Of great concern to the sovereigns of the infernal realms is the disposition of the human souls in their possession. While it is well-known that each human soul is a resource to be used in the eternal war against the Above, less well known is the fact that the number of souls husbanded by the individual infernal courts is directly related to the prestige of that court among its peers. In truth, pursuing the War against the Above is a minor activity, compared to the efforts carried out by the infernal lords to obtain and hoard souls within their individual realms.
The process whereby the courts accumulate souls has changed over the long stretches of time. Initially, the legions of the courts met on the dread Field of Gathering and battled viciously for each arriving soul. Later, this uncoordinated carnage was replaced with a series of ritualized duels, where the champions of the courts fought individually for groups of souls as they arrived. This system in turn gave way to a rudimentary tribunal that judged and allocated souls to the various courts. The infernal jurist, Abiter, originally a servant of the Lord of Hatred, initiated the series of reforms that led to the current Magistry of Judgment.
The Magistry sits in a vast complex on the Field of Gathering and evaluates each human soul as it arrives to the infernal realm. The life of a soul is examined in depth, with each act of sin listed and categorized under either Terror, Hatred, or Destruction. The soul is allocated to the court of the lord whose category of sin constitutes at least a plurality among the three types. For example, a soul who committed more sins of Terror than sins of Hatred or sins of Destruction is allocated to the court of the Lord of Terror. The system has, so far, proven remarkably consistent in distributing the souls equally among the three infernal courts.
There have been a number of complaints concerning the Magistry. First and foremost is the length of time it takes to judge an individual soul. Human souls have proven to be quite adept at accumulating sins, both mortal and venial, and the catalogue of a lifetime of evil often runs into the hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. Once each sin is listed, it must be then be categorized, and those discussions add voluminously to the soul’s record. Records of decisions can easily consist of several thousand pages, and a judge can spend several years working on an individual soul’s file. The judgment of especially heinous individuals could easily last a century and result in a decision of a hundred thousand pages. While the soul receives no consideration in this matter, and possesses no appellate rights (this is, after all, their just reward), the representatives of the infernal lords have often complained of the length of time it takes to assign souls to the sovereign courts. The appellate process is outside the scope of this essay, but it must be noted that once an infernal representative appeals a particular decision, a soul’s case may easily be extended for another century or two.
The second great issue concerning the Magistry is the vast body of jurisprudence that has grown up around its practice over the millennia. It remains no easy matter deciding what is a sin or not, and then categorizing this sin. There are now at least four recognized codifications (lex, pl. leges) of sin, and attached to each lex are dozens of glosses and commentaries discussing and interpreting the lex. Complicating this is the existence of over a hundred jurisprudential schools and sub-schools, which differ in matters of precedence, interpretation, and practice. Oftentimes, a decision based on a particular lex and jurisprudential school may be unintelligible to a proponent of another lex or a practioner of a different school. Especially during the appellate process, decisions may be written and rewritten several times.
Despite the above flaws, and others, the Magistry remains a strong institution and continues to operate with the support of the three infernal courts. Offered below is an excerpt of a typical decision. A decision will describe the act in question, determine whether or not it is a sin, and then categorize the sin. A good portion of any decision consists of oft-repeated literary formulas and legal citations, so most of the passage below is paraphrased, abbreviated, or abridged in its entirely. The editor nevertheless feels that the excerpt is an accurate portrayal of infernal jurisprudence. Bear in mind that this section refers to a single act; a complete decision would be composed of a vast number of acts committed over an entire lifetime.
The Facts of the Instance
1. On the eight thousand, seven hundred, eight-fifth day, sixteenth hour, and twenty-first minute of its life, the wretch [legal term for a human soul] was walking from its domicile to a market to purchase food for the purposes of consuming its evening meal. [The decision lists in excruciating detail the route followed by the soul and describes the exact location where] the wretch came upon a dog. The creature was sitting, tied to a pole. The wretch recognized the dog as belonging to [here is the name of the person inserted, along with details about his relationship to the soul]. The wretch walked by the dog, which, while looking at the wretch, did not move other than to turn its head. After the wretch passed by the dog, it looked around and saw that it was alone on the street. The wretch then turned back toward the dog and delivered a swift kick from its right leg to the hindquarters of the creature. The dog proceeded to whine, and the wretch hastily departed from the area.
2. The wretched thereafter never told another of this incident. The dog began to express fear toward the wretched, and the wretched would, at times, feel pride from this display.
The Judgment of the Wretched
3 [A sin is defined as an act of harm (“ill act”) or a thought of an act of harm (“ill idea”) toward another being. There are no mitigating factors. While motive is essentially of no import, infernal law nevertheless refers to “ill will,” which is a nebulous concept that seems to encompass nearly every relationship possible between mortals. An “act” is either an action taken or an action deliberately avoided. “Harm” is difficult to define in mortal terms, but generally refers to an infringement upon the person, rights, abilities, reputation, or mind of another. To infernal minds, “harm” consists of a wider range of activities than normally contemplated by mortals; the end result is that what a mortal might consider benign or even beneficial is more often than not “harm” under infernal jurisprudence.]
4. [Authorities are cited supporting the proposition that a sin can be committed against an animal. Mitigating factors, such as acts of self-defense, excuse the act of harm only if there had previously been no ill thoughts toward the animal.]
5. [Acts of harm to an object (such as theft or arson) are construed to be acts of harm against the owner. This is the doctrine of “transferred ill act.” An animal can be considered an object subject to ownership toward which harm can be directed.]
6. [The decision concludes that the soul committed a number of sins toward both the dog and its owner. The soul committed the sin of ill thought against the dog and the sin of ill thought against the dog’s owner when the soul conceived of the idea to hurt the creature. The soul committed the sin of ill action toward the dog and the sin of ill action toward the dog’s owner via the concept of transferred ill act.]
Allocation of the Wretched
7-9. [These sections are perhaps the most difficult to describe for mortal readers. While the vast majority of sins are of similar types, the motivations for those sins are as infinitely varied as one mortal mind from another. Once a sin has been committed, it must be categorized among the realms of Terror (fear), Hatred, or Destruction (wrath). Infernal jurisprudence has recognized that a sin may be motivated by any number of considerations, yet the very nature of the Magistry demands that a judgment be made as to which was the primary motivation. The finest infernal jurists have grappled with these matters for millennia, and a typical decision may cite to hundreds of authorities.
[For the case at hand, the Magistry goes into considerable depth, primarily because the attack upon the dog was not premeditated. Spontaneous actions tend to be more difficult to categorize. The soul did experience fear during the attack, but this was primarily due to the instinctual apprehension of being “caught in the act.” However, authorities have held that this kind of fear (“apprehension, first class”) is merely a byproduct of the act itself, and not the primary motivator of the act. The remainder of the fear consisted of another, separate type of “apprehension, fourth class,” that the dog would retaliate to the attack. This type of apprehension is also considered a byproduct of the act. The soul experienced hatred, in that it had long nursed a grudge toward the mortal owner of the dog. This ill will related to a slight the soul had experienced as a child from the owner. The hatred toward the dog’s owner, as related to the attack upon the dog, was considered to be minor, for the soul had previously committed nothing more than ill ideas toward the owner. Also, the soul had previously shown no ill will and committed no ill ideas toward the dog, and had actually considered it somewhat likeable. Finally:]
As determined by this noble Magistry, the primary motivation of the wretched was merely to cause the creature physical pain. The urge was instantaneous, fully conceived, and resistible; the perfected goal of the attack was to cause injury and revel in that injury. As the Glossator [an early interpreter of the Lex Destructis, whose name is now lost] stated, a sin committed with the goal of causing injury is an act of Destruction, for it seeks only to cause chaos and bewilderment upon the victim.
[The decision continues to list authorities for a number of pages, narrowing the definition of an act of Destruction through cited precedents and dismissing mitigating factors. Given that the instantaneous and overwhelming goal of the attack was to cause injury to the animal, it clearly falls under the category of Destruction.]
10. [The Magistry concludes that the soul’s sin was a sin of Destruction.]
1. The system of allocating human souls among the infernal courts has evolved from an unregulated and violent practice to an orderly and well-regulated jurisprudential system. Formulate a rationale for the transition to the current system.
2. The infernal realm initially experienced a great deal of trouble in categorizing acts of theft, especially against persons completely unknown to the thief. The ownership of personal property is unknown among the infernals, and theft did not seem to comport with either Terror, Hatred, or Destruction. It took the reasoning of the Learned Ghrostum Tber to provide a jurisprudential framework for evaluating such sins.
VII. SINS AGAINST PROPERTY
1. It is a sin for a soul to take possession of an item to which the soul does not have a right.
6. One who wishes to violate the natural order of society wishes Destruction. BATAK, Digests, book 156:21.
111. The possession of an item for the purposes of defending the self is an act of Terror [fear]. BATAK, Digests, book 25:5.
259. A Hateful soul possesses an item for the purposes of gaining power over others.
The Lex Tberis does not define what constitutes “rightful” possession of an item. Do you think this omission was intentional? Subsequently issued leges have attempted to define this term, but nearly half of the jurisprudential schools ignore these definitions. A number of jurists rely primarily on the concept of transferred ill act (which was developed some time after the publication of the Lex Tberis). What issues to you think arise from applying this concept to theft?
Debate continues over whether the definitions of theft of Destruction, Terror, and Hatred are sufficient. Do you think the definitions provided by the Learned Ghrostum Tber are adequate in categorizing the various acts of theft?
Introduction to the Operations of the Infernal Realms: The Magistry
The Magistry of Judgment is a vast complex of archi-organic towers rising from what was once the Field of Gathering. Spires stretching up toward the blackened sky house libraries, tribunal chambers, offices, and the apparatus of bureaucracy that maintains the Magistry. Far below the towers are the Pits, an endless excavation where human souls are stored until their judgment is pronounced.
Once souls are dispatched to the infernal realm by the Arbiter, they are ferried across the River Styx onto the Field of Gathering. There, they are met by the Warders of the Magistry, who herd the souls into a series of chambers where they are identified, numbered, and sorted into the appropriate Pits where they will remain until they receive their judgment from the Magistry. In the Pits, the souls are introduced to low-level torments by lesser fiends; these fiends are not affiliated with the Magistry and are assigned to Pits on the rotating basis by the infernal Lords.
Once a soul’s judgment has commenced, a clerk of the Magistry creates the soul’s file and begins the process of cataloguing the sins of that soul. This can be a lengthy process, as it involves reviewing that soul’s mortal existence and compiling a comprehensive list of the sins committed by that soul during its lifetime. The average soul can commit one sin per day; spread over the course of a lifetime this can easily result in a catalogue of several thousands sins. During this process the clerk may have the soul retrieved from its holding Pit for the purposes of obtaining interrogations regarding certain incidents, but this is the limit of the soul’s participation in the process.
Once the record has been completed, the clerk transfers the file to an Adjudicator. These are trained jurists who review the catalogue of sins and decide whether each sin is one of Terror, Hatred, or Wrath. The type of sin of which there is the greatest number indicates to which infernal court the soul will be allocated upon judgment. Again, this is a lengthy process, as the Adjudicator must prepare a written decision regarding each sin. Once every sin has been reviewed and categorized, the file is transferred to a Judge.
It is a Judge’s duty to review each file to ensure that no errors have been committed. Once this has been completed, the Judge places a Magisterial Seal upon the file, indicating that the soul is ready for judgment and allocation. Normally, this would complete the adjudication process, and the file is ready to be transferred to the Magister for approval, but in nearly every case there is an appeal.
The souls themselves have no right to appeal any aspect of their adjudication. Instead, the representatives of the infernal Lords are granted that right, but this right is not in place for the benefit of the soul. Each infernal Lord maintains an ambassador to the Magistry, and attached to each ambassadorial office are a legion of jurists who review completed decisions in an attempt to locate errors in the categorization of sins. Obviously, each ambassadorial office seeks to have more sins categorized under the type of sin personified by its infernal Lord, and the categorization of each sin may be appealed to the Council.
Typically, nearly every sin of every decision will be challenged by the ambassadorial jurists, and the file will be transferred to the Council for appellate review. When this occurs, the Magisterial Seal is removed from the file. Appellate briefs will be submitted by the jurists of each of the three ambassadorial offices, along with counter-briefs, supplemental briefs, and challenge briefs. Each Council is composed of sixty-seven senior Judges, who will review each challenged sin along with the associated briefs. Each review is performed de novo. That is, no weight is given to any prior determination, and it is the duty of the Council to categorize each challenged sin anew. A sin can only be categorized upon a four-fifth’s majority decision of the Council. If, upon an initial review of the sin, a four-fifth’s majority is not reached, that particular sin remains in appellate status and the ambassadorial offices are required to submit additional briefs to the Council. This process is continued until the necessary majority is reached and every challenged sin has been categorized by the Council. Needless to say, this process can take some time.
Once the Council has issued a final decision, the Magisterial Seal is again placed upon the file. At this point, the ambassadorial offices will usually withdraw their appeals and allow the soul to be judged and allocated. However, in exceptional instances, such as where an especially evil soul is involved, the ambassadorial offices will initiate their final appeal, and the file will have the Magisterial Seal removed and will be transferred directly to the Magister’s Most Serene Reading Room.
The Magister is the Lord of the Magistry and the final arbiter of a soul’s judgment. The ambassadorial offices submit final briefs to the Reading Room, but, apart from that, appear to have little influence in the Magister’s ultimate decision. These decisions are performed de novo, are lengthy and often obscure but, once issued, completely final. Each sin is categorized for a final time, and the Magisterial Seal is permanently placed upon the file.
The completed file is sent to the Adjusters, who review the decision and calculate final tallies as to the number of each type of sin committed by the soul during its lifetime. The soul is retrieved from the Pit, and it, along with its file, is sent to the Magister. In the soul’s presence, the Magister reviews the file and pronounces judgment. A representative of the infernal Lord to whom the soul has been allocated then claims the soul and removes it from the jurisdiction of the Magistry. The finalized file is placed in the library for storage, although it is unlikely to ever be reviewed or noticed again.
Much is rumored about the Magister, but little is known. Known affectionately as “The Beast with a Billion Brains,” the Magister resides within the Magistry of Judgment, in a huge chamber atop the tallest spire known as the Most Serene Reading Room. By all accounts, the demon has no set form, and merely shifts from one amorphous globular shape to another. Multifaceted eyes roam about the body. Tentacles drag it to and fro. Long arms burst from within, and slimy claws drag ancient tomes down from the walls. The skin itself bulges and surges, and from this most probably originated the belief that the Magister’s form is filled with the minds of countless lesser creatures.
The Magister is an infernal power to be treated seriously. It is lord of the Magistry; the Magistry is home to billions of mortal souls; and thus the Magister draws upon that spiritual energy as its own. It is easily the equal of any of the greater Princes, and most likely on par with the infernal Lords. Fortunately, the Magister appears to care not for the feuds of the realm, and does not participate in the war with those Above. The entirely of its being is dedicated to the judgment of the damned.
The Magister oversees the vast bureaucracy of the Magistry. An endless line of clerks and accountants and jurists report to the Most Serene Reading Room, and the Magister holds conversations and issues commands through the multitude of its mouths. No detail is too insignificant for its attention: personnel assignments, budgetary issues, maintenance and repair are all considered by the Magister, and orders directly from the Magister are delivered to the lowliest of staff.
The Magister is also the final arbiter of all controversies of judgment concerning the souls in its possession. The souls of especially desired mortals are often coveted by the infernal Lords, and, after all other appeals are exhausted, they bring their petitions to the Magister. The demon reviews the file, ponders the legal issues presented, and writes its decision, which is duly promulgated to the parties involved. Such judgments are lengthy, always consisting of dozens, if not hundreds, of volumes, and often cite to strange laws and obscure precedents, nearly all of which will be unknown to even the most learned jurist of the infernal realms. At times, the decisions will appear completely nonsensical. Yet, they are final, and binding upon all parties.
Finally, the Magister judges mortal souls. Upon the completion of a decision, all mortals are dragged before the Magister, and one of its terrible mouths utters its doom upon the wretched soul. A representative of the infernal lord to whom the soul has been allocated then snatches the damned away to begin its eternity of punishment.
Such are the known facts about the Magister. Of its origin, its true name, its innermost thoughts, nothing is revealed. The most blasphemous of tongues utter the heresy that the Magister pre-existed the infernal Lords, and dwelled in the realms before their births. Others whisper that the Magister does not exist entirely in this plane of existence, and that parts of its body can be seen shimmering as it folds and unfolds itself into unknown dimensions, from where it can review the legal scholarship of a trillion worlds.
Excerpt from A Compendium of Northland Children's Tales
The following strange story apparently has its origins in the mountain villages to the west of Tristam. While there are now many printed versions of the below tale, what follows is perhaps one of the earliest forms committed to writing, as can be seen by its somewhat crude style and rough narrative voice. This version was published in a folio of similar tales approximately one hundred twenty years ago, a few copies of which are now in the Royal Libraries for study. The included editorial notes suggest that the story was relatively recent in origin, although few other details are provided.
"The Mag" is an enigmatic creature, mentioned in only a few tales like this one. The etymology of its name is quite unknown at this point. and it seems to have no mythological or literary origin whatsoever.
By Anonymous Author
The Sisters sure built pretty buildings, with big windows showing pictures of battles and demons all in different colors. I can't figure out how they did it, but I think they just took little pieces of colored glass and glued them all together, up in the frame over our heads.
I pick up a rock and toss it, and the window breaks into a hundred pieces that fall down on the floor.
My little brother, Greg, claps and smiles. So I pick up another rock and toss it at the next window, and it breaks too.
"What are you doing?" someone shouts behind me, so I look around and see Sylvie stomping in through the doorway. She's mad at me, I can tell, because her face is red and she's got her hands balled up into fists. I move so that there's a big pew between us, because she's bigger than me, and faster, and I can't tell you how many times she's boxed my ears.
"What's it to you?" I ask her. Greg comes and stands behind me, because he's afraid of her too.
Sylvie points up at the empty windows. "I heard you. Why did you do that?"
"I dunno. I wanted to."
"The Sisters made all this. You gonna break everything you see in here now?"
"They don't care. They're gone. They're never coming back."
"They might come back."
"They're all dead. They ain't coming back, and you know that."
"But I liked looking at them. They were pretty," Sylvie growls at me. She's real mad now, stomping up to the pew between us. She's going to jump right over and beat me, I can tell, so I start to back away. "Why did you break them?"
"It don't matter! They're just some stupid windows that nobody's ever gonna look at again!"
Now Sylvie reaches over, and she's fast. I can't get away, and she grabs the collar of my shirt and pulls me toward her. She drags me over the pew and throws me on the ground and sits down on top of me. Greg is crying, because he knows that when she's done with me it's his turn.
I throw up my hands to try to block her, but Sylvie doesn't hit me. She just sit on me and stares at me with a horrible face that I've never seen on her before. She leans way over, so that her mouth is right over my nose, and she starts to whisper at me. "I ain't gonna hit you. I don't have to."
"The Mag's gonna get you."
I squint up my eyes at her. "Who?"
"The Mag. He's a demon. A monster. He watches every little kid, from the shadows, where they can't see him. He sees everything they do."
"So?" I shout back at Sylie. "I ain't afraid of no monster."
"You better be afraid, because it's always there, but it doesn't get you until you die, until you die and you go to Hell, and then the Mag grabs you and holds you and puts you in a little room where it can look right at you."
"So? So then the Mag talks to you, and it tells you about each and every bad thing you've ever done."
I try to push Sylvie off, but she just holds me down tighter. "That's a stupid monster. I ain't afraid of no Mag."
"I ain't done, stupid. And when it's done talking to you, and telling you about all the bad things you ever done, it decides on which demon gets to keep you after that."
I froze. Being kept by a demon? "What?"
"And the Mag tells them what they're gonna do to you for the rest of eternity. It tells them how to punish you. Maybe a demon's gonna throw rocks at you until you break like the window. Maybe a demon's gonna poke you with that glass over there until you bleed and bleed and bleed."
I spit on Sylvie's face, and she shouts and rolls away from me. I get up and run away from her, to the door of the room. Greg is running after me. He's got big tears and snot is running down his nose. Sylvie's getting up from the floor, and she's still got her wicked grin. I point at her. "There's no Mag, and even if there was I'm not afraid of it! It's a stupid monster that doesn't do anything but talk. Just like you, you fat cow."
Sylie's grin goes away, and she's running after me again, but this time I get away, leaving Greg behind and ducking through hallways and into holes and down cellars, until finally I can't hear her any more. Still, I sit in the dark in a little hole for a long time, just listening for the way she breathes and the way she tiptoes from place to place. I get up only when it's really dark, night-time outside, and I sneak back to our room where my mother is sitting by a little fire.
She has Greg on her lap, and as she as she sees me she gets right up and stomps over and bats me on the head. "Why'd you leave your little brother alone?"
"Sylvie was chasing me!"
"And I'm sure she had good reason."
"She's stupid and I hate her."
Mom bats me one more time. "Don't you ever leave your little brother alone again. He could have fallen down a hole and broke his leg."
I rub the side of my head where she hit me. "Fine."
"Go to bed. No supper for you."
"You heard me. You better learn your lesson this time." She bustles me into the next room, where Greg and I sleep. It's small and warm, because it has no windows and the wind can't reach this far into the castle. I sit on the floor and start to take off my shoes and mom gets down beside me and starts to push around the hay on a little bench where Greg and I sleep at night.
"You can't leave your brother alone here," she says. "He could really get lost or get hurt, and then how would we take care of him? What would we do?"
"I didn't mean too. Sylie--"
"Leave her out of this. I don't care if she strangles you. You stay with Greg, no matter what. You hear me?"
"Yes." I throw my boots into the corner. Mum is almost done, so I look up at the walls. It's lined with bookshelves, but most of the books are gone. They make good kindling for fire, so only a few are left, now, at the very top shelves. "What are all these books about, mum? Are they story books?"
"No, they're not story books."
"Then what kind of books are they?'
"They're books of laws."
"Laws?" I says. "What's a laws?"
"It's a rule. It's a rule you have to follow."
"Like what rules, mum?"
"Like 'don't bash in your father's head.' Like 'don't steal bread' or 'don't rape that pretty girl.' Like, 'don't leave your brother alone.' People write them down so we remember them all."
"But why're these books so big then? How many laws can there be?"
"More than you can count." Mum suddenly turns around on me and kisses my forehead. "That's enough from you now. Get in there and get some sleep."
I climb up onto the bed and pile the hay around me so that I'm warm. She stands up and leaves me alone. I toss around for a while, and my stomach grumbles and grumbles, so loud that I know mum can hear it in the next room, but she doesn't do anything. She must really hate me, because all she does is play with Greg, but after a while she brings him into the room, too, and puts him in bed next to me. I keep my eyes closed so that she thinks I'm asleep, but I can feel her standing there and watching us.
Finally, she go away, back into the other room where I hear her climb up into her own bed. Greg fidgets for a little while, but he falls asleep soon enough. Then my mom starts to snore, so I just lay in place and watch the light from the fire go out. That's when I think I fall asleep. At least, I'm pretty sure I fall asleep, because one moment I'm closing my eyes when there's still a little bit of fire in the next room and the burning book is still crackling and the next I'm opening my eyes and its completely dark. I can make out the dim doorframe and the ceiling, the lump of Greg next to me. Mum isn't snoring anymore.
I stretch out. I think about getting up and going to the toilet, but then I hear something, a creak, right below our bench. I listen, sure that it's just the old castle moving and settling, but then the creak comes again, louder, and the bench moves. Not anything big, just a little bump, but I'm sure that it moves.
There's something under the bench.
I lay completely still and listen. There are no more creaks, nothing moves anymore, so I start to turn my head just a little to see into the room. Past Greg, sleeping with his fingers in his mouth, I see nothing, just the wall, the door, the ceiling of the next room. Everything is dark. I'm alone. I'm thinking that I just heard something, just made it all up in my mind, when I see something on the other side of Greg coming up from under the bed.
Now, I just look for a second, because I close my eyes right shut, but it, whatever it is, is fast. It's like an arm, a long arm that floats up into the air, but like no arm that I've ever seen. It doesn't move right, it twists and curves like there there are no bones inside, and there are bumps and ridges all along the skin, but that's all I see, because, like I said, I snap my eyes shut and don't move a muscle.
Then I hear it again, hear something brushing against the wall, bumping up the side, to the bookcase I guess. There's shuffling. something moving, and then, what I think I hear, is pages turning. Like something is reading a book and flipping through the pages. I listen, and this goes on for a long time, minutes and minutes, so I suppose I start to feel brave, or maybe just curious, or even stupid, so I begin to turn my head to the side a little bit more, toward the bookshelf, being as quiet as I can , and when i think I'm in the right place, to see the entire bookshelf, I open my eyes just a crack.
The arm is still there, still twisting in the air, with one end coming up from under the bench and the other at the highest shelf up above, where a weird hand has the book open and fingers are moving above the pages. I can't see much, but it looks like the bumps and ridges on the hand have cracked open, and they're white inside. I open my eyes just a little bit more, and then I can see, see that the bumps on the fingers are actually the arm's own eyes, and they stare at the book, snaking back and forth like they're reading.
Then I make a noise. I know I do, maybe take a breath or move just a little, and the arm in the air curls around so that a big, meaty part is floating right over my face, and the skin cracks open with a slurp and there's giant round eye staring down at me. It's big and black, but it has a wrong shape, and the way it moves is all wrong, so that I know it's like no eye from any man or woman. The eye gazes at me, looking up and down my face with little jerking motions, until I finally gasp and cover my head with my hands and roll around to face the wall so that I can't see it any more.
Greg makes a little noise, like he's about to wake up, but he doesn't, so I just keep facing the wall and not looking at anything. I can feel that thing over me, that thing just watching me, and I hear hear its fingers messing with the book, until the it finally slams shut and the air whooshes with movement. The bench bumps again, but this time an inch or more along the floor, and Greg finally wakes up. He starts to cry and I grab him, to hold him tight.
I keep my eyes shut, and try to rock Greg back to sleep, but he keeps crying, and then mom is saying, "What's wrong in here?"
I turn toward her voice, and finally open my eyes, and see her in the dark, wrapped in a blanket. "Nothing," I say. "Just a bad dream."
She groans and comes into the room and sits down on the bench. She takes Greg from me and cradles him in her arms, going "Shush, shush." Her hair covers her face, so she has to turn her entire head to glance at me. "And what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," I mutter, settling back down into the hay and facing the wall.
"Stop that," she says, leaning over, and she takes my shoulder and rolls me down and looks right into my face. Her eyes are huge and dark and they aren't her own. They're the wrong shape, and they're watching me. "Let me see you."