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In this land, there are pancakes for pastures and popsicles for trees, and sweet orange juice fills the furrows to form never-ending rivers. The mountains are huge bars of chocolate and their tops are made of caramelized peanuts and sugary pops.
###And when it rains, gummy bears of delicious flavors fall from the sky. And when it snows, whipped-cream flakes are sprayed all over and cover the land in white. And when the spring comes, vanilla cream-filled biscuits and cherry lollipops blossom.
###But this utopia turns out to, in fact, be a nightmarish getaway. Because the moment you step your foot on that land, the Dreamolytes will sense your presence and ruthlessly hunt you down.
###The Dreamolytes are your personal demons, and they dislike the idea you wanted this world so desperately. They will meticulously search for you and when they find you, they will sadistically rape your thoughts and cannibalize your flesh without mercy or hesitation.
###You can never hide from the Dreamolytes . . .

Excerpt from "Monster Manual: An Essential Guide"

# # #

'Dreamolytes; a complex word structured from two different words, Dream and Lysis. Lysis; a word of Greek origin, meaning disruption, dissolution, obliteration, destruction, annihilation, extinction, eradication, elimination . . . . Dreamolytes are the demons that disrupt dreams,' Tobias talked to himself, and withdrew his fingers from the keyboard. He sighed with sloth and got as comfortable on his chair as he could, giving a gentle massage at the back of his neck.

All his dreams; they were infested with Dreamolytes lately.

That should be it! This is why he had this persisting insomnia. The doctor gave him the pills . . . The pills didn't work. He started taking them, like twice as the recommended dose. Still, nothing flourished out of it.

Pills, pills, pills . . . and more pills! He was taking so many pills . . . . Pills that were so different to each other; pills for depression; pills for bipolar disorder; pills for the many sick obsessions he had lately. Pills for side-effects caused by other pills! Who knows? Maybe he had messed up with the regimes and that was why pills weren't effective anymore. Or better, there were no intact brain cells left either ways, so there was no actual target for the pills . . .

It was Saturday evening, and Tobias got rather disappointed of his lasting misery, and, without further clarifying the reason behind his emotional bursts, decided to call his friend, Keiko.

He knew her number by rote, but always wanted to confirm, by slightly peering at the now half-wrapped post-it note on the mirror. Careful hands had once placed it there, but now the glue had worn out, precisely like everything else in Tobias' cruel world.

He dialed her number, and Keiko replied almost immediately. 'What's up?'

'Keiko. It's me.' Tobias always knew how to exactly start a conversation with her; with hesitation. He, himself, had straightened things out about the way he looked at Keiko, and had come up with the conclusion that nothing more than her flesh interested him. Matters were turning complicated from Keiko's side, as she had to loosen up her ethical concerns with Tobias every time she was kicked out of a previous relationship and had to re-establish them firmly after sealing a new, even short-term, one.

But this was a time of pure conflict, as Keiko had been in a firm relationship for quite long–the guy's name was Nathan–and Tobias found himself in his unfathomable trap hole rather unexpectedly. Keiko was silent for a while and then hissed out a negative sigh. 'Tobias, I can't . . . '

'You're coming at my apartment in half an hour. Sounds good?' Keiko will have plenty of time to think about moons and flowers, and boat rides, and cocktails with or without the ?tails”, in her upcoming honeymoon trip with Nathan. Let her wear her apple-red lipstick and slick nail-polish shine and become the good fairy for tonight.

'Whatever,' she bleakly replied.

Tobias stood silently for some seconds until he decided to hang up the phone.

She's going to come over . . . Right? Has it been a transient crisis, like the ones he was suffering from lately, or has it actually been his deepest insecurity; one that constantly pinched him with the obsession that Keiko would turn him down, and would opt to have a full night of virgin fantasies with her beloved Nathan"

Tobias' eyes narrowed, as he realized his impression on the mirror was again laughing at how pathetic a creature he was. 'I'm a monster.' He said, as he tightened his fist. He gritted his teeth; he swallowed and blinked at the same time, and then released the trapped energy through an idiosyncratic punch. He smashed the mirror with all his strength. Some pieces were resolved against him with high velocity. But he didn't care. All he craved for was dissecting this devious image he was seeing. Luckily it hadn't yet grown devilish horns. 'I like it when the red water comes out of me.'

* * *

Tobias slowly applied the tourniquet around his Betadine-dipped metacarpals and fingers. A half-opened first aid kit was sitting on the table in front of him.

'I know that I am stupid Rose,' he said nodding. 'No need to remind me of that. I wasn't thinking clearly. I wasn't . . . I wasn't . . . . What are you saying, Rose. . . . Really? You think I should talk to her?' Tobias stopped rolling the gauze around his hand and raised a brow. He shook his head negatively, and then continued rolling up his wrist. 'But how? How can I do that . . . ? I know I have to, Rose. But it's damn difficult . . . ' He stepped out of the chair, went to the sink and filled in a glass of water. He then headed and approached the window. The carefully groomed Telstar plant was sitting healthy inside a ceremoniously handcrafted pot on the outside part of the window porch, and the soil was full of high quality manure and bug-repulsing lotions.

Tobias leaned toward the plant. 'Eventually, I promise I will do it, Rose . . . . But, it's pretty damn hard. Keiko is a friend! It will only hurt her feelings . . . . What? Are you saying I'm lying to myself? Are you saying I'm just living in a fake happy world? How dare you, Rose? No, I'm done with your nonsense . . . . No water for you today, my lady. That one was cast iron!' Tobias said out of exasperation and moved away from the window.

He emptied the glass of water back in the sink, dragged the closest chair clumsily and sat down, agitated. 'Oh damn,' he said breathing heavily, pressing his fingers onto his closed eyes to relieve the stress he felt.

He tapped his fingers on the table nervously. 'What about you, Daphne? What's your opinion?' Tobias asked and wetted his lips. 'Oh, so you agree with her? You're taking her side now . . . '

He stood up from the chair, disconcerted and annoyed, gnashing his teeth. If he was an old-school cartoon, fumes would spray out of his ears, and his eyes would roll out of his head shaping into two elongated corns. 'I won't tolerate this female alliance any more. Not in this house . . . Not -- in -- this -- house!' He mumbled, as he dashed out of the kitchen, turning the lights off and swearing all sorts of profanities. "

* * *

Keiko raised her glass of wine before taking a sip. 'Cheers.'

'Cheers,' Tobias said with a cloudy expression, following with his eyes her elegant moves. He then picked up his fork and tossed his salad around a couple of times. He glanced around the living room and then right at Keiko's stunning eyes.

'So,' she told him, while slicing her chicken tender, dipping a small piece into the white sauce and bringing it to her mouth. She made sure she had swallowed before continuing. 'Does it hurt?'

Yes, he thought. 'No,' he replied.

'How did this occur to you, in the first place?'

'It's nothing,' Tobias turned sharply to her, then back into his plate. 'I just had a small accident, while preparing the food . . . ' Lying to her has been so easy for me.

'I'm worried.' She was looking at him with her big puppy eyes, her eager chin, and her good intentions. 'Your bandages are bloody. How long does it take for the hemorrhage to stop? Was it a deep cut?'

All these questions! Does she know? Tobias wondered, and something twitched inside him. 'Don't worry about it,' he said crossly, and placed his hand under the table, out of her sight. Keiko nodded spastically. 'Okay, Toby.' She threw her fork and knife on the plate, deliberately making a clacking sound. 'Tell me.'

'Tell you what?'

'You're not the Tobias I know. Something's wrong,' Keiko said, folding her arms. 'Tell me, now. I'm listening.'

He rolled a big chunk of lettuce with his fork as if it was spaghetti and shoved it in his mouth. 'We're not having sex tonight, are we?'

Keiko was shocked, but her reflexes proved she was a stronger woman than she looked. She never assumed a hostile or defensive expression. 'Tobias,' she sighed. 'I would like, just for once, that you understand my position. Nathan is my ticket to . . . stability. I am afraid that-' He raised a brow. 'Stability? For God's sake, he has early stage Parkinson's.'

Keiko continued. 'Tobias, I didn't mean it literary. Listen, for most of my life I felt like a person with no will, like an idle haystack standing out in the open, sundried from life and everything. Do you understand?'

Tobias figured out this must have been an Asian metaphor or a saying of some sort, because he couldn't get the feeling in his skin. He nodded as if he understood what she wanted to say.

'For the first time,' Keiko continued and grabbed her chest, as if her heart now beeped in a more romantic tempo. 'I feel like I can love a man. I feel like I don't need to think hard what to say or what to do. I feel I can board a ship and set sail, and he'll be the captain I can trust.'

Tobias felt his eyelids jerking, as if a memory was pressing his brain. 'That's a funny thing to say. My mother,' he finally said, and Keiko frowned. 'My mother used to have elegant, well-trimmed on the sides, but very long fingernails. I remember their color was almost . . . always blue. I was a small kid, back then.'

Keiko was still frowning, unsure of how Tobias found this fitting into their conversation.

'Light-blue, navy-blue, azure-blue, cobalt-blue, cerulean-blue, all kinds of blue,' Tobias continued and sipped some of his wine. A sole tear flew, and got lost at the edge of his upper lip. 'And she was sticking these lustrous jewels, tinny-tiny flowers, on the cuticle right here, at the base of her polished nails.' Tobias showed his nails to Keiko, mapping his descriptions. 'And when I asked about the jewels, Mum, what are these glossy things? She used to reply, these are tiny ships, Tobias, embarking on my finger port . . . '

Keiko smiled on the story and finally connected the dots to her previous sayings. 'That's cute.'

'Tiny cuticle ships embarked on finger ports,' Tobias repeated and closed his eyes. A memory he'd sworn to protect from the Dreamolytes.

'So,' Keiko said sensing the frustration, trying to change the topic of discussion for a second time. 'I can't help but wonder. Is this novel of yours, the monster manual, by any means autobiographical?' She narrowed her eyes like a purring cat. 'I mean, I understand there's allegory behind it, but I think you've also tried to exploit experiences out of it, which seem, at times, very . . . realistic!'

You wouldn't want to know . . . . 'No. It is pure fiction,' he lied to her. Again.

'Strange. Sometimes I think that you're actually seeing all those monsters. Your descriptions are so eerie, so vivid, so forceful . . . It would be terrifying if actually somebody did see these monsters.' Keiko said and took one more sip. 'That would be a life full of misery. I think people like this should blow their brains out.'

You wouldn't want to know . . . . Tobias suddenly stood up from his seat. 'I'll fetch more wine,' he said, while making the move to leave the table.

'Tobias,' Keiko said calmly and held him by the injured hand. Tobias stopped in an awkward position, like a robot running out of batteries. 'There's still enough wine on the table.'

Tobias wetted his lips in embarrassment. He took two steps away from the table and towards the kitchen compulsively, then turned and glanced at Keiko. 'I'll fetch the cork then,' his voice cracked.

'Tobias,' Keiko insisted. 'The bottle is already open . . . '

Tobias took two more steps towards the kitchen with feet trembling. He stopped and turned again to Keiko's side. He opened his mouth but couldn't speak. He turned around, unable to make a decision. He took one more frustrating step towards the kitchen, stopped and turned around to look again at Keiko. Her eyes were questioning him. What an embarrassment.

'I'll bring another glass,' he said with a cracking voice. 'There's some dirt . . . lipstick . . . on . . . my glass. Is there lipstick on yours too? Want me to bring another one for you?' he said and quickly disappeared into the kitchen.

'Tobias,' Keiko said whispering and sighing with sympathy. She knew Tobias could no longer listen to her. 'There's no lipstick in the glass.' She swallowed. 'You're not wearing a lipstick,' she continued with a vacant, worrying voice. "

* * *

Tobias walked past the kitchen table agitated, and started opening the drawers one by one in a frenzy state, mumbling behind his teeth.

When he finally found the steak knife, he pulled it out of the case and held it stiffly in his hand. Made of cow skin, it had a five-inch blade and a practical heft.

Angrily he made two steps towards the table, breathing like a wild animal. He had to prepare for the inevitable. 'You want to see the monsters I see?' he whispered, and dashed to the fridge. He opened it with fury. Among the few things, he spotted the big half-squared chunk of Swiss cheese, sitting on a plastic plate at the topmost shelf.

'You, lousy, stupid mouse . . . I warned you to leave my cheese alone, but you wouldn't listen.' After twenty or thirty stabs, he let the knife stabbed inside the cheese core. He sighed in relief and satisfaction, holding the fridge door open, watching at the cheese. A small string of blood started floating from one of the many holes, down into the plate. I killed it at last!

'Tobias, is everything fine?' Keiko's voice sounded from behind him.

Startled, Tobias pushed the fridge door and turned around and watched at Keiko standing still from the other side of the table. Her curvy body leaned by the kitchen door-frame, and her arms were folded. An inquisitive expression and a strained smirk crossed her tawny face.

'Yes,' he said disorientated. 'Everything's fine . . . .'

'Can you bring some cheese for the both of us?' she asked, smirking. 'I'm done with the food. Maybe, we could relax at the sofa, and have some chit-chatting with wine and cheese, the two of us?' She said and smiled, as if she knew.

She knows, Daphne whispered towards Tobias from the window sill. She had a sudden moment of enlightenment, but Tobias didn't wish to engage in a conversation with a dead end with his sister. She knows.

He had to change the topic to get Daphne out of his mind. He opened his mouth, unleashing a high-pitched sound.

'They're real.'

Keiko frowned, and then raised an eyebrow. 'What is real, Tobias?'

'The monsters,' Tobias replied almost breathlessly, shaking his head in denial. 'The monsters are real.'

Keiko nodded at him. 'I see.' "

* * *

Later that night, Tobias would have a striking revelation . . . If he had a few destinations that served as sanctuary for both body and mind, then his bed sheets were the ultimate ticket to those. And such sanctuary was all the most wanted, after Keiko Otto left him alone that night. As soon as Tobias rolled his exhausted body on his sheets, the bedspread's coldness drove into him.

A second chilling moment, in which he had to deal with the screeching sounds of his old bed. Tobias thought about the nightingale song, but his mind deteriorated up until the bird harmony turned into scary crow sounds. His eardrums yanked the inner tick-tack clock sound, as if a countdown for his crisis had begun.

He breathed heavily like a wild animal.

Brooding shadows stormed into the room from an open window. The twilight of the moon looked for him under a pillow soaked in sweat and saliva, as he crawled on every corner of the bed, scratching feebly at the blanket, the mattress felt like concrete to him. He jumped off the bed and fell down on the floor.

The chicken tenders wiggled in his stomach and started surfacing up. His guts twirled. He tried pushing against the floor to stand up, but against his will, he started throwing up. Brown globs splattered across the floor. He leapt up with all his strength to avoid the noxious smell of bile and barely digested meat. He kept trembling, even when he finally made it to his feet.

Outside, the garden oak tree sat like a scarecrow with a trapped birdlife. Tobias saw the crows nestled on the branches, preparing for their foray. Their evil red eyes flashed like laser beams.

'The Dreamolytes,' Tobias said in panic. His saliva, mixed with vomit, was dripping from the edge of his mouth. They are in form of crows this time.

Tobias dashed towards the window and shut it down, before it was too late. As he began working on the blinds, he saw one large cohort of crows abandoning the tree, flying up in the sky, twirling on a moonscape backdrop, and formulating a deathly arrow against him. In panic, he sealed off the blinds and ran to the kitchen.

Midway to the bedroom, he slipped on his own vomit and momentarily lost balance. As he stormed out, he bounced from wall to wall, up until he made it to the kitchen. Infuriated, he turned on the lights and saw the two windows widely open. Daphne and Rose stood on the outside part of the porches and both were in jeopardy, as the merciless crows had surrounded the house and looked for an entry point. He had to do something.

He had to protect them.

As he reached the window, he hugged Rose under one arm, in one breath. Using his free hand, he sealed the window, just on time before a furious crow crashed dismally onto the glass.

A small fracture immediately formed in the middle, and the crow landed on the porch and stooped to the glass surface. With a fiendish, harassing expression, the crow eyed Tobias with hatred. It wailed an ululating and sinister sound calling out for other crows to join. A crowd was soon gathered and the crows all started striking the glass with their talons and beaks to enter the house.

Beleaguered, Tobias run to the other window and rescued Daphne under his second arm. He repeated the process of sealing the window all over, as fast as he could. More crows gathered outside in a dense knot, attempting to penetrate into the house.

'I'm sorry Rose. I'm sorry Daphne. This is my fault,' he said and ran back to his bedroom. 'It's my fault, we're under siege. I shouldn't have punished you that hard.'

A thick wallop on the windows drummed onto his ears.

As he entered the bedroom, Tobias suddenly soothed down, as some sort of sweet energy wafted into him. His inflamed nerves were relieved. The weight on his feet ebbed away. The numbness from his hands disappeared. He sighed, and all cancerous droplets from his chest evaporated.

He fixed a glare on the now sparse vomit, oozing like a half-fried omelet a few inches from his bed. He slowly approached it and, with ceremonial care, placed the two plants on the floor, each one on different side of his.

As he knelt down, the despicable odor of bile plunged into his nostrils like a poisoning arrow. He wetted his lips and, without further hesitation, dipped his index finger into the vomit. He tossed around the solid lumps for some seconds, making invisible concentric circles. Tears of happiness and fulfillment flew from his eyes.

He craned his head and slowly brought his finger underneath his nostrils. He sniffed it carefully. 'Crow poop,' he said and turned first to Rose and then to Daphne. 'Girls, you know what this means, huh?' he asked, nodding and smiling. 'Yes, you're right, Rose. The crows are gone now. But not for long . . . . We have to work fast to prevent the Dreamolytes from coming again.' "

* * *

Next morning, Tobias woke up early as he had to do a couple of things before meeting with his destiny. First, he took the printer off his computer and threw it out of the window, with hopes it wouldn't crash onto somebody's head. He was literally fed up with this stupid piece of equipment either way. Every time he was trying to print the "Monster Manual” the way he wanted it to be, the text was changed; the printer was playing tricks on him. Does the printer have a soul? Tobias wondered. Maybe the printer was an agent of the Dreamolytes; a spy.

Second thing he did, he took all lice pictures out of the walls. All the pictures were framed; high-quality material. It took him an hour to package them neatly in boxes. His apartment was now empty and blank. He looked around the wall in dismay. You can never have enough lice pictures, Keiko had once told him. That's why he kept adding more and more, and they were never enough.

And the final thing . . . no witnesses! Tobias tiptoed into the living room; he didn't want to wake Mike up. Mike was resting in his regular spot; the Atlantis complex at the bottom of the fish tank. How long have I been keeping this goldfish for? Tobias wondered as he looked at his reflection on the glass. His eyes narrowed seconds before he pulled the wire out, cutting the oxygen supply in the fish tank.

'I'm hungry,' he said to himself and headed for the kitchen. 'I'm craving for salad at the moment.' Truth is he didn't want to see how the agony of breathing air looked like.

* * *

'I'm not at all important. I don't even have a mug in my cupboard with my name written on it. I'm nobody,' Tobias said and shoved a spoonful of salad into his mouth.

'There's a big chunk of broccoli stuck in your teeth.'

'I know. But why are you telling me this, Daphne? Do you really care?'

'I don't,' Daphne replied in reflex. 'It's just I can see the poor broccoli entangled in your teeth when you speak, and it reminds me of what a pathetic cannibal you are. I can't stand it anymore. You've done it once. Now you're doing it again.'

'But I'm not a plant like you, Daphne,' Tobias apologized. 'Eating veggies doesn't count as cannibalism for me.' 'Stop it,' Daphne yelled at him. 'I hate you. We both hate you.'

They always hated me. Tobias thought, tears running from his eyes, all the way down to his flat cheekbones and chin. 'On my first day of kindergarten, I was told I should never wear matching socks because it would be a good conversation starter that would help me make friends. Turned out it's a horrible conversation starter and I still don't wear matching socks. I still make no friends, either,' Tobias said, caressing Rose's leaves. 'I'm so afraid of being alone. I was always afraid of being alone. Please stop torturing me, Sister.'

'The most terrifying thing about the Universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent. But we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death.' Rose finally broke the silence. 'Are you ready to die for us, if necessary, Brother?'

'Yes,' Tobias said with a vacant stare towards the window.

'Then, you're forgiven . . . '

'Thank you Rose,' he said, turning to Daphne. 'Thank you, too, Daphne.'

A sudden knock on the door interrupted the conversation he had with his twin sisters. 'They are here,' Rose whispered. She was right! They had finally come. And this time they had come with intentions of staying for a long time, perhaps forever. 'You know that we can't hide you, Tobias?' Daphne asked.

'I know,' Tobias said with bitterness in his voice, shaking his head. 'Thirty years ago, the three of us shared the same uterus. But, I was the guy . . . I was so desperate to live. Something was wrong with the pregnancy since the beginning. It's not my fault I was the strongest. I had to . . . I had to do this to you . . . I am so sorry . . . I don't know why, but I did it!'

'You turned our mother into a whore with your big appetite, Brother. You squeezed her energy after she gave birth to you and two tiny mummies.'

'I know. It's my fault.'

A second knock, this time louder and more persistent drummed into his ears. 'Tobias, it's me! Keiko! I've come to take your book to my publisher . . . . People need to know that these monsters actually exist Tobias. Please open the door . . . .'

'Don't do it,' Rose said, as Tobias wiped out the excess sweat from his forehead. 'You know this methodology Tobias, page fifty-six, last paragraph on the bottom. That's what Dreamolytes do; they're trying to deceive you. She will never stop knocking this door, until you invite her in, Tobias. And when you do so, she will haunt you forever.'

'Yes,' Tobias agreed, 'I know their methodology very well. The Dreamolytes are trying to trick me.' He walked unhurriedly towards his bedroom, and reached his desk. He sat in his comfy leather chair, and slowly opened his desk's drawer.

'Tobias,' Keiko kept yelling and knocking. 'Open the door; you need my help, Tobias. I can help you with your nightmares. . . .'

Tobias revealed his 9-mm caliber pistol from the drawer and placed it in his right temple, when he felt a woman's supple touch on his right shoulder. He couldn't see her, but he could hear her breath, smell her perfume, and feel the sorrow in her eyes. It was as cold as Death's touch, not of this world, although Tobias was pretty sure he hadn't pulled the trigger . . . yet.

And then he saw them with the corner of his eye . . . . He didn't turn his head around; he could get a glimpse of the tips of her fingers and this was more than enough. His mother's fingernails were long, elegant, well-manicured . . . and colored blue, exactly as he always remembered them! Blue like the ocean.

And there were tiny sparkling jewels, glued on top of her nails.

Tobias smirked with satisfaction. It was about time he embarked on one of those cuticle ships, and sailed away from a finger port that has always been pointing at him and accusing him of fratricide, since the first minute he was born.

CONTENTS


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