Curveball Issue 35: City of Knives, City of Glass

Part Two: Almost a Dream

David Bernard stands on the cracked stone floor of an open dojo in the middle of an endless grassy plain. A warm wind blows, carrying with it the smell of dry soil. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun shines hot on his face and neck.

He glances around the dreamscape, briefly wondering if this is the one he always uses, and not a clever counterfeit. It feels right, which probably means more than whether or not it looks right. The only thing that doesn’t seem right is that he’s alone. Usually, that’s how it should be. Today is a little different.

“Come out,” David calls.

A patch of air to his right shimmers and ripples as if it were sitting over a campfire. The shimmering patch darkens, coalescing into a roughly humanoid shape. It’s too thin, it’s limbs are too long, and a feeling of wrongness hangs around it like the smell of rain after a storm.

It is not, David realizes, a proper shadow. It isn’t simply the absence of light, obscuring something in the world—rather, it is an absence of the world itself. It is a human-shaped nothing standing in the middle of creation, a flat absence of everything that exists only in silhouette. The outline of the creature is the only part of it that has any detail at all: the edge where substance meets nothing shimmers slightly, light appearing to cross over into the creature itself, ultimately disappearing into the nothingness, never to be seen again. It reminds David of a TV show he watched once, where a scientist attempted to describe the event horizon of a black hole.

The creature stands before him, unmoving, making no attempt to speak. David has almost grown accustomed to the malice it radiates, even in its calmest, most quiet moments, but at the moment he feels nothing coming from it at all. No malice, no drive, no emotion of any kind.

A spider, patiently waiting for its prey to get caught in its web. Then it will feed.

David takes a quick, shuddering breath and tries to push the image out of his head.

“Do you know where we are?” He manages to keep the tremor out of his voice, but only just.

The top half of the creature’s body shifts slightly. It’s nearly impossible to read the body language of a creature whose form is utterly devoid of detail, but the movement almost appears contemplative.

ThiS iS whERe yOu LiE

The words do not come from the flat, featureless silhouette standing before him. Rather, they seem to come from everywhere else, surrounding him. David almost falls to his knees from the weight and power

“I… What?”

ThiS iS whERe yOu LiE

David frowns. “Explain.”

yOu cONsTruCt a wOrlD of LiEs iN yOUr Mind

yOu hiDE iN tHOsE LiEs wHen yOu slEEp

“They aren’t lies.”

tHEy aRe NoT rEAl

David can feel the vehemence behind the declaration. Vehemence and… something else. A second emotion, wrapped up with the first. He frowns as he tries to figure out what it is. It’s almost fear, but it’s more aggressive than that.

Desperation. That’s what it is. Desperation. David feels himself starting to smile.

“You know what,” David says, “a lot of people would… well, not agree with you, exactly, but they’d see your point. They’d think you were being a little pedantic about it, but at the end of the day we all know dreams aren’t real.”

His smile widens a bit. “We know it. You don’t.”

The world darkens. They’re standing in a small barn, bales of hay lining the far wall, sunlight streaming through open barn loft doors, illuminating the top of the gambrel roof and filtering through the beams to make patterns on the dirty, straw-strewn floor. The air is warm and sleepy, heavy with the scent of cows and drying hay. Beyond the closed barn doors he can hear chickens and the faint braying of donkeys.

He stares at the shadow, barely visible in the dim light. “Tell me, is this more or less of a lie than where we were before?”

The world brightens. They’re standing outside the barn now—his parent’s barn, back when they still had the farm. They stand on a worn gravel path that runs from the barn to the farmhouse, a three-story wood house painted avocado green with maroon red shutters. The air is cooler, a hint of autumn in the breeze, and the sky is unflinchingly blue.

“Same place,” David says. “But it’s early September in… 1998, I think?”

ThiS iS A LiE

“This is a memory,” David replies. “The barn we were in is the same place, but from a different memory in early summer.

They’re back at the dojo, the sky a paler shade of blue, the sun beating down relentlessly overhead.

“I saw this place in a movie, once. I can never remember the name of the movie when I’m awake, but I remember the whole thing, start to finish, when I’m dreaming. Dragon, Sun, Sky for the record.”

They stand in a lush, green field. Ducks splash in a pond just behind a copse of trees to his left. To his right, a worn dirt path winds up a hill.

David points up the path. “My parent’s farm. The barn and the house, and all the rest.”


“I’m trying to get you to understand something.”

ThiS iS A LiE

“That just tells me you don’t understand it yet.”

The scene changes, and changes again: places David has seen, or lived in, or passed through. Significant places, like the army base where he first enlisted in the service, and the police academy where he first became a cop. The Sky Commando building. The Cherry Blossom trees in Washington DC. The Grand Canyon from the perspective of a seven year old boy.



“None of these are lies,” David says. “They’re memories.”

ThEY nO lOnGer eXiST

They’re back at the dojo—it seems to be his preferred setting when talking to an evil magic parasite. “Some do,” David says. “Some don’t. Is memory a lie? It isn’t always accurate, I’ll grant. But do you consider all memories a lie?”


The feeling behind the words is so strong and sudden that David is certain it’s not true.


thEy aRE fALseHOoDs yOu inVEnt tO avoID rEGret

“I see.” David stares at the creature, his face betraying no emotion, his mind clear, his emotions calm. “Tell me what you think about this one, then.”

The world around them pulses. The dojo literally falls away—the half-formed walls collapse, the floors cave in, and soon even the land it sits on appears to melt and run as if disappearing down a drain. David and the shadow stand in the middle of nothingness.

WhAT iS—

Before the creature can finish its question, a scene unfolds beneath them. A vast, purple-black mass of darkness expands beneath their feet, a seething storm of indescribable power that glows faintly from streams of energy that arc across it in long, spidery bursts.

The size of the storm is vast beyond comprehension. Even though David exists outside the storm—is effectively “floating” far above it—he can’t help but think infinite when he looks at it. Even though he can see where the storm ends, the feeling that it is everywhere, encompassing everything, persists. He can even hear it now, a massive roar accompanied by a strange, nearly subsonic thummm that makes his teeth ache.

WhAT iS tHiS

The sound of the storm—the unending roar that fills the space around them—almost drowns out the creature’s question. David considers not answering until he feels a hand gripping his arm.

The creature—the shadow manifestation of a piece of Artigenian’s power—has grabbed his upper arm. It reminds him of something he used to do to his physical therapist when he was recovering from his concussion, and couldn’t walk straight. In the early days he couldn’t keep his balance—just standing in one place made him feel like he was going to fall down—and the first time the therapist stepped away, he remembers lunging for the man’s arm and gripping it as if his life depended on it. The shadow, currently feeling as real and as solid as anyone David has ever met, is doing exactly the same thing.

WhAT iS tHiS

Is that panic? It feels like panic.

“A dream,” David says.


The storm pulses. The storm roars. It looks like it’s growing.


It is panic.

“Relax,” David says. “This is a dream. It’s one of the last dreams Artigenian ever had.”

nO, MasHEuDH

ThiS iS nOT whERe yOu LiE

ThiS iS rEAl

“What? No.” David waves his free hand dismissively. “Look, this is what I’m trying to explain. This is one of your memories, filtered through Artigenian’s—”

He stops, frowning as he stares at his free hand. Stares through his free hand. He notes, with detached interest, that his flesh is unraveling, flowing down into the storm, unspooling like golden thread pulled from a spindle.

ThiS iS rEAl


David stares back at the shadow. It’s still gripping his arm, but it’s outline is starting to blur and warp. A tiny speck of shadow breaks off from its head—just a fleck—and immediately falls away into the storm. Then a second, then a third, and then all at once hundreds of dark specks stream out of its body, into the storm. It shudders.

ThiS iS rEAl

David looks down at his hand, and the flesh being pulled away from it. He realizes, for the first time, that it hurts.

“How?” He whispers. “How is this possible?”

I dO nOt kNoW

tAKe uS bAcK

David thinks of the dojo. The storm below them continues to roar, and the pain in his fading left hand increases.

“I can’t,” he says. “It’s not working.”

tHeN We aRe gOIng tO dIE

We hAve EntEReD tHE TrUE Realm

aNd We aRe gOIng tO dIE

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Jordan 29 January 2019 at 1:15 AM

I love this story, ngl, but I do not have a single clue as to what in the flying **** happened with all the Bernard stuff right there.

C. B. Wright 29 January 2019 at 9:59 AM

Heh. Well, I was trying to channel Jack Kirby, so I’m not sure if this comment shows that I failed or that I succeeded. 😀

Jordan 3 February 2019 at 6:03 AM

Both? I think it was good, I just suck at visualizing, so the Bernard segments in the other realm didn’t really land with me.

Overzealous Proofreader 6 February 2019 at 3:01 PM

It made sense to me…

Typo patrol: “the feint braying of donkeys” should be “faint.”

Overzealous Proofreader 6 February 2019 at 9:05 PM

Can pyramids have more than 3 or 4 sides? If so, no worries. If not, perhaps “prism” instead of “pyramid” for the 13-sided objects in part 7?

C. B. Wright 6 February 2019 at 10:39 PM

There are pentagonal pyramids. 13 sides is admittedly taking some liberties with the concept, though. 😀

C. B. Wright 10 February 2019 at 11:49 AM

Fixed feint, is now faint. Took me long enough, though!

Menae8 21 April 2019 at 5:12 PM

When will there be more?

C. B. Wright 21 April 2019 at 5:19 PM

I’m writing issue 36 but it’s going to be huge and it’s going very slowly. The most honest answer I have is “I’m working on it.”

PaynITA 4 June 2019 at 11:38 AM

Dead project?

C. B. Wright 4 June 2019 at 8:16 PM

No, I am actively writing Issue 36 – Patreon subscribers have seen drafts of Parts One through Four so far. But it’s taking a lot longer than I’d like.

Andrul 18 October 2019 at 9:48 AM

Any progress? I know RL has a way of sneaking up and derailing things.

C. B. Wright 21 October 2019 at 7:49 PM

Progress stalled a bit when I hurt my shoulder (partial rotator cuff tear, something with the ligament) but I’m trying for progress tonight!

Gary 30 November 2019 at 12:36 PM

I hope your shoulder heals quickly and you can get back to work soon. I’ve just binge-read this whole story, and…. WOW. Just WOW. More, please, and soon??

C. B. Wright 30 November 2019 at 12:50 PM

Thank you, and welcome!

I am back to writing, and I’ve posted fifteen parts of issue 36 on my patreon so far. It’s gonna be a long one.

Lucario 13 April 2020 at 8:18 AM

Fifteen parts? Wasn’t the previous record… uh, seven?

C. B. Wright 13 April 2020 at 7:41 PM

Yeah, it’s even worse now! I’m starting to write Part 18!


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