Chapter 26: House Arrest
Matt blinked, and the view didn’t look much different. Everything was blank and black as far as the eye could see, with only an occasional splash of color to break things up.
There was one interesting thing about this place, though. He had been letting his mind wander and sometimes images appeared in the darkness, shadows of whatever he was thinking of. It was like someone had turned on a projector behind him, but when he looked around, nothing was there. He’d been thinking a lot about Tyson lately, for obvious reasons, and in the darkness, the most common images had been of him—teaching him to play baseball in the backyard, trying out new video games together at Christmas, even the time they had borrowed the neighbor’s bikes and snuck out for a ride.
He shook his head, trying to erase the images from his mind. It had all been a bit much, and he wanted to stop thinking about it. But the harder he tried, the more images sprung up in the darkness.
There was no sign of the next portal yet and he no idea how to look for it. As time passed, the images in the distance grew stranger: monsters that made the battle in cuckoo land look like a day at the park.
Turning away from the images, he found his dad, sleeping. He didn’t know how he did it, but somehow he had found a pillow for himself. Images appeared over his head, himself reliving his glory days as a track and field star. Then, the image shifted, and Matt winced. His mother’s face appeared, smiling broader than she had in any of his own memories, or any of her pictures.
It was just the two of them, probably when they were first married, on a walk in a beautiful place, holding hands and laughing. Matt blinked a few times rapidly and leaned closer. Who was this smiling guy, and more importantly, what had happened to him?
The image faded, and Matt rolled his eyes as it turned back to track and field.
He turned away, and let out a long breath. Something about this place told him they were approaching the top of the Tower, and the storm, and the time when the mirror showed that his dad would betray him. But then again, that was only something he’d seen in a stupid, old mirror. What did it know?
Matt looked back at his snoring dad, formulating a plan of attack to wake him, when a brilliant light filled the dark space, waking both his dad and Bahati. They all shielded their eyes—the light was brighter than the sun.
A voice, strong and bright, spoke from in the center of the light. “Greetings and welcome to the Dreamscape. I am Ty-sun, the keeper of this place. I wish to know your intentions.”
Matt cracked an eyelid open just a slit and then clamped it shut again. “Sure,” he called. “But could you could keep us from going blind? It’s hard to look at you.”
Immediately, the light dimmed, until it was only about as bright as a normal light bulb. Matt opened his eyes and saw that the figure was really only a glowing, floating head. “I can see that this suits you better. I apologize for making you uncomfortable.”
Bahati stepped forward and bowed slightly. “We wish to reach the top of the Tower to wake the one who sleeps there. Any assistance you can give us would be most helpful.”
Ty-sun floated about, hovering over each of them in turn and giving them a good look over. “I am sorry to tell you that this might prove difficult, even though you are near your goal. As I mentioned before, this place is called the Dreamscape and is the place where all the Starformer’s thoughts are first given substance. Anything that you can imagine can be created here.”
“So, we are close!” cried Matt. “I knew it. But if we’re so close why can’t we reach the top?”
Ty-sun darted quickly around each of them. “Because the portal that leads to the top current top floor of the Tower rises only as the Starformer’s eyelids rise. The boy is currently under a powerful sleeping spell, and so the likelihood of that is quite slim.”
Giving one last longing glance at his pillow, Neil scratched his head and addressed Ty-Sun. “So this place shows us what Tyson is thinking right now? Is this going to turn into a new floor soon?”
“Not exactly. A new floor will be created here, and then will be placed right below us. This floor will then be a little higher and start work on the next new floor. I must warn you—the things that are being worked on right now are not pleasant. You might be wise to flee while you still can.”
“Yeah, right!” Matt said, pounding a fist in his other hand. “Not if we’re this close. We can make him open his eyes. Any thoughts, Bahati?”
Neil lifted his pillow and lobbed it at Matt. He ducked just in time and then snagged it as soon as it landed. “What was that for?”
“Why do you assume Bahati has all the ideas? You could have asked me first.”
Matt briefly considered sending the pillow back at him, but realized just how soft and fluffy it was. “Don’t get all offended. Besides, how did you get this pillow anyway?”
Neil’s mouth fell slack and then clammed up again. “You know, I’m not sure. I was dreaming about having a big, fluffy pillow and when I woke up, I had one.”
“Very good,” Ty-Sun said. “You have discovered something else about this place. It is sensitive to anyone’s concentrated thoughts. If you put your mind to it, you can bring all sorts of things into existence…including big, fluffy pillows.”
“There you go, Matt. Why don’t you give back my pillow? You can just imagine up one of your own.”
Matt tossed the pillow back. “We’re losing sight of the real problem here. How can we use this?”
Bahati leaned heavily on her staff and stared into space. “We have to consider the nature of dreams and star magic. When you are having a dream, Neil, what causes you to wake up?”
Neil shrugged. “I don’t know…uh, sometimes when I feel like I’m falling, I wake up with a jolt.”
“Or when I have a nightmare. Then I wake up shaking, or clinging to my pillow.”
Neil leaned in closer. “The pillow soaked in sweat. It’s pretty gross.”
“Yeah, I think that’s the right idea,” said Matt. “Since Tyson can see everything here and we can affect what goes on here…maybe we could create a nightmare?”
Neil lay back and covered his face with the pillow. Matt knelt and picked up a corner. “What’s wrong now?”
“Bahati really does have all the good ideas. I think I’ll just hang out here while you get this sorted out.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” snapped Matt. “You helped, too—by making that pillow. So stand up and help us with this. The two of us know Tyson better than anyone. We should know what scares him.”
His dad tossed the pillow aside and stood up. “There’s homework. He always gets that look like a frightened rabbit when I bring that in.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “We’re not going to give him a nightmare about homework. Come on, something really scary.”
Bahati perked up. “What about the usual things? Spiders, snakes…pretty girls.”
“Also a problem,” Matt said with a chuckle. “He loves creepy, crawling things, and, well, he doesn’t know enough about girls yet to be scared of them.”
A smirk lit up Neil’s face. “Fresh out of ideas, huh? What are we going to do now?”
“I don’t see you coming up with any more,” Matt said, casting a severe glance at his dad. “At this age, I bet all three of those things would have you shaking in your shoes.”
Neil shrugged. “Not all three.”
Matt thought about the images he had seen of Tyson growing up. He had always been running around, climbing, jumping, exploring, always getting into things. His dad had taken that and caged him, all because they were afraid of letting him out.
Suddenly, a very real image of what would frighten Tyson formed in his mind. He turned to the bright floating head still hovering a few feet away. “Ty-Sun, if we wanted to create a little room around us, what would we have to do?”
Ty-Sun bobbed up and down a few times in rapid succession. “One of you would have to picture it in your mind and hold that picture strongly while the room forms. It works best when someone is asleep. Night dreams are stronger than daydreams.”
Matt nodded and dropped to one knee. “Dad, I’m going to need your pillow. I’ll do it.”
His dad handed it over. “Sorry, I might have drooled a little bit.”
Matt flipped the pillow over, lay down on it, and closed his eyes. “Dad, wait for me to fall asleep and then come next to me and talk about Tyson’s room.”
His dad waited a few minutes and then knelt. “Well, let’s see—there’s his bed and pillows.”
“Be as specific as possible,” Ty-Sun said. “You need to create a vivid picture in his mind for this to work.”
Neil nodded, cleared his throat and began again. “Okay, so it’s a low bed with a red metal frame. His sheets and pillowcase have a bunch of Quasar Quest characters on them, because he’s had them forever. Next to that is his bookcase full of fantasy books, like those boxed sets of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and the “Wizard of Oz” you bought him.”
Neil took a deep breath and continued. “Then, let’s not forget that cuckoo clock on the wall next to the bookshelf that looks like an old German house with snow over it. Under the clock is his desk, which usually has papers, colored-pencils and folders strewn all over it. Then on the opposite wall, there’s the stand with his TV, his video game consoles and a drawer bulging with DVDs and video games.”
Neil continued to speak, describing everything from the color of the carpet, to the strange stain on the wall that he thought looked like a giraffe. As he spoke, the air around them changed, and they found themselves sitting in the room he was describing, new details becoming apparent as he spoke.
“Now,” Bahati said. “We need to do something to make this place really terrifying to him. As it is, it doesn’t look all that bad.”
“The front door is made of solid steel,” said Neil. “There’s a huge padlock and chain on the door, but that’s only the first lock. There’s also a retinal scanner, a thumbprint scanner, and a keypad that asks for a password. The windows have huge bars on them behind the huge curtains that block out almost all of the light.”
The room changed from an inviting place to sleep and read to a formidable dungeon cell in a matter of seconds.
“And,” Bahati continued. “If you get out, there are great skeletliches guarding the escape route.”
“Though I like where you’re going, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Neil asked. “If I don’t know, I bet she doesn’t. You’ll need to be more specific.”
Bahati started again. “There are dozens of skeletliches outsides, ferocious skeletons of beasts reduced to their bones and then given life again. Lions, elephants, wolves, bears, and…a hippo!”
Neil shot Bahati a look as if she had just announced that the room was guarded by a skeletal gerbil. “A hippo?”
Bahati’s eyes grew wide and he nodded vigorously. “Yes, of course. You may think of them as docile creatures where you’re from, but they are one of the most dangerous animals out there, especially in the water.”
The scraping sound of dozens of skeletal animals pacing around outside filled the air. Some of them came right up to the walls and windows and scraped their boney claws over and over against them. Matt sat bolt upright. “Good job, guys. This is starting to creep me out.”
“Whew,” Neil said. “How do we know that this is working?”
Ty-Sun flew directly in front of Neil’s face and opened his mouth to speak. The ground beneath them shifted like the beginnings of an earthquake. “That is how you will know.”
Neil rose shakily and threw back one of the heavy curtains. A beam of light pierced through the gloom of the bedroom. “Look, out there!”
Matt crowded next to him at the window and saw what he was talking about. A long, bright slit had appeared on the horizon, aglow with sparks of starlight. The slit widened and shortened, sometimes closing all together, only to rise again.
“You must hurry!” Ty-Sun shouted above the rumbling of the ground and the scraping of the skeletliches. “The magician’s spell will reassert itself any second. You must be through that portal by then.”
The ground shook violently again, knocking books from the shelf and tipping the TV cart on its side. “But the room is sealed! We’ve done our job too well.”
Ty-Sun hovered over Matt. “Now that he is up, his dreams will gradually fade.”
“But then,” Bahati cried. “Tyson will stop being scared. The portal will close!”
“Yes,” confirmed Ty-Sun. “That is why you must hurry.”
Neil ran to the door and tried the handle. “Doesn’t seem to be fading.”
“The Starformer has taken over the dream as his own. These things will not fade until Tyson wakes up completely.”
Matt put his eyes in front of the scanner, pressed his thumb in the proper place, entered the correct number on the keypad and finally snatched the key hidden in the copy of a Math textbook on the shelf.
Neil raised an eyebrow, but Matt only smiled. “Hey, it was my dream, wasn’t it? Besides, that’s the one book I know he would never crack open.”
The door swung open, revealing a long path flanked by skeletal animals leading to the bright slit that hovered halfway open. At the creak of the opening door, all the skeletliches turned their attention to them, their mouths half-open in anticipation.
“Hey guys!” called Neil over the crowd. “You all don’t really have stomachs, so it would be pretty pointless to eat us. If you don’t mind, we’ll just be making our way out of here.” Neil stepped out of the door and onto the path, maintaining his broad smile and placating hand gestures.
A tiny skeletal dog that might have been a Chihuahua in its first life rushed at Neil. On a reflex, Neil lashed out at the dog with his foot, catching the dog in the midsection. Without anything else to support it, the boney dog split apart, sending bits of bone in every direction.
The rest of the skeletliches pounced. A massive bone bear reached Neil first, its jaws ready to bite off an arm. From behind, Matt flung the pillow, catching the bear right in the mouth. The beast stumbled back, chewing on feathers.
Bahati pushed them both aside and lifted her staff. “Go!” she shouted to the others. “The final bat and I will cover your retreat. Go find your son!”
Bahati released the final bat with one hand and let loose with a burst of wintry air with her other hand. Temporarily distracted, the skeletliches left a clear path between them and the portal. Neil and Matt lowered their heads and ran, snatching their brief window of opportunity.
Halfway there, Matt looked over his shoulder and saw Bahati and a tall man in a black cape fending off the skeletal hoards. He slowed for a split second, and nearly stumbled as his dad yanked him forward. Before them, the slit inched closed, giving no guarantee that it would open again.
Resolving not to turn again, Matt lowered his head and pumped every last bit of energy into moving forward. At the end, the slit was not even as tall as they were and they were forced to fall to their faces and crawl through. Most of their bodies made it through, but Matt had to snap his foot through at the last second.
They found themselves surrounded by light, drawn upwards, faster and faster. Matt tried to keep his eyes open, but the light quickly overwhelmed him.