The voice on the phone was male, bass, with a generic American accent, and sounded as if it had made a career of announcing, "Seitetsu George Valeroso, you will die at 4:23pm on September 9th."
Tetsu dropped the cordless handset like a cockroach; it bounced on the carpet and landed face-up between Ashlyn's feet, repeating tinnily, "...23pm on September 9th." It cut off with a click, and after a moment the usual synthesized voice recited, "If you would like to make a call, please hang up and dial again."
"Tetsu?" Ashlyn looked from him to the phone. "What was that?"
Seitetsu tried to not show how much he was creeped out, but think the was doing a very good job of it. "The death threat hotline, I think."
"Let me try." Before he could decide how bad of an idea that was, she had scooped up the phone, reset it, and pressed redial. She blinked startledly at the beginning of the message, but didn't react otherwise. "Okay, what did yours say?" She turned the handset off and placed it carefully back in the cradle.
"'Seitetsu George Valeroso, you will die at 4:23pm on September 9th.' Then it repeated and that was it. Yours?"
"'Ashlyn Mumble Alflatt, you will die at 4:23pm on September 9th.'"
She made a face. "Sophia. But thinking about how much I hate my middle name isn't that great a way of not thinking about the date."
"Monday. Well, tomorrow, I guess, if it's past midnight. If that's what it means; maybe it means September 9th, 2734."
Now she looked scared too. "When people don't give a year with a date, they mean this year."
"It wasn't a person, it was... an oracle, like the Greek chicks with snakes we had to read about. And those always try to weasel: 'If you cross the river, a great empire will fall', that kind of thing." She's not buying it. "Anyway, maybe it's completely bogus, just trying to scare us."
"In the legends, things you learn in the spirit world are always true, even if they're misleading."
"So, November 9th, 2734. Even if the legends are right; I don't think I've ever read about something like Rubbermaid or Tizlatch."
"He gave you his name? Oh, sure, so you could call him. Modern demons, I guess. Lust and avarice are respectable, so we have... air pollution and kiddie porn on the net, or whatever. But that doesn't have anything to do with DYING TOMORROW AFTERNOON!"
He grabbed her around the shoulders, and she nestled against him, cheek against his temple. "Sorry. That really creeped me out. I wish I could believe you about it being bogus, but..."
"Does it help to know that the spirit world isn't always honest? Rubbermaid said 'You'll like it, it won't hurt', but if the rest of her insides were like her mouth, it would have burned right off." He shuddered. "So either she didn't know anything about humans, or she was lying."
Ashlyn nodded, brushing her hair across his face. "Good point. Okay, maybe it-- whatever it was --just wants to scare us into doing something stupid, or hiding and not doing anything. Or maybe it doesn't know anything about humans and really we'll just fall asleep tomorrow afternoon. Or something." She hugged him to her. "Thanks. I'm glad you thought of that."
"I'm glad you love me for my mind too." He fluttered his lashes doofily.
"Goof!" She pushed him away. "Do you ever think about anything else?"
"Hey, I'm still in shock from you calling me your boyfriend!"
She blushed. "I hadn't intended to swell your head quite so quickly."
"But you're not taking it back?" Better now than after I get even more goopy, I guess. The stomach feeling was back, though.
She grabbed him by the ears and planted a kiss on his lips that evaporated the memory of Rubbermaid's toxic, burning tongue and tripled his heart rate. His arms circled her waist, just on the soft upper curve of her hips, and she melted against him.
Her melting had exactly the opposite effect on him, of course, but before he could do anything about it she leaned back and pushed him away to break the kiss, putting a whole ten centimeters between their faces. "Will you quit doubting me now?"
He stared at her flushed face, shining eyes, and half-parted lips. "Uh." Oh. This is what Playboy models are trying to imitate. Badly. "I don't know, I think I need more convincing."
She slid her hands down to his chest and pried him off her. "No, this is the part where we act mature and responsible, because I haven't seen anyone or anything in the spirit world that I'd trust to do an abortion."
He felt like he'd explode from frustration, but he couldn't really argue; the thought of either of the two spirit worlders they'd met getting near Ashlyn's girl bits made his hands clench. "Right." He looked away to avoid staring at the way her breasts heaved beneath the flimsy cotton. "Now what?"
Her hand slid into his. "Tetsu, if you haven't figured out by now that I want you just as much as you want me, you desperately need remedial clue classes. But because you aren't an idiot, you know what a bad idea it is, even if getting excited isn't what made you black out."
He turned back to face her. "Yah, I know. I'm not mad at you." He sighed. "If I've survived this many years of sexual frustration, I guess I can last until I'm not grounded anymore and can rescue you from the convent."
"Good! I'd hate for anything to explode before I got to it!"
"Ew. But I think my question is still good. What now?"
She looked around the room. "I should probably go back to my body eventually. But first, can you stand being creeped out some more?"
"Uh. What could be creepier than having my death predicted for tomorrow afternoon?"
She flicked on the clock-radio, which produced a faint rhythmic hiss, more like waves on a beach than radio static. "I guess there's no reason spirit radio should have the same stations as real radio." She tapped the search button and the green LED numbers started flickering. They didn't stabilize, but after a moment the room filled with a rapid TAKTAKTAK. It wasn't entirely regular: some beats were louder, some softer, some doubled. The only thing he could liken it to was running a stick along a picket fence where some pickets were slightly padded and others split.
"Weird, but not immediately horrible," Ashlyn judged, and hit the button again. After a longer interval of surf, the speaker produced an unearthly groan, prolonged beyond anything humanly possible. It faded into a resonant moan in a slightly higher pitch, and then he recognized it.
"Oh! You're right." She listened to it for another few seconds, then hit the search button. "KWHL just doesn't do it for me."
"Too many ads for krill?"
Her giggle trailed off as the surf-noise resolved into strains of violin and flute, slow and far from cheerful, but not so much sad as tranquil. Music only rarely evoked images for him, but this did: a nighted forest with moon-silvered peaks of pines dancing in the wind like shining sails on a white-capped black sea. Phosphorescent fungi glowed half-seen in the depths, and animal eyes cast back flashes of red and green like darting fish. He couldn't see them yet, but he knew lost treasures were down there, jewels cut before mankind rose and gold mined from stars, and he strained his eyes for them.
"Lovely, but kind of creepy."
He snapped out of the vision with a shock of adrenaline, but he could feel it calling him back, and pulled the plug with his toes before he could see that forest again.
Ashlyn looked down at the power cord. "Too classical for you?"
"It was hypnotizing me, or something. I saw a forest at night..." The details were already fading, dream-like. A dream in a dream. I guess I should feel lucky; most people have to pay money for drugs to do this. I just have a girlfriend.
"I saw a forest too, but it was just the pictures you sometimes get from music. Nice, but not hypnotic."
"I guess I'm just extra-hypnotizeable. Probably because I'm not the one with dream powers, but even if it makes sense it still sucks."
"You're pouting again." She draped her arms around his neck. "You have powers too, you know. I had a stick to hit Rubbermaid with, and she still barely noticed."
"Yah, but you have powers to see things and travel in dreams and all kinds of cool stuff. I just get to hit things."
"It's teamwork. I get us into trouble, and you get us out!"
Just knowing that Ashlyn was trying to cheer him up cheered him up pretty well. Okay, so I have boring powers, but I do have a gorgeous girlfriend! "Okay, deal. But don't turn on the TV."
"Not a chance! TV eats people's brains even when it's only real!" She kissed his forehead and let go. "But now I think we should find some clothes and you should walk me home, in case Rubbermaid's-- no, first I should go into the other room and you should see if you can get back into your dream without me."
"I'll have to find it first. Hm." He picked up the sheet and flipped it out as high as he could over the bed, holding the edge so it spread out and settled like a parachute. Sure enough, there was a flat projection caught underneath it, right over his body's head. "Ta da!"
"See, with a brain you can use other people's powers. If you aren't back in five minutes, I'll come and get you." She closed the door behind her.
It was kind of embarrassing to crawl under a sheet with his own naked body, especially when he realized what his knee was resting on, but it was his own body, after all, and no one else was watching. It was more embarrassing to bang his head on the invisible mirror even though he knew it was there and even where it was, but he still wasn't being watched.
The attic was just as it had been; the sky outside hadn't even darkened much, though it was dark enough that the cluster of brilliant lights rising over the western horizon was clearly visible. You got a lot more detailed view of the fleet on TV, but it wasn't the same as seeing it with your own eyes. His imagination filled in all the details anyway: the ships' sleek armor shining white, boxy shuttles rising on sun-colored plumes with last-minute shipments of supplies and crew, actinic flashes of engine and weapon tests...
He wondered which of those ships Shoji was on, and what he was doing now. Maybe he was already in coldsleep, stored out of the way like a suit of armor or crate of energy cells until his skills were needed at the far end.
He was only confused for a moment, this time, before he realized that it was a this time as distinct from last time, and what was going on and why. "Uh. Sorry, Ashlyn. As soon as I got here, I forgot all about what we were doing."
"That's okay. I thought you might."
This time he had the trick of not looking at the eye-hurting window to the spirit world, and knew where his feet were going to end up.
"Okay, that worked. Um. I don't know if I have any pants you can wear; you're sort of, um, girl-shaped."
"I'll take that as a compliment, thanks. How about sweats?"
It didn't actually take much to come up with clothes that Ashlyn considered wearable when no one she knew was going to see her ("You don't count; you're going to be imagining what I look like without the clothes anyway."), and his mom's sandals fit her well enough, even if they looked kind of goofy with socks. With jeans, T-shirt, leather jacket, and Shoji's hiking boots, he felt a lot more ready to face down latex demons than he had in his underwear.
This time, they used the front door.
Tetsu couldn't see the demons, but Ashlyn assured him they were there, dogfighting around and in the black thunderheads. None of them seemed to pay the mighty demon-slayer and his girlfriend any attention, which was just fine by both of them. He did see, far away, something gleaming in the orange citylight that could have been a very pale person dangling from a cable of glass, but by the time he thought to point it out to Ashlyn, it had gone behind a tree-covered hill that he was pretty sure didn't exist in the real world.
In fact, nothing at all leapt out at them on the way to Ashlyn's, although watching out for lurking demons, rat-ghosts, phantom bikers, and indescribable whatchamacallits kept them too busy for much in the way of conversation. Tetsu wished he could see the tree-dreams, but a quick jump onto a lowlying branch proved that they were just as invisible as his own.
Ashlyn's house looked just like it usally did, other than being all blurry and dark, and nothing had crawled into her closet or under her bed. He was pretty disappointed to find out that she had fallen asleep fully dressed, but the kiss she gave him more than made up for it. Much, much more.
A demon could probably have bitten both his legs off before he noticed, on the walk home, but they missed their chance. Head still filled with incoherent sensations of curved softness and warmth, he crawled through the sheet-marked mirror and plummeted.
|<-- 9: In Bed without a Demon||Contents||11: On Dreaming Streets, Again -->|
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