The Transmundane, Episode 7: Not in an Attic

Seitetsu yelped as something dropped onto his shoulder and he came down facing the other way, hands raised defensively.

Ashlyn grinned. "Awfully twitchy for a mighty troll-slayer, aren't you?" Other than looking intolerably pleased with herself, she looked like she always did, although unflatteringly dressed in jeans and a heavy denim jacket.

"Ashlyn?!" What's she doing here? She's supposed to be... He realized he didn't actually know where she was supposed to be, and settled for, "Uh?"

She giggled. "That's a pretty good one-word summary, actually!" Glancing around at the attic full of neatly-stacked odds and ends, and out the window behind him, she continued, "The twilight's very pretty, but otherwise this place is a dump. I would have expected you to have more interesting--" she broke off suddenly, looking a little embarrassed. "Anyway, I want to try something. Here." She reached behind his head and pulled out an oval of blurry, watery colors.

Tetsu stared. It looked like a piece cut out of a life-sized impressionist watercolor of... I know that place. What is it? It didn't seem to have any edges; it didn't bend, but it had to be thinner than paper. Then he saw how her thumb went into it, and his vision blurred.

"Tetsu! Tetsu, are you okay?" Ashlyn's hand rested warm on his cheek, and he automatically covered it with his own. His eyes had cleared up, except when he looked at Ashlyn's whatever-it-was (now hanging unsupported right at eye level).

"Yah, I'm fine, I just can't look at... what is that?"

She grinned again, even brighter than before. "Unless you have a better name for it, magic."

"Uh. Right." From her motions, he could tell she was lowering the magic whatsit to the floor. "What does it do?"

"It's a door. Or a portal, if you want to be fancy. I'm going through first, so I can help you. Just crawl through feet-first, and feel down for something to stand on." She sat on the floor and scooted forward and down as though from a high seat, into the place he couldn't look at. "Okay, come on!" The blueness he could barely see from the corner of his eye shifted back and forth.

His probing foot found a dropoff just beyond the rough denim of her sleeve, so he scooted forward until only his butt was on the edge, and slid off and down like Ashlyn had. He fell, glanced off another, softer edge, and landed on his butt in the middle of his bedroom floor.

He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes, but the room remained blurry and sort of oddly lit: colors less bright, but shadows less dark. The only thing in focus was Ashlyn, who seemed to have discarded her jeans and jacket and wore only a long T-shirt as white as her skin. From his position on the floor, he could see a fair ways up the hypnotizing paleness of her thigh. If I lean back...

Ashlyn turned bright pink from face to feet and skittered back. "Tetsu!"

"Hey, you're the one who showed up in my bedroom wearing only a T-shirt and--"

Her blush deepened. "I didn't mean to!"

"--nothing else?" he guessed. She turned from pink to red and stared intently at her toes. Embarrassed himself, now, he looked around the room to give Ashlyn a chance to collect herself, and found himself staring at a brown figure lying sprawled on the bed, covered only from the knees down. At least I sleep on my stomach! A quick glance downward showed that he was at least wearing plaid boxers, though nothing else.

He reached for the sheet to cover his body before he rolled over in his sleep, but then stopped. If seeing me makes her think about being undressed for bed, that's not a bad thing! He glanced at Ashlyn, saw her watching him, and deliberately drew his hand back, although now he was blushing just as much as her, and fidgeting at the growing tightness of his boxers.

With a pretty obviously forced scowl, she flipped a blanket over the nude form on the bed. "Let's just save the whole nakedness/no-underwear thing for later, okay?" Arms folded protectively over her breasts, she sat down on the bed, started to draw her legs up, glared at Tetsu, and finally dragged the other end of the blanket over her lap. "We have more important things to talk about!"

"Um, right." He sat down next to himself and draped the sheet over his lap, though it didn't really conceal the lump. "Important things." Think about, um, baseball! It's traditional! The memory that came to mind was Ashlyn in her gym shorts and bent over with hands on knees so the scoop neck of her T-shirt fell enticingly open, panting after having just made a home run. Don't think about baseball! Think about... He glanced around the room and found something to think about, all right. "You broke my window!"

"The doors were locked! Anyway, I'm almost certain that changing things here doesn't affect them in reality. I stole Mikey's hat on the bus, but he still had it when I woke up."

"So here is... the land of dreams? Like in that comic?" He looked around more nervously. "Any trolls around?"

"Land of dreams, spirit world, astral plane, something like that. I haven't gotten a chance to look it up." She made a face. "I may never get a chance, if my dad has his way. I hear convents don't keep many books on magic."

"Harsh. My parents are just grounding me for the rest of my natural life. But how did you learn-- you did this on the bus-- can you teach-- why did you throw--"

"There will be a question and answer session after the presentation."

"Yah. Tell me what the hell is going on, and don't let me interrupt."

She did: her sight fading, the pursuit by the five senses and the escape hatch from the dream, the dream mirrors with their varying sizes and frames -- he did interrupt there, to point out he couldn't see them. When she traced around his dream-mirror with her hands, he could sort of see something, but instead of expanding to fill all his sight with confusion and dizziness it shrank so that he could only glimpse it out of the corner of his eye.

She continued: the rat ghost, her intuition that it was tracking them by the troll's thumb. He already knew about being forced to sit at opposite ends of the bus with Frigarsen in the middle glaring at them both, and their parents being called to drag them away, but not about her vision returning. She finished up with the dream she'd escaped from to walk to his place, the flyers, the tree-dreams, and breaking the window to get in.

When she was done, he bit down on the first seventeen questions he wanted to ask, and thought. It all hangs together, even if it doesn't hang with anything else I thought I knew about the world. And she doesn't know any more about how it works than I do, or she would have said. "This isn't where we met the troll, then. So that was real, not a dream."

She nodded. "Even in the regular dreams, I can tell that it was a dream after I get out, and this place is pretty distinctive. The troll was in the real world."

"I can think of all sorts of experiments to try, but I guess the big question is 'Why?'. What does the troll or whoever's behind it want with us? Why did meeting the troll give you magic powers? Why you and not me?" Not that I'm bitter or anything. Actually, he wasn't; it was just confusing, not insulting.

"I'm kind of out of shape, but if you could break pieces off the troll, I should have been able to hurt it some, at least. So you did get magic powers, at least for a while."

"When my parents gave up lecturing me about the women of loose morals I hang around with and left, I tried a couple of things, but I'm not any stronger now than I was before all this. So maybe the question is why did you keep your powers?"

"I didn't, really. Remember, my vision was giving out. It didn't come back until I--- dreamwalked, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe if you get exposed to magic or have to use your powers again, they'll come back."

"Here, troll, troll, trollie! Okay, maybe not. I'll have to try again when I wake up. But what about the other questions? Why did we get lured in and jumped by a troll?" He thought for a moment. "If being exposed to magic again reinforced your powers, maybe we had the powers all along and just didn't know until that adventure brought them out?"

"Maybe. That would explain why they wanted us, if they could tell that we had magic. But if we both had magic before, then it must be pretty common; we don't really have anything else in common that lots of other people don't."

"Maybe people with magic get drawn together. Magic is all about destiny and fate and stuff, right?" Ashlyn and I are destined to be together! Or maybe we're just destined to be served as entrees at the same troll dinner.

She chewed on her lip. "I guess. It's not like I actually know anything except what I told you. We can go to the library and read fairy tales and myths and stuff, but how can we tell if any of it's right?"

"Some of it has to be, since we can tell that was a troll, this is the spirit world, your dreams were proph-- Oh." I hope to God that's not it. But I bet it is.

"I'm not sure that's true. I dreamed about being chased, but that's not too weird considering what happened last night. The bikers in my dream weren't anything like the rat-ghost I saw on the bus, anyway."

"Describe the rat-ghost again?"

"I couldn't see much of it; just a sort of shadow with red eyes and sort of ratty nose, and long fingers and antennae." She shuddered. "It just about crawled down the front of Denice's dress."

"Eyes for sight, nose for smell, fingers for feel, antennae-- well, Mr Cheng said they were sort of like noses and sort of like tongues, so that could be taste..."

"I didn't see any ears," she protested, but not very strongly.

"Doesn't meant they weren't there."

"The dream I got out of to come here didn't seem mean anything... But if it did... The birds were frightened, and wouldn't let me touch them, but they didn't fly away, just swirled around me. And I was in a stadium, which means... people watching me. People I didn't see. I don't know about the tunnel-- don't even say it!"

"Hey, at least it wasn't a train tunnel!"

She extended one foot to kick him beneath the covers. "Probably had something to do with your one-track mind, horndog." She didn't object when he captured the foot and started rubbing it through the sheet, though. "The city was, hm. It was sort of familiar, I know what a city is like, but it was different too. And I couldn't get to it, I was trapped in the vacant lot until I got out through the mirror." She chewed her lip some more. "So I'm important, and people are spying on me, and things are in an uproar because of me. I'm going to travel someplace familiar but strange, and be imprisoned, and have to use magic to get out." She looked up at him. "Does that sound right?"

He shrugged. "Not my vision, but it sounds good. I know the Bible has a lot more obscure symbolism, though, and I bet books of magic do too. But... I've been saying the troll jumped 'us', but really it just wanted to get me out of the way. You were the one it was after, and I bet the one the rat-ghost was after. Any bozo with a jackhammer can break up rocks, but really seeing the future, even a little, is..." He realized the prickle of his scalp was his hair trying to stand on end. "It's power to rule the world, if that's what you use it for."

Her beautiful grey eyes were huge. "That's what they'll think, anyway. The people watching, the forces in turmoil."

The remaining pane of his window exploded and a black form rocketed into him, sending him flying.

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