Monday, November 28, 2005

Twenty-eighth Day

In which Malcolm is important. Yay for Malcolm.

Chapter 29

Gordon, Lucy and Zoe were all silent and still after Jaden and the dream lord disappeared, and the only sound was of Malcolm sniffing curiously around at the space in the ground that had vanished. Finally Zoe broke the silence.

"So, what brought you two into all of this?" she asked. "You aren't just dreaming, are you?"

"No," replied Gordon. "At least, I don't think so. Are we really in a dream world? Do you live here, or are you dreaming?"

"I'm just dreaming, and yes, these are the dreamlands. How did you get here?"

"Well, it was an accident, really," Gordon began, and then decided to back up to the real beginning, to the morning his mother found the dead mouse on the kitchen floor. He described how stranger things began happening, and how he gradually decided that his stuffed toy kitten Ixy was possessed.

"As far as we can tell," he said, waving his arm in the general direction of Malcolm, who was now nuzzling at Lucy's hand as though he wanted to be petted, "it was that little bloke over there that was doing it, though I haven't a clue how or why. And from the way he carries on now, I don't know if he knows much about it either."

"So how did you find out it was him?"

Gordon, with a bit of embarrassment, described their amateur exorcism attempt, and how it had conjured up Malcolm's image before mysteriously bringing Gordon and Lucy into the dreamlands themselves. He also explained the strange thing that had happened when Ixy and Malcolm had seemed to merge.

"I think they must have had some sort of split personality thing going on," Lucy put in. "The miniature dinosaur thing and your toy cat, I mean. Now they've been merged back together or whatever it is split personalities do when they un-split, and he's turned into… well, I don't know, but he seems rather puppy-like now, don't you think? The sweet and mindless kind of puppy."

"Right," Gordon agreed. "He's not really so bad anymore."

"I'd take him home, but I don't know if Mum would really go for it. She's all new age and open minded and everything, but I think it would still be asking a lot."

"Not to mention the fact that we don't know yet how we're getting home ourselves. We can't just wake up." Gordon looked at Zoe.

"I've only ever dreamed myself here," she said, "but I'll stick around as long as I can in case I can do anything to help. For now, though, I'm not sure what we can do aside from waiting to see what happens to Jaden."

"Jaden's your friend?" Gordon asked, "The one with the arm issues? I don’t think we were ever actually introduced."

"Yes, that's him." Zoe told Gordon and Lucy as much as she knew from Jaden's side of the story, and her own small involvement in it. They seemed pretty impressed.

Malcolm had wandered off in the meantime, though, and was poking curiously around all of the frozen dream figures that had previously been pursuing them so fiercely. Lucy called to him.

"Malcolm! Come back here! We don't know if those are really safe."

"Well, they do seem to be pretty harmless now," Gordon pointed out. "In fact, I'm kind of curious about them, too. Let's go take a look."

Shaking her head, Lucy followed him after Malcolm. Zoe joined them as well, though still keeping a corner of her attention on the gaping black void into which Jaden had vanished.

Fascination soon got the better of their caution and soon all of them were exploring excitedly through the crowd like children at a park. All of the figures were as solid and cold as marble, and completely immovable. Even the fire demon that Zoe had seen Jaden dance with was completely frozen, its flames stilled and solidified in midair, but still blazing orange. Gordon climbed up on it as though it were a boulder or a tree, laughed, and began hopping around between various heads and shoulders of the other creatures.

There were numerous other dancers from the ball and from the dream lord's court, including the thin, glass faced woman, the spiky metal monster, and the octopus-like tango dancer. The scantily clad pixies particularly caught Gordon's attention, until Lucy glared at him and told him not to be crude. And there were more, as well. A large, tree-ish figure, perhaps an Ent? A green, penguin sort of creature, with its head, wings and feet sticking out of a turtle's shell. A manticore. A serial axe murderer with a ski mask covering his face. There was even a mermaid, though none of them could figure out how on earth she had been following after them out of the water. And, of course, there were numerous demon soldiers in a variety of sizes, shapes and armors, but all fearsome even in paralysis.

Malcolm found one short, hairy demon and tried to take a bite out of its leg, but came away whimpering after hurting his teeth on the rock solid flesh.

"Wasn't that the one that nearly got us?" Lucy asked, pointing to it. "Back there in the hallway, when we ran into him? He put the whole army on our heels."

"Yeah," agreed Gordon, looking down. "I guess Malcolm wanted another shot at him. Looks like a bit of a tough chew for him, though. Pity."

Gordon bent down over the demon on whose shoulders he was currently balancing, and tugged at a sword that was in a scabbard slung at its back. It came loose with a jerk, nearly unseating Gordon from his perch, and he admired it.

"Now that's a sword meant to be used," he said, tossing his jeweled scimitar aside and brandishing his new weapon. "I'd much rather carry this on around than that wall decoration." Then suddenly he froze.

"What is it?" Lucy asked worriedly. Zoe also turned to look at Gordon from where she was examining the mermaid for a believable method of transportation.

"I thought I saw something move," Gordon hissed. "Over there, behind the tree thing. Where's Malcolm?"

"He's still over here," Lucy replied, quieter now, "next to me. Do you think one of them came unfrozen?"

"I don't know."

Gordon kept his eyes fixed on the place where he thought he had seen the movement, but crouched down, trying to maintain his vantage point without being so much out in plain sight. Then he saw it again, or something else. The movement of a shadow, slipping through the frozen fairies and demons like a prowling cat through a forest. It disappeared, and then he caught it again, closer to them this time, and he saw the tip of a wing peek out above its cover now.

"Something's coming this way," Gordon whispered urgently, sliding down from his perch now. "I think it's coming for us. Quick, get Malcolm, don't let him run off and get caught. Where's Zoe?"

"She was right here," Lucy said, "looking at the mermaid. I just saw her a moment ago."

"She's gone?"

"I didn't see what happened to her."

"Well, let's hope for her sake she just woke up. I'd have felt better if we still had her around, though. Let's go."

He took Lucy's arm and they headed off at an awkward, zigzagging trot, weaving between all the statues in the opposite direction from the approaching shadow Gordon had seen. Lucy drew her dagger and Gordon kept his newfound sword ready in his free hand. Malcolm skittered along behind them, glancing around anxiously, looking more worried than ever and wringing his tie in his small claws.

Gordon was trying to steer back to the front of the crowd, where Jaden had disappeared, though he didn't know if that would do much good. He could already tell that whatever was after them was getting closer, giving itself away by the occasional heavy footstep or scrape of a claw. Then he saw a golden brown shape flash between two of the statues only a couple of yards to their right, and he pulled Lucy to the left as fast as he could, heading through a slightly more open area in the crowd.

With a roar of malicious delight, a huge pair of bat-like wings erupted up out of the crowd behind them, pumped once and launched a demon into the air. With a hind leg, he gave himself an extra push off the head of a frozen guard and catapulted himself at Gordon and Lucy.

Gordon swung his sword at the demon, but was knocked flying as soon as the creature hit the ground in front of them. He slammed into a statue several feet away and slumped to the ground, stunned. He could see Lucy diving through a small gap between two other statues, and the demon reaching in a long muscular arm to catch her ankle and begin dragging her out. With dazed eyes, he watched what happened next.

* * *

Malcolm-Ixy was terrified. It had been bad enough since that awkward moment earlier when half of himself/herself/itself had suddenly appeared and decided to share the body. He/she/it wasn't even entirely clear on who he/she/it was anymore, though he was doing his best to continue thinking of himself just as Malcolm. It seemed the simplest thing to do. It had been quite a shake-up for him, though.

He had rather enjoyed romping around all the frozen demons for a while, but now the fun was decidedly gone. He could smell Bratch getting nearer as they ran twistingly through the crowd, and that specific fear was worse for him than the unknown was for Gordon and Lucy. The demon captain was by far the most frightening being Malcolm could think of to have chasing them.

When Bratch attacked, Malcolm almost fainted, and then ducked behind a nearby witch. But then he saw Gordon get thrown aside and crumple to the ground, and something stirred in Malcolm, or was it in Ixy? Malcolm didn't want Gordon to be hurt, he mustn't be hurt. And Lucy, she had been nice to him too, and now Bratch was after her, clawing at her leg, about to haul her out into the open. This was horrible. Malcolm knew he had to do something, had to take matters into his own claws. He didn't know what to do, but there was no time to worry about the details. He stepped out from behind his statue. He took a deep breath.

And he roared.

It was only a little roar at first, hardly more than a bark, really. And it made him jump a little in surprise, though Bratch didn't even seem to have noticed. Then he roared again, and it was louder this time, and longer, and deeper. And now Bratch turned around to see where this noise was coming from. Malcolm took another step forwards toward him, and on his third try he truly roared.

It was the roar of his dreams, the roar of a forty foot long Tyrannosaur thundering through a herd of shrieking Struthiomimuses. It was a roar that boomed and bellowed and echoed throughout the fear tunnel, shaking the statues to their very bases.

Bratch had let go of Lucy now, and was it Malcolm's imagination, or was there a look of uncertainty on the mighty captain's gruesome face? He continued to advance, and now Bratch seemed to be shrinking, until his head was level with Malcolm's own, and then even beneath it. The statues around him were also shrinking though, and Malcolm realized that he himself was changing size.

He was nearly upon Bratch now, and the demon leapt up into the air and flew at Malcolm's head with a desperate sounding yell. Wings beat around his head and claws tore at his face, but a gnash of his mighty jaw put a huge tear in one of the wings and Bratch howled in pain. With another roar, Malcolm tossed his massive head sideways, knocking the demon out of the air and onto the ground. With one huge, clawed foot, he pinned him there, and crushed him.

* * *

As soon as Bratch had released his hold on her, Lucy had ducked back into her cover again, and she watched as Malcolm roared and grew, knocking statues aside and leaving behind the torn remnants of his old shirt and tie. She covered her eyes when Bratch attacked, but couldn't keep herself from peeking out between her fingers as they fought.

And then Bratch was on the ground, and Malcolm gave a final, ear-splitting roar of triumph. Lucy wondered if it would be safe to come out yet, if this new Malcolm would remember her and still be friendly as he had been when he was the cute little puppy-like Malcolm. She glanced over at Gordon, and was glad to see he was still breathing, but he looked stunned and unable to move. Should she try to get to him and pull him to cover before Malcolm noticed him?

She was starting to inch over towards Gordon, when Malcolm's head dived down over his prey again. She froze, watching to make sure she hadn't been noticed.

Malcolm tore at the demon's neck, and when his head rose again, Lucy saw the light glint off of something dangling from one of his frightening, butcher's knife teeth. He tossed his head and a small amulet on a cord flew up into the air. With a surprisingly dainty movement, Malcolm nipped it from the air, and swallowed it.