The sweet jasmine incense that rolls out of my fire hair helps smother the stagnant awfulness of the cave, an area with no discernible wildlife. There are distant but palpable mechanical sounds emanating from beneath the surface of the vast stretch of the lake. Me being able to smell again not least my ability to question my sudden placement here, well it indicates one thing, an inescapable fact: I’m in one of my special dreams, yet, I've never felt more awake, so present.
These giant shaggy guards, they don’t move. Hell, they could be statues if it wasn’t for their breathing, the slow fall and rise of my horizon. Behind the bars of one jail-ball squats a black woman with rainbow coloured dreads. Her demeanour is a cocktail of subdued anger and proactive assessment. There’s something familiar about that face.
There is another, a captive in the confinement next to hers. She's not human, not at all. Nope.
This figure is genderless, no genitals or mammaries as far as I can detect. This life form has flaking skin the colour of chocolate gateaux. The figure's arms wave slowly, every gesticulation that hangs outside its prison bars act as expressive aids for its voice. Languid. Female. The small morsels of her nakedness fall through the gaps in her captivity and she helps them make pretty shapes on the inky flood that flows beneath her lock-up. Unlike the rest of us, this clay-like creature is nestled cross-legged atop the droppings and the piss of previous detainees. She has no mouth that I can see and yet I hear her speak. Languid. Female.
‘Riiiight,' I hear myself say, 'I'd like a little more information. Speaking as the walking powder keg for a potential invasion of idols, I’d feel safer hearing a little more of the flower-bed's history, right guys?’
Across from me, Alice nods sagely. Her countenance creates a sharp contrast to her attributes. The height of her, the sight of her little girl-features.
‘O.K,’ I hear my mouth confirm, ‘You're a corner of Gaia’s psyche - got it, but that doesn’t change the fact that Rooenn’s still at large and it-’
‘Rooenn can wait,’ interrupts Alice before turning her attention to Miss World’s compost-smelling featureless face, ‘We need to know what Aronson’s plan is.’
‘No, it’s all about Rooenn. Guys, we can’t forget that if I die its game over.’
‘Rooenn is not the immediate problem,’ huffs Alice looking directly into my dungeon, ‘Aronson’s the wild-card, acting out of character. What has he got in store for us? He normally gloats but now? Now he's not sharing anything.'
All the facts I’ve obtained about this topsy-turvy world, I sense them become murky and near impenetrable. Only names remain as I remember the fact: This is not my true reality. I don't belong here any more.
Considering my luck, all this could be a dream, and Saul here could be another henchman to some jealous idol. He keeps shoving his left and only hand into my ribs. This would be a piss-take in it itself (I’m busy healing here) were it not for his stuttering cockney flightiness, an irritating bombardment, a constant demand for answers. And every question he shoots at me is nonsensical.
With enough time my bones will have mended and…
‘These punches real enough for you, huh? How'd you like em?' I spit the words piling into him, body-blow following body-blow, 'Just how real can we get here?’
‘Mum’s n-n-not here to sort me out though, is she? Cos she’s out there in the real w-w-world!’
‘Th-th-th-this is her brain, she was in here. She can enter here whenever her unconscious senses she is in m-m-mortal danger. That’s her p-p-power.’
Another thing in my life that isn’t so fucked up, but should be. Saul A.K.A Zombie-Boy, he’s looking upwards past my boot as he asks, ‘Why did you f-fake your o-o-o-own d-death?’
‘What? Spit it out stutter-boy.’
‘Sh-sh-sssssh-she’s dead innit,’ he says this too quiet and too note perfect to be a shape-shifting minion, ‘Y-y-you saw it ha-happen.’
I take my foot off his face to steady myself from a sudden dizziness. When I answer it’s with a whisper. It’s with a denial, ‘Vicky’s not dead…She can’t be...’
I stumble back against the wall and all its cobwebs.
‘A-A-Aronson has this black pool - throw someone into it and out cr-cr- crawls their evil copy which acts as his body guard. Nat’s copy killed V-V-Vicky.’
‘Right, now I know you're some shape-shifting fake. Nathaniel Buchannan is dead. Asshole.’
‘E-E-Evil copies, r-r-remember?’
I stride over and heaving his gangly body up, I lob it a far distance away from his head. I heave it with such force that when it collides with the dusty vending machine I hear bones crack. Spinning my attention round to the head, I adjust my glasses marching over towards Saul’s begging drooling face,
'See my face?’ I use my foot to apply heavy pressure to the forehead, ‘This is my serious face, and this - my pretend-dead comrade - this is my serious boot,’
I push it down till I hear a slight popping sound, ‘Now who the fuck are you?’
He holds his stump against the side of the rusty door that I’m about to push him out of, ‘We were ambushed! The baddie Nat - E-Eraser - he-he-he-he - fucking hell – he helped!’
‘Oh yeah,’ I say halting briefly, ‘how come a dildo like you survived?’
‘A-A-A-Aronson promised me that…if I could just get –
‘You made a deal?’ His face becomes a mould of panic, ‘With him?’
The head’s worry-lines multiply as he worries aloud, ‘Hear m-m-m-me out!’
‘Damn it Saul!’
‘He was g-g-g-going to throw me into that black liquid stuff!’
‘And the others? Lilith, Steve, what about Nightingale?’
‘Aronson had everyone else carted a-a-away. Dad mum…e-e-e-everyb-b-body.’
This is elaborate for a minion posing as Saul. Hell, this is elaborate for Saul.
So I ask him, ‘The deal was? Hey, Andy let you deal with Aronson?’
Time to put my detective's hat on. Time to go outside.