Home > Monthly Revisitation, NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Ninety-three: Dream Intervention [REDUX]

Day One Hundred and Ninety-three: Dream Intervention [REDUX]

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. Of course, this being the last night of my Elements series, with the category being “Aether,” there was really only one good choice of stories to revisit: Dream Intervention, from day 148. I extended it a little, but more important was the shift from first person to third. I did it mostly just to see what happened, and it worked nicely, I think. I still don’t know what Cory’s Big Problem is, as he is not being very helpful. Much like in the story…


The dream trembled under Noel’s fingertips. He was barely even touching it and yet he could feel the tenuous fabric try to shrink away from him. He smiled and leaned in closer, trying to peer into the distorted, unfinished vision that lay before him.

Dreams were like that. A dream described by a person after they wake up is nearly impossible to recover. They search for words, they try to make comparisons that don’t make any sense. “She was my girlfriend but not my girlfriend, and for some reason she was a robot, but not like a Terminator robot but like one of those things you see in an auto plant. And made of marzipan.” They make perfect sense to the one who’s in them, and absolutely none from the outside. The internal logic is flawless, but to someone looking in, the whole thing is like a fragile, evanescent soap bubble just waiting to go.

It took a lot of practice to get in and out of them without breaking the whole thing down around you. Fortunately, Noel had had that practice. And a little bit of luck, which he was careful to appreciate. He’d been touching others’ dreams for more than a decade, and had learned the ins and outs of the dream world and the logic that ruled it. Or them, to be more precise. As it turned out, there was no singular dream world – no mysterious realm where all dreams come from. Every dream was a world unto itself, and yet all dreams shared a certain set of rules.

Noel took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and touched – and he was in.

The dream was pretty boilerplate, and about what he expected of a sixteen year-old boy. All of the corners were dark, and nothing was really clear except when Noel was looking straight at it. It was hot and everything felt sluggish and slow. When he moved, it felt like everything happened a half second too late, as though the universe hadn’t been paying attention to what he wanted to do. He focused his mind on the dream, and everything snapped into sharp relief. All it took was a shift of perspective, much like watching a movie and reminding yourself that the guns are shooting blanks and the explosions are largely computer-generated. It took some of the fun out of it, yes, but to someone living in it – or visiting – it might be a lifesaver.

The school hallway brightened a bit as he reminded himself of where he was, and what he was doing there. He heard screams coming from down the hall, so he checked the notebook in his pocket to see what he needed to know about the kid: Cory Shillinger, a football player and probably the best on his team. A bit of a bully, but that often came with the territory. And that wasn’t why he was there. Not to punish him for anything. Just to remind him of something.

Noel knew perfectly well what Cory looked like now, but that would probably just make things worse. Or weirder. He pictured a much younger Cory in his head, at least how he imagined Cory looked when he was younger. Dirty blonde hair, skinny, teeth that hadn’t been fixed up yet. He felt the image wrap around himself like a tight corset, and when Noel called up a mirror on the wall, he looked at least enough like young Cory to pass in a dream. But there was one more thing he needed.

He pulled the badge out of his pocket and pinned it to the faded Star Wars t-shirt he was wearing. The badge had three simple words on it: I AM YOU. Cory would see it, but not really know what it was. It was a symbol, really, and nothing more, and it would be all that was really necessary to convince Cory of who Noel was supposed to be. Dreams operated on symbols, on personal interpretation of things. That was the only way dreams could work and not drive the dreamers utterly mad. Noel could have decided to look like Mark Twain or Marilyn Monroe or Jabba the Hutt, but he figured it would be best not to push his luck.

The real Cory came barreling around the corner a moment later, and Noel banished the mirror. The boy was running feverishly from something that was probably really horrifying, but the way Noel saw it, he was running from symbols that were simply floating bundles of words. “Terror.” “Humiliation.” “Pain.” “Danger.”

The usual stuff.

Cory himself was gorgeous, or at least mostly so. He had the body of a teenage quarterback – all lean and tight and muscled from head to toe. True to so many teenage dreams, all he was wearing was a pair of boxers, and even those were flickering in and out as Noel watched him. His skin was breaking out in sores that pulsed and opened and closed and moved about his body, never settling in one place but never fading away. His hair was falling out, and as he screamed, Noel saw that the boy was missing teeth. It was the grand package of nightmares, and for all the horror and terror, it was only a distraction for what Cory was really afraid of.

Time to get to work.

Noel put himself in Cory’s path and held out a hand. A great wind blew in from behind him, picking up papers and books and even the odd desk or two. It blew from Noel towards Cory, and bent in a tight circle around the boy to blow all the symbolic monsters away from him in great tatters and rags and rage. Cory screamed and wept as the wind blew past him and howled and shrieked horrible things that only he could hear.

Noel lowered his hand and the wind snapped off. Cory dropped to his knees, holding his head in his hands and whimpering softly. Noel let him sit like that for a moment, or however long that was for him.

“Hey. QB,” Noel said in the piping, cheerful voice of a young boy. “You gonna sit like that all night?”

Cory looked up, and Noel could tell that he’d be a heartbreaker if he just had clear skin and all his teeth. Noel shook his head. “This isn’t gonna work,” he said. “Stand up.”

Cory looked at him dumbly.

“C’mon, QB. Stand up.” Noel crooked a finger and the boy stood on unsteady legs. Noel raised a hand to Cory’s chest and laid a hand against his skin. Cory’s form rippled for a moment, and all the deformities and disfigurement faded away as if they had never been. “There you go.” Noel patted his chest with a hand which was his own again, and let it linger there for a moment longer than he had to. He felt the boy’s heart beating, fast and afraid, and it sent a thrill up his arm. If Cory noticed the change, he didn’t say anything, but Noel drew out the moment as long as he could.

“You… um, you might want to think about wearing some clothes,” Noel said eventually. He glanced down, and so did Cory. “But you can take your time.” Noel winked. “If you want.”

He didn’t. An eyeblink later and Cory was wearing his football uniform, pads and helmet and all.

“All right,” Noel said. He shrugged and turned around. There were a couple of comfortable chairs there that hadn’t been there before. “Have a seat,” Noel said. “And take that helmet off. It makes me uncomfortable.” As Cory sat, Noel took another button out and pinned it to the football uniform that he seemed to be wearing as well. Gotta be more careful about that, he thought. This button read YOU TRUST ME. It was blatant manipulation, and for a moment, Noel thought about seeing just how far he could push that button’s power. In the dream, anything was possible, and chances were that the boy wouldn’t remember a thing.

But Noel had tried that before. He’d succeeded, in fact, and it hadn’t worked out well for anyone.

The boy stared at him for a moment. Then he licked his lips and said, “Who are you?”

“Good,” Noel said. “You can talk. You’d be surprised how often that fails in here.” He handed Cory a drink in a cup labeled RELAX. He took it and blew over the top. Hot chocolate, probably. When he’d taken a sip, and the pads deflated from under his uniform, Noel started to talk again.

“Cory,” he said. “You’re in trouble.” He gestured over to one corner of the room, which had gone from being a school hallway to a bare stage. A spotlight clicked on and illuminated a strange tableau. Cory, holding another boy close, their arms wrapped around each other in mid-fall. Look at it one way, and it was the middle of a brawl – the other boy’s feet were about to come out from under him, and Cory was getting ready to pull an arm out for a punch. Cory’s face was a mask of rage, the other boy’s torn by fear.

Look again, though, and they were holding onto each other out of desperation. Cory was trying to hold the other boy up, his arms tightening around his waist and they both slowly dropped to the floor. The anger on Cory’s face warped to pain and anguish. The other boy’s face was still overwhelmed with fear, but it was altogether a different kind now.

Cory and Noel both looked at it, and then Noel turned to the boy. “So,” he said. “It looks like there’s something you might need to talk about.”

“I… I don’t understand,” Cory said. He looked like he was about to cry again, and Noel felt his earlier attraction to the boy fading. He’d hoped there would be a core of strength to him, but if this was his soul laid bare, then he wasn’t worth mooning over.

“Of course you don’t,” Noel said. “That’s the whole point.” He leaned forward, and Cory’s eyes widened. Noel wondered who he looked like now. “You have a problem, son,” he said. He pointed to the tableau again, which was slowly turning in the spotlight. “That over there is a hint to what it is. But without your help, I can’t get to what’s really going on.”

He stood up and crooked a finger. Cory, now dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, followed along to inspect the image more closely. Noel pointed to it. “You know who they are?”

“I know who I am,” Cory said, pointing to his own image. Noel raised an eyebrow. “But I don’t know who he is.”

“Well, then we have a problem,” Noel said. He cracked his knuckles and noticed that he seemed to be wearing a suit now. With black leather gloves. “Fortunately, problem-solving is my specialty. But first, there’s somewhere we have to go.” He reached out to the statue-Cory’s head and tugged on a lock of hair. A door opened up, spreading instantly to the floor, and a dim greyness lay beyond. The faint smell of woodsmoke wafted out.

Cory looked at the doorway. “What’s in there?” he asked.

Noel shrugged. “Damned if I know,” he said. “It’s your head.”

“No,” the boy said, holding his hands up. “I don’t know where I am or what you’re doing, but this can’t be happening. Not for real.” He was starting to change again, his form losing substance. He was beginning to look like a faded photograph, like a wet painting left out in the rain, and Noel cursed under his breath.

“Cory, you can’t go. This is too important.” He reached out for the boy’s arm, and it was like grabbing a handful of oatmeal. “Cory, you need to stay and do this.”

The thing that was Cory shook its head. “No,” it said in a slow, indistinct voice. “Not going.” The shape bubbled and twisted and folded in on itself. And then, without prelude or fanfare, the dream collapsed.

“Dammit,” Noel whispered. He lingered in the non-darkness that was the place where dreams emerged and tried to count all the things he did wrong. In the end, he let himself go back into normal sleep and the normal world. There would be other nights and other chances. But not too many.

Noel slept in the few hours remaining to him. He had to get up early to go to work, after all.

Perhaps he’d see how Cory was doing tomorrow, in class.

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  1. November 30, 2011 at 10:34 PM
  2. November 30, 2011 at 10:37 PM

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