"Together?"

He let go of me and smiled. Then, he took my hand and touched the portal. A moment of nausea passed over me and then we began to spiral away. He whispered to me, "I'll protect you until the very end."

 

 

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