Tuesday, 21 May 2019, Afternoon
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

Within the dream, time had a way of blurring whenever the conversation with Bast lulled. However much time passed, my muscles didn’t grow tired, and my feet didn’t get sore. I desperately wanted to ask my mysterious dance partner a thousand questions about who he was and how he knew so much about this place, and I was running out of casual comic book material, so I asked.

“You called this Slumberland, and you mentioned that there are people who get lost here,” I said. “So, this isn’t, like, a lone dream conjured up by a single mind? Are all dreams interconnected?”

“Slumberland, Dreamworld, the Sleeping, the Astral plane, there are a lot of things that people call it,” Bast said. “Your unconscious mind, when you’re sleeping, dreams. The vast majority of those dreams stay inside of you, but there’s also this place, born from dreams resonating across time and space.”

He glanced over his shoulder, and his companion sighed and stepped closer for a moment.

“Over the millennia of human dreaming, my home has taken on a life of its own. If you think of each sleeping human as a passenger on a ship built of their own dreams, passing across a sea, that might be the easiest way to explain it. Many would never realize they are on a ship, let alone on a sea. They don’t have a reason to look farther than their own hulls. Dreamers who are more aware may actively choose to moor their ships together and create shared dreamscapes. And then there are those of us who are born within dreams. Fancies, nightmares, thought-forms that have taken on a life of our own.”

“And there are ghost ships, apparently,” I noted, trying my best not to shift my attention toward the ghosts in question or draw their attention toward me.

“Sometimes you’ll have other incorporeal beings who slip in like rats on ships and take up residency, invasive species that they are,” Bast added. “And… the Lost.”

“Some people who are in comas,” I guessed. “They got separated from their dream ship and couldn’t find the way back?”

“Exactly,” Bast confirmed. “Not all comas involve lost dreamers, but when a coma patient has every reason to wake up and still hasn’t, there’s a chance they need some help to find their way back home.”

Clara drew back from us again, a little further than she’d been before.

“So, Clara’s from here, but you’re not. You’re lost. She’s not actually your sister.”

“More like my mentor,” Bast confirmed. “Not lost, though. I know exactly where I’ve left my ship.

This is going to make me sound full of myself, but I’ve got this destiny on my shoulders. A guardianship over this place. Powers that allow me to cross easily between people’s dreams, control dreamscapes, and shape them to my will. I’m supposed to protect, well, all of humanity when you’re sleeping.”

“That sounds like a lot for one person to carry,” I said. “I’ve met at least two other people who have destinies. One to slay a specific demon, one to protect my hometown. Nothing as heavy as all of humanity’s unconscious minds.”

Bast laughed, relief in the pleasant tumble the of sound. “You believe me? I barely even believe it most days. Nights. Whatever time is when you don’t have the sun as a reference point anymore.”

“I can tell, for sure, you’re keeping me safe when you’re putting yourself at risk. Trust but verify, but also between you and the, ah, Wymans—” I jerked my head vaguely toward the Paxwood Ladies, still gathered around the empty throne. “—I think I’ll take my chances with you.”

“When you wake up, and you will wake up, do all the fact checking you want,” Bast said. “I honestly don’t know how you fact check anything about Slumberland.”

Clara was suddenly back at our side, a grim look on her face. “He’s coming. Now. You aren’t ready. You need to leave.”

“But…” Bast shook his head, holding me a little closer to him.

“We can take her with us and risk her joining the Lost,” Clara proposed.

“Would you stay with her? Can you blend in and slip out when she’s awake?” Bast asked.

Clara tensed.

Damsel in distress that I apparently was, I still didn’t want them talking over me. “If it is dangerous for you two to stay, arm me with any knowledge you can, then get going. Both of you. Together.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Clara said, looking at me. “The spirits have brought you here as a sacrifice to their demon master, and the demon is coming. In a best-case scenario, he may lock you within your own mind as he occupies your flesh and uses your face to destroy everything you love. If you come with us now, he will have no way of inhabiting your body because you won’t be present to provide a tether.”

“But I might not make it back to my body, either.” I’d gotten myself into this mess. I had to get myself out of it, if I could.

Faintly, somewhere distant, I heard shouting. With a glance away from my dance partner, I verified that no one in the ballroom was making a ruckus like this.

“I think I hear someone in the waking world?”

Bast uttered a curse word that, in tone, was more of an expression of relief. “You’ve had some bad luck, but hopefully someone’s looking out for you. Especially if you know two other people with callings like mine. Throw your mind, your focus, your concentration toward that sound. Whatever you’re hearing, let it snap you awake.”

“And you get out of here, so we can meet in my dreams again,” I said, pulling free from his arms.

Bast reached for Clara’s hand, and both vanished in the blink of an eye. The ballroom music grew louder. There was a knock at the door.

But, no, that knock was in the dream. What was I actually hearing?

“Hey, hey, get away from her. Come on, you mongrel. Look at me.”

A deep-throated dog growl, serious.

“That’s right. That’s right. Over here.”

Familiar. Masculine speaker with an overly demanding tone. I knew him.

The band played a fanfare.

The dog snarled in attack.

“Welcome, Outcast Emperor, our treasured guest.”

No, that was the dream.

The voice I needed to focus on was…

“Adrien?” the name came out over my sleep-leaden tongue, heavy and slow.

Now, the music was gone, only the snarling and shouting of a dog and a man entangled in combat.

My hands tingling with pins and needles, I brushed the thick crust from my eyes and blinked myself into this moment.

Officer Adrien Morgan, bane of my existence, struggled on the cement floor with a large black dog, its jaws latched tightly onto his leg. As I sat up, my damp shirt rested against my skin. I touched the dampness on my upper right shoulder, and my hand came back with blood.

Pain snapped bright, firing from my nerves to my conscious mind. I didn’t so much scream as take sharp, gasping breaths.

Had something bitten me?

The dog?

Where was I?

I scrambled to my feet, using a door frame as leverage, then stepped toward Adrien and the dog he was fighting with.

“Get out of here, you idiot!” Adrien shouted at me, thrusting one arm in a pointing gesture. “Run!”

The dog.

The same dog that had emerged from the Paxwood House cellar and chased Charlotte.

Adrien was pointing me toward the cellar staircase, up and away from this cold cellar. Before I got more than five steps toward it, though, two things happened.

When I was clear of the doorway I’d used to get on my feet, the door snapped shut with a heavy slam.

Then Anholts and Hugh came running down the stairs. Hugh leveled a pistol at Adrien and fired.

No, not a pistol. Pistols didn’t make that pfft sound. Unless that was what a silencer sounded like?

Adrien didn’t scream like he’d been shot, but there was a feathered tranquilizer dart sticking out of the dog’s neck. The dog whimpered as it drew back, stumbled, and collapsed. Whatever was in that dart worked incredibly fast.

Even with Adrien’s blood turning its teeth red, the black dog, now asleep, looked almost ordinary. Emaciated, its ribs showing, but its black fur was sleek. One ear bore a notch, a telltale sign of conflict. I wanted to reach out and pet the dog. Reassure it. Glean some part of its story through the contact.

Anholts was talking, but not to me. “Injured officer, Adrien Morgan. Yes, animal control and an ambulance, please. The animal is unconscious. I’ll check on him now, yes.”

Phone pressed against her ear, she kneeled by Adrien’s side.

Hugh brushed past me, went to the dog, and plucked the dart out, sticking it into his back pocket. He had already stashed his tranquilizer gun away somewhere. I took a meaningful step away from the vampire lawyer, avoiding any chance he might touch or try to influence me.

From there, the scene unfolded in an odd parallel to Char’s injury at Paxwood House. This time, though, Adrien was in the ambulance, and animal control took the dog away. The paramedics bandaged my shoulder but decided the bite was too shallow to merit my own ambulance ride. When I checked my phone, I saw it was late afternoon. I’d been asleep in the house for hours.

I thought I might have to explain what I was doing there, but to my surprise, Anholts folded me into her explanation. She’d invited me to tour the house with her and Mr. Hugh because of my journalistic curiosity about the Paxwood House.

She smiled to me conspiratorially, but that smile didn’t hit me right. Some people used that kind of smile like a baited hook to catch and control the people around them. I shied away from the barb, excusing myself from the property as soon as I could.

I noticed three messages on my phone before I got onto my bike to ride away.

One message was from my mother: Why am I getting absence calls from the school? Where are you, Kerry?

Much as I hated Anholts’ little lie, I used it to my advantage in my reply and apologized, claiming my phone battery had died, so I couldn’t give her a head’s up.

One was from Mx. Cardoso: Are you all right?

I didn’t know how to respond to that one. Honestly, I wasn’t, but did I want another lecture about how dangerous Paxwood House was? He might have answers about Bast and the Slumberland where I’d spent the day dancing away, though.

The third was from Sly: Did you go? What happened?

I replied: Are you at work?

Sly: Come on over.

Instead of heading home, I made my way to Tristan’s Antiques to catch Sly up on my strange day.

22: How Many Heroes Does It Take…

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