A normal boring dream! Excuse me while I weep in happiness. Well, it started out as a normal boring dream. A music festival set in some place where music festivals are held on the regular.
But of course, something happens, and things change.
As a result of some emergency woo work at the festival, I was offered a job at the local state prison. I was about to return to the festival when I was told it was a legitimate paycheck complete with benefits and a retirement plan. Very well, then.
The job itself was very simple. If an inmate became over excited, it would be my job as “On Site Empath” to soothe the inmate down into a reasoned mind. I suspected the prison of using me as a substitution for properly medicating inmates with mental illness, as I quickly had “regulars” that I would have to bring down from over excited states on a predictable schedule.
I was sitting with one of these “regulars” and noting that he wasn’t in a raised state of anxiousness. He had square of clean toilet paper and when he started to get wound up, he would very methodically roll and unroll the square using only his index finger and his thumb. He explained that he had read some of the pamphlets I had brought him about mindfulness and he found this helped him regain and keep focus when I wasn’t there.
My empathic abilities told me he was keeping something from me, and that he was more scared of that something than he was offending me by making me unnecessary.
“Why is it so important that you be able to be stable without me, today? I mean, you have found a great way to help yourself, and I am happy for that. But what is so special about today, that you absolutely have to be calm without me?”
The social worker and I were the only two people in his cell with him. A guard was posted, but because this inmate was nonviolent and had been actively working to remain nonviolent the guard was outside the open cell door.
I felt the inmate’s nervousness swiftly rise. He rolled the toilet paper square into a tight roll. Comfort comes with revelation. He took a breath and released the roll.
“There’s going to be a riot today, and today I return the favor you have shown me.”
The social worker glanced nervously at the door as the guard suddenly listened very intently to his radio. I remained calm and placed a hand on the inmate’s knee.
“How will you return the favor?”
He looked up at me. Chestnut hued irises brightened. “You have been watching over me each time you visit. You make me feel safe and I can relax. Today, I will watch over you. I don’t know if I can make you feel safe, but I want you to know you will be safe when it starts. I know you can feel other people’s feelings and when the riot starts, there will be a lot of feelings to feel. I will be calm for you, like how you have been calm for me.”
The inmate and I held our soft gazes as the social worker started to stand up in a panic. The inmate moved his hand off my knee and said quietly for me to remain sitting. He then moved faster than I thought him capable of to the door, where he shoved the guard clear of the doorway, grabbed the open bar door, and slammed it shut.
The door locked automatically, sealing the social worker and me inside with the inmate.
The guard started to yell at the inmate to stand aside when loud alarms deafened us all.
“You know I won’t hurt them. And you know that door won’t open until the alarms are clear. They’re safe in here. You go take care of business.”
He slowly turned and shuffled his way past the hyperventilating social worker to sit back down on the three-legged stool as before. He took my hand and placed it back on his knee. He motioned to the social worker to retake his own seat. The guard had already left the area.
“And now, we wait.”
The inmate and I chatted about the different ways a square of single-ply toilet paper can be manipulated until it becomes too worn to further use. I didn’t notice I was slowly becoming agitated until I was attempting to duplicate the inmate’s rolling technique and ripped the square.
“D… d… d… DAMMIT!” I looked up at the inmate in confusion. Why did I stutter like that? Why did a trivial thing release so much rage? He placed his hand on my knee as I looked out the open bars. There are so many people running around on the floor. So much yelling. So much anger.
I put my hands on my face in a futile attempt to hide from all the yelling I could still hear in my head.
“Here. Give me your hands.” The surprise of hearing words I would usually say coming out of his mouth interrupted the emotional storm. His hands that were so large and so strong that they could literally crush my face gently took mine and held them with a gentleness that captured my attention.
“You’re crying. It’s okay. That will pass and you will still be here.” Yes, my face was wet. I felt like I had been drowning and this large man in orange overalls just pulled me back to the surface. He smiled, and for a moment, I felt that the rest of the world did not exist.
He was calm. I’ll be calm with him. And I’ll be okay.
As the riot continued, the social worker alternated between casual indifference and barely constrained panic. Each time he started to panic, the inmate would talk him back into a more controlled state of mind. The inmate ended each talk down with, “I learned what to say from her. She says it better than I can. We need to be calm so she will have a safe space until this is over. Then we can listen to her again.”
I couldn’t speak to assist him. Each time I tried to even think about speech, all the words that the rioters wanted to say would come flooding out instead. A stream of expletives and violent threats that I could not stop easily. And for each word that did escape, whole essays of foreign thoughts steamrolled over my own.
I don’t remember falling. I remember suddenly being enveloped by warmth the color of orange sherbet. The inmate was holding me in his lap as I lost control. As I shuddered uncontrollably in his arms, he asked the social worker to remove my shoes and to move the stools away from us.
“She is going to start shaking really bad soon and I may need to lay her on the floor. I won’t let her hit her head on the floor. My hands are thick. But I don’t want her to kick anything either. There are a lot of bad people in here with bad thoughts about bad things and she is hearing them all at the same time. I would shake too if I could hear those things.”
I heard a loud bang in the distance. The building shuddered as some incendiary device paused the flow of obscenities smothering my thoughts. The obscenities were replaced by screaming and pain as the injured announced their wounds in ways only I could hear.
I never heard my screams. I only know I had been screaming by how sore my throat was later.
“Stay in this room with her. If you need to use the toilet, there is a stall at the other end of this room. Remain as close as possible, but do not hold her in your lap. If you must touch her, sit beside the gurney and hold her hand.”
Something large and brightly orange moved into my field of view, but I could not focus on the object.
“You’re coming back. It’s okay. You’re safe even though you don’t feel safe. The social worker is okay. He is calling people to let them know he’s safe, too. The riot is over and when the door opened, I carried you out to the officers and the social worker explained everything. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you calm like you keep me calm. But I think I did better than nothing at all.”
A stream of sorrow came from the orange object and I mourned that I couldn’t make it better. The object went away but something warm touched my hand instead. The sorrow was replaced by the sympathy and comfort.
I fell asleep.
In the darkness that swallowed me, I gained lucidity.
From the vantage point of the false sleep, I rewound the events of the dream and watched it play out again as if watching a movie. I realized it was just a normal mundane dream after all, and made the decision to bring it to a swift end. At least get the calm inmate a parole or some shit. I could use a happy ending after the fuckery of the previous dream.
Just before I moved to end the false sleep, I did note that my response to the emotions released by the riot was very much like a response to a possession. From the first anxious thoughts as I realized that I was not behaving normally, to the shutting down of my personality as the invasive thoughts filled my head faster than I could refute them.
Good thing this is just a dream, right?
I lifted my left hand so to gesture the end of the false sleep. The skin of the inside of my left forearm suddenly glowed in hues of red and orange as a forgotten marking reasserted itself into my awareness.
Flames erupted from the previously dormant tattoo to coil around the rest of my arm. I attempted to gain control over the flames, but the moment I tried to assert domination, the flames intensified and expanded to completely cover me, constrain me, and immobilize me.
I fell and found the “ground” in this false sleep. I remembered where I had obtained the now active marking, and then remembered a warning I had heard on a podcast last week:
“Don’t fuck with the djinn. Don’t think because they are forgotten, that they are nothing. I’d rather piss off the fairies than piss off the djinn. Don’t think Islamic magic will protect you. They predate Islam. They will fuck you up. For no other reason than they can.”
I could not remember why I consented to have the mark placed on me in the first place, only that I was very eager to complete a transaction for it. After the affair of the opal chain, I thought I was through dealing with the djinn.
Even though I was encased in flame, I did not burn and was only slightly warmer than usual. I watched the smoke rise above my body (as if I could do anything else) and realized it was collecting over me. After a human body size amount accumulated, the smoke moved to descend next to me, solidifying as it did.
A thinly built humanoid form knelt to lean over me. It waved an appendage over my form and the flames ceased. However the mark was still active and I was still immobilized.
Leonine eyes regarded me with silent mirth. They spoke with a hint of feline purring. “Hi. Long time no see.” They examined me without touching. “You have changed much, Weaver. If not for the mark, it would be hard to identify you. Ah, but I am being rude. I, too, have changed. And you may not recognize what I have become.”
They removed their black veil to fully reveal their face. Surprisingly, I recognized him immediately. An entity I had called on during more foolish and more ignorant years. When the terrace was swept clean, so were my attempts to use him. To my surprise, he did not hold it against me after.
“Well, fuck me, I know you, [Wildfire]. Yes, you have changed, but at the same time, those changes are external. Let me loose so I can have a hug, you desert bastard!”
Wildfire smiled, showing sharp teeth. “I am not here for personal reasons. I am here… as you would say… for business.” He held his hand over my chest as if feeling for a heat source. He moved around but found my heart quick enough. He rested his hand on my chest over my heart. “Your [heart-flame] is weak. I know it was replaced in [the Boneyard] by [the Ravens], but you have been [playing in other places and exposed to other things]. I was asked to take advantage of our connection to restore your [heart-flame] to the fervor it should be. However, before I begin, I will give pause and allow you to speak whatever complaints, rejoinders, and/or pleadings you wish to utter.”
He smiled. I glowered. “And here I thought you would not be an asshole like your brothers.” He laughed. “Before you begin… you were asked… or ordered?”
“Commissioned, actually. Not many have immediate access to you as I do. I made sure that access was purchased at a price commensurate to its value for this one time.”
I shifted in my binds and tried to look away. “Lie to me and tell me that value is greater than two American dollars.”
“… As your physical money is worthless to me, I will not have to lie.”
He placed one knee to the ground as he shifted his weight to the hand pressed on my chest. “Wait! Why? A captive human Traveler would be a better asset than an overcharged chaos generator. You’re tying a firebrand to my ass and setting me loose in a grainfield. That this might benefit me is happenstance. What is your client up to?”
Wildfire took his weight off of my chest. “You are a pawn in a game. You know this. This was one of the first truths you learned and accepted. It is known what you are returning to and how. It is known that you are [pursuing a certain field of operations] and that you are doing it the most difficult way possible. You will need your [heart-flame], you will need your [krew], and you will need your resolve to see it through. There are those who would like you to succeed in this endeavor. And there are those who would like you to be crushed and devoured. My client, wishes you to succeed, as your success will increase their success.” He said other things that even if I redacted them, would still give away more information than I am comfortable making public.
“One last question, Wildfire. Who is your client?”
“Come now, [Courier], you know information like that can neither be bought nor bargained.”
He leaned forward again and placed all of his weight on my chest with his right hand. When I struggled under the sensation of being so constricted that I could not breathe, he looked at the mark on my arm. His leonine eyes glowed slightly, the mark glowed in answer, and I found myself completely unable to move. He pushed the last of the air out of my lungs.
My heart stopped.
His right hand became intangible and pressed into my body. I felt the spirit of his hand encompass and grip the spirit of my heart.
He leaned close. “Do you remember, the last time we were present together? Do you remember the pillars of fire that I and my brothers came to you as? Do you remember the pillar of fire we taught you to become? I will remind you.”
The searing heat traveled through my arteries, forcing them to dilate painfully and transmit the unnatural fire into cooling flesh.
He squeezed my heart. The pulse forced the increasing heat into the capillaries. I felt as if my body would melt. He squeezed again and the veins began to collect the heat into themselves as stagnant blood started to flow again.
He continued squeezing my heart, giving it the pulse required to complete his work. I do not recall when he withdrew his hand from my body or when he allowed me the luxury of the illusion of physical integrity.
“[Weaver], you are more than flesh. Remember that.”
He released his binds upon me and the marking faded into obscurity. As it did so, the false sleep ended and I faded away into darkness.
I opened my eyes to find I was on the gurney in an infirmary room in the prison. My chest was sore and I could feel an unnatural warmth from my heart. But now I was fully lucid. The inmate was sitting next to me, examining my face. I realized that before the false sleep, I could not see his face except for his chestnut hued eyes. Now I saw him clearly.
“Welcome back, Miss.”
“So… what is the presentation of this dream hiding?”
“You were called for a duty, but it was one you were not likely to agree to in the manner that it was originally presented.”
“Just fucking once, I’d like a goddamn normal mundane dream without being hijacked for some shit. I’m fucking exhausted. You wouldn’t have caught the name of the warden for this glamour of a prison, would you?”
“He’s the guy who… hired me. Was hoping the name he gave would be a clue to his intentions and or identity. What was the job? I assume it is complete as I have been allowed to return to my senses.”
Pescado told me the service I had performed under the guise of the dream. He is quite correct that I would never have agreed to performing the service without certain safety protocols in place, most of which were lacking. However, it did frame some of Wildfire’s observations.
“He was the guard, Miss. He’s outside the only door to this room. And he’s upset at the circumstances as well.”
I lifted my left arm from under the light blanket. I saw [Puppy’s] markings on my upper arm as expected, and I saw the amber and purple markings on my lower arm as expected. The djinn’s tattoo was not visible, but as I traced my finger over the skin where it was placed, I could feel a series of faint scars.
“Alright then. I’m lucid. My krew is accounted for. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Yes, please. Orange does not flatter my features.”
I laughed deep and loudly, prompting Horatio to unlock the door and enter the room. I teased him about being too pudgy for the uniform. He returned the bite by asking why I accepted so little compensation for the job.
I made the executive decision for the dream to end, and thus, the dream ended.