[Tales of Dread] ‘Imagination Land’ by Michael Santiago

This week in 'Tales of Dread', a psychic school teacher who loves to read the minds of her students gets an unpleasant surprise.

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Tales of Dread is an ongoing series dedicated to showcasing the best works from underrepresented and emerging voices within the horror community.

Story Two: Imagination Land by Michael Santiago

Check out the visual audiobook here:

I’ve been able to read minds since before I could remember. It’s always come natural to me. It’s not really like how you see in the movies. It’s not like listening to the radio. It’s not just hearing thoughts. It’s much more… immersive than that. I can see everything in my mind like I’m seeing it right in front of my eyes. I can feel raw emotion and even sometimes smell things. It’s a thrilling experience when you read the right minds. The trouble is really with finding minds worth reading. 

Frankly, adult minds are boring. I mostly get images laden with work and dreams which have long been given up, coupled with feelings of stress and overall dissatisfaction. It’s about as fun as doing taxes. Kids’ minds, on the other hand, are amazing. They’re not bogged down with reality or the stresses of money or bills. The mind of a child is filled with rich, imaginative landscapes, adventures, and monumental aspirations. That’s a big reason why I became a kindergarten teacher. I’m exposed to the world through the minds of the most optimistic people in the universe. 

I sit at my desk and watch as my class colors. I smile at the focused looks on their faces as they doodle away with their crayons. I reach out with my mind and peek into a few of their brains. Carlos wants to be an astronaut when he grows up, but because he’s only five, he doesn’t seem to realize it’s more science and less aliens. I take off with him in a rocket ship, hurtling past vast nebulas and swirling galaxies. I visit far-off planets full of green, blob-like aliens and two-headed Martians. I smile and move on to Marcy. I can smell the candy canes and jelly beans as I’m pulled into a veritable candy kingdom, complete with gumdrop castles and caramel waterfalls. She plays ring around the Rosie with lollipop boys and girls, giggling her musical little laugh.

I’m about to move on to Thomas when I feel a tug at my dress. I look down to see Sarah. She’s the newest addition to my class and she’s one of the most adorable little girls I’ve ever seen. Beautiful brown curls, big puppy dog eyes, and a smile that’s never seen unhappiness. 

“Miss Dupree, I made this for you!,” she exclaims, handing me a piece of paper. I take it from her and see myself, in stick figure form, holding her hand. “I Luv Ms. Doopry” is scrawled across the top in multiple colors. I smile wide.

“Thank you so much, Sarah!,” I say, and I lean in as she gives me a great big hug. “I love it!”

Sarah’s only been with the class for a couple days and I have yet to get a look at her hopes and dreams. I reach out and the second I touch her mind, I nearly throw up.

I can barely breathe as I’m hit with wave after wave of stench, hot and fetid, like a rotting carcass, bloated with gas and baking in the sun. Unlike all the other minds I’ve touched, I don’t see a thing. My mind’s eye is blinded, blotted out by a darkness that seems almost alive, spilling into my brain, seeking to snuff out everything it touches. In the void, I feel something cold and slimy, coils of ice roiling around me, wrapping around my legs, pressing against my face, a gigantic, unseen beast, probing the blackness in a hungry search for food. And then a keening wail rises up until I can feel my eardrums almost burst. It’s the screaming of thousands of souls, crying out for help… crying out for death.

Then I’m back in the classroom, my hands still wrapped around Sarah. I let her go, trying not to let her see me shaking. I put on my best face, hoping she can’t see that I’m about to cry. She smiles up at me.

“That’s a lovely picture, Sarah,” I say, almost whispering. I put on a smile and try to pretend everything is normal and happy. 

“Now, go along and get ready for snack time, alright?” I say to her, trying to get my space. 

She nods happily and skips off to her desk to get her lunch box. I watch her as she goes about her business. I’ve always enjoyed the minds of children. But whatever the thing in the blue dress is, it is no child.

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About the author:

Michael Santiago is an LA-based background actor, horror writer and aspiring screenwriter. His favorite horror movies include Friday the 13th Part 3, Sleepaway Camp 2 and Chopping Mall. From time to time, he likes to share his spooky stories on Reddit.

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