Stars of Clay Episode Three: Lost Moon
"Hey," said Clay with a little wave. Amy sauntered across the dark cockpit and took the empty seat on the right. As a quick stabilization technique, she pulled her fiery-red mane to one side and stroked it, just staring at Clay who she now recalled to be someone else entirely. None of this made any sense, but then again, it was only a dream. "How much do you remember?" he asked, thumbing through the countless buttons and switches above his seat. Random sections of the ridiculously tall dashboard twinkled in harmonic waves, casting an eerie rainbow that danced across his face. "I'm pretty sure you were my imaginary friend when I was a kid. Bobidunk?" "Kind of a name upgrade, huh?" said Clay, "New name, new body... Oh, look at that! Here's a button for flying lessons, right up your alley." "Clay, I..." "Ah, and here's a dream stabilizer. That's super handy." He pressed it and Amy felt a significant shift in grounding. This particular dream was already feeling lifelike, but now there was just a bit more weight in her center, and she suddenly noticed how tired her legs were from running. She let go of her hair, and said softly, "I'm sorry, I can't believe I forgot about you." "Ah, well," he replied, looking in any direction but hers. "New dream, new me, right? Oh nice, a switch to deactivate your CogniChip." "Well, I would never get one of those, so..." "Me neither." He flipped it anyway. "So, um, the whole of relative time and dream space. Where d'ya want to go?' "Can we go back in time?" Amy asked, perking up. "Or forwards, or sideways, whatever you'd like. The 'Multiverse of the Mind' as they say." "Can we go back to the last time I saw you?" Clay finally found her eyes and she was so relieved that he didn't seem angry. "Aw, Amy," he beamed like a child reunited with his lost VR tablet. "you do remember me. Ok, to the CogniCorp building it is--" "Huh? No, the last time I saw you was when my mom died." The 'Time-skip' button released mid-press, and he cleared his throat. Then there came a faint ringing as if a million microscopic bells were struck in succession, growing louder with ethereal resonance, eventually harmonizing with the waves of lights chasing their own prismatic tails across the endless dashboard. The giant screen above cleared away and a new image phased in- like a movie being played in reverse. In it, Clay was flying backwards over a sparkling lake, then up a waterfall to land on a high cliff. Suddenly there were two people on this cliff and --wait, is that me? she thought wildly. What is this? Another dream? Oh God, my hair is all over the place!" "Well, we'd been flying a lot," Clay said aloud, and for the first time she didn't care if he had read her mind. Bobidunk was always doing that, in fact she couldn't recall if her childhood imaginary friend ever spoke out loud in her dreams. "I don't remember this..." She scanned the whole dream in reverse, to the point of meeting Clay in the CogniCorp building where her mom used to work in real life. Apparently, it was their first day, and orientation was getting very dull. Though there was no audio, tiny bits of information were knowingly revealed as she watched, and yet- "I don't remember this at all." "No? Memory's funny like that, I guess." He pressed the button again and closed his eyes, "hang on, I'll have to channel the other last time you saw me"
Time Travel, by Justin Phillips. Quartz Crystal. "So this isn't our first dream together? Well, I mean with you, as Clay?" "Gee, you're quicker than I thought. But let's talk about it later." His finger released and after another chorus of bells, the cockpit shook with a loud thwomp. The screen now showed a moon-sized Earth at day, then zoomed all the way down to the golden peaks of the Ozark mountains, central USA, mid-autumn. Here was the house where she was raised, crowded in on a tall hill with countless other Florida implants following the great marsh floods. Seeing it, Amy was drowning in waves of childhood nostalgia. A tiny picket fence surrounded a tiny house the size of a single room; from what she remembered, these houses went several floors down into the hills to make up for space lost to modern times. After her mom passed, dad sold the place and moved them further inland, where it was cooler and had plenty more opportunities to grow. "Before we go in," said Clay, pushing another button. "A bit of invisibility. Don't want to freak our past selves out." At the cockpit's rear, a round door slid open with a hisssss that could have been audibly matched, at random, to any of the cheesiest classical sci-fi shows; she stood and faced it, wondering how the new Bobidunk turned out to be such a huge nerd. He promptly answered "Because you are," and her eyes rolled so hard she almost woke up. Gravity was a bit different in the ship, so that Amy could walk straight out the door into the top-down view of her childhood home, zoomed in like it was on the giant screen. Clay shot out in full superman pose, not quite acing the landing, unless he was aiming for the neighbor's rose bush. With a more delicate approach, little clouds formed beneath her shoes as she stepped boldly into the air-- Ah screw it, she thought, and leapt into a flying pose of her own. After some exhilarating acrobatic flips and twists, her feet touched delicately on the fluffy lawn near the front door as Clay scrambled over the fence, bloody and bruised. "I forgot to shield before crashing," he whined, and quickly patched himself up by a hand's healing swipe. "Ah, I remember this place. You used to dream about it a lot." "Yeah, I did. So, are we really here? Like are we visiting the real past, or is this just another dream?" "Beats me, I've never done it before. But it's possible, I was able to cross over to your physical realm before, when I was Bobi-- the other me, if that's what you mean by real."
Beyond the Veil, by Justin Phillips. Labradorite and Moss Agate adjacent. Amy stepped up to a window and peeked in; the kitchen was always the first floor in these mountain stackhouses, hers was hauntingly empty. Her parents were wonderful cooks and at least one could be found bustling about the top floor at any given time, so if this was truly the day her mom died, then they'd all be a few flights down, in her parent's bedroom, awaiting the worst. They met at the door and entered directly into the kitchen. Even Clay seemed to be wrapped up in sweet nostalgia, going straight to the fridge as Bobidunk used to when he visited late at night. He slumped back with news that it was practically empty. In stackhouses, each square room was connected by a square staircase in the far left-hand corner that should have creaked as they descended, but perhaps the invisibility button masked their masses as well. Or maybe, Amy remembered, because this was just a dream. Below the kitchen was the main bathroom, then a cozy living room with three chairs and a fireplace where a young Amy used to lay and draw pictures of her wild adventures with Bobidunk. Next down was Amy's bedroom, she kept going as quickly as possible and didn't want to look at anything. Descending into her parent's bedroom, they were met with the scene she spent years trying to forget: a young but ragged-looking version of her dad sobbing by the bed; her mom in that bed, deathly gaunt and muttering utter nonsense, unable to lower her right hand frozen in a finger snap. It had been that way for at least twelve hours by now, judging by the time holo-projected from the nightstand. Even now, Amy could only guess the agony this might cause, and whether or not her mom constantly felt it until she passed; the thought haunted her for years to come. Ah, and then there was a pre-pubescent Amy standing awkwardly by the faux window (showing a rolling thunderstorm as it consumed a calm Caribbean beach,) looking so sad even her ugly pimples were crying. "Oh Amy, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Clay whispered. "I'm sure I told you that lots of times back then." "Huh? I didn't say anything. Why are we whispering?" "For dramatic effect." No one else in the room responded to their audible presence, so Amy said aloud, "I think we arrived just before mom passed. Look, she's starting to foam at the mouth." "Oh man, I'm so sorry. What turned out to be wrong with her? I remember the doctors couldn't say, and then... well, I never saw you again until I was... you know, me, again." As the guilt piled on, Amy tried her best to remember anything she had learned about her mom's lethal disorder, but it was all just out of mind's reach. Her dream-mind was always doing silly things like that, even while lucid. What she could recall is that she always felt a bit responsible, but never able to pin down why. Maybe if she hadn't been so busy hiding her face, she could have noticed the signs early enough to help. "Hey, what's she saying?" Clay asked, and crept in around Amy's dad for a better listen. "CogniCorp... rainbow dressing... the end of tomorrow... 04..20..85..." Amy scoffed. "CogniCorp makes sense, she worked there. Was one of the first to receive a CogniChip, actually. But the rest is utter nonsense, right?" She stepped over to her younger self slouched at the window and touched her own shoulder, struck by a sudden memory of this very moment, of having her shoulder touched that day, right before her mom died. Back then, she thought her grandmother had touched her, visiting the grieving family in spirit. "Wait, so this has to be real. I think I just proved it." "Oh, nice!" But something was wrong. A few things, in fact. Like the sheets. Her parents adored the Professor Zero show, their bedroom was practically a nerd-altar to it. Here, there were only a few posters on the wall, and that hideous lamp made to look like Professor Zero's purple time machine, the VERITIS; but where were his big goofy head and delightfully corny catchphrases holo-printed all over the sheets? These covering her failing mother were just way too plain, a word that could never be used to describe either of her parents. "We're in a dream then," she said, deflated. "Dang, I really hoped we could go to the real past." "There's that word again. What exactly is 'real'?" "You know, like when I'm awake," she said, "when things really matter." Clay politely informed her of how dreamist that sounded and she figured, correctly, that he meant something like 'sexist', which may have set her off, just a bit. "Excuse me? Who do you think you are? You disappeared for a huge chunk of my life, ya know, right when things got hard!" The lights flickered and the house shook, the angrier she became. "I mean, what do you even do? You get to go off on all these fun, awesome adventures, and yeah I can come too, I guess... but don't you talk to ME about what's real until you spend a day- a day!- out there, in the real world, in pain. You know, I would love to see you try and hold down a job. I'm GLAD that poor little girl in the corner never sees you again, or I would have never grown up!" They were too far underground to hear crickets, but her mom's incoherent babbling was bleak enough to break the awkward silence. Clay blinked slowly and after a reflective moment said, "Ok, I can see you are angry..." And when Amy refused to say more, he bravely continued, "Now, I know emotions in dreams can get real intense..." Amy made the biggest fireball she could muster (which in her state was rather terrifying) and shot it so hard at Clay it blew her dad's hair around. Clay shielded, of course, but she was too distracted to care, struck again with another memory-- of her dad swearing that his mother-in-law's ghost had ruffled up his hair, after a mysterious light flickering. He even thought she had gone through him like a tempered flame, mourning her daughter's ill fate. He talked about it for years. And here he was now, white as a ghost, commenting on it, just like Amy remembered. It wouldn't be long before her mom becomes a ghost too. "I-- I just don't understand! Are we in the real past or not?" "Maybe there is no real past," said Clay, coming back around the bed in hands-up surrender. "I mean, in a dream, reality is created in the moment, constructed by memory, you know? The past too. Even when you're awake, what exactly is the past except for your memory of it? Maybe the question isn't... what is the real past, but what is memory?" "Seriously, that's what you got? I thought you were supposed to be all wise and sagey." "Hey, I never said--" but she never found out what he never said because both her dad and younger self transformed into correctors, coming at them with gnashing gold dagger-teeth and black-hole voids instead of eyes. "What?" she shrieked, "they're here too?" "I didn't think they'd follow us! Usually they go away after a dreamer gets lucid, but you keep narrating them into the story!" Amy had no idea what that was supposed to mean, a reoccurring issue with this guy, who conjured a quick ice wall to block the correctors, and they escaped up the staircase by way of flying and CloudWalking. Up top, the front door burst open and Amy scanned the skies. "Where's the ship?" "Right there," Clay answered, pointing at the sun. He jumped up and flew straight for it. "No, the moon, what happened to the moon?" She followed close behind, running up little puffs of clouds. "Well it's daytime, innit?" He pinched-zoomed at the sun until it was only a short flight away, and upon approach, a round door opened within a festering sunspot; entering was definitely as hot as she expected, but not excruciating. The door closed securely behind them, cutting off all of its brilliant light outside. In the dark quiet, the luminous splash of buttons and switches danced across the dashboard, to some silent song that perhaps only the ship itself could hear.
Some Silent Song, by Justin Phillips. Quartz crystal. Amy slumped back to her chair on the right, Clay to his beside her. She had never before considered a dream to be so exhausting. What was worse, she had been so wrapped up in it ever since Mrs. Larkin ate Sandra at the grocery store (and escaping with that weirdo over there, now geeking out over the countless dream-enhancing buttons at his disposal,) that she completely forgot to look for her dream totem, her cat Bynx. Bynx, a typical black cat who kindly allowed Amy to live in his apartment in real life, appeared as a stuffed animal in her dreams. At first, it was her main way of becoming lucid since she would see the stuffed Bynx and know she's dreaming. As her methodology evolved, she found new ways to wake up inside her dreams and began to seek out Bynx after she was lucid. The feline totem acted as a great dream stabilizer and lucidity anchor; as long as she petted him, she wouldn't wake up. Additionally, the longer she petted him, her thoughts would become clearer, and more akin to how she is when awake. For example, it would be rather startling if she suddenly remembered where she actually worked, since even her lucid mind was still stuck on that awful grocery store. So he was real handy to have around, but there was no way she'd be wasting any energy looking for him now. After what sounded like a button press, a stuffed Bynx fell into her lap from an opening above her seat. She stared at it, then at Clay, then back to the dream totem and started petting it, and said, "Thanks, but why did you do that?" "You said you didn't have the energy to look for him." "No, I didn't, I wasn't even thinking that..." "Oh, my bad. You must have been narrating that part." Amy sighed, the way she does when she's had way more than enough, and thought about how she should wake up. Clay offered a handful of fun ideas; she agreed to click her heels and repeat "there's no place like home" like from one of her favorite classical films. Before fading away, she apologized profusely for losing her temper so often (although he 100% deserved it, of course) and asked that he come find her again (just maybe if they could do something a bit more fun.) When her sparkling silhouette was all that remained, she gave a little wave and awoke.
***************************************** Clayton leaned back, thinking that didn't go half bad. By chance, his eyes rested on the temporal massage button and he pressed it, then melted into his seat and began thinking about where to go next. Maybe he'd scout out a few locations first, before bringing Amy along, since she truly did deserve a fun dream next time. He had a reputation to keep, and all. At the press of a button, the belled chorus brought him to a place he had heard about in his travels but never got around to visiting. On the screen, it looked like any other giant space station out in the cosmic frontiers, but Star City was known to be the most luxurious space resort in all the known universes, and God, what he wouldn't do for a cocktail...
Title artwork used with special permission from Shaun Power. @shaunpower90 on instagram.