Friday, July 10, 2009

Part 9: Into the Woods

If the sleep of the just is sound, then it is fair to say that Khepri never had an easy time when it came to sleep. She had long since got Mufane and Elizabeth under her thumb so that together they could manipulate Rachael into the task that Khepri had selected her for, and such controlling behavior no longer troubled her. Even murdering Scott Allen and making it appear to be a suicide, all to build and reinforce the illusion that Mufane was an out-of-control New Age freak, was practically a matter of routine. There were sheep, and there were wolves, and the laws that governed the sheep did not govern the wolves. Common morality was for weaklings like Mufane, Elizabeth and poor beknighted Rachael. It was not for the strong like Khepri.

Yet it would not be fair to say that she was untroubled by the cruelty she visited upon her sister, nor by the string of murders she had committed. She would never acknowledge to another, nor even to herself in her waking hours, but her sleep was tormented at every cycle by nightmares of horrible violence, where her victims roved at will through the ruins of the world and she was forced to depend upon those she held in contempt for her very survival.

Khepri clung to amphetamines like a programmer holding to a battered TRS-80. They no longer worked, but she could not let them go. As the sun began to rise over the Staples office supply center across the street, she fought desperately to stay awake. If she could, she would stay awake forever.

She could not. At her sister's house, hiding from the law, Khepri fell asleep.

* * *

The sun was beginning to set when Kopczik awoke, his arm throbbing where one of the Allens had bitten him. They had been able to escape from the ruined hotel after an intense fight, but not unscathed. One of the Allens had caught Rachel around the throat and dragged her back, screaming, into the building while Kopczik, Brown Lizzy and Stoner had been driven by the size of the assault backward and ultimately out of Allen territory.

"Aw hell," he muttered. The bite felt like it was on fire; it was probably infected. "I'd hoped it was just a dream."

"Youse looking like you's had a bad one youself," said Brown Lizzy. "Is it th'same'n, where you's a girl and we's all sisters?"

Kopczik nodded, but didn't say anything. He had made the mistake once before of telling the others about his bizarre dreamworld, where he was a cruel and domineering woman named Khepri living in the world as it had been before Autumn came, and the others had never passed up a chance to talk about it. And when they had discovered that each member of their band had an analogue in his dream -- Rachel as Rachael, Stoner as a woman named Mufane, and Brown Lizzy as Elizabeth -- Stoner especially had made the analysis almost unbearable.

"You know, maybe your dream is the real world," said Stoner. Her eyes were unfocused, and her mouth hung open so that a long strand of drool fell unnoticed to her patchwork pants. As she talked, she removed a dried plant from a small pouch and rolled it into a paper. "Remember that butterfly I talked to who said he dreamed of being a man? I bet it's just like that."

Stoner paused to light her cigarette on the last embers of the fire, and took a long drag. She closed her eyes and felt her agitated mind relax and lose focus.

"You guys hungry?" she asked. "We got any groundhog left?"

Copzik said nothing. He just shook his head, and turned his attention to Brown Lizzy.

"So what are we going to do, Lizzy?" he asked. "They got our oneiromancer, and I don't see any way to get her back."

Brown Lizzy bit her lip and stared into the dark and forbidding forest that once had been a city. Rachel's dreams had been their best guide, and now she was gone, captured by the Allens, and her dreams with her.

"Come on, I'm really jonesing something to eat," Stoner said. "Don't hold any roast groundhog out on me. I know you got some stashed somewhere, Kopczik."

"Before we lost Rache, we was gonna go into the city," said Brown Lizzy. "We was hoping Rache's dreams'd tell us the safe way."

"She said she saw someplace restless," Kopczik offered. There was a rustling sound from their supplies. "That was all she was able to tell us before the Allens attacked."


At Brown Lizzy's cry, Kopczik turned and looked. Stoner had scattered all their supplies on the ground, looking for the supply of smoked groundhog meat she was sure they still had. His toothbrush -- a priceless artifact of a lost civilization, in that it had helped him prevent the sort of oral infections that had claimed his last companion before he had met up with Brown Lizzy and her crew -- was lying in the dirt; the only other shirt he had was lying in the spilled water; and their pre-Autumn maps of the region were scattered and in some places torn. And still Stoner was digging through their supplies like a wild animal.

"I'm hungry!" she said as Kopczik grabbed her and tried to pin her arms behind her back to stop the rampaging destruction. "I haven't eaten in hours. Where's the bag of groundhog?"

There was a loud cry overhead, and the three of them turned in wonder to see a large brown hawk alight on the low-hanging branch of a nearby oak.

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