The Bearded Man's Curse by Squidmanescape
Nathan was speaking with his friends. They were talking about something and laughing at intervals. I didn’t know why. I loved him, though. Maybe it was platonic, but I wouldn’t know, because I don't have that many friends. Back when I watched him and listened to him talk, I was always very frightened of him seeing me, and I assumed that was just because I didn’t want him to feel frightened or concerned because I was afraid of anyone or anything having power over my actions.
It could have stayed that way until I went to college and met my doom with complete faith in my own autonomy. But then he was gone one day, and I noticed far too late, because I'm usually out of the loop and the first time I heard about him being gone was in a passing comment that I heard in the hallway. He had went missing three days before. I was lucky that it was in the news at all, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have realized it. I quickly searched for his Internet footprint. It wasn’t very hard to find, but there was nothing there that someone hadn't already realized, and so naturally, I gave up.
It's in my nature, I guess. I have a hard time taking things seriously as a rule. But when I learned from my sister that he had been found dead, mutilated by what looked like wolves, I immediately regretted having stopped. But there was nothing that I could do, so I simply did nothing. I didn’t even console his friends because I didn't know him very well. In any case, that really should have been the end of it. But I guess the world sometimes works like that. Sometimes you think that nothing can touch you, but then you realize it can, and your understanding of reality breaks.
I had decided to go to bed for twelve hours in a misguided attempt to study better, but I'm not sure that it would have done anything. The only upside of that was the dream I had, one which convinced me that I could help somehow.
In the dream, I was standing behind Nathan as he lay facedown in an almost empty room, seemingly dead. I felt like doing something, but then I saw the man at the other end of the room.
I would call the man Rasputin from then on. He had a bushy black beard and was almost completely covered in a giant bearskin cape. As I watched in agony, Rasputin walked up to Nathan's body and grabbed his head. Rasputin lifted his hand and Nathan came up with it like a wet noodle. Rasputin lifted his entire body a few inches in the air before setting him down on his feet.
Nathan stood like a dumbfounded statue as Rasputin walked towards a blue door at the other end of the room. I walked behind him, intent on seeing what was there, and he didn't seem to notice me. When he finally opened it all the way, I jumped back until I hit the wall, shocked by the giant mouth that the door opened into.
Rasputin appeared completely unfazed, simply staring into it until a sinuous tongue slithered out of it. It was covered in forward-facing spines like a pinecone, and I wouldn't have known it was a tongue if it hadn't been the same red color as the mouth. I was planning to stay in my corner, but then it snaked towards Nathan. I jumped in front of it and tried to stop it, only half-thinking that it would work. Unfortunately, the tongue slithered right through me, so I ran to the mouth, intent on finding something that I could touch somehow. I was almost inside when I was jerked back by a hand.
"You," said Rasputin in accented English, "are not supposed to be here."
"Apologies, sir, but I wondered what the mouth was going to do."
"You shouldn't be concerned with that. What's your name, anyways?"
I was about to say my real name, but I thought that he might have had power over me. "Taylor," I said.
"Taylor, you have left this place now. Taylor, you have forgotten about this place."
It took two seconds before he realized it hadn't worked. He slammed me into the wall, and it hurt. "You don't want to mess with me. Leave. I have important stuff to do."
"I don't know to leave," I said quickly.
Rasputin appeared unconvinced. He lifted me up into the air and threw me towards the other wall. Then he started to dance on top of me, and I tried to get up for what felt like an eternity before I resigned myself to my fate.
Eventually, I noticed dimly that Rasputin was no longer dancing on top of me. I looked to the side and I saw Rasputin smiling smugly at me. He walked towards where Nathan had been, and I realized that Nathan had already been eaten by the mouth in the door. "Since you don't know how to leave, I guess I can either feed you to the Thorjarpet or you can leave of your own volition. Which one do you choose?"
I didn't say anything, trying to think about how I might leave. Eventually Rasputin started walking towards me. "Should I choose for you?"
In the spur of the moment, everything was too frightening in that room and I couldn't handle it. "I don't want to go into the mouth in the door," I said.
"Then you have to leave. To leave, you say your name out loud and then say, 'You have left.'"
"Thank you," I said. Then I said that under my breath and left.
When I woke up, I remembered the dream in vivid detail, which usually didn't happen. As usual, I forgot most of what happened in school that day, choosing to go home and watch videos on the Internet and immediately forgetting what I had seen. The dream slipped from my mind completely until around five.
Once I remembered, I immediately regretted not going into the door mouth, but I decided that I would try and remember to do so that night. I knew that I would probably just go back on my promise, but it felt better to try and fail than to just fail. I made a plan. I would go into the door-mouth's stomach, use my immateriality to find Nathan, and get out in time. Then, satisfied with my idea, I went back to sleep.
I was back in the room, but no one was there. I waited, and I got bored a few times and thought of going out, but then I remembered Nathan and stayed there. It felt like I was in there for hours, but Rasputin eventually showed up right beside me, frightening me so much that I squeaked.
Rasputin laughed. "Are you going to enter the Thorjarpet now?"
"What's that?" I asked meekly.
Rasputin seemed at a loss, but then he laughed again. "Oh, right. I forgot that you're an idiot. You called it a 'door mouth'."
I was angry that he called me an idiot, but I was far too scared to do anything about it. I settled for asking, "Can I go in it, please?"
Instead of answering, he walked over to the opposite wall and whispered into it, hands cupped over his mouth. A moment later, the red door-mouth appeared a meter away from him. He turned to me and smiled evilly. "It's probably far too late to do anything, but I'm not such a monster that I won't let you get closure."
I ran to the door-mouth and opened it, getting swept off my feet by its serpentine tongue. It grabbed me and flung me down the esophagus of the door-mouth as I screamed. I screamed as the esophagus pulled me down, anticipating a stomach of some sort, but instead it dropped me into an empty room. I looked up and saw a hole in the wall, which was quickly closing.
"Of course," I muttered. All esophagi close when they push something into the stomach. Here, it meant that I was pretty much trapped inside this room. I began to check the room, but it was as empty as it seemed. I wondered how to get out. I thought if I could phase through the walls, it might be possible, but I couldn't. I was confused, but then it hit me.
The tongue had phased through me before, but it hadn't this time. Rasputin had been able to touch me. I hollered at the walls to vent. The entire time, I had thought that I could phase through stuff, but in reality, everything else could control whether or not they touched me. I wallowed in self-pity and self-loathing, cursing myself for not understanding the world better before I made a plan. I got over it in a minute, though, and I started looking for more ways to get out.
I wondered if this was just to get me to go away. I remembered that my only option other than to go down the door was to just go away, and then that Rasputin whispered to get the door to appear. I concluded that getting me out of here was probably his intent, but I still wanted to beat him at his own game. I scoured every corner, every centimeter and millimeter of the floor, but I couldn't find anything.
The final straw came while I was sitting and looking at the muscles that formed the door-mouth's esophagus. I realized that the original door had been red and immediately slapped myself on the head.
"It wasn't even the right door!" I screamed.
"That took really long for you to figure out," Rasputin sneered.
At this point, I was somewhat glad that he was here. "I'm sorry," I said.
"I don't care. Go home, please."
I was about to say it under my breath, but with inhuman speed, Rasputin ran to me, slamming me against the wall and holding me by the neck. As I struggled to breathe, he growled at me, "I won't let you defy me a second time. Tell me your name, out loud, or else you will die here."
Two seconds passed. "Child, you can die here. I want you to die, so you will die if you don't obey me. And if you die, I will be able to feed your soul to the Thorjarpet."
Do you expect me to reveal my name here? Honestly, I would have, but I had actually forgotten it. I had no idea how, but I wasn't sure how to say this to Rasputin, who was looking at me in almost-villainous anticipation.
But in the perfect opening, he said, "What? Did you forget your name?"
I nodded, and he kicked me in the guts.
"You forgot your own name?"
I nodded again, fully anticipating a kick in the gut, but this time, Rasputin was silent.
"You actually forgot your name."
He stayed that way for a long time. Finally, I asked, "What's your name?"
"How did you get out the first time?" he said.
I paused, but he seemed in a hurry, because I was suddenly levitating in the air. "Tell me, tell me, please tell me, how did you get out the first time?"
I didn't want him to realize that I actually had said my name that time, so I said the first thing that came to mind. "I said a word and iden-ident-indentified with it, and then he-I got out because!"
"I, like, said a random word, and then I pretended it was my name, and then I just got out!"
"And that worked?"
I nodded vigorously, repeating the word "yes" until he set me down. I watched as he said the word "John" and disappeared, and it was only then that I realized that he must have also forgotten his name, and I had released him from being trapped in this world. I felt happy, but then I thought about it and decided that, considering how well he knew the logic of this world, it was a boon to be trapped here.
Then I remembered my name and realized that I'd just told him to do something that may not have worked. I got scared at that point, and I said under my breath, "I don't want to go to this place anymore."
The vow must have had some magic effect, because after that, I didn't go to that place. The real world made me feel bad, because I wasn't particularly good at anything. In about a week's time, I wanted to go back, but I wasn't sure how. Eventually, I decided to take incentive. I pulled up some weeds, bought a bell, and rang it in front of the weeds. I was hoping that the false mysticism would somehow bring me back there, and it didn't, so I decided to just focus on my life and try to make it better.
After getting good grades for two weeks, making my GPA slightly higher, I was sent back into the dream world I so craved, where my first sensation was being strangled.
Rasputin leered at me. "Your tip didn't work. I couldn't go back into my own body."
I was pretty much expecting this, and considering his prior observations, he probably knew this. I cowered as Rasputin walked away from me like a vengeful war chief.
"It was partially my fault. I didn't realize that you were begjnning to lose your memory already. I guess it comes from visiting this place twice in a row."
When I heard that, I felt relieved. At least I hadn't been completely at fault in misleading him.
As if realizing that I was feeling some weird kinship towards him, Rasputin promptly pushed me up against the wall. "Your time is running out. I can and will kill you if you don't tell me your name."
Trying to stare him down, I smiled at him, and his frown made me avert my eyes. I whispered, "I want to make a bargain," knowing that he would probably hurt me.
To my surprise, he nodded. I assumed he was accepting the bargain, so I quickly blurted, "I want Nathan to be alive in exchange for my name!"
I was met with a look of utter confusion, so I tried to clarify. "I'm asking you this because I saw Nathan in this room and you fed him to the door mouth thing."
He still looked confused, so I stayed quiet for a while. Eventually, he released me and stepped back so I could see his whole body. What he said would change the entire situation.
"What are you talking about?" he said, looking confused. His lack of any possible motive caused me to believe that he was telling the truth, but I decided to just hope he wasn't.
"He was the person who you sacrificed to the door mouth thing - the Thorjarpet."
He looked even more confused. "No."
I wasn't sure whether to be confused or angry. On the one hand, he didn't look like he was lying. On the other hand, he obviously was, because it wouldn't make any sense otherwise. I asked him another question. "Who did you sacrifice to the Thorjarpet?"
"I didn't sacrifice anyone. I gave it the shape of a clay idol I had made."
"I don't believe that!" I said angrily. "Why would you make it look like Nathan?"
"I don't know who you're talking about. I deliberately didn't make it look like anyone I knew!"
It took a second before what he said hit me. I was afraid to ask the next question, but I asked eventually, against my better judgement. "If it looks like someone you know, does that mean they die?"
"Yes. But I know that no one looks like that. I checked the internal databases of faces, and no one did."
Now I was confused. "What do you mean by the 'internal database of faces?'"
"I mean the computer record of all people alive. What could you even think I meant?"
"In what year did they make that?"
He looked hard at me, then furrowed his brow and actually contemplated my question. "I guess 3590," he finally said.
I was confused at first, and then I was very scared. I realized that he might have been referring to a calendar in which that date was in the past, and I held on to that hope as I meekly said, "What kind of calendar?"
The last word I heard before I blanked out was "Gregorian". I don't know what happened in between. I can faintly remember feeling dizzy, and also seeing something, but I think that I might have essentially been dreaming. However, I do know what woke me up. I thought I heard screaming, and it didn't make any sense in conjunction with what was in front of my eyes. Then I realized that I must have been dreaming, and I realized my eyes were closed.
I opened my eyes to see the walls bending around and Rasputin screaming as the ground slowly ate him. HIs face was melting like butter, and I could barely understand what he was saying. I sat there, half-dazed, until suddenly something clicked and I could understand him.
I wanted to answer, but when I opened my mouth, I said something like, "Vthpkthlkthlklthlthpthlkllthlthlthpthlklkllkthlkllthlthpthlklthlthpthlkp."
"What?" he screamed, shrieking as the walls dragged him deeper and deeper.
"Never mind," I said calmly, before running towards Rasputin and pulling at his arms.
"What are you doing?" he said, laughing and crying at the same time. "Do you really think you can pull me out of the wall? It wants to eat me, and it controls itself. Do you really not know this?"
He kept babbling on as I tried pulling him out of the wall. It would have been fun if the wall hadn't been winning. I pulled hard at him, but he was slowly being engulfed by the wall. I'd like to say that I couldn't see him die, but honestly, it didn't matter to me if he lived or died. After having been told that my captor had come from some time in the future and his taking Nathan had been an unfortunate accident, I just wanted to succeed at something.
I pulled at him for so long that I eventually started dreaming as I pulled. In the dream, the wall was made of patterns of light, and they were talking to me. I couldn't understand the words, but then they started singing and I knew that I was supposed to sing one of the songs. I tried to figure out which one to sing, but I didn't know any of them. Then I realized that none of them were singing the same song, so I decided to make up a song on the fly. I sang it for who-knows-how-long, then I realized I was dreaming and it faded from my vision. When I opened my eyes, Rasputin was facedown on the floor.
I lay down on the floor too, and we both stayed like that for a while. Eventually, I was no longer tired and I found the situation boring, so I decided to ask Rasputin a question.
"Why are you dressed like you stepped out of a random wizard store?" I said before I realized that he wasn't dressed like that at all. "I mean, why do you have a cape made out of a dead bear or something?"
He looked at me like he couldn't believe what I was saying. "Why are you dressed in your pajamas? Do you just randomly come here in your sleep?"
He said it like he was expecting me to say no. Before I could say yes, he answered for me. "Well then. I guess you do come here in your sleep. That explains a lot. I assume you don't know why."
"I don't," I said. "But you knew that. I can tell."
"I don't know how someone could get like this either. Maybe we're connected, or I can possess you, or something like that."
I didn't care about getting possessed. My only angle in the situation was Nathan.
Suddenly, Rasputin rocketed upright like he was pulled by a string. "Say, what time period were you from?"
I told him, and he looked jubilant.
"Do you want to possess me?" I asked.
"It would be my pleasure," said he. "But first, you have to tell me your name."
I wish I had thought it over more. But I told him my name, and then it felt like I was in a billion different pieces. It didn't hurt, so I sat there for a while, and eventually I congealed into myself again. Rasputin looked pleased, and he said, "I can't tell you what happened just now, but I can tell you certain other things. Ask me about the future if you can't think of anything."
I couldn't think of anything.
"The future isn't completely dead. Most people live on Earth. Everyone is happy, unless they don't like what's going on, though the people who are too unruly are forced to be happy all the time. There are some things that people created so that some form of magic exists. It's basically like the present, but better."
By this time, I had come up with a question. "Why did you need your name that other time?"
Rasputin looked almost surprised, as if he thought that I couldn't have remembered something like that. He paused for a few seconds before answering. "I wanted to go back to the future."
I waited for him to say more, and when it became clear that he wasn't going to, I asked, "Why?"
This time, he was quicker to respond. "I had stayed here so long that I had forgotten my name, and I wanted to go back to my home time after a while. But it was hard, because I didn't know what my name was anymore."
"So what did the fake name I gave you do?"
"Nothing. I just ended up back in these corridors. It's the reason I tried to make a human form and sacrifice it to the Thorjarpet."
I looked down, saddened by the turn of events. I decided to try and go back to my body.
"Hey, why can't I go back to my body?" I asked Rasputin. Then I realized that he probably killed my body, and as I looked at his face, he suddenly showed off a glorious smile.
"You already have the right idea. But before you do anything reckless, remember that I have more control over this place than you do, despite your little outburst earlier."
"I'm not going to do anything reckless," I asserted.
"Well, there's no point in not covering all my bases. That said, good news. I can bring your beloved Nathan to you, if we make another deal."
Even though I knew I would lose something, I was completely prepared to accept my doom if it meant getting to see Nathan. So I agreed.
Then he killed me.
Or rather, he turned me into a story. He said, and I quote, "In order to spread my reign of terror, I require a messenger without any prior knowledge of what I'm capable of."
Now I'm a story. But if you're reading this, it probably doesn't affect you. After all, why would he kill the people who would spread his message?
Anyways, I still haven't seen Nathan. Maybe he's going to read this. Maybe that's why he died. I don't know. I guess I was doomed from the very beginning to just end up in a story like this.
If there's any lesson here, it would probably be to have friends and not trust strange old men.