- Road Warrior & Scav :: Darwin’s World 2
- Lasers & Mutations :: Darwin’s World 2
- Art Gallery :: Darwin’s World 2
- Legends of Chaos & Blade Adapt
“Yom no ho ren gay keo, yom no ho ren gay keo, yom no ho ren gay keo…”
As the drug, Black25, takes effect, the lab, the technicians and even the incessant drone of Billy Chun’s Buddhist chanting slowly fade away.
Entering the dream state is always a pleasant and peaceful experience—a gentle transition from the physical world to that of the spirit. For me, the trip is almost instantaneous. One minute there is only the darkening haze of semiconsciousness; the next, I float beneath a roiling purple “sky” along the iridescent waters of the Periphery.
This is the crossroads of the Empyrean, land of spirit, land of dreams. Some believe this to be the true afterlife; the place where all people go when they die. As a Christian, I have my doubts on this. Still, the peace and beauty of this place is undeniable.
I drift along the spiritual waters, waiting for the others to arrive. Each wave brings snatches of the dreams emanating from the Dreamworlds below. Some are just beginning, others are nearly at an end. They range the gamut of emotions from love to hate, joy to pain. I soak them all in, reveling in the depth of the human heart and soul.
The pleasantness of the Periphery is deceiving however, and I dare not relax too much. Even here I sense the underlying, yet tangible presence of the Taenia—the evil that is slowly turning the Empyrean into a land of nightmares. They are out there. Watching. Waiting. Tainting each Dreamworld with feelings of anger, hatred and fear. They are a plague upon humanity and the sworn enemy of all Dreamwalkers. They fear us and hate us as well for we alone know how to fight them. What’s more, we help others to do the same.
I feel the approach of the rest of my team, Team Circles. I am their leader although I hardly feel deserving of the title. Still, my mentor, Jinx, believes that the best leaders are seldom those who ask to be chosen.
Linda Cobbles appears first, her spirit floating gently along the Peripheral waves. She is like me, only able to Dreamwalk with the aid of Black25, a drug especially designed by the founder of our employer, Project Dreamwalker. I grasp her hand to steady her. It is like grasping a feather. We are weak here, creatures of smoke and spirit and that makes the potential danger even greater.
Billy Chun arrives next. His spirit pulses with vitality and grace. Through intense meditation and a strict Buddhist regimen of mind and body, he has mastered the art of Dreamwalking without the use of drugs—something few could ever hope to accomplish. I envy his discipline. He is almost a part of this world and the dangers of Dreamwalking are less for him than for us.
Paul Canty is the final member of our team and as usual, the last to arrive. His spirit is ragged and unstable. It knifes through the Periphery in a herky-jerky manner that is almost repulsive to watch—a result of his own method of Dreamwalking, his addiction to psychotropic drugs. The drugs are strong, in some ways they make him more powerful than the rest of us, but he is prone to loss of control and lapses in judgment. Eventually his mind will become too unbalanced to work with the team and to be honest, for that I am glad. More than once Paul’s recklessness and penchant for violence has endangered our mission. And our lives.
Together now, we surf the ocean of dreams for our objective. Somewhere out here is the Dreamworld of Henry Geller—a forty-eight year old advertising executive who has fallen into a deep state of depression. In cases like these, more often than not, the Taenia are involved. More often than not, the source of many of life?s problems can be found within ourselves, within our dreams. More often than not, they can be fixed with the help of a Dreamwalker.
Henry Geller’s Dreamworld isn’t hard to find. Another specially designed drug, Dreamtracer, makes it stand out to us like a beacon. As one, Team Circles passes through the spiritual Barrier surrounding the Dreamworld of Henry Geller.
One never really knows what to expect upon entering a Dreamworld. The extensive psychological evaluation each patient is subjected to usually prepares us for some of the things we encounter but each Dreamer is different and therefore, so is each Dreamworld. In general, the less creative and more stable the Dreamer, the more grounded in reality the Dreamworld. Geller is a simple man with simple tastes. In all likelihood, his Dreamworld will be bounded in some type of reality.
The descent from the Periphery into the Dreamworld is instantaneous and once inside, it takes only a moment for our spirits to adjust to their new forms. This is always a moment of great anticipation. Dreamwalkers have no control over our initial manifestation and the results are sometimes. . .strange.
Not this time, though. Here, we manifest as replicas of our physical selves although our style of dress is somewhat curious. I am dressed casually in shorts, T-shirt and sandals with a necklace and bracelet of friendship beads. Linda?s pretty Latin features are accentuated by a halter top and bellbottom pants. Billy Chun maintains his customary bald head and long braid but a distinctly non-Asian leather vest and form fitting pants cling to his lithe and muscular frame. Only Paul looks somewhat normal, his lanky frame sporting a tie- dyed shirt with a peace symbol emblazoned on the front.
From the clothes, I place the time period somewhere around the 1960?s. Once the when is determined we have only to figure out the where so we take a few minutes to look around.
We are standing in a coastal amusement park, surrounded by crowds of Unreal—the spiritual inhabitants of the Dreamworld that for all intents and purposes are real, at least for the duration of the dream. The sky is gray and overcast. A city skyline looms in the distance, its shape and pattern vaguely familiar.
Unreal seagulls circle high above, filling the air with raucous caws. The taste of salt is sharp and pungent on the cool sea breeze. The sweet smells of cotton candy and popcorn just barely override the smell of rotting garbage. Calliope music dominates the park. The organ is badly out of tune and sounds as if it is missing a few pipes.
“Coney Island,” Linda says and we all look at her. “I can”t remember the name of the park.” She shrugs. “At least I think that’s what it’s supposed to be.”
I nod. It makes sense. Geller’s file stated that he grew up in New York City. Very few people who live there have never been to Coney Island at least once.
Turning back to the park I see that Geller’s depression is deep and there is a strong Taeniid presence. No drones, thankfully, but many of the Unreal park-goers have become hosts for Taeniid larvae. These particular larvae manifest as bloated, tick like insects in response to some underlying fear of the Dreamer, and have attached themselves to the backs and necks of the Unreal.
Even the Unreal who are not infested are listless and apathetic, a side effect of the overpowering presence of the Taenia. Like sheep, they shuffle along through the park. Some stop to buy moldering food from seedy looking vendors while others stand in line for a number of thrill rides and roller coasters. These rides look unstable at best—most of the paint and decorations are replaced by large, flowery blossoms of rust and the metal supports of most rides are twisted and warped. Ratchety mechanical noises precede the weary, almost programmed screams of the riders.
This is bad. All signs point to a Dreamer who is nearing the edge of sanity. Project rules are strict and unyielding when it comes to severe Taeniid infestations such as these—if things look too bad, get out. Staying risks not only the health of the Dreamer’s psyche but also our own lives. If we die in someone else’s Dreamworld, we could very well die in the real world. I understand the Project’s concerns on the matter but I am loathe to leave Geller’s dream without at least trying to help. A quick poll finds the others in agreement.
We search the park for the Dreamer. His presence is undeniable making him easy to find despite the drastic change in his appearance. Gone is the defeated, middle-aged man we met in the lab. Here, Henry Geller is still a tawny haired, freckle faced boy of eight. He stands out from the dismal crowd, bathed in a rippling aura of his own spiritual mana—a shining patch of light and color in an otherwise drab and dreary setting.
We watch him buy a cone of cotton candy from a vendor’s tray. The candy fluff is an ugly yellowish brown until it touches the Dreamer’s hand, then it turns a bright, vibrant pink. Geller tears off a piece and stuffs it into his mouth. We follow him as he wanders through the park. Like everyone else, he appears oblivious to the rot and decay around him. Here, he is just a young boy spending a happy day at Coney Island. A trail of sparkling mana streams out behind him as he walks, giving life and color to everything it touches but after he passes, it too is soon swallowed up by the pervading gloom.
“Hey Tim,” Paul says, “We ain’t gettin’ any younger.”
I nod and take a deep breath, then step forward and tap Geller on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” I say.
Slowly, reluctantly, the boy turns around. Fear is evident on his face. Little boy fears—fear of talking to strangers, fear of things that go bump in the night, and beneath it all, fear of the Taenia. This close, I can see the scared eyes of the man he has become in the real world. On a deeper level than this, he is aware of the presence of the Taenia, but unwilling to admit the truth even to himself.
“I’m here to help you,” I say. Of course he doesn’t understand but I know that he believes me. That is good. Very few untrained Dreamers have the power to resist a Dreamwalker but it is always easier when they willingly accept your presence and aid.
I gently take the boy’s hand. He looks up at me with trusting eyes. “I promise this won’t hurt you,” I say. The boy nods.
I call upon my spiritual energy, my mana, and will myself to Join with Henry Geller ignoring the way Paul impatiently clears his throat. He thinks I am being theatrical. I am not. It is true, I could have Joined with the boy without making my presence known but I find it best not to upset the Dreamer whenever possible.
To those watching, the Joining takes less than a heartbeat; to me it feels much longer. My spirit ebbs and flows, becoming one with that of the Dreamer. This is a spiritual moment for both of us—a period of great enlightenment and understanding. For a very brief time, our thoughts and memories mingle together. In effect, I am now Henry Geller and this is Coney Island as he remembers it, in the year 1966.
Looking through the Dreamer’s eyes, I see the park as it is supposed to be, bright and vibrant, with no sign of the Taenia. The air is thick with music, laughter and excitement. The Unreal are happy and alive.
I stare stupidly at the cone of cotton candy in my hand. The sweet candy smell is almost overwhelming. I tear off a piece of fluff and put it on my tongue, reveling in its taste as it dissolves in a screaming burst of sugar.
Billy Chun clears his throat bringing me back to the present. I open my eyes to find the others staring at me with a mixture of envy and amusement.
“Sorry,” I say somewhat sheepishly. “I’m in.”
The others nod their understanding. The sensory laden world of the Dreamer is a difficult lure to resist. At one time or another, every Dreamwalker must fight the temptation to just sit back and enjoy the natural course of someone else’s dream. Still, we are here for a reason. I shift perceptions back to my own and once again see the decaying park for what it truly is.
“Nice duds,” Paul snorts. Linda giggles in response and even the normally stoic Billy offers up the ghost of a smile. I look down and can see the outline of the boy superimposed over my own form. I smile. The strange sight goes unnoticed by the passing Unreal—they still see the illusion of the boy. Only other Dreamwalkers—and the Taenia—can see the truth of what lies beneath.
“So, what are we supposed to do?” Linda asks.
That’s the heart of the matter. Despite what some people say, dreams are rarely just random occurrences—almost every single one has some sort of purpose or goal that the Dreamer desires to complete. We call these dream goals denouements. Denouements can be almost anything, from the fantastic to the mundane. Whatever it is, our job is to help the Dreamer complete it. Only after his mind is thus occupied do Dreamwalkers dare to assault the Taeniid infestation head on.
In the case of Henry Geller, the dream’s denouement is obvious. “The Ferris wheel,” I say, and we all turn to look at it. The Wonder Wheel, so named by the large gaudy red letters at its hub, dominates this section of the park. It is a monstrous, rusting structure well over a hundred feet tall. As a boy, Henry Geller had wanted very much to ride it but had been too afraid to do so. This dream’s denouement involves rectifying that lost opportunity. I explain the situation to the others.
“Sounds easy enough,” Paul says. I only hope he is right.
“Any sign of trouble?” I ask.
Billy shakes his head. “No drones yet, but they could just be waiting to strike.”
“The ride operator’s infested,” Linda says, indicating the thin, mustached man in the ridiculous striped suit and matching top hat.
“Got him,” I reply, having already noticed the tick like larva latched onto his back. Larvae are little more than a nuisance to Dreamwalkers—they usually avoid us if at all possible. They are cowardly creatures who would rather run than fight and are only dangerous when cornered or in great numbers.
“Spread out and mingle. Keep your eyes peeled. I’ll see if I can get this done.”
I/Geller walk up to the Ferris wheel and get in the queue line, keeping an eye on the operator who for now seems unaware of my presence. The rest of Team Circles disappear into the crowd. They will keep watch and remain close by until I am finished with the Dreamer. Or until there is any sign of trouble.
More out of boredom than necessity, I do a quick scan of my/Geller’s memories and discover the origin of the tick phobia. When Geller was five he spent the weekend with his grandparents upstate. After a long day in the woods, he returned home that night with several ticks latched onto his body. Despite his protests and tears, his parents burned the ticks off with a hot needle. He has been terrified of ticks ever since.
The Wonder Wheel fills up twice before I/Geller finally get to the gate. As the riders exit the bucket, the larval operator grins at me through a jagged mass of teeth.
“Sorry kid,” he says. “Ride”s broken. It’ll be running again in about an hour.”
A wave of disappointment and defeat spirals up from Geller’s subconscious mind, forcing me to fight down the feeling. Just in time. The ride operator takes an awkward swing at me/Geller with a rusty crowbar. I duck easily and reach for him but he turns his assault towards the ride operating device, giving the mechanism a few good whacks before I can stop him. Sparks fly up from the damaged controls. I shield my face from the flash and smoke.
“Now! Get him now!” the larval operator yells, then turns and runs, dropping the crowbar onto the platform with a clang. I curse, jump the gate and snatch up the weapon.
Shouts and screams erupt from the crowd of Unreal as half a dozen Taeniid drones clatter out of the shadows. Each manifests as a hideous crossbreed of man and tick— strikingly similar to their natural form. The drones clamber over buildings and through gaming stalls, killing any Unreal in their path as they converge on the Ferris wheel. On me.
Shouts. Screams. Chaos. The Unreal panic and stampede towards the exits. Those that fall are trampled beneath the press.
I call upon my mana, Reshaping the crowbar into a sword. A gun would probably be safer and more effective but complex devices are more difficult and draining to manufacture. Once again I call upon mana, this time honing my reflexes and fighting ability until I have the speed of an athlete and the skill of an expert swordsman, at least for the duration of this dream. Then, I sit back on the ride platform and wait for the drones to come.
Billy Chun leaps onto the platform beside me. He has picked up a wooden board and he too uses mana to Reshape, turning the wood into a long, slender staff. Unlike me, Billy needs no mana to bolster his fighting ability—he is an accomplished martial artist in the real world. What’s more his mystical mana Talent turns him into a whirlwind of destruction. He gives the staff an expert twirl and braces himself to meet the charging drones.
The first of the drones reaches the Ferris wheel platform and clambers over the railing with snapping claws. I dodge its deadly assault and strike out with my blade. The sword shatters through the creature?s carapace and penetrates deep into the soft tissues beneath. The drone dies with a ragged hiss and collapses into a pile. A second drone scrambles over the railing, forcing me to give ground as I parry its attacks.
Billy wades into the battle moving faster than the eye can follow. He becomes a furious blur, leaping, dodging and lashing out with deadly effect. In seconds, two more drones lie broken, battered and dead on the platform.
Just then, something small and hard slams into the back of my skull. A burst of white light scatters my vision. Dazed, I drop my sword, staggering away from the advancing drone and clutching at my bloody scalp. The larval ride operator grins at me from a safe distance away, already hefting another rock to throw. I stumble and fall to one knee.
The tick-drone clambers eagerly towards me. Then gunfire erupts and its head disappears in a cloud of black ichor. The creature collapses heavily on top of me and I have the momentary satisfaction of seeing surprise on the ride operator’s face before several bullets slam into his chest, knocking him from my view.
Not surprisingly, Linda and Paul are the source of the gunfire. Each has Possessed a park police officer, their forms superimposed over the Unreal?s much like mine is over that of the Dreamer. They continue to fire at the remaining drones. The noise is almost deafening. Linda’s face is a mask of concentration as she aims and fires. Paul wears an expression of pure glee. His gun is the same size as Linda’s, but boosted by his drug tainted mana, it sounds more like a cannon. The bullets it releases have much the same effect.
The tick-drones squeal in pain as his slugs rip through them steadily dissolving their bodies into a mass of shattered carapaces, dark meat and black ichor. So much violence is not only terrible, but also dangerous before the dream’s denouement has been achieved.
As I extricate myself from beneath the drone’s bulk, I feel the Dreamer’s fear as he struggles to end the dream. The Dreamworld ripples. If he awakens we will all be in danger. With a pulse of my own mana, I help him to calm down.
The battle is over in seconds. With a shot and a final squeal the last drone collapses into a steaming putrid mass.
“Goddamn!” Paul says. His eyes are wide with excitement. “Did you see that! Just like Bonnie and Clyde! Goddamn!”
Linda turns on him unexpectedly. “What the hell are you doing! You can’t just kill like that, Paul! Not before the goal is complete.”
“What?” He says, his face darkening into a frown. “Lighten up. Those scumbags had to die anyway and the sooner we waste them the better, right? Right? Now we can get this part over with and get on to the Queen!”
His logic is flawed. He views the battle with the Queen as the ultimate goal but there is so much more to what we do. I would like to argue but right now my head hurts too bad. My mana flows over me, Healing the wound and instantly making me feel better.
Meanwhile Linda and Billy exchange worried looks. Neither are pleased that Paul is still on the team. When we get back to the lab I am going to request he take some time off. Perhaps permanently.
But now is not the time. We have to move fast. The Unreal have fled for the moment and there were none in sight, but the police will be here soon.
“We have a problem,” I say.
“What is it?” Billy asks.
I show them. The damage to the ride mechanism looks bad. It can be fixed with mana but since it is both a mechanical and electronic device, the cost will be great. We still have to be strong enough to find and kill the Taeniid Queen.
Linda kneels down to take a look at the device. She is better with mechanical things than any of us. She closes her eyes and focuses her mana, manifesting the desired repair skill in much the same way I bolstered my combat ability.
“There,” she says, opening her eyes. “I can fix it, but it would be easier if I had the right tools.”
“Give me a minute,” Billy says and trots off into the park.
“I’ll stand guard,” Paul says, twirling his pistol like an old west gunslinger. Linda frowns but I shake my head. Now is not the time.
“Don’t shoot anyone if you don’t have to,” she says anyway which only irritates him even more. She’s right though. It is hard enough to keep the Dreamer asleep as it is. More random death and destruction is a sure way to awaken him.
We wait. For now, there is little fear of the Taenia, any remaining drones are scuttling back to protect their Queen, but in many ways, the Dreamworld is similar to the real world. The battle has caused quite a stir and Unreal policemen will soon be on hand to investigate. While they represent very little danger to us, once again, the danger to the Dreamer’s psyche is more important.
In the distance, we hear the wail of police sirens.
Billy returns having Possessed a park maintenance man. A tool belt and a ring of about a thousand keys dangle from his waist. Linda takes the tools, opens the ride panel and sets to work. In minutes, the ride is operational again. Linda works the controls as I/Geller climb into one of the buckets. Geller’s emotions are a tangled mixture of fear and excitement.
I gently disengage my spirit from his and reform on the seat facing him. He blinks as if awakening from a dream.
“Have a nice trip,” I say, getting up.
“You’re not going to ride with me?”
I shake my head and rest a comforting hand on his shoulder. “No. There are some things you need to do by yourself.”
He nods and I know that some part of him, the adult part of Henry Geller, understands. I climb out of the bucket and close the door, then stand and watch with the others.
Linda presses the operating button. Like some great dinosaur, the ride begins to move. We watch the bucket slowly go up, crest the top, then come back down again. Although the boy inside maintains a white knuckled grip on the safety rails the entire time, his mouth is open in a wide grin and his expression is that of pure joy.
On the second time up, the bucket begins to glow with an iridescent light. We watch as the light spreads outward from the bucket, bathing us in a wash of pure spirit mana. Its touch revitalizes us, restoring some of the precious mana we had used. It melts away the park’s decay and brings color back to Henry Geller’s Dreamworld. The remains of the Taeniid drones sizzle and dissolve under its glare. The light spreads out from the wheel and continues on to envelope the entire amusement park in its shimmering glow. The wail of police sirens dies away and the Unreal begin to return to the park in droves as if nothing untoward had happened.
Somewhere, deep in Henry Geller’s Dreamworld, the monstrous Queen of the Taenia vents her fury. She senses our presence, and our victory, and she is afraid. If we can find her while the Dreamer’s mind is thus occupied, before the dream ends, we can destroy her. Only then can Henry Geller begin the long process of repairing his psyche from the damage done by the Taenia.
For now, we watch Henry Geller revel in the fulfillment of his childhood dream. It is a small victory in the grand scheme of things but that doesn’t make it any less important.
After a while, it is time for us to go. Time for the real work to begin.
- Visit the Dreamwalker website.
- Help support small companies and buy Dreamwalker.