From Path of Needles, Chapter 8: Big Eyes, Big Teeth
I knew it was a dream before I saw the eyes in the trees.
“This is creepy,” I said, the words echoing into the empty clearing. That’s where I was—a clearing in the middle of the forest, the day fading to dusk above me as the trees rustled wickedly in the wind. And they were wicked, those trees. I knew it like I knew I was dreaming, like I knew that this dream was different, and somehow that awful Clara’s fault.
It helped that the trees were glaring at me. Each trunk boasted, I kid you not, glowing red eyes, some slanted into glares, others wide and staring. Knowing it was a dream, I wasn’t as afraid as I think I should have been. After all, they were creepy, but it was just a dream, right? Couldn’t actually hurt me.
I shifted and something shifted with me. I looked down to see a basket hanging off my right arm. It was a cute little thing, all wicker and covered in checked gingham cloth. The wind rustled, and I realized I was wearing a long cloak over my jeans and shirt. It was a deep, virulent red.
“Great,” I said out loud. “Little Red Riding Hood. Really original, subconscious,” I muttered, pulling the hood up over my hair with my free arm.
The same dream-logic that told me to keep the cape pushed me towards the trees despite their wicked eyes. I bit my lip and started forward, because it was a dream and what else could I do? The eyes on the trees watched me as I stepped onto the path. I tripped and stumbled, falling to my knees and throwing a hand out to stop my fall.
“Ouch!” I pulled my hand back, cradling it to my chest as I hastily stood. Blood trickled out from a dozen tiny pinpricks. I reached down and found a jagged edge on the hem of my cloak, then ripped off a long swath of cloth and wrapped it clumsily around my hand. That done, I looked to see what had cut me.
The path was carpeted with shiny, silver needles.
“I think I’ve read this version,” I muttered to myself. I kicked vindictively at the stupid sharp things before setting forth once more. “This dream sucks.”
I kept walking. The metallic crunch of needles under my feet and the creaking of branches in the wind were the only noises. Every once in a while I glanced up at the thin crack in the trees overhead. As I walked the sky shifted colors from the dark purples of dusk to the deeper blues and blacks of night. For some reason I could see in the dark, though there were no stars or moonlight to light my way.
Eventually—and it could have been hours, days, or seconds, considering it was stupid dreamtime—I saw a light up ahead. As I got closer I saw that it came from a candle burning in the window of a small, thatched cottage. Despite knowing exactly which fairy tale I’d found myself in, I couldn’t fight my feet as they took me to the front door.
I raised a fist and knocked three times.
“Come in,” called a warm, familiar voice. A man’s voice. My heart sped up.
The door swung silently forward under my outstretched hand. Trembling, I stepped over the threshold. As I did so, the dream shifted once more, taking me from the fairy-tale forest to my apartment’s kitchen.
Light streamed through the open window, the breeze gently teasing our yellow curtains. City noises filtered faintly through the air. This was the kitchen of my memories—messy, filled with a few dirty dishes and takeaway boxes, but mine. I stepped inside, shaking needles onto the old linoleum as I breathed in the coffee-and-city smell of home.
“There you are, Kit-Kat,” my father said from behind me. My heart clenched. He hadn’t called me that since I was very small.
I turned around slowly, knowing that the door to the forest would be gone. My father stood in the kitchen doorway. He leaned against the doorframe, dressed in a posh suit, his hair tied back into a slick ponytail. It was exactly as he’d looked when I left home the night before.
“Hello, darling,” he said, and smiled.
“Well?” he continued, his voice so warm and familiar that my eyes began to water. “How do I look?” He did a little twirl on the heels of his dress shoes.
“Great, Dad,” I said, my voice shaking slightly. I clutched the basket closer to my chest as he stepped forward, still smiling at me, the right corner of his mouth just a little higher than the left. “You going to the premier tonight?” I heard myself asking, even as my legs began to tremble beneath me. He stepped forward again.
“No. Thought I’d stay in tonight. Maybe we can pick up a Chinese, watch some telly. Just like old times.”
I closed my eyes tightly as he spoke, the colloquialisms that were as familiar to me as my last name stabbing painfully into my chest. It’s a dream, I chanted to myself. A dream, a dream, a dream…
When I opened my eyes, he was standing right in front of me. This close, I could see that his teeth were yellow, his skin grey and unhealthy, eyes shocky and wide.
“I’m not going to say it,” I said, my breath coming in tiny gasps as I realized exactly what part of the story we had reached.
My father laughed, his strange skin crinkling at the edges as he did so. “Oh, come on, it’s all a bit of fun. Don’t you like my big eyes? My nasty teeth?” He grinned wide, showing off yellow teeth that had been filed down to sharp points meant for tearing.
I shook my head. “No,” I whispered, and took a step back.
“That’s too bad, Kit-Kat,” he said again, stepping forward until I was pressed against the kitchen table. “I guess we’ll just have to skip to the end.”
He pulled his hands out of his pockets and I screamed as I saw they were claws. I screamed again when he reached for me, snarling. Fur rippled from beneath his skin, spreading up his limbs to burst out of the skin on his face. My father collapsed on the ground like shreds of leather and a snarling wolf in a tattered suit launched itself at me.
Just before the claws reached my throat, I felt a familiar jolt, like I was being yanked out of the apartment and up through the ceiling. As I was pulled from the dream into the black, I heard the howling wolf behind me, his cries chasing me even as I escaped.