Your bedchamber is sunny and filled with the ticking of your timepiece collection. About a hundred clocks line the wall behind your bed—some are gold, some are silver, and one or two are made of a strange metal that shines different colors: pinks, blues and yellows. The twin bell and cuckoo clocks have a tendency to sound on their own—a problem that you find very alarming.
In your lap is an oval mirror with a delicate silver frame, ornate and detailed with flowers—but the glass of the mirror is black. This is a scrying mirror, and it lets you look into another world. The world on the other side of the looking glass is quite different from your own—it's like one side of the mirror is Kansas, and the other side is Oz.
You happen to be on the Oz side.
In the mirror everything is one shade of brown or another while the world you live in looks like it was painted by a Fauvist painter. This is very fitting, you suppose, for a place called Dreamland. Everyone in your world is all about being whimsical, and you hate it. Beige is your favorite color and you like filling out forms and standing in queues—in theory, because those things don't exist in Dreamland.
Sometimes you have fantasies about getting to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles.
A flying pig sweeps past outside your window across a backdrop of skybluepink money trees and you sigh. Everything is so boring here. What you really want is to be on the other side of the mirror, in a strange and foreign land where no one can use magic because they're all losers like you. Not being able to use magic is incredibly rare and it makes you an outcast—ironically enough, there was a time when you wanted to conquer the world.
Your fingertips press to cold glass. Your name is Banastre Alister, and you just wanna get away from here.
All of the clocks go off at once and it feels like the sky is falling—you scream, and the clocks seem to scream right back at you.
“BRING! RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING! BING BING BING BING!”
“CUCKOO! CUCKOO! BRRRRIIIIIIIIING! BRIIIIIING! BRINGA-LINGA-DING-DONG!”
“—HHHHH! Bloody Mary full of vodka shut the hell up! What?! What is it this time?!” The last ringing clock goes silent, and it's peaceful tick-tocking all 'round.
“You're late for work,” one of the clocks says happily.
You facepalm. “. . . I'm . . . late, for work?”
“. . . So you waited 'til I was already late to tell me I had work?”
“Yes,” the clock says helpfully, and smiles.
Suddenly your mind is filled with visions of Jerzel Inglas and what she will do to you if you are late again. “. . . I-I'll just call in sick.” You proceed to make a fort atop your bed, handcrafted from the finest blankets and pillows, and hide yourself in it. Jerzel will never find you here. You reach for a pale yellow plastic phone.
“You're going to stay home all day with us?!” the spokesman clock shouts with elation. “Why, I'm so happy I could just . . . just . . . sing!”
“No,” you say simply, and twist the rotary dial—but mysterious music is already playing from nowhere, and the clocks are starting to dance.
“Oh you are late! (Tick, tock!) Isn't that just great?! (Tick, tock.)”
“Stop it,” you warn.
“Yes we are clocks! (Tick, tock,) And we're gonna tock-tock-tick you off! Let's sing!”
“No, no, no!”
“And to think you thought we were annoying, Befooore! (Tick, tock.)We love to tell you when you're late, For a very, very important date—You wanna go home early? We'll be sure to make you wait!”
“HOLY FUCKING PANCAKES SHUT UP!”
“Parsley, sage, rosemary and time,When you least suspect we sound the chime, And when we make you angry, The time reads 1:01! We're so wound up! (Tick, tock!) Sun down, sun up! (Tick, tock.) If you need a hand, (Tick, tock!) Then we'll give you the bird! (Cuckoo!) Let's sing!”
In a fit of desperation you pray to literally every false idol you worship to make it stop, including Santa Claus, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Alexander Hamilton. “ALEXANDER HAMILTON IN A POWDERED WIG MAKE IT STOP!”
“And to think you thought we were annoying, Befooore! (Tick, tock!)”
The bedroom door slams behind you—you can hear the muffled sound of cheering on the other side, but the song is over. The door is cool against your palms as you lean back on it and sigh with relief. Spontaneous musical numbers are just the worst.
A man who looks exactly like you but older ambles down the hall reading a newspaper and smoking a fat joint. The man has your blue hair and milk-white skin, but he has tattoos of hearts, bones, and anchors all over his arms and piercings in his eyebrow and lip. He was once a sailor, but the sea hated him.
“Who the hell're you?” your father the ancient mariner wants to know.
“Dad, I'm your son!” you tell him, which is a thing you often have to tell him.
“AYSLING!” he calls feebly to your mother, who is probably in the living room. “THERE'S A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE AND HE SAYS HE'S MY SON!”
“THAT'S YOUR SON!” your mother's disembodied voice responds in a yell.
“OKAY, THAT'S COOL,” Jasper Alister shouts back, and lifts up the paper. This has been going on since you were born and you are currently twenty-six years old.
You really, really want to get away from here. Instead you amble stupidly into the living room, where you're even more likely to be pissed off.
The living room of your house has gravity spells applied to it so you can walk on the walls. Dr. Aysling Alister sits in a tattered leather chair on the ceiling, surrounded by vast towers of cardboard boxes that hang down like stalactites. The red chez lounge pulled beside her chair identifies her profession—your mother is a shrink, but she never has any clients except you.
She's also a scene kid, and looks abnormally young for her age with her wild mane of black and white stripes. Her eyes match yours—pale green and black—but she keeps them hidden behind neon green wayfarers. Her clothing is all animal prints pants and sarcastic T-shirts. A residual garland of glowsticks still hangs about her neck from the rave she attended last night to which you were not invited.
A flock of paper airplanes bursts through the open window in the ceiling, outside of which is nothing but an endless blue sky. In Dreamland all you have to do to send a letter is write a note on magic paper, fold it into a paper airplane, and send out a window. This is of course called Airmail and during work and school hours, the air of every city is thick with paper airplanes of every color and reeks of their mingled perfumes. More often than not, the Airmail hits someone in the head.
Aysling picks up a yellow airplane and sniffs it. “Smells like Fabrizzle! Must be from Larry, he be keepin' it fresh 'ya dig'?” She bursts out laughing like a cackling raven. “Kakakakaka!”
Your friend Larry is at the Dragon Council right now and should not be sending notes. “Give it here.”
“Hmm . . . hmmmmm . . . NO! KAKAKAKAKAKAKA!”
“Are you mad?” she squeals. “Because you look mad!”
“Yesh,” you grumble.
“Come on up and get a happy pill!” she calls.
“I don't want to be happy!” you complain, and your face heats up and your fingers claw the air.
“Come on up and get one! I just got this variety grab bag full of happy pills. I need a guinea pig to try them out!”
You roll your eyes, grit your teeth, and find yourself furiously waltzing up one wall and onto the ceiling—you don't want the pills, you just want Larry's letter.
The way up and down shifts around you as you step from one wall to the next is very unnerving and makes you seasick. This problem is compounded by the way the yellowed wallpaper swirls beneath your feet, all twisting black vines and leaves that churn in hypnotic patterns. You feel like you're going to puke by the time you're standing by her chair.
“Here,” she says, and shoves you the airplane, which you put under your hat. And then, to your mortification, she gives you a handful of pastel pills—you don't know what any of these are and she probably doesn't, either. You're not sure whether you're more afraid of the one marked with a smiley face or the one marked with a skull.
“I'm not taking these! There's probably PCP in here!”
“They're just sugar pills,” she tells you. “They work off the placebo effect. That and because they're so cheerful looking. Anyways, have a seat,” she instructs, and you lay down on the chez lounge by her chair and twiddle your thumbs. “So how's your megalomania today?”
“I don't have megalomania anymore,” you insist as she takes notes about you, and this is somewhat true.
“And how's your Napoleon complex?” she asks, looking up from her notes with a skeptical look.
“I don't have that either,” you lie, and adjust your Napoleon hat. You are, in fact, dressed like Napoleon from head to toe, which isn't very much seeing as you are only five-foot-three.
Then the phone rings, and that's when you remember work—your dad is trying to make a tuna sandwich on the wall that contains the kitchen and he's closest to it, so he picks it up. “Hello? . . . Banastre who?” your dad asks while throwing tuna and bread everywhere. “I'm sorry I think you have the wrong number, no one lives here by that name—”
“No Dad it's for me!”
“Jasper it's for Banastre!”
Your father calls for you to be silent so he can continue telling Jerzel Inglas how you don't live here. “Banastre be quiet, I'm on the phone.” Inside, you are screaming. “Okay. Okay I'll tell him.” He hangs up, and proceeds to not tell you a damn thing.
“. . . Tell me what?” you inquire.
“Huh?” he asks, bite of sandwich in his mouth.
“Tell me what?”
“. . . Who the hell are you?”
“Kakakakaka!” your mother comments. “Jasper, he's your son!”
“Oh, that's cool,” your father says.
“GRRRAAAAAHHHHH!” you shriek, stomp to your bedroom, and slam the door behind you.
“. . . He's back! He's here! Let's all sing, and spread good cheer! Let's all—”
You slam the door behind you again.
“Who are you?” your hookah caterpillar of a father wants to know.
Maybe work isn't so bad after all.
Dreamland is the place where human souls go when they sleep—more specifically, they go to one of the many dream theaters scattered throughout Dreamland. There are dream theaters in huge tree trunks, in buildings shaped like dinosaurs and castles made of cloud that float lazily through the sky—but the one you work in takes up residence in a giant, floating pear. You live fairly close to it but you still have to leave your house in order to get there, so you're not particularly thrilled.
You stand looking down at the front door in the ceiling that currently serves as a floor. The effect is something like looking down into a hole in the ground and seeing nothing in it but an ocean of sky filled with fluffy white clouds and a sun that looks like a giant orange and yellow bull's eye. This is because you are actually looking up. The sense of distance is sickening to you—it looks like you could just fall and fall forever until you ran into the sun.
Upon exiting your door gravity shifts—for a moment you have all the earth for a ceiling and the sky below your feet, and then the next thing you know you're face-planting into terra firma. Your face is actually smooshed against one of the windows in the roof of your subterranean abode and you feel like a bug on a windshield.
Your mother laughs silently at you from the other side of the window. The look on her face is reminiscent of a shark experiencing euphoria.
“Ow!” you gripe, and sit up, massaging your bruised cheek that just got bitch-slapped by an entire planet. You collect the Napoleon hat, your fallen comrade, and place it on your head.
When you're above ground all you can see of your house is the front wall, which is flat with the ground and looks like the front of an A-frame human world house, complete with a door and two windows. It is covered in peeling white paint and surrounded by the finest crab grass no money can buy, and a lot of other troglodyte homes just like it.
Most of the windows in your neighbor's houses sport curtains made of tinfoil and yellowed newspaper and torn bedsheets. The chain-link fence surrounding the neighborhood has been squashed flat at one end like it got rolled over by a tank. Needless to say you live in the low-rent district, and the view from the window in your bedroom was a lie.
“Bye!” you call down into your rabbit-hole of a home, but no one responds. “Bye Banastre, we love you!” you reply to yourself as sarcastically as possible, and start passive-aggressively kicking dirt into the open door.
“Stop kicking sand!” your mother calls.
The world around you is all summer swelter—mountains of fluffy white clouds fill the south horizon and the air is sticky and warm. Those clouds are permanent—they're the clouds hanging over Nocturna, the land where the nightmares dwell, but today they seem to be pushing into partitions of sky to which they'd never laid claim before. An ineffectual breeze blows by and makes the pinwheel staked in your neighbor's yard glitter and spin.
Because you are so late, you decide it would be a good idea to stand perfectly still for a good while while you gawk all around you, surveying your surroundings for a short-cut. There has to be something faster than the long and winding path you take to work—a hidden shortcut no one has yet uncovered.
You take out your precious and most coveted kaleidoscope, and look into it.
This kaleidoscope's primary function, according to the Troll who sold it to you, is that it lets you look at invisible stuff—you're looking for a hidden shortcut, but through the magical item's multicolored lenses you can see precisely Jack squat.
You are beginning to doubt the claims of the Troll who sold you this item—you had said to him upon trying it out that you couldn't see any invisible stuff in it, to which he'd replied of course not, it's invisible. Ah, you had said, and nodded sagely like you'd understood.
“. . . THIS KALEIDOSCOPE SUCKS!” you shout, and weakly throw it down. You then bend over with some awkward difficulty and slowly pick it up, then put it in your jacket pocket. On the horizon you can see the long, winding path on one hand, and on the other, a massive clump of pitch black brambles.
In a fit of irate stupidity, you make a beeline for the brambles. Oh, Banastre. Life is so hard for you.
The countryside around you mostly consists of twisted hills that twirl like icing into rather Seussian shapes. Instead of grass, most of the hills are covered in living wallpaper—if you stand still in one place too long it will start crawling up your ankles, but it's pretty enough when it covers the hills in huge swaths of blue and white stripes, or orange and yellow, or green and gold. In some places it takes on an argyle or rose pattern or is spangled with stars—the effect is lovely, even to a contrarian like you.
The trees here are all olive trees, rainbow eucalyptus, and smoke trees. Smoke trees are made of black smoke plumes that forever undulate and change shape—they smell like burning rubber and make you cough when you pass them. Further south of here is the Avian Woods, where the trees sprout feathers instead of leaves. In those woods it's all bandersnatches and lolcats, pink elephants, and stranger things besides—and on the other side of those woods, is Nocturna.
We don't talk about Nocturna, you recall teachers and parents saying to you when you were younger, and asked what it was.
At first going through the brambles is slow and painful, and you have no path to follow so you are continually going in circles. But then you get to a point where you burst through a particularly nasty knot of brambles and on the other side, lo and behold, you see a sight that makes both you and your heart stop—the creek.
There it is, the Less Creek, running right between you and work, ten feet wide and four feet deep.
The Less Creek is a wandering tributary—it's an off-branch of a much larger river miles from here called the Little Latin, wherein wandering means that the thing will slink across the countryside like a sidewinder made of water and then plant itself wherever it chooses. And right now, it's chosen to be in your way.
“MOVE!” you yell at the creek, and it just sits there.
“GET OFF!” you shout at the wallpaper crawling up your ankles, and stomp like Godzilla. You know the wallpaper will wrap you up like a mummy if you don't move, and there's nothing to do but wade through the Less Creek. You have pockets full of water and as you wade across the river you lift your feet high like a Gestapo-stepping flamingo. You're about halfway across when you slip on something slimy and slam knees-first into the sharp rocks at the bottom.
A flock of dodo birds that had been roosting in a nearby bramble bush become alarmed, and all start squawking in unison. As you stand you find the rocks have cut your knees and you're bleeding badly into the starry water. Your blood drips and swirls in bands of pink, cerulean, every color in between—the gashes start to heal over as you stand, but the pain’s still tangible.
“FUCKING CREEK!” you shout, and splash about angrily, slapping your palms feebly on the surface of the water. Doing this does not particularly bother the creek, and it remains as oblivious to your inconvenience as that T-Rex who always blocks supermarket aisles with his sideways shopping cart.
Somehow every time you go to the store there is this petite T-Rex there named Leeky—he's not really a T-Rex of course, he's a Dragon, and he just shape-shifts to take on the form of a T-Rex for . . . some reason? You don't care what reason, because the guy pisses you off! It seems like whatever aisle you need to get to, he'll be there debating whether he wants whole-wheat or cracked-wheat bread, or whether he wants one-ply or two-ply toilet paper, or how many packages of hot dogs and hot dog buns he needs to buy to ensure there will be a one-to-one hotdog-to-bun ratio.
If he wasn't a Dragon you'd just take his cart and move it, or yell at him to move it himself, or even just slink around it, but with Dragons you never know. It would be a very bad thing if he decided he wanted a Figment like you for dinner instead of hotdogs.
Your species, by the way, are called Figments—you look exactly like humans cast in unusual color schemes and each of you has a single magic talent—each of you except for you. The Dragons and Trolls seem to think of Figments as being about as powerful and long-lived as fruit flies and twice as annoying, but since there are so many of you your species holds the Dreamland reigns of power.
At last you exit the creek and then the brambles and since you can run now, you do. Green olives drop from their trees and a silvery mist rolls past in curls, carrying a wonderful briny scent that reminds you of the sea. The afternoon is golden, lovely, and peaceful—you are red-faced, furious, and wet—but you can see the pear between two upcoming hills covered in blue and white stripes.
That pear is ridiculously large and hovers midair like a cartoon anvil waiting to drop. Supposedly it came from one of the Yggdrasil pear trees that grow up north where the Trolls are, in the nameless country called the Wildlands. The stickers the pear came with identify its Trollish roots: one billboard sized sticker bears a Viking helmet; another shows a Trollish flag; and a third one, the one right over the round black door, says BITE ME.
Whoever owns the place decided to be lazy and just paint the words “Dream Theater” under the BITE ME sticker. And so you work for the BITE ME Dream Theater.
People have been pasting fruit-stickers to the pear for years and their own amusement, leaving these patches of random-colored dots near the door. Between the door and terra firma runs a network of rickety wooden stairs that have a splintery handrail on one side and sway horribly when anyone walks on them, whenever a breeze blows, or for no reason whatsoever. At the top of the pear is what looks like a a giant's bite-mark but is actually a carved out amphitheater. The inside of the pear is carved with so many tunnels that if you were to slice it in half, it'd look like an ant farm.
You go up the stairs one at a time while clinging to the handrail. The stairs sway more and more the higher you go, and by the time you're up to the deck in front of the door you're sweating and trembling with fear.
You open the door. On the other side are twin fireballs the same size as your eyes, the same width apart.
When your vision adjusts to the blackness inside you're left staring at a woman of driftwood, her knothole eyes smoldering with amused sadism.
Jerzel Inglas looks like a marionette but no one pulls her strings, a wooden doll but nobody made her. Her hair looks like a bird's nest with a cowlick that ends in a dead leaf—twiggy eyelashes branch from her fire-eyes, looking like tiny wooden antlers—she has a Pinocchio nose, and she's a spectacular liar. If you were to shake her hand you'd get splinters—and best of all, her head is hollow.
For the past few days there has been a bird nesting in her wooden skull—a woodpecker. It is the best thing that has ever happened to you personally. Half the time she walks around smacking herself in the head, looking like a total whackjob, yelling “SHUT UP!” at no one.
“Oh, look. It's the living statue.” Jerzel speaks with a mouthful of wooden teeth, and somehow it makes you think of George Washington's dentures. Her voice is like tree sap—maple syrup sweet, slow, and cruel enough to encase a helpless mosquito in amber. “I was watching you, you know, as you made your slow, dawdling way across an inhospitable land that stretched for countless inches. Did you know that you actually run—slower—than you walk?”
This is it—a challenge to a duel of insults, a war of words. You've been slapped in the face with the white glove of argumentation, and on the battlefield of wits, you will meet her as an equal.
“I like pie.” And now for something completely non sequitur.
Her fire-eyes go wide with surprise—a blink, but she continues. “When I first started to watch your inspiring journey, I thought you were standing still—but then I saved up, and bought a camera, and took a six month course in time lapse photography while you were busy covering two feet of ground.”
“Yesterday,” you continue, “I ate a thing called a shepherd’s pie. It was not a pie at all.”
“The results of the time lapse were stunning. You can actually see nations rise, and fall, while you’re busy flapping your limbs like a brain-damaged bird.”
“At first I thought it was like a lemon meringue pie, but when I took a bite of the meringue I discovered it was mashed potatoes. Instead of being filled with fruit, it was filled with lies. I was very disappointed.”
“. . . Anyways, I think it would be to your advantage to find a quicker mode of transportation to work. For instance, I know a narcoleptic sloth with a barbiturate addiction. Maybe he would let you ride on his shoulders, and you can watch the world zoom by at a speed the likes of which you have never even imagined. I b—”
You interrupt her with one final, very important thought. “Oh, speaking of pies, did you hear? Troll King Ikkespook slayed the Jabberwock this weekend with nothing but cream pies and banana peels for a weapon!”
“—AAAHHHH! HOW DARE YOU MENTION HIM!”
“. . . What, the Jabberwock? . . . Ikkespook?”
Her stick fingers claw the air and conjure a line of sharp wooden poles that shoot up between you and her, formed from the wood of the deck and stairs. Every stake is as thick as your arm and stretches up over your head—the air is filled with horrendous creaking and the scent of sawdust. The sharp tips of the stakes bend over in unison then freeze in your face, ready to strike at aforementioned face like the many heads of a hydra.
Your eyebrows go up about a mile. Psssch Houston we have liftoff, Banastre's eyebrows have entered the stratosphere, you think to yourself, and wonder why you're just standing there like a living statue and if maybe you should back up a bit, which you do.
Jerzel is the stage manager, and Jerzel is a Troll. You have no idea what is so offensive about mentioning Troll King Ikkespook—what he did was amazing as far as you're concerned. The battlefield was like a slip-n-slide of banana peels and the Jabberwock was falling all over himself left and right—it was one cream pie in the face after the other, and the poor beast was completely defeated.
“What's wrong with Ikkespook?”
SLAM! goes a stake as it whirls down into the steps, and then another one impacts even closer to your person. Time stands still and your breath hitches in your throat while your heartbeat pounds like a jackhammer in your chest. Stakes number three and four whiz down toward your face, hellbent on impaling your brain through your eyeballs—
Quite suddenly you are no longer Banastre Alister, but are instead Troll King Ikkespook von Pooperdingle. Excitingly enough, you are eating a hard-boiled egg sprinkled with salt. You certainly are a rebel! But you can get away with such blatant delinquency because you just so happen to be the Troll King. This title means you are the most powerful and funniest of all Trolls. And you certainly are an expert at trolling!
You think you will start your day by reading an educational pamphlet about the importance of diet and exercise. Diet and exercise are really important! It is a good idea to eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day, for instance, a broccoli. Running is good. Add strength-developing exercises twice per week. Once you have finished reading the educational pamphlet, you pick up the phone book and an unabridged dictionary for some light reading.
You open the unabridged dictionary and begin reading the copyright information. Wow! This dictionary was made in 2214!
—Alarmingly enough you are once again Banastre, and you are still about to be killed.
“NOOOOOOOOOO,” you call out slowly in a deep bass yell, and thrash even slower. At the last possible instant Jerzel apparently realizes you aren't going to move—she jerks stakes three and four to either side of you so that they slam harmlessly into the deck boards to your left and right.
You don't know it, but you are now completely frozen with a look of dumb shock plastered to your face and your hands raised up T-Rex style. You don't know it, but you do this rather often.
“Are you mocking me?” Jerzel icily demands.
“. . .” your shock-gaping face doesn't reply, and this makes her even madder.
CRACK! goes the deck as stakes five, six, and seven rapid-fire impale it around you, making it splinter apart—all reality is a blur where everything moves as fast as the wings of a hummingbird. A second set of stakes blossom at your back and a furious onslaught of lightning-quick branches rains down on the deck—all around you is the sound of breaking wood, but tinny and high-pitched. Jerzel speaks, but she sounds like a hyperactive psycho midget on helium. “Hihihihihihihi!” she laughs. “Run Banastre, run! Or is this you running? I can’t tell!”
Finally she gives up and everything slows back down to a normal pace around you. Jerzel speaks in her typical dulcet tone and sounds deep-voiced by comparison. Instead of frantic jerks she moves like a lazy summer afternoon. “. . . . I understand that you look up to Frankie,” she is saying. “You can't really help it noting how very short you are. But you don't need to go emulating his lack of attention.”
“What?” you ask blearily, but then you hear someone walking up the steps and see Jerzel's flaming eyes wax quite, quite wide.
The stakes slip back into the deck-boards like they never were. Jerzel's eyes slip back and forth like the eyes in one of those skeevy cat clocks—she whistles, and twiddles her thumbs. Before her are five obviously mangled steps full of splintery holes, a badly abused deck, and you, looking traumatized. It goes without saying that you won't tattle on her for practically trying to kill you, and she doesn't even bother to ask.
All the yelling and thunder-boom cracks is replaced by abrupt silence—excepting, of course, the sound of footsteps. THUD, THUD, THUD, the heaviest boots in Dreamland make their way up broken stairs. A shadowy figure stamps past, dressed in a jumpsuit of black leather and straps. Dark hair whips in the wind—his sinister-looking boots smash their way through a battlefield of wrecked steps, their spiked toes glistening in the sun.
He has the most unnerving eyes, eyes modified to look human, eyes like black olives in pools of milk. Meanwhile his skin is yellow—it's a mellower tone of yellow than Simpson's yellow, but it's still yellow. This is rather appropriate because Frankenstein Batman Sketchez is a complete coward. He's also a kawaii Mary Sue, annoying but ridiculously overpowered. You hope his powers get nerfed.
At the top step, Frankie’s right boot falls into a hole and trips him up—slowly, he turns.
Intense dark eyes survey the wrecked staircase while his face is the poster child for Confusion. Suddenly his Confused face becomes Walleyed and Stupid with Terror. “AAAAAAHHHHHH! JERZEL SAID THIS WOULD HAPPEN IF I KEPT STOMPING LIKE I DO!”
“It was already like that,” you tell him, and then remember your solemn vow you made yesterday that you were never talking to him again. You regularly and often make vows to never talk to Frankie Sketchez again, and have been doing so since you went to Dream Academy together, but as it were he is your Best Friend. You will absolutely never admit this, nor will you admit that you like to have fun or think puppies are cute.
STOMP, STOMP, STOMP—the shadows say he’s all upons. Your teeth grind and you turn your back on him, then resolutely cross your arms, as closed off as a clam.
“Good evening, Banastre!” Frankie loudly greets you.
You refuse to look at him but somehow wind up talking to him, just like you always do. “IT IS NOON.”
“You’re facing the wrong way, Ban. I’m over here.” And suddenly there are hands on your shoulders, and they spin you right 'round baby, right 'round, like a record baby—you are greeted with a look of concern that rapidly transforms into a look of terror. “Ah! That face is scary!” Frankie turns you back around again.
“Jerijerijerihello,” he says excitably, and you can see his shadow waving at her shadow.
“Hello, Frankie. You got the part.”
“I'm Hades?! Aw, sick!”
“You, Banastre,” Jerzel calls to you, “are Persephone.”
The play you are doing this week is Hades and Persephone, which is a play based on the Greek myth of those two except it attempts to be funnier. The main character is Hades, the god of the Underworld, and he has a love interest: Persephone, the youthful goddess of spring. Persephone, with a garland of flowers in her hair. Persephone, with a heaving bosom and a billowing white dress.
Persephone, who has to kiss Hades in the final act.
Quite suddenly you are totally speechless. In a fit of numb surreality, you turn, and start to walk back down the stairs. Your cheeks are on fire and you look more awkward than was previously thought possible.
“BANASTRE!” Jerzel barks, which is an appropriate form of communication for a tree-bitch. “Get back here!”
“I'm not playing Persephone.”
Frankie meanwhile tries to change the subject. “I have a joke! Why did the ghost cross the road? . . .”
“Do it or you're fired.”
“Jerzel I am begging you, one man to another—”
“. . . To get to the Other Side! Get it? Other Side?” Frankie grins obliviously and points a finger at you like a pistol.
“Frankie shut up,” Jerzel kvetches.
“Don't tell him to shut up!” you defend, and wave your arms about.
“Guys, guys! Why did yo fat mamma cross the road? . . .”
“Banastre, go get in costume.”
“. . . Because she heard there was chicken on the other side!”
“You will not like what I will do,” you warn her, “if you make me do this.”
“I don't care what you do, just go get in costume!”
“Oh, here's one: knock, knock! . . .”
“I advise you to remember that you said that,” you say with great emphasis and Frankie as your witless, and pray it will be enough of a loophole. You walk past them up the steps and open the round, black door, stepping shell-shocked into darkness and overwhelming pear smell.
“I said, 'knock, knock!'” Frankie prompts again, but no one is paying any attention to him.
Jerzel follows you into the pear and shuts the door behind her—like so many things in Dreamland the door is alive and has a mind of its own, and upon being shut, chooses to lock itself. And thus did Frankie Sketchez wind up on the wrong side of a locked door, trapped out on a landing from high noon to low three in the afternoon.
He knocks on the door profusely, but no one asks, “Who's there?”