“How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”
Deborah Holcroft rolled onto her back and stared at the Journey poster on the ceiling over her bed. She smiled to think of Andy calling them bubblegum even though he had admitted to her once that they were a guilty pleasure. She hadn’t stopped thinking about him since that thing with Steve St. Pierre on the bus.
She worried she had gone too far: that she had sent a signal about how she felt that she couldn’t take back. He had been her best friend for as long as they could remember, but lately (and very much to the dismay of Lori and Tracy) something had awakened in her. Andy Crowley had become her everything and she couldn’t help but suspect he felt the same way about her.
She couldn’t even bring herself to go to Club Cedars tonight. Her friends had nearly lost their minds about that. Cranked to eleven over a rumour that Nick Morrison had said he might be there, they had begged her to go. She smiled to think of their disappointment. She knew he wouldn’t be there. It was D&D night at the Grayson brothers’.
Her girlfriends’ obsession with Nick Morrison grated on her. She often wondered if they only hung out with her because she lived two doors down from him.
Deb had known Nick as long as she had known Andy. The three of them were like family.
It traumatized Deb’s friends that she did not worship at the altar of glorious Nick Morrison with them. The only thing more ghastly to them than this were the rare moments when she hinted to them that she found Andy Crowley interesting.
She rolled over and closed her eyes. Conjuring Andy’s strange, different-coloured eyes, she searched them for even a glimpse of the mystery and marvel they had seen where others could see only the plain, everyday world. She tried to summon the charge to her heart she always felt on those occasions when he had gathered her hand in his to lead her to something outrageous she would never have thought to look for herself. She wondered if he only ever let his guard down for her and the corners of her mouth curled up into the relaxed smile of the face freed from being the mask held for others. Her eyes smiled along with her mouth and fell shut. The amethyst calm came upon her then. Her consciousness let go.
Then, in the starry amethyst expanse most think is merely the back of their eyelids, she was falling, slowly and peacefully, with no prospect of ever hitting the ground. After she had been falling for so long she wasn’t sure she was falling at all, there was the feeling of just hovering. Nebulae of purples and blues were all about her. Stars of every colour were everywhere. She had a flash of insight that she was a star too – a green one. And then she saw the Baku Gate.
To the fading consciousness that was Deborah Holcroft, the gate could have been miles high – or was it microns? She had no way of really knowing for she had no frame of reference here in the dream realm. Indeed she had no idea how large or small she would be when she would take on her other form.
She let herself drift toward the gate.
It consisted of two enormous columns, both in the form of the Baku, the eater of nightmares. The Baku had the head of an Asian elephant, save for the large, kind and gentle eyes of a cow. Its body was that of a powerful tiger. The enormous Baku columns were carved from what looked like the stuff of the moon – a luminous green-grey stone pitted and scarred with what must have been years stretching back through unknowable depths into an eternal past. At the feet of the Baku there were billions upon billions, of flowers, trees, mushrooms, and all manner of plants carved into the same stone. Above their heads, in the subtly sloping arch of the crosspiece, there were birds, butterflies, pegasi, bats, dragons, and all manner of flying beasts, uncountable in their numbers.
Just as she had done so many times before, she floated through the gate, which also floated in the void. At its threshold, the feeling of having a body gradually returned, and though she did not know it, for she had forgotten by this point that she was Deb Holcroft in her waking life in another place, this body was not at all like the one she had left sleeping in her bed in Corbyville.
First, she saw the leather boots and intricately engraved metal grieves of her legs. They were tinged with a fuschia coloured light, shimmering silver with the strangely warm crystalline frost of the dream realm. Then, her gauntleted hands. She reached back and wrapped grey-furred fingers into the flowing, swirling rich purple silk of her cloak and her other hand went to rest lightly and assuredly on the falcon-headed pommel of the sword that hung at her side.
She was mostly humanoid in appearance – a beautiful, stately woman, tall and strong. Some would say handsome – but in that way that does not compromise femininity. But she also had the features of a timber wolf. Her face was completely human save for her eyes, which were a piercing ice-blue with tightly dilated pupils, and her ears, which were pointed and sloped back. Her hair, a flowing mane of grey was braided in two strands tied at the back in the style of the Morphean Guard. Her body was generally humanoid as well, save for the transition to grey fur below her elbows and knees and her clawed hands and feet.
Having just awakened and dressed, she walked with the assured, purposeful gait of a military leader toward the Morphean Citadel to receive her orders. The more rapid passage of time in the dream realm meant she would live about a day for every hour Deb slept. She was determined to address the failure of their forces at the Jotunheim Intersection last week, but something was interfering with her train of thought. On this night something buzzed in her mind and prodded at her consciousness, pleading for its attention.
Certainly no sorcerer by any measure, she felt safe enough from any would-be malicious eldritch influences this close to the citadel’s mages and so she heeded the call of the quiet, persistent voice. Telepathy was a common mode of communication in the dream realm, and though she did not recognize the voice in her head – her soldiers’ training in the use of telepathy told here enough to know it meant her no harm. It was feminine, kind, even somehow familiar.
“You know full well that it is not the way of the dreamer to recall what transpires in sleep – but you will remember this. You must,” it said to her.
She felt no fear. She was powerful here. She addressed the voice with conviction.
“Do not dawdle. I conduct the essential business of the Morphean Guard and tolerate your intrusion into my mind for only this moment,” she said it firmly, in the manner of one experienced in the finer points of leadership and military command. “I have urgent affairs to address in the short time afforded me. Be brief!”
“Yes of course,” the voice said. “You must remember this when you awaken —
Beyond rational explanation, the words that followed felt important and reverberated deeply into the mind of the one who heard them.
“Nick Morrison will die. Andy Crowley will know what to do.”
She noted this, though in the life she knew here, she did not know who Andy or Nick was. She simply knew that whoever she was in the waking realm would likely know them. And though she had sensed that this must indeed be a matter of some import, she was a dream warrior with a more urgent calling than any of the petty things she knew in her other life. From her perspective here, the other world was the dream she forgot every evening – just as this life was the dream she forgot every morning.
The other realm was a warless, bloodless, happiness she knew nothing about. For here she was Sherle-Peregrinus of the Morphean Guard, commander in the vanguard force at the Siege of Dreams – defender of all souls within the realm of Sanctuary from the entroloper hordes that would see them subdued and beholden to the Abraxas.
“I will remember this,” she swore and meant it. For she was true to her word. She even pulled the legendary falcon sword at her side from the lip of its scabbard as she said this: a gesture of her order that assured dedication to the keeping of an oath.
“Considering the matter at rest then,” and with her patience spent, she topped the steps to Morphean Citadel and entered the grand hall that had become the impromptu throne room of the queen of the dream realm herself.
The Holcroft’s was the oldest house on the River Road. A bungalow covered completely in climbing ivy, it was the kind of place that was creepy and haunted to more modern sentiments but earthy and magical to those one might call old souls.
A wide veranda ran the whole span of its face and the property was covered with trees that shaded it even from the barest light of the bright country stars.
Andy had transitioned fully into the emotionless, detached state of Mushin (no-mind) by the time his bike skidded through the darkness into the Holcroft’s driveway. In a maneuver he had perfected in the variable gravity of the astral plane, he forcefully braked his speeding bike, went into a handstand that became a somersault over his handlebars and soared into a running landing. He had cleared the stairs onto the front porch before his bike hit the ground. Deb’s white cat, Aleister, slept in a chair on the covered porch. As he knew it would be, the light in Deb’s room was on. He tapped on the window. She would know it was him.
The window flew up. Deb was wearing an oversized, white Platinum Blonde T-shirt. Any other time, Andy would have rolled his eyes at the shirt.
“Andy! It’s game night! Why are you here?”
He had to think fast. He couldn’t tell her he had been inside her head and had seen what had frightened her. His greatest fear was having her discover he could do such things.
“I saw your light on and wondered why you aren’t at Cedars.”
“I had homework and didn’t feel like it. The girls were getting to me.”
Andy smiled. “I’ll bet,” he said. To him, Tracy and Lori epitomized blind, sleepwalking submission to conformity and conspicuous consumption. It was bad enough in people in general, but systemic forces of oppression seemed intent on making it obnoxiously acute in teenage women.
Andy was anxious to get to the matter of the vision that had frightened Deb. He had a suspicion that it was serious. And if he was correct in his hypothesis — it was a matter of life and death.
“Are you okay though, Bear?” Only Andy used this nickname for her. It was his own mispronunciation of Deborah from way back when they had shared a playpen. “You don’t seem yourself.”
“I just had a really bad dream.”
“Cool,” Andy said excitedly. His eyes widened under raised eyebrows. It didn’t come off as insensitive. He wanted to stay in character. He was worried it was already suspicious enough that he had just appeared here at this precise moment.
“Not cool at all!” there was no anger in the words, she knew Andy would be curious. Dreams and nightmares were right in his whacky wheelhouse of wild, way-out and weird.
“Andy –” her eyes filled with tears.
“A beautiful girl that looked like she was made from moonlight told me something terrible.”
“If it was just a dream Deb, why are you so upset?” He had seen the girl too — and though he had only seen her second-hand, as though through smoky, carnival glass, he had surmised as well that she was beautiful — like Jane Weidlin from the Go-Gos he thought. The absence of colour in the luminous dream-girl’s nature hinted at something to Andy — something altogether terrible.
But he had not heard what the moonlight girl had said. Curiosity consumed his attention and he was ill-prepared for what happened next.
The tears in Deb’s eyes burst forth and she threw herself into Andy’s arms.
“She told me Nick is going to die.” Deb had found refuge from her fear — just as she knew she would — in Andy Crowley’s embrace. The relief she felt was complete and as though to fill the void left by that fear departed, another feeling swept over her then.
But in that same moment, a dark chill ran through Andy.
“Nick!” His mind roared. “No!”
Instinctively, he put his fingers into the dark curls of Deb’s short hair and held her close. He did not have the presence of mind to know it, but he had re-entered the state of Mushin.
Love is the ocean in which the mystic, entirely immersed, swims like a fish. Acknowledging another so completely that attention on the fabrication of self ceases entirely is why love and bliss are one and the same.
Andy felt the physical unity between him and Deb now — and in defiance of all his mystical training, he felt an irresistible longing to succumb to attachment. His biological nature, his adolescence, took him.
The preeminent compulsion of The All — the drive to create and procreate, whether it be of art or life, in that moment become manifest in these two.
Every paradox Andy Crowley had ever explored was dwarfed by this one.
Was not his desire to not desire Deb Holcroft a desire as well?
She was flawless and beautiful to him in every conceivable way. Her raven black hair, too curly to part and feather like the other girls, was cut short and perfectly contrasted her untanned face. Her small, kind mouth and thin perfect nose submitted to the primacy of the soul of her eyes, timber-wolf-blue and wise, shining into the world and seeking out naught other than that same light, which shone from him.
“I love you, Andy,” she whispered into the pentacle on his RUSH concert shirt. Reflexively, he pulled her closer.
He loved her too. But he could not say the words. Fear caught them in his throat just shy of his lips.
“And I know you love me,” she said.
For an eternity that straddled joy and terror, they hovered beyond the world like this. Silent and uncertain upon that crossroads, theirs then was that timeless tortured blessing and glorious curse.
Eventually, “Don’t be afraid,” were the words that wound through Andy’s confusion out into their world of two.
Those words were enough for Deb today and Andy felt her smile through his shirt.
“It was just a bad dream,” he sounded genuine, though, increasingly, he did not believe they were true. Having dodged a bullet with Deb, his mind returned in earnest to the matter of Nick. He felt a pang of guilt that what had transpired between him and Deb had shoved the matter of his best friend’s death into the background.
Though Deb could not see it, the indigo light of his third eye came upon his brow and penetrated the veil between the planes of existence. Resting his chin upon the curls of her head and savouring the fragrance of her hair he struggled mightily to interpret the mythical references spelled out in Ogham: the Druid runes. Across the planes in a glade upon the realm of Fey, he read them now. They were carved into a birch tree, likely, he surmised, by the ancient and powerful Tuatha de Danan.
When he found what he sought, his soul froze. His fear was confirmed.
The monochromatic luminosity, the friendly, alluring feminine voice Deb had described, he had seen too. He wondered if she had noticed the other hallmarks. If she had, he assumed, she would not have discerned their significance. Even having seen the seven-pointed star broach, the fly-plaid, and the silver megaphone he had needed more to be sure. The Ogham of Fey had confirmed it. Deb had indeed seen a banshee: the Fey realm’s harbinger of certain death.
He swallowed hard.
“Nick will be fine,” Andy Crowley lied to the one he had just now discovered for certain was the love of his life — or rather, the one who would be were that possible for one committed to the ancient arcane disciplines.
“I know,” said Deb. She trusted him and was afraid of how much she had just risked sharing with the most important person in her life.
“I’m sorry,” suddenly and awkwardly she pushed him away and rolled her eyes in an attempt to make light of everything that had just happened between them.
Andy knew she was embarrassed about telling him how she felt and it made him feel that much worse for not telling her he loved her too.
“It’s cool Deb.” The smile he forced looked ridiculous.
“Totally,” he added only to fill the awkward silence that followed — and to add cover to the fact that now, he had lied to her twice.
It wasn’t cool at all that Deb had told him she loved him.
And it wasn’t cool at all that a banshee of Fey had told her his best friend was about to die.
To be continued