“We. Us, the rest of us. We stepped outside, into the night dream. Probably a bad idea in retrospect, but you understand. We didn’t understand, but you said it was like the moon landing, and we did all the training, right? We’re fuckin’ famous, yeah?”
A gaunt man in plain clothes paced back and forth in a white soundproof room. He directed his story to a thick, clear plate of glass which separated him from the observation chamber.
"Hey why can't we just set down at a table or somethin', boss? This is kinda strange, ya know? It's like I'm right back in jail or somethin'."
"It's a necessary precaution. People who have done what you've done have had delusional fits, they get angry, confused. It's hard to tell when that's going to happen, and, well, you've just returned. I really don't mean to be insulting."
The man tilted his head at the doctor, showing the teeth in the corner of his mouth.
“Well if you say so boss. Here’s how it went down. We were outside this big stilt house. Like the ones in Florida, for floods. There’s a field behind it, but something’s a bit different. Far off in the end we see something towering, white, and fuzzy, and on the field are these large, white markings, like someone went over the grass with paint. They’re humanoid shapes, placed adjoining. The markings are difficult to see at certain angles. It was like crop circles, but if the aliens were satanists, or something.”
He laughed nervously, wiping his nose on his arm.
“So… We stand there looking at each other like assholes. Certainly we don’t wanna go back inside the house. I looked at that big white fuzzy thing standing across the field. Wasn't moving. Swaying a bit, softly in the breeze, like a discarded trash bag. Looks like a chubby yeti. Too fuzzy, like uh, made me think of an old memory. Probably not as freaky as I might describe something to be, but still, that's how it was.”
"I'm still listening, go on." The doctor in the small observation cell wrote down his accounts with great interest. While the subject paused, he tried his best to doodle a representation of the monster.
“The back noises in the house got louder, the ones we were running from, you know. So. We’re more motivated to traverse the field. It was dark out, but the moon was bright, so we wouldn’t have had difficulty navigating. Except… Except here’s the thing, right.”
“The thing is, Jake began jogging off toward the end of the field. Something happened. One of these wobbling, fluffy yeti things emerged from the ground like a cartoon Christmas tree and reaches out with its long, fluffy knobs. Emerged from the marking, like some kind of trap. Jack is impaled by its wispy hair, and the creature pulls him inside of it. Some kind of marshmallow, but in reverse you know. Like it ate him instead? “
"Oh do I ever know," the doctor laughed, absently adjusting his glasses. "Marshmallows are awful!"
“Yeah. Yeah they are I guess. Never realized that till now. Huh. Well. Jake screamed for a moment, just a moment, and it was cut off once he disappeared. The screaming stopped at the same moment the marshmallow thing begins turning red. Hello, Barbara, I’m all full now. Right? All full and big and red like the Kool Aid man, or an Easter marshmallow. You remember those? Pink marshmallows. Were those good?”
The doctor shook his head, biting the insides of his cheeks to restrain a smile. He needed to maintain composure. Marshmallows weren't good. He housed a lot of terrible memories associated with pink, Easter marshmallows, and this man across the glass knew this to be true. He had somehow adopted this fear.
“Ashley was petrified, shrieking. I’m handling my… terror like a flaming donkey. Damian is holding Jessie back from diving into this thing. Desperately he’s holding her back. He wants to save Jake. I wonder if she knows about those two. Did you know? I don’t think she did.”
“This is how Hometown worked. The guy we checked around. I call his mind Hometown. It’s like how he remembers it, maybe? If you want to survive the first rule is not to go first. You need to sacrifice your friends. There are no warnings for when something is going to reach up and grab you. It just happens. The director of this dream is a sick child. He just throws out the monsters, stomps on the ants. His mind is a snuff film. People just die, you know. I don't think I wanna meet this guy." The man laughed.
The doctor laughed with him. "We have some characters working here, it's true."
“They are still in a coma, yeah?" the man looked away. "I wasn’t intentionally sacrificing my friends. I’m just a coward. I’ve always been that way. I was too scared to move. When the big yeti with the red flowing through it was wobbling at me, I just stood there looking at it. It was magical, I got a headrush just looking at it. It felt great, like a fountain of saline right into my skull. No it’s bad. It isn’t funny, right?”
The doctor scratched under his eye. "Not ideal, no."
“So Damian urges us toward the treeline. I couldn’t think of why at the time, but I think that he seemed to think that the emergence of the dandelion monsters was due to our stepping on the markings. There weren’t any markings near the treeline. So he did that. He went over there.”
“I didn’t want to go near the treeline. Maybe it’s because I’m a coward, or maybe it’s because I was just becoming savvy. Me, right? This felt like one of those dreams where you wake up screaming, but I wasn’t waking up. It had all the markings of some sort of night terror, but when I pinched myself I was still in the thick of it.”
“I couldn't tell ya where this all began, or when I… Oh god, entered the guy.. It wasn’t a dream, though. I assure you that all of my friends are dead. They have obituaries in the Hometown Flyer. I’m not goin’ back to read them. I wonder what they’d say though? Hmm. Something scary, right? Patronizing? Inclusive. I think Hometown has its own culture. Likes its terror. Learned to like it. No other choice.”
Dr. Glass opened the door of the observation room slightly, holding a cup of coffee. "Everything good here? Good stuff?" He whispered.
The doctor nodded quickly. "Yeah, yeah he's still talking now. Almost done."
“Yeah. We get to the treeline. I get as close as I’ll get to the treeline. Sure as shit, I begin to hear whispering. Everyone else hears it too. It sounds like things voices are coming from just beyond the darkness. Legends of the Hidden Temple shit. I take that moment to notice this entire field is covered in treeline, and the bit we have to get through to make it onto the main road is just as dark as everything else.”
“Ashley and Jessie are absolutely hysterical. Ominous gibberish to our left, cotton candy monster to our right, and… Something behind us in the house. Did we want to go back past the house? I brought this up to Damian, and he seemed like it was probably the better idea. In retrospect I’m not sure why we immediately just didn’t jump in the car. “
“We didn’t know how to leave Hometown. Thanks for telling us that bit. That’s a joke, though. That was a bad move on your part. I closed my eyes for moments, and learned that I couldn’t close my eyes for very long. Not because I was incapable, but because of the things that I saw when I closed them.”
“We make it to the car without incident, which when, of course, Damian learns that the keys are in his bedroom on the 2nd story. Damian wanted to go in and get them alone. The man had good intentions, but he was an asshole. I insisted I go with him because I did not want to split up, and, if I went, the two spazzballs accompanying me were more likely to go too. Waste of time and money, those two.”
“We get back inside and there’s still the gurgling, the sound of some woman screaming in some perpetual loop. The shepard’s tone of her voice, layered in and over itself was bad stuff. I ran up the stairs with Damian, fully expecting something new, some eldritch troll to pop up around every corner. Think I’d get used to it. The law of diminishing returns is bullshit in headspace.”
“We grabbed the keys in the bedroom and turned back toward the hallway. I heard Ashley scream. Great, I was thinking, round two. I’m gonna punch this thing. Fuckin’ A & Fuckin’ B. My fear is all mixed with anger at this point. I hustle down the stairs and Jessie is sitting on the ground, Ashley is pointing at the window at a white monster and a red fluffy monster. They don’t seem to be trying to get in, or, they don’t know how. Peeping.”
“We make for the door. What I’m about to say seems strange. On the floor, in front of Ashley, without ceremony, appeared the corpse of Ashley. Instantaneously. It was just there. This corpse righted itself, and began to move backward toward Ashley. It appeared to be running in reverse. Ashley stops running, the mimic stops running. Ashley is staring at the back of her head in shock.”
“Damian and I move toward the door and grab baseball bats. Ashley is behind the Mimic in the hallway. She starts to move forward, and the Mimic moves in reverse. Damian throws her the baseball bat and she catches it. Damian wouldn’t hit the mimic, I wouldn’t either. It wouldn’t have mattered if we did.”
“I felt a sense of resignation. No matter what I did, how I played my cards, something like this could just happen and fuck us over. I can’t explain anything going on in that town, scientifically, not that I’m even a scientist. The behavior of the town. We couldn’t win. Something was just having fun with us.”
“Ashely moved within range of the Mimic and swung the bat at the thing’s head. The metal went straight through. She swings at it a few more times. Nothing happens, and it’s just standing there blank as ever, advancing backward more slowly with every misstep Ashley makes.”
“It sucked her body right off. It was like deli meat put through a wind turbine. Sucked everything right into itself. Ashley was gone, there was no blood or nothing. Just this new Ashley. Ashely smiled at us, nervously, like she was confused. ‘What’s wrong guys? Why are you looking at me like that, guys? We’ve got to get out of here!’”
“She’s in a coma, right? God I hope so. Fuck Ashley. Obviously we didn’t take her with us.”
“Is that everything? What happened to Damian?” Asked the doctor.
“He just kind of shrunk, no reason. In the car. That was it.”
“What about Jesse?” The doctor asked.
“Oh, shit, I forgot about her. Haha.”
The doctor spoke slowly. “The rest of the team are healthy and awake. Your stories all match right up. They seem to think you were killed as well.” The man responded, hesitantly. “…But they are no longer capable of entering other minds. We used my mind as a training area. I can confirm their, er. We don't have a word for it. Their… Subconscious counterparts no longer exist. Yours doesn't either.”
The body of the first Foundation oneironaut looked at the empty, black glass, and saw nothing.
"Do you believe in a soul?" The doctor asked.
The man shook his head.
"How do you feel?" Asked the doctor. "Is it any different at all?"
The body shook its head, and raised its upturned hands. “Hey man, can I get a cigarette? Fuck.”