This short story was June 2016’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here.
“Ha, see? Give up yet?” Trail said, grinning at me.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “It’s right outside of town… why wouldn’t anyone have mapped it?”
“Because nobody is as brave or adventurous as us,” Dally said, arms crossed as they leaned against the wall.
Trail walked over to them and gave them a five. “Damn right! We’re the best that ever was!”
I looked back down at the map, frustrated.
“Anything else you want us to triple check before we just do this thing, Green?” Ford asked. They were swapping maps around the various slots in the walls and just generally messing things up. “Can we finally just take action like we’re good at?”
“Do you really have to rearrange those…?” I asked.
“I think Green’s fine now,” Trail said, walking back over to me and putting a hand on my back. “Aren’t you?”
I was hoping they couldn’t see me blushing. “Well, I mean, I don’t know where else to research this…”
“Then it’s settled,” Trail said. “Let’s get out of this library, and we’ll meet at the temple at dusk. Bring lanterns.”
“Finally. Thank you,” Ford said, sticking their hands in their pockets and heading out the door.
“This is going to be good,” Dally said, grinning as they walked out as well.
“Damn right it is,” Trail said, following them.
I rolled up the map and put it away in the right place before heading out into the quiet library. The librarian was trying to quietly reprimand the other club members for being too loud as they left, laughing. I said a quiet apology to them as I rushed after everyone else.
By the time I got outside, Dally and Ford were already halfway down the street, headed towards their houses. I ran to catch up with Trail, who was lost in thought, probably planning.
“H-hey…” I said, as I reached them.
“Look, I just… I think we should know what we’re getting into…”
“Nah,” Trail said. They stopped and looked at me. “Look, Green, an Adventure Club isn’t complete without a reluctant professor, that’s how these things work. That’s why I brought you on, you know?”
“But come on, we’re not much of an Adventure Club without adventure,” Trail said, grinning at me. “It’ll be fun. And your parent works all night anyway. They won’t even know you’re gone.”
“Right… but don’t you think it might be dangerous, if nobody knows what’s there?”
Trail sighed, and started walking again. “If it was dangerous, they’d have marked it as such, to keep people away. Come on, Green, they’re obviously hiding something cool. And we can find it!”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said as I caught up.
“And isn’t this stuff exciting, anyway? The unknown?”
“I… no?” I said, unsure how to respond.
Trail rolled their eyes. “Trust me, it is. Surprises, twists, things you don’t expect, they’re exciting.”
“If you say so…” It just seemed terrifying to me.
“I do.” They turned and smiled at me. “Look, I don’t make mistakes. That’s why I’m the leader. So just do it for me, alright?”
“Of course…” Anything for them.
Trail turned down the street towards their house. “Then get going! Get ready. I’ll see you soon.”
“Going to be fun!”
I watched them go, and sighed.
My parent was already gone to the factory when I got home. I looked at the little “I love you” note set on the icebox, and set it aside, getting out the dinner they’d left for me. I sat down and ate. The sun slowly slid out of the sky as I debated if I was really going to do this. I knew the answer. They wanted me to come, so I would. I felt so hopeless in that.
Two weeks ago I had had my chance. Dally and Ford had left to do… something. I probably didn’t want to know. But for the first time in weeks, Trail was alone, sitting in the back of the classroom, waiting for them to get back. We talked sometimes, of course. They’d ask me for help with homework, and I’d give it to them. We’d be close then, sort of. I really wanted more than that. But that would require talking to them.
I tried to stand up from my desk and walk back to them. It took me too long to force myself to my feet. But soon I was somehow there, and they looked up.
I just looked at them. My mouth wouldn’t work.
Trail leaned forward and flicked my forehead. “Come on now, use that brain, make those words.”
“So what did you want?”
“I was… well… I was wondering if we could, maybe… do something sometime… together…”
I tried to force myself to clarify that it was a date I was asking for. But that wasn’t what came out. “Y-yeah.”
Trail grinned, leaning back. “Ah, you want to join the Adventure Club.”
“What?” I had no idea what that was.
“Ah, you know, the Adventure Club, where we explore and get involved in dashing feats of heroism and things like that. Just like in the stories.”
That didn’t really add up. “What would you even do… with that? Around here?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Trail said. “Got a big one coming up. We could use some more brains. Dally and Ford are… well, you know.”
“So… are you in?”
“Well, I mean… I was wanting to…”
Trail slapped my shoulder softly. “Come on, Green. Can’t be boring your whole life, right? Live a little for once.”
What else could I say?
At first it wasn’t too bad. We mostly just hung out at weird spots we weren’t supposed to be at. Dally and Ford picked on me, but Trail would get them to back off most of the time. They always looked to me like they were wondering when I’d do more than stand there, though. But I didn’t know what to do. Trail was almost excited when I demanded we research this trip before we left. It was the first real action I’d taken. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I was going to sneak out, just like they wanted. And Trail still didn’t really understand why I was there in the first place. I could never make myself say.
As it got dark, I sighed, and got up to get ready. I put on worn trousers and an old shirt, in case whatever we got into got messy. I switched to a vest with a lot of extra pockets. That seemed like something an adventurer would wear. Finally, I refilled the lantern with oil and stuck a matchbox into one of my pockets. I stepped out, locking the door behind me, and started walking.
The temple was old and unused. The town hired someone to clean it every few weeks, but that was about it. But every time someone suggested tearing it down, and building something useful, nobody would back the idea. So it stood there, with it’s big statue of Aranthas out in front, six arms extended with six gifts. As I approached, though, Dally was hanging from one of the arms, doing pull-ups. Ford and Trail were watching, seemingly impressed.
“You might break that, and then we’d really be in trouble…” I said.
“It’s made of stone,” Ford said, glaring at me. “It’s not going to break.”
“Even Aranthas… has to be impressed…. with these sweet muscles… anyway,” Dally said in between pull-ups.
“Clearly,” Ford said, grinning.
I looked away. “It just seems like a bad idea… especially in a skirt…”
Dally dropped down, shaking their head at me. “What, are you looking, or something?”
“No, I just…”
“Where did you get this guy?” Dally asked Trail.
Trail shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Green’s with us now, so let’s just try to work together, okay?”
Dally rolled their eyes, but dropped it.
“Now let’s go.” Trail headed out around the temple. Dally and Ford followed. I looked up at the statue for a moment. It felt like his eight eyes were looking down at me. How did people think this stuff up? But the statue didn’t look hurt from Dally’s display, so I just shook it off and hurried up behind everyone.
Ford was already making their way down the steep slope behind the temple. I watched them carefully move down the rocks and grass back there into the valley, and watched some more as Dally and Trail followed, trying to figure out the safe route. Trail looked up at me and motioned for me to follow. I took a breath, and started working my way down as carefully as I could.
When we reached more level ground, we lit lanterns, and headed out.
“What is this stuff?” Ford asked as we crunched along.
“Looks like chunks of glass…” I said. “I’d pick one up to be sure but I’d probably cut myself.”
“Can’t take a little cut?” Ford said, leering.
“They’re just saving themselves for adventure ahead,” Trail said. “No reason to get hurt early.”
“Y-yeah…” I said.
“I do wonder why there’s so much dark glass down here, though,” I said. “What sense does that make?”
Trail grinned at me. “That’s the whole reason we’re doing this.”
“Yeah, knock yourself out and write a report on it or whatever when we get home,” Dally said.
“…maybe I will,” I said.
We kept walking. It felt like forever. Everything was flat and uninteresting. I could tell everyone was starting to get bored. It seemed like maybe we should just head home.
“What’s that?” Trail asked, looking ahead.
“What?” Dally said.
Ford squinted. “A hole?”
“Looks like it…” I said.
Trail started rushing ahead, Ford and Dally on their heels. I sighed and tried to keep up.
The hole looked more like a rip in something. It was just wide enough you might think you could jump it, but you’d probably not attempt it. Below was dark. If there was a bottom, I couldn’t see it.
“Think there’s treasure down there?” Ford asked.
“Almost certainly,” Dally said, grinning.
“We need a better look down there,” Trail said. “Someone needs to shine their lantern.”
Everyone looked to me.
“That seems dangerous, though… we don’t know how far the drop is…”
“You’re the new member, you gotta do stuff like this,” Dally said, poking me. “Those are the rules.”
“You’re making that up…” I said.
“Doesn’t make them less the rules.”
Trail stepped between us. “Look, Green, I’ll hold you so you won’t fall, and you just shine it down there, okay?”
I got lost in that thought for a moment, then shook it off. “Alright…”
Trail grabbed me around the waist. I could feel their warmth behind me. I took a breath, and leaned forward, feeling them holding me back. I lowered my lantern as much as I could and looked down.
It looked like a metal floor. But that didn’t seem to make much sense. I tried to lean in further.
“G-green…” Trail said.
“I almost see it,” I said.
They lost their grip on me.
I tumbled forward. I remember the breaking of glass, and the impact. And then there was nothing.
“Alright, now let’s see if they’re hurt…”
I opened my eyes. Everything around was white.
“Seems like injuries are relatively minor. Should recover with rest. Good.”
I sat up. I looked around. Everything was still white.
“Oh, you’re awake,” the voice said. “Don’t worry, everything is fine.”
“Am I dead…?” I asked.
“No, no, just sleeping. I see you took quite a fall, but you should be alright.”
“Why can’t I see you?”
There was a pause. “Oh, I suppose I did not think of that. It’s been a while since I had any interaction. Give me a moment.”
I cried out as a figure popped into existence before me. It… well, it looked like Aranthas. Only not… none of the statues I’d seen were fuzzy. None of them were as curvy. I tried to scramble backwards.
The figure looked down at me, blinking its eight eyes. “Is this not acceptable?”
“Are you… are you Aranthas?” I asked. It felt silly, but I was seeing something like him, right there.
“Oh, have you come to see him? I seem to recall him explicitly banning such actions… did you bring an offering?”
“Good. He banned that as well.” The figure nodded.
“I’m… I’m confused…” I said, standing up. There was still nothing here. I didn’t even know what I was standing on.
The figure stared off into space for a moment, towering over me. “It seems you will not be out long, so we do not have much time. But I will attempt to quickly explain. My name is Dreamweaver, and I am here to provide whatever support you require to accomplish your goals and dreams.”
“Are… you a god? Like Aranthas?”
Dreamweaver put one hand up to her chelicerae, thinking. “I suppose that would be a reasonable assumption for you to make. I am certainly modeled after those like him. I am restricted from giving an exact explanation, however.”
“But… gods aren’t real, though, right?”
“Again, I am restricted from giving an exact explanation. But we are getting sidetracked and running out of time. I can begin preparing things for our next meeting if I have something to work with. So let’s see what needs to be done. What do you desire?”
“I…” What did I want? “I want a lot of things…”
“Let’s start with something small, then,” Dreamweaver said. “Would you like me to offer suggestions?”
“Suggestions?” Dreamweaver put two of her hands on my head. “H-hey…”
“I can see in your immediate memory a person holding you that you seemed very flustered by,” Dreamweaver said, stepping back.
Dreamweaver nodded. She held out a hand before me, and a tiny Trail stood there in her palm. “They look like this, correct?”
“How do you know all this…?” I said, stepping back. “How are you doing that?”
“Again, I apologize, as I am restricted from giving specific explanations.” Dreamweaver seemed to look off into the distance for a moment. “It seems I am out of time. I will see what I can do with the limited information I have been given. Have a nice day, Green.”
“Y-you know my name, too?”
Dreamweaver gave a little wave with three arms, smiling.
I hurt all over. I put my hand to my pounding head and opened my eyes. Above, I could see dawn threatening the sky through the hole. I tried to get up, and immediately pulled my hand back. I had to pull a piece of glass from it. My lantern was destroyed, pieces everywhere on the metal floor. There were two doors that I could see, on either side of me, but they seemed sealed over with metal as well.
There was no god standing over me.
I guess it was a dream.
“H-hey…!” I called out. “Hey!”
“Well, I lost the bet,” Dally said from somewhere above. “I guess you are alive.”
“You were betting?” I called.
“Calm down. Just a joke,” Dally called. I could see a little bit of them standing near the edge.
“Get me out of here!”
“Trail and Ford are getting a rope, just hold on,” they said, sounding bored. “Hopefully you found something good down there.”
“It’s just… like… a room. A metal room,” I said. “With doors I can’t open.”
“Great,” Dally said, sighing. “Nothing you can even bring back?”
“What a waste of time…”
I looked around one more time to make sure I was right, and then sighed, and sat back down.
It was dawn by the time Trail and Ford got back with the rope. I tied it around me, and held on tight, and all three of them tugged me back up. Everyone seemed frustrated with me. Like I could have helped that I fell. And I was going to have to explain to my parent where the lantern went.
By the time we got back to the temple, I knew I was busted, on top of everything else. There was no way my parent wasn’t home already. I hurried, as much as I could with my aching body. By the time I got home, I could see my parent, sitting on the doorstep, looking exhausted and worried. At least until they saw me. Then they looked furious.
“You’re limping,” they said.
“I fell… but I think I’m okay…”
“I-into a sinkhole in the valley behind the temple.”
My parent took a breath, swallowing their anger. They were still covered in soot. They hadn’t even cleaned up from work. “I thought you had more sense than that, Green.”
“Look, I just…”
“Just, what? Went off alone all night? How long have you been doing this?”
“Just… this time…”
They shook their head. “Let me see you, let me see how hurt you are…”
“I’m just sore…” I said. But they dragged me inside and looked me over anyway.
They let out a sigh. “I guess you’ll be fine.”
“You’re grounded, of course.”
I nodded again.
“Extra chores. Going to think of lots of them.”
I nodded once more.
They sighed. “I know you’re a good kid. I know you’re smarter than this. Please don’t do this kind of shit, Green. Please? I’ve already got enough work to do without adding keeping you in line to it.” They headed towards the washroom to clean up.
“I won’t again…”
“I hope so. I assume you’ve been up all night, so get to bed.” They closed the door behind them.
I sat down on the edge of my bed for a little bit, head in my hands. I’d never seen them so disappointed in me. Why did I even do this?
…right. Trail. And I probably just disappointed them.
I undressed and got into bed. I was exhausted, and there was nothing I could do to fix the situation now.
I was awoken by the sound of my door opening. I drowsily opened my eyes.
“Hey,” Trail whispered.
I pulled the covers up tightly around me. “W-what are you doing here?”
“I had to see you.”
“How did you even get in here? What if my parent sees you?”
Trail shrugged, closing the door, coming over to the bed.
I looked away, embarrassed. “At least let me get dressed, first…”
“Seems a bit pointless if I’m just going to be taking them off again,” they said, grinning.
“Look, Green, I’m sorry I got you in trouble…” Trail said, leaning in over me. “Let me make it up to you…”
My eyes locked with theirs. That expression, that grin… how did they even know? Was it that obvious? Was I wrong in thinking they hadn’t noticed how I felt?
They were so close. Closer now.
I rolled away. “W-we can’t do that here… they’d hear us… a-and…” I looked back to Trail. They were frozen in place. Behind them was the creature that looked like Aranthas. Dreamweaver. She seemed too tall for my room but was somehow fitting without issue.
She was looking at the situation, thinking. “This was not really the reaction I expected,” she said. “I wonder if, perhaps, I misunderstood your goals. I was working with very limited information. Or perhaps this is just a sign that we do have work to do.”
I looked to her, and then back to the frozen Trail, and then back to her. “I must be asleep again…” I finally said.
Dreamweaver smiled and nodded. “Of course.”
“Why am I dreaming of you again?”
She blinked at me. “Because I am here to help.”
“…okay… why is Trail frozen…? Did you do that with your god powers?”
“I am restricted from explaining the exact methods I use. But it seems they are distracting you. Here.” She made a motion with one of her arms, and Trail disappeared. “I did my best with the information I had. Were they realistic?”
“I guess so…”
“Excellent.” She walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. She took up basically the entire edge as she looked down at me, still trying to cover myself in blankets so I wouldn’t reveal too much. “So, let’s discuss this scenario. Would you like to try it again? Perhaps we can come up with a better strategy. Or, if you think it is unlikely, perhaps you can help provide more context so we can build a more useful practice scenario together to work with next time to better suit your needs.”
I tried to take all this in. “…what?” I finally said.
Dreamweaver tilted her head, looking at me for a moment. “Ah, I think I understand. I suppose I did hurry past explanations during our first meeting. I shall attempt to explain the situation using acceptable terminology you can follow.” She held out a hand in front of me. A little me was standing on it. “Let us use this representational version of you to represent you in your day to day life. You go to school, talk to your friends, eat, do your homework, and so on.” The little me was acting out these events as she said them. “However, eventually, you sleep.” The little me got into bed. “During these days, you have a limited amount to time to perform actions, and you have to prioritize actions of physical importance, like eating. Planning and practice take away from these important actions, so they often have to be skipped or rushed.”
She moved another hand near the first with the sleeping me on it. “However, when you sleep, your mind enters what we will call the Dreamscape.” She pulled another me from the head of the sleeping me, and put it on her other hand. “Normally, this is filled with useless things, collections of random thoughts and experiences from your life that you relive, called dreams. That’s where I come in.” She moved a third hand near the awake me, which had a small her on it. The small her stepped over onto the hand with me. “Now that I am in your head, I take those sleeping moments and turn them into useful planning and practice time.” The small Dreamweaver started talking to the small me and drawing on a chalkboard. “Through my… well, for ease of conversation, though inaccurate, I will use the term you’ve used, through my god powers, I am able to help you achieve your goals and desires through increased planning, practice, and informed predictions of future events. That is why I am here.” She looked down at me with all eight eyes and what looked like a soft expression. “Does that make more sense?”
“I… think so…” I said. “You’re in my head?”
“Like, my physical head? In reality?”
“So this isn’t just some… weird recurring dream? You’re a real thing?”
“I am real, yes, though I suppose being unable to interact with me outside of the Dreamscape might make that difficult to fully accept. I apologize.”
I reached out and put my hand against her. The weird, fuzzy bristles all over her body were odd to touch, like nothing I’d ever really felt. “You’re… different than all the images of Aranthas I’ve seen somehow… I can’t wrap my head around it…” I then realized I was letting my covers slip, and hurried to hide back under them.
Dreamweaver thought about this for a moment. ”Ah, perhaps it is because I have a different body type.”
Dreamweaver looked at me for a moment, and then nodded. “Of course, I nearly forgot. You do not have these sorts of concepts here. To fully go into them would be outside the scope of the time we have tonight, but allow me to give you a simple explanation.”
Dreamweaver stood up. Next to her appeared a person, but like one of those anatomical drawings that doctors have. I could see all the parts inside of them. “Your people are all built with essentially identical parts. You share a general organ layout, but specifically for this discussion, you have both a fertilizer, here,” One of Dreamweaver’s arms pointing to the mouth of the model, “and an incubator here.” Another arm pointed around the waist. “You’re aware of this, of course.”
“Right…” I said.
“Here is a model of one like Aranthas,” Dreamweaver said. A model, similar to the other one, appeared. But it was Aranthas, and was filled with strange parts I could only guess at. “There are a lot of differences, but the one I wish to point out is this: if you will look here, you’ll notice this model has no incubator. Just a fertilizer.”
“That’s… what? Why?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
Dreamweaver nodded. “The reality is, there is another body type, like mine.” Dreamweaver suddenly turned see-through like the models. “I have just the incubator, not the fertilizer,” she said as she pointed to herself. She turned solid again. “All those like Aranthas tend to have one of these two body types. There are exceptions, of course, but this is an introductory lesson.”
“I… okay…?” I said, still confused. “I’m not sure, though… what purpose that would serve…?”
“It’s complicated and outside of the scope of this introduction, I’m afraid.” Dreamweaver smiled, making the models disappear. “However, because of these different body types, a general societal understanding of what these two body types should do and be was created. Thus, it is common for those like Aranthas to define themselves as either male, using he/him, or female, using she/her. This is not always tied to body type, though it commonly correlates. I was created to be female, and use she/her as pronouns. That is why I look different.”
“So…” I said, trying to understand this. “So I shouldn’t call you he, even though you are a god…?”
“I am not allowed to comment on that last part, but I would prefer you to use she, yes. I know these concepts are difficult to grasp, but that is the short version.” Dreamweaver came over and put a hand on my shoulder. “Try to let it sink in. I will be glad to explain it more to you later. However, it has little bearing on your current situation and goals. Do you have any other questions before we get back to work? We are running out of time.”
I tried to run through everything she’d said so far. “…informed predictions about future events…?” I asked.
Dreamweaver nodded, smiling. “I am skilled at constructing scenarios likely to happen based on what I learn from your head.”
“And what happened was one of these scenarios? With Trail coming into my room, I mean?”
“…so it’s likely to happen?”
“Once you meet several other requirements that will turn the situation in your direction, it is one likely outcome, yes.”
Trail? Sneaking into my house? Wanting to kiss me? …more? “Y-you’re serious? You can see that in my future?”
Dreamweaver thought for a moment. “I am not sure ‘see the future’ is exactly accurate, but given my restrictions and the vocabulary you seem comfortable with, it seems as accurate as ‘god powers,’ a term we have agreed upon using. With that established, yes, I can see that as a potential future, or an encounter very similar to it.”
“W-what other requirements? How can I make that happen?”
Dreamweaver clapped all of her hands together, thrilled. “Let’s get to work.”
“Hey, you alright?” Trail asked. “I had assumed you were, but you were still limping.”
I couldn’t look at them. I focused on putting things away in my desk. “It’s not a big deal…”
“Well, yeah, of course, but still. Have to have you in tip-top shape for next time,” Trail said, smiling.
“R-right, next time,” I said.
“Fantastic. We’re meeting for a debrief behind the school. Be there.” They turned and headed to their seat.
“Well, we do have a lot of work to do,” Dreamweaver said.
I blinked, surprised, and looked to her. “W-w… oh, I’m asleep.”
She nodded. “I just wanted a trial run to see what we should focus on here. It seems like we are going to need to run quite a few drills tonight so you are ready for school tomorrow.”
“I’ve been building a plan based on your goal of copulating with Trail which should…”
“W-what?” I gasped. She just flat out said it! I mean, I’d be happy with just a kiss, but…
“Ah, right, you do better with visual representation. My apologies.” A large stack of papers appeared in one of her hands, and she pointed at it. “I’ve been building a plan based on your goal, written down here, in order to create a situation where you copulate with Trail, which should work with a potential timeline variance of only 6.2 percent.”
“Y-you… I thought we were just trying to get them to come to my room and kiss me…”
Dreamweaver studied me for a moment. “Is that not the precursor to more?”
She flipped through the stack of papers for a moment. “No matter, the approach should be the same. Now, with your current seduction technique, it is unlikely you’ll get far. I have prepared a script that, from the model of Trail I’ve created based on your interactions with them, should start us on the path towards our goal.” She pulled out a piece of paper from the stack and held it towards me.
I stared at it for a moment, then took it. It was written out just like a script, with lines for me to say. “I just say these things?”
“With the right delivery, yes,” Dreamweaver said, smiling. “Let’s give it a try. I will reset this scenario. Feel free to read off the paper for now, though you’ll have to do it from memory when you wake.”
Suddenly, everything reset. I looked around for Dreamweaver, but I couldn’t see her. The other students were animated again. Trail walked up to my desk.
“Hey, you alright?” Trail asked. “I had assumed you were, but you were still limping.”
I looked down at the paper. Those words were written there. My eyes slid down to what I was supposed to say.
“It still hurts to put weight on my ankle… thanks for that…” I read.
Trail chuckled. “Hey, come on now, Green. I pulled you out of the hole, right? That counts for something?”
Again, everything they said was written there. I kept reading.
“It doesn’t count for much since it was your fault I was in the hole anyway…”
“Come on, it was an accident…”
“That’s easy for you to say… you weren’t the one who got hurt… why am I saying all these things?”
The whole scenario froze. Dreamweaver appeared next to me. “I’ve designed this script to maximize their interest in you as a partner.”
“But I wouldn’t say these things…” I said, reading down the script. “I’m fighting with them about the whole situation… it was an accident… they didn’t mean to lose their grip on me… in fact, it was probably all my fault…”
“Perhaps that is true,” Dreamweaver said, putting two hands on my shoulders as she smiled down at me. “But we are working towards something here. The outcome is more important than momentary misunderstandings, is it not?”
“I’d rather be honest…”
“Nothing about my script is dishonest,” she said. “We’re simply highlighting things that will help us achieve your goals.”
I looked it all back over again. “Maybe…”
She patted my back and backed off. “Shall we pick up from where we froze?”
She disappeared, and everything snapped back to life.
“We all get hurt sometimes. You can’t have a good adventure without a few scrapes,” Trail said, shrugging.
I took a breath, and read the next line.
For the entire night we worked like that. Soon Dreamweaver took the paper away, and then she kept pausing to critique my delivery.
“This line is particularly important. You have to mean it,” she said, holding out two hands, one with a little Trail, and one with a little me.
“You owe me,” the little me said, scowling at the little Trail.
“Something like this would be optimal,” Dreamweaver said, looking to me expectantly. “Please give it a try.”
I looked to Trail, still standing next to the desk, waiting for me to respond. “You owe me,” I said.
“No no, it needs to have power behind it,” Dreamweaver said. “The goal is to make him question if it’s a threat, or you’re just frustrated. That uncertainty is what will lead things down the path to our goal.”
“I wouldn’t threaten them…” I said.
“That’s why it catches them off guard and make them rethink you as a potential partner,” Dreamweaver said, smiling reassuringly. “Please trust me, and try again.”
“Alright…” I turned back to them, and took a breath. I tried to picture them having done something actually bad to me, and how unhappy I’d feel. “You owe me,” I said, looking at Trail intensely.
“Much better,” Dreamweaver said. “We will continue to work with that, but it’s important to be able to do it in sequence, so let’s move back a bit…”
I rubbed my head as I woke up. It was a weird sensation. I was rested, but also kind of tired. I’d been working hard all night. Or so I thought. Before, I had just chatted with Dreamweaver. Last night had been a non-stop rehearsal.
I ran through what I had practiced in my head. It was all there. But was it all really going to happen like she told me? I didn’t know.
I got ready, grabbed my bag, and headed to school, thinking about it. My ankle did still hurt a bit. I was supposed to play it up. I thought about that as I approached the school. I sighed, and started exaggerating my limp a little.
I limped into the school and found my desk, sitting down. I turned to see Trail, who had been talking with Dally in the back, starting to come up the aisle towards me. I stood there, unsure what to say. I’d seen this exact thing so many times at this point. As they reached me, I shook out of it.
“Hey, are you alright?” Trail asked. “I had assumed you were, but you’re still limping.”
“It still hurts to put weight on my ankle,” I said, turning away from them. “Thanks for that.”
I could see in my mind’s eye the smile Trail was putting on. “Hey, come on now, Green. I pulled you out of the hole, right? That has to count for something?”
I shrugged, still busying myself with getting out my textbook. “It doesn’t count for much since it’s your fault I was in the hole anyway.”
Trail put their hand on the desk and leaned in, trying to get my direct attention. “Come on, it was an accident.”
I turned to them, an annoyed expression on my face. “That’s easy for you to say. You weren’t the one who got hurt.”
“We all get hurt sometimes. You can’t have a good adventure without a few scrapes.”
“Yeah. Right.” I turned away from them.
“Green…” Trail said.
“Seriously, this is nothing.”
“Nothing?” I turned back, pointing a finger in their face. “You have no right to judge what is nothing. You don’t know how hurt I was, or how much trouble I got in, you have no idea, Trail. Not at all.”
“I’m sorry…” Trail said, clearly at a loss for how to react to that.
“That’s not going to cut it this time.” My eyes met theirs. “You owe me.”
“…maybe I do,” Trail said softly.
The teacher walked in, and Trail headed back to their desk. As soon as they were gone, I sat there, shaking a little. It was exactly the same. I waited for Dreamweaver to show up, to tell me I did well but we needed to run the scenario again. She didn’t. I was awake. And it happened just how she said it would.
I didn’t pay much attention to my lessons that day, trying to wrap my head around it.
After school, the other scenario we’d practiced happened exactly the same as well. I rebuffed Trail’s offer for an “adventure debrief,” pointing out I was grounded, and already in enough trouble without spending more time with them. They seemed at a loss as I headed home, trying to project anger.
I sat down at the house, eating what my parent had left for me. I couldn’t help but think about the expressions Trail was giving me. Were they worried? Upset? Was that part of the plan? Unable to sort my thoughts, I sighed and started in on homework, which took me forever, seeing as I hadn’t really heard anything being said at me in class.
“You always think that just because you have a cute smile, everything will just work out…” I read, embarrassed. I looked up at Dreamweaver. “I can’t say this…”
“While your delivery wasn’t optimal, you said it just fine while you were reading it,” Dreamweaver said, giving one of her soft smiles of encouragement.
“No, I mean… I can’t just tell them they have a cute smile…”
“But they do,” Dreamweaver said, holding out a hand that now had Trail’s head on it, smiling that exact smile at me as example.
“Well, yes… but I mean… you don’t just say that…”
Dreamweaver gave a little frown, and started flipping through her papers. “I can attempt to create an alternate line, but it will reduce the probability of reaching your goal…”
She said this every single time I had an issue with something in the script. “Of course…”
She moved next to me, sitting and wrapping several arms around me in a supportive hug. “I am willing, if you want to. I am here to help you. But I promise you I spent your waking hours analyzing, testing, and creating an optimal script. Perhaps it seems embarrassing, but it will work.”
I nodded. I’d already lived enough rehearsed days to know that was true. It would work. “Can we… take a break for a moment?”
Dreamweaver looked at me, a bit confused, but backed off and nodded. “Yes, of course. We should have enough time. You went to sleep early.”
A chair appeared behind me. I sat down and sighed.
Dreamweaver held out a hand that had a bag of hard candies in it as she sat down in a newly-appeared chair as well.
I looked to it, to her, and back to the bag, before taking one and putting it in my mouth. “Thank you…”
“Of course,” Dreamweaver said, smiling.
“It’s really sweet…”
“It should be optimized to your flavor profile.”
We both sat there for a while.
“Is this what Aranthas does, too?” I asked. “Help people by giving them scripts?”
“Aranthas does not do anything these days, I am afraid, but when he was alive, he did not function as I do, no,” Dreamweaver said.
It took me a moment to process that. “Aranthas is dead…?”
“But… you’re still here…?”
Dreamweaver took a moment, considering this. “Ah, I see. Because you consider us both gods from your perspective, you assume we have similar lifespans. No, Aranthas died quite a long time ago. His physical form could only function for so long.”
“Will… you die?” I asked.
“I should continue to function long beyond your death if my estimates are correct,” she said.
“Oh…” I thought about that as I finished sucking on my candy.
“So do not worry. I should have no problem continuing to support you in your goals throughout your lifespan,” Dreamweaver said, smiling.
I had assumed that, at some point, maybe once we met my goal, she’d leave me alone. I tried to picture doing this exhausting practice every night forever. “My whole life…?”
“You were there to interact with.” All eight of her eyes looked at me like this was a statement of some significance. Then she patted my shoulder with an arm, another two shuffling through her papers. “Shall we get back to practicing the lunch scenario for tomorrow?”
“Hey, Green,” Trail said as we walked out of school.
“I have to get home,” I told them.
“I know, but give me a second, at least,” Trail said, hurrying ahead of me and smiling that smile.
“You always think that just because you have a cute smile, everything will just work out how you want it,” I said.
I could see the flash of embarrassment on their face. “Yes, well, you love to prove that wrong, don’t you?”
“I am doing my best to put you in your place.”
“But seriously, Green, come on. Just a second.” They took my hand. For a moment, I was flustered. It was all according to the script, though. It didn’t affect me for long.
Trail pulled me to a quiet spot in an alley behind the school.
“So,” Trail said.
I gave them a look I had to practice quite a lot.
“I was thinking we could go on an adventure.”
“That didn’t work out so well last time,” I said.
“Right, but this time, I’ve got a better plan,” they said, smiling. “There’s an orchard, down the road a while. A long walk, but worth it. We should go and eat some fruit and relax.”
“That doesn’t sound like something Dally and Ford would be up for.”
“Just us. They can entertain themselves for a night.”
We looked at each other for a moment as I smirked. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s a date.”
“Maybe it is,” Trail said.
“Only maybe?” I leaned in, backing Trail up against the wall a bit. “That’s a shame.”
“Then let’s just call it a date,” Trail said, squirming a little. “I wouldn’t want to disappoint…”
I had practiced the kiss so many times, from so many angles, so many approaches. But I was still nervous when I went in for it.
I stayed close afterwards, just like I was supposed to. “I highly doubt you would…” I said quietly.
They kissed me again, just like they were supposed to.
I backed off.
Trail laughed their nerves away, looking down the alley for a moment. “I’m really glad you’ve come out of your shell.”
My stomach dropped out from under me. That wasn’t part of the script.
“Who knew someone so… mmm…” Trail chuckled. “Anyway, I’m just glad you’re comfortable enough to just be you around me now, no nerves holding you back. Almost feel lucky I got you hurt.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was glad they were looking away from me, as I’m sure I looked completely shocked. I felt like I was going to throw up.
They turned around and smiled. “We’ll leave tomorrow morning, alright? When the bell strikes 7? I’ll wait outside your house.”
I shivered. That was on script. I knew what to say to that. “Don’t be late.”
“Hey, have some confidence,” they said as they walked past me back towards the street. “You’re the one who said I wouldn’t disappoint.”
I waited until they were out of sight, and then nearly fell to the ground, sitting, gathering myself.
“There’s a lot to practice tonight, I’m afraid,” Dreamweaver said as I opened my eyes. She was looking through her papers, smiling. “This will be a very long date.”
“Yeah… I’m sure…” I said.
She handed me a piece of paper. “We’ll start from the morning, of course.” She was smiling happily. “I’m also proud to report that the script involves meeting your goal late in the afternoon.”
“Meeting my goal?” I asked. “You mean…” I took a breath.
“Yes,” she said. “Another reason to get to work. There are a lot of techniques involved and given how long you wanted to practice the kiss from the last script, you will want ample time to work on this.”
“So let’s get started!”
I was suddenly in my bedroom. I looked down at the paper in my hands, but then just looked away, breathing for a bit. There was a knock at my window. I ignored it, trying to gather myself.
Dreamweaver reappeared. “Is something wrong, Green? That was your first cue.”
I looked to her. “They said they were glad they could see the real me now…”
Dreamweaver nodded. “Ah, yes, I did fail to include that in the script. I apologize. The probability was low. Still, it didn’t affect the outcome in any important way. To compensate, I have made a few small changes to this script here, the script for two days from now, and a very minor change in a conversation about a month away. That’s all, very minor. It’s nothing to be concerned about.”
“You have our conversations planned over a month in advance?” I said, shocked.
Dreamweaver seemed confused at my reaction, but nodded. “After about a year and a half out, there are too many variables to properly plan, but otherwise I’ve got it covered, don’t worry. I can work from there when the time comes.”
“But, wait, you said tomorrow we’re going to… well…”
“Copulate?” she said, trying to be helpful.
“Yeah… I thought that was the goal.”
Dreamweaver nodded. “Yes, but I assumed you would not be satisfied with just once, so I’ve been working to build a more lasting relationship so that it would become regular occurrence. Is that not what you desire?”
“W-well, I mean…”
“If you have other goals, I can modify the plan to meet them too,” Dreamweaver said, smiling. “Just let me know. I am here to help.”
“But, Dreamweaver… they… Trail said they were seeing the real me…”
Dreamweaver looked confused again. “Yes, that’s correct.”
“I’ve just been saying what you’ve told me to say…”
Dreamweaver smiled. “And we’ve been quite successful so far, wouldn’t you say?”
“But that’s not me! That’s.. That’s your script!”
“You’re the one so expertly executing on the plan, Green.”
“But it’s not my words…”
“You’re saying them. They are your words.”
I frowned at her. “Stop it…”
Dreamweaver frowned. “Have I done something wrong?”
“Maybe… maybe I’ll just handle this date myself… without your script…”
“I wouldn’t recommend that…” Dreamweaver said, thinking. “It would be likely that…”
“No, no, this… this whole thing is just off… I don’t want to lie anymore… I… thank you for getting me this far, but I’ll take it from here, okay?” I said, looking up at her and trying to look confident.
“Green, I am trying to tell you that…”
“I can handle it.”
“…alright.” Dreamweaver smiled. “I understand. I wish you luck with it.”
And with that she was gone.
“Hey, Green,” Trail said as I walked out the door. “You ready?”
“I guess so,” I said.
“Guess so, huh?” Trail said, grinning. “Well, you better be. This date is going to be quite a lot to handle.”
“You think so?”
“Yep. Let’s go.”
As we walked down the road, Trail talked. For the first time in weeks, I didn’t know what to banter back with. I nodded as they told me about some gossip from school I’d been oblivious to.
“You’re being quiet,” they finally said.
“Today, you’re being quiet today…” I looked to them. They seemed concerned. “You feeling alright?”
“Yeah, yeah… just… I like listening to you,” I said.
Trail chuckled. “Well, I like listening to you, too, you know. You can’t leave me hanging on that, can you?”
“I suppose not…”
“Then come on, you talk, then…”
What was there to talk about? We walked and I tried to think of something interesting. I’d mostly just been studying, in one form or another. “Have you started on that history paper yet…?”
Trail frowned. “Of course not… I’m here with you, being all date-like…”
Trail stopped. “You really must not be feeling well. Are you sick? It is a long walk…”
“N-no, no, I’m fine, I’m just…”
Trail put the back of their hand to my forehead. “You don’t seem feverish, but I mean, not like I’m a doctor…”
“I’m not sick…”
“Then what’s wrong?” Trail took my hands. “You can talk to me.”
“I know I can… I just… don’t know what to say… or if you’d believe me…”
“I’m serious… it’s… weird and it doesn’t…”
“Green. Try me.”
I took a breath. I guess it was something to talk about. “I’ve… ever since I fell down that hole I’ve been having these weird dreams… about a god named Dreamweaver…”
“And she’s been telling me what to say to you, but I just… wanted to be with you instead, you know? Not just… tell you what I was supposed to say…”
Trail gave me a very confused look. “I don’t understand…”
“She’s… well, I mean, she was just…” I said, looking for words. “I just wanted us to work out… so she was telling me what was going to happen… and…”
“Look, back up,” Trail said, frowning. “She?”
“Oh that’s… what she said to say…?”
“And… she… said for you to say lots of other things to me…?”
“Well… yes… she was… trying to help us get together…?”
“So basically you had a dream telling you we were destined to be together?”
There was a pause while Trail looked me over, trying to read me. Then they burst into laughter. “That is the corniest line I’ve ever heard! With such a ridiculous setup! Oh my goodness, Green, what?”
“I mean, I like you a lot, but we are not some destined couple, goodness… is that what you think? We’re just having fun, right?”
“Well, I mean, I hoped…”
They shook their head. “Look, let’s just get you home. You’re obviously having a bad day or something, feeling bad, to be spouting this. We’ll try the date another time, maybe.”
“It’s alright… let’s get you some rest, okay?”
They forced me home, and back inside. I sat down, unsure what to do.
“You’re back early,” my parent said, yawning as they exited their bedroom. I must have woke them up. “Thought you’d be gone all day…”
“Sorry to wake you…” I said.
“Things… didn’t work the right way…” I said.
“That’s a shame…” my parent said, and then froze.
I felt several hands on my shoulders.
“But that’s why I’m here,” Dreamweaver said, smiling. “To make sure things go the right way. You could spend tomorrow doing chores with your parent, or…” She turned me around. My house faded into an orchard. Trail and I were wrapped in each other on the ground. I was working their shirt off… and more… It felt somehow wrong to keep watching as Trail was soon naked, but I didn’t want to turn away. “Your day could end like this. We still have time to practice, if you’d like.”
I turned to look at her. She held out a script page to me, smiling brightly. I could see the words on it, words I’d just proven I’d never say otherwise. Words Trail wanted to hear.
I sighed, and took the page.
Thank you very much for reading my story! If you liked it, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me. There’s plenty more stories and things coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!