The Nightmare Plague: The Children of Bilal, Part One

He stood on the roof’s edge, sweeping his gaze across the city.  So many were sleeping peacefully elsewhere, but this place was alive with sounds of life.  Street vendors were gaily calling out to those passing by, bright lights cast their colors across those searching for tonight’s pleasure, and over all of this were the raucous sounds of merriment.  The sound of laughter and good spirits were soothing to his ears.  Bilal had loved Amman since he had arrived, but, as quiet and reserved as he might be, the joy of these people pulled at his heart.  It rejuvenated him from the nightmares he would soon face.

He stepped away from the edge, turning to leave the carnival atmosphere behind.  So much had been happening that the bear could not afford to be idle.  Nightmares were increasing and had even become preying on those awake.  All that could be done currently was to steadily eliminate them until an answer to this rising plague could be discovered.  Striding towards the other side of the roof, he rapidly accelerated until he leapt across the gap of a street, the arc of flight easily carrying him across.  His boots made contact with the next roof and he walked with a purpose.  The city was a mix of the modern and antiquity, having withstood the passage of so many centuries and alive with the generations that have shaped it into the metropolis it became.

Bilal considered Amman’s people his children, and he steadfastly protected them from those things which creeped into their minds, unbidden and nauseating in their malice.  Now, though, there were so many nightmares plaguing his people that it was difficult to know where to start.  He followed the pull of their wickedness and the never-ending battle would resume.  It was fortunate that there were less jinn to deal with since the infestation began, but even that was a concern.  What was happening that kept them at bay?

Nearby, a woman’s sleep was being tormented by anxieties, fueled by a creature that feasted on her misery.  With a nod of acceptance, Bilal decided that he would start there.  The sandy-hued bear has yet to find a reason that no other bears come here, or why he is such an anomaly among them, but the purpose of his existence was sufficient to to override any existential conundrums.

It was little effort for the lithe bear to drop down to her window.  From there he could hear her crying, shifting around on the bed.  Bilal settled into the sill, reaching out to her mind in search of what was tormenting her.  Time passed as he navigated through the nightmare; the mind was chaotic, and Bilal could sense the anxiety inflicted on the woman, but also remorse and a sense of failure.  He carefully avoided specific memories, being careful to not be intrusive.  These thoughts were her own and his interest lay in the false notions being injected, poisoning what should have been good memories and turning them to anguish.

The search took longer than he expected, but alien voices began to draw him closer.

“You never should have left!  The shame you bring to them!”

“Worthless, selfish cow!”

“Did you really think you could succeed!  No husband!  No worth!”

Creeping into the nightmare, Bilal stood, observing, as several porcelain dolls danced around an image of a woman brought to her knees in pain.  The figure was sobbing into her hands, the face covered by her disheveled hijab.  His face set, the bear advanced on the dolls who remained oblivious to his presence.  Realization that they were not alone came as quickly as their end.  He watched the fragments evaporate and sat close to the figure, waiting with her until peace settled again and the woman’s breathing became regular.  Bilal often wondered what was the root nightmares grew out of for particular people, but chose to remain ignorant rather than be so intrusive.  He slipped back to himself and moved on, following the pull of the next soul under assault.

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