The pale pink rabbit, some child’s lost toy, blinked at him from the kitchen chair. At least, he assumed it was a child’s lost toy. It looked like a toy, and it wasn’t really moving. The only real difference were the very human looking eyes, endlessly blinking at him as he rounded the kitchen toward it. The eyes followed him as he crept up on its side, even if the neck never moved.
“What is this thing?” he asked himself as he neared it.
“It’s a rabbit, obviously,” came a, what, voice? Maybe, but he didn’t so much hear it as think a thought that wasn’t his own.
He inspected the rabbit closer, and in turn, the rabbit inspected him. Across the kitchen, it looked like a well-loved child’s toy. It was pink, fluffy, and propped-up in the kitchen chair like it was ready for a tea-party. Up close, however; revealed that more than just the eyes were wrong. The fur, which looked so fluffy and huggable before, was actually made up of hard bristles that swayed gently in a breeze he couldn’t feel. The pale pink fibers were interspersed with deep, crimson ones in complex patterns that reminded him of blood splatters. The red in the fur looked to be seeping gently onto the chair, staining it a duller version of itself. Most distressing of all, the thing had teeth. It wasn’t much, but the mouth was open a bit, just enough that he could a few teeth in there. He backed away and the rabbit kept its eyes locked onto his.
“What are you afraid of, Joshua? It is just a child’s toy.” The voice? came again.
“Fuck that,” he said. The voice. Maybe the rabbit? Is this what it felt like to go crazy? He turned and bolted out of the kitchen.
He made it to the living room and turned back to make sure the rabbit hadn’t followed him. It hadn’t. He turned back to find his couch staring at him with a look of disappointment. Yep, he had definitely lost it.
“Please don’t run,” the non-voice asked.
He let out a bark of laughter and turned toward the front door and stopped cold. There was a woman standing in the doorway, staring at him. At least she was supposed to have eyes.
“Joshua, please don’t run,” she said with her mouth, but the thought-voice echoed the phrase. She wore dirty gray rags and her black hair was in knots. Her cheeks ran with mascara-tears.
“How do you know my name?” He asked, backing away a bit.
“The emperor has taken interest in you. His eyes see you, but they are only the beginning.” She grinned, revealing a surprisingly clean set of teeth. “The mouths will come soon, and you will be consumed.” She held a filthy hand to him. “Come. Let me help you.”
No, run from her and go back to the kitchen.
Was that his own thought? She was still holding her hand out to him. He took another step back. Behind him came an awful, wet, ripping sound. He turned to see the wall splitting horizontally, a widening crack that sent pieces of wood and plaster to the floor in wet chunks. The fetid smell of rot emanated from the crack, which had grown teeth. A giant, pink tongue lolled out of it. It felt along the floor and made its way toward him. Josh scrambled back and tripped over the woman.
She grinned down at him. “I told you the mouths would come for you. I will still help you.” She took a step away from him and reached into her rags. From them, she drew a needle, three-foot long and impossibly thin. She reached in with her other and plucked a fiber, thin as any thread he’d seen. In a single deft movement, she threaded the fiber through the eye of the needle. Amazingly, when she let go, it stayed exactly where she left it, despite her not tying it off. She dashed forward, fast enough that he almost didn’t realize she had moved, and stabbed the mouth with her needle and pulled it through both ‘lips’ in one quick motion, the thread snapping off cleanly as it went through. The mouth tried to open, but the thread seemed too strong and it struggled until its teeth began falling out, cracking upon the floor. The rest of the mouth dissolved until there was only a bare wall with a pile of rubble at its base. Josh stood there, speechless.
“Will you come with me now?” the woman asked. He nodded silently. “Good,” she said through a grin that seemed to expose every tooth. She held out her hand.
He stopped, his hand half way to hers. Was that the thought-voice? Or was it his own thoughts? But why would the voice she used on him tell him to stop? He gripped her hand and her grin grew a little wider, just before it disappeared completely.
The rest of her face disappeared along with it as the whole world went black around him. He blinked and his vision returned. He was no longer in his house. Instead, roiling hellscape stretched out before him. The ground below him was fleshy and moved with an unseen breath. A crimson river ran near him, flowing sluggishly with something thicker than water. The hills in the distance rose out of the ground like a puncture-wound, the red river flowing from their bases. The sky was a sickly yellow and there was no sun. In its place, a giant eye hung, silently watching him from above.
He turned to run but found only more of the hellscape before him. He sank to his knees, but the woman pulled him back up. He looked her in the eyes. She was smiling.
“Why did you bring me here?” He asked, silently pleading with her.
“To keep you safe,” she replied, still smiling. “I told you, the emperor has noticed you. I brought you here to escape his notice. But I needed your permission first.” She pulled him with her.
He took in everything around him. “This doesn’t seem safe to me.”
“It’s not. We are in the Empire. Even now, the eye looks upon us.” He felt like he was going to be sick. She looked back at him and grinned again. “But within the Empire is the only place that can escape his eye. That is where we’re going.”
They came to a red river. There was no bridge, but by this point, he was done doubting how something would happen. She stopped and considered a moment. Just as he was beginning to doubt there was a way across, the ground beside them began boiling. Something began forming under the roiling bubbles. It rose as it formed, first an eye, then spikes as a clawed arm took shape. It rose, five, ten feet tall. He jumped back as the hand took a swipe at him. The woman was in motion, she withdrew her needle and threaded it. She dodged the hand and stabbed it, pulling the needle through. The thread didn’t break this time, but stretched as she slid around the creature and stabbed its eye. There was an unholy shriek from a newly-formed mouth before it was sucked back into the body. The creature separated from the ground and collapsed in front of Josh, stiff as a board. The woman picked it up and knocked on it once. It sounded almost like wood. She placed it across the river, a perfect fit, and stepped on.
“Come now,” she said and held out a hand to him. He was unsure, but he still took it and allowed himself to be led onto the creature. He tested his weight on it. It felt solid, certainly better than the actual ground here, with its breathing and slight squishiness.
They made it across and she led him on, though how she did it, he couldn’t say. The landscape on this side looked much the same as on the other. As they walked, he began hearing whispers, first just in the back of his mind, but soon as faint sounds, carried on the wind. They told him to turn back and run.
“Don’t listen,” she said just as he was considering what the whispers were saying. “That’s the emperor, and he’s taken special notice now. We have to hurry.” She yanked his hand and quickened the already intense pace.
They made their way across the breathing land, the wind whispering with every footfall and the eye tracking their every move, until they finally arrived where she wanted them to be. She gestured to what could generously be called a shack, bone white and erupting from the ground like a broken tooth.
She stopped at the door and looked back at him. She wasn’t grinning this time. “I have some questions to ask you first,” she said, gravely.
“Okay,” he responded, unsure.
“Good. Now, please say yes or no to these.” She waited for some sort of response from him. He nodded. “Good. Do you accept my invitation to my home?”
“Yes,” he said. It was, after all, the only way for him to be safe.
“Good. Do you agree to help me defeat the emperor in any way you can?”
“Yes.” He had a bad feeling about this, but couldn’t quite place why.
She grinned and gripped the door. “This is the only place the eyes do not see,” she said as she opened the door. He looked in and was astonished by what he saw.
Fabric everywhere. Fabric was stitched to every available surface with the same thin thread she had used against the creature. It gave the interior the look of one giant quilt. There wasn’t an eyeball or tooth in sight. And nothing was breathing. It felt… safe. He stepped across the threshold in front of her and smiled.
He felt her step in behind him. “I want to thank you for helping me,” she said. Then his legs came out from under him.
He looked up at her from on the floor. She grinned down. “Really, you have no idea ho much you’ve helped.” She took a pair of scissors off the wall and stabbed him in the throat.
Akane threw the headless body out the door. The emperor’s creatures could have it, she had all the weapons she needed on the head. She sewed the neck stump up and ran her fingers through the hair. It was good, strong hair. Maybe it was even good enough to finally defeat the emperor. Joshua really had helped her more than he would ever know. She plucked a hair from the severed head and threaded her needle. It was time to get to work.