Staggering back, the bear stood still and bowed, his eyes closed against pain. For a moment it seemed he would topple over, but instead stood straight and the lines of pain in his face softened. Even at that distance, Montrose was certain the wound began to stitch itself closed, leaving only the tear in Barnabus’s jacket visible.
The bear wobbled for a moment before catching his balance and walked back to his companions.
“We should continue,” he said.
Montrose finally found his voice and said: “Your shoulder, though? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he said, waving Montrose away.
The bears stared at one another. Montrose was young, but knew that there was something strange about his companion. He also realized that no answers would be forthcoming.
“Fine,” he said, “let’s carry on. I have a feeling that we are headed for a school at some point.”
Barnabus nodded. “We could continue to chase individual memories, but going to the greatest concentration of misery should bring an end to this.”
Both bears held gazes for a moment before turning and walking further into the nightmare.
The shadow city began to drift into a twisted landscape, twisted concrete and rebar. The gray sky gave way to a rough cave roof. Stone teeth jutted out from every wall and everything looked normal to a subterranean environment at a brief glance. Looking closer, though, there were little signs that they had reached the school. Shapes in the walls looked like parking bollards; stone slabs leaned out, looking very much like doors; and ahead was a high wall with a rusted chain web draped across it. Barnabus gave it an experimental tug and was satisfied that it was secure. Without a word, he pulled Uri onto his back and began to climb. Montrose followed them up and was shocked at the sight of a massive amphitheatre. He looked back and noticed more twisted metal and realized they had climbed a massive basketball net. They were in the school auditorium.
The rough-hewn bleachers were occupied with rows of silent shadow people. They stared blankly at the central floor, where a group of chatterlings were tormenting two of Uri’s memories. They were in the middle of a rapidly closing circle. Montrose was not surprised when Barnabus charged in without a word.
AsThe chatterlings were ready for him and they began to merge into an amalgamous mass , warped limbs began to quiver in anticipation. The bear ducked low and began to swing upward, severing the horrific limbs. He ducked and rolled around the floor, staying a step out of the way of any attack. Fists struck the ground. Talons tore through empty air. They flailed in frustration as Barnabus continued his assault.
Montrose realized that the merging of the creatures left them disoriented. If the battle lasted too long, it could get harrowing. The creature was clumsily attacking their foe, but were slowly becoming faster. Montrose watched for his opportunity before racing in with Uri in tow. The many eyes of the horror attempted to stop his charge. The bear was precise with his light sword, an economy of movement that kept his world in tight focus.
Barnabus pressed his assault, forcing the chatterlings to give more attention to him. Montrose spared some attention to the bear. He was shocked at the effortless means that attacks by the creature were evaded. Barnabus struck true with every swing, but even with such skill the relentless creature still managed to damage him. There were tears in his fabric. This didn’t seem to affect his prowess, though.
Montrose tugged Uri through the fray with one hand and scooped up the memories with his other arm. Dragging them along, he pulled them from harm’s way. Uri quickly reabsorbed them, seeming more alive and alert than he had before. The bear nodded at him and turned to enter the fray. He stopped when Barnabus yelled “Get him out of here!”
“Get him out of here and the nightmare will stop!”
Looking from Uri to Barnabus, Montrose hesitated for only a moment. Grabbing the boy, he began to run through the hellish landscape to return to the closet door. Their surroundings had begun to crumble as the nightmare began to fall apart. Uri must have become restless and was stirring. That, combined with the chatterlings falling under Barnabus’s sword, made the escape more urgent.
Montrose dodged and weaved through shadow people, leaping over rubble, racing through the buildings. He was forced to assume that Barnabus was winning, as the dissolution of the nightmare was accelerating. They reached the building as the destruction closed in. Stairs cracked under their feet as they climbed. Montrose was relieved to see that the closet door was open. Diving through the door, the bear could hear the last of the nightmare crumbling away. Sound died away as the closet returned to normal.
Uri had disappeared onto the bed and merged with the real boy. Montrose sat on the floor gasping and forced to speculate on the fate of Barnabus. His mind reached out, trying to make contact but there was no sense of him. The boy stirred on the bed and there was a sound that a crying fit was cut short.
Montrose felt relieved, but lost consciousness before he could climb the bed and see to the child.