The Transmundane, Episode 6: On Dreaming Streets

Knowing that she'd be emerging from the mirror hovering over her sleeping body's head, she pushed the exit down to the ground -- it moved as though perfectly counterweighted, responsive to the slightest pressure but staying still the moment she took her hand away -- and slithered through feet first. She landed somewhat undignifiedly on her body's chest and immediately jumped off onto the floor even though the softness under her was only her own breasts, which she'd had for years.

She'd fallen asleep not only with the light on but fully dressed, she noted, and reminded herself to wake up when she got back so she didn't end up tangled in her bra. She had no idea where she was going, hadn't even known that she was leaving until that moment, but there certainly wasn't much point in staying in the room she'd be spending enough waking hours in.

Her dream-body lacked the watercolor blurriness of her physical form on the bed, she noted, but still didn't look quite right, although she couldn't say for sure what the wrongness was. Maybe it was just her magical sight letting her know that it was a dream and not flesh, if the sight worked in dreams.

A quick peek out the window into the dark and perfectly clear backyard reassured her that it did, but the dream sky was seething with thunderheads. Since, for no apparent reason, her dream self was wearing nothing except a long white T-shirt, she rifled her dresser for warmer clothes. She had no idea if they would keep her warm, or if they would even last -- she'd never noticed what happened to Mikey's baseball cap -- but didn't want to freeze and, no matter what her subconscious thought, she didn't really want to show up in Seitetsu's dream less than fully clothed. Even if the T-shirt didn't show anything, she would know how little was in the way.

The door opened as it should, and remained open each time she looked back until the top of the stairs blocked it from view. So did the front door, although she kept having to remind herself there was no point in looking over her shoulder at every noise. Unless her mother had the second sight too, bizarre as the idea was, she realized, and closed the front door as softly as she could.

Except for being smudgy and intermittently lit by lightning, the street was the same as always, and as empty as it usually was after midnight. Just like in a cartoon, the streetlights shed light only in perfect circles beneath them, but that didn't bother her. Still, she spent quite a while peering through bushes and under cars for hunting rat-ghosts before she set off for Seitetsu's. She could have ridden her bike, but the very thought reminded her of reversed black helmets and hungry laughter.

It wasn't a long walk, but long enough for her to grow weary of carefully peering around every corner for danger that never materialized. The dream-night had a peculiar beauty to it, like a painting hovering between realistic and abstract. She would have liked to see the stars, but not even her magic eyes could pierce the black ceiling of stormcloud. She could, however, see the tiny figures that darted around and between them.

One stayed in sight long enough for her to get a good look, cruising slowly just below the clouds. The flyer was as unmistakably female as Tiffy, though much thinner, and completely sheathed in form-fitting black leather or plastic. Wings about as bat-like as a halloween vampire's stuck straight out to the sides like an airplane's, not even fluttering in the slipstream. The ankle-length tail streaming straight back past her feet did flip felinely at the end, the terminal cluster of claw-like silver spikes glittering in the city light. She held a long metal pipe parallel to her body; the aft end, the only one Ashlyn could see, glowed orange with some inner heat.

The flyer's head swivelled, and Ashlyn saw that what had looked like a helmet was actually a massive, fluted conical horn, covering almost the entire skull and rising maybe six or eight inches above it. Then she was slicing into the cloud and gone.

Walking into a lamppost while dreaming didn't hurt, precisely, but it was certainly disorienting and embarrassing. Eyes fixed firmly on her path, Ashlyn hurried onward through the empty watercolor streets.

In daylight, or even at night in the real world, she wouldn't have hesitated to cut through Holliwell Park, but in the night of dreams the trees crouched dark around the soccer field, and the children's play equipment stood like a dragon's skeleton. As she wavered on the sidewalk, lightning lit the park stark white marked with black shadows and immediate thunder shook the leaves.

Reflected lightning flashed in the boughs of the nearest oak tree.

Memory of the glittering eye of the thing that had hunted her on the bus prickled her scalp, and she froze perfectly still even while knowing it was stupid. Then her vision focused on the handsized mirror that hovered just above a crotch in the branches. It was smaller than any she'd seen yet, but unmistakably the same kind.

The ominous air of the park was nothing compared to the chance to see into a tree's dreams. She was mortified to discover that even in her dreams she was completely out of shape, but the oak wasn't really hard to scale, and even offered a branch where she could stand to look into the mirror at eye level.

All the human dream-mirrors she'd seen had the same proportions, although they differed in size; this one was different, more enlongated vertically so that it was about the size and shape of her hand. The difference seemed significant, although she wasn't sure what it actually meant. The mirror's frame was amber, an unbroken thumb-thick ring lumpy as though it had congealed there naturally and filled with head-to-tail bees, frozen in a single-column march around the mirror's edge. Mummified was a better word, she thought, and shuddered.

The image in the mirror was an incomprehensible wash of colors shading into each other, punctuated by sharp vertical rainbow streaks like technicolor barcodes. The colorful vagueness was lit from above by an tilted arc of gloriously warm yellow light that spanned almost half the sky; as she watched, it slowly tilted farther toward the horizon, shifting to a slightly colder, whiter hue as it moved.

It made sense that a tree would have completely alien dreams, of course. She had hoped to see them in visual symbols, but there was no reason she should: trees had no eyes. In fact, she wasn't sure what senses trees did have; light, so they could grow upward, and gravity, to grow downward, and maybe water? Or the taste of soil?

The colors drifted slightly, apparently flowing roughly leftward from the vertical streaks. After a minute or two, speckly yellow-green-black tendrils descended on one streak, which immediately produced a spreading pinkish-lavender mist. The invading speckles retreated from it and fanned out toward other streaks, but as the lavender-pink reached each one, it began producing the same color, so that the speckles were frustrated on every front and finally retreated from view.

The slow patterns of the tree-dream were interesting in a soothing way, but held no visible explanations for anything that had happened recently, so after five or ten minutes she jumped down and hurried across the park. Now that she knew to look, she could see that most of the trees had mirrors, although many of them were no larger than her fingerprint, and some were only buds of amber or wood without any actual mirror. Sometime she'd have to find out when the trees had been planted, to discover how many years it took them to begin dreaming.

Seitetsu's house was only one block beyond the park, but it was a nerve-wracking block. Not only did it occur to Ashlyn that the hunters might be following the scent of troll blood in Tetsu's pocket, but she started to think about what kind of dream she might be invading. If it was like the one she'd spied on before... the dream-Ashlyn had certainly seemed to enjoy it; would she, or would it still count as her first time? Or was the dream-Ashlyn only trying to assure Seitetsu that she liked it? If she was only a construct of Tetsu's imagination, her enjoyment was probably genuine; some guys might fantasize about sticking it to an unwilling girl, but Tetsu never would.

Not that there was any reason to believe she'd replace her dream-duplicate when she climbed through the mirror; maybe she'd just appear like she had in her own dream. What would it be like to meet herself? Or rather, herself as Tetsu imagined her? What would it be like to watch her alter ego make love to the guy she loved? Would she be able to keep her own hands off a naked Tetsu? If not, would dream-Ashlyn and dreaming-Ashlyn be able to share, or would she have to fight herself over him?

She blinked out of her thoughts just as she was about to use the skull-shaped brass knocker Tetsu's dad had put up one Halloween and never gotten around to taking down. Even if no one could hear it, would it be polite to knock anyway? But that would alert any hunters that happened to be lurking in the bushes...

Somewhat nervously she peered behind the rosebushes lining the walk, but there was nothing there except lawn. She wasn't sure what she would do if something did leap out at her anyway, except scream for Tetsu; heel-palm strikes didn't seem to have much effect on creatures of the supernatural. And Tetsu wouldn't be able to hear her from inside his dream, so there was no reason not to go in.

Except, of course, that the door was locked. So was the garage door (and the opener was presumably in the car inside the garage). The gate to the backyard opened easily, and no rat-ghosts scuttled from under the deck to depeditate her, but the back door was locked.

Muttering under her breath, she made another circuit of the house to check the windows; luckily it was a one-story house. Unfortunately, all of the windows were closed.

She wasn't sure how long she sat on the deck trying to think of a way in, but it was long enough that when she did, she felt very very stupid.

<-- 5: Solitary Confinement Contents 7: Not in an Attic -->

This file was last modified at 2038 on 22Oct01 by trip@idiom.com.