Back to the Grindstone and Ash and Dust Part 7

July 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hello hello hello.

First, the Blue Line really is awesome. For those of you not lucky enough to live in Toronto (shame), the Blue Line is the bus that runs after the subway closes down. It was the only thing that got me home last night. Plus, as a bonus, there was only one homeless guy on it! But he was sleepy, and I never begrudge those who are tired. I wished it could have been a bit faster, but I also wish I had a portal gun. Win some, lose some.

Second, the decision has been made! What decision? Why, the next story of course! I will base it off of a particular decision from Mass Effect 2 (spoilers), and I quite like how the story is shaping up in my head. I did most of the plotting, but as any good author should tell you, that is by far the easiest part. I’ll see about getting it up for the next week, but that’s a maybe. I want to put it up as a one-shot, and it feels that way, but I also like to write long, run-on stories that keep going places and never quite get to their location in a desperate bid to be humorous so that people on the internet will like me. So I think it might be longer than I’ll do in a week. Yeah.

Third,  have some more story! I know you people love it.

Oh, and I got a huge amount of hits when I mentioned contest in the title. I should do that more often, methinks? Maybe actually write some more too. But seriously, psh. Like that will help.

(And a final “oh”. Listen to this while you read, if you can. It was playing in my head the entire time. And for further reading on the monkey number, check this out. It’s hilarious and thought-provoking. Yes, it inspired certain parts of this chapter. No, it’s not stealing. He inspired me. Just like I inspired True Grit last night.)

Chapter 7: Dream a Little Dream of Me

I lay on my back in the beach chair and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my battered body. Little bruises covered me from head to toe, relics from fighting off the Hor-ghast and the less-than-enjoyable trip through the forest, but the sounds of the nearby surf wiped away the pain. Gulls screamed in the air, lazily flapping their wings against the breeze before getting lost in the clouds. Sand sang as it blew across the beach, gently caressing the dunes but not getting stuck on me. It was just the right kind of hot; blood-warm and inviting. The pure blue water rushed in and out, soothing in its monotony. It was a perfect day at the beach.

The beach chair I sat in was an aged relic from before VHS. Smiling monogrammed crabs crawled back and forth across a blue field, while happy waves lapped the sides of the arm rests. It creaked as I adjusted and threatened to fall apart if I moved too quickly, but I didn’t mind. It reminded me of something from my youth, and it fit like a glove. The sun, sound, and comfort washed away the lingering pain in my body and finally, finally, I was content. A small pan, tucked out of the way beneath the chair, caught any oil that dripped from my mouth while I dozed.

“Beautiful weather today, isn’t it?”

I opened my eyes and lifted a hand to cover the glare from the sun. Wisdom sat in a chair that had suddenly appeared beside me, his turtle flesh shining in the sun. He still had his staff, currently propped up against the seat, and his beads, one nearly submerged in the margarita he held, but was dressed in a bright red Hawaiian shirt. Embroidered palm trees swayed while my crabs trundled through stitched oceans.

“Hi, Donatello. What brings you here?”

“You, again. Mortal.”

I arched an eyebrow at him. “I suppose I deserved that, Wisdom.”

“You did.” Wisdom sipped his drink. “Ryan.” He pried out the word like it was a healthy tooth.

I settled back into the chair, covering my face with a hat conveniently forgotten on the table. “So, what’s new? Try not to make it too sad, I’m enjoying myself right now.” The surf pounded on, refreshingly reassuring. A gull screamed, but not too loudly. “It’s a hell of a lot nicer than being in Memnos, I’ll tell you that.”

“Enjoy yourself? Stars and Sun Ryan, I’m planning a bit of that myself. Memnos is a dank, dark place, in the end. I’m a sea turtle, man. I live for the surf. Pass the nuts.” He popped one into his beak and merrily crunched. I stopped for a second and wondered when turtles got teeth. “But I suppose Chronos doesn’t wait on us.” He sighed, but snuck another cashew in. That almost pissed me off enough to upset my careful relaxation. I hated brazil nuts, and there were 4 big ones just sitting in the bowl staring back at me. Wisdom had deliberately eaten around them. Bastard.

“You’re dreaming, Ryan.”

“Check.” I’d figured that out awhile ago. “Something about all the impossible worlds and monsters tipped me off.” The Hor-ghast crawled through the sand in front of us wearing a straw hat and another Hawaiian shirt. Green, this time. I waved. It waved back. I let loose a contented sigh. At least here, where nothing makes sense, things are starting to feel right again.

“That’s cute, but not what I mean. The whole thing with the Hor-ghasts and the kerfuffle with Despair? That’s real. Well, as real as real gets here. If that Hor-ghast remembers what it is and takes a bite out of you, you’re going to feel it for a long time.”

I grunted, enlightened in my serenity.

“But this, here and now, this is a dream and it’s bad for you.”

“Bad for me? Getting choked by mud versions of my dead children is bad for me. Believing that I haven’t just been dreaming this whole time? That’s also bad for me. Sitting in the sun where nothing’s trying to kill me? That’s pretty sweet, judging by the circumstances.” I rolled over, my sun-screened body slick on the chair. “I’ve got it figured out, see? I’m dreaming. I’ve been dreaming this whole time, and if I just wait it out I’ll wake up.” I snapped my fingers and giggled. “Man, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Why do it in the forest and that damn desert, when I can just do it here and enjoy myself? Pass the margarita.” I downed most of it in a go. That was for the cashew!

Wisdom shrugged and pulled a blunt from inside his shell. He lit it up (I didn’t see a lighter), puffed, and rolled the smoke around his mouth like it was wine. Finally he breathed out a stream in a contented sigh. “Wisdom.” He moaned.

“Exactly!” I said. “I’m just going to let the sun in, let the good times roll, and when everything’s over, I’ll wake up and…” I stopped, confused. I knew that I woke up in the morning. That it was something that someone does after sleeping. You sleep and then you wake up. I knew that and it was known by others. But beyond that, I could see nothing. I knew that more things should come, that waking up was followed by other events and circumstances, but had no idea what those things could possibly be. It bothered me, but I had to ignore it. Wisdom puffed again, still silent, and handed it over to me. I gratefully joined him.

“Whatever. I’ll wake up, and everything will be alright. Dreams go away eventually.”

Wisdom laughed out loud and slapped his knee with his flipper. “Dreams go away! Oh Ryan,” he shook his head, “dreams are all you mortals have! You people run, run mind you, through life doing more than your brains can handle. You need dreams like I need a lay right now. Do you know what your dorsolateral perfrontal cortex does?”

I shook my head, amused from the weed and sun.

“Your anterior cingulated cortex?”

“Still no, doctor.”

“Ahhh, but it’s fun to pick on mortals. They think they know so much, but they don’t even know why they know what they know. Those are pieces of your brain, Ryan. They filter out unimportant sounds, saving you brain power, which in turn allows you to concentrate on the important things around you, like not dying.” He reached over and tapped me on the forehead with a pointed flipper. I wondered how he held the margarita. “Your own brain can’t handle all the sounds around you and instead filters out what it thinks is unimportant. There are sounds around you, right now, that you can hear with your ear. The wind in the grass, the sigh of the sand in the breeze. This things are real, and your eardrum is vibrating wildly, trying desperately to tell the brain that somethings there. But your big, important brain says “Nope!”, and you get nothing. Your brain is telling you what it thinks you want to hear. It’s like it trying to talk to you, like it’s not fully yours. The brain’s scary sometimes. It’s not hearing the world around you, man. It’s creating it. It’s fucking Heisenberg all over again, man. Do you hear the world around you, or is the world only what you hear?”

I giggled again. “Wisdom, what the hell are you talking about?” The Hor-ghast had reached the second storey of his castle.

Wisdom started giggling along with me and needed a minute to calm down. “Dude, dude, dude. Ok, so, this is it, ok? Your brain fucking just, like, picks and chooses what it wants to interpret from the outside world. A lot of it is primal shit, like, whether there’s a lion in the grass or if that lady caveman has big hips, but it goes deeper, dude. Like,” Wisdom paused to hit the blunt, then exhaled through his little turtle nostrils, “the monkey number!”

I actually fell out of my chair laughing at that. I wasn’t a big pothead, as being a police officer was a good reason not to be unprofessionally associated with narcotics, but I had enjoyed in the past. This stuff was hitting me like a bag full of hammers, and I liked it.

Wisdom was rocking back and forth on his shell, his legs flailing uselessly as he struggled to breathe. “No man, calm down! I’m serious! You’re descended from monkeys, so that’s why it’s the monkey number. And get this, get this, get this man.” He leaned in, whispering conspiratorially, “You can only keep track of a certain amount of people, right? So you’ve got your kids, your wife…”

“That word again!” I was calming down a little. Wisdom’s words were sinking in despite the heat and the weed. The Hor-ghast had found a daisy somewhere on the fourth storey of his castle and had threaded it into his hair. I frowned. Since when did it have blond hair?

“Shut up dude! You have a certain number of people you care about because that’s as many people as you can imagine. You just can’t think of people as people beyond that number! Your brain isn’t built to handle any more people, so you just tune them out, like the sound of the waves and your breathing. By the way, you’re now thinking about your breathing and you can’t stop it.” He started howling with laughter.

“Ok, whatever, Wisdom.” I snorted, trying to make my breathing regular again. I also saw my nose in my peripheral vision and it was starting to annoy me. “So what the hell does this have to do with dreams?” I asked, a little confused and giving most of my attention to the Hor-ghast. It was really high up now, and looked like a blond woman wearing a red sun dress. It still had a daisy in its hair.

“You’re always living in one, idiot!” Wisdom chortled but controlled himself, his turtle face trying to be serious. “Every minute you’re awake, you’re only taking it part of the world around you, and your brain can only handle a piece of that. So you mortals take that piece and spin it out to huge lengths to explain stuff you can’t see and understand. That’s how came around. You can’t see the depths of the Earth, so of course a volcano is some god barfing up his sacrifice. Do you know how big the world is? No, because you physically can’t know. If you could walk every step of the world you still wouldn’t know because beyond the last bit, memory would smooth it into one big smear. The world’s only as big as you can see, hear, smell, and touch. When your ancestors crossed the sea on wooden boats, they knew exactly how damn big the ocean was because they were there, man. They felt it in the air, their fingers, their food. It was real to them so they made it real inside. Now, if you fly across the world, you step inside a metal tube and a few hours later you’re somewhere else. Hell man, maybe they’re tricking you, and China is like, 2 hours away by bus, but you’ve never been there so they really do just stick you in a tube and pretend you flew across the ocean. And they grope your nuts for nothing!” We shared a giggle. Wisdom sighed, long and wistful. “Dreams, man, that’s how mortals see the world. Just a bunch of dreams.’

“So they don’t end, man. They never do. And you’re sitting back here, relaxing like it’s just a day at the beach. It isn’t, dude. What you dream matters. What you dream you are, you actually are, if only a little bit. And mortals need their dreams to be real to them, so they make their reality their dreams. And this is big shit, man. It’s what separates a killer from a kid. Not capability, or understanding, or desire. Just their dreams and what they thought they saw in the world around them. A serial killer, unless his brain is broken, isn’t that different from you right now. You’re both just living the dream.”

My eyes followed the Hor-ghast up the tower, still trying to figure out why it looked like a beautiful woman instead of the monster I knew it to be. I also wondered, though far more idly, why the sand castle suddenly looked like the Toronto-Dominion Bank tower. It had gotten really, really high.

“What does this mean for me, Wisdom? Even if I’m dreaming all the time, I’m still awake at some point. At some point I’m back in that world, even if I’m only taking a part of it in.”

“Just like you only take a part of this world in, Ryan.” Wisdom’s voice had changed back to it’s familiar, gravelly tones. He didn’t sound high anymore. “Mortals live between the dream world and the physical world. You have a piece of yourself in both places, and you can work on both planes. I can’t cross over and walk around the actual beach at Whitesands, which coincidentally, is this place that you’re imagining, like you can. And like Nunc said, normally you can’t cross over here as much as you did.”

“Lucky me, eh?” I smiled, and lay back to look at the sun. There was a bug or something buzzing around me, and it kept growing and blocking out the sun. I tried to swat it away as I asked, “So Wisdom, what the hell are you doing here then? Trying to give me a philosophy lesson?”

“No,” he said, the bones on his staff jangling in the breeze, “I’m trying to wake you up.”

I started screaming as I made out the shape of the woman falling towards me from fifty storeys up.  

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