I continue to scream up at my unnatural doppelganger as my bladder lets go. This is it! The big one! No coming back! The front of my pants is warm as it runs down my legs and puddles onto the floor. I can smell the urine. The doppelganger is disinterested in me at the moment as he surveys the room. I kneel there now, hyperventilating as his grim visage falls on me. I open my mouth and scream again.
“Be silent!” He growls at me in a deep, dry rasp.
I instinctively go silent. It is so quiet in the store you can hear a pin drop. I swallow hard, afraid to break the silence when the Henry-looking ghost speaks from behind me.
“Tell Nem I am sorry. I am so, so, sorry.”
My doppelganger nods slowly and raises his scythe. He taps the end of the staff on the ground three times, and the image of someone knocking on a coffin fills my mind. The ghost sinks slowly and silently into the floor, leaving the two of us alone. I cover my eyes and moan.
“Not there! Not there! Not there!” I scream.
I lower my hands, and he is still there, looking at me with an eyebrow raised. He leans in so close that our faces almost touch. He is cold. It permeates off of him, and I shudder. He pulls back and looks around the store one more time. He walks to the counter, and I turn to watch him. He reaches over and pulls out a handful of black peppermints. He pops one in his mouth and smiles. I can taste the peppermint, and I gag momentarily at the shock of tasting what he is eating.
“A very impressive dream, dream-thing,” he says.
“Dream-thing? You mean me?” I ask.
He nods solemnly.
“Hey, I am real! You, you, you are just a manifestation of my sick psyche! I am going to go to the hospital and get myself well.” I cackle. “Doc Renfrew is going to have a field day with this one!”
The doppelganger seems unphased by my outburst. The look on his face asks me if I am done yet. I feel my face flush hot with rage at his apathy, but I don’t want to push it. I am terrified by him. He pops another mint into his mouth.
“Not a dream?” he asks.
“No, not a dream!” I snap back.
“Then why is your hand no longer in a cast? Why are your pants suddenly dry?” he asks.
I open my mouth to respond to this nonsense, but something inside insists I look. He is right. My hand is no longer in a cast, and my pants are bone dry. I look up at him in disbelief, and he nods slowly.
“Holy fucking shit!” I cry.
I examine my hand and frantically pat at my pants. This is impossible. It was impossible. It was…oh my God. He was right. I can’t tell you why I came to believe it at the moment, but every fiber in my very being told me that the doppelganger is right. I stand up slowly, getting to my feet as the world around me shimmers once again in a wave of unreality. The whole world at the moment seems ephemeral.
“So, what do we do?” I ask.
“I am not sure. I don’t sleep naturally, and this is unnatural sleep. What does one often do to wake oneself up?” he asked.
“We, um, need a start, a startle, something to get our hearts skipping. We need to die! Dying in a dream is an instant wake-up!” I exclaim.
The doppelganger nods, moving behind me and merging with my shadow. I shake from the severe cold I feel, but it is only temporary. I look down at my shadow and see his wings flare behind me/us. I catch my reflection in a mirror behind the counter and blink. My right eye has gone pure black. I leave the store and step out into bright sunlight. That isn’t right. It was night when I got to the store, and I was only in there a short time. It should still be dark.
“The dream is altering itself. I believe it will try to defend itself.” Thanatos, that is his name. I know it now, says inside my head.
I believe he is right. As people pass me on the street, they glare and sneer at me. I feel uneasy as I start to move forward. Passerbys bump into me, growling and slamming their shoulders against me as I try to figure out how to wake from this dream. I feel panic setting in as the hackles stand on the back of my neck. My nose is assaulted by the scent of sulfur. I drop and pivot as large hands swoop above me. Todd stands there, baring his teeth.
“Tartarus bound!” Thanatos growls inside my head.
“I am gonna fuck you up, looney tunes,” Todd says.
Todd balls his hands into fists and rushes at me. I raise my hand in a halt gesture, and my shadow extends out toward him, hitting him in the chest. Todd freezes, his eyes grow wide, and he begins to scream. He rocks side to side, and his body drops, his still screaming deformed soul remaining standing. The shadow slams it down, and the soul, like those in the candy shop, disappears.
“Run!” Thanatos yells.
I bolt down the street my, mind racing. I feel the wings open fully, but they are only visible if you were looking at my shadow. The shadow wings bowl people over as I pass, keeping them away from me. I see the bus! The number three! That’s it, my exit from the dream and back into reality. Then Mallory comes round the corner, and I skid to a halt.
“Tommy, please come back to me! I…I…I love you!” she cries.
My moment of hesitation has cost me as hands grab me from all directions. I look around to see familiar faces full of hate and anger, Jackie the nurse, Ben, Steve, Jack, Bill, and my brother Pat. They hold us tight and firm as I struggle to free us. Dr. Renfrew appears from behind Mallory with a syringe in his hand as random people come up and hold me from behind. I look into Renfrew’s eyes and see his soul. He is Gerard. He left me the drink and sent me here. He is responsible for this. He gives me an all-knowing smile. The dream people hold me fast, defending this world and their reality as I try to get back to mine.
“Figured it out, have you?” Gerard asks.
“Indeed, I have, witch,” Thanatos and I say at the same time.
“Well, no matter. One little shot, and you’ll wake back up in the hospital, believing whatever we tell you,” Gerard says.
I look over his shoulder, and to my surprise, Hypnos stands directly behind Mallory. He winks at me. I smile as Gerard moves in to inject me. I draw my head back and headbutt him. There is a satisfying hollow thawking sound as our heads collide. The syringe drops from his hands and smashes on the concrete. His eyes roll to the whites, and he joins the syringe on the sidewalk.
The dream people begin to pull my limbs and squeeze my ribs, and I know they will kill me before letting me go. Hypnos steps forward, clapping his hands before him. They begin to glow with pulsing yellow light. He raises both his hands, showing his palms to the group.
“Hey, assholes! Hands off my little brother!” Hypnos yells.
The dream people stop their attack, and their eyes drawn to the pulsing energy that Hypnos’s hands are producing. Their faces slack, their eyes glaze over, and their grips loosen enough for me to escape.
“Run, Thanner! Run!” Hyp yells.
I run, throwing myself off the curb and into the path of the oncoming number three bus. It makes impact, and I sit bolt upright in the warehouse. I see everyone else starting to rouse.
“Bullshit,” I mutter to myself.
Before anyone has a chance to gain their faculties, I port back to my home in the Underworld.