A Halfway Draft of an Ice Cream Scene

“Inside someone’s mind?” Devon was folded in the corner between the bed and the bookshelf, his arms wrapped around his knees and his neck craned upward to look at Isaac. The man offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet and away, and he blinked onto a long flat road. The sky reeled for a moment and he tipped over, landing sprawled on the gritty road. The air bumped out of him and he sucked in a gasp to say, “I’m so buggering mad this keeps happening.” Isaac let his hand go and began to walk, his head bent toward the dusty shapes clustered in the horizon. Just a few steps closer, it cleared into a bumbling house.

Devon scrambled to his feet and tripped toward Isaac, steadying into a lagging walk a step behind him. Isaac half-turned his face, giving Devon a glimpse of his profile, and said, “It gets weird. You okay with that then?” Devon snorted, and the sound echoed against the bare sky.

“Right,” said Devon. “Because only now it’s getting strange. Right.”

Isaac shot him a flat look, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, well then. When it goes all upside-down, don’t look at me.”

Devon gave Isaac his best wry expression back, and nodded. They walked on for a while, the only punctuation to the silence the thumps of their footsteps and the occasional shriek wheeling through the distance that made both of them jump.

When they got to the house at the horizon, it was tall and rickety. The outside was painted a rich deep reddish brown, and the windows stretched crossed and crooked up the walls. Isaac walked right up to the blue front door and into the house. Devon hung back, and when Isaac leaned to call him in he said, “Isaac, though, isn’t it, I don’t know. Isn’t it sort of rude to just walk into somebody’s mind like that?”

Isaac grinned at him, his face creasing and his eyes twinkling. “Nah, kid, this’s fine. No problems. Listen, anyway, haven’t you seen the subconscious we’ve been walking through? Nary a thing here except what’s hidden away. Outside the house you have to go exploring to find stuff, most often. The inside’s the only interesting bit for them as have not so much time in the area. It’s sort of the guided tour version of the brain.”

Devon rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, well, that’s not really what I was asking.” But he walked into the house, to be struck with a faint but distinct odor of eggs. His mouth dry, he followed Isaac through the first room – a quite respectable-looking foyer – and into the next. It looked as though perhaps it had started out as a kitchen until things had started growing from the walls, the counters, and the chairs. Still, it was nothing so strange as what they’d seen in just the last couple of weeks.

In the next room, there was a room of fluttering wings. Some even had birds attached, who flapped over to the men cawing for breadcrumbs before they gave up and raced in quick windy paths through the air. Isaac said, “Cripes, look at that,” and Devon said nothing. The next room was piled high with clothes, some of which seemed to move suspiciously. Isaac didn’t let him poke them with a foot. They went through a room with fish swimming through the air, and one books with flapping pages. There was a room full of blank-faced people who looked to be made of wood, and a room full of hands clambering about like awkward fleshy spiders. Isaac kept up a cheerful commentary as they walked – “Oh, haven’t you had dreams like this?” and “Bugger if this isn’t a funny mind. Suppose it’s about as funny as the rest though.”

Devon stayed quiet. His mind was troubled. He was thinking about brains, and minds, and thoughts and things. Specifically, he was wondering if all minds were very different. He didn’t think there were rooms of faceless dolls in his head – not that he minded that, but there probably weren’t less disturbing things there either. Perhaps his mind was a neat orderly house with maybe a library and a wraparound porch. What if it wasn’t nearly this interesting?

When they were walking up the spiral staircase that drifted in all directions, very slowly, he voiced the question. “What if my mind doesn’t look like this? Can I find out what it does look like?” Isaac turned to look at him.

“No,” Isaac said. He was already shaking his head. “You can’t never go in your own mind, kid. Messes you up, your own mind does.”

Devon sat and thought about that a while, watching a phoenix spinning and flashing before him. After a while turning and nudging the words in his head, he gave up and left them in an empty corner.

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The Sleepless Widow

Jen sometimes took walks in the dark. It was oddly peaceful to slip out after the streetlights winked on and the shadows engulfed the streets, to walk through the glow of a light and then swim blind through the shadows only toward the next bright spot. When everything was quiet she would leave, her dishes tumbled in the sink and the bedroom light left on. When the door clicked closed she was suddenly back in the world, not in the house that wrapped her tight and kept her closed off.

When she walked down the street, there was nobody there. She only had to navigate past the odd trash bag spilled out over the sidewalk, belated leftover from the garbage truck. Her thoughts rose up around her and spiraled out, and she followed their threads as she walked. She was so caught up in her mind that she nearly bumped into an elderly woman, stepping with slow solemn care along the sidewalk.

Jen said, “Oh, I’m sorry!”

“That’s all right, dear,” said the lady. “I understand. After all, I’m taking a walk at night too, right?”

Jen fixed a polite smile on her face and nodded. “Yes, certainly. Do you walk often?” She cursed herself silently for starting a conversation, realizing too late.

“Sometimes,” the woman confided, leaning toward Jen. “Sometimes I just can’t sleep, and my house is empty now. Then there’s really nothing for it but this dark sorcery of the night, don’t you know?”

Jen looked up at her, startled. The old lady was grinning, but her face was sweetly set in wrinkles and her eyes gleamed with the yellow shine of the streetlights.

Jen nodded cautiously, and said, “I suppose so.”

The lady let out a chuckle at that, and said, “It’s quite all right, sweetie. What brings you out at this odd hour?”

“I just like to walk at night,” she said. “That’s all.”

The old woman laughed again. “Yes, of course. And at night you never know whom you might meet.”

Jen’s eyebrows drew together, but the old woman was still smiling. “I met you.”

“Just so, then.” The woman, a smile still stretched over her creased face, nodded at her and turned her face forward again, taking a small step on the concrete.

She walked slowly after that, looking behind her every now and then. There was nothing remarkable there, though, just the shape of the old lady disappearing slowly in the night.

When Jen got back home, she stretched across the cool sheets of the bed and curled her hands in the blankets. She was tired after a long walk, and she fell asleep into restless dreams of moonlight and magic.

The Dream Factory

The machines are always humming, and the conveyer belts move so slowly you can barely tell, unless you’re still and staring. The workers scurry across the linoleum like ants, heads nodding in time to the rustle of their stiff gleaming uniforms. Every once in a while you will see one of them yawn, swiping a wrist across a mouth and looking embarrassed, checking to make sure that nobody saw.

There are different stations in the factory. Over in the northwest corner, the worker’s uniforms are made of lace and mesh, and the floor squelches slightly as they step over it. The conveyer belts rise and fall over the hills of the machine, undulating with a faint glimmer. The manager of this section leans against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, fingers curling and uncurling on the handle of a whip that trails in whorls on the tile. The workers steal glances at the manager, but mostly they pay attention to what they’re doing – some of them caressing the products, fingers slipping into the crevices, checking for flaws. Some of them fold hands around the dreams that pass before them, pressing with firm attentive care to mold the packaging to their contours.

In the southwest corner, the ceiling rises and lowers like a melting cave. The shape of the room slopes so low that the workers there have to stoop their heads and huddle past, until they get to the part where it suddenly opens into a vast cavern of darkness again. Then they duck their heads yet lower, trying their best to avoid turning stray glances above. They’re afraid to see what’s there. If you wander too far into this quadrant of the factory, you will start to hear the shrieks and rumbles that emanate from the corners. The conveyer belts slant down, in a straight line toward a dark hole that fits neatly into the edge of wall and floor. The belt sinks into it and is lost in a few feet, draped in shadow until you can barely see the dreams at all. It’s better that way – everyone tries to avoid staring at the dreams as they writhe and flop on the surface of the belt. The workers handle them delicately, fingers dancing over the edges and shapes, fluttering away from the surfaces sticky with slime or sharp with needles and razor edges. They transfer from the southwest corner as quickly as possible. It’s mostly an assignment given to new hires, or those who’ve made some mistake in another section. It doesn’t matter so much what they do with the nightmares, even if they’ve let dreams slip by upside-down in the other parts of the factory.

The southeast quadrant of the factory is more varied than these other two. Some of the dreams that glide by on the conveyer belt are beautiful, crafted of shimmering glass that unfurls in splendid lacy spirals. Some of them are absolutely plain, perfect and tiny crafted shapes like models of Mrs. Dashwood’s day at the office. If you peer closely, you can see the coffee stain on her skirt and the bald spot on her boss’s head. Some dreams are ugly, flat things, marked with the shapes of missing clothes and missed trains. One or two of them even smells like old cheese – though, of course, the smell will be mostly stamped out by the time they’re packaged and sent off. The workers go about their jobs somewhat mindlessly here, plodding from one station to the next, fingering the dreams carelessly. The monotony of a day filled with the utterly ordinary is broken now and again by the beauty of a dream that stops them. They turn then, lean in and gaze at it as their fingers work smooth and sure on its surface. Their eyes widen and lips part, and their hands linger on the edges of the dream until the conveyer belt pulls it away. They will return then to the rote routine of their work until another lovely dream draws their attention. Go on and look at one – you might hear the music drifting from it and the notes falling aimlessly through the air. Touch it, even, for some of them have a warmth that spreads up your arm or a soft and aching sweetness that reaches your bones. Some of those dreams smell of vanilla and cinnamon, or bread baking, or wildflowers. Don’t touch too long, though.

The northeast section of the factory is closed off. There’s a tall forbidding wall around it, reaching into the center of the factory, studded with locked doors. Workers rarely go in and out of doors, and when you see one walking out of the northeast it is with a solemn expression and downcast eyes. Generally everyone has a hidden and secret desire to work in the northeast part, even if just for a day. Just to know, for the secret is enticing, seductive. When the workers whisper amongst themselves, that is often what they speak of. They gossip in lowered voices during their breaks, turning to one another and flicking glances at the managers.

They don’t talk for long, though. They don’t get a lot of breaks. Their work is more interesting than anything else they could be doing, even the dull unending hours in the southeast on a quiet day or the heart-thudding work in the nightmare section. The workers look at dreams as their life’s purpose. It’s intricate and important work that they shape and check and send along. They talk about it, think about it, and if they could dream they would dream about it too. The workers at the dream factory don’t dream, of course. They only work at dreams, smoothing the edges and twisting the corners. They work hard at their jobs, take pride in what they make, and they never sleep at all.