dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous
Chapter 6 - Dreamlands
"Hot monkey sex, why else?"
"Coffee, coffee, coffee."
"There's a stranger on our couch!"
"Go get some fresh air, Kieu."
Ayel finished writing her report on her findings about the cargo. None of it appeared out of the ordinary, given that the warehouse was just an intermediate stop along the transport route and not an endpoint. She saved the file and put away her laptop. Ayel could hear her bed calling to her, beckoning her to slumber.
The blonde woman crept downstairs, not wanting to wake anyone else. Benedict Fluffybutt followed her, taking each step with a short jump and landing far heavier than he looked. Ayel shushed him, then picked him up. The calico cat purred, rumbling like a diesel engine. The blonde woman laughed under her breath. For all the reputation cats had for being stealthy, Sir Fluffybutt couldn't be quiet even if he tried.
Ayel got out of her clothes and into her pajamas, an old faded red t-shirt and grey shorts, in record time. Making sure she knew where Sir Fluffybutt sat in the room, she turned out her light. She felt her way to her bed, a path she knew by heart, then tripped over a fuzzy solid. "Benny!" she hissed. Ayel picked up the cat, then crawled into bed.
Kristi finished cleaning up in the kitchen. Cooking was fun, cleaning up afterwards, not so much. At least her roomies were willing to pitch in, which always helped. Even Ginger tried to be of assistance, though the tiny woman's help was more managerial than anything else. Kristi took a quick shower, letting the hot water and steam soak into her.
She dried off, hanging the towels on the shower rod before putting on her night clothes, one of her dad's old flannel shirts and a pair of grey track pants. In her room, Ginger waited on the bed' headboard, still wearing her tea towel. Kristi made a mental note to stop at a fabric store. She wasn't sure what she needed to get, but Ginger needed something else to wear. Kristi crawled into bed. She felt Ginger land on the bed just above her head. The tiny woman crawled over Kristi, settling in at the crook of the tawny-haired woman's arm. Kristi shifted, giving Ginger some room on the pillow.
The woods Ayel found herself in were far deeper, far darker than she'd ever seen in her life. Pine trees loomed over her, blotting out the sun. The ground was covered in needles. Ayel walked forward, one bare foot finding a solid bit of ground before the other moved forward. A wind picked up, swaying branches and teasing Ayel's hair. She shivered, wishing she had worn something more than a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. A thought flared in the back of her head, then faded. "Hello!" Ayel called. Her voice echoed through the trees. "Hello! Can anyone here me?"
A voice returned her call. "Hello?"
Ayel recognized the voice. "Kristi? Where are you?"
"Keep talking! I'll find you!"
"Kristi? Kristi!" Ayel spun around, trying to find her business partner. "Kristi, what the hell is going on?"
The tawny-haired woman emerged from the forest, wearing a flannel shirt and track pants. "I was going to ask you that?" She stopped beside Ayel. "Aren't you cold in that?"
"Yes. Where are we? And don't say, 'In a forest.' I will hit you."
"I was thinking back home, but the trees are too tall."
"Great." Ayel leaned against a tree. "We're lost in a forest and I'm wearing my PJs for no appearent reason. And, quite franky Kristi, you are not the first person I'd choose to dream about. If things are going to be spooky, I want Sam Winchester here."
"Sam? You prefer Sam?"
"You don't strike me as a Dean type."
Kristi smirked. "I want both. At the same time."
Amused laughter surrounded the two women. Ayel pushed away from the tree. Kristi looked around, trying to find their audience. "Hello?" the tawny-haired woman said.
Rustling sounded from the underbrush. Ayel pressed closer to Kristi. "This isn't funny!" The blonde woman took a deep breath. "Last time I had a nightmare this vivid, I'd taken NyQuil for a cold."
"A nightmare?" The voice reverberated through both women's bones. "I suppose, from a certain point of view." The rustling drew nearer.
Ayel turned, placing her back against Kristi's. "Show yourself already!"
A raccoon's head poked out from behind one of the giant pines, grinning. "How's this?"
Ayel and Kristi stared down at the animal. "You're kidding me." The blonde woman rubbed her temples.
Kristi knelt down to the raccoon's height. "Hello there. I wish I had a treat to give you."
"No, you don't." The raccoon walked out fully.
"How--?" Kristi blinked.
The raccoon sat on its hind legs and spread its arms wide. "Welcome to my forest. Lovely, isn't it?"
"Your forest?" Ayel took a step towards the striped animal. "How is this yours?"
"I made it." The raccoon craned his neck as he looked around. "Maybe a little overboard?" He snapped his fingers. Beams of sunlight streamed in, warming the forest. Birds began chirping. "It's always the little details."
"I'm dreaming," Ayel said. "When I wake up, this will all fade away."
"Now you're getting it!" The raccoon clapped its hands. "Except, it won't. Won't fade away, that is."
Kristi stood up again. "So, if this is a dream . . .?"
The raccoon bowed. "Who is the dreamer? Not a great riddle, really. I mean, which one of you would dream up something like this?" The raccoon took a few steps towards Ayel. "You've never been in a real forest before." The animal tumbled, somersaulting one roll towards Kristi. "And you come from where the cold stunts the forest." The raccoon brushed out the dirt from his tail. "Or maybe I'm dreaming and you are just figments of my imagination. Which is weird, because I don't normally care for human women in sleepware."
Ayel covered herself with her arms, grabbing on to the fabric of both her t-shirt and shorts. "Look, it's been nice chatting with you, but I just want to get out of here."
"And you will, when you wake up. That's the nature of dreams. But the dreams of nature have their own course to run."
"So, we're trapped?" Kristi asked. "Stuck here until we all wake up, whenever that is?"
The raccoon shook its head. "No, of course not." From out of nowhere, the animal pulled out a violin case and a fedora, which it put on at a rakish angle. "I've gots an offer that youse can'ts refuse." The raccoon looked up expectantly. "So, how did you like my Cagney? 'You dirty rats!'"
Ayel and Kristi exchanged a glance. "Um, look, we really have no idea what's going on," the blonde woman said.
"Maybe some introductions are in order. My name is Raccoon." He held out his paw.
Kristi was the first to reach down to shake hands. "Hello, Mr. Raccoon, my name's Kristi."
"Oh, no, not Mr. Raccoon. Raccoon." The animal's voice gained a deep timbre.
Ayel shrugged, then shook Raccoon's paw. "I'm Ayel."
"No, you're not. You just think you are. It's rude to not give your real name after I've given you mine."
"Ayel is my name."
Kristi pulled on the blonde woman's arm. "You might want to listen to him. I think I know who he is."
Ayel shrugged out of Kristi's grip. "Everyone calls me Ayel. That's my name."
"Don't argue with me, please." Kristi nodded at the animal. "I think I know who he is."
Raccoon smiled. "I knew you were bright, Miss Kristi. Indeed, I am. Blondie, perhaps you know Coyote, Eagle, and Raven better? They always got the better public relations."
Ayel stared at Raccoon. "You?"
"Me. Bringer of Sinkholes."
The blonde woman blushed. "My name is Amber-Leigh. Please call me Ayel."
Raccoon took Ayel's hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Ayel."
"Amber-Leigh?" Kristi repeated.
"Kristi, don't. Just, just don't."
Raccoon sat back on his haunches. "Now that introductions are out the way, let's get down to business. I need your help. We need your help."
"You need our help?"
Kristi elbowed Ayel. "Shush. Let him speak."
"In the days of old, we spirits had the full run of the Land. Of course, there were humans, but they saw us a wise beings. Well, most of us were saw as wise beings. Some weren't, but that's another story." Raccoon shrugged. "That great era could not last. Humans from across the ocean figured out how to make the voyage without everyone dying, and once the first settlers arrived, more followed. Even that, we could have dealt with. After all, everyone then had superstitions." The striped being leaned up against a tree, pulling out a candy cigarette from thin air. "Neat trick, huh? Anyway, the settlers had their own legends and they brought them over in their ships."
Kristi crouched down. "Do you mean religions?"
Raccoon waved a paw in the air in dismissal. "No, that's something else entirely. That was more social, really, though with a bit of authority behind it. No, I mean legends. Like I am. Well, maybe not like me, though I am legendary. Bandit extrordinaire! Stealer of valuables! Tugger of tails! Sinker of holes!" Raccoon winked at Ayel. "But your people have legends, too. Even your religions couldn't hide them. That brings us to now."
"The literal now or the figurative now?" Kristi asked.
"Figurative. Though it could become literal. Now is always nebulous even though it's always now. I recommend Spaceballs for a better explanation of now."
"We're getting off track," Ayel said.
A set of railways tracks appeared under Raccoon. "Right. This comes back to your help. The fae have never been the type to play nice. You have rituals to prevent them from harming you. It's even in the language used to describe them. 'The Fair Folk'. Ha! They're capricious, duplicitous, and conniving, and that's coming from a bandit. And they're coming. They're not happy with their large landhold. They always want more."
Ayel sat down against a tree. "Aren't you supposed to be a trickster? How can we trust what you say?"
Raccoon clutched at his chest. "You wound me, madame." He reeled back, overacting a death scene to the point of holding up a lily as he lay flat on his back. "Okay, sure, I am a trickster." Raccoon tossed the flower over his shoulder as he got back on his feet. "The key word there is trick. Wait, no." He scratched his ear. "That supports your argument, not mine. Oh, yeah, that's the spot." He scratched harder, his left foot tapping the ground furiously. "Aha!" Raccoon stood up on his hind legs. "Okay, sure, I am a trickster, but the goal is the funny, not the trick." A cream pie appeared in his hands.
Kristi scrambled back. "I get the point. No need to demonstrate."
"Sure there is." Raccoon raised the cream pie up, then threw it into his own face.
Ayel and Kristi covered their mouths, trying to stifle their giggles. "Okay, point made," the blonde woman said.
"See? You laughed. I heard you. I have amazing ears." Raccoon licked the pie off his face. "Mmm, coconut cream pie. I need to remember that for the future." He tossed the pie plate aside. "But the fae? They'd never hit themselves in the face for a laugh."
Ayel nodded. "And you want us to stop them?"
"Bingo. You two. Actually, you three, but I couldn't bring your other friend here. I tried earlier, but she almost never sleeps and when she does, she's dead to the world. I think there's some bureacracy involved, too. You know how I said your ancestors brought over their legends. That's true for everyone who comes over here. We're one big mosaic of legends. It's great, until one set decides that it wants to rule the others."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Kristi asked. "Three of us against all of the fae?"
"There's more than three of you. Not all fae are power mad overlords. Even the legends show that some like being with humanity. Look at your little friend. She's not out to rule, just to have fun." A fog creeped in through the trees. "Our time is running out. Miss Kristi, Miss Ayel, you won't be alone. I am not the only one recruiting. You will meet others working to protect the Land." Raccoon bowed as the fog drifted over him, obscuring him. "Thank you."
Ayel awoke with a heavy weight on her back. She shifted, trying to turn over. "Benny, you're too big for that." The cat replied with a purr that Ayel felt through her bed. Ayel gave up and flopped back down, arms and legs spread. The dream, she could still remember it through the fog of waking up. It was odd. If she had her druthers, Sam Winchester would have been there, but talking animals were another matter completely.
As she settled in to snooze until her alarm, her cell phone blared. Sir Fluffybutt tore off her back, claws snagging on her blanket. "Benny, ow!" Ayel reached for the phone. "Hello?"
"Ayel, it's Kristi, we really need to meet. I had the strangest dream last night."
"Anyway, Raccoon recruited us."
"My boss was reviewing the security tapes for the week."
"We'll need him to call a lawyer for us."
"Didn't the Aztecs do human sacrifices?"
dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous
Chapter 7 - Skirting the Edge
"When I wake up, this will all fade away."
"I've gots an offer that youse can'ts refuse."
You will meet others working to protect the Land."
"I had the strangest dream last night."
The next day
Kieu looked from Kristi to Ayel and back. "You two had the same dream."
Kristi nodded. "That's what happened. It sounds crazy."
Ayel set down her extra-large double-double. "It is crazy. There's also no other explanation."
"You could be trying to confuse me," Kieu said. She glared at the blonde woman.
"Kieu, you could have been there, too, except I don't think I've ever seen you sleep properly." Kristi reached over and patted the dark-haired woman's hand. "And maybe because of legends of your homeland. The talk did get weird, even for a dream."
"At least we were clothed," Ayel said.
Kieu set down her breakfast sandwich. "And there goes the appetite."
"If Ginger isn't a problem for you, why is us sharing a dream?" Kristi asked. "It's not like either of us wanted it. We were brought in by Raccoon."
Ayel looked around. "Where is the little invader anyway?"
"She's not going to like you calling her that, Ayel." Kristi sighed. "She's at home. Last I saw, she was taking a bubble bath. Which reminds me, I need fabric. Do you know where I can get some?"
"The unbelievable part is us stopping all the elves and such from invading," Kieu said. "Invading from where? With what? How? And why us? My grandparents were refugees in the Seventies. I have no ties to any of the First Nations tribes. I doubt any of us do."
Ayel shrugged. "Great point. My father's side came from Sweden, where there are trolls, the cute helpful type that no one wants to light on fire. My mother's side is French Canadian, and all they have are flying canoes."
Kristi stared at the blonde woman. "I need to hear that story."
"I'll send you the YouTube link. It got used for the Vancouver Olympics."
"Really? That was a real thing?"
Kieu gave her head a shake. "That's still not, you know, First Nations."
"I am," Kristi said. "I'm Cree, as is my mother and most of Moose Factory. My father's family is from Germany, but I don't know when they moved to Canada. Before the First World War, though."
"It's near Moosonee, up along James Bay." Kristi saw no recognition in Kieu's face. "It's a real place. It shows up on Google Maps."
"It must be warm down here, then."
Kristi rolled her eyes. "Anyway, Raccoon recruited us. All three of us. And maybe more."
Kieu pulled out her tablet. "What does this have to do with our current case?"
"Probably nothing. Probably everything. Who knows?"
"Probably nothing," Ayel said. "I couldn't find anything in the cargo that was unusual. Kristi, what about the art?"
"All lesser works. Nothing important, nothing known to be carrying curses. Some of it is worth real money, but stealing it means finding a buyer, and I think Alex's boss is the only buyer for that art here in Ottawa."
"It is real!" Kieu waved turned her tablet around to let Kristi and Ayel see what was on screen. "There's even a street view of it!"