In my unconscious state, I dreamed uneasy dreams. I dreamed a door of stretched alien skin. It permeated the air with the smell of burnt sulfur and bubbling green blood.
Strange whisperings crawled up my back and into my brain.
In my fever, I walked through that door as though it were not there. Sissy was terrified of what waited deep below the tunnels and caves of Townsend Mountain. It was an instinctive fear magnified by a dark, subconscious knowledge. I felt it too as my wandering consciousness stepped through that membranous door. Something disturbingly alien lay hidden behind it.
I stepped into a giant cavern where the air itself was alive with a pale neon blue light. I saw rows and rows of automatons topped with the glass domes Sissy had described. Red brass mechanical men stiff and upright with arms veined by cables and jointed fingers that shone like infrared fire. They were connected by a network of glassine tubes that pulsed with an eerie white energy. They stood at attention, connected by these tubules to a monstrosity that hung at the sheer rock face at the back of the cavern. It was suspended twenty feet in the air like a giant spider between two metal pylons by the web of glassine tubules that were affixed to each soldier.
There was no defense against my inner compulsion to comprehend this mystery. I had to see it. Had to stare into the face of madness itself.
The air in the cavern, though itself alive with energy that fluoresced the vast empty space with light, seemed undisturbed by any presence for a very long time. There was no noise in the room save for a soft electrical buzz. Suddenly the back wall began to glow faintly with a viridian light, which quickly darkened into a purple-black incarnadine emittance so repulsive I felt the desire to turn and bolt for my life.
But my body lay unconscious on the rock floor of a dark tunnel somewhere else.
In my inchoate dream, I instead moved forward, walking through the rows of hulking automatonic soldiers, too anxious to look upward to see the dead souls twisting beneath their crystal domes. The sheer number of these mechanisms filled me with trepidation. The unreasoning fear that one of them might come to life and recognize me as an intruder, then wake the others.
I kept my eyes on their metal feet, walking up the rows, getting closer to the thing in the center of this evil architecture. I could not think of who built this army. The age of their construction was indeterminate. The fact of these hideous mechanical soldiers was chilling. But it was the strange creature in the web of tubular light that pushed me too close to the edge of sanity.
A moment of weakness.
I looked up at an automaton. Saw the crystal dome and the fluid wisps that moved beneath it like lost aethyric spirits searching for surcease. A translucent face, then another writhing within the domes as though twisted by invisible fingers. Eyes glazed in gauzy effulgence peering back at me.
I screamed. I ran.
I felt the floor tremor. Saw the back wall flash raging scarlet then subside.
I stopped and looked up. I was only twenty feet from the suspended monstrosity.
It was a lifeless man with a ragged beard down to his chest and wild, frayed hair that hung past his shoulder. He wore a disintegrating Confederate Civil War uniform of rock washed gray.
His head lolled to one side. His eyelids closed as though he had been forever asleep.
To my horror, I saw that his legs had been cut off at the knees and both his arms severed at the elbows. The pulsing glassine tubules attached to these stumps as though his suspended form was the hideous heart of this network of glassine arteries and veins connecting the mechanical soldiers.
How long his mutilated body had hung there I cannot say. Who had done this to him and how long ago they had so savagely murdered him I would never know.
I could not imagine his agonizing death, but hoped for his sake it had been mercilessly quick.
My nerves had reached their limit. It was time to leave.
At just that moment his eyelids popped open and I saw that his eyes were silver slits of bright metal, as though someone long ago had dug them out and replaced them with platinum silver crescents.
He opened his mouth and screamed shattering fusillades of fury.