Matt was there.
He was solid -- everything else was light and shadows. As he caught her, lowered her to the ground, Lily felt like she was made of feathers...if he spoke, if he even breathed, she thought she would fly apart.
He was there.
Lily had not expected to find him like this. Some part of her had not expected to find him at all; she had been convincing herself that the decision to look for him was all that was really important.
But he was there.
For him suddenly to appear, out of nothing...she would have been overwhelmed even if the walls, the floor, the entire room had not been rippling like a flag in the galewinds of his arrival.
She heard herself say something to him, something like hello, but not exactly. The words she was saying still weren’t the same as the ones she was thinking. What was that look on his face? Surprise? Why did his smile seem sad, now? What had she said?
Matt helped her to her feet. The touch of his fingers was irrefutable. Lily kept hold of his hand, and his smile brightened a bit. He looked...he looked awful, in fact. He was still wearing the red shirt and jeans that he had worn on the day he vanished, but the shirt seemed sun-bleached and crusted with salt, while his jeans suggested that he had waded through an abattoir. There were scrapes and bruises on his hands and face, and there was something deep and wild about his eyes. His hair was even spikier than normal. Without thinking about it, she reached up and ran the fingers of one hand through it; it was stiff, and crackled ever so slightly...
He flinched slightly, and the sadness crept onto his face again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That tickles a bit.” She pulled back her hand, wondering if she had done something wrong.
Then he closed his eyes for a moment; when he opened them, the sly grin that she had been thinking about for weeks was there as well. “Oh, what the hell,” he said. “If this is the only way I get to see you, I’ll take it.”
Before she could wonder what he meant, he swept her into his arms. She reached around the back of his neck, drew his face down to hers; their lips met, and she tasted infinity.
* * *
“If you’re planning to have that kind of dream, would you mind using someone else’s room?” a voice said. “This bed’s occupied. If you were going to bother with the bed, that is.”
Startled, Lily remembered they weren’t alone. She felt herself blush.
“Going to introduce me?” Mina asked.
Lily turned, but kept on arm around Matt in case he decided to vanish. “Oh...I’m...sorry...this is Matt. I was here looking for him.”
“Of course you were.” Mina got up, and stuck her hand out at Matt. “Good to meet you, kid. You’re an odd one, aren’t you?”
Matt looked puzzled, but shook Mina’s hand briefly. Then he turned to face Lily again, and took her by the shoulders. Looking straight into her eyes, he said, “Lily, listen to me. I know this is hard, but I need you to focus. I need your help. You’re dreaming. When you wake up, I need you to tell Professor Harte that I’m alive and that I’m waiting for help.”
“I’m not dreaming,” Lily said. “I’m really here. I took the Visulex. Harte sent me to find you and bring you back,” she thought, but said something completely different.
“That’s right, I took the Visulex, and entered the dream world,” Matt replied. “Now you’re seeing me because you’re asleep.”
She shook her head, and tried again, but when she tried to force the right words out, her mind fogged and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. Matt just watched her, a sad smile on his face. Of course, she realized. He thought he had stumbled across her in one of her own dreams.
She didn’t know why she couldn’t speak to Matt properly, but there had to be some way to communicate. Could she write? If she had the visual feedback on motor skills that writing provided, maybe she could control herself more easily.
“Mina – is there a pen or something in here? Anything to write with?” She made a little scribbling gesture.
“Not that I’ve ever found.”
Matt tapped Lily on the shoulder, and made the little scribbling motion himself. Lily nodded, and he took a purple crayon, broken in half, out of his pocket. He handed the pointy half to her.
Lily looked around, and took the chart off the end of Mina’s bed.
“Hey!” the other woman protested.
“Sorry, I need the paper. I’ll use the back.” She flipped the chart over on the clipboard, and began printing letters.
Lily felt like an idiot child; her hand kept trying to twist in weird directions, and her letters looked pre-literate, but she was able to get them out: NOT AZLEEP. TOOK
VISL DRUG. HERE II RESQ U. She presented it to Matt.
He took the clipboard, and looked at her again, sharply. “You’re here awake?”
Lily nodded with relief, but he looked worried. “You look like a sleepwalker to me, like your friend there,” Matt said. Lily shrugged and turned her palms up. “I don’t know much about this place, but I don’t think that’s such a good sign,” he said. “I wish I could talk to Captain Forrest. He might be able to explain this.” He seemed to be drifting off in thought.
Lily poked him on the arm and looked at him pointedly, tapping her foot. He looked at her. “What...oh. What a jackass I am. Thank you...” He hugged her again; it was very nice. “I don’t know what to say...” She reached up and patted him on the head.
He let go of her, and now it was Matt’s turn to blush. “Oh...oh, before, when I thought you were asleep, I...” She reached up, took his face in her hands, and kissed him again soundly. “Really?” he said. Lily smiled and gave him a thumbs-up sign, and now his smile was unabashedly joyful.
This relationship should be easy, Lily thought – all I have to do is keep my mouth shut and he’ll do whatever I say. She kissed him once more, just for good measure.
After they came up for air, she picked up the crayon again. KNEED TOO GET OUT OF
HAIR HEAR. NITE HORSESMARES COMIGN 4 HER/US.
“Right, then,” Matt replied. “Hold on tight. If you haven’t done this before, it can be a bit of a jolt.” He slipped his arm around Lily, looked at Mina, and in a firm voice said, “You have to take us to the marketplace, right now.”
“Love to. Let me know when you’ve found the door,” Mina responded. Matt couldn’t understand her, but it was obvious he’d expected something else to happen.
He put his hand on Mina’s shoulder. “Take us to the schoolhouse.”
“Mitts off, buster.” She slapped his hand away.
He peered at the other woman. “Is there something unusual about your friend? Did she come with you from the real world?” he asked Lily.
IN COMA. NOSE SHEZ DREAMNG.
“I guess that might do it,” Matt said, but didn’t elaborate. He looked around. “Um. Have you noticed there’s no door?”
“He’s a quick one, isn’t he?” asked Mina.
“Be nice, he’s had a bit of a shock,” Lily said.
“I can tell,” Mina replied, grinning. Matt was looking between the two of them with suspicion.
How were they going to get out, though? Lily wondered. According to Mina, it was only a matter of time before they were drawn into another nightmare. Would they even realize what had happened, or would they simply become part of it, the way Mina did on the path in the meadow?
Lily bounced the crayon in her hand idly. Cartoons were often dreamlike, right? Both dealt in archetypes and twisted logic. She moved to one wall and pushed a metal trolley out of the way.
“What are you doing?” Matt asked. She wasn’t about to take the time to sign out a response, and would need the crayon for this, so she ignored the question. Instead, she just drew the outline of a door on the wall, and a circle for a knob. She tried to grasp the knob, but her hand just slid across the surface.
Matt watched her with interest. “Maybe you need more detail?” He moved in next to her, and, with the other half of the crayon, started adding features...panels, hinges, the dimensionality of the knob. He tore the paper off of the crayon stub to slide it sideways across the white wall, and then used his fingers to work the wax into shadows and contours.
Lily tried to help for a bit, then stepped out of the way as flecks of purple fell to the ground. She had never really seen Matt work before. He started slowly, but soon was attacking the wall; when he stepped back to look at his work, he was breathing heavily, almost panting.
He nodded with satisfaction. Matt had the emotional defensiveness typical of someone with his history, but at least in the context of his art he could look at himself honestly and see something of value. Not for the first time, Lily found herself thinking that Visulex really would be the perfect treatment for him, if only it worked properly. It was a pity they’d probably never get the chance to refine its use.
“It looks great,” she said, and meant it; she hadn’t been aware you could do that kind of thing with crayon. Whatever it was Matt heard, he seemed to get the point, because he smiled and reached for the knob.
And his fingers scrabbled at the wall, just like hers had. Lily’s shoulders sagged, letting go of anticipation she hadn’t realized was building.
Then, just as she started to relax, she jumped at a new voice from behind them. “What do you think you’re doing? I’m going to have to scrub that off, you know.”
A previously unseen door had opened in the far wall; a man in a grey jumpsuit with a mop and bucket stood there glaring at them.
“Quick!” Matt shouted, but Mina was already moving. She brushed the outraged janitor out of the way with the sweep of a heavily muscled arm, and blocked the door from closing as Lily and Matt ran through after her.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 16.2]