Repost: SG: The Dreamstrom #3

Frobozz frobozz at
Sat Nov 3 12:47:51 PDT 2007

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe

    Somewhere and no place there exists a world to which you have journied
every night of your life, barring those all-nighters that you pulled while
you were in college. Every synapse and every neuron in your mind is wired
to leap towards this land-beyond-pale when the Self rests -- and each
night they joyously embrace their destination, like a lover so long
forgotten now returned. And like that departed lover, each new return is a
return to something which is mostly as was remembered, but at the same
time somehow strange and new. Memory cannot hold that other world; indeed,
it slips through the grasping fingers of the reasoning mind like golden
sand... and the more tightly it is grasped, the faster it runs away.
    Yet somehow, every axiom and folkway of society is intricately wired to
hold dispute with this land of the dreams and to deny its very existence
through the coldlight of reason which bleaches the fantastic from
everything on which it falls. Codes and structure are applied to the
impossible and incredible; aeries are bound to their rings, vampires shy
from the sun, greedy kings turn their daughters to gold with a touch and
Titans are staked to rocks, while their livers are forever torn from
immortal bodies. Words and reason push against dream and the fantastic,
and somehow in the midst of this struggle, the Dreaming was born.
    The multiverse is an odd thing -- it has a sense of the ironic, but
lacks a sense of imagination and wonder. This is as its purpose; something
as enormous as Everything need not fear death by overspecialization as
must most species. Moments into its creation, the All discovered the
ultimate, cosmic joke -- that to live and become more capable of living,
all things must die, especially in particularly nasty ways that inspired
others to find ways to live despite such nastiness -- but never really and
truly got the punch line. Though ever since the moment of that grand
discovery, lady Murphy - the embodiment of the Mortal Jape - has tried her
best to help the vox omnis develop its sense of humour.
    The All could provide many ways to succumb to the find Joke, but it
found itself nonplussed by the fact that thinking life managed to codify
the Jest Eternal into two interdependent camps: the Dreams of a better
day, hope and prayer of more; and the Nightmares of death, specters of
destruction and ruin. Perhaps it is the ultimate punch line in that those
beings who found themselves threshing and weaving the raw stuff of fantasy
so utterly denied them purchase in the world, that they were obliged to
manifest in a place that could not be denied... dreams. In a land that was at once both utterly fantastic and
tamed by reasonable minds, these things of legend dwelt and thrived,
taking on duties and roles as the multiverse's Lifesurge demanded greater
and greater prices of fantasy. Reason and dream dwelt side-by-side, more
mirror-images than opposites, reflecting one another.
    And yet always, there are struggles within struggles; or perhaps all
things reflect in tighter and tighter cycles as time passes on. Just as
the struggle between what must be and what is imagined to be found an
arena in the Dreaming, so too did another war begin in that realm. Only
this war was a small affair, noticed only by a few, who by-and-large got
the details utterly wrong. It was a war between the codified and the
surrender of sanity; and while it is a war fought, it's not a war that
either side should win.
    Because as Bob Hope might tell you, the only good that comes out of a
war are a few good jokes.


                   Frobozz Magic Productions

                      In Association With

                      *The* Mason Kramer


                         The Dreamstrom

                    The Third Volume (of Six)

                     "Awake In A Dreamland"


    The waking world has many charms to it... and on any other day, a young
man named Lyle would have been able to list a few of those for you. But
after being splashed by a car that drove too close to the curb, nearly
mowed down by a bicycle courier and had a small muffin of a dog piddle on
his favourite (nay, only) pair of shoes, Lyle was having a really hard
time finding reasons why he shouldn't just stop in at a Hotel 6 and go
back to living his life in a dreamland.
    Lyle was a good-looking young man who had grown very tanned under a
warm, Texan sun. He stood at average height for a man his age, and while
not particularly powerful, did not come off as particularly weak either. A
passer-by on the street might not think that there was much remarkable
about the man at all, and for the most part they'd be completely wrong.
Lyle was that strange creature called a Dreamer, and like many who bore
that title -- albeit, mundanely -- he had tended to use his dreams to
escape from the waking world. Unfortunately, Lyle had managed to take his
escapism to a level which would have coloured the most stoned hippy's eyes
green, having spent most of his life in a world of his own making while
his body slept on. Only recently had Lyle coaxed himself awake, and after
his Rip Van Winkle imitation, the young man was anxious to find out just
what the world could offer to someone who had never partaken of it.
    Today, the world was acting like the ugly man who answers his door in
undershirt and boxers, half-drunk and raving incoherently. No matter how
good a mood you take into the encounter, you always come away feeling like
you've just been beaten about the head by a hockey stick.
    This was one thing to which Lyle simply couldn't adjust. How could
people put themselves through the uncertainty of knowing, day-to-day, that
bad things were not only going to happen to them, but that they were
powerless to do anything about those bad things? More than once, Lyle had
found himself exercising his will against the world when things went
wrong, only to discover that the world, like a good performer, never let a
critic end the scene until it had been played out to its conclusion.
Lyle's first week awake had had him nearly shivering with fright, and it
was a testament to his bravery -- or perhaps the mis-honing of his
survival skills in a world that just didn't *try* very hard to kill you
off -- that he refused to retreat back into the safe world of imagination.
    "Oh god, I'm sorry," Lyle muttered, as he accidentally brushed against
a pedestrian while meandering down the Strip. She just waved behind
herself, not even looking back, as if to say that everything was a-okay.
With a shrug, Lyle continued his walk, keeping eyes forward to make sure
he didn't play bumper-cars with anyone else. He might be living in one of
the friendliest cities in the world, but as Austin was one of the
best-armed as well, Lyle did *not* want to find himself splitting the
difference between those two solitudes. The world moved along and so did
he, pressing on towards his ultimate destination...
    'Boffo's Comedy Hut' was a small place that had dished out hot and
lukewarm servings of comedy to students since the late 80's, and in its
time had seen more funny-men pass through its doors than a bathroom stall
at the Emmies. It was a tumble-down place, which could use another coat of
paint while still managing to avoid squalor by a stone's throw. It was
well-kept, it was well-loved and it was a private tradition for those in
the know of its existence -- but most importantly of all, it had a 'Help
Wanted' sign sitting in its window, and that's what drew Lyle today.
Amanda and Ray had both offered to help him out until he was sure he could
stand on his own feet, but Lyle felt that taking aid like that was just
trading one sort of dream-life for another. It had taken a shock to Lyle's
system to wake him up; now he hoped that another shock would be what he
needed to get him moving out the door and into life. Of course, finding a
place that would take someone whose resume nearly had to include 'snoring'
as a valuable asset had been difficult, but Boffo's had advertised needing
no experience at all. With a hopeful smile that the day kept trying to
grab from his face, Lyle pushed open the comedy club's doors and wandered
    The ambiance of the room crashed down on Lyle like a drop of rain,
completely failing to overwhelm him with its deluge. The weight of history
had soaked into the club's walls... and then soaked back out again,
looking for a monument to haunt instead. If Lyle had ever attended primary
school, he would have sworn that he was just in time for the school
principal to deliver a lecture on the importance of not touching one's
self -- especially while in public -- during which time the girls of the
class watched movies in the All-Purpose room. Boffo's club consisted of
folding chairs in front of a plain, almost hand-build stage, on which a
milk-crate podium rested. A microphone completed the image, barely clipped
to the podium where it seemed in danger of tumbling to the ground at any
given moment Overhead speakers were bare to the world, ready to blare out
a comedian's words to the world with static-popping clarity. Naturally,
Lyle noticed none of this, having few fixed ideas of what a comedy club
should resemble. What he did notice was that there was no one inside to
greet him, which left the man stymied for what to do next. Should he go on
and announce himself, in the hopes that someone answered before he went
too far and was ejected, dreams of a career as Help which was Wanted going
down in flames? Or should he simply wait and pray that everyone hadn't
stepped out for a late lunch-extending-into-dinner, leaving the place open
because for the life of him, Lyle couldn't see anything here worth taking?
    Well, there was almost nothing worth taking here -- Lyle's decision was
free for the picking, and was taken from his hands when an elderly
gentleman breezed into the room from the back way. He was a portly fellow,
stout of humour as well as gut, and seemed to have groomed most of his
hair to grow not from his scalp, but out his ears. His clothes were a
mishmash that might have made some logical order once when they were sails
on a sea-going vessel. He had laugh-lines enough to lose several small
children in and never worry about finding them again. The man saw Lyle and
gave a jaunty wave, changing course towards him with the same speed and
slow acceleration of an oil tanker executing a figure-eight.
    "Hey there, young fella," boomed the old man, grabbing Lyle's hand in a
tight grip and pumping it as though with sufficient gyrations, Lyle might
be induced to drop a jackpot. "You're too early for the show, but it's a
good one tonight, so you be sure and mosey on back here when the curtain's
ready to go up! Don't wanna miss that young whipper-snapper, what's his
name and that sass-talking puppet of his, no sir-ee... now 'course in my
day, we called those things 'dummies', and that's what we'd call the folks
who think *that's* real comedy these days, but don't you go repeating that
to no one, all right? Just 'tween us, now. My name's Jim, Jim Bofiski, but
you can call me Boffo if it tickles your fancy. Now, maybe if you ask real
nice, I can find some comp tickets if you've got a special little girl who
wouldn't mind a night out on the town and some of the best laughs you'll
ever get outside the sheets, if you know what I mean..." He elbowed Lyle,
    "I'm..." Lyle blinked at the man, trying to free both his wits and his
hand as the man's deluge washed over him in a way that the club had not.
Try as he might, however, Lyle just couldn't find the words... possibly
because the man's torrent had used them all up, as well as any free oxygen
in the area as well. Wordlessly, Lyle stuck out his resume to be taken.
Boffo looked down at the proffered paper, looked up at Lyle, and grinned.
    "You don't even talk when you're asked, you apply for a job by pressin'
a stack of papers in my face, you've got mud spatter all over you, and you
look like you've never seen a seasoned campaigner before in your life.
Kid, if first impressions mean anything, you belong in a circus. And since
there ain't none around here right now, I guess a comedy club's the next
best thing."
    "Really?" Lyle asked, surprised at how easy this had been...
    "Well, of course, that's after the interview, you understand. I just
mean that you don't need to fret none about how you look. We've all gotta
have our own style, even if it's no style at all. Step on back to my
office and we'll have a little con-fab, see if we can't find out who's
under all that mud and flannel." The man turned. "Well, what're you doing,
standing around and dithering?
Move it, move it..."
    "I'm... coming?" Lyle replied, following behind. The man led Lyle into
a small room which was crammed with a desk that could never have fit
through the door, a file-cabinet which occupied an impossible spot between
said desk and a cooler, and a small stuffed penguin which rested on the
cooler's top. The room had a lived-in look, the sort where living had come
down to a constant battle of wills between room and person, and one which
could drag on forever if allowed. It was clear that someone wanted to
change this room and was achieving minor victories by putting up posters
and Chinese calendar wall-scrolls from fast-food places; but final victory
was denied through sheer, stubborn topography. There was only one chair in
the room, and that was huddled tight against the desk, sharing deep,
furniturey secrets with the writing surface.
    "Grab a table, siddown," replied Boffo, solving the problem of where to
park one's self. Lyle chose the chair, hoping that he wasn't offending his
host by not perching. Boffo didn't seem to care one way or another,
leaning down in a spine-breakingly uncomfortable position which seemed
perfectly natural to the old man. "Let's hear you sing a bit. Got a good
    "I never tried?" Lyle responded, wondering what he had gotten into.
    "Then you ain't no singer and I'm not running no night club. If you're
here because you're hoping someone'll discover you this far from
Hollywood, get your ship outta my port right now. You're here to work, not
to polish your material or schmooze and press flesh with the talent. You
got your own time for that. You do it right, you get paid. You do it still get paid, but you get a pretty pink paper in with your
white one. I give two chances on everything, and if you need more, then
you're in the wrong spot. You ready to walk out the door yet?"
    "No, I'm not..."
    "Good. So why're you here, instead of at the Golden 'M', making minimum
and working on your zit collection?"
    "My what?"
    "Kid, this is a comedy club. Now I can't pitch em so I just book the
guys who can, but you've got to try to keep up, okay?"
    "I will, I just don't know what you're talking about!"
    "Then I'll tell you. See, simple? That's how things work here - you
don't know something, you ask it. Cause'n effect, it's the greatest thing
in the world. So let me spell it out for you: why do you want to work at a
joke juke-joint?"
    "Because it's the only job I could find that didn't ask for
    Boffo looked at Lyle, then laughed, nodding his head vigorously.
"You're up front, and I like that. All right, why ain't someone like you
gathered enough references to fill out three spaces? You rich and looking
for a place to slum a while so your daddy thinks you've learned enough
responsibility to get the T-Bird back?"
    "I think I only caught about half of what you just said?"
    "Why *don't* you have any experience?"
    "Because... I've been living in a dream all these years and I just got
    "Oh, oh, oh," Boffo replied, tapping his nose. "I get you. College-boy
then. Liberal arts, I bet... you look like the kind of guy who could slurp
down useless facts like raw oysters and never get sick to the stomach.
English major, am I right boy?"
    "Um... no..."
    "Well I'll guess sooner or later, you just got to promise me you'll say
'right' when I get there. So how'm I supposed to know if you're steady or
    "You could... look at my hands?"
    "Look at your... kid, you make me laugh, and that's all right in my
book. Tell you what I'll do. I like you, so I'll give you a week. If I
ain't killed you by the end of it, you can stay. If I have, then you
skedaddle or I hide your body. Deal?"
    "I think so?" Lyle replied, though he didn't quite like the sound of
the killing...
    "Then you start right away. There's a broom, there's a mop, make like
you can get them to dance." He paused, seeing Lyle's confusion again.
"Clean up the place, kid. That's your first job."
    "You've got it," replied Lyle, rising. "Thank you for the chance.."
    "Don't mention it," replied Boffo, waving his hand magnanimously. "If
you work out, I'll take credit for it. If you don't, I'll say you put a
knife to my throat and made me hire you. Now scoot before I dock you for
talking on company time."
    "But this isn't a company... is it?"
    "Giiiiit movin'," replied Boffo, making a 'shoo' sign. Lyle nodded and
walked to snatch his mop and broom. A new job... well. Life could be good.
Or at least interesting.


    As it often has the habit of doing, life began to settle into a routine
for Lyle. Get up at seven, report for work at eight, clean the house until
nine... and then the enjoyable part of the day could begin. Lyle might
have locked himself away from the world for years, but the closet in which
he had been trapped had bred him into a man who craved variety in all
things. And while his official title was Janitor, cleaning the small crawl
space that was called a comedy club didn't take much of Lyle's time at
all, though he had plenty to keep him busy once the suds had been rinsed
    Boffo's day was filled with a hundred and one different tasks that
needed immediate attention, and Lyle soon found himself serving as an
attache to the Diplomat of Delight, and on rare occasions, as a stand-in.
    "But I don't know that much about comedy," Lyle protested, as Boffo
dragged him towards the stage. "How'm I supposed to judge what's funny or
    "You'll know if it's funny," replied Boffo, turning to Lyle, hands on
his shoulders. "You're a quiet person, you see things, you watch things.
People like that know funny. Why? Because they are funny."
    "I'm funny?"
    "Absolutely! Why just last week, old man Williamson said 'there's
something funny about that kid you've hired'..."
    "Just go, go, Lyle", said Boffo, steering the lad into what passed for
a stage. "You listen to the comics and you tell me which ones make you
laugh. I'll take it from there. No pressure, right?"
    Lyle blinked, staring at the handful of people assembled, waiting
impatiently. He'd never wanted to be elsewhere more in his life. What
would he say? What if he made a mistake? What could motivate him to get
into that room?
    "Lyle, I'm telling you... go in there and do me proud. Or you're
    "Right!" Lyle charged into the room. He was sheltered, not stupid.


    "She's sleepin' so soundly," Jeffrey remarked, looking down at his
adopted grandaughter. Julie... she was his pride and joy, and even if she
wasn't the apple off of his tree, he couldn't have asked for a better
branch to carry his name. He tended to be a mite overprotective of the
girl, sometimes almost to obsessive degrees. But when you considered that
she'd died once already, nearly a century ago, and that she'd not had the
best of all deaths while waiting to either be shuttled off to a final
reward, or taken on another ride around the Karmic Ferris Wheel, you might
forgive him for his worries. Besides, Julie never suffered from his
worries, as these days he and his daughter tempered their behaviours with
equal parts of love and discipline. That had been a hard lesson to learn,
but whosoever had said you couldn't teach an old coot new tricks hadn't
reckoned with Jeffrey's will to do right by his family.
    "She's been sleeping well these past few weeks," replied Lindsey,
Jeffrey's daughter. "I don't know if I should be relieved or worried."
    "Don't you fret too much," he replied, patting her arm. "That's just
natural for a girl her age. There's no sin in being outside and getting
all ruddy-cheeked running around. Would do more people your age some good
too, if you'd tear yourselves away from your TVs and emails and Yahoos..."
    "Dad..." Honestly. She knew he was joking, but he just knew he could
get her goat this way. It never failed. "Come on, why don't we give her
some peace?"
    "I reckon you're right," replied Jeffrey, kissing Julie's brow. "Night,
skeeter. Sleep tight. Have good dreams."
    Julie, always an obedient child, did exactly what her grandfather told
her. Her dreams were filled with a joyful dancing and a hand outstretched
to those who were invited to join...


    "Lyle, how do you do this? I send you to find me funny-men, you find me
schmucks. But  they're funny schmucks." Boffo waggled a finger at Lyle.
"You're good, kid. Very good. You remind me of ol' Bessy, she used to work
for me oh some ten years ago... very nice girl, that Bessy, you'd like her
if she wasn't in Jersey by now, God rest her soul... anyway, Bessy, she
used to screen the performers for me. Run the blockade, you know? Keep the
haves from the have-nots. A real national treasure, she was, no two ways
about it. She could smell them, she had the *gift*, she saw people like
they really were. Not like how they wanted you to see 'em, no sirree...
not those phony stage-names and laughing faces, but who they were at the
soul. Do you know what she told me?"
    "No... what?"
    "She told me that every smile got bought by a hidden frown... she said
that she just couldn't look at them after a while, on account of their
souls. The better they were, the more scarred their souls were. Heh, do
you believe that, boy?"
    Lyle frowned, thinking to the day before when he had been interviewing
comics. After he'd managed to fluster both himself and two of the more
high-strung comedians, Lyle had settled on a stratagem of just having each
one perform his material while he watched. But he didn't listen; there
really wasn't a point, since most of the comics made jokes about politics
or world events or even the weather, none of which Lyle had caught up on
quite yet. Instead he'd watched the comics as they performed, seeing how
much of themselves they put into their routines. It was strangely like
watching his sister Weave dreams in his Dreamscape - when she had her
heart behind it, Lyle could see that there was wonder in her eyes, and
miracles came from that wonder. In so many ways, Amanda was the wide-eyed
child that she'd never been allowed to be growing up; and that allowed her
to put so much of that into the dreams she wove.
    "I guess it's just a gift," Lyle replied with a small smile. Boffo's
posture changed, which was a sure sign to Lyle that the man was about to
shift how he spoke and acted, too. In all the short time that the two had
been together, Lyle had never once been able to get a sense of what was
the 'essential' Boffo and what was an act. Perhaps, Lyle had thought more
than once, there was no essence, and his life was a stage on which he
acted out each minute as if it was a play of life with new accents, new
ethnicities and new ways of seeing the world.
    "Let me tell you something," Boffo said, drawing to a comfortable
distance for whispering conspiracy. "When you've got a gift? You don't
throw it away, no siree Bob. You use it, not just for yourself, but for
everyone around you. Do you get me, boy?"
    Lyle nodded, wondering what had brought this on. "But what if you have
a gift, and no one but you can ever profit from it?"
    Boffo considered Lyle's question with an honest, focused care that few
ever bothered to show. Gently the older man tapped his own nose, staring
off into space. After a while, Lyle was convinced that his employer had
fallen asleep, and just as he was about to shake the man awake, Boffo
opened his mouth.
    "It seems to me, son, that there's no such thing as what you're
    "But there is..." Lyle replied, caught off-guard. He wished that he
hadn't been quite so insistent, but the damage had already been done.
"There's things that let a person live inside themselves and never get out
    "Mm..." Boffo replied, running his hand over his chin. "Well now, that
might explain a thing or two about the young man I hired. Good thing I'm
such an old, doddering man that I might forget to ask probing questions
later, isn't it? But don't you fool yourself, kid... if it's really a
gift, you'll find a way to use it the way God intended it to be used. And
now I'm feeling like an old fart, rambling long past his years, so pardon
you me, but it's time for this old war horse to shamble off to his
    "Night, then," Lyle replied, nodding to Boffo. The older man rose,
stretched out the kinks in his back, and turned to go.
    "Oh, one more thing, lad." The club-owner paused at the door out. "Once
upon a time, there was a place like that for me. Kinda an Eden. Only the
thing decent, God-fearin' folks forget about Eden is that eventually you
get yourself kicked out of it. It just happens... it's how our brains are
wired. Since you're here and we're talking and neither one of us's seeing
imaginary ghosts, I'd have to say you got kicked out too."
    Lyle nodded, not knowing what to say. But no reply seemed necessary.
    "And I'm sorry for the pain it probably caused. It's not easy, I know
way too well. But you just remember this -- people did a Hell(tm) of a
lotta good after they got the heave-ho orders from the Big Guy upstairs.
And you will too, kid."
    "Thanks," Lyle said, smiling a bit. Boffo matched the expression and
wandered out, leaving Lyle alone to ponder and think a while.


    The Popular Playhouse...
    Big, covered in pastel colours, its main aspiration in life is to be
the world's biggest eyesore.
    I wonder just how many hearts were broken inside its walls?
    God, I think I'm home...

    But it can't be here. Can't be... didn't it burn down year ago?
    Didn't I help burn it?
    When the man who made you what you are asks for your help, if you're a
man yourself, you'll say yes no matter what it costs you.
    Even if that's everything. There're just some debts that aren't ever
paid off until you break off a piece of your soul and hand it over to the
    What did I lose...
    One (1) family...
    One (1) promising career.
    One (1) home.
    One (1) future.

    I got my future back. It's not the same one as before and it's a little
shop-worn, but I can't bring myself to complain about it enough to take
the sucker in for trade.
    Or to just toss it out and wash my hands of lives. They're tricky,
dirty things. Take a lotta maintenance. You forget your upkeep schedule
and problems just keep popping up until it all starts to fall apart on
you, and you're left wondering how you went from a Ferrari to a junker.

    "Have a drink, Earl." The voice is out of the past, and it echoes kind
of like how an actor's does when he's on the stage. The way it just moves
all through the audience, and you can tell that he's talking louder so you
can hear it, but it's kind of right too? Because you know that a play's
not about life. It's about being larger than life. It's about standing
taller than any other fellow in the world for just one night, the night
when the curtain goes up when you walk out and goes down when you walk
off. That's how this voice was. Large and being shouted from somewhere
that couldn't normally reach.
    I've just figured out what's wrong with it. It's mine. My voice never
rang that large. It was too down-to-earth to really fill up the house like
a sold-out show. That's why I always played Rosencrantzs and Mr Ulfheims
and Thomas Otters; when a man's got a talent for blending into the
background and being a prop until his name's called, well he should be the
best damned prop he can be. And god, was I ever a great tool. I stayed
great up until I rang down my own curtain.
    "Wouldn't say no, Jimbo," replies Earl, and damned if his voice doesn't
have the same ring to it that mine did. I wonder if we're rehearsing
something, even though I know those days are way long far in the past,
just like Earl. Earl... he was the House's Hamlet, the Land's Lear, the
World's Wit. If I was the background, he was the whole damned stage. When
he was walking the boards it wouldn't matter none if a tribe of
bare-chested African pigmy maidens riding thundering hippos came barreling
across the stage; if Earl was up there, *that's* where your attention
would be. Not on them, and not on anything else. He was kind of like a
black hole for your attention, except by the end of the show you always
got it back, sometimes without even realising that you'd managed to lose
it. Earl was a prince amongst men, and a god amongst women, too.
    The problem with gods is that sometimes their worshippers start to dry
up. It's not a problem with the god, really, it's just that people change.
They worship new things. And between movies and teevee and every other
newfangled altar at which people prayed, there just weren't as many people
coming to see Earl walk across his temple for a few hours ever night.
    "Something's got to be done." My voice again. The words are familiar
too, but buggered if this moth-eaten old brain can remember when they got
said. "They must have tired hands, Earl. That's the only reason they
didn't clap."
    "Fill me up again." Yeah. Earl was a pretty heavy drinker, but he never
let it go to his head. He didn't let a lot of things go to his head. Earl
was just like that. "Their hands were just fine and you're full of what
makes the grass grow green. Nope, they weren't applauding because there
wasn't more than a row filled in that place. We're dried up, and that's
all there is to it. Time to move on. Find greener pastures."
    "We can't just give up on it!" Oh yeah, that's sweet... now my voice
echoes like Romeo screaming over Mercutio. I never had that kind of a
range on the stage; whoever's putting on this show's doing a damnfine job
of covering for my faults. Must be that new MMX, or BMX or whatever they
call it when you make old things better than they were. "What happened to
the Earl I remember? The guy who didn't take nothing from nobody? The guy
who'd fight over a parking space? What happened to him?"
    Silence. I remember this talk now. I don't want to remember this talk
now. I'm not much of a drinking man -- okay, so I touch the tipple every
now and then, but who does it hurt? -- but I swear, right now I want the
sweet Lethe of booze to just blot it all out of my head, every last word
of it. This is where Lucifer slipped on his own pride and pratfell
headlong into flames, and I just can't take it happening again, even if
it's all just in my mind...
    He finally talks again. Earl was like that -- he could take a silence
and stretch it *just* to where you were ready to snap, and suddenly start
talking again a sec before you said something. Beautiful on the stage but
annoying as Hell(tm) face-to-face.
    "He left with the crowd." Yeah, you hear that? That's my heart
breaking, all over again, and I'll tell you something for free, solider.
It's not any easier the second time around either. I know what's coming
next... see, Earl's not just an actor. He also owns... *owned*, damn it...
the playhouse, lock, stock and barrel. Maybe it was just his ego putting
him on stage at first, but ever since he strutted his stuff and taught the
great ones a thing or two about pretending to be someone you're not, no
one's ever said a word against Earl starring in the plays his playhouse
produced. "I need you to help me with something. Something big. I'm in...
trouble, Jimbo. I'm up to my eyeballs in debt and there's no way I can get
back into the black without a little red. What do you say, pal... can I
count on you?"
    A light comes on, ramping up to full brights as the playhouse fades
away like a spring frost. It's a spotlight shining down, showing someone
all alone in a chair. He's seen better days. He just wants to exit stage
left, but someone's pushed him upstage and now he doesn't know what to do
with the house's attention. He wants to blend into the scenery, but this
act's gone minimalist.
    It's me... it's my first and only starring role, and damn it, but I
only got my big break in real life, not on the stage. Damn it...
    "He looks sad."
    The voice isn't mine... it isn't Earl's... not unless we both got
really drunk that night and started popping Estrogen instead of cigs. The
voice also isn't booming larger than life. And it's coming from behind me,
wherever behind me is, cause all I can see is the chair and the mook
sitting in it, trying to remember if he gets a line here.
    "Of course he looks sad," I reply, on the theory that you should always
humour voices in your head in case they got mean and bad-tempered on you
and made you climb up to the top of a bell-tower to take out some
frustrations. "He's just been handed a bum steer."
    "A what?" It's a little girl's voice. Cute, I think, if you can tell
these things.
    "Bad deal. He has to destroy something he really likes to help out
someone he thinks he really likes."
    "Oh," replies the girl's voice. Like I said, cute to the ear...sounds
like she's trying to pretend to understand grown-up things. I love it when
kids do that. I just hate it when grown-ups do it. "Why doesn't he just
say no?"
    "It's complicated," I reply, giving the answer I swore as a kid never
to give when asked a question. It's been a lotta years since that promise,
but I'm nothing if not a man of my word. "What I mean is... if he doesn't,
he'll lose a friend. Not that it stopped him losing him after..."
    "So it didn't do any good for him to lose everything?"
    "No." Heh. She asks the good questions. Kids always do; that's why we
slap them so much. They're not being impertinent, they're being *right*,
and in our goddamn hubris we just can't stand that. Not from a kiddo.
"Course, when you lose everything, it usually means things've gone pretty
far beyond 'good'."
    I get this sense of someone grokking what I'm saying. I'm not sure
where it's coming from, but since right now I'm a man without a body I'm
not questioning extra manifestations of the Totally Weird. Realisation
just dawns, like the cliche, the same way the spotlight faded things into
    Now, of course, I do have to freak because me, Mr
Number-One-Without-Hands has one of his taken in a gentle hold. It's kinda
sweet, the way a kid would take your hand to be led to the zoo.
    "What's this?" I ask, not too worried. Let's just say that me and kids,
we get along sometimes. Okay, to put it the real way, I'm an old softy and
I can't say no to anyone under ten.
    "We're going to where things aren't all lost."
    "Nice try, kid, but there's no such place." Eh. She'll learn. Give her
time. I just hope she takes her time doing it. Ignorance is too precious
in a kid and too crappy in an adult to lose.
    "There's one..." Her voice is high now, a little shrill. Like she's
playing 'I've got a secret' with me. Which she probably is, like 'where
did you get my hands from when I couldn't even manage that trick'. "We'll
show you."
    "We?" Great. I'm in that episode of Star Trek. The one where the kids
made Kirk lose his cool. I guess we all have to live our own private
version of that sometime in our own lives. "Who's your friend?"
    "He's right here." Not quite an answer to my question... but suddenly I
don't care any more... Knight? Rose... yellow roses... smells fresh,
like.. spring? Like... May. A metal hand takes... mine... the stage is
fading... where's the stage going? Don't... care any more, do I... there's
all those crazy people... dancing around a maypole... they want me to join
    God, I think I'm home...


    The doors to Boffo's Comedy Hut were locked fast against Lyle, which
was as strange as the moon rising at noon. He pulled once on the door,
then stared at it, stymied. Something was not right, and Lyle knew that he
had to get to the bottom of it. Up against a rock just a half-klick east
of a hard place, Lyle did the only thing that a normal person could do
when confronted with a locked door. He rattled the doorknob *again*, just
in case he'd been mistaken the first time. Not the best, nor the smartest
move, but people can fool themselves in the darndest ways.
    Had Lyle been more 'in touch' with the world, he might have realised
that it was possible to simply call up your local locksmith and have a
locked door jimmied open, for a modest fee of course. He might even have
been sufficiently able to prove who he was to enlist this sort of help.
But ignorance was often its own worst enemy, and Lyle found himself up
against his limitations. It was time to do something which he hated, but
which he knew that he couldn't avoid.
    Lyle had to call his sister and ask her for help. And this rankled,
because honestly he'd actually begun to think of himself as independent
after all this time. Look at the facts... he'd managed to find a job - one
at which he was able to excel, no less - find an apartment of his own,
been able to pay his way, pay off utilities without forgetting and needing
a third 'This is your last chance' letter to remind him. He'd managed to
learn how to cook more than Mac'n'cheese, and had actually started to
puzzle out exactly how you did that without burning the stuff. In short,
Lyle had managed to go from helpless to a productive member of society in
the course of a few months.
    And now he was hitting his head against a glass ceiling, but darned if
it wasn't making his scalp hurt, not to mention his pride. Lyle paused as
he turned towards the phone booth, and ran through a tally in his mind.
    PRO: Calling Amanda would put him in touch with someone who knew more
than he about life's little problems.
    CON: Calling Amanda would show her how wispy and ethereal was his
    PRO: He could be saving a life by calling.
    CON: He would be... would be...
    ...damn. When it came down to being about lives, there was really not
choice at all, was there? Lyle walked to a payphone and fished around in
his pocket. If he had to do this, he wanted to do it fast so it would be
like ripping off a band-aid. For some odd reason, losing his dignity in
shreds just didn't appeal to Lyle.


    The last strains of music drifted across the darkened auditorium... the
thunder of a dozen feet echoed after it, settling into the awed silence
which greeted those dancers who had produced it. The silence held another
moment... and another... until finally, something snapped in the audience,
and their compulsion to silence was chased away by a thunder of applause.
The dancers bowed, but one took the upmost stage, accepting the lion's
share of the evening's accolades.
    The man was stripped to the waist and painted in what could easily be
mistaken for Celtic symbols, transforming him from a man into a more
primal force of the universe, or so he imagined within the dark confines
of his own mind. The man had borrowed the name of Lord of the Dance for
himself, unaware that there had been more than one before him who had born
the moniker in the past, and who would not surrender it so easily, not
without a test. That test would come soon, begun this evening... but he
knew none of those. The man took his bows again and again, basking in the
glory which met him... wishing that this night would never end... knowing
that eventually it would have to, and he would leave the stage for his
dressing room, where the mundane reality of the world would press against
him, reminding the man who would be Lord that he *was* just another of
Earth's rabble, walking through life in a daze, never quite in tune with
what went on outside the four walls of their safe little worlds.
    On any other day, the man would be right. He would leave the stage and
the Lord would become a man. But today was not any other day, and the
man's stage had been set elsewhere in a place of Dreams and shadows, while
his flesh slumbered peacefully, unneeded in this drama.
    A hand was offered. The man looked up from taking his last bow. The
stage lights were bright, and as usual they blocked his sight of the
audience, ostensibly to prevent them from distracting the dancers. He
began to back away from the hand which had emerged from the darkness, not
trusting its intentions. There were crazy people in the world, and you had
to watch out for them all. People who weren't in touch with reality tended
to fixate on others who bent it in strange ways; be those benders actors
or celebrities or even dancers. The lord of the manor knew that he had
inspired more than his share of loonies who had moved into their own
private castles in the sky, and that they had all wanted him to take up
co-residency with them.
    His retreat was stopped by a question.. the man didn't hear it asked,
but that didn't matter one whit, as he knew that it had been, and more,
that now was not the time to try to creatively buy time to think.
Dithering just wouldn't be tolerated, and more's the point, it was a
yes-no question which he had known the answer to for a long, long time.
    'Would you claim the name of the Lord of the Dance?'
    The question was old as time, but sadly the man had not been around
long enough for it to be anything but the latest craze. When he answered,
the man did not do so with words or breath, but by the fires which burned
deep within him, in his soul, driving him to greater and greater feats and
shows of egocentrism.
    'Of course,' was the reply, translated from heartsfire to English.
    'But the Lordship is not a matter of course,' he suddenly knew. 'There
is no destiny, nothing special about you which you did not make happen. In
a sense, that's even more impressive than holding the tarot of the Dance
from birth.'
    'Of course,' replied the man again...
    'And the Lord of the Dance does not live for himself. Not as you have.
Not as you will continue to, if you send me away. If you choose, then you
will live for the Dance, and naught else. I ask this: do you still choose
to claim the name of the Lord of the Dance?'
    'Of course,' came the reply.
    'Dance, then.'
    And somewhere on Earth, in a large dressing room devoted to a would-be
lord, the man who had claimed that name slipped peacefully away from life.
He would be found within minutes, but even than it would be too late to
summon him back to his fleshly shell, no matter how much effort was put
into the endeavor. The body cannot alone survive without being coupled to
a spirit, and the man's spirit few far from the Earth, into a land of
Dreams, where a dance eternal was just beginning...


    "There y'go, kid, sorry 'bout the kerfluffle before," said the
locksmith, rolling his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.
"That'll be forty-six fifty."
    "Forty-six fifty?" Lyle paused, running mental conversions in his mind.
A good meal was ten dollars... a pair of sneakers was fifty dollars... a
house was more dollars than he'd ever have on his current salary... this,
then, was highway robbery. Of course, one of the first things that Lyle
had learned in the waking world was that it lacked a certain sense of the
fair, and further, that trying to sweat the small-stuff like this only led
to more unfairness being heaped upon his head. "Would you take a cheque?"
    "I can cover it," began Amanda, pausing when Lyle shot her a look of
deep shame. She nodded a touch and lowered the purse which she had raised
to unzip, recognizing that look far too well.
    "I'll need to see some I.D.," replied the locksmith, rolling up his
tools. Lyle shrugged and wrote out a cheque, holding his proof of
citizenship card out with the ersatz money. "And that'll do it. Nice doing
business with you, and listen here..." He leaned closer to Lyle. "YOu've
got one *hot* sister. Think I'd have a chance?"
    "Not in your dreams," replied Lyle, more unkindly than was normal for
    "Too good for her, heh?" replied the locksmith, smothering a surge of
anger at the rejection-by-proxy. "Yeah, all the broads feel like that.
Once you go Stan, you're ruined for another man. I always say--"
    "I believe that you do," Lyle replied. "Now if you don't mind, my
sister and I have something important to do."
    "Fine. Whatever. Don't show any appreciation." the locksmith grabbed
his rolled-up case and turned on a heel to storm to his truck. Lyle looked
after him, feeling little to no guilt over sending the man away. He'd
humiliated Lyle right from the beginning, demanding more and more proof
that Lyle was who he'd said he was. Even after Lyle had managed to prove
his identity, the locksmith had just shrugged and asked him why he didn't
go to the police instead of calling him. Lyle and Amanda hadn't had an
answer for that one, which made Lyle feel a touch better when he realised
that even his sister wasn't perfect under the eyes of God. They had
finally settled the matter in the time-honoured way of offering the
locksmith a 'consideration fee', in addition to his fee later on. It
wasn't a perfect solution, but at this point the siblings were convinced
that they'd already wasted more than enough timee trying to get inside.
    "I tend to think that I have to handle everything myself," muttered
Amanda, as they walked into the club. "I should've thought of the police
from the beginning..."
    Lyle nodded, his initial urge being to comfort Amanda, but his desire
to make sure that Boffo was all right first overrode that. After
everything was sorted out, Lyle could slowly tree down the list of things
he had to do today, which had all the signs of being an Incredibly Busy
Day of crises. All of his had been, ever since he'd joined the comedy
club. Lyle had also learned a thing or two about haste: it makes waste,
but sometimes a little waste was just fine when it got the job done. He
doubled his step and moved inside...
    "Oh, good," breathed Amanda, as she stepped in after Lyle. Boffo lay on
the ground, deep in his slumber, dead to the world but clearly alive to
the strict mistress Biology. "I guess he just nodded off."
    "All day?" asked Lyle, kneeling down beside Boffo. The man was clearly
asleep and not in some more sinister state, but that didn't account for
how long he'd been out. "And this isn't exactly a comfortable position.
What if he fell and hit his head against something, and can't wake up?"
    Amanda nodded and knelt down beside Lyle, reaching under Boffo's scalp,
fingers probing his skull. "I don't feel any bumps... whatever it was, it
probably wasn't head-trauma." She risked a gentle pat of the man's cheek,
and was rewarded with... nothing.
    "Hey... wake up?" Lyle asked, leaning closer to the man. "You've been
asleep way too long. Believe me, I know the feeling, but you have to get
up... Amanda? He's not getting up..."
    "I'm going to call an ambulance," Amanda replied, rising and moving for
a phone. "This is outside my one first-aid course."
    "Maybe..." Lyle said, looking down at Boffo's face. There was something
there that he recognized, buried under the weight of the last couple
months. What was it that he saw on the ex-performer's visage that struck a
cord so deep?
    "They'll be here in ten minutes," Amanda replied, hanging up. "In the
meantime, we're not to touch or move him in any way, unless his situation
becomes visibly worse."
    Lyle tore his eyes away to look up at Amanda. "Visibly worse?"
    "I think they mean 'if piranha begin to eat his flesh', we can move
him. A little bit. Meanwhile, we have the fun of fretting."
    "It's my favorite," Lyle muttered, hunching down to fret and wait for
the ambulance. It was only after Boffo had been driven off that it struck
Lyle what it was that had seemed so familiar. Once, Amanda and Ray had
shown Lyle pictures of what he'd looked like while he slept. And the image
was always the same: in each case, he'd worn the same simple smile of
peace, devoid of cares and worries, almost mindless of the world around
    It was the same smile which Boffo wore as he lay, asleep on the floor.


    First there was darkness, then a solitary gentle cone of light.  It was
the cue, the reason, the meaning.  A dancer in blue flowed to  near
invisible beat, her moved deflected, reflected, defined by the subtle
bumps of the rhythm it gave.  The stars shone above her head and within
her eyes.  But they didn't matter, or rather their importance was subsumed
within the step.. move... twist.. flow... craft of the irresistible call.
    Chelsea Montrose didn't dream lucidly often.  That she did tonight was
something she would cherish in the morning, if she she allowed herself
that concept in this glorious dance.  She moved almost impossibly the
rhythm drummed by ribs heaving in intensity, not pain or discomfort.
Something that she barely admitted to herself was a true fear in the
waking world.  Bodies wore out, and in the end, even a dance hits a coda.
But here, this was a dream, not a nightmare.  She took the fear and used
it to savor this feeling, this freedom. Let the mists of unease come back
after the night is over.
    A touch that was not the caress of the beat almost soured that note.
Her head turned as she bowed into a double axle kick, another with her.
The girl who interrupted laughed, then moved to dance with her beat, a
duel, counterparting her own dance with another.  She paused surprised y
this white-haired girl, but then smiled acceding to that challenge, her
own moves becoming more complex in a game of follow me.
    The moves became more intricate, the dance more intense, the sense of
focus ... then the dance changed punching through the focus.  Blades
flashed, her own against a small blade in the hands of that girl.  An
assassin's blade.  Her eyes flashed in glee, and amusement, even as the
fight continued, never to score a hit.
    And the dance continues, even as the focus brought then out into a true
dance again.  Chelsea gasped, even as her heart felt almost sickened.  She
slowed, then stopped.  Her partner did and looked to her, head askew
slightly in a questioning pose.
    No, she didn't care for that dance portion.  She shook her head, her
arm sweeping in a defiant negation.
The dance she sought tonight was not one of the blade.  Her partner
laughed silently an shook her head.  The
girl moved once, turned, then turned again.  A blade appeared and
disappeared in each stretching move, a
weaving snake.  What is the difference, in the end?  It is still the
Dance, and the dance is all.
   The dance may be all, but it's the dancer to interpret it.  A stomp,
bounce, knees reaching high in a canter, before replanting.  The girl
laughed and clapped, but didn't move to agree.  Instead she spun about,
clapping her hands.  A hand shot out.  Come, her eyes said, let me show
you... Her head cocked, as if contemplating... come prove me wrong....
the smile as the world faded shined sharply... dance for me...


    Time passes slowly for those who wait. Those who wait also serve, as
the maxim goes. Lyle's current tour of duty in the Long, Dark Waiting
Lounge of the Soul was already making him feel like a veteran of the art.
He'd been well drilled in Man-to-Man pacing, Stealth Fretting, and
chemistry, or at least how to produce plenty of stomach acid on demand.
    Waiting for news from the hospital became Lyle's favorite pastime. Not
that he had much of a choice in the matter; since the comedy club was
indefinitely closed until Boffo got out, Lyle had only his hobbies on
which to fall back, and that meant finding some hobbies to fall back on.
He'd taken up reading, writing, 'rithmatic and pottery in short
succession, and found that he had a talent for all of them, except for the
pottery. However, pastimes and diversions could only divert so much, which
meant a long, slow, tortured agony of waiting before Lyle began to visit
the hospital, something that he'd only delayed because he hadn't realised
that visiting hours existing for the ambulatory and the healthy.
    Amanda woke to the sound of a phone ringing. She groused mildly at the
intrusion... ever since Boogey had been evicted from her dreamscape, she'd
found that she enjoyed her nights all the better, and was so much more
reluctant to let go of her slumbers without a fight.
    "'lo," she asked, glancing at the clock to give herself something to
focus on that might help wake her up. Nine in the morning... all right, so
she had overslept. But still, calling someone else at nine was indecent,
inhuman and probably fattening too. "Who'sit?"
    "Amanda?" Lyle asked, from the other end of the line. "I need your
    "What is it, Lyle?" asked Amanda, snapping to wakefulness. Sometimes,
the scent of a crisis revived better than a cold shower.
    "I just called the hospital... he still isn't up. They don't know
what's wrong..." Lyle took a moment, considering what he was about to say.
"I didn't mention anything before, because... well I know I'm not that
experienced with the world, so I was afraid I was wrong..." He didn't add
how hard it still was to be admitting all of this. "But I think
something's wrong with Boffo's dreams..."
    "Calm down, Lyle," Amanda ordered, sitting up in bed, mindful of waking
Ray. "Tell me what you think, but slowly and with plenty of deep breaths."
    "It was his face. It's still his face. I..."
    "Breaths, Lyle."
    The young man took another few moments, this time to fight down a
growing frustration and panic. But Amanda was right, even if it was
annoying him to all get out that he wasn't getting his point across. "When
I look at it, I can see him smiling. Remember how I used to be in my
dreams? I couldn't wipe that smirk off my face, Ray said so himself. Now
it's like that for him, too..."
    "Smiling..." it was little surprise that Amanda knew Lyle's sleeping
expressions well; she'd only taken care of him for years while he was out
cold. She could picture his innocent face as clearly as she could look out
the window to see a squirrel boosting nuts from its private stash. It
would soon be caught by another, bigger and more influential squirrel, who
would knife the little rodent and leave its body on the sidewalk as a
warning to all that one did not steal meat-substitutes without paying a
price. "Are you suggesting that he's lost in a dream, Lyle?"
    "It wouldn't be the first time, would it? Besides... it's just a hunch,
and a long shot, but if he is, who else could get him out?"
    Samantha, and not many others, Amanda thought, rubbing her eyes. "I
wasn't doing much of importance today," she replied, getting up. "Meet you
at the hospital this afternoon, when they have visitor's hours."
    "Thanks, Amanda..." Lyle smiled a touch, feeling a stab of hope for the
first time in a long time. "I'll see you then."


    Boffo looked so quietly happy as he slept, that Amanda wondered how
she'd missed the expression a few weeks prior, when she and Lyle had sent
him to the hospital. She glanced over at Lyle. "Was he always like this?"
she asked, keeping her voice to a respectful whisper.
    "This happy?" Lyle shook his head. "No, it's just gotten worse... "
    "Then let's test our diagnosis." Amanda offered a hand to Lyle. "Just
like old times?"
    "Almost just like old times," he replied, taking his sister's hand
after pulling a chair close to the room's bed. "New times are better."
    "Good," replied Amanda, with a slight smile. She leaned back in her
chair, one hand in Lyle's, other hand holding Boffo's. She let her
attention begin to recede, and the two fell towards a deep sleep...

    _The Mummer's Dance_ should have been playing through the verdant glen
in which Amanda and Lyle found themselves, save that there was already a
hint of music to the air which ordinary instruments could never emulate.
It was the music of a gentle rainfall melded with the symphony of wind
rushing through long grasses, spiced by a hint of crickets who were
singing in unison on a warm, summer's evening and rounded out by the song
which a soul will sing when it hears all of these musics and finds that it
must raise its own silent voice in song. In the midst of this stood a
Maypole, surrounded by the lushest forest that either Dreamer had ever
seen; it was a sight which could have rivaled the foliage of long, long
ago Pangeia. The day was bright, and dim figures moved through the woods,
milling just out of sight.
    "Why's he dreaming straight out of Brigadoon?" Amanda asked, eyes wide
as she wandered towards the Maypole. "Was he a closet environmentalist?"
    "He always felt that the great outdoors was much easier to take if you
paved it over and dropped on a couple of strip malls." replied Lyle,
worriedly scanning for Boffo. "I can't imagine why he'd be dreaming this,
unless it's his nightmare, sis..."
    "This Maypole looks like it's the centerpiece of the dream," Amanda
said, walking around the pole. she reached out to touch it, drawing her
fingers down the lacquered wood. "It's beautiful, though. Does any of this
add up?"
    "Not a bit of it..."
    The maypole, the trees, the grass... all if it was whisked away from
Lyle and Amanda's focus. It didn't vanish, so much as darken like a
playhouse hiding a part of the stage which didn't fit the current scene.
Total darkness surrounded the two Dreamers for a moment before a single
shaft pointed down from above, giving them reference again. And in the
shaft stood a young man, looking full of piss and vinegar, standing in a
Shakespearean hero's stance with arms out to either side, legs as far
akimbo as the shoulders, and head thrust back to stare at the heavens, or
at least the playhouse's box-seat subscribers. He was frozen in montage
for the moment, and then the spell upon him faded, allowing the man to
look down at his audience.
    "Oh see you now upon my stage of green," he began, his voice pitched to
carry through a playhouse. Disconcertingly, it echoed to both Dreamer's
ears as though they were within just such a place. "You who come to see
the final curtain." He turned towards Lyle. "New friend of the old; see
what now remains. Like the phoenix ris', brighter burning life; is not
this thing a wonder beyond pale? Step, step forth, come join my walk
'cross these boards; where age flies away like infirmity -- it is affixed
by design and not time, permanence lasting until curtain fall. Under the
spotlight; there, I dance my role."
    " that you, Boffo?" Lyle asked, staring at the actor in disbelief.
The years had melted away from the man, leaving him nearly unrecognizable
-- but there was still a sparkle to the actor's eyes which transcended age
and time. The man nodded, taking a dramatic step forward while offering
his hand.
    "My name, like all those things upon the boards; remains as constant as
yon fickle moon. When curtains rise I don myself anew; a beggar once and
then a king I am -- come, step into my lighted kingdom here -- always
remains a place for one like you."
    "Don't..." Amanda began, seeing the trap which lay ahead. Lyle was far
too susceptible to living within dreams; though he was too strong to admit
to it, her brother had never truly kicked the addiction which he held to
those things of the dreamworld. And that was precisely what he was being
offered here, on this dreamland stage set by powers unknown. Amanda was
just about to raise her voice again, when she felt a soft, child's touch
on her arm and smelled the fragrance of a rose... and like the seed of a
dandelion, away wafted her consciousness, flying from this place to sleep
in a land already of dreams.
    "What's happening here?" asked Lyle, taking an unconscious step closer
to his former mentor. "Why are you asleep out there? What's happened to
    "A dance and a dream on Nod-land's fringes," replied the actor. "All
that's wrong awake set right here, asleep. You know this tale so well, I
see, my friend. Just eyes see injustice's grasp tighten; Oh, you long to
dream but you fear to dream -- why fear? why run when the house lights are
lit, the audience stilled in their seats for you, awaiting the first
breath of Lear, Hamlet... Falstaff, Prospero... be like him! break your
staff; bury your book... none will ever find it when the lights dim."
    "I don't have a staff. Or a book. I just want you to come back with me,
back so you can wake up..."
    The actor looked at Lyle as though he'd just been challenged to a
blood-duel. He turned away, beseeching an unseen audience which lay past
the impenetrable darkness. "Friend become foe? I reel at this treason. And
yet perhaps I have nearly misheard." He turned back to Lyle, arms out in
an imploring pose. "Come, give me your answer again, my friend; my ears
have betrayed me, I doubt them both. Speak, speak that I may hear once
more your words... grant to me this boon for times we have shared."
    Even if I say something, he just won't understand again, realised Lyle,
seeing more clearly now what was happening. He won't understand because I
can't understand... we're not in the same worlds any more. If he could
just step out of the spotlight, he'd see, but he can't.
    ...but I could step into the light. I could take his offer and join
him... go back to everything I left behind... live away from the world
that just kept hurting me and hurting me and making me fight for every
scrap of good that came my way... I could have it all and no one could
take it away from me again... would be so easy. It *could* be so easy. All he would have to do
is take the actor's hand and it would be done...
    Lyle reached out his hand, which wavered. Two choices. Yes or no. No or
yes. One or the other... deny or accept. The actor's hand reached towards
Lyle's, ready to grasp the other man's, to pull him into the circle.
Lyle's smile grew a trace sad... and he took the actor's hand, letting
himself be drawn into the spotlight.
    The world shifted around both... the stage becomes a world of its own,
and all that's outside of it is moot. Directions faded away to a simple
two: 'here' and 'elsewhere'. A few lights, a costume and decorated boards
edged away science, magic, philosophy... none of these were needed for
creating a world upon the stage.
    And in the midst of this, Lyle held deeply to all that was trying to
fade. He remembered his name, held to it like a mantra, repeating it again
and again to himself. Nothing was more important to Lyle than remembering
the man he had been, even as his every instinct screamed for him to just
let go, and allow the oblivion of eternal dreams to engulf him. A name
seems a futile defense against a new world, but on the stage, a name is
often all that exists of a man. It suffices.
    Lyle knew his role... knew the role which the actor expected him to
take. If he avoided his role, then Lyle would not be able to speak with
his friend; at first, it seemed like a dead end. But all roles are subject
to interpretation, and perhaps the Dreamer could bring the scene to a
conclusion other than the one which had been scripted.
    It was a risk, to be sure. If the scene played to its end, then Lyle
would be trapped within this stage-dance... but for a friend, it was worth
risking everything. Wasn't that what Amanda did, or Ray? Or Samantha, or
Tim, or the others whom he'd learned to respect over the past year and a
    Could he respect himself as much as he did them, were he to turn his
back on this man? No. And that made the decision all the easier.
    "My heart is full, my friend, I knew you'd choose; this the most
perfect place where stories grow, and possibility lives eternal. Come...
away with us to the Popular; a sight the likes of which you have not seen!
Come, before they shut fast the doors this night; to hear voices as sweet
as nightingales... to see flights of fancy penned and performed... to miss
this sight is a sin, nay a crime!"
    The actor took a step towards the light's edge, broadcasting his move.
It was all Lyle could do to avoid answering in the affirmative and
following off of the stage.
    "Yet I fear yon house holds no joy for me," Lyle answered, turning
away, towards... and here he learned something about the actor's ways.
Lyle could not see an audience beyond the darkness that lay without the
spotlight; in fact, he wasn't sure there was a thing beyond there at all.
And somehow, that didn't matter one whit to Lyle as he acted his role and
trod the boards. One appealed, not to paying customers watching one's
performance, but to the world beyond the stage's confines. You begged it
to look upon the place where you stood and see what you created for just
an ephemeral few moments. You implored it to see and judge it good. And
when the moment passed, and the house-lights went on, only then did you
see *why*.
    That made it all the easier. Lyle had so much to say to the world.
    "I take not your meaning, my bosom friend," replied the actor,
following Lyle upstage, body-position imploring. "What could weigh down
your soul so heavily, that you would eschew joy to brood on it?"
    "Another land, one beyond this, my friend," replied Lyle, still upstage
of the actor, still gazing out into the darkness which surrounded him. He
pictured the black as being his life, filled with things that he could
barely touch and never see until they were upon him. "Oh, I have yearned
for it all of my life; though in fear I hid myself far away... and in
doing so, made my own copy... but that was a world without light or
    "A world of your own making do you say?" The actor stepped upstage,
coming alongside Lyle. "But it sounds not like a terror at all. Rather, a
ripe fruit to be plucked, consumed... from a tree which grows such fruit
in plenty. Let the Popular be our flow'ring tree... I swear on my word
heart it has aplenty."
    "But what heart does it hold? does it borrow? Or perhaps it takes
hearts in entry toll?"
    "If it does, so be it! let it take mine; I have so little use for it
    "But what of tomorrow, my friend, what then?"
    "Tomorrow is a day which can be held... away forever by the power
there. Let it wash away such as you have!"
    "I cannot, my cares are not easy ones."
    "There are only easy cares where we go."
    "What is a man with only easy cares?"
    "A man who cares for nothing but himself!"
    "Is that such a fine thing for a man's life?"
    "When the road is long, surcease is needed."
    "And when it has been had... what happens then?"
    "The traveller moves on his given path."
    "Without even a heart to light and guide?"
    "Your words are troubling... why do you fight?"
    "I fight against a loss most terrible."
    "Speak plain, speak true, of what loss do you speak?"
    "I speak of the loss of my friend.. you friend."
    The actor took a step back, upstage. Lyle turned, sideways, to implore
him and still present his profile. His face was a mask of grief.
    "And I can remain silent no longer," Lyle continued, approaching.
Inwardly, he was glad that he hadn't had to speak in iambs yet, nor rhyme
his words. "Others wait for you in that distant place. Friends, partners,
family and others still."
    "Dead, dead, they all lie dead or will soon be. None die at the
Popular... see it rise!"
    The light expanded... a facade of a playhouse appeared.
    "And yet, see it fall, crashing to the ground." Lyle moved towards the
facade, and with a sharp push, shoved it over. The actor's strangled gasp
cored Lyle, but he continued on. "THey are not dead, but here, they soon
will be."
    "More dead, I cannot bear that any more. Take, oh take this pain away
from me now. Speak, how can they live once more, pray thee tell!"
    "They live with you, my friend, within your heart. And nestled deep
within, they guide your steps. As they have guided me, through you, your
heart. But here... there is no heart for them to live." Lyle looked down
upon the fallen facade. "You would send them screaming back to Hades."
    "No..." came the first sob. "No, no... please, let us away to
    "Forget and they are forgotten, my friend. To die the final death,
never to live. To breathe their last upon the stage within. Where I go
there is good as well as bad. Pleasure turns to ash after a short time, if
it is not salted by pain's season. I've lived in my own Popular playhouse;
I know how cunningly it traps the heart."
    "Cynthia... Angela... Tom... oh my friends..." He throws back his head
to howl. "Forgive my blind selfishness, I was lost! My path does not this
way lie, but with you." He turned away from the facade, the light already
fading to hide it in darkness again. "To your lands then, my friend.
Please guide my steps."
    Lyle turned to face the darkness. "And now we go unto our final act;
give us your favour or give us your scorn... But now we must give our bow
and adjourn."
    Both men turned and bowed to the darkness without... and slowly the
light faded away, and with it, the spell which held both in place...
    "What in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints is going
on?" Boffo asked, as he watched the world fade to black.
    "How much do you remember?" Lyle asked him, knowing this part
    "...everything," Boffo replied, his voice quiet. "Everything. God damn
it... it was so beautiful..."
    "I'm sorry," replied Lyle. "But... I thought I was doing the right
    "Don't ever apologize for setting a man's soul free. In the end, when
all his looks and thoughts are gone, that's all that's left to his name."
    "Just his soul?"
    "Just his soul... and you bought that back for me."
    "I'm... glad I did. I'm just sorry about all the dreams."
    "That's the bitch about dreams," muttered Boffo, as he felt himself
beginning to awaken.
    "What's that?" Lyle asked, watching the light fade away.
    "They always got to end right at the best part..."
    Fade to black.
    Exunt Omnes.


I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe

This issue is mine, mine, mine and you can't have it. Except for the parts
that belong to Mason Kramer, but you can't have those either. Nyah and
copyright Two-Thousand AAAAAA.DDDDDDD., and if you mess with our legal
rights, we do know one F. Kruger who'll be willing to visit to discuss
'fair use' with you. Mmmm. Invisible cola.

frobozz at

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