Chapter 5 - A Dreamer's Touch
We made our way hastily back to Traysia’s house without much conversation. My cheeks didn’t stop burning for the entire walk. I couldn’t believe One’s actions, and was more than a bit embarrassed that I’d been used to pick up lunch.
“Oh! That was quick.” Jeane said when she opened the door. “What’s happened?”
“One wigged out at a fast-food clerk.” I said dourly.
“The doll?” she asked, understandably confused.
“It really did, mommy!” Traysia said, holding it up for her inspection.
She picked it up, and peered at it. “It seems ordinary. It’s well-made, but you can’t honestly expect me to believe …”
In a moment of profound irony (I seemed to be encountering a lot of those at the time), the doll chose that moment to turn its small head toward her and ask, “Could you put me down, please, madam?”
With a shriek, she dropped the plush doll to the floor. He landed on the tile with a loud ‘oof’.
Pushing himself up, Plush One said, “Careful, lady; there are only two of these, y’know.”
“I … I apologize, sir Dreamer.”
“Ah, just call me One.” Brushing the dust off of himself, Plush One looked at the rest of us for a moment before finally squinting his button eyes at me.
After a moment, he flashed me a crooked smile. “Jimmy! Nice to see you again. Can’t say I care much for your new outfit though. Did you get a job as a slamm mascot or something?”
“Very funny. No, Arc came here before I arrived and told everyone that I was a demon.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot too. Usually because one of the other Dreamers scared the hell out of everyone previously, not that I’m pointing fingers.” He glanced around a moment before asking, “Say, where are we, anyway? This doesn’t look like Saybaro.”
“We’re in Brigsonstrat.”
“Brigsonstrat?” Plush One looked genuinely surprised. That’s near the border to Rimstak! What brings you all the way out here?”
“You sent me here!” I said indignantly.
Plush One replied with equal indignance, “I did no such thing!”
“Yes, you did!” I insisted, “You told me that there was an emergency, and that I had to find Ronisgald McDonald.”
Plush One’s mouth dropped open.
Sighing, I said in exasperation, “You contacted me through the doll yesterday morning saying that something important was going down, and that I had to contact Ronisgald McDonald. I get here, and find out that Ronisgald McDonald is some kind of automated clown at a fast-food restaurant. Then you wig out at a fast-food clerk and disappear with your order.”
“First off,” He said, “It’s Ronald. Ronald McDonald. Second, I haven’t even been in the Elsewhere for over three weeks, and I don’t make a habit of carrying it around.”
“Could someone else have used the doll?” I asked.
“No. I keep it in the private section of my floor. Only Luck and I can go back there, and she … well, she was with me.” One’s cloth cheeks turned red.
I sighed. There I was, away from my home, dressed like an idiot, all because some wacko had found a way to possess One’s doll.
“I’ll head back tomorrow.” I said, tugging absently at one of the straps of my ‘shirt’.
“Well, seeing as you’re already here, why don’t you tour the town? I know you don’t get away from the Saybaro much. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t figure out who’s interfering with the doll. Oh, and I’ll send a message to the rest of your team about what’s going on.”
“While you’re there, could you check in on Bethany? My PIM’s not working, and I’m worried about her.”
“Not a problem. Probably just an error with a transmitter somewhere.”
“Thanks.” Smiling, I added, “It’s nice to hear from you again.”
“Thanks, shmanks. You’re my friend. I gotta keep an eye out for you, right?” With that, the plush doll fell flat on the table, once again, only to immediately be picked up by Traysia.
“My word.” Jeane had finally found her voice again. “I must admit, I didn’t think you were telling the truth.”
“Perfectly understandable.” I said, rising from my seat. “Thank you very much for your hospitality, ma’am.”
“You’re leaving already?” She asked, rising with us. “Why not stay the night, and head out in the morning?”
“I don’t want to be an imposition.” I said, “We can get a room at a local hotel.”
“Nonsense. I’ve got more room than I need, especially with my husband gone.”
“My sympathies.” I said, bowing my head respectfully in memory of the late Mister Jeane. “I’m sure he was a great man.”
Looking down at my clothes, I amended, “Well, a good man, anyway.”
“Besides,” She said as though she hadn’t heard me, “Any friend of the Elsewhere is welcome in my house.”
I glanced at Terry. “I’ve no objections. Terry?”
“Er, I wouldn’t want to cause Missus Jeane any trouble. …”
“It’s no trouble.” She said, giving him a kind and reassuring smile. “I’ll prepare the guest room. Rooms.”
As she hurried away with reddened cheeks, I glanced at Terry. “I think she likes you, Terry.”
“W-what?” He stammered as Traysia giggled.
“I’m just saying, I’m pretty sure you’re the reason she wants us to stay. I said, patting him on the shoulder. “Maybe you should consider asking her out.”
“What, on a date?” Terry said. “I-I don’t -”
“Why not? She obviously thinks highly of you. You said you’re old friends, right?”
“Since I first moved to Brigsonstrat.” Sighing, Terry said, “You ... you wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course not.”
“No, I mean ... look, Jimmy, if we did hit it off-”
“There’s plenty of room in the Saybaro for you, her, Traysia, and any other children you might have ... and if you decide to live here, that’s fine too as long as you’re happy. Now quit stalling and ask her out already.”
“Yeah!” Traysia said.
After staring at us wordlessly for a few moments, Terry quickly headed down the hallway, presumably to find Jeane.
“Well,” I said to the little giggling fional girl. “What shall we talk about?”
“The dragon! Tell me about the dragon!” She said, blue eyes shining with excitement.
Smiling at her enthusiasm, I did just that. I couldn’t have asked for a better audience; she wowed at all the best parts, asked the right questions at the right times, and the look of horror on her face when I described the dragon was just adorable.
“I wanna go to the Nation of teh Noobs!” she said, resting her chin on her hands with a wistful look in her eyes.
“Well, Dee tells me reconstruction is going smoothly, so it’s only a matter of time.” I glanced around the dining area until I spotted the clock. I was surprised to find I’d been telling my tale for the better part of an hour.
“Where is Terry?” I wondered aloud moments before he hurried through the doorway, Jeane close behind him.
“Sir, I request the rest of the evening off.”
“Terry,” I said, suppressing the urge to sigh. “You’re the same rank as me now, remember?”
“As a Royal Guard, yes, but you’re a Duke now.” Terry said. “I heard Iniagus and Devon talking about it; the Saybaro is technically considered a duchy, and as such comes with a dukedom. He said he was going to call you about it.”
“And so he did.” I said with a sigh, remembering Iniagus’s call prior to my departure from the Saybaro. “I’m sure he’ll remember later. Okay, fine; you have Duke Sakamota’s permission to have the night off as long as you don’t start calling me ‘your Grace.’”
“Thank you, sir.” He turned to Jeane, his hands shaking slightly. “I’ll go ahead and get us a reservation.”
At a nod from a smiling and blushing Jeane, my friend hurried out the door.
“Jimmy.” Jeane said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “I hate to ask, but would you mind watching Traysia for awhile longer?”
“Of course not.” I said. “You two go out and have fun.”
Jeane blushed, but she was definitely smiling. “Thank you.” In a quieter voice, she added, “And thank you for pushing him. He may be hiding under all that armor, but he’s still Terry.”
“I know what you mean.” I said. “He’s my friend, but even after the mess with the dragon, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I’m glad to see him open up to you at least.”
“He’s more open with you than you realize, though I can tell he’s left a few details out here and there.”
“Oh?” I asked curiously.
She smiled kindly at me. “We all have secrets, Mister Sakamota. Make sure she goes to bed by eight; she has school tomorrow. Traysia?”
“Be a a dear and show Jimmy where he’ll be sleeping ... and no pranks. I don’t want to find him stuck to the ceiling like your last babysitter. ”
Traysia’s ears drooped slightly. “Yes, Momma.”
She gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead before ruffling her hair and turning to me once again. “Thank you again for this, Jimmy.”
“Not a problem. Now go and have a fun night!” I said. “And don’t stay out too late, you crazy kids.”
Once Jeane was gone, I turned my attention on Traysia. “I’m gonna change back into my normal clothes, but first, I just have to know; how did you get your last babysitter stuck on the ceiling?”
I had a strange dream as I slept that night. Chickens wearing red wigs and giant red shoes were chasing me around the Saybaro. Plush One was riding the lead chicken, whooping and hollering as I tried to keep out of their way.
Eventually, my strength ran out, and I fell to the ground. As I sat there, frozen in fear, the chickens circled around me, their eyes glowing red.
I awoke with a start to find myself on the couch in Jeane’s house. Traysia was curled up in a ball, a thick blanket enveloping her tiny frame as she snored softly.
The menu screen of a movie flickered in the air around Jeane’s VTS, a horrible leering metal face leering at an audience that fell asleep well before the half-way mark of the movie. I glanced at the clock and found it was already well past nine. Fortunately, Traysia had shown me both her room and the guest room before we sat down to watch the movie.
I picked her small body up carefully, hoping I wouldn’t wake her. I needn’t have bothered; she was out like a light. Smiling, I carried her to her room and set her gently on the bed. As I pulled her covers over her, I spotted a small picture on her bed stand. There were three people on the picture; Jeane, a very young Traysia, and a fional man with cream-colored fur who carried Traysia on his shoulders.
Traysia’s father, I surmised, wondering what became of the man. Terry spoke of losing friends to accidents with the stream generators of the city. Was Jeane’s husband one such friend? It would explain his initial reluctance to ask her out. I know it was too soon to expect too much; nevertheless, as I left the room and closed the door quietly behind me, I hoped that Jeane and Terry would work out.
“The answer is yes.” Said a voice from my pocket.
I pulled Plush One from my pocket. “You mean Jeane and Terry-”
“What? Oh, no, I was talking about the doll. Turns out someone has been using it. Not sure how, but I spoke with Jeronem and Maya, and they’re both certain they detected the residual energy of a flux that was definitely not mine.”
“Any idea who?”
“Not yet.” One said. “We’re talking extremely faint here, Jimmy. Almost like it was being filtered through something else. Turns out it wasn’t just my doll either; Atraius, Fate, Luck, and Eddie have have heard of similar incidents from the people holding their dolls.”
“My word.” I said. “That’s certainly ominous. No one’s been hurt yet, have they?”
“Nah, it seems like its been nothing more than pranks, but it’s enough to have us worried. Listen, I’m about to check in with Tryth to see if he knows anything. Until we get this figured out, I’d be really cautious about anything this doll says.”
“Hang on.” I said, raising an eyebrow at the doll. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“That’s ... a good point.” The doll conceded. “Just to be safe, don’t listen to anything this doll says, even if it sounds like its from me.”
I opened my mouth to argue the paradox created by his statement, but the doll was already limp again. Sighing, I carried it with me as I walked to the guest room. There’d be plenty of time to worry about what to do or not do about the doll in the morning.