It didn’t take long to finish the ascent. They had been quiet, each lost in their thoughts. The trio stopped when they reached a set of stairs leading to a small portal.
“We have no idea what is ahead,” Barnabus said. “There will be nightmares all over. Some will be chatterlings, others phantoms. They are all dangerous.”
Montrose was taken aback.
There’s more than one chatterling?” He was incredulous at the idea of facing more of the creatures.
“No,” Barnabus replied, “the monster we were fighting is an amalgamation of separate nightmares. They can split up and cause more harm individually, attacking the memories and subconscious. That chattering cacophony they emit is the sound of all the voices combined. Now be still. We don’t know what is beyond this door.”
Montrose gripped his sword tight as Barnabus forced the small door open. The bear dived through suddenly and called back moments later to follow.
They were in what looked to be a basement. A dim light cast shadows everywhere and Uri let out a whimper. Barnabus looked at him sharply, then at Montrose.
“Something happened here,” he said,” and the entirety of the nightmare probably represents some background to his torment.”
Montrose was puzzled.
“What do you think is the cause?”
“I’m not certain, but the trauma is extensive to call forth chatterlings. Some form of abuse, real or perceived is my guess.”
There was a sound from above followed by footsteps. Something was descending the steps to the basement. Barnabus jerked his head and they lead Uri into hiding behind a support beam. Several forms became visible, dragging a sobbing person between them.
“No one likes snitches,” one of them said, “and you’re going to learn that.”
As they entered the light, it became apparent they were dragging Uri between them. There were three older boys shoving him to the middle of the floor. The sound of crying could be heard from their victim as one of the boys curled his fingers into a fisdt. He drew back to strike, but Barnabus was on him before Montrose could register that the bear had even moved. A heavy paw punched hard into the boy, causing him to disappear into a cloud of purplish smoke. Montrose recognized it as being similar to the effect of hewing through the creatures tentacles earlier.
Both bears fell on the other apparitions and disposed of them before they could make a sound.
“These were chatterlings,” Montrose hissed between his teeth.
“Yes, and this is a memory of Uri’s that they had overcome.”
At the mention of his name, the boy stepped out and approached his mirror image. He reached out to touch his opposite, who disappeared, flowing into Uri’s arm.
“That’s what they are doing,” Barnabus exclaimed, “they are hurting him by attacking traumatic memories and increasing the pain!”
Montrose immediately understood. “We have to protect him and find the memories, yes?”
“It might weaken them,” Barnabus conceded.
“This could take time,” the younger bear noted.
“Maybe not, he said after some thought. “I think that the landscape of the nightmare is specific to the trauma. If that is true, then we will find his memories and the chatterlings as we go. It could be as simple as going from point A to B.”
Both bears were silent, pondering this, and listening for sounds of movement above them. Abruptly, as if one mind, they stood. Montrose put an arm around Uri’s shoulder and the ascended the stairs. Muffled sounds could be heard through the door. Barnabus cracked open the door and peered out.
“I see a gymnasium and other exercise equipment. A community center, perhaps?”
“That fits,” said Montrose. “Those boys were not just bullying him, but were going to do real harm. It wouldn’t be difficult to do that amidst all this activity.”
There were more shadow people around, but they did not seem malicious. Barnabus motioned for the others to stay while he walked out into the room. No one reacted to his presence although they did swerve around him.
“Come out,” he said, “they have no interest in us. We are just background to them.”
“Then why are they here?”
Barnabus ground his teeth together.
“He must have walked out of that basement beaten and bloody. Do you think, based on what you see, that anyone helped him then? They are here because their indifference made an impact on him. These caricatures aren’t just the chatterlings, but associated with the nightmares. They didn’t see because the boy was just background to them and without consequence enough to notice.”