“Simona,” a voice says. I turn around. Mom appears behind me. We embrace and Mom kisses my forehead.
“I knew you and your father would find a way,” Mom exclaims. She grabs my hand. “I know there are a lot of other questions you probably have, honey,” she says, apologetically, “but first thing’s first, we need to run somewhere safe. Follow me.” She looks around, then tiptoes past me, motioning with her hands. “Other people and creatures can go through the dream realm too. I was lingering around for too long and I think something followed me.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, curious and scared.
“Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that there are certain precautions that should be taken when dream-walking, and neither one of us took them.” We duck beside a car.
A man standing still and straight, slides down the street like a slow-moving chess piece. Patches of hair have been ripped out of his head. He’s gaunt and frail, despite being tall and menacing. The man, or creature, wanders like a zombie, slowly searching for something. He glides past transparent people going on about their business, unaware of what lurks around them. Mom presses her finger against her lips. I place my hands over my mouth and quiver. I’ve never seen anything like that and hope I never do again. We stay frozen until the creature disappears into the strange, hazy dream world.
“Okay,” she exhales, relieved. “I have absolutely no idea what that was, but I can tell by looking at it that it’s one of the dangers of this place. If it’s not a transient ghost, it’s probably another dream walker. Either way, best we avoid it.”
“I don’t understand, Mom. Is it like that faceless woman I saw? Am I astral projecting or lucid dreaming or somethi–“
“–Sort of,” Mom declares, tilting her head, visibly unsure how she can express what she means. She tries to speak, but cuts herself off. “I don’t really know how to best explain this realm to you, and I don’t have enough time to explain. But, what I can say, is just don’t take any risks here. None. Don’t attract attention to yourself. Don’t yell too loudly and don’t do anything flashy,” she says, guiding me into alley filled with cats. “One good thing I can say is that in this realm cats are incredibly safe.” Mom paces around me and uses a piece of chalk to make a few symbols on the ground. “We should be safe now. We can rest here briefly and then I need to go, Simona,” Mom announces, holding up a piece of chalk–or something that looks like it. She lets it go and it remains floating in the air like it’s frozen in time. I reach for it, but my hand goes through the object. “Just let it come to you. It’s compressed dream dust. It binds with your resonance and will always be with you,” Mom says, watching the floating chalk stick. “I can’t say I fully comprehend how it works, but possessing one lets you read and write, travel and protect yourself in this plane. It never runs out. And, if you have one, you can conjure one up for other people to use.”
The chalk fades and appears in my hand. Something about it feels natural and soothing. “Thanks, Mom. So, what do I need to do?” I ask, gaining my bearings. Gripping the chalk, I survey the area. At the other end of the alley is a parking lot, and beyond that a large hotel with a wide, green lawn in front. My eyes rest on a group of cats on the lawn. They frolic and tussle with each other over well-maintained patches of grass. Unlike the humans and other animals in the we’ve seen so far, none of the cats are transparent. In fact, they each give off a unique, faint glow.
“Nothing,” Mom responds, reassuring me. “It’s not what you need to do. It’s what I need to do.” Transparent people continue walking through and around us, oblivious. A man with a rake walks through Mom. I flinch and move out of the way. The man shivers and looks around. Terrified and confused, he scurries to a patch of grass lining the entrance of the hotel and begins raking leaves. Mom brushes my hair, pats my shoulder, then smiles.
I look at her unsure of what to do or say. Placing the chalk in my pocket, I ask “So, what do you need to do then, Mom?” Mom doesn’t say anything, but instead draws a square on the asphalt, between the protection symbols she drew earlier. Fidgeting with my hands, I stumble closer to the group of stray cats. One of them meows and stares at me. I step closer and it reaches out, swatting its paw. Enamored by its gesture, I get closer and try to pet it. The cat makes a high-pitched squeak, then leaps into the air, doing an erratic backflip. It scrambles away from us like a cartoon character: it’s upper body is constant, but its legs scurry forward in a blur. Hotel guests in the parking lot laugh and make comments about the quirky cat. There’s a slight pause between Mom and me as people and cars pass us. She looks down and crosses her arms, then looks up at the setting sun. She draws a symbol in the middle of the square she just sketched, then makes several lines that form an odd pattern.
“What’s that for?” I ask, studying her diagram.
“It’s a Somnium Gateway,” Mom responds. “What I need to do is a little complicated and won’t make sense if I explain it out loud, but do you see that?” she questions, in her usual chipper, but quiet voice. She points at the symbols.
“Uh, yeah,” I say, even more intrigued.
“There’s this thing going with a current case your dad and I have. Unfortunately, in trying to wrap up the investigation, the rabbit hole only got deeper. Then, we found ourselves back at square one,” she explains further adding to my confusion. “Anyway, that’s enough about that. I promise I will tell you everything else once I can, but right now, Jacob needs help.” She scratches at her elbow, nervous and anxious. “All you need to know is that you have to go slightly South of Lubbock, Texas, to an abandoned factory near a burned-down farm. I haven’t been in, but I’ve gotten close,” she says, concerned.
I shrug. “Okay? Why?”
Mom frowns and touches my arm. “Honey, that’s where Jacob is…”
I sigh and rub my face, then pull my curly hair back. It bounces forward when I let it go. “And, you didn’t help him? It didn’t occur to you to tell me any of this sooner, Mom — or to even, like, tell Dad?” I shout, emphasizing my mood with my hands. Mom sticks her finger up.
“You might be going through a minor emergency Mona, but I’m still your mother.”
“Sorry,” I respond, trying not to huff and puff. She doesn’t understand how stressful this is! My soulmate could die! I also still have work and a bunch of crap to do! Oh my god, I can’t do this. I really can’t do this. I rub my face and try not to show my anxiety.
“Look, I’m trapped in this… spirit form… I get it, Mona. It’s not easy for you – And, you have other things to take care of,” Mom responds, without raising her voice or getting upset. She sees right through me, as usual. “but your father and have ton of things happening right now — things that are bigger than my longest friend dying and me not being able to inhabit my body, things that are bigger than Jacob or even you.”
She’s right. I slump forward, feeling like a child, and avoid eye contact.
“I still haven’t had time to mourn or grieve,” she says.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I declare.
“It’s fine,” Mom responds. “Anyway, this isn’t a bitching session. I just wanted to say that I have a lot of connections and contacts, and we now know quite a bit about the Wordsworth creatures. For example, they devour human souls word by word until there’s nothing left. I’ve learned more since I’ve been accompanying you on your trip, but I still don’t know the full depths of what they can hear, see and affect,” she says, pensively. Mom strokes her red hair and says, “If the Wordsworth are like other Mantleans, then–“
“Mantleans? What? Wha-What are you talking about, Mom?”
“Oh boy,” she mutters, exhaling and groaning. “Well, you know how I used to tell stories about Lars, the red-haired gnome who lived underground and loved Fairy Juice?”
I cross my arms and nod, even more confused and annoyed than before.
“Lars is a friend of ours, and he’s real,” Mom says.
I sigh and stare at a man sitting in his car. “Okay?”
“The point I’m trying to make is that there are entities living in and around the Earth that have abilities and powers we don’t know anything about, or if we do know anything about them it’s limited to our observations. We don’t comprehend the how, why or anything else. In the case of Wordworth, who fully knows what they’re capable of, or if they even come from Earth. Some Mantleans can move freely between space, time and reality,” she reveals. I pace away from Mom, letting her words sink in.
Trying to keep my composure, I stare at Mom. She smiles at me again. I smile back unintentionally, as I’m still upset. We stand together for a few minutes, saying nothing to each other. “I understand,” I say finally, in a low, unconfident voice. “Is there anything I can do to help you, Mom?” I inquire, feeling useless.
“Not really,” she admits with a heavy sigh. “There’s something big going on in Manhattan and something forced me out of my body. It’s not related to any of this, but I can’t seem to figure it out,” Mom reveals. She looks around, then back at me. “Really the only thing you can do is tell your father, Th’Rut.”
“No, thrust without an ‘S’,” Mom says, “He’ll know what it means. I love you, Mona. I’ll see you soon. Now, go do what you have to do,” she says, then shoves me.
There’s a flash and a loud sound. My sight goes black.
I blink and sit up on the hotel bed. I try to move, but my body feels clunky and heavy.
Dad and Cannen help me up. “Don’t try to move to fast, Mona. You were sent back into your body without initiating it yourself. Your body needs a second,” Dad says. My stomach growls and Cannen hands me the remainder of my meal.
Embarrassed, I accept the food. “Dad, we need to go to Lubbock, Texas. That’s where Jacob is.” My words are urgent and focused. “Jacob’s being held in a warehouse surrounded by Wordsworth creatures. Mom said they keep their captured humans there and feed on them word-by-word until the human’s soul is gone. We didn’t talk about how much time Jacob has left, so we should probably go sooner rather than later.”
Dad nods. “Okay, is that all that Amber said?”
“No,” I respond. “She also said, Th’Rut.”
Dad’s eyes widen. He stops himself short of having any other discernable reaction and gives me a serious look. “Then, there’re a few calls I need to make, otherwise, we aren’t getting far.”
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