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Deal 1035: Meta dream worlds

In his dream, Sydney watched himself dream.

The dream of the orchard where he lay was clear and intense. The trees were inviting, one in particular seemed to positively glow. On that tree, one apple was glowing. After considering it for five minutes, he picked it, took two bites, and fell into a deep sleep.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming.

He dreamed he was standing in a magical orchard, holding a glowing axe. The head seemed eager for him to walk amongst the trees, and pulled him towards a particularly old tree that glowed faintly like all the rest of the trees. Except for a single limb that was black at its tip, with some sort of creeping sickness working its way up the branch toward the trunk. He understood that chopping off the dying branch to save the healthy tree was necessary.

He swung the axe with all his strength, removing a small chip from the bark at the base of the branch. The blackness moved a little closer. He swung again, the black moved again. He settled into a rhythm, taking chips out of the branch on both sides and from below with each blow. Finally after he had weakened it enough, he began to cut into the top side of the branch. It began to feel like it was going to be a close thing. Could he sever the branch before the black reached where he was cutting?

A final blow brought the now nearly completely blackened branch down.

He knew it needed to be burned to prevent the infection from spreading to the other trees. He also knew he shouldn’t handle the blackened areas himself, and that cutting into the black area with the axe might spread contaminated chips and make containment even more difficult. He surveyed the area and spotted a fire pit nearby with a fire set and ready to light. He lit it with a thought and gesture, and let the blaze become established as he worked out how to drag the branch to the fire without touching the black areas.

Finally, he fed the blackened branch into the fire.

As it burned, the flames changed colors wildly. He could almost see the disease burning up, and fighting for its survival the whole time.

Watching the flames was somewhat hypnotic, and he drifted off into a trance.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming a dream.

He was dressed in typical business day casual, and sitting in a large office, at the desk. In the distance, an old fashioned crank wound gramophone was sitting, and playing The Liberty Bell in vibrant but scratchy tones.

The music was soothing, and soon he drifted off into a nap.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming of dreaming of dreaming….

Sydney is caught in a different and more insidious loop.

Will he escape?

Will he be sane?

Is he actually dreaming the whole thing from an old warehouse in LA?

He has no idea.

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Deal 1032: Real or not?

Sydney was the most sure about anything since he landed in this strange world. The girl sitting with him was somehow also the dragon that had blocked his travels and invited him to meet her in the garden for tea. There was tea. There was an unexpected lack of dragon. He could do the math. He could also tell that there was definitely a wrong way to broach the subject.

“I’m Sydney, and I’m sure you know that already. The tea is welcome.”

Gwen nodded. He might be off to a good start. “It is, especially on a pleasant day.”

She wasn’t going to admit anything quickly, that was clear. He looked around at the formal garden, but was drawn back to her eyes. There was an aura about them. About her, really. If he looked closer, the aura extended off into the distance and developed wings and a tail. He’d never noticed that effect before. He counted to three in his head. “I really have no idea what is going on here. I’m seeing things I never could see back home. I’m doing things that I’ve never done. I’m worried a little that I’m enjoying it too much and that if offered a way home I might turn away from it.”

“Do you have friends and family who are wondering where you are?”

“Not too many. Just a few online connections, but not many that I’d ever met in real life.”

She frowned a moment. “Is this real now?”

“I don’t know.” He paused, lost in thought. “I thought I did at first. I assumed the whole thing was some sort of technological trick that I’d unwittingly got involved in. But I’m less sure of that now.”

She smiled. “If it helps, I’m reasonably sure this is real.”

She puffed her cigar and sipped her tea.

“It helps. Thanks.”

“Well isn’t this cozy” croaked the frog.

Sydney jumped. Gwen blew a smoke ring that settled around the errant trickster and began to shrink to grip it. The frog leapt out just in the nick of time, glared at them, and hopped off to vanish under a rose-bush.

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Deal 1031: Meeting Gwen

He didn’t wish for a hobo. Not exactly, at least. Sydney didn’t consciously wish for anything. But deep down, he wanted what anyone wants: Love. Back in his old life, just wanting something was normally not enough. You had to work for it, hunt it down, convince it to want you too. But here, things were different. Things were guided more by the necessity of the journey than the destination. So Sydney floated on down the path without realizing what he had set himself up for.

He’d made it only about 25 yards before the first consequence showed up.

Something large and scaley blocked the path.

There seemed to be no other way around. And looking back, Sydney discovered that there was no path back, the copse of trees had closed over it and erased all traces.

He had no choice but to confront the thing that blocked his path.

He bravely walked up to it, and realized it was a head.

“Excuse me?”

It just blinked at him, slowly.

“What are you and why are you here?”

“I should ask you the same question.” It’s voice was deep and resonant, with a hint of smokiness. Or perhaps more than just a hint, as a wisp of smoke escaped from a nostril.

“I was walking to the town, but this path was more interesting. Also, there was a frog that gave bad advice.” Sydney wondered why he was taking this so calmly. The head blocking the path was enormous, and there were fangs nearly as long as he was tall. And yet, he was just standing here, close. Too close.

“Don’t worry little morsel. I’ve already eaten this week. I’m happy to chat and not eat you. Today, at least.”

“I wasn’t worried.” He was. “I’ll stay and chat.” Like he had a choice. “Do you eat people often?”

“No, not really. Honestly, you would be my first, if I ate you.” Its head moved a little and Sydney got a look down its throat as it yawned. “But I don’t want to eat you. Is that why you sought me out? To be eaten?”

“No! I had no idea you were here. The path just seemed more interesting.”

“The interesting thing is that you saw my path at all. Most just walk past it without noticing.”

“Oh. There was that frog…”

“Ah, yes. You mentioned it. You’ve been marked by a Trickster. That never ends quite as anyone expects.”

“Perhaps introductions are a good idea. I’m Sydney. I’m from Los Angeles and I have no idea how I got here or where I am.”

“Nice to meet you Sydney. You couldn’t pronounce my name, but you can call me Gwen. You’ve walked directly to my front porch, and ignored all of the little tricks that should have discouraged you or distracted you. You reek of Trickster influence, so I suspect we will become friends in time.”

Sydney looked around, but didn’t see anything that resembled a porch. Unless it was under that hillside just beyond Gwen’s head. A hillside that he suddenly realized was breathing. He reassessed his sense of scale.

“You. You’re a dragon!”

“Well, yes. I suppose I am. And you are not precisely the barbarian you appear to be. Wherever this Los Angeles place is, it must be far away as I’ve never heard the name before, so you are likely the victim of a Trickster’s trap. My advice, which is likely better than that of a frog, is to accept what you can’t change. You are here. I am here. So please join me in my garden for tea.”

“I would be pleased, but where…”

“Just along the path and around the mound. I will join you there presently.”

With that, Gwen drew her head back and vanished into an opening that he hadn’t seen before. With her out of the way, the path was clear and led around to a pleasant formal garden with orderly plantings and a table set for two.

Sydney had no wish to offend anything that much bigger, so he picked a seat with a nice view of the countryside spread out beyond the hedge maze. He wondered how Gwen would fit along the garden paths, which were too narrow for her dragon, and he contemplated how little he knew about this world. Back home he would have been terrified at finding a dragon in an alley. But here, it seemed to be normal, but he didn’t know if his experiences so far were even close to normal either.

With a sound almost exactly like a large bird landing and folding its wings, he realized he was no longer alone in the garden. The young woman let her skirts swish (perhaps that was what he’d heard) as she walked past him and settled down in the other chair. They sat in silence, enjoying the view.

Just then Sydney realized that he’d seen her eyes only a few minutes earlier. And they were a lot bigger then.

Gwen smiled at him, and lit a cigar just by blowing on the end.

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Deal 1021: Staged

The crowd has been well-behaved as dusk settles over the amphitheatre. The early warm up acts were fun for passing time until the main event, but may not be memorable. Except that one guy that… but I digress. Night arrives swiftly at this place, so it almost seems as if someone has simply thrown a switch and turned off the sky. Then, as our eyes adjust, we realize that he also turned on the stars.

Everyone quickly settles back into their seats as the amphitheatre plunges from navigable to one giant tripping hazard. We all quiet with anticipation.

The stage lights come up to reveal a contraption of some sort on an empty stage.

It fires bundles into the front three rows that turn out to be ponchos. Nervous laughter ensues, but the front three rows also don the ponchos.

The device spins around. As it turns, spotlights reflect off it and scan the crowd. It stops, with a pin spot reflected onto a single seat, near an aisle. The other spotlight operators turn their lights around and join in, The seat is empty. Which seems a little strange in an otherwise sold-out house. The lights go off for a moment, then on, as all the spot operators blink their shutters in unison. Now the seat is occupied.

The occupant is dressed a little more formally than the rest of the audience. After a moment, he stands, and the crowd begins to realize that this was his entrance. He makes his way to the stage.

From that beginning, the show got weird.

At one point, he was juggling kids borrowed from the audience.

He set up a series of gramophones, and attempted to identify which was producing live sound and not a recording with the help of a small dog.

He did a knife catching act with dull knives.

It was strange and wondrous. All the professional performers who saw him were green with envy at his management of the crowd’s attention.

He did things that every critic had panned with their typical poisoned pens. But it probably didn’t help that his final bit was designed to annoy critics. He even said so from the stage, pointing out that by and large most critics would have already filed their reviews of his show by that point, so it was perfectly safe to mock them.

When the house lights came up, the audience response was immense.