lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
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This prompt is for [ profile] rix_scaedu, who requested "the textures and the size of them are all wrong for the object," and [ profile] zen_of_cayenne, who requested a problem being solved within dreams and also sponsored it!  This story is from the Princess and Her Monster but requires no context.  The title, in case you're wondering, comes from Jason Webley's song and album of the same name, which has always been the quintessential Princess and Monster soundtrack for me.

Against the Night

Princess Judith had never had much use for nightmares.  In the stories, they had always seemed unnecessarily theatrical, full of screaming, thrashing, or (the storyteller’s favorite) such terror that the unfortunate dreamer never woke at all, but died instantly of fear. (Judith had always wondered how anyone could know that it was a nightmare what killed them, if they never woke up to say so, but she’d quickly found out people didn’t like that pointed out.)

Yes, Judith was certain that the dramatic power of nightmares was highly exaggerated.  Her opinion only intensified when she began having bad dreams of her own, a few days after her kingdom had fallen and she’d accidentally turned her guardsman into a golem.

They weren’t like the nightmares in the stories.  There were no monsters, no pursuit, no fear even, and they always went the exact same way:

Her kingdom had not fallen.

Her people were alive.

And Gate was flesh and blood, not stone.

She and Gate would be doing ordinary tasks as though nothing had happened—she would be studying geography, or rhetoric, and he would be amiably following along, looking after her.  Everything would be ordinary and everyday.  Everything would be fine.

Then, at some point, as she began to venture towards waking, the dream would start to fray around the edges.  Gate would start going wrong—he would suddenly be the wrong size, shape, or texture, rapidly shifting between flesh and stone.  And neither of them would notice, continuing along their pleasant everyday tasks until Judith woke up, not in terror but with a unsettled feeling deep in her gut.

She didn’t tell Gate about them.  He had enough to cope with already, in his new body.  With his new strength, he had already accidentally destroyed half a wardrobe’s worth of clothes, two chairs, and the water pump, and she didn’t want to add to his burdens. She certainly didn’t want him to think that she couldn’t bear the sight of him now.

It wasn’t as though his new countenance was so shocking.  Though he’d lost his hair and ears and a lot of dexterity, he was still instantly recognizable as her guardsman, her dear friend.  His skin may have changed, but his heart was still just as soft and warm in a breast of stone as it’d been in a breast of flesh.

She was ashamed to be having trouble accepting it.  Especially since it was her fault he was stuck like that in the first place.  But he never voiced any resentment to her.

Over time, the poor sleep gnawed at her, until one day, he remarked to her, “You look dreadful.”

Judith scowled.


“No,” she sneered. “Nightmares are scary.  I’m not scared.”

“Perish the thought.  Care to share?”

No!” she shouted, and stomped off to weed something.  He’d helped her all her short life.  It was high time she helped herself.

But later, as her irritation cooled, she sidled up to Gate as he stoked the fire barehanded and she asked, “Are you mad?”


“If you’re angry with me; it’s all right.  I’m old enough to know.”

Gate looked at her, and he pulled his arm out of the fire. “Is that what’s bothering you?”

“Please,” Judith said, twisting her hands in her skirt, “tell me.”

He gave her a sad, gentle look, and carefully put a heavy stone hand, the one that hadn’t been in the fire, on her shoulder. “I’m not angry with you, Judith.”

He squeezed her shoulder, and she could’ve screamed with frustration.

That night, Judith was determined to end the nightmares once and for all.  She had heard somewhere that dreams could be controlled, with enough will, and she set herself to the task.  Whenever she lay down to sleep, she chanted in her head, “stay alert, stay alert.”

It didn’t work that night.  Or a good number of nights after.  But Judith was persistent and she kept at it, until finally, one night…

She was in the courtyard, studying a map of the former Empire, and her guardsman was there, flesh and blood.  It took her a moment to remember her intent, but then she went to him.

It was hard to look at him, knowing the truth of things.  Knowing that she would never see his curly hair again, or that awful patchy beard he’d so desperately tried to cultivate.  His skin would never be brown again, and the faint freckles across his cheeks would never come back.  When she hugged him, his chest and stomach would no longer be soft against her.

Judith was not tempted to succumb to the dream.  There was no point in living a falsehood, pretending that things hadn’t changed.  At least, that’s what she told herself.

“What is it, Judith?” he asked her.

That cemented her resolve.  He had only started calling her Judith after the kingdom had fallen; before, he’d always called her by her title, as was proper for a hireling.  She clenched her hands in her skirts, took a deep breath, and she told him, “You aren’t that anymore.”

He looked confused. “What do you mean?”

She hugged him, and his body was dense and hard and cool against her. “Be as you are,” she said, focusing as hard as she could. “Be you now.”

His skin turned gray and smooth under her hands, and his fingers became thick and calcified against her shoulders, and even though it was only a dream, it hurt terribly to lose.  She wept, apologizing over and over, and the world collapsed in fire and ruination around them.

Judith woke with tears in her eyes, but that was all right.  Pain, she could handle.

She washed her face, hopped out of bed, and went to find Gate and make breakfast.

When he saw her, he asked, “Still having the dreams that aren’t scary?”

She hugged him, and his chest and stomach were hard and unyielding against her skin, but he was still himself. “No,” she said, smiling. “They’ve gotten better.”

Date: 2014-08-06 03:52 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (editor's friend)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, good!

• “What is it, Judith?” He asked her.
→ he asked her
> It looks like Word or some other stupid automaton figured that the question mark meant the next word must begin a new sentence.

Date: 2014-08-06 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
D'oh! Thanks for the catch! It's been fixed! (And it's one I would've made myself anyway; I was never quite clear on whether a ? or an ! meant for a capitalization next in the speech tag.

Date: 2014-08-06 04:13 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Dr.Whomster)
From: [identity profile]
This is the same construction as
"Good morning, Judith," he said.
in which we're used to replacing the period with a comma. The quoted question takes a normal question mark (there being no such thing as an interrogative comma*), but it doesn't mark the end of the quotative sentence, just the quoted one. Same logic for
"Look out!" he shouted.

* Well, I sometimes use one by hand, but it ain't standard.
Edited Date: 2014-08-06 04:14 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-08-06 05:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks! Now I know! (And how embarrassing that even after all these years, I did not know that.)

Date: 2014-08-07 03:30 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Don't blame yourself. A lot of teaching doesn't get through. Somehow I often seem to be able to express something in a way the person I'm talking to can understand, absorb, and use.

Date: 2014-08-07 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sad but true fact: we learned how to properly use a semi-colon because of the grammar check on our computer.

Date: 2014-08-07 03:38 pm (UTC)
ext_12246: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, you knew my grampa? Samuel Kolin, CPA. ;-)

"How's that againʔ̦" he asked.

Date: 2014-08-07 03:44 pm (UTC)
ext_12246: (Dr.Whomster)
From: [identity profile]

That's an IPA glottal stop U+0294 plus a U+0326 COMBINING COMMA BELOW.

ETA: Dammit, it's supposed to appear under the preceding character. It does for me when I type it in, but not when I post the comment. Reverse the order?


ETA2: Not that either. Oh, well.
Edited Date: 2014-08-07 03:46 pm (UTC)

Re: "How's that againʔ̦" he asked.

Date: 2014-08-07 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah, the glottal stop. One of my favorite sounds! (Or lack of such. I'm sure that means something DEEP.)

I love it!

Date: 2014-08-06 05:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! And I have dreams like Judith's a lot, so I can relate.

Re: I love it!

Date: 2014-08-06 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah. I get bad dreams pretty regularly, divided into three different categories, and I've always found the ordinary ones that seem so pleasant at the time WAY more unnerving than the night terrors that wake me in a cold sweat.


Re: I love it!

Date: 2014-08-06 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Me too. When I'm anxious about something, I'll have very repetitive dreams of ordinary things that are just a little bit off, like Judith's. I have to figure out what I'm anxious about (which sometimes isn't obvious!) in order for the dreams to stop.

I only have real nightmares if they're drug-induced. Nicotine patches made me dream I that I got eaten by a dragon. That one was almost fun. Singulair makes me dream that people I care about start suddenly being extremely mean to me. I had to quit taking those.

Re: I love it!

Date: 2014-08-07 03:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What WEIRD side effects.

Though back in the day (i.e., before our original died) we never dreamed about ourself. We were always someone else. I remember we got murdered in one dream for basically being a huge asshole (and a male sword-fighting fox because DREAMLOGIC) and waking up thinking we richly deserved our fate.


Date: 2014-08-07 02:34 am (UTC)
ext_413051: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
My nightmares are usually chasing, or shouting, or sometimes the teeth-falling-out or pets-dying common anxiety dreams.

Date: 2014-08-07 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, we've gotten those. The teeth falling out ones are so irritating! WHY are they so common?

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