Deadtown Page 2

Following the clicking, I pulled out my pistol. I’d gone forward about a dozen feet when a demon leaped in front of me, gnashing its teeth and snarling. No more evil clowns. This one was in typical demon guise: long, pointed tongue and cloven hooves, bristling with sharp things—horns, fangs, claws—and spewing bad breath. It howled—whoa, make that really bad breath—then charged. I shot. One bronze bullet from my pistol, and the thing dissolved into a murky cloud and a whiff of rotten eggs.

I scoped out the rest of the dreamscape and blasted three more Drudes back into the ether. When the InDetect didn’t pick up any more, I holstered my pistol, put my hands on my hips, and tried to remember the reboot technique. If I did it right, George would wake up demon free, with a vague memory of pleasant dreams. Tina’s trespassing, Mama’s live cremation, the trashing of his dreamscape—all of that would be gone. Overwritten. Not even a trace lingering downstairs in his subconscious.

If I did it right.

This much I remembered: to reboot somebody’s dreams, you had to use the dream portal as a conduit to import, from the real world outside, the raw materials to rebuild the ruined dreamscape. Essences, not actual objects. I didn’t want to pull in the bedroom dresser or, God forbid, Tina. Instead, I needed colors, emotions, thoughts, memories—the ingredients we all use in an infinite variety of recipes to cook up our dreams.

There was a spell to pull in those essences. A word, a phrase maybe, that summoned the raw materials of dreams. What was it? Aunt Mab made me memorize it when she taught me how to use the dream portal, but damned if I could remember it now. I tried essence in English, then in Welsh. The dream portal sat there, empty, doing nothing but sparkling in shades of white and gray in this colorless world. Raw materials—I was sure the spell had something to do with that, so I tried all the synonyms I could think of: ingredients , core, infrastructure, primary elements, source. I also tried the Welsh equivalent when I knew it. I thought I’d had it when I tried dream-stuff, but nothing happened. Nothing worked.

Beneath my feet, the ground trembled and shifted. A sigh blew through the dreamscape like a gust of wind. George was stirring. I checked my watch, then shook it. The damn thing said it was 4:37 on Wednesday, February 1, 1792. The guy who’d sold it to me said it would work in here, and, like an idiot, I’d believed him. Time has no meaning in dreams, even though it keeps ticking away relentlessly in the real world. I must’ve been in here for hours by now; George’s sleeping pill would wear off soon.

“Work, damn you!” I shouted at the portal, kicking it and causing a shower of sparks. My voice echoed, and the trembling intensified.

What was the magic phrase? I needed Aunt Mab’s help. I’d have to try calling her on the dream phone. The Cerddorion, the race of Welsh shapeshifters to which I belong, have a psychic link to others of their kind that they can use while sleeping. All you have to do is concentrate on the person you want to connect with, and you open the connection. In your dream, the air begins to swirl and shimmer with that person’s colors—all souls have their own colors—and, if they’re willing to talk to you, you can have a conversation. Sometimes it worked when you called from inside another person’s dreams. And Mab was powerful enough to answer even if she was awake.

I pictured her, a straight-backed, iron-haired woman sitting in the library of her house in North Wales. Like an out-of-focus black-and-white photo, the scene was blurred and Mab’s usually sharp features were indistinct. I concentrated harder, envisioning her baggy cardigan, her long black dress, her sensible lace-up shoes. Her face was set in its familiar, you-can-do-better scowl. I watched for her colors, blue and silver, to emerge. Nothing. Just flat, blurry gray. And then I realized—I was in a place where there were no colors.

Now what? If Mab’s colors couldn’t get through, was I cut off from Mab? I had no clue. It had never been an issue before.

Mostly because I couldn’t think of a plan B, I kept picturing my aunt. I took concentration to a whole new level, squeezing my eyes shut and scrunching up my forehead. I tried adding other senses: her sharp voice that contrasted so strangely with the softness of her accent, her scent of lavender water and mothballs. Gradually the image sharpened, like a figure emerging from the fog. Mab sat in her favorite wing chair by the fireplace, a book open on her lap.

“Mab, thank God you’re there! I need to reboot this dreamscape, now.”

Her mouth moved, but there was no sound. Damn. Bad connection. No wonder, since I was calling from someone else’s damaged dreamscape. But I didn’t have time to try again. Next time, the connection might be even worse.

She seemed to be able to hear me, so I asked, “What’s the magic word?” She smiled, closed her book, and turned it so I could read the cover. The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. Something literary. It figured.

“For heaven’s sake, Mab, I don’t have time for English class! Just tell me. Write it on a piece of paper.”

Mab tapped the side of her head, the gesture that meant, “Think, child.” Her image began to fade. The book-lined walls of the room where she sat wavered and thinned. In a moment, all that remained was the damned book, floating in the air.

I remembered when Mab had made me read that play. I hated it—the language was old and hard to understand, and the story didn’t make sense. A bunch of weird spirits and castaways running around on some island—it figured a book like that would hold the key to re-creating a dreamscape. There was something important in that play, something I needed to remember.

The ground convulsed, knocking me to my hands and knees, and a snort ricocheted around me. I was doomed. George was waking up, and Mab wanted me to read Shakespeare. Another snort, louder, knocked the book from the air. It whacked me hard on the back of the head, bounced, and landed on the ground in front of me. I sat back on my knees, rubbing my head. Jeez, if Mab could send a book through the dream phone, why couldn’t she just send herself and get me out of this mess? But that wasn’t how my aunt operated—never had been.

The book was open to a scene near the end, where the magician Prospero speaks to Ferdinand and Miranda. I scanned the words. “Our revels now are ended. These our actors,” blah blah blah. “The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,” yadda yadda yadda. I’d never find it. I kept reading, faster, skimming over the words. Suddenly, my eyes hit the brakes. A phrase glowed and lifted itself off the page. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” That was it. That was the spell. No wonder I’d felt close with dream-stuff.

“Such stuff as dreams are made on!” I shouted.

Immediately the portal expanded and a rainbow of colors poured in. Multihued streams of light shot around the dreamscape, touching things, washing them with color, bringing them to life. The portal widened further, and a strong wind entered, pushing me backward. Squinting through watering eyes, I peered into it. Dozens, hundreds of shadowy figures flew in, whirling through the dreamscape, breaking off into tornadoes that spun and leaped as far as I could see. Here and there, figures would jump out and strike a pose or sink down into the ground to wait their turn down cellar, in George’s subconscious.

The lights and colors intensified, growing so bright I had to close my eyes. Next, sounds blasted their way in: voices, clanging, music, drumbeats, screeches, whistles, wails, chirping, sobbing—you name it. When every sound you might ever hear in a dream lets loose all at once, the din is unbelievable. I pressed my hands over my ears and crouched beside the portal. Blinded, deafened, pinned down by gale-force winds, I was helpless until the reboot was complete. Don’t wake up now, George, I thought. Please don’t wake up now. This dreamscape wasn’t even such a great place to visit—I definitely did not want to live here.

The vortex of sounds, lights, and colors swirled and roared. Then, gradually, the chaos subsided, until a single sound emerged: thumpa thumpa thumpa. Fear tickled my spine. Was that George’s about-to-wake-up heartbeat? No, it was too even for that. More like some kind of drumbeat. A rhythm track. Cautiously, I lifted my hands from my ears. Music—it was music. Not the calliope melody of before, this was dance music—loud, insistent, pulsing with a heavy bass line. I opened my eyes, then blinked. Spots flashed by in random patterns. It took me a minute to realize that they came from a mirror ball rotating overhead. The circus tent was gone. I now stood on the dance floor of the tackiest seventies-style disco you could imagine—raised dance floor, mirrored walls, a light show to make you seasick.

Over at the bar, George’s mother waved to me. She raised her drink—something creamy and pink with skewers of fruit and a little umbrella stuck in the top—and smiled. She tossed the drink back in one gulp and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. Then she got up, tied on a frilly blue-and-white apron, and left.

Disco music is not my thing. I’ve got all the dance moves of a three-legged camel. But as soon as Mama was out the door, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to dance, to boogie, to get down and shake my groove thing. Thumpa thumpa thumpa. The beat was hypnotic; the bass line throbbed through my bones. I tossed back my long black hair—which was odd because my hair is short and strawberry blonde. But I forgot about that as the music swept over me in waves of sound and moved my hips for me in a sexy, swaying motion. Thumpa thumpa thumpa. I looked down in surprise, wondering where I’d learned to move like that.

Oh, God. My clothes were dissolving. My T-shirt, which for some reason was soaking wet, was already half transparent, and my bra was missing. Okay, pretty obvious what kind of dream this was shaping up to be. No wonder George’s mom had left. The dreamscape was rebooted and working just fine. A little too fine. And I was getting the hell out of here.

I ran for the portal, shouting the password, and dove into the beam.



His open eyes were the first thing I saw as the bedroom materialized around me. Maybe my abrupt exit had woken him up, but I’d made it out of his dream with maybe half a second to spare.

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