"Come play with me, Daddy!"
The high, melodic voice chimed out sweet, airy, and perfect.
He could feel heat spreading across his face yet no pain followed after.
Closed eyes opened slowly, lazily, and he soon found himself staring directly up at the sun in full glory, the brightly burning ball hung up high and shimmering against the pale blue sky.
He gave a panicked start, shocked and fearful, scrambling to take cover for safety, only to find that he was rolling off of a blanket which covered up soft, grainy sand beneath it; sand he was now sitting in.
Cawing seagulls drew his attention to the right of him, and he saw the vast ocean mere yards away. It stretched out into the horizon endlessly; quiet waves rippling as gusts of wind blew across the crystal clear surface.
The sun was becoming hot on his back now, and admittedly it felt good, as it used to before; before it came to mean certain, excruciating, death. A disbelieving smile formed as he realized he was at the beach; in the middle of the day no less.
"Daddy! Come play with me!"
His eyes lifted and he saw a small child standing by the shore, waving one thin, wiry arm in the air, a brilliant grin on their face.
His lips parted and his mouth dried out immediately, forcing him to merely whisper the name; the oh so precious name that had brought him more pain and misery than he could have ever imagined possible.
"I want to play, Daddy! Lets play!"
Kicking at the incoming tide with tiny feet, the boy giggled and proceeded to dance a short lived but extremely blissful jig around in the water mingling with the sand under his bare feet.
The scene was so cute, so adorable, and so breathtakingly heartbreaking.
The word "play" reverberated in time with the child's splashing and caught hold of his senses. With a beaming smile he went to heed the child's call, his innocent petition, but he found he couldn't. It felt as if he had been glued into place, unable to push forward despite his best efforts.
Confused, he tried to get up but all he could manage to do was force himself up to rest upon hands and knees.
"Silly Daddy! Silly Daddy!"
Connor began to chant over and over as he pointed at his father, laughing.
But the laugh didn't sound right; it was too loud for human ears to behold, it was too bold and haughty for one so young, and it was too…cruel.
He dragged his limbs, feeling as if they had been encased in cement, trying his best to crawl even like a babe towards the child.
"I…I'm coming I…"
"Come and play with me, Daddy! I want to play!"
The ground seemed to be turning into quicksand by the second, swallowing up any and every moment he made, rendering any attempt to move barely an inch forward useless.
And then he heard it; the sound, the familiar sound that was a soul crushing sound.
The sound he'd never forget as long as he lived.
Out of nowhere behind the dancing, laughing boy appeared a portal. Through its gaping open entrance shone scenes from the other side; the barren wasteland, parched and cracked open as old, festering wounds would be; the red as blood sky, flashing terribly with yellowed sickness; the hideous, menacing, and deadly creatures which lumbered past the opening, searching for fresh prey.
Terror, absolute, gripped his heart, though dead and cold for centuries, and he let out a distressing, mournful cry.
"No! You won't get him again! You can't have him! Connor! Connor run! Run to me! Run to Daddy!"
"Come and get me, Daddy!"
The boy held out his arms to the man trapped and helpless, laughing still. It was now such an act so ugly it even made his young face contort and grow incredibly unpleasant to look at.
He begged no one in particular as he fought desperately against the unseen restraints holding him back that he could not see or do anything about.
"Not again…not again…Connor!"
Tears of rage and grief blinded him as he pulled and twisted with all his might, roaring out as loudly as he could.
"Can't get me, Daddy! You can't get me!"
The taunting struck him as if he was being physically hit with the words; their edges razor sharp and cutting deeper and deeper.
Then he was free.
He took a moment to recognize his body's regained mobility, and then he ran.
Running as fast as he possibly could, his legs pushed to their very limit and beyond.
The child stood completely still, now balefully quiet, his eyes inhumanly dark and empty.
His arms stretched out, hands aching to touch and hold the little one; to save him.
To do what they had failed to before, and each and every other time since.
An invisible force grabbed the boy just as he'd almost reached him and yanked him backwards into the portal.
"I was here! I was here!" I made it! I—!"
The portal snapped shut despite his imploring entreaties and vanished; the serene beach left behind seemingly untouched by its presence.
He dry heaved and dropped down to his knees, defeated.
"I was here…I had him…why can't I have him…?"
Fingers curled and began digging down deep while he clawed frantically at the sand where tiny footprints had been formed, so delicate and pristine.
He always came so close, but he could never beat it.
Could never win…ever.
His head dropped down, the truth tormenting him as usual, reminding him of his ultimate, unforgivable, failure as a man, as a champion, and as a father.
He gasped loudly, eyes opening abruptly as he looked around to see wooden walls surrounding him from all sides.
He was completely immobile and vulnerable.
Looking down at him was his boy, face devoid of any emotion.
"You can't have me."
He watched, powerless to stop what was coming next, as an all too familiar coffin lid was slowly dropped down over him and a primal scream erupted from his throat, horrifying and desolate.
His breathing heavy and panickedm he sat straight up in his bed, gulping air he didn't need, wildly looking around the room as his hands opened and closed hastily to confirm that he was free to move at will.
"Get a grip Angel—it wasn't real—it's never real…"
Talking to himself, attempting to regain a sense of self composure, he stared out into the shadows of his darkened bedroom.
It was just a nightmare.
One that followed him wherever he went; that wormed its way into his thoughts; that haunted him day and night; a nightmare that every once in a while, as it had this night, would manage to snare him and catch him up in its heartless clutches.
It always forced him to face what was constantly eating him alive on the inside; exposing the endless amount of crushing hopelessness he felt.
Running one hand through his hair for a moment he sat silently, his expression brooding and pained.
He wondered if it would ever go away.
If something or someone somewhere would have pity on him, feel sorry enough for him, and believe him to have suffered enough to release him from those memories and feelings before they destroyed him.
End it all before it all became the end of him.
A single tear slid down his cold left cheek as his eyes shut once more all on their own.
How much more was he supposed to take?
How much more could he take…?