Read Marrow Online

Authors: Preston Norton

Marrow (8 page)

BOOK: Marrow
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I woke up to blackness—cold, disorienting blackness. My head throbbed. A ticking sound resonated within my skull like the sound of a clock but without any sense of rhythm.

Tick . . . tick tooock tick tick . . . tick tooock tooock tick . . .

The only thing that really assured me that I was awake was the itch of bristly rope securing me to a cold, metal chair. The rope was tied so tight that my arms and legs had that prickly feeling you get when your blood stops circulating. I didn’t even bother trying to break free. My power was useless without momentum. I tried shaking my chair. It didn’t budge. It was clearly bolted to the floor.

The chair . . .

I had an idea. Tapping into my bone structure, I accumulated as much density as I could. The pressure of my butt on the seat intensified. My feet were cement blocks. My head felt like a boulder and was becoming nearly impossible to hold upright.

The chair didn’t break like I’d hoped. It didn’t even squeak under the pressure. It must have been made of solid steel.

I normalized my bone density with a gasping breath.

This was bad. This was really bad. Suddenly, being a prisoner in Flex’s apartment didn’t seem like such a terrible thing anymore.

Nightmare—that was the guy’s name. It made sense. The darkness . . . all of those flying creatures . . . Tad and his trolls were freaking out at nothing before I saw what they were seeing. The creatures weren’t real. It was just a nightmarish hallucination. At least I knew that Nightmare couldn’t hurt me with his power.

Of course there were always the good, old fashioned methods of torture.

What did he want me for anyway?

The answer was almost too obvious. It had to do with my father. I was sure of it. What else was I worth to anyone?

A pillar of light blinded me from above, buzzing loudly. Even as I squeezed my eyes shut, I could see flashing lights on the inside of my eyelids. I gradually squinted, peering through my eyelashes. The overhead stream of light was extremely concentrated, shining down on me in a perfect circle. I still couldn’t see anything else in the room.

A door opened and closed behind me. Slow footsteps paced closer.

“Good morning, Marrow,” said a deep, resonating voice. “Did you sleep well?”

Part of me wanted to spit out a witty insult. The other part of me was scared of what he’d do to me if I did. Not that I was in the right state of mind to come up with anything clever. I was too terrified out of my mind to even think.

“What do you want?” I asked. My voice was already trembling. Wanting to end this as soon as possible, I added, “I don’t know where my father is, if that’s what this is about. I haven’t seen him in years.”

Nightmare chuckled as he paced around my chair, stopping in front of me. His gorilla arms were clasped behind his back. His big teeth caused the lower half of his face to stick out. Accompanied by his thick mutton chop sideburns, he looked like a cast reject from
Planet of the Apes

“I already know where your father is,” said Nightmare. “He’s the one who arranged this little rendezvous.”

I choked. I literally couldn’t breathe. This guy was working with my dad? What the heck did my old man want with me? Somehow, I didn’t think it was for a friendly father/son reunion. The chloroform and ropes didn’t exactly hint at such a possibility.

When my lungs finally remembered how to inhale again, I could only manage a one-word response.


Nightmare smiled. And no, not in the friendly way. This was the sort of smile that would give little children psychological damage and years of therapy. No hallucinations necessary. He was just that ugly.

“I understand you met with Oracle,” said Nightmare. “Mind telling me what you two were chatting about? That old bat doesn’t invite just anyone to have tea with her.”

I had absolutely no resolve to hold back information. Maybe it was because I didn’t think it was all that valuable. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to experience the interrogative techniques of a modern-day Neanderthal.

“She told me someone was snooping around her house,” I said. “Someone that she couldn’t sense with her telepathy. And then she showed me a vision she had of Fantom and my dad. They were fighting.”

“A vision of Fantom and Spine fighting,” said Nightmare. “Interesting. Who won the fight?”

“Uh . . . I don’t know,” I said. “They actually hadn’t started fighting yet. They were about to fight, I guess.”

“And that’s everything she told you?” Nightmare asked.

I racked my brain frantically. “Yeah. That’s everything.”

Nightmare licked his giant horse teeth behind his fat monkey lips. “Hmm. I don’t believe you.”

“W-w-w-what?” I said, sputtering. “No! No, I swear, I’m telling the truth. That’s everything.”

The cold, concrete floor suddenly became water. A dark, murky surface with no apparent bottom. Nightmare disappeared as I plunged downward. Water filled my mouth faster than I had a chance to realize what was happening. I tried to cough but gagged instead, staring in wide-eyed horror at the interrogation light rippling on the surface above. I was sinking fast, still strapped to my steel chair. Ten feet. Twenty feet. The water was becoming darker. Colder.

I was going to die.

Just when I thought my lungs couldn’t take any more, I was back in the shadowy interrogation room. Nightmare was standing in the exact same spot he had been in only moments before. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

“It’s amazing how real pain can be in your mind, isn’t it?” said Nightmare.

I found myself gasping for air, barely able to process what had just happened. A hallucination?
was a hallucination?

“Now are you ready to tell me everything?” asked Nightmare. “Or would you like to see what else I can do with my powers?”

My mind was spinning. Tell him everything? What else could I tell him? I’d already told him—

Wait. No, I hadn’t. There was something else. I could’ve kicked myself. It was the main reason Oracle invited me over to begin with.

“I’ll take your silence as a ‘no,’” said Nightmare.

“No, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” I said. “There is something! I forgot something!”

Nightmare shifted his arms in front of him, grabbing his right wrist with his left hand. Waiting.

“Uh . . . I was there,” I said, struggling to process my thoughts. “I mean . . . I was there in the vision. Flex was there too. We were both beat up pretty bad. That’s why Oracle wanted to talk to us. She thinks we might be connected to this somehow. I dunno.”

“That’s everything?” said Nightmare. He raised a thick eyebrow, unconvinced.

“Um . . . no, there’s something else,” I said. “Oracle wanted me to give something to Flex. A videotape. She said if I showed it to him, Flex would come visit her.”

As soon as I said this, I wondered if I was telling him something he already knew.

“Did you watch it already?” I asked. “The videotape?”

Nightmare responded with a glare that said, ‘none of your stinkin’ business.’

I responded with an apologetic, cowering look that said, ‘Sorry I even asked.’

Nightmare continued to stare at me for several long seconds. I felt like I was waiting for a bomb to explode. Would it blow up? Maybe it wouldn’t. Who knew! Let’s just wait and see what happens.

“I don’t believe you,” said Nightmare.

“What?” I said. “You don’t believe what?”

Nightmare didn’t answer. Instead, I heard the grinding of machinery as the back of the room opened up behind me. I could tell because of the light pouring in and especially the sudden, violent gust of wind. The ground beneath me slanted at an increasing downward angle. My chair slid backwards down a long, metal ramp.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait!” I cried.

Too late.

The ramp ended and I was suddenly freefalling through the sky. I was staring at the tail of a giant, gray airplane. It continued to soar into the billowing clouds as I plunged, falling at over a hundred miles per hour. I looked up at the plane until it was lost from sight. It was only then that I realized I was screaming my throat raw.

Calm down. Calm down. This was just another hallucination. This wasn’t real.

I took a deep breath which was actually kind of difficult with the whipping wind current around me. The toppling and spinning was making me dizzy. However, once my chair found a steady, aerodynamic position to descend, it actually wasn’t that bad. Not nearly as bad as drowning. The splotchy green and brown landscape below me was really kind of beautiful . . . in a sick and twisted falling-to-your-death sort of way.

If this was just a hallucination, could I still communicate with Nightmare?

“Okay, you can bring me back now!” I shouted into the rushing sky. “Just tell me what you don’t believe!”

No response. Only the howl of the wind. The ground below was growing considerably closer.

“Can you hear me?” I asked. Desperation was creeping into my voice. “C’mon! I know you can hear me!”

I could now see tiny details—individual trees, roads, power lines . . .

I closed my eyes. It was just a hallucination. I wouldn’t hit the bottom. As long as I kept my eyes shut, everything would be just fine.

I kept falling. The anticipation of the
was clawing beneath my skin.

Out of some sick reflex, my eyes opened.

Grassy green death rushed at me so fast, I barely had time to scream. By the time any sort of sound could escape my throat, I jerked violently and futilely against my restraining ropes, still tied to my bolted down steel chair.

Nightmare hadn’t moved an inch.

Even though I could barely move my body, I could feel myself shaking. I had never trembled so hard in my entire life. I couldn’t take another hallucination like that. It was too real.

I waited for Nightmare to speak. He said nothing. I wondered if he was even breathing. The guy was like a wax sculpture.

“Just tell me what you want to know,” I said. “I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

Nightmare was silent for several long seconds. His expression didn’t budge.

Finally, he shrugged his gorilla-sized shoulders. “You tell me what I want to know.”

My mouth drifted ajar. Was this some sick kind of joke? This guy was certifiably insane.

“I don’t know what you want,” I said. “I’d tell you if I knew. I’ve told you everything that happened. Help me out here. Please!”

“You know,” said Nightmare. “I know you know.”

I shook my head frantically. “No! I don’t know!”

“I don’t believe you.”

“What?” I said. I was ready to hyperventilate. “NO! No, no, no, no, no—!”

The overhead light shut off. But even without the light, I could tell the texture of the floor had changed. It was moving. A squirming, writhing mass. Hissing.

Something long and scaly flicked my ankle with its tongue and proceeded to slither up my leg.

Indiana Jones and I have three things in common. Good looks? Check. Unquenchable sense of adventure? Double check.


Triple check. Yeah. We’re both terrified of snakes.

Giant rolling boulders, Nazis, and human-sacrificing cults I can handle. But so help me if there’s a snake in the equation. Let alone a slimy, slithering room full of them.



My brain had no concept of time anymore. Hours? Days? It was all a horrific blur. Twice, the hallucinations had been so much that I simply blacked out. (The snakes may or may not have been one of them.) I had no idea how long my blackouts lasted, but every time I woke up, a TV dinner tray was set up in front of me with a meal—a bowl of some sort of rice and bean slop and a glass of water with a straw. The water was easy enough to sip, but I literally had to shove my face in the bowl to eat. I didn’t care that it was all over my face. Impressing Nightmare with my table manners was the least of my concerns.

It didn’t help that I couldn’t stop shaking. Every muscle ached even though I physically hadn’t done anything in who knew how long. It felt like my body was falling apart.

It was during these quiet moments, however, that I could think most clearly. The more Nightmare interrogated me, the more it seemed like he wasn’t even looking for information. Could it be that he simply wanted to torture me? Maybe this was just a test. An experiment, to see how long it would take to literally kill me using his hallucinations. Or if not kill me, turn me into a human vegetable. It would explain why Nightmare wasn’t explaining what he wanted to know.

No. I refused to accept that possibility. There had to be something he was looking for. Some detail to my meeting with Oracle that I had overlooked.

It’s amazing the details you can remember when they’re being tortured out of you.

“She was wearing a purple shawl and an ugly gray dress, and she smelled like garlic,” I said, knowing full well how unimportant this information probably was. “She had big map of Cosmo City on the walls with connecting lines and a bunch of notes written in red. It was pinpointing the crime scenes of different Supervillains with a bunch of newspaper clippings. She had a gray cat named Maximus who hated my guts. She made tea—mine was peppermint and hers was . . . uh . . . honey vanilla chamomile. And . . . she said there were only two people immune to her psychic powers: Flex and Spine.”

I made a conscious effort to omit the family connection between me and Spine. This was his fault. I was being tortured because of him.

“Your father?” said Nightmare as if to rub in the fact.

“Spine,” I repeated.

“How is your father immune to her power?”

This wasn’t the first time Nightmare had shown interest in a topic. He had done it at least seven other times, and as soon as I rattled off every useless piece of information I knew on the subject, he never brought it up again. He actually seemed bored with any such topic if I tried mentioning it again. A part of me felt like he was doing this just to give me false hope that the interrogation was actually going somewhere. I mean . . . why would he even ask me a question like this? If he was working with my father, shouldn’t he know the answer to that question?

“He’s able to change the bone matter in his skull so it deflects Oracle’s telepathy,” I said. “She can’t get inside his head when he does.”

“What sort of bone matter is it?” asked Nightmare.

Was he kidding? What sort of bone matter? Did he think I was a freaking bone doctor or something?

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think Oracle even knows.”

Nightmare pursed his lips. Somehow this made him look even more like a monkey.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

I didn’t have the energy to protest. It was pointless. I had already rehearsed this routine so many times I had lost count.

I was suddenly outside in the sunlight. Even though I knew the sun was fake, I couldn’t help but cherish the warm rays. I was still tied to my chair, although I was tipped over on my back rather than sitting upright. My confusion was cleared up instantly as I turned my head to the right.

Train tracks. I was laying on train tracks. Great.

A horn blared from the opposite direction. I turned to my left. Sure enough, a bulky gray silhouette dotted the horizon, distorted in the afternoon heat waves.

I attempted to squirm in my chair, but naturally, the chair was tied to the tracks. I was just like the damsel in distress in those cheesy westerns. Except for the part where someone actually comes to rescue me.

Closing my eyes, I attempted to relax in my chair. Nothing was going to hit me.

“Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts . . .” I said to myself.

Oh geez. I sounded like Peter Pan.

I couldn’t think of anything happy. In fact, the only thing my brain could seem to process at the moment other than my impending death-by-train was my meeting with Oracle. A meeting that I had recounted to Nightmare a hundred times now. This was less like searching for a needle in a haystack and more like searching for a particular needle in a needle stack. The details . . . All these useless details . . . They were ricocheting around the inside of my skull like a pinball machine.

He’s able to change the bone matter in his skull so it deflects Oracle’s telepathy.

She can’t get inside his head when he does.

. . . the bone matter in his skull . . . she can’t get inside his head . . .

I opened my eyes.

That was it.

Not the information Nightmare was looking for, supposing that such information even existed. But it was a solution of sorts. It was something that could at least salvage my sanity. Nightmare wasn’t a Telepath per se . . . but his power involved getting inside my head.

What if I could shut him out?

My power
a simpler version of my father’s after all. How hard could it be?

The train’s horn blared louder. I didn’t even bother looking at it. I needed to concentrate. Tapping into my skeletal structure, I concentrated on my skull. That was the easy part. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. Altering my bone density was like flipping a switch; there were only two ways it could go. But this was more than just making my skull heavier or lighter. I had to somehow change the substance of it entirely.

I decided that increasing the density was probably part of it. A bone with higher density seemed less likely to be penetrable. At least that was the logic in my head.

I felt my head become a bowling ball on the gravel. This was particularly uncomfortable since my neck was craned back slightly. I could survive discomfort, however. This was the first glimmer of hope I had felt in what seemed like ages.

Okay. Now what?

Concentration became impossible as the distant vibrations became violent rumblings. My brain rattled inside my bowling ball skull. Before I could even cast the train a second glance, the sun became an interrogation light and blue skies were swallowed in a shadowy room.

Nightmare eyed me with a heavy eyebrow lifted ever so slightly, throwing off the symmetry of his already misshapen face. Did he suspect something?

He didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. Our silence was an awkward standoff. After nearly a solid minute of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. So I did the unthinkable.

“Well what are you waiting for?” I asked.

His eyebrow elevated a notch higher. Again, he said nothing. Did nothing. He was definitely suspicious. I didn’t know if this was good or bad.

“Is awkward staring your other superpower?” I asked. “Nightmare by day, Creeperman by night?”

Again. Nothing. Time to bust out the heavy artillery.

“So I was talking to your mom the other day,” I said. “Well . . . at least I tried to. I don’t speak monkey though.”

Apparently Nightmare’s mom was the breaking point. He hit me with his next hallucination instantly.

Snakes again.


I wasn’t human anymore. I didn’t fear death.

I had endured every sick death ever conceived by man or nature. I was caught in a mudslide, eaten by a lion, got run over by a crappy purple Scion . . .

Okay, okay, those are the lyrics to a Train song. But the first two really did happen. I was sure the Scion would be only a matter of time.

It had been hours since my last hallucination. Maybe longer. I couldn’t tell. Nightmare would leave more frequently now. Sometimes he would come back with food or water. Most of the time he would come back with just his ugly face. But he didn’t speak anymore. Not a word. He would just hit me with hallucination after hallucination.

Tapping into the structure of my skull, I would concentrate on the density. Not increasing it or decreasing it. Just concentrating. Applying mental pressure. Hoping that—someway, somehow—the substance of my skull would magically transform.

And then I would get sucked into a tornado. Or hit by an apocalyptic meteor. Or . . .


Apparently Nightmare thought he had a sense of humor. Despite the darkness, I could tell that the floor was squirming and wriggling like before. I could feel them rubbing against my ankles. This time, however, there was something bigger lurking in the writhing masses. I could see its elongated body, thicker than mine, shimmering in the shadows. It slithered closer. Though its head was invisible to me in the shadows, two yellow eyes were locked onto me, weaving back and forth as it closed the distance.

My throat felt tight. My mouth was dry.

It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.

A bulky head the size of a watermelon reared back, preparing to strike.

I felt an itch in my skull—like something was crawling inside it.

My vision flashed and distorted like a bad television signal. The monstrous snake suddenly became very jerky and awkward. Some of the snakes started slithering backwards.

My world folded inside out.

The hallucination collapsed. The snakes were gone, replaced by Nightmare and a glaring interrogation light.

I did it. I didn’t know how, but I did it. I shut out the hallucination.

Something was wrong.

I knew simply from the look on Nightmare’s face. He was smiling. Except with an ugly face like that, it was more like the devious look a chimpanzee had before he flung his own poo at some poor, unsuspecting tourist.

“I see you’ve found the answer,” said Nightmare.

“The answer?” I said. His smile was seriously unnerving me. “What answer?”

Nightmare’s image spazzed out. I say “image” because he looked less like a real person now and more like a hologram. Just like the hallucination I had just freed myself from, his every movement was twitching and his image was warping.

“All that we see or seem . . .” said Nightmare.

The walls around me seemed to be closing in. The room was imploding. My reality began to erode before my eyes, peeling like old paint.

“. . . is but a dream within a dream.”

I blinked. When I opened my eyes, my entire world had changed.

I was lying in bed, staring at an off-white ceiling. I lowered my gaze only slightly to find that this was connected to off-white walls, accompanied by equally boring curtains. A machine to my left emitted a gentle electronic chirp that synchronized to my heart rate.

I was in a hospital.

BOOK: Marrow
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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