Writer’s block. I can’t believe it. I’ve never had writer’s block in my life. Jamás. Niemals. Jamais. I know exactly what caused it, but that doesn’t make it any better, dammit. It’s George’s fault. And I can’t even actually be mad at the little burro, truth be told.
Of course it had to happen right at the point when Sheila or the publisher might approach me with requests for changes to Faerie Storm any day now. Ah, well, I wouldn’t have time for that right now, anyway.
But I have to write something. And if I can’t work because this damnable writer’s block won’t get out of my head, I’ll have to distract myself some other way. By writing my diary, for instance, which I’ve neglected for much too long anyway. And who knows, perhaps it’ll help; remove some mental boulders or something.
Apart from the guys, nobody would believe me anyway, so I can just as well put the stuff in here. And if anybody ever finds it, they’ll think it’s an exercise for a new novel. Let them.
Mierda. I am beating about the bush and writing rubbish just to somehow fill the lines, and don’t you think I’m not aware of it, Romans and countrymen.
All right. Enough with the procrastination. We’ve got problems – again. As if the ones we’ve had so far weren’t enough.
Let’s keep things short – the dream eaters are around. Well, actually that’s nothing special. Actually, they always are around, sneaking into people’s dreams and taking a nibble here and a bite there, without the dreamers being hurt or even noticing that something is happening at all.
But ever since Gerald Raith hosted his bis Halloween party last year – and let’s not get me started on that one, Romans and countrymen, or I’ll be sitting here next year, writing – this Summer fae Antoine, Edward’s mother’s new boyfriend, has been selling these funny faerie drugs.
So far, we haven’t had very much to do with him, neither with the drugs themselves nor with Antoine or Mrs. Parsen, because Edward has been avoiding them as much as possible. But at Alex’s birthday party a few days ago we noticed a few people who looked horribly tired and bleary-eyed, and some of them were really irritable to boot (Roberto knows what I’m talking about). The girl I talked to was not so much irritable as sad and tired. She told me that she used to have such wonderful dreams since she began taking Antoine’s stuff, much more colorful and much more beautiful than usually, but for a while now she hadn’t had any dreams at all, she said, not even the boring, mundane sort, and she wanted the wonderful dreams back. And when she’d finished telling me all this, she promptly left to „try again“.
All of which sounded a lot like typical addictive behavior, if you ask me. First the high, of which you can’t get enough. And then it fails to materialize, so you need more and more and more of whatever it is that provides the high. And now, Alison has stopped dreaming entirely, so perhaps she’ll need another drug than the one she’s gotten from Antoine so far? A stronger one, perhaps? Hah. Honi soit qui mal y pense.
The other bleary-eyed party guests told us more or less the same story when we asked them. All of them had taken Antoine’s stuff, all of them had had these colorful dreams, and with all of them, they had suddenly stopped and they weren’t dreaming at all any longer. And interestingly enough, in their last dream they’d all seen a grey figure which fit in with the respective scenery and which deleted everything from their dreams which it touched. Until at some point the entire dream was gone, when the figure touched the dreamers themselves, which caused them to wake up – and made them unable to dream from that point onwards.
Muy sospechoso, mis amigos.
Antoine however, whom we asked right out after we’d heard all this, seemed honestly surprised because this was an effect he’d never intended. He only wanted people to have “pretty dreams”, he said. After all, that was why he’d given Alex a jar of red honey for his birthday with the exact same comment.
So the next day, Edward examined this honey in his lab. His extremely well-equipped lab, mind you. No high-tech at all, it’s all Erlenmeyer flasks and Petri dishes and test tubes, a brass microscope and good old chemical handicraft, but very well provisioned. And tidy. And spotless. Romans and countrymen, considerame impresionado.
Long story short, at the purely mundane level, the stuff was exactly that – honey. But since Edward examined it from a magical perspective, as well, it soon turned out that eating it opened a door into the Nevernever and that – if I understood it correctly – a copy of the scenery found there will be projected into the sleeper’s mind where he or she may then watch and perambulate at his or her leisure. Completely harmless, in theory, without side effects and not addictive either, as far as Edward could tell.
We called Jack „White Eagle“, who was only too willing to meet us because it seemed a pack of maddening and spiritually hungry senior citizens had just descended upon his hippie commune. Unfortunately, though, Jack wasn’t able to tell us much more about the stuff either. He’d taken it once, he said, and when he did, his dreamscape had looked vaguely European, but he hadn’t met any grey-clad eraser of any sort. After this one time, he hadn’t taken it again, and now his dreams were back to normal, just like they’d been before.
That was the point when Edward had to go to work, pronto. His boss wanted him to provide support to a U.S. Marshal who’d come to town in search of someone.
A Marshal Martin. Yes. Not a coincidence. The marshal was Alex Martin’s sister, to be exact. And of course the guy she’s looking for is embroiled in our dream eater mierda – but that was a little fact we didn’t know yet at that point.
It was just that Edward was still on the phone with us when he arrived at the precinct, so we heard when Sergeant Book introduced the Marshal as „Dee Martin“ and said that she was looking for a certain Ortego Ruiz who had absconded from the Witness Protection Program.
Not a crime as such, actually, but since the trial for which he’d gone into witness protection had been appealed and Ruiz‘ statement was needed again, she had to find him asap, said Book.
Later, Edward found out that Ruiz had been a member of the Santo Shango and had testified against the Latin Kings at the Trial. Yay. Well, if I’d testified against the Latin Kings, I also would have joined the Witness Protection Program, Romans and countrymen. The picture which Edward showed us seemed vaguely familiar to Totilas and me – we’d seen the guy hang out at one of Pan’s South Beach parties when the Summer Duke had invited us to one of the things and we hadn’t been able to turn down the invite.
Right. A visit to Pan, then. Claro. First, though, Alex went to meet his sister. Very cute young lady. Even though she’d probably drill me another orifice if she knew I’ve used the word „cute“ to describe her. And she’d be right, because it isn’t the best-suited word at all, actually. Damned pretty. Damned attractive. Competent. And fairly businesslike and cool, probably because she constantly has to prove to everyone in the tough guys‘ world of the Marshals that sie is not cute, thank you very much.
How I know all this? Erm. Yes. Roberto, Totilas, and I occupied a table in a back corner of the restaurant and took a peek. After all, we had to see what Alex’s sister was like. And we almost would have gotten away with it if Roberto hadn’t stared over to the siblings‘ table so conspicuously. Ah well. We had wanted to leave independently of Alex and Dee anyway.
Pan’s party was another of these shindigs where you shift into the faerie world at some point on the beach. I really wonder if Pan isn’t violating any laws of Faerie by letting every vanilla human who happens to stumble upon one of his bashes into the faerie world, just like that. But he probably can afford to bend a rule or two, after all he is the Duke of the Summer Court here in town.
And who was standing right next to him, in the shining armor of a Knight of Faerie and with a sword by his side, in the best of moods and obviously el mejor amigo de Duque Pan? Got it in one, Romans and countrymen. Señor Ortego Ruiz, large as life.
Sir Anders (that’s right, none other than Sir Anders Thunderstone, the fae because of whom I had to duel Edward last year) was present as well. He harbored no rancor towards us – after all, the duel had restored Cassidy Grey’s honor, lifted his resentment against me, and in addition he’d won the Storm Children at the auction.
(By the way, Sir Anders told us that Ms. Grey must have been kidnapped, because one day she had vanished without a trace, and a lot of his valuables with her. And yes, he was totally serious when he said it. I mean, the man’s a fae, so stricter rules of politeness apply. You don’t just laugh in a faerie knight’s face, but I honestly was having trouble containing myself. Poor Anders. I actually felt sorry for him.)
Anyway, Sir Anders was not at all well disposed towards Ortego Ruiz. He did not like the fact that Ruiz has been Pan’s First Knight for a while now at all. For one, Ruiz seems to have killed when he bested – and thus replaced – the previous First Knight in a magical duel, for another, he treats women with no respect whatsoever, and finally he exerts a very bad influence on Pan, who is not the most stable of fae at the best of times.
But at least we had found Ruiz, and that’s why Edward went to call Marshal Martin and tell her where to find us. Oh, and right. I’d seen something scurry around Ruiz, something small and black and shadowy. But I couldn’t see what it was, and I was too busy to think about it for a while.
For Ricardo Esteban Alcazár was invited to an audience with a veritable Fae lady, Romans and countrymen. The woman called herself Lady Fire and was – of course, she’s a fae! – breathtakingly beautiful, but hey. Lady Fire. Flame hair and glowing eyes and too hot to touch. I did it anyway, of course. Touched her, I mean. Twice, actually, at the beginning and at the end. After all, I couldn’t refuse to kiss her hand when she held it out to me. But ow, ow, ow. I’m just glad she didn’t insist to walk arm in arm with me, as she wanted to at first. And I’m just glad that there was a filled champagne bucket near her pavilion. Ow.
As it turned out, the lady is a great admirer of my books. She just can’t distinguish entirely between fact and fiction. Eric Albarn is the one with the Indian ancestors, not me! But hey, what writer can boast that he has an honest-to-goodness fae among his fans – and that he has been told by said fan himself. I certainly was very impressed, Romans and countrymen.
But I’m afraid I’ve done something stupid.
I told Lady Fire that the next book will be out soon, and she replied that she’d actually already read it. Cólera. It’s not done yet! At any rate, somehow I let slip the remark that it would be an honor and a pleasure to give her one once it was entirely finished. And I would have paid quite a sum to be able to take back the words as soon as I’d said them, because what exactly is Lady Fire? Correct. A faerie. And what don’t faeries like at all? Correct. Gifts or presents. Brilliant work, Alcazár.
I wanted to wriggle out of the mess by hurriedly adding that such a book didn’t count as a real gift at all because as an author, you’ve got boxes and boxes of presentation copies at your disposal to shower people with, but I don’t think that helped, really. Actually, I’m afraid it might have almost made things worse. But in the end, we did come to the amicable agreement that of course I’d never take back my given word, and that Lady Fire would give me a fitting present in return. ¡Madre mía, ayudame!
Once that was out of the way, I brought the subject around to Ortego Ruiz, too, even though she positively started fuming at the mention of this „creature“ (unquote). She obviously likes him as little as Sir Anders does, or even less.
By the time I managed to extricate myself from the lady, Edward was back, with Alex’s sister in tow. She confronted Ruiz and exhorted him to return for his statement in the revision trial, but he only laughed and sneered that she was free to try to force him, if she thought it would help. Which it wouldn’t, because his magic was stronger then hers.
Wait. Alex’ sister, magical? But well, Alex isn’t exactly vanilla, either, so I shouldn’t really be surprised, I guess.
Oh, and yes. The guy is just as much a misogynist as everyone had said he was. That fact was made quite clear by the manner in which he talked to Dee. And even more by the fact that he was just leaving a room with an unconscious girl slung over his shoulder when Dee stepped in his way. And with whom he simply kept walking when the confrontation was over. Unfortunately, we were not able to stop the cabrón. Faerie laws of hospitality and all that. And what’s more, the guy really seems to be plenty strong as far as his magical punch is concerned.
I mean, he was with the Santo Shango, so he can do Santería magic. Now, as Pan’s First Knight, he’s been given faerie power to go with the job. And let’s not forget these little shadow creatures which scurried about him. At this second opportunity, Roberto identified them as so-called oneirophages, i.e. dream eaters, oh ye non-Greeks.
As I’ve said above, the things usually are completely harmless. They’re little wyldfae who feed on dreams but who usually only nibble a bit here and there. Roberto, however, told us that the specimens scampering around Ruiz clearly looked bigger and better fed than oneirophages usually do. Small wonder, if these particular representatives of their kind gobble up entire dreams instead of just taking little bites. Which is not good at all for the victims, by the way, Roberto knew. He must have read a book about the things once, or something, because fortunately he was damn well informed about the little critters.
Because once a dream has been devoured in its entirety, a victim usually won’t recover. He or she will then be completely cut off from his or her dreams, and human beings must dream in order to process what they’ve experienced during the day. And if you can’t do that, at some point you’ll die of it.
Mierda. We have to find a way to give these people their dreams back.
For this reason, the four of us went to talk with Antoine once more. Alex, meanwhile, wanted to find Hurricane, tell him about his father’s current state of mind and ask him to make sure that Tanit didn’t meet Pan until the Summer Duke had gotten rid of Ruiz‘ influence. Because an encounter of the two in Pan’s current mood… wouldn’t be fun. Would be extremely explosive, to be exact.
Antoine had been severely battered. He himself was not willing, or able, to say a word against Pan’s First Knight – faerie honor and faerie oaths and all that – but Antoine went for a little walk so that Mrs. Parsen told us what had happened. Er. Antoine went for a walk, and Mrs. Parsen talked to us. Entirely unrelated events. Naturally.
After he had heard from us that there were negative side effects, which he had never intended, Antoine wanted to stop producing his three types of dream drug. Ruiz, however, beat him up and reminded him of his oath to the Summer Duke – and the Duke’s First Knight. It seems like that while Ruiz and Antoine had planned to produce and distribute the dream drugs together, the fae had had no idea that his buddy the Knight wanted to go feed oneirophages with them.
Back from his walk, Antoine told us a bit more about how those drugs actually work, which fortunately was information he could give us without going against his oath. As we already knew, there are three variants of the stuff. Their effect is triggered by different stimuli, but the actual result is the same. Confirming Edward’s lab analysis, Antoine described how a portal to the Nevernever, leading to one of a few clearly defined locations, is briefly opened and a copy of the scenery uploaded into the dreamer’s mind. This probably is how the oneirophages can enter the dreams – after all, they also have to open such a gate into sleepers‘ minds for regular dreams. Furthermore – and this was a piece of Information of particular interest for us – if you are in the Nevernever and if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you can see these portals opening.
So Alex had Antoine describe what these few clearly defined locations can be. Fortunately, the fae has linked his drugs to only five different places, all of which he considered interesting but basically harmless. After all, he didn’t want to hurt anybody.
And yes, Alex could take us there, being Eleggua’s emissary and all that. So we geared up against faeries – lots of cold iron, knives, brass knuckles, and whatnot. I’m just glad that we didn’t get stopped. The cops undoubtedly would have thought we were a street gang with all the hardware.
We agreed on the „Garden of patient roses“. I thought that judging from its name, the place might potentially be too cluttered and confusing to hunt dream eaters, but I was outvoted. I don’t know. Whenever Roberto really wants something, he usually gets his way. Anyway. I’m not going to say ‚I told them so‘, but the rose garden would definitely not have been my first choice.
Because it was damn cluttered and confusing. And we were handed our asses. On a platter. On the one hand, it was hard enough to see the stupid gates in the first place. And on the other, those little critters were really, really fast.
Let’s keep this short. We saw a few oneirophages scurry about in the garden. Then, a gate opened and Alex „did the Gandalf“, as he called it later. I don’t even know why I was surprised by that remark. After all, everybody’s seen Lord of the Rings. I just hadn’t pegged Alex as the type who likes to spout geek references.
Anyway, the Problem was that Alex barred the oneirophages‘ way. Which made him target no. 1. And the little buggers were fast like you wouldn’t believe, Romans and countrymen. They constantly attacked Alex, and Edward as well, giving them countless tiny scratches which nonetheless added up. Counterattacks were useless, iron knives or now. Small wonder, since we didn’t hit anything at all.
And then… I don’t even really know what happened next. Or rather, I know exactly what happened next, I just don’t know how.
I only know that I wanted the little pests off my friends. And then I suddenly remembered we were in the Nevernever. In the faerie world. Where almost anything is possible. So, well… I can’t really explain it… I concentrated, picturing it as vividly as I possibly could, and suddenly… there was this cream cake, looking exactly as I had envisioned it. And the oneirophages pounced on it and started gobbling it up, which gave Alex the breather he needed to open us a gate back to the real world.
Right. The approach of catching the oneirophages in the true Nevernever had been a complete bust. But Roberto remembered that once they have entered a dream, the things cannot only take on any shape fitting the respective location but are also able to speak there. Perhaps we might simply talk to one of them? Keep them from fully consuming dreams that way? After all, if they only nibble a bit, they’re not hurting anybody.
Great idea, but it had to be planned properly.
First of all, how could we make sure that we shared the same dream? If we all took the drugs and then went to sleep, we all would end up somewhere else.
So only one of us could fall asleep while the others would have to enter his dream from the Nevernever together with the oneirophages.
Jack would be able to help, he said when we called him. There was this Native American sweat-lodge-and-smoke ritual which his People used to create dream worlds. This ritual might support our endeavour and point us in the right direction. He said he’d prepare everything until we got there.
So far so good. Next question. Who would fall asleep, i.e. whose dream would the others join?
Somehow, everyone volunteered. Alex was out first, because he would have to be the one to lead everyone through the Nevernever, so he’d have to stay awake. The other three then all named good reasons why they should be the one to take the drug.
At the end of the day, however, yours truly remained, Romans and countrymen, simply because logic dictated that I’d be the one to do it.
All of the others have magical talents to some extent or the other, which they would either keep or lose in the dream. I was the only one of whom we knew that he’d be able to do more in the dream than in reality, cream cake erat demonstrandum. And if it were my own dream to boot, I’d hopefully have even more power to shape it than in the mere Nevernever.
Huh. Here in the privacy of my own journal let me admit I was not entirely at ease with the idea. Then again, I thought it was pretty exciting, too.
What was less exciting was that we had to strip naked for White Eagle’s sweating ritual. It was okay to bring our weapons and gear into the sweat lodge, but we weren’t allowed to wear anything.
Oh, and before we started, I spent a few hours preparing for the dream. Because if I wanted the others to be able to find my dream from the Nevernever, it had to be a specific one, and not just any of the five possible locations. We agreed on the Icy City in the Far North, so in the afternoon I sat down and wrote an ice poem. It was neither particularly good nor particularly original, but I’m a novelist, not a poet, dammit, and it would hopefully suffice to take me into the ice dream. I was just glad that Alex‘ birthday gift from Antoine had been some of the red honey, not the green pills. Because otherwise I would have had to search my entire iTunes library for snow- and winter-themed songs, because the pills are triggered by music, not by poetry like the honey. And somehow I doubt that it would have been enough to listen to one of my Snow Patrol albums.
Long story short: it worked. Lodge. Smoke. Six naked, sweating men, one of whom eats a few spoonsful of honey, then recites an ice poem. Well. Reads an ice poem. Marshal Dee fortunately wasn’t present, by the way. She probably wouldn’t have been too embarassed to undress in front of all of us for duty’s sake, but there was the teeny tiny little problem of a certain time in the monthly cycle making it impossible to participate in the ritual. When the woman has her period, that is. Don’t beat about the bush like that, Alcazár, nobody is going to read this apart from you, anyway.
Be that as it may, I actually did fall asleep after a bit, with Jack still performing his ritual and chanting Native American shaman chants, and really ended up in the icy city we’d already heard about.
The others turned up too after a while, through a portal from the Nevernever as planned. Since it was my dream, the first thing I did was envisage some clothes for us before we started looking for the oneirophages.
It took a while before we saw one. In this dream, befitting the scenery, it had taken the shape of a grey snow leopard. We approached it, but Totilas was a bit too, well, aggressive in his attempt to stop the critter. He charged at the leopard so quickly that the dream eater wanted to get out right there and then, but Alex closed the opening gate. I then tossed it a freshly envisaged snow hare while we called out that we only wanted to talk.
And after the oneirophage had gobbled up the snow hare and shifted shape to that of one of the tall, thin city dwellers, we really were able to talk with him.
We learned that these special dreams taste incredibly delicious to his kind, no comparison with regular dreams at all. Therefore it is really hard for the oneirophages to show restraint in Antoine’s drug dreams and they are wont to guzzle up the entire dream if they can. Which is why it might be a bit difficult to persuade them not to, I’m afraid – kind of like telling a gourmand at a feast not to devour the entire buffet but to stick to a few choice bits.
„Soooooo yummy,“ he purred, rubbing his back against a house – which promptly vanished. And that was not funny at all. I can’t even describe it properly, but it kind of felt like an eraser rubbing through my mind with an awful squeaking sensation. That was part of my imagination he was eating there!
We also learned from the dream eater that his kind has a mistress, a mother. Someone had entered into a compact with her, he said, but he didn’t know any specifics. All of that had been agreed between the mother and that other party. He (the dream eater, that is) only came into the special dreams to eat his fill. And whatever he ate was given to the other, but what the other did with it, he didn’t know.
The oneirophage agreed to take us to his mistress, but he wanted something in return. He’d already gotten the snow hare, I replied, but that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more, and something complex at that.
Something complex. Of course. Ah well. I hadn’t liked at all how he had rubbed away the house earlier, but it couldn’t be helped.
So I concentrated again, like I had with the cream cake back in the Nevernever, and envisaged him a music box. The most complex music box I could possibly think of. With lots of cogs and wheels and springs and pegs. With a moon phase display. With a weather display. With a number of tin soldiers indicating the respective hour. With a mechanical bird singing the time at the full hour. Much too overdone, much too massive, but hey, he wanted something complex.
Because it was my own dream, I didn’t even have to put in much of an effort. I imagined the music box in all details, and a moment later it appeared before the oneirophage. He purred around it for a moment in joyful anticipation, smacking his lips in relish, before he began sucking it in very, very slowly.
And, ¡madre mia!, that hurt, Romans and countrymen. Tío, how that hurt. I could positively feel how he tugged each and every wheel from my imagination separately. I think I almost passed out from the pain, but I kept upright somehow.
To distract myself, I asked the dream eater, who was sitting there with a visibly extended stomach and who was happily licking his lips, whether he had a name.
He didn’t even know the concept of names, so I had to explain to him what they were. He didn’t have one – of course not, if he hadn’t known that something like names even existed – but he would like to have one. And while I was still thinking about what name would best suit an oneirophage, Roberto simply called him „George“.
I thought the idea of a faerie creature called „George“ horribly silly at first, but it probably was much better that way. Who knows what high-faluting rubbish I would have come up with had they let me.
Our dream eater, meanwhile, enthusiastically accepted the name for himself, mumbling it a few times under his breath. And then Edward had the presence of mind to come up with a brilliant idea. „Can you say that again,“ he asked, and with no hesitation whatsoever the little fae replied: „George.“
Whoa. Even I know by now that the person’s or creature’s True Name gives power to those who know it. I felt something like a shudder go through me when George told us his name, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way he pronounced it.
At any rate, George took us to his queen as he’d promised. Once he’d left my dream, he looked like an oneirophage once more – small, black, spindly, bizarre. And he couldn’t talk any more. But I almost felt like I could make out words in his chattering.
Oh, and since we weren’t in my dream any longer, we all were naked once more. Yay.
George led us through the Nevernever until we reached a cave where lots of other dream eaters were scuttling about. And at the end of the cave, there was … something. A shape, billowing and swirling, apparently made from the same substance as the other oneirophages but less … solid. The creature flashed heads in different places and in irregular intervals, then vanished, only to appear again elsewhere with a somewhat different appearance. And these heads spoke to us… with a time delay. Which was pretty confusing, to tell the truth.
The queen of the oneirophages, full of hatred and anger for Ruiz, showed us the heavy iron shackles by which she had been chained to the cave wall. And not only was the chain made of iron and the oneirophage a fae, the lock – particularly complicated and with several keyholes, all of which were moving constantly – was magical in nature. I might have known.
And I thought I’d seen the key on a chain around Ruiz‘ neck when we were at Pan’s party. I might have known that, too.
So we didn’t manage to undo her chains right there and then, but we promised the queen that we’d do everything in our power to allow her to return home as soon as possible. Because she does not belong here – Ruiz summoned her from her home in the far reaches of the Nevernever against her will.
That was the point when Alex opened a portal to the real world for us. For a moment, I was really truly convinced that we wouldn’t come out in Jack’s sweat lodge but somewhere else, somewhere it would be particularly embarrassing if five naked men suddenly turned up out of nowhere. But fortunately, it was only a short moment of unfounded panic before we safely landed back in the commune.
But George’s eating that music box did something to me. I’ve had this damned writer’s block ever since. I just hope it’ll go away at some point. ¡Madre mia!, how I hope so!