Scary, very scary if you know about Striders, bonding and this pair.
(Additional note, it was this picture that inspired me to start The Dreamwalker - which is why it appears as part of the story that it wasn’t originally meant to be)
It happened again. I got out of the shower and went over to the mirror above the sink. When I went to wipe off the moisture, I see the other Strider. No one I know. He’s cradling someone in his arms and tries to speak.
I’ve never heard what he has to say. It never lasts long enough. But every time, it gets clearer. Every time, I feel like I’m finally closer to hearing what he has to say. It’s probably time that I asked.
“Dad, got a question,” I wandered out of the bathroom trying to work out where I’d find my dad.
“Yes, Goby” the dads answered in chorus. I hate it when they do that. It’s like they live on the same wave length. I should have known they’d be snuggling on the couch before dad Sam went off to work. They always snuggle if they can.
“Sorry, Dad,” I said to dad Sam. “It’s a Strider question.” I turned to my other dad, Jericho.
“There’s this thing that’s been happening the past few days. I get out of the shower and see another Strider when I look at the mirror.”
Dad Jericho looked at me. “Is the mirror wet?”
“Well, it is till I wipe it off to get a better look.”
“Damn, boy, you’ll never get a better look that way. What have you seen so far?”
“All I know is he looks like his heart is about to break in two and he’s holding someone.”
Dad Jer templed his fingers as he thought it over. Dad Sam took one glance and decided he might as well head off for work. I waited for a bit but my dad waved me away when he noticed I was still hanging out.
Another day, another shower. This time, as I was headed into the shower, my dads both entered the room.
“Dad! Do you mind?”
Dad Jer shook his head. “You asked me about the Strider in the mirror. I have two theories, either he’s attempting to create a portal or he’s dreamwalking. If it’s a portal, I should see him too. And there won’t be much time to decide what to do. If he’s dreamwalking, you are the only one who can see him. And you’ll be the only one who can save him.”
“Can’t you come in after the shower?”
Dad Jer shook his head. “Time is short. We have to see the mirror when it’s wet. I’ll have a better idea what it is and you’ll have to make your decision then.”
“Jericho explained the dreamwalking as a living nightmare. For a Strider, there is some chance that they won’t be able to distinguish the dream from reality. And depending on the dream, that could cause them to die, just as if it were reality.” Dad Sam told me.
“So, if it’s a portal, and you decide to go through and help, there’s little we can do. If it’s a dream, your body will stay here and we should be able to pull you back if things seem to be going badly.”
Dad Sam looked at me with a twinkle in one eye. “We thought the time of day might make a difference. So we came in now. Run the hot water, even if you’ve decided to put off the shower for the moment.”
The dads looked at each other. “Where did we go wrong with that boy? He’s body shy.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should try again? We need practice at toddler taming.” By this point, the dads were completely wrapped in each other, nothing less than a parade of pink elephants was going to interrupt Dad Jer trying to convince Dad Sam that it was time for a baby. You would think with me and my 5 siblings, that they already had plenty of kids for one couple. I once asked Dad Sam why he always let Dad Jer win. “I like babies and it’s fun to let Jericho convince me that we have to have another one.”
So I went ahead and took the shower. When I got out, I quickly pulled on fresh clothes.
Dad Jer was staring at the mirror. “Nothing. I see nothing,” he told Dad Sam.
I walked over to the mirror. “But he’s right there.” Once again, I saw the Strider cradling someone in his arms.
“Then it’s a dreamwalk. I think whoever it is has been caught in this loop for some time. Goby, I mentioned before that there are dangers involved in a dreamwalk. If you believe in the dream, it can kill you. But if you don’t go, whoever that is will probably die in this dream, sooner or later. He’s calling you. Will you answer?” My dads stood quietly waiting for my decision.
I glanced at my dads, then looked back in the mirror. The other Strider was clearer than ever before, nearly weeping over the body he clutched so tightly. Before I could ask Dad Jer what to do, it started to fade again. “Help me,” said the Strider in the mirror. And with that, he was gone.
I found that I was shivering as much as though I was the one who desperately needed help. “Dad, he’s gone again.”
Dad Jer nodded, “There was a good chance that would happen. It’s probably the point at which he wakes. If he lives, he’ll be back in this nightmare again.”
I looked down to find that the sink was full of water. “Why?”
There was no answer to my question. The water slowly left the sink and enveloped my head. It was salt water, not fresh.
“I set up the salt water tanks if that’s not enough,” said Dad Sam.
I think Dad Jer replied. I’m pretty sure he did. I have no idea what the reply was.
I didn’t hear the reply because even more water appeared and for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by salt water. I was a true Strider. Breathing was tricky while my body switched from lungs to gills. As for the rest of me, it felt so weird. Like some part of me was coming to life, some part that I didn’t even know was missing until now. “Holy goddess. Dad? What the hell?”
My dad kept the water surrounding me for some minutes. Then finally he sent it back to the various containers. I abruptly sat on the floor, shaking like a leaf. “What happened?”
“It takes salt water to truly trigger a Strider’s abilities. If you had grown up in the depths, that would have felt perfectly normal to you. But you’ve never been covered with salt water before, and for that, I am sorry.”
“Dad, why did you have this little sink full of water?”
“If you had decided to try Dreamwalking today, I was just going to cover the mirror with water and ask you to touch the glass through the water. Since the contact broke off so quickly, I decided that today we should go ahead and thoroughly do it. You were so precocious as a toddler and then your abilities with water stopped.” He turned to Dad Sam. “Sam, I think it’s time that we took the family for a holiday at the beach.”
“No.” Both Dad Jer and I stared at Dad Sam. That was his serious ‘I am never ever going to change this answer’ no. Then, softer and quieter, “No, my love. We need to move. We need to find a large house near enough to the ocean that you can smell the sea. Preferably so that you can be swimming in two minutes. Since I’ve known you, you’ve always missed the sea. But this…” he paused then shook his head, “I had no idea that our Strider children needed the presence of salt water like that.”
“Sam, your career.”
“I’m a cop, Jer. I can get a job anywhere. When we find a suitable place, the family moves. Unless you can tell me three times over that you have no desire to be closer to the ocean.”
My first Dreamwalk was a blur. I remember Dad Jer holding salt water against mirror. Dad Sam holding me with one hand and Dad Jer with the other. “I will be your anchor. I should be able to transmit Jer’s power if you need need more. And help you find your way back when you are ready.” I could feel their love binding me to this time and place.
The actual journey, so weird. The Strider was so solid. And so frightened. His fear threatened to warp everything, it took all my concentration to keep what control I could. He begged for me to take him with me. I agree and turned to follow my anchor home. I could see my dads, waiting and watching for me.
I felt it when he looked back into the depths of the Dream when we leaving. Doesn’t he know, you never look back while you’re here? Behind you is what you fear most. Seeing the thing you most fear, gives it reality in the Dream.
We made it though we had to force our way back. His eyes widened when he saw Dad Jer. He said, “Father, ” and fell over.
Dad Sam and I stopped staring at the Strider and looked at Dad Jer. Dad Jer’s eyes never left the Strider on the floor.
“Jer, do you have something to tell us?”
Dad Jer lightly touched the Strider on the floor. “I’ve never seen him before in my life. And yet, yes, he is my blood. He is my son. But how?”
It was about then that he went into convulsions. Dad Jer grabbed his shoulders and Dad Sam his legs, trying their best to keep the Strider from hurting himself as he thrashed. “Goby, fill the tub. Now!” shouted Dad Jer.
I went to turn the taps when two voices bellowed “Salt water, Goby. From the tanks.” Even Dad Sam remembered what I failed to, that a Strider’s native environment is the sea. In my rush to grab the sea water, I could hear the tanks break. I had pulled the water straight through the glass sides. God, Dad was going to kill me when he noticed I ruined them.
When the tub was full, the dads carefully placed the Strider in the tub. Dad Jer pushed his head and shoulders under water. Dad Sam kept his legs and knees submersed. If you didn’t know the truth, you would have thought they were trying to kill him. It felt like forever before he changed to his full Strider form, I was starting to wonder how badly damaged he was. Finally, his gills and webs appeared and his convulsions slowed to a stop.
The dads continued to hold him under the water until his eyes fluttered open.
“Webs of Suppression” Dad Jer said. I had never heard of it, but it did explain why Nautilus felt strange. His abilities as a Strider were completely cloaked.
“Maybe I should go,” murmured Dad Sam as he removed his hands from Dad Jer’s shoulders.
Dad Jer shook his head. “Don’t let go, Sam. I need you. I need your strength.”
I had always thought of Dad Sam as just a normal Sim. But today I was realising that he was far more. I could sense him nearly as strongly as Dad Jer during the Dreamwalk. When he put his hands back on Dad Jer’s shoulders, Dad Jer’s powers multiplied and Dad Sam felt like a Strider. Their bond made them a far more powerful team.
Dad Jer carefully unravelled one web at a time. The first few were simple. He could find a key thread or two that anchored the web, destroy them and the web would dissipate. I could feel what he was doing but I had no idea how he did it.
As Dad Jer went deeper, he depended more on Dad Sam’s strength and his love. Dad Sam freely let his energy be used by Dad Jer to unravel the webs. He stood there stoically behind Dad Jer with his eyes closed just gently touching Dad Jer.
Dad Jer was nearly done unravelling a very complex web when Dad Sam quietly and suddenly collapsed on the floor. Dad Jer involuntarily whimpered as it happened. Still he persevered unravelling the web, albeit much slower now.
When that web finally faded away, we got our first idea of Nautilus’s Strider power. Given the number of webs left, it was impressive.
Dad Jer sank to the floor and sat cradling Dad Sam’s head in his lap. “Goby, find Monica and tell her to cook dinner. Two or three times what we usually have.”
“I want lots of steak.” said Dad Sam faintly. ”I’m starving and I have such a fucking headache, you’d never believe it.”
Dad Jer gently kissed Dad Sam’s nose. “Right, if we have any steak, cook all of it. And as for you, clean up that mess you made of the tanks. I don’t want a single speck of glass left anywhere.”
He looked at Nautilus. “There are still Webs of Suppression all over you, but that’s all we can do for the moment. Sam and I need food and rest before we can do anything more.”
As I was about to wander off to find Monica, I took one last look at Nautilus. His eyes opened and I took a step back in shock. His eyes were no longer the same blue of Dad Jer’s eyes. They swirled with clouds, large heavy storm clouds and lightning flashed in one eye then the other. Even his hair moved as though winds were whipping through it. The dads turned to look at Nautilus then and each reacted in his own way.
It was about then that I noticed the weather outside was changing extremely fast. A huge storm was approaching, the thunder seemed to be in answer to the flashes in Nautilus’s eyes. Nautilus spoke. “You have done far more than you know, Jericho. My thanks to both you and your mate.” Like his eyes, his voice had changed. There was a hint of the growl of thunder now.
Nautilus looked at my dads, exhausted on the floor. He came to a sudden decision pulling power from the storm outside with such strength that I could feel the flow of energy. The charge flashed from him to Dad Jer then to Dad Sam, it felt like a small lightning bolt. The dads cried out and I rushed toward them. It was obvious that Dad Sam was feeling better as he and Dad Jer stood up again.
Goddess though, Dad Jer said Nautilus was still partly bound. If this is what he can do when he’s bound, what the hell is he capable of? Was he bound from fear or had he been bound and exiled for abusing such power?
I was still thinking about that when he turned pale, asked me to protect his dreams and fell back into the tub. I looked at Dad Jer.
“Yes, do it. He is the most powerful Strider I’ve ever encountered, however he’s still very vulnerable. It may be his enemy won’t find him in this Verse, but a Dreamwalker doesn’t need to find the Verse, just the Dream.”
I nodded and sat on the edge of the tub so I could touch Nautilus. I found myself wondering how long he would sleep and if he would dream at all. It wasn’t long before a dream started. I felt his Dream self moving.
“Nautilus, wait up. You said we’d all be fishing today.” I took control of his dream, leading him to the lake where the family always went fishing. I generated a dream Jericho already standing there fishing.
At first, the Dream Nautilus seemed perfectly happy. He fished and chatted to the Jericho I created. After awhile, he got restless. He suddenly dived into the pond. I searched ahead to find that there was a gateway leading deeper into Dreams. It would take him toward where he’d been trapped.
I used my power to pull us from that dream to something safe and dull. Suddenly we were at school, in the middle of history class. With some concentration I made sure that it was a good dream where things went well in class, not the nightmare where you can’t remember a single detail that you are supposed to know.
At lunchtime, I tailed along behind Nautilus. He was headed for a large fountain. One that wasn’t at my school, and I hadn’t added to the Dream. It was another gateway leading deeper.
After that, things grew to a blur. I offered Dream after Dream. And each time, Nautilus was drawn to a gateway leading deeper.
He was right to fear to sleep. There had to be some compulsion driving this. Until the compulsion could be broken, he was in grave danger any time he dreamed.
Dad Jer quietly came into the room. “See if you can wake him. There’s a table full of food and we’ve had enough fainting in this house for one day.”
It seemed nearly impossible to wake Nautilus up. No one but the Strider who trapped him would ever know how long he spent in the Nexus. It was long enough to exhaust him.
“Come on Nautilus. You have to get up.” I tried the old fashioned gentle shake of one shoulder.
“Just a few more minutes. A few more minutes of glorious sleep.”
Having seen what Nautilus was capable of, I did not wish him to wake up frightened or angry. I did panic slightly when I realised that he was slipping back into a dream. I dived into the dream after him.
“Nautilus, stop.” He froze in mid-stride as I grabbed control over the dream. “You have to wake up.”
“I don’t want to.” I could feel him reaching for storm clouds. I couldn’t be sure that the sleeping Nautilus wasn’t pulling a real storm when the Dream Nautilus did. So I created a vast pond of fresh cold water and then dumped about half of it on Dream Nautilus. He vanished.
I pulled my conscience back to the real world to see Nautilus glaring daggers at me. He was finally wide awake.
“That was totally unfair.”
“Dad Jericho said that there’s food and we want to get there before the hordes eat all of it.”
“Hordes?” one eyebrow went up.
“I have 5 siblings and food doesn’t stay long on the table. And I can’t just leave you sleeping here. You were right, you need to be protected from your dreams.” I started to tell him about it as we walked toward the dining table. I hope there’s a few scraps left, Dad Sam isn’t the only one starving today.
The table was crowded with plates of food on top of it and people sitting around eating.
“Everyone! This is Nautilus. Nautilus, meet my twin Monica,” a dark haired teen Sim nodded. “The twins Seahorse and Anemone,” a boy and girl Strider waved. “And finally the twins Coral and Polly.” One more Strider and one more Sim waved at Nautilus, the girls just barely school aged.