Monday, August 17, 2020

Soul Sleep

The lucid state: a knife edge between sleep and waking, harnessing the full cognitive power of the brain, generating dreams of perfect reality. The difficulty lies in maintaining that delicate balance for a satisfying length of time. But as for everything else, they make a pill for that. A sandy-haired youth in a black jacket can attest to it.

Brent marched his shadow elf around the floating city, setting off TNT kegs to destroy hordes of skeletons and giants. He took wild chances, punching the giants, dodging their predictable, programmed club smashes. Only someone who had played the "Soul Break" stage two thousand times  could get away with that. Inevitably he grew jaded.

With the game complete, he settled back to contemplate a vial of sickly orange fluid. That had been a quest in itself. He'd spent months on lucid dream sites earning enough trust to track it down. It was guaranteed to induce a long-lasting lucid state, that phenomenon he'd experienced only twice--and briefly at that, because the shock always kicked  him out. The potion would prevent that.

Having primed his mind with the game, he quaffed the sour tonic and got ready for bed. The priming was vital: it wouldn't do to come awake in a random dream, where telephones were wired to the floor, or some such dumbness. What a waste. He scratched irritably at a mosquito bite on his ear.

He was in a small, ornate cell he knew well--the start of the game. Brent exited to the familiar foyer flanked by two other doors. Forty such doors must be opened, releasing captive spirits to win the game, and these two were pretty much freebies. He touched the red button on each. Blue spirits came running out, then evaporated joyously. Freed at long last. Thirty-eight to go.

He pushed a keg halfway up the corridor, attracting notice of two skeletal pikemen, touching the fuse button when they were two squares distant. This made them arrive just in time to get blown to bits. It was Brent's first inkling of a problem: dreams had no sensory input beyond sight and sound. But the deafening blast had knocked him down and scraped a knee. Maybe it was a touch of irony in how his shadow elf had inflicted major pain of thousands of foes.

Moving on, he tried to pick up a fallen halberd, but of course it wouldn't budge. Grimly he worked his way down twisting passages, littering the place with scorch marks and bits of bone. The first of the arenas guarded by giants was a pulse-pounding experience. But that same experience had Brent on autopilot. He dashed to a dead end, dodging skeletal archers, and quickly moved four barrels as a barrier. When the giant stomped in, he lit the first fuse, which chained all four kegs. Added to the sensory tally was the stench of death when the giant went up in gobs of meat.

An arrow nicked his thigh as he raced around the arena freeing the three souls there. Blood. This had not been a good idea. It only got worse when he encountered the coldmage on the east platform. The boney magician threw bolts of sizzling cold, and near misses stung Brent with sharp icicles. Yet he pressed on, now at the halfway mark.

An unfamiliar door appeared next to one of the spirit doors when he reached the airship chamber. Was it the way home? He couldn't risk it, because the denizen would probably ask him if he'd freed all the souls. He blocked it with barrels just in case, and moved on.

At last Brent had destroyed five giants and a hundred boneys, coming full circle back to the mysterious door. He stared at it, feeling the chill moan of wind that ghosted through the city. He was actually sweating. Phantom screams echoed from somewhere. Summoning some grits, he reached across the barrels to touch the red button.

He should have known the barrels wouldn't stop her. Cut scenes could not be interfered with. She glided forth and levitated over the barrels, this black-skinned woman in gold African armor. Very scanty armor. Programmers needed to get out of the house more often.

"Wait--I know you," Brent croaked. "You're Sylea, the vampire who bites the hero on the ear, so he or she can wear a second magic earring. But you aren't supposed to be here. Your cell is at the Citadel of Pain." Now he remembered. The mosquito bite, and the whole thing about the ear. Damn! Maybe she was a construct of his own mind, but it didn't make her any less dangerous.

Her kittenish voice startled him. "Have you brought me my blood vine?" That tasty plant was found in the Gothic Castle, and was key to her dubious favor.

Brent gulped. "Well, no, but I've freed all the souls. The game is over."

"This will only hurt for a moment," she purred.

She remained perfectly on script, and Brent began to relax. A hole in his ear was a small enough price to pay. Once he was safely back in his bed, he'd reflect on how awesome this was. He turned his head to present an ear.

Sylea turned his head back to face her. "I was really hoping for the blood vine. There is only one thing that is better." It wasn't his ear that her fangs were coming for.

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Dirk shouted toward the kitchen. "Hey Mike, here he is!"

 A sandy-haired youth in a black jacket ran toward Dirk's brawny warrior. "Get me outta here!"

"You don't always see him," Dirk explained as Mike perched next to him on the sofa. "But he's sneaky, so you have to stay sharp." The youth didn't notice the lit keg at a blind corner. El blammo!
"Ha haa! What a dufe. What a dweebus!"

"What happens if he catches you?" Mike asked.

"He latches on like a leech, slowin' you down, and your chance of gettin' killed goes way up."

Mike laughed. "These programmers have a sense of humor, tossin' in a real guy like that."

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Hitchcock: Undone by a bug, as it were. I recall something similar happening to Jeff Goldblum in "The Fly". I suppose we shall need a suitable moral for our tale: If you play with dynamite, use plenty of bug spray.

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