FantasyLiterary Fiction

The Dream Eaters

By A.M. Dellamonica
7,589 words · 28-minute reading time
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Mo Cottonsmith had just turned sixteen when she started Lopside Fashions, with cash she stole from a neighborhood fizz dealer. The money wasn't enough to sustain a business, but Mo counted on getting lucky. She believed in making her own luck, too: thanks to a roving copcam, her first creation just happened to debut on all the morning news shows.

The dress was daffodil yellow with simulated dewdrops on the bodice and a chainmail hoop skirt. Mo's pal Juanita Jones was modeling, and the footage showed her fighting off a couple of deviants.

It wasn't much of a fight. When Juanita spun to face her would-be attackers, the blades hanging in a fringe at the bottom of the chainmail whipped around too. They took off Suspect Number Two's index finger at the second knuckle; then pinpoint blasts of pepper spray from the dewdrops finished him off. Sadly, his buddy fled before Juanita could deploy the tasers in her matching shoes. She fired them anyway, then pouted into the camera and strode off down the sidewalk.

So suddenly hoops were in again, and breezy thieving Mo was a Person of Interest to someone besides Crimestoppers.

(They tried to stick her for hacking the copcam, but her lawyer got that flushed just before I joined the force.)

Lopside's next release was the A.D. Bodice, a bustier that padded out one of your boobs to a double-D while squeezing the other to a bud. It took off, too, and at nineteen Mo began cashing the kind of checks the thought of which sends the rest of us running to the Scratch Lotto.

She spent it on a big expensive house, decorating the place in what she called Group Home Chic. I said there was nothing Group Home about it. She said Chic was not my subject. Back, forth, back again: it had been that way between us the whole time we roomed together at McMurty’s, a civic dumping ground for girls who can't go home or get a foster placement.

Ignoring my input, Mo draped fabric all over her walls and furniture, then got herself the world's loudest stereo system. The basement she called the Hangar, because it was full of hammocks and toys for her various hangers-on.

She also built herself a new version of the nightmask she'd stolen from me years before, the last time she ran away from McMurty's. It had fancy green-tinted goggles, padded ones that fit comfortably, and heavy-duty hardware on the breathing filter. She slept in it, as I always had. People called this a charming eccentricity and when they saw mine--the replacement I built after Mo filched the original--assumed I was copying her.

But that's ancient history--priors, you'd say in my trade. Here and now Mo's striding into the neighborhood policing office, scowling, clutching a shoebox. She's clad in a big-belly dress for an expectant mom--lime velvet in color, with boxy collars and cuffs. Panels peel away from its gut and something shiny and green hangs over her curved stomach.

"Constable Lizabette." She snaps her gum, all business.

"You pregnant, Mo?"

"It's for the fall show." She perches on a chair. "Wanna try it on? It comes with inflatable tummy."

"I'm working."

"Come on. I'll wear your uniform, march around in front of the door so nobody catches you screwing around."

"You wish." I cough to hide a smile. "What's in the box?"

"Don't know exactly."

Games. Stalling, I take a better look at the dress. The plastic moldings stretched over her belly are frogs and lizards, big-eyed, cartoonish and friendly. "Someone's going to buy this?"

"I have pre-orders."

"What do you mean you don't know what's in the box?"

"Open it."

"You got it in the mail?"

"It's not a bomb, Liz."

I open it. Then I shut it again, stuff it in the bottom desk drawer, and close the window blinds before spraying everything with a disinfectant so strong it makes the eyes water.

"There's the girl I remember so fondly." Mo's voice is relaxed, but the room is darker with the blinds closed, and I see red marks on her mouth: she's been biting her lips. "You do know what that is."

"No," I say, but there's no strength in my voice.

"Know my motto, Liz?"

"Why earn something you can rip off?"

"Every puzzle has a solution. My genius is..."

"Yeah... knowing the person with the answer. So?"

"You sleep in a modified gas mask."

"So do you, Mo."

"Roommate see, roommate do. I know a survival tactic when I see it."

"Delusions. Everybody at McMurty's said so."

"Liz!" She kicks the desk hard. "You're not crazed."

I let out a breath. It's a victory--making her lose her temper. "The thing in the box is a fairy."

She falls back in her chair, spinning it with one foot. Her hands are trembling, and when she sees me noticing, her lip curls. "Is this where I flip out and say that's impossible?"

"Usually."

"A fairy."

"Yes. What does it look like?"

"Like an itty-bitty dead person with bird wings stuck to a slice of Wonder Bread."

"The 'dead' part is what should worry you. Fairies don't believe in mitigating circumstances."

"Kinda like you?"

"Shut up, Mo."

"Ooh, point for me."

Opening the drawer, I find the bread has worked its way loose from the box and is crawling up the inside of the desk. I pinch up the slice, avoiding the orange specks in the peanut butter that glues the little corpse there, face-up and splayed. "Time of death's around sunrise."

"How can you tell?"

"The size. It's just a baby."

"What's this?" She points to a green stem in its hand.

"A dream siphon."

"Which means?" She reaches to poke the body and I slap her hand. "Come on, what's a dream siphon?"

I fiddle with the papers on my desk, trying to hide how I'm pulled between what's right... and what I'm going to do. I should tell her this doesn't have anything to do with the police or my Commercial Drive beat; I should show her the door. But Mo stole my mask all those years ago. She cost me one of my last few dreams. It's hard not to feel owed, like I shouldn't grab this chance to get one of hers in return. Finally I ask: "Do you still have nightmares about weird bugs?"

"Maybe. So?"

"This is the cure." I push the green wand out of the fairy's dead hand with the tip of a pen. When I've got it off the bread, I raise it to Mo's face.

"Hey!" She rears back.

"You want to know about this stuff or not?"

"Yeah."

"Then relax. It's okay, I promise."

She stops wiggling and I lay the narrow point of the stem against the corner of her eye. "Think of a bug from your nightmares."

Mo grips my cheap, taxpayer-bought desk. Seconds later a tiny moth squeezes out of the wide end of the siphon. Shrunken and wet, it plumps out and starts flapping around on my desk. Drying as it grows to the size of my fist, it never manages to get airborne.

"This is it?" Its wings are covered in pink and yellow neon spots, and it looks like something from a kid's movie. "Big fearless Mo's afraid of this?"

"Not funny, Liz." The thing rattles its wings and she startles me by leaping to her feet, backing up against the wall. The siphon stem jiggles from its place in the corner of her eye.

"Relax," I say, grabbing the moth. It unfluffs defensively, shrinking to sleekness, becoming about the size of a plum.

"Is it dead?"

"It's too lovable to kill." This has turned out better than I guessed; I was expecting something horrible. I stuff the moth in my mouth and it dissolves like cotton candy, leaving a hint of dry sand between my teeth.

Mo turns away and retches. I'm surprised she's so affected--and petty enough to be pleased. After a second I relent, patting her back.

The dream I've swallowed starts to seep in. Moth-images flitter through my empty attic of a mind--dusty and hairy, gray and brown and green and orange and cartoon-colored too. Powder scented with soft antennae, they have sharply jointed legs and perfect dots for eyes.

"You are so gross, Lizabette." Mo's reproach pulls me back. She's pale and shadows edge beneath her eyes, which were bright and alert minutes earlier. Dream loss can do that.

"Get over it, Mo, and tell me what the dream-moth looks like."

"Why don't you tell me how it tastes?"

"Refreshing." I tug the siphon off her eye. "Humor me."

"Red. With... no, pink wings and..." Her eyes widen. "Ohmigod."

"It's like you dreamed it but now you can't remember?"

She nods, eyeing the yellow and pink dust on my palm.

"That dream is gone for good now."

"You mean... no more moth dreams ever?"

"Not for you; that's what a dream siphon does. Now, if all your questions are answered, how about getting out of my office?"

Instead she paces my tiny floor. "That's why you built the mask--fairies siphon off dreams and you were protecting yours?"

The few I have left, I think. What I say is: "Where'd you find the body?"

"The bread crawled over my hand this morning."

"I thought you don't eat wheat."

"Jesus, Constable, you keeping a file on me?"

"Was it your bread?"

"Of course not. And I don't want the lecture about caring for a juvenile..."

My stomach flops. I get it now--why Mo's scared about the fairy instead of curious. Why she came to me.

"It was Peg's bread," I say.

Mo nods.

Seven years ago Peg was just a gaunt six-year-old with the most infectious laugh ever to ring in the drab hallways of McMurty's. Now, she's thirteen and one of Mo's Hangers. She's a cute, good-natured kid, the kind who never gives you shit no matter what you catch 'em doing or who you're hauling them back to. Peg always gives you a smile and a cheerful word, even while her big eyes are speaking volumes: "Stop the squad car, let me disappear..."

"Is Peg hurt?" My voice sounds like it's in a tunnel.

"She took off."

"She's gone?"

"She's Peg. She could be anywhere."

"Mo? Did you actually see her leave?"

Drooping, Mo squeezes her goofy lizard-covered gut. "No. And she left her things behind."

A familiar urge to smack her rises in me, and then falls away. If Peg had been anywhere but Mo's, I'd never have known she was gone.

"Liz?"

"Peg's in trouble." Taken by fairies--I try to calculate how much she'll have aged. Nine minutes is a year when someone dreams in feytime. She could be in her thirties.

"Why, Liz? What do they want?"

"She killed a fairy." Pulling myself together, I indicate the corpse in its bready frame. "Exhibit A here was siphoning. One of Peg's dreams escaped, probably. It knocked her into the bread..."

"They're allergic to bread, Holmes?"

"No. The siphoner got stuck in the peanut butter, struggled, and released a lot of pixdust."

"Pix...?"

I point at the orange specks in the peanut butter. "This. Pixdust."

"Looks like pollen."

"It's dander."

"Fairy dander." Despite what she's already seen, Mo's voice is skeptical.

"Magic fairy dander. It gave the bread the wiggles, and the slice folded over, strangling or squishing our victim. They're pretty delicate."

"And now? What's happened to Peg?"

"Taken."

"Where, to Fairyland?"

"Basically."

Mo rakes a shaking hand through her hair. "If she comes back, will she be like you?"

I pretend I don't know what she means.

"Great. What do we do?"

"Nothing." I peel the fairy corpse off the bread and it withers into a husk. The bread I dunk in a cup of coffee, soaking it until it falls into crumbs and then washing the mess down the sink. "Go home, Mo."

"You're going after her."

"No."

"You love that kid."

"Mo, she's gone."

"You're going, Liz, and I'm going too. Or else."

I squash the box and dump it in recycling.

"Or else--that's a threat. You're supposed to imagine dire consequences. Except you can't imagine, can you?"

"You'll have to spell it out."

"Come on. I could total your life--I know everything about you."

Unstrapping my sidearm, I unload it and open the office safe, trading the weapon for a small pouch of pills and vials. "You'll be sorry if you come, Maureen Gonzich."

She bares her teeth.

"First off, you have to do everything I say. And no whining if you aren't up for a life-altering experience."

"Is that your idea of a briefing, Constable?"

"There's more. Pop out your contact lenses and put on your glasses. And take these."

Her eyes glitter as I dig out the pills. "What are they?"

"Antihistamines--totally legal. Sorry to disappoint you."

She tosses them back, sullen. It goes both ways--I know her teenaged secrets, too.

"Now what?"

"The first time you go into a fairy city you have to offer a flesh tribute. We have to pull out one of your toenails."

I'm hoping she'll back out, but Mo doesn't even flinch: "Got anesthetic? Or do I butch it out?"

We don't talk as I set us up: do the surgery, wrap her bleeding toe. Pulling out a vial of aged pixdust, I mix it with saline. This gets trickled, one drop each side, into our ears.

"Hold the toenail up on your palm," I say.

It's already happening. My ears ring, so loud it hurts, and I point Mo toward the window so she'll see things slowing down--people freezing in mid-step, cars and trucks gliding to a halt. A thick, crumbly slop made of pixdust, discarded flower petals and bits of opalescent eggshell comes into view, covering everything and everyone. Under its drifts, people turn into anonymous perches, and it makes little hills of the cars and park benches.

Only the trees are clear of the slurr, fizzing air sweetly from their leaves to blow off the fragments and dust. They glow, making the daylight green.

Down here at ground level, fairies are few and far between. Only the flower-threshers are down in the pit of the city, drawing petals into their baskets with long multi-fingered rakes.

Something buzzes past, licking the toenail off Mo's upturned hand.

"Welcome to Kasqueam," I say.

Dusting the slop off of her shoulders and hair, Mo bites her lip again, this time so hard it bleeds. "I thought we were going somewhere."

I lead her out into the open air of the park. "The cities coexist--feytime's just faster. Kasqueam changes too fast for us to see... especially since we don't want to."

"It's like barnacles..." She squints at the slurr-covered skyline of downtown.

"I guess." On the roofs, layered bulbs made of orange pixie wax cover the shingles in a crust. Six or seven feet tall, each bulb forms a chamber, and through their translucent walls we can see sleeping fairies and their various possessions. From time to time they crack open at the top, revealing onion-layers of wax as a fairy emerges, buzzing wings adding to the general throb in the air.

One of the fliers bears down on us, and I have to grab Mo to keep her from dodging. The fairy swerves, clearing her by inches.

"No sudden moves," I lecture sternly. "They're faster--they'll always go around us if you don't skitter."

"They're so big," she says, stunned.

"They're older." Unlike the corpse on the bread, the fairies buzzing past us are teen-sized. Most are red-skinned with shaggy black hair, though a few lean toward Euro, Asian, and African heritage. They have long, angular limbs and wings like hummingbirds. The vibration of their wings makes my skin buzz and itch.

Sandy grains of dander are coming off their bodies in wispy orange clouds. Smelling of sugar and sweat, the pixdust swirls in a fog along their flightpaths.

"See?" I explain. "They eat flowers, they exude this."

"And they live in bulby waxy barnacles and they play chicken with the tourists. Got it."

"They do all sorts of things. Harvest flowers and sing songs and have wars with other cities. All the action is up higher."

"Where the air's clean?" She sniffles, despite the allergy pills.

"Cleaner."

"And they siphon dreams. I forgot to ask why."

"It's how they get stuff." I point at a bulb filled with odds and ends, a storeroom. We climb to the building roof and press our noses against the wax. Inside are ornate chairs, a dogsled, cartoonish paintings, a mushroom-shaped lamp, a bicycle, buckets, animal-head plaques. "They can't lift much, even when they're full grown, but dreams don't weigh anything. We're just a great big flea market as far as they're concerned."

"Fairies. They always seem so benign in the stories."

"You need to read older stories," I grunt.

"They got better publicists now?" The fear on her face had been fading, changing to curiosity and excitement. "So we're here, and Peg's here. Where do we start, Liz?"

We. I find I'm glad, for once, to have company in feytime. I wiggle my foot inside my left shoe, imagining I can feel the missing toenails, my entrance tributes to four pix hives: Lundundown, Gayparee, Turanna and Kasqueam.

Think, Liz. Peg. Brought here for killing the siphoner. But stashed where?

"We need a gossipmonger," I say.

"A what?"

One of the blurring forms swoops out of the flighted crowds above, wings driving a breeze that lifts our hair.

"The walls remember everything that ever happened for all the generations. Listen." I gesture at a layer of wax lying heavy on the side of a building, and Mo's eyes widen at the low murmur coming from it, a mixture of words that in Kasqueam are--I've been told--mostly Salish and Sto:lo. "It's like a database, a history. They know everything that happens here, and the gossipmongers speak the language."

"You're keeping Dogwood waiting." The swooping fairy had stopped just short of colliding with us. Arms folded over a skinny chest, she's wearing a sarong pieced together from dreamed dishtowels and rock T-shirts.

"We want to find a girl, Peg. A human girl. We know she's here but not where." Mo says it all in a rush, before I can make the request properly.

"Can you pay?"

I hold up the dream siphon, but the creature turns up her nose. "Newcomers talk, else you walk. So say the walls..."

"Don't rhyme at us," I say. "What do you want?"

The fairy's eyes flick down to Mo's stomach and the critters on the dress. "The name of your unborn?"

"No names," I say. "Besides, she's not preg..."

"Dogwood isn't addressing you!"

"I don't know anything worth trading," Mo says.

Dogwood points at me. "Tell me about her."

"About--"

"No names," I repeat weakly, and the fairy springs to my shoulders, bird-light despite her size. Her hands twist in my hair. "Tell me of your vexy friend," she croons.

Mo frowns and looks at me. "Vexy?"

I pry my hair free and check the fairy's hand for loose strands, letting go as soon as Dogwood vaults away. She lights on a lamppost, twirling.

"Vexy means troublesome, Mo."

"Troublecow." Dogwood trills ear-splitting laughter. Her wings throb, stirring up the orange slurr. "You have nothing?"

"She has a phobia," Mo says.

Dogwood's eyes widen. Her lips part, revealing small, glittering teeth. "Fears? Excellent coin!"

There's no help for it now. "You'll tell her where Peg is?"

"So pacted."

The magic words. "Go ahead, dammit," I tell Mo.

"She's afraid of needles." Mo looks at me sidelong, probably pleased that she's managed a trade but knowing not to gloat when I clearly want to clock her.

Dogwood shrieks again, pleased, and word goes out through the walls. I have enemies here. They may already be combing the dream-shops for hypodermics.

"Where's the kid?" Mo demands.

Dogwood pirouettes. "Fools. She's where you left her."

"What's that supposed to mean? Liz?"

I groan. "Your place."

We walk to Mo's house, Dogwood trailing us lazily. Sure enough we find Peg there, lying on a Hanger hammock. Pixwax has been dripped all over her like melted candles, encasing her body, cutting itself into diamonds where it hangs through the hammock mesh. The thin stem of a dream siphon drifts above her face, its open tip divided like a wishbone, its stems bent into the corners of her eyes. The siphon's tip pokes up through a small break in the pixwax, extruding set pieces from Peg's dreams--couches and books and xylophones. The dreams are brighter than a usual teenager's, as if Peg hasn't been thinned as much as most kids her age.

An acid-melted nightmask--my old one, I realize with a shock--is lying on the pillow beside her.

"That's why the dream that killed the fairy had so much kick," I murmur. "You've been masking her."

Fairies zoom in and out of the room, stripping any people-dreams of their clothing before shredding their bodies to dusty flakes, then picking up the objects and buzzing away.

"She's asleep?" Mo whispers.

"No," I say, relieved. "She's on the verge of waking."

"Sounds like the same thing to me."

"It's just different enough. When a human falls asleep in feytime, her body ages at fairy speed. You and I lay down now for a three-hour nap, we'd go home a couple old ladies."

"Whatever. We're putting an end to it now, right?" Mo's voice is grim as she reaches for one of the passing fairies.

I grab her by the shoulders, slam her against a wall.

"You can't just flatten them. They'd put you down."

"You talk like we're fucking livestock."

"Smack one, honey--you'll find out."

Pulling free, she collapses onto a couch. "And you've known all about this for how long?"

"Always."

"How do you deal?"

I shake my head, having no good answer.

Finally she sighs. "What do we do?"

"Find some way to buy them off."

"With what?"

"I don't know yet."

She looks at Dogwood, who is crooning and twisting on one of the hammocks. "Any suggestions?"

The gossipmonger shrugs, making a gloat of it.

"Can you tell me why they grabbed her?" Mo asks.

"Perhaps."

"How much?"

"Mo, it doesn't matter," I say, but there's a Mountie's Stetson lying on the coffee table beside us, and Dogwood eyes it covetously.

"Dogwood could use one of those," she says.

"So pacted." Mo hooks the hat off the coffee table, tossing it like a Frisbee. It lands right on the fairy's head. Then it bears her, shrieking, to the ground.

"I told you, they aren't strong," I say as the fairy flails. The hat falls off before I can rescue her. Dogwood zooms into flight, buzzing Mo once and then hovering at a wary distance, wings thrumming furiously.

"Mo, they trade in dreams. Hard goods are useless to them."

"Okay. Fine. I understand. Where's that siphon?"

I hold out the stem we got off the corpse this morning. Mo wedges it into her eye.

"Look at the hat," I say, and a clean copy of the Stetson bubbles out of the stem and plumps up to life size.

Dogwood comes out of her snit, snatching it with a pleased screech and zooming out of the room. Mo wobbles. When I try to steady her, she nearly drags me to the floor.

"Take a breath--it can be tiring."

"She's gone." Mo's expression darkens. "Little shrike ripped us off."

"No. The economy runs on cascade barters. She'll trade the hat for something, trade that for something else. When she gets something she actually wants, she'll come answer your questions."

"You're sure?"

"She'll definitely be back. She's not hanging around because we're novelties."

"Why? What's she want with us?"

"Nothing I'm gonna let happen."

"Fine." She straightens up. "I had plans for that hat. Now I can't quite remember..."

"It's what dreams do, Mo. They melt away."

"They're taken. Will we get an answer soon?"

"It'll be bad news," I say, and suddenly the gossipmonger is back, a satchel in her little hand.

She settles atop a bookshelf with a little curtsey. "The child is providing goods to the dreammongers as compensation for the death of Sundew and to punish the withholding of dreams."

Withholding... my eyes drift to the melted nightmask near Peg.

"It must have been an accident," Mo says, trying to reach past the pitiless black eyes. "Don't blame Peg..."

"Dogwood pacted to answer a question, not to argue."

"How long will they keep her?"

"Until she's out of dreams, woman, just like the Troublecow." With that, Dogwood thrums up to the corner and presses her ear to a waxy bubble hanging from the ceiling.

Mo turns to me, desperate: "We could talk to someone else."

"No. She's speaking for them all. The only way we're getting Peg back is by making it a hassle for them to keep her."

She puzzles over that... then yawns. "I'm bagged."

"We're not built for this." I pass her a packet of caffeine pills.

"How long have we been here?"

"An hour, I think."

"I'm already tired."

"Take the pills."

"I shouldn't." She tosses two tablets back anyway, taking the ever-present gum out of her mouth temporarily as she swallows.

"Shouldn't..." My hand comes up over my mouth. "You are knocked up."

Her grin flashes. "I didn't lie. I just didn't answer when you asked. What's the big hairy problem?"

"You'll be lucky if the kid only has two heads."

"Stop making shit up."

"I don't have an imagination, remember? You have to leave."

"I'm not going until Peg's loose."

"It's not safe, Mo."

"Solve this problem and get us out of here, then."

Instead I dart up to her bedroom, looking for her mask. I find a box of them. Nightmasks, their tags read--the newest Lopside creation. Big bright goggles that seal around the eyes to keep the dreams in. The breather is trademark Mo, a thing that should be uncomfortable made perfect and cozy.

When I first escaped Turanna, I built my nightmask out of combat store scraps. I had escaped to humantime with only a few dreams left, and I couldn't bear the idea of losing them to the siphoners one by one.

And the joke on me, the unforgivable thing, was that when Mo stole the mask and started using it, she was preventing the normal dream-siphoning that happens to us all over the course of a lifetime. Masking made her a genius of sorts. At least, that's what they call her in the fashion community.

If this box full of masks is the real reason Kasqueam is making an example of Peg, then I'm the one to blame. Mo couldn't have known what would happen, couldn't know the fairies would see the masks as a first-stage attack on the foundations of their economy, of their very lives. They'd never understand how few people would actually sleep in the things.

"Did she speak true?" Dogwood's voice is a whisper, behind me. I whirl but she lands on my back, her legs locking around my belly, bare ankles crossing, grip firm. One hand claws at my shoulder. "Did your friend speak honestly, Troublecow?"

"I don't know what you mean..." then her hand comes around in front of my face, clasping a rusty, old-fashioned hypodermic.

Just seeing it makes me break into a sweat. I go still, because if I don't, I'm going to slam backward into a wall and crush her. And I don't dare. I want to live. Have to live if I'm gonna get Peg and Mo out of here.

I should close my eyes, but I can't look away from the dream needle.

"Go now," Dogwood says. "Leave them all--the girl, the woman, the babe. Do as I say and I pact to give them back by nightfall.

"In what kind of shape?"

"We can negotiate," she says.

"I can't."

"Truly?" Now her fingers are hooked through the steel loops of the hypo, her thumb rubbing its plunger. A drop of steaming brown fluid beads on the wickedly sharp point.

Don't run away. Don't scream. My voice, when it comes, sounds like a little girl's. "That can't hurt me."

She hisses. "Take the pact, Troublecow."

"I'm not leaving them." Moving slowly and gently, I unclench her hand from my shoulder, unlock the grip of her legs around my waist. Dogwood bursts into motion, letting go, her wings a loud and violent hum as she whips over my head and drives the needle into my mouth.

I try to scream for Mo, but sound doesn't come. The point of the needle spears my tongue, going through painfully, and the dream-drug pools around my teeth. I try to spit it back, but the dream is already dissolving. My mind fills with nightmares--shots and punctures and stainless steel plates full of needles, dirty blood-tinged ampoules and sterile pointy shafts, the wide bores of blood donation needles, even the terrible metal slivers wielded by acupuncturists.

The fairy wafts backward to land on the box of masks. "Withholding dreams is forbidden. If your friend masks anyone else, we'll put her down."

I rub at my tongue, feeling for the puncture wound, but it is gone.

"It's a dream. I'll siphon it out," I say.

"Just you try," Dogwood crows, offering me a stem. It is long and thin and I cannot ignore--as I always did before--how its little openings are pointy and hollow. "You should have pacted with me."

Heart pounding, I pick up a brand new mask, staggering back down to the Hangar, and pull it over Mo's face. It fits a little strangely over her glasses, but she doesn't argue. Dogwood shadows me, grim but also pleased.

"How are we supposed to make keeping Peg a hassle?" Mo's voice is muffled.

I fall onto the couch, eyes locked on the wall, and put on my calmest cop voice. "It'll be okay. They've got power, yeah, but they're dumb and they've got short attention spans. We'll think of something."

Her hand clasps mine, warm and dry, squeezing. "What they're doing to Peg. It's what they did to you, isn't it?"

"More or less."

"And now they say you're trouble?"

"I've got a vengeful streak, remember?"

Her fingers trace a long scar running up her ulna. "But why not get rid of you, Liz?"

I open my shirt and show her the three orange circles around my collarbones, the ones that don't show in humantime. "I helped one of them, in Gayparee--that's their name for Paris."

"You in Paris? I can't see that."

"It was the fairy Paris, Maureen. I didn't go to Versailles or anything. The point is Cowslip put these marks on me, and the others can't kill me."

"You're her pet?"

"No."

"She's like an animal rights activist?"

"I'm getting tired of the cow analogy."

"Hey, it's not my fault the moo fits. You're just cranky because I'm in on your great big secret."

The funny thing is that I've wanted to tell Mo for years. But I don't say that. My skin prickles, and I try not to think of needles. "I'm worried about Peg."

"Cow cow troublecow, Lizzie is a troublecow. Cause a row, holy wow, Lizzie is--"

"Would you stop?"

"Cow!" It's a shout. "Sacred Cow!" Mo turns to Dogwood, eyes gleaming.

The gossipmonger makes Mo dream her a hairy blue jacket before admitting there is a way to make a human too holy--or something like it--for dream siphoning. She gives up the information without much fuss. There's a catch: we need a salve for Peg, an eyewash made from the leaves from something I've never heard of, a jester tree.

We troop from one end of Kasqueam to the other trying to find out about the tree. As the hours pass we get more and more drained, but the sun doesn't move in the sky. It beats down, merciless and golden, from the nine o'clock position. Twice we have to take more caffeine pills.

"How long is a day to them?" Mo asks. Dreaming things--chariots and spinning wheels and winking light bulbs with legs--is making her ever-more haggard, and I wish I didn't know about the baby.

"A lifetime," I say. "Spawn at dawn, mate at dusk. By twilight they're thirty feet tall."

"Thirty. And they can't lift more than a few grams?"

"I've heard up north in the summer they can make it to fifty feet tall. Long days, you know? They mate and their eggs pile up in the streets. Tiny little eggs, billions of them: in a city this big, they stack seven feet deep. And when the sun goes down, the fairies die."

"Billions of eggs." Her hand drifts up to the seven foot mark as she considers this. "Liz? this doesn't look like billions of fairies. Don't all the eggs take?"

I tap the filter on her mask, trying not to notice how her eyes are hollow and bruised through the green glass of the goggles. "That's why the mask doesn't just cover the eyes. The eggs that live are the ones we inhale. They sit in our lungs through the night. Fairies hatch inside us, Mo."

Suddenly she's very busy checking her mask seals.

By now word is in the walls that Dogwood is vending dreams to order, and we get into a complex four-way barter. An ancient fairy has a vial of jester salve, all prepared and ready, but payment comes dear. Mo has to make a skyscraper-high aquarium full of fish. I hold her steady while she pops her goggles and siphons it out of her mind. It grows to the clouds--an octagonal pillar, filled with shellfish and fantastic creatures. She cheats a little, filling it with pink lemonade so she won't lose her water dreams, throwing in more of the insects that have filled her nightmares since we were both girls. Even so, she loses some major dreams--sea-horses and clams, sand dollars and smooth black pebbles and long thin reeds.

When she's done she pitches to her knees and I think, for a second, she's passed out.

This is what Dogwood is waiting for, why she's stuck close. I always pick up a greedy shadow when I speed into feytime. Dogwood wants us asleep and at her mercy. She'd catch Mo's baby and the dream-eaters would have Peg. We'd be mindless old women before they let us wake.

But Mo doesn't fall, just hangs there, head down, on her hands and knees while the pact is declared complete. In exchange for the aquarium we get the salve.

"This better work," Mo says, trying to sound threatening. Her lips are bleeding.

I have my doubts, but I don't tell her that. "It'll be okay, Mo."

We stagger back to Lopside Fashions and hear a crackling sound that cuts off as we open the door. I light up incense, filling the Hangar with smoke until the dream siphoners are driven out. Only Dogwood refuses to go, retreating to the high corner of the room, waving her away covering her face with one of her shirts.

I take up a pair of sewing shears and try to cut off the wax covering Peg's face. They slide over the barrier with a screech.

"Too hard to cut?" Mo asks.

Blinking, I look around. There are tiny basting brushes all over the floor and a drizzle of fluid--some kind of potion, surely--is pooled in the hollow of Peg's elbow. I touch the back of my fingernail to the liquid, which is clear but somehow brighter than water, almost lit from within. It dries fast, and when I flick at the fingernail seconds later, I find it is diamond-hard.

My eyes are welling up with tears. We were so close... and now we're out of time.

"Liz?"

Dogwood laughs shrilly through her shirt.

"They hardened her cocoon." I scratch my hardened nail over the wax uselessly.

"No!" Mo slides her hands over Peg, pressing, probing for soft spots and finding none. "We just have to bust her out."

"Time's up." I've lost my cop voice; it comes out a giggle.

"Dogwood'll tell us how to cut through--"

"Don't you see?" I lower my voice to a hiss. "She's screwing us deliberately."

"Someone else, then."

"You're dreamed out for today."

"I'd still try," Mo whispers.

I take a long breath, choking on incense, and make myself look away from Peg's face. "I'm sorry, Mo, but if we get caught here nobody will help her."

"So we leave? Come back once we've slept it off?"

Tomorrow. A fairy's lifetime. I nod anyway.

"The longer she's in there..."

"She won't run out of dreams in a day," I say. Mo wells up, and every urge I have to comfort her blows away as I wonder how she sees me. Harsh words rise from my belly and I barely hold them in.

"We aren't giving up, Mo." The thought of leaving the kid here feels like broken glass in my chest, but we're too close to getting lost ourselves. "Say goodbye."

"All right." The goggles have misted over, and she takes the nightmask off, leaning over to kiss Peg's forehead.

Then, with a glare, she spits her gum into the opening where the dream siphon extends above the wax.

"Mo!"

Dogwood howls, furious. Shoving me away with her free hand, Mo makes a seal with the gum over the vent before smearing the last drop of hardening potion over it. A single pink strand stretches between the siphon above Peg's face and Mo's thumb, thinning and breaking to fall in a sticky line down Peg's wax-cased chest.

"What can it hurt?"

I don't have an answer to that. I'm frozen, watching as one of Peg's dreams wells up the vent toward her eye, then hits the blockage. It backs up the tube and emerges, somewhat flattened, from the other end. As the siphon jitters but fails to dislodge from Peg's eye, the dream unfurls into a frog. Wax puffs up around it in a tiny bubble, and I poke the bulge with the shears. Still impervious.

Other things are already crawling out after the frog--a long thread of fern, a spray of little daisies. Each dream bounces off the one before, skating to a free space on her skin. They don't seem to have trouble bending the wax from the inside.

Soon Peg's face is covered in dreams--foliage I recognize from Burns Bog, hardware which mostly looks like school furniture.

People are coming out too, a handful of kids who are probably classmates. Under the wax they are protected from Dogwood. Helpless to destroy them, she growls down at us from the ceiling. The peopledreams grow to a height of six inches, exploring the plants rooted in the dreamscape forming on Peg's body.

"Field trip," Mo whispers. "Look, there's a little science teacher."

"And a bus." The group putters over to the hem of Peg's nightgown, distending the wax. I test the surface again, fruitlessly.

A yawn splits Mo's face, and she shakes herself.

"We have to get you out of here."

"Always the fucking cop. Leave me alone."

A trio of tiny funnel clouds blows out of the siphon next, circling the wandering kids. Storm-cellar things appear: jam jars, spiderwebs, loose two by fours, hockey gear.

By now, Peg's body is half hidden by the crowd of dreams caught in the growing pixwax balloon. Peering in, I have a hazy sense of a story unfolding--the tornadoes drive the kids to the shelter, where they find a tunnel that leads to a helicopter. It seems like it all has something to do with trying to capture the whirlwinds in mayonnaise jars.

Watching it, I all but fall into a standing doze. I snap free and shake Mo. "We gotta go."

"Five more minutes," she pleads.

"No." I cast one last glance at Peg...

...and see the two of us.

The dream Lizabette is standing atop a pile of bone-shaped branches, wearing a uniform and explaining something. I can't hear the words, by I'm caught by how old I seem, how bossy.

But: I'm tall, too--muscled and strong.

"Jesus," Mo says. Her Peg-dreamed self is a sexy dragon-girl, wild-eyed and gorgeous, snapping its jaws at everything. For a second I think I'd give a lot to be seen that way, but it's clear from Mo's face that this isn't at all the way she'd hoped Peg saw her.

"She trusts you," she says bitterly, looking at the little me. Then her expression changes, and she's pleading. "Liz, do something."

"I'll try." I pound on the wax membrane. All the dream-people pull loose from their scenery and look at me, a giant-sized thing rapping on the sky of their world. Dragoness Mo flies up to me, spraying fire, playful and beautiful. The flame thins the wax, but not enough. And then she's coiling off on another tangent, no help at all.

I look past her to the other me, pointing at the wax, at the weapon on her little hip. A yawn cracks my face, and even though I'm standing I can feel my eyelids sinking.

The dreamed me is still talking, talking too much, I must yak at Peg all the time, please shut up... and beside me Mo is wobbling.

"Okay, now we have to get out."

That's when the dream version of myself picks up a glass jar full of tornado and hurls it against the orange wax barrier.

There's a pop, just a tiny one. Then the whole balloon bursts. Dream-things tear around the room, and Dogwood gives chase, coughing. The whirlwinds set up conflicting currents; wind sucks at us one minute and blows us against the walls the next. One of the twisters blasts between my teeth, shooting down my throat and then dissipating, filling my mind with delicious long-lost shades of stormy weather.

Clear pockets of air are appearing in the cloud of incense. Just outside the room, I can hear rising fairy voices. The smoke in the air is still too dense, but they'll rush us as soon they can.

"The jester eyedrops," Mo shouts. She struggles to the hammock, twists her arm into the mesh so she can't be blown away, and pries up Peg's eyelids. "Liz, come on!"

I launch myself off the wall, opening the flask and washing the holy liquid into Peg's too-large eyes.

Just like that the fairies are keening, angry and cheated.

Still hacking, Dogwood falls on Peg's dream-people in a fury, slicing them to pieces. I just manage to grab the tiny version of myself, shoving it into Peg's mouth. The dragon dream turns instantly to follow, but Mo, catching her around the serpentine waist, looks speculatively at the gossipmonger and her shredding claws.

"Don't," I shout--too strongly, too much like a cop. It's the wrong thing. All our history will drive her do the opposite of what I say. "Mo, she adores you!"

She gives me a flinty, stubborn look.

"Can't you see? You have to be there--alive, inside her--if the way Peg sees you is going to change!"

Dogwood rushes forward, and I think, for an instant, that Mo will let her have the little spitfire. But no, a quick turn and dream-Mo flicks snakily down Peg’s throat. Dogwood’s hand stops just short of Peg’s teeth.

"Can we go now?" Mo pulls Peg off the bed and staggers all of two steps before sinking to the floor, wax dripping into her velvet dress. She is oblivious to the tiny dreamed lightning bolt caught in her anklet.

Storm dreams, I think, savoring them--can't let her lose those. I snap the bolt free and squeeze its buzzing length between my fingers, press it past Peg's lips.

"Why isn't she waking up?" Mo demands fuzzily.

"She's falling asleep," I say. I can see the young face aging, ever so slightly. Mo sees it too and the reality of this place hits her again. Her eyes widen in fear even as she struggles to keep them open.

"It's okay," I tell her. "It's over."

Then I give them both a good pinch, squeezing the backs of their arms just above the elbow, catching the nerve there hard enough to bruise. Mo cries out, trying to yank free. Then her eyes widen and she starts to wake, slowing to statue speed.

Peg opens her eyes before she goes. "Lizabette," she says, smiling wide. "You came for me."

The look on her face leaves me breathless.

"We came," is what I say. I kiss her wax-sticky forehead and pinch her again, and she goes still on the floor beside Mo. Safe, both of them.

"My turn now." I turn to laugh in the face of the gossipmonger's fury, ignoring the voice inside that says I've barely come out even. Needle dreams, a fey-touched baby, Mo undoubtedly already thinking of ways to finagle more visits to Kasqueam and who knows what the jester salve did to Peg. And me... I'm the responsible one.

But Dogwood just sees a loss for her side, so I smile as she yells curses at me in a language I don't speak. Imagining moths and thunder, I stick out my tongue at her, blowing a raspberry of triumph before pinching myself back to the slow world where I belong.

This story originally appeared in The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm.


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Author: A.M. Dellamonica

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