Sleepwalkers Fiction: The Gateway

(Here is a short bit of Sleepwalkers fiction that I’ve written. I wanted to establish the voices of some members of The Trio (the more problematic ones), and get a bit of a feel for the magical aspects of the setting.)

“This is my grandmother’s house,” the rabbit with the trenchcoat said. He placed one big ear on the door while he picked the lock with his tools. “It’s been in my family for generations.”

Brendan rolled his eyes and looked around. He was in a stranger’s backyard, somewhere in Towson. There weren’t a lot of neighborhoods like this left, with the plot of grass, a couple of trees, the white picket fences. Those that managed to hang on were typically lived in by the very rich, those that could afford neighborhood watches and security systems. On nights like this, when the moon was full and the sky was cloudless, he really didn’t want to be out with a pooka who could simply disappear at the first whiff of trouble. He’d be caught with locksmith’s tools that he couldn’t explain, for reasons he didn’t even know. It’d make a great story in the papers, and a bad end to his career.

And yet here he was, with Prescott the rabbit. He trusted the pooka with his life, but he would never ever believe him. It was the curse of his kind to speak in lies and riddles, and it made work out of finding the most simple truths. Dealing with him for very long was nothing short of exasperating, and in a situation like this it could be dangerous. But if what he thought Prescott was telling him was correct, then it was a danger that had to be faced.

“Right, you told me this before.” Brendan tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “And you’re sure that your grandmother is asleep? There’s no chance anyone will catch us?” He looked around again. There was no one in the neighboring yards, nothing but a few cats in the alley beyond. He still felt incredibly exposed in the shallow stairwell that lead from the lawn to the basement door. All it took was one person looking out of the window right now…

“The lady of the house is bound to come into her dark, quiet basement to cure her insomnia sometime soon.” Prescott shrugged. “And the neighborhood watch makes door-to-door checks on nights just like tonight to make sure there aren’t a couple of weirdos in her house for no reason.”

Brendan sighed. “All right then. Let’s just…get this done. Show me what you’ve found and we’ll get out of here.”

The lock clicked and the door swung open a few inches. Prescott gestured him forward with a grin. “I’ll be glad to, as soon as I can get these lockpicks to work.”

He stepped in to the dark room as quickly as he could and stood to the side. He heard Prescott hop in after him. The door creaked when the rabbit closed it, and it felt like the sound echoed off the empty stone walls. He took a deep breath, tried to still the beating of his heart inside his ears, and let his eyes adjust to the weak light.

A human’s eyes would have never been able to resolve the shadows in front of him, but Brendan’s kind had been around when there were only stars to light the way through ancient forests, before men had figured how to harness fire to light their dwellings. Though he didn’t have every ability known to his elven ancestors, he at least had this. It took a few moments, but boxes and old furniture soon crept out of the shadows in his vision. He could see the stairs leading up to the main part of the house forward and to his left, a boarded-up window across the room that clearly offered a view of the street, and the detritus of a long life sprawled out before him.

Prescott brushed his arm as he made his way past. His eyes flashed as he turned to look at him. “You’ll want to stand right there while I show you the door. Really, far away is the best way to see it.”

He followed the rabbit to the far corner of the room, picking his way past boxes and stacks of magazines, chairs and tables and oil lamps. Various scents leapt out of the dust at him as his passage disturbed the air. There was old wood and polish, glass and metal that had been heated and cooled dozens of time. As he made his way to the corner, he smelled something else as well. The long-settled call of dreamstuff suddenly tickled his senses, and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Prescott got down on one knee and planted his hands on the brick. His luminescent eyes closed and darkened the room just a hair; Brendan found himself shuddering in response. He leaned in to see exactly what the rabbit was doing.

“Do you–”

“Shut up!” The rabbit hissed at him. “You’ll wake the old lady.” He turned back to face the wall. His face deepened in concentration.

Brendan straightened and frowned. That tone was unacceptable, he thought. The varmint needed to learn his place again, obviously. Then he blinked and stepped back, surprised at himself. That…thought was unacceptable. Where did it come from?

A door that wasn’t there a moment before clicked and opened. The air in the room changed, and a small breeze ruffled the nearest stack of papers, pulling the stale basement dust towards it. Prescott’s face was bathed in a milky glow. The rabbit opened his eyes again and looked towards Brendan, his whiskers twitching. He was obviously pleased with himself.

It was a door about four feet high by four feet wide. Through it, there was a winding road made of moonlight that cut through a forest of blasted, gnarled trees. Brendan could hear voices, quiet and insistent, whispering foul things to him. He saw a set of red eyes glowing in the periphery of his vision, but they would disappear when he looked directly at them. It took him only a moment to realize what this was, what Prescott had found.

“You found a Silver Trod. To Nightmare. How did you…?” Brendan backed away from the door. He had seen what he needed to, and he wanted the voices to just stop.

“Ancient Chinese secret,” Prescott said, and obligingly shut the door. The portal disappeared as soon as he did, sinking back into the wall. “I’m sure it was attracted by all the sweet dreams this family has had over generations and generations. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to connect the dots.”

Brendan thought about how scarce Prescott had been lately. Suddenly, it all made sense. He felt his annoyance with the pooka melting away. “And no one else knows about this?”

Prescott grinned. “Oh, I Instagrammed it as soon as I discovered it. The Ominous filter was a bit of a disappointment, though.”

Brandan laughed, despite himself. Prescott swatted his arm and put a fuzzy finger to his lips. He quieted immediately. The rabbit’s ears flicked and they both looked up, listening. No sound came from the floor above.

Outside, he clapped the pooka on the shoulder and smiled at him. “Tremendous work, Pres. Really. Trods are getting increasingly rare, especially obscure ones. This will be a huge help to us.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.” The rabbit batted his eyelashes, reached into his trenchcoat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Tell me more.”

Brendan swallowed the snappy comment he would have made and pinched his eyes instead. Maybe he could get Vitaly to join them at the diner. He always felt better when there was a buffer between them. “I will over coffee and pie. Come on, let’s go. My treat. It’s the least I could do.”

The elf and the rabbit snuck out of the old lady’s yard and darted between shadows in the alley. When they departed, it looked like any other suburban street, a dwindling pocket of Americana special only in its blandness.

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