A Trick In The Tale, by Shawn Power (pastels)
Had Amy known she was dreaming, she probably wouldn’t have agreed to marry the hunky merman from the ruined kingdom at the bottom of her bathtub. But it was love at first sight, or at least irritated her mom to no end, who strictly preferred a scientist or cognitive engineer for her only daughter.
“What do Merpeople do anyway?” her mom pleaded, pointing at the half-fish prince bobbing waist-deep in the tub’s murky waters. “What kind of life is that? And he smells like–“
“If you say fish,” Amy roared, tying back a fiery mane of hair, red as her temper, “I swear on all that is holy… that’s it, you will never see your grandchild!” One hand cradling her budding belly, she reached out with the other for the prince’s help into the tub (much bigger on the inside) and descended in full wedding dress down steps unseen to wade at his side in the dark water. What she really wanted to say was “I love you” and “miss you,” but for some ungodly reason her mom was being super stubborn and refused to attend the wedding, so it might have come out a bit different. Whatever, she was starting to suspect it was a dream anyway- for one thing her mom had been dead for years, and Amy always hated the smell of fish, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to admit that now.
Down they went, down, down to the bottom of her tub, away from the stresses and crushing pressures of the molten shores above. The water cleared the deeper they swam, as did Amy, and by the time the coral castle came into view she broke free and bolted back up, realizing with full lucidity that any time with her mom was well spent, bickering or not; plus she had married enough dream hunks to know it never ends well. They were always too perfect, and perfectly nice, to the point where she spends too much of those dreams barfing to thoroughly enjoy.
But the bathroom was empty when she climbed out; her drenched gown dragged behind, leaving a soapy slug-trail across the linoleum as she slumped to the door. Dang it, she thought, tossing chunks of seaweed from her hair, I should have just stayed with her to begin with… or with the prince at least, that castle would have been fun to explore…
She then spent some time searching the apartment for Bynx, her real pet cat who appeared as a stuffed animal in dreams, but soon gave up since she really didn’t use him anymore (the dream version, that is,) and because carrying a stuffed animal around her friend Clay felt rather childish, not to mention perfect fodder for some unwarranted sarcastic remark.
Oh right, Clay!
Not very keen to attempt the summoning technique she used the last time she was lucid, that very dream inspired another. In a beeline to the front door, she focused on wishing to see Clay on the other side, and because it felt right, rubbed her hands together and powered up the intent with some positive emotion–
The way he makes me laugh. His adorable grin when he thinks he’s being witty. I want to see my friend CLAY!
The door flung open in her powerful grasp and there he stood skipping stones on the quiet bank of a lake at night, under the silver glow of a huge moon suspended in relative inches over the dark horizon. It was amazing how much he looked like Professor Zero from behind- about the right height too- but the titular professor of her favorite modern television show was in his forties, favored a muddish trench coat, pin-stripe suit, and sneakers; here, Clay looked like he was on his way to a toga party. He turned and hopped like a startled hare-
“Amy? What are you doing there in that windmill?”
“Huh? What’s that lake doing in my hallway?”
“Huh? Oh, you used a door trick! You– wait, are you getting married? In that?”
A Little Bedtime Story, by Shawn Power (pastels)
Clay Lake, by Shawn Power (pastels)
From her apartment onto the cool grass she stepped, mustering all possible strength not to comment on his own attire, careful not to even think it because he could read her mind and it wasn’t very nice. I mean he does look kinda cute in a toga, but why would I tell him that? (“Oh thanks!”) Dammit…..
“So why are you wearing that anyway?” she said aloud, “oooh, are we we going to Pompeii?” There was a recent movie about it on DisFlix which had her dying to visit the ancient resort villa on the Mediterranean coast- minus the doomsday volcano eruption, of course- though her bucket list of places to go to in a lucid dream was nearing triple digits with nothing to show for it…
“No I got one better, how about we go to Atlantis?” And after an enthusiastic nod from Amy, “OK, to the moon first! Shall I make you some new CloudWalkers?”
“Nah, I got this.” Suddenly remembering her Apex smartwatch, she looked down and there it was on her right arm– a simple white wristband with a diamond-shaped ruby on top (though whether it was always there or just appeared she couldn’t say.) With a light tap on the jewel, a holographic screen projected from it and she scrolled eagerly through the apps menu. “Ah, here it is! The other night when I was going to sleep, I said if I can use my Apex again in a dream, there’d be a new app that gives me wings. I just hadn’t been lucid yet…”
Pressing on the little icon of a plume feather initiated a quick chain of strange sensations: first a tickling between her shoulder blades that rose to a searing, scratching riiip of stubborn skin and fabric as giant, white heron-like wings tore out of her back and flexed wide in their hard-earned freedom. They felt real too, perhaps a bit too real; she could almost feel each individual feather ruffling in the cool breeze that rolled in from the dark lake, but decided not to think about it as it became quite overwhelming.
“Hey it really worked!” she said, lifting up and above the treetops with powerful flaps. Clay jumped up and joined her in full superman pose, and together they flew past the lake to the moon, through an opening door in one of the craters, landing delicately inside the spaceship’s dark, cramped cockpit (Amy at least, Clay scrambled to his feet and promised he was fine.)
“Just gotta do it with confidence” she said, shrugging, and with another press of the feather icon on the Apex’s screen her wings dissolved away. She took her seat on the right, in front of a ridiculously large dashboard bedazzled with countless buttons and switches in every color imaginable –twinkling in random flashes but sometimes in waves and patterns. Above that towered a giant screen displaying the very scene they had just left but in reverse; the windmill, gently illuminated by the moon, kept watch over the other end of the lake, turning slow in its hypnotic spin.
“So, Atlantis,” Clay said, taking his seat to the left. The dashboard towered over him and even a bit above if he looked up for it; he searched diligently for a specific button. “Actually it’s a switch… Ah, here we go, just have to shift over about three dimensions to the right…” He flicked it thrice and Amy noticed the giant screen above faded and then showed the Earth completely zoomed out– but different– the continents were all there it seemed, but shaped funny.
“Hey, did we go back in time?” she asked, “Is this like before one of the ice ages or something?”
“A word of advice,” he replied, reaching up and pinch-zooming on the giant screen in the place that must have been the Atlantic ocean, “when we get there, don’t mention time. They despise that subject.”
“Ok then, don’t mention time, got it. But we totally went to the past, right? About 20 or 30 thousand years by the looks of it… What? I’ve seen a documentary or two!”
“Look I could tell you it’s thirty thousand years in the past, or thirty thousand in your future, and it wouldn’t make one difference. It’s Atlantis, and we’re here, so are you ready?”
Amy nodded, and with a little poof-cloud he conjured a pilot’s handlebar yoke at his hands; with a heavy push forward, the ship, smaller now in relation to his zooming in, plummeted to the ocean and entered the Atlantic with a resounding splash!
Down they went, down down to the bottom of the ocean, reminding her of the beginning of this dream and she was glad it was with Clay this time. And then when the coral castle came into view – like the tallest fairytale castle with high gothic towers covered in giant technicolored corals- it was no surprise that a mermaid swam by and waved. Soon there were more and more of them, male and female, wearing all sorts of corals and shells around their necks and waists, fluttering in and out of the castle below and around what looked like ruins of a decimated city surrounding.
The Sea Has Secrets, by Shawn Power (pastels)
“Wait, so the Atlanteans are Merpeople?” Amy asked, hands on cheeks, “oh God, I almost married one!”
“Not really. Well, yes and no. Actually they are the gatekeepers and servants of the Atlanteans. But they’re the first thing people see if they intentionally or unintentionally stumble upon the first gate, so it’s a common misconception, and you humans love to hold conceptions as truth.”
“Oh! I mean… not you of course…” His throat cleared quicker than her sarcastic reply and she let it go, mostly, and focused on the irony that she nearly married a merman prince who may have just been a lord of servants. She bet he didn’t even have a room in the castle. “Actually from what I hear,” Clay chimed in, “the castle has a room for every merperson. And that they throw great parties in the southern ruins, but I’ve never been invited…”
Sea Turtle, by Patrick Jeremy McCollum (acrylics)
The ship parked in what looked like an Atlantean garage, in a hollowed out trench gated on two ends by miniature replicas of the castle; there were three other ships parked, though they looked more like actual spaceships or UFO’s. Amy wondered how many moons get parked here and Clay assured her his was the only one.
Atlantis, by Patrick Jeremy McCollum (acrylics)
Out through the north gate they swam, Amy’s scarlet mane gliding behind, dancing with a life of its own in the warm aqueous flow. She was tempted to find an Apex app for mermaid fins, but decided against it because it could come off as a rude imitation of Ariel. She did get tired of swimming though, so Clay conjured up a little chariot pulled by giant mechanical seahorses and they rode through the crumbled city ruins to the coral-laced castle in style.
“Hey that’s him!” yelled Amy when she spotted who looked like the hunky mer-prince –with whom she had a whirlwind romance before this story began– resting on a crumbled fountain a few yards in front of a fractured stone bridge crossing the castle’s encircling, and rather useless, moat.
She remembered rolling out of bed that night and then realizing she was still dreaming, and while exploring her apartment she dove into the bathtub and met the merman in a deep murky pool, losing all clarity at some point. He told of the riches of his home and country, and that he’d make her queen of the sea, which sounded pretty good at the time but she had to let her mom know, of course. Now looking at him, he was clearly over exaggerating like any dumb meathead at the nuero-gym; the shells hanging down to those perfectly chiseled abs weren’t near as nice at the pretty blonde mermaid’s he was hitting up now.
“Wow, you move on fast!” she shouted as they passed by; he hid his face in shame and swam away. “Yeah, that’ll teach ya’!”
“Friend of yours?” Clay asked, gawking. Then when he noticed her wedding dress the chariot came to a screeching halt under two tall crystal-topped posts still standing at the foot of the bridge. “Oh, we should fix this before we go through. Gotta fit in, you know. Togas are ‘in’ at Atlantis now, again. Do you know how to change your clothes in a dream?”
“Geez Clay, I’m not completely helpless!”
“Well, I didn’t say–” he trailed off when Amy closed her eyes, twirled a red ringlet of hair to keep from waking up, and imagined wearing something much cuter. Maybe something like a silver jumpsuit, like from an old classical sci-fi show… Or I could just surprise everyone and go as Princess Leia…
When she opened her eyes, Clay was pointing an umbrella at her, one she quickly realized to be from the grocery store dream that he used as a magic wand to enchant her CloudWalk shoes.
“They also despise figures of royalty,” he said, bracing for any spontaneous fireballs to his face (as if she would do such a thing.) “I said we’re wearing togas, but you’ve gone and done it now! A silver-toga-jumpsuit with space buns on your head… That won’t stand out at all!” He gave the reins an aggressive shake and the seahorses scampered across the bridge and under the castle’s tall gothic archway encrusted in mosaic gems and turtle-sized barnacles. She assured him that he was worrying too much but did feel a bit awkward when she reached up and touched the honey bun shaped braids hanging over her ears.
They passed through a shimmering wall –(“Portal.”) — portal, at the other side of the archway, and the mechanical seahorses crashed to the ground when they unexpectedly emerged onto dry land. Ahead, a bridge with two crystal-topped posts, a magnificent fountain (spewing fire, not water, from a marbled shark’s mouth,) and a sprawling Mediterranean city mirrored the ruined kingdom they just left behind. Maybe half a mile ahead, a golden pantheon throned a steep, green-lush hill, the lower half of which the city scaffolded with snaking stairways, shrines, and nestled houses in a tropical mixture of ancient styles and colors. (Think: old Amalfi coast before the second, and further reaching, Vesuvius explosion.) A single white staircase zigzagged to the top in perfect alignment with the pantheon’s open doors that sat squeezed between golden columns reaching high to the peach-morning sky.
“Wait, we’re on land…” said Amy. “Like before it sunk… Did we go back in time?”
“Don’t talk about time!”
Clay’s hand waved the chariot away in a little poof-cloud, and while crossing the bridge Amy turned back and pointed out that they were emerging from what looked like the same castle, but all newish and not covered in giant coral colonies; a watery portal under the sharp triangular arch rippled from the center out.
“Clay, is this the real Atlantis, or just a dream one?”
“Oh, there you go again. So interested in what’s real, huh. A dreamist if ever… Why don’t you ask an Atlantean if they’re real?”
“Ok I will!”
Up ahead at the flame fountain, (“Fire well,” Clay interjected,) …at the fire well, a young boy wearing a toga the color of blueberries (“I think they call that indigo,”) CAN YOU STOP??
Up ahead at the fire well, a young boy wearing an indigo toga was taking flame from the shark’s mouth into a glass Athenian vase (“Probably quartz.”) Amy halted under the crystal-topped posts and said,
“Will you please stop butting into my thought process? I have half a mind to wake up right now. And now I’ve completely forgotten what we were doing.”
“Yes, sorry. Let’s see ..you don’t know if you’re dreaming, or in the real Atlantis. So if it were real, could you really threaten to wake up?”
Up ahead at the fire well, a young boy wearing an indigo toga was taking flame from the shark’s mouth into a quartz Athenian vase and she ran up to him and asked if he were a real Atlantean or just a dream one. He looked at her funny and said,
“Geez lady, a real Atlantean has no problem being a dream one.” Then to Clay he said, “Where’d you pick up this one, huh? They have a sale on egotistical gingers?”
Amy could already feel the prickling heat of a fireball forming between her hands when Clay pushed them down with his umbrella and shook his head, then stuffed the umbrella down the neck end of his toga; it disappeared and the boy continued,
“Has she even passed her first review? Do you even know how many illegal humans my dad has had to kick out this week? Used up all of our spare correctors just to keep them from showing up with ten of their friends. Jeez, it’s like feeding a squirrelfish.”
WHAT did he just call me? She thought-roared at Clay. The Atlantean boy clasped his ears and moaned…
“You haven’t even taught her to think to herself?”
“You know,” said Clay. “I do keep mentioning it.”
“Are you sure she’s cleared to visit here? I’m telling my dad!”
“No no, she’s definitely cleared to be here! Look, see? She’s got an Apex smartwatch, they only give those out on second review.” Amy, following lead, held up her wrist and pointed at her smartwatch with a reassuring nod. “She’s perfectly fine, just a little… rough around the edges.” Then she tapped on the jewel and when the holographic screen popped up she told it to present Clay with a one fingered salute. It did, and he waved the screen away with conservative haste. “I like to call it personality. They give points for that, you know.”
“Uh huh. Ok well, your human looks like a weirdo, I mean just look at her hair! And you call that a toga? And neither of you are wearing gloves! I swear, if you rub your ignorance on me, my dad will hunt you down and string you up for the piranhas.” Clutching his vase of fire to his chest, he backed away and ran down the street into the city. Ahead, the golden pantheon on top the mountain resonated with what Clay interjectively described as mid-day bells. Amy shook her head and said,
“Is it just me, or does that kid’s dad sound a bit humanist?”
“Oh, now you care!”
“And what’s this about gloves?”
“Beats me, at least togas are still in…”
“Apex,” she said into her smartwatch. “What’s this about gloves?” It responded in a warm, motherly tone,
[Ok… Searching. According to Akashic Library article 36899, current trend in Atlantis dictates that all visitors must wear hand coverings to prevent transmittance of ignorance.]
“Ohhh,” said Clay, “so basically they think you can transfer your ignorance by touching them. That’s… eccentric.”
“Ok,” said Amy. “So, don’t talk about time, and don’t touch anyone, got it. Hey, when in Rome, right? Or like in that DisFlix animated film “Blazed”– I’m going to let it burn, cuz the fire never scalded me anyway! What? It’s a song. Come on Clay, we’re in Atlantis! I actually went to Atlantis… and it’s beautiful… Let’s explore!”
To be continued…