Most people don't give much thought as to how they will be spending the winter holidays - Christmas, Mōdraniht, Hanukkah and the like - until they have forced their way to the front of the calendar and it is too late to decide anything. When the days do come, spending them with family, or at least the people you love, is the most picked option, since despite the frustration it inevitably brings, smiles and peace of mind are not far behind.
It wasn't that Dr Spieler wasn't grateful for how she was currently spending the days leading up to the celebrations. She had, after all, been given a golden opportunity to step into the well-worn shoes of one of the greats in psychoanalysis, even if only for a few months. It would have been ridiculous for her to refuse, being as fascinated by his profession as she was. And she liked to think she was doing a pretty passable job all things considered.
But patients in a mental institution are no complete substitute for a family in the lonely winter weeks.
The majority of them didn't even know it was winter, she guessed. Some of them had been here for so long in this building with the high-up windows that they saw time pass as periods out of bed and periods in bed rather than months and seasons. (For one, the opposite was the case - time passed in 30-second chunks. She hadn't managed to get anywhere with him yet.) But she knew the solution to that: get her colleague's authorization to add festive cheer to the place.
Just as soon as she found a gap where he wasn't following a ball on a string around the couch in an attempt to get answers, that is.
She took her chance as soon as he looked up at her and realized that, yes, she was still here. "[Doctor, what's the policy of Christmas decorations here? Forgive the topic jump, but--]"
"[No, I don't think I will. Going from the thoughts of my subconscious to asylum policy is a pretty big leap, Spieler.]"
Urk. He was still on edge from the last dream analysis session; that wasn't a good start.
"[Then don't forgive me,]" she tried again in her nicest tone, "[but my question still stands. It's literally three days until Christmas, and this place could use some sprucing up. For the patients' benefits, you know?]"
"[Kindermann keeps a Christmas tree in the broom cupboard.]" Dr Wood sounded less terse in his reply, but only just. "[You and Nadel can get it out and set it up when you've finished with this session. And with that, we return to the core of the issue: what did the dream mean?]"
That had answered her question, at least, so she could return to the subject at hand with less distractions. Again. "[Okay. We already know that the ocean is indicative of your state of mind. You're sailing across it, so that could mean you need to be in control--]"
"[Yes yes, we've established all of that. But why did Lilo appear? Why was he the one to push me into the water?]"
"[Maybe you should call him in and examine him some more?]"
"[We tried that this morning, Spieler,]" Wood said exasperatedly, following the buzzing of the ball to the wrong end of the couch. "[What difference would five hours make? He'd still be fiddling with those blocks and we wouldn't get anywhere.]"
[I know the feeling,] she thought for what must have been the twentieth time. The "make suggestion have it denied" routine was becoming all-too-familiar ground, as was the feverish and futile wishing that Kindermann could somehow talk to and help her from Japan. Had he been here, he would have it solved in half the time, and with less growing animosity on Wood's part...
Mind, if Kindermann had been here, that incident with the hypodermic needle wouldn't have happened, nor that trouble with the Halo-Stop-Ultra. If this stint as therapist had proven only one thing to her, it was her relative lack of experience with pharmaceuticals.
And with doctors with their cards way too close to their chests.
"[I'm not hearing any better suggestions,]" she heard from the other side of the clipboard.
She sighed and looked down at her method sheet, hoping that a clue would pop out at her in black and white. Dream analysis was out, as was therapeutic interview, paint therapy... Then her eyes stopped at the word "meditation", undismissed, unmarked. He had rejected this the first time she put it to him, merely using the mat to scrape off some dust he'd gotten on his feet. But if all else had so far failed...
"[Look,]" she began tentatively. "[It's getting late in the session, and we're both going around in circles. Why don't you relax a bit?]"
Wood peered around at her; even through the thick black hood shadowing his features, he seemed angry by now. "[These constant subject changes won't look good on your employee record.]"
"[I'm not changing the subject.]" [This time.] "[I'm suggesting meditation. I know,]" she said over his attempted interruption, "[it wastes time you could be spending thinking. I know. But you can't think properly if you're tense. You can clear the mind for a few minutes, maybe disassociate yourself from yourself - if that makes any sense - and then you'll be able to think it through without that irritation buzzing around.]"
"...[I admit you have a point there.]" He moved back to the centre of the couch, looked down at the string in his hand. "[Once the dream analysis ball starts moving on its own, there's little point in dismissing other equally mystical methods.]" Up at her again. "[Besides. If getting into that disassociated state somehow does help me understand my dream, so much the better, right?]"
"[That's the spirit. I'll get the stuff out and you can give it a go.]" She put the clipboard down and fished out a green-patterned mat and a brass bowl from her bag of supplies as she continued jokingly: "[Hey, you could even get an astral projection. I've heard of it happening before. Maybe that's the control your dream was talking about. Who knows?]"
Briefly, she thought he heard him say quietly, "[Indeed, it could be...]"
Once the mat and bowl were set in place, Dr Spieler made sure to be very quiet as Wood got into the proper position. ("[Toes facing out to the side like this, right? Excellent.]") She hit the bowl with a mallet sneakily borrowed from the xylophone set, sat back down, watched curiously as he touched the humming bowl and made his own body vibrate, and waited.
She could almost see him breathing as he sat there on the mat, looking out into space, far beyond the door, the walls. Breathe in, and out. In, out. Chest rise, chest fall. No noise, no sound, apart from her own breaths, which, she realized in mild bemusement, were already synchronizing with his. She had spent way too long at that yoga club in her gap year; the meditation tips hammered into her were practically autonomous.
In, out, vibration. Serenity. Solitude.
Imagine the sound of the ocean. Imagine waves lapping around, beside, behind. Imagine a salty sea breeze tickling the senses.
Imagine an empty mind, cleared of distractions, focused only on inner harmony.
Imagine being enveloped in a circle, a flickering glow, a shield from the noise of the outside world. Vivid blue and protective and soothing...
...and, gradually, in reality, around Dr Wood.
[What? No, that can't be.] She was getting seriously carried away. The glow was supposed to be a metaphor. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and pictured it gone, as if it had never been. But if anything, it was brighter when she opened them again, increasingly so with each blink.
His calm, reached so easily in comparison, was cracking. Rather than clearing his mind and loosening his body, his feet were tense, his toes curled, deep in concentration. It was like he knew what was supposed to happen here. Like he knew that he was stuck.
She rose silently from her chair and took a tentative step towards him. No change.
She waved her hand in front of his face. No change, not even a different hue in the circle.
Now that she was this close to it, she could feel - something - emanating from it. Not heat, per se, nor electricity, but a presence, something both possible and not.
Gingerly, she phased her fingers through the glow to try and shake him back to reality.
And the presence burst outwards, strong and fierce and physical, definitely real, too real, unreal, and everything was blasted back, herself, the chair, the leaves of the plant in the corner, a clanging tumbling sound, and suddenly a splitting pain on the back of her head, legs crumpling underneath her, and then -
- greyscale, neon shadows, white dots that somehow became circles and dots again twice over, and emerging from the sight and noise, Nurse Nadel's hands on her shoulders, not blue, tanned brown, her nails freshly done.
"[-ler, can you hear me? Say something!]"
"['m okay,]" she managed to say, but it felt slurred and nauseous in her mouth, sounded too, hearing and feeling like the crackle of a badly tuned radio. She tried to lean forward, but more pain erupted in the back of her skull. "[Son-of-a-ahhk--!]" Her hand reached there automatically, and under and through her hair something liquid seeped to her touch, redness over the fingertips. Blood?
"[I don't know how long you've been out.]" Nadel's voice brought a focus she could latch on to, to stop herself feeling woozy and tasting iron. "[I've already dialled 112; the ambulance is coming. What happened?]"
"['dun know,]" Spieler spluttered out, truthfully. "[Was working with Wood 'nd he--]" Something clicked, as best as it could. "[Wood! Lemme stand up, where is he?]" And despite the other's protests, she held on to the knocked-over chair to pull herself up and look over at the couch. The bowl on the floor.
The plush raven on his back. Not moving.
She staggered to the open door, ignoring Nadel reiterating she sit down. The patient lounge was the same. Snake, crocodile, hippopotamus, sheep, turtle, all unconscious. For a horrible moment, the ground shifted under her feet.
"[Th' patients- we have to-]" she tried again to speak, but the nurse would have none of it.
"[They're not the ones with the bleeding head, Spieler,]" she said, gently despite her words. "[Kindermann wouldn't want his first choice working with a TBI for their sake.]"
"[But they're not moving, they-!]"
"[They don't look hurt, so they should be awake by the time we get to the hospital. Dr Wood will take care of them if necessary. He's a professional.]" And she was guided forward and her legs moved against themselves.
[Classic Nadel optimism], she almost thought, but worry and pain obscured the words before they could be voiced, and the next few minutes were a blur of sirens and offers to stay with her just to make sure and the sun outside being way too bright and her just wanting to sleep the confusion away.
This much she could comprehend: there would be no peace of mind for her this holiday.
Somewhere in the void of unconsciousness, Dolly twitched awake.
How had she even gotten asleep? One minute she was lying on her stomach ignoring the noises around her, as usual, and the next minute a sensation rushed onto her from behind, making everything stop, and now she was trying to open her eyes. Trying. Even through the crack of one, everything looked dark, thick and black, like she was still inside a dream she couldn't remember having.
Struggling to wake up was not in itself new for her. It happened every other morning. But in the middle of the day? Great, like she needed unexpected naps on top of everything else---
A sense wafted past her. The blackness had a smell to it, charcoaly, like a seriously overcooked barbecue.
It wasn't unused sleep. It was smoke.
There's nae smoke withit...
Just like that, a fully-aware Dolly was on her feet on edge on end, ready to get out from the fire as quick as she could fire fire the asylum was on fire it was...
...where was the fire? She couldn't see any flames or hear any burning, no matter how hard she looked around.
Where was the smoke, for that matter? For it had vanished just as quickly as it had roused her. Which was stupid. Smoke didn't just up and disappear. It had to have been... but then why did it have a smell if it was fake?
And why was the air electric around her instead? She could feel the static around her wool, leaping from hair to hair. Did lightning hit her in her sleep? Was that even possible?
Then, as if things couldn't get confusing enough in her mind, a wind picked up, blowing against her and making her wool crackle. From where? The windows weren't open, the door to the outside was shut, and there was no way the air-con was that strong. The more she scampered around searching for the source, the fiercer the wind became, until it was only by focused effort she stayed on the ground.
What's gonnae on?! her mind shrieked, and in that moment the focus was lost and a strong gust sent her flying smack into another toy. The impact knocked him partly onto his side, but at least he was now waking up as well, and she didn't have to go through this alone.
The other toy pulled himself up, a little unsteady for the collision. "[Ow. What was that?]" he asked in a high-pitched voice as he rose. Augh, what was his name? He was green, a reptile, a crocodile - Kroko, of course.
"[That was me, sorry,]" she said, as steadily as she could given the gust had now turned into a probable gale.
"[It's okay. You're Dolly, right?]" Before she could reply, Kroko looked at her properly. "[Um, why do you have a wind around you?]"
"[That's what I want to know!]"
"[And why is everyone else asleep?]" he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "[It's not bedtime yet, and we don't sleep in here anyway.]"
"[Great, I can see you're not going to be a help at all,]" she snapped, feeling a familiar anger rise inside her. No no, this was not the time, get it back down, back down...
"[I only just woke up! I'm as confused as you are!]"
"[But you don't have wind around you, so you're a damn sight better off than me!]"
He quickly wrapped himself around the blue pillow lying next to him in panic. "[Please stop yelling!]" he cried.
"[Calm down, both of you,]" a new voice intruded from somewhere. Dolly blinked, spun around the room, looking for this new source of confusion.
The hippo (his name began with L, Lucas, Liesel, Lilo, yes Lilo) was beginning to wake up too, as was the snake (she knew his name, it was Sly, he wouldn't let her forget on his first day). The turtle in the corner was still out for the count, which left only...
Sure enough, the raven with the notebook had just entered from the other room. Dr W-something.
"[Oh good, a smart guy. That ought to make it easier,]" she said aloud, partly to reassure herself... and oddly, as she calmed down, the wind dropped a smidgen. Huh.
"[What exactly is happening here?]" Dr Wood asked once he'd reached them. "[And why is there a wind around you... Dolly, was it?]"
Dolly barked out a rough laugh. "[Why does everybody keep asking me that? You'd think this was new and scary or something.]"
"[There's no need to take that tone. I'm a therapist, just like Dr Spieler. I can help you if you treat me like one.]"
She was going to protest that Spieler let her take whatever tone she pleased, but... now there was a point. Where had Dr Spieler gone off to? If a toy so much as tripped, she'd normally come running, so what was taking her so long now?
Kroko apparently thought the same thing: "[Where is Dr Spieler? She'll know what to do too.]"
"[Not in the therapy room right now, I can tell you that much,]" the doctor informed both of them. "[That's partly why I'm asking you - I only know my side, and I need yours to get the bigger picture. Now do either of you know what happened?]"
"[Not really,]" she said in reply. "[We were sitting around not doing much of anything, then something hit me on the back, and suddenly I was out like a light. I don't know about the others 'cause, well...]"
"[I saw it!]" Kroko butted in again from behind the blanket. "[I saw what hit her - us. It was a blue light, sort of like a circle. I was remembering what the motivational tape said and then it came out from where you were and hit Sly, then Lilo and me, and then Dolly ran into me and woke me up and started yelling.]"
"[Thank you, Kroko, he really needed to know that last bit,]" Dolly muttered sarcastically.
"[Hm. And you have no idea why you woke up with a gust of wind surrounding you, Dolly?]"
"[No-- sort of. Technically I saw and smelt smoke first, then I woke up properly and it became electricity, then the wind came. ...Actually...]" she trailed off, paused, felt a soft breeze tickle her ears. "[It was a lot worse two minutes ago. It's calmed down quite a bit since you started asking questions.]"
"[I noticed.]" Wood looked down at his notebook and started making notes on what was presumably a blank page.
"[What are you writing about?]" Silly question, Kroko.
"[I'm beginning to understand things more clearly now. The intensity of her wind is in direct proportion to the intensity of...how exactly did you feel when the wind was at its strongest?]" he asked.
"[And this occurred directly after the light hit you and the others. A double correlation... double causation? And if it came from...]" He was talking more to himself now, scribbling furiously. Lilo had wandered closer to the three talking by this time and was now watching him write too. Sly just looked on from his usual spot. Was he really even paying attention? She couldn't tell.
But she could see that none of them had any sort of smoke or static or wind.
"[What I don't understand is,]" she said in Wood's direction, "[why I'm the only one who's got this... weather, I suppose, around me. If I'm guessing your thoughts correct and you think it's to do with that blue light, everyone else should be getting it too, but they're not.]"
"[...I don't think that's entirely true.]" He stopped writing and looked around at the curious others. "[In fact... Would anyone mind if I take you back into the therapy room and give each of you a one-on-one session? I'll explain once I have what I need to know.]"
The hippo and crocodile shook their heads, and Sly a little bit too. Dolly did the same - she would prefer he just tell them at least part of his theory now to save trouble further on, but she knew the sense in following a herd.
"[Good. I'm going to start with Dolly, since that will give me a firmer basis to go on, and then I--]"
"Um? Spieler? You out there?"
Dolly hadn't heard that voice yet. Nor that language, not for a long time. Everyone turned to the source - the turtle was finally up, and poking his head out the other door.
"Dr Spieler? Nurse? Hellooo?" he called. "Anyone coming in? Everyone's gathering together over here and I pretty much have no idea what they're talking about, so..."
"Wait, ye can spick English?" Dolly blurted.
This time, the turtle (Dub, yes, she'd just remembered his name, Dub) was the one to turn to them. "Wait, you can too?! Why didn't you say?! I've been stuck with no one to talk to and you spoke English all this time?"
"Ye ne'er bothered tae ask." It came out sour, but she could feel her tail wagging in high spirits. Yes, this was better, speaking in her native tongue, much better.
"I did try, once, but you barked and growled at me. Remember?" he said, scuttling closer to the others on all fours.
"Ah, reit. Sorry abit 'at."
"Pretty fiercely, if I remember right. Not exactly a warm welcome."
"I said aam sorry!" That anger was coming back, doing nothing to prove her point; the air around her was getting hot. (Maybe there was something in Wood's theory?)
"See, just like that."
Dolly just bit her tongue before she could make it worse and turned back to the others. Ah swear, if t'day gits onie weirder...
Dr H Wood, PhD, was certainly not having the calm and smooth-sailing day he had anticipated. He'd thought his dreams conspiring against him and making him think harder than he had for a good while was going to be the highlight, or lowlight, he supposed; until now, meditation not going his way and patients with hitherto unexpressed and unexplained abilities had not even been a possibility.
But he was nothing if not adaptable to the circumstances. Dolly had already re-explained the situation to the turtle, and was now back on the therapeutic couch, resting on the zip running up her stomach as she often did under his watch. (He was facing away from the bloodstain left by Spieler on the wall; it made him feel rather queasy to look at, so he would clean that up when he got the chance.) His growing hypothesis would no doubt be correct - to be wrong was a rare event - but there was no harm in double-checking.
"[Dolly, would you prefer me to speak in English or German for this session?]" he asked, for formality's sake.
"English, please. It's much easier fur me."
"All right." He shifted awkwardly. It might have been better for her, but he had never quite grown accustomed to dropping the German accent in other languages. "How are you feeling right now?"
"Still a wee bit confused, but... dunno." She looked around from her spot on the couch. "Aam nae really sure whit tae feel, tae be honest. I dornt want onie mair nasty surprises."
"Unfortunately, you'll have to deal with one more. Try to remember how you felt the last time you were in this room."
When she had been quiet for a minute with little more than a whiff of wind, he decided some help was in order. "What did the therapist do with you?" he prompted. "What did Spieler say?"
"It was abit a week back, I reckon. Lest I remember, she'd pit 'at silly-lookin' puppit oan 'er hain an' -- wait, yeah, she wanted me tae look at myself in th' mirrur." He traced her gaze over to behind a cupboard, spotting an exposed corner of a partly shattered surface.
"A mirror which you then broke?"
"Hey, I was pissed aff at meself when she did 'at, okay?" she protested, pressing her muzzle into the white material, oblivious to the cloud forming above her head as she spoke. "An' seein' a pathetic creature lookin' back at ye an' 'en hearin' that's supposed tae be who ye really ur... It doesnae help much, ye ken? Other-me deserved it anyway, coz she's glaikit an' deser--"
But before she could continue her self-deprecation, she noticed the rainstorm that had started falling around her. "'at whit ye meant by nasty surprise?" she asked resignedly.
Wood just nodded and added to his notes.
[Patient: Dolly. Progress: stage 2-3. Has 'weathers' that correlate to current emotional state. Primarily air-based, approx 35cm radius.]
When it came to Kroko's turn, he refused to even enter the room until the trail left by Dolly's sadness had been dried out completely. Aquaphobia was usually an easy disorder to work around, but if she persisted in being in a rain-inducing state of mind, Wood surmised as he did so, it could get very uncomfortable very fast.
Still, at least he could get the stain off of the wall at the same time.
Once the crocodile was actually up there, he took the same tack as he had with the sheep, since that had procured results. "[Do you remember what you were doing when you were last in here, Kroko?]"
He nodded, sitting in a ball on the pillow. "[Motivational training. The tape said I was an eagle and I could fly around and catch an easy prey. ...Um...]" He looked down at his feet. "[Am I allowed to fly now? I'm still a little scared, and flying helps me calm down.]"
"[Whatever makes it easier,]" Wood said obligingly. [For either of us.]
"[Thanks!]" he chirped, sliding back down and beginning to flap his arms. "[I can fly, I can fly fly~...]"
"[Out of curiosity,]" Wood interrupted after a bit, "[what precisely about flying helps you?]"
"[A lot of things. The flapping. Gaining wings. I can become an eagle and fly across the sky, and when I am I don't have to be a crocodile anymore.]" His eyes drifted shut. "[It's soothing to be an eagle instead.]"
"[Soothing it may be, but I highly recommend you look down.]"
One eye snapped back open, and his voice became confused. "[But eagles aren't supposed to look down except to hunt, and I'm not hungry.]"
Nonetheless, even as he said it, his pupil drifted downwards, and with a shriek he fell the two feet he'd risen into the air back down.
[Patient: Kroko. Progress: stage 5. Metaphorical flight has become literal by way of arm movement and pep talk.]
Either Sly was very good at predicting questions, which he doubted, or he'd been saving this up since he had awoken. As soon as he'd slithered onto the couch, he began to chase his tail around himself in a pretzel shape with nary a hiss of warning.
"[Sly, is that what you did when you were last here? Look at me when I'm talking. Sly.]"
Fortunately, it didn't take very long for Wood to get an answer, focus or no focus. As the patient picked up speed, flickers of electricity sparked across the length of his body, more and more with each second.
"[Okay, I know what your power is. You can stop now.]"
That got the snake to cease, the electric fizzling out with it, and speak for the first time that day. "[But I'm making pretty sparks, tail!]" he stated before shaking the five-ring tail at the end of his body and setting off again.
"[You might see pretty sparks, Sly...]" [Yes, very impressive, potentially dangerous, what a power...] "[...but here, in the real world, I see massive potential.]"
"[...and pretty sparks too,] ja ja?"
It took having to absorb most of the lightning generated to finally get him off of the bed. Sometimes, less is indeed more.
[Patient: Sly. Progress: stage 3. Increase in speed and aerodynamics; static and electricity easily generated.]
Lilo was a lot more difficult to deal with. While a vast majority of the toys had items important to them, Wood had instructed them to leave them outside. Guessing and gauging powers was hard enough on its own without distractions in the form of blocks, ropes and blankets.
Apparently this concept was too advanced for the autistic hippo.
It didn't help that, being mute, he couldn't answer any question Wood, pacing around the floor in irritation, could possibly put forward to him. His words to Spieler were true regardless of circumstances, it seemed. Those clicking blocks had to go.
Wood climbed onto the bed and snatched the red puzzle pieces out of Lilo's hands, much to his stubborn disagreement. Naturally, he attempted to grab them right back, but Wood's grip was stronger. "[Lilo, these blocks won't help anyone if you keep playing with them. Let go!]" The one shaped like a bridge was put down first, and after some struggling, the one shaped like a T right on top of it.
This was both a mistake and a blessing, as they found out after being blasted away by an invisible force for the first and second time that day. Lilo had gotten lucky.
[Patient: Lilo. Progress: stage 1. Blocks, when placed back to back, create pseudo-force-field. Effects when fitted together as yet unknown.]
"Dub, I don't want to have another argument about objects. Leave your timer with your rope and get in here."
The turtle obliged, but not without comment: "Heh, first the sheep, and now Dr Wood speaks English too. Today just gets better and better." Wood, naturally, decided to take that as a compliment.
The examination of Dub was both remarkable and not. Spieler had just not gotten anywhere with him, so there were no memories of therapeutic progress to fall back on. Process, certainly, but Dub mostly spurned those attempts. "What does paint therapy even have to do with whether I have powers or not?" he asked when shown a blank canvas. "It just wastes time."
Granted, he wasn't totally unwilling to cooperate. When it came to demonstrations of physical prowess, he leapt, sometimes literally, at every opportunity. "Perhaps this light wave gave you enhanced speed and strength?" Wood proposed after Dub had run at his top speed around the room for about two minutes.
"Nah... I'm usually a lot... faster than that," he replied, trying to conceal his panting. And as he proved afterwards, he hadn't spontaneously gained the muscle to lift up the end of the couch.
No, not even when Wood had in fact gotten off the couch.
[Patient: Dub. Progress: stage 1. Powers currently not visible; highly debatable as to if he has any.]
"Can't say I'm that surprised," Dub said suddenly, catching his attention again. "I was furthest out from the blast, after all. And if you were right in the centre, maybe you got some to compensate?"
A silence as Wood thought this over. Then, an addendum to his notes. [More astute than I gave him credit for, however. Might not be entirely useless.]
There was no point in Dub going back out, since Wood needed someone to fill in the role of observer when it came to finding out his own powers. After all, as long as he had been the one to bring it up...
"I'm going to try and meditate again, like I was just before the blast of energy," he explained to the turtle. "That has to be the key to all of this. What will happen is unclear, but meditation got us to these states - you exempting - so something is bound to, and when it does, you will let me know. Do you understand?"
"Uh, sure," Dub said, sounding as uncertain as he looked.
Back on the mat. Touching the bowl, getting in harmony. Feet facing outward. Eyes closed. Serenity within reach.
The first time Wood had done this - how long ago? About half an hour now, forty minutes at most? - it had been an experience if nothing else. He had heard the ocean in his dream, and felt the wind pushing him along, and tried to get the astral projection Spieler had spoken of. But the effort had spun something slightly off-kilter and he had gotten stuck. No moving forward, no moving back, caught in a limbo between tranquility and irritation, feeling a build-up inside him of mental water and expectations and reality until the ocean burst and he was unconscious.
And then aforementioned reality had twisted around itself, and here they were.
Now, it came a lot easier. The boundaries had fallen. There was no build-up, which meant no supposed 'glow'. But what else could he achieve, in this quiet state, with only a mind watching him?
He imagined himself doing something simple. Defying gravity, like Kroko. Levitating, one inch off the ground, two... a hum in the background, toes relaxed...
"Wood. Wood, you're floating in the air!" he heard from surprisingly close by.
He opened his eyes from under the hood and checked his surroundings. No, he was definitely still firmly rooted to the mat. He could feel it underneath him, vaguely scratchy but comfy.
An opaque reflection of himself, on the other hand, hovered just off the end of the couch, up and down, complete with the hum.
A dubious Dub reached out to touch it, but his brown-'gloved' hand phased through. "So you're levitating and a ghost? Isn't that cheating a bit?"
"Dub, that isn't really me. I'm back here..." The sentence faded out, Wood losing a part of himself in thought. The image flickered out ever-so-briefly, then restored itself. "...then that would mean the image you see is a projection of what I want you to see?"
"...I don't get it."
Wood stood up, focusing again on the reflection, trying to maintain it, and headed to the door. "[Can anybody else see what Dub can see?]" he called out into the huddle of toys double-checking their abilities in the middle of the patient lounge. Dolly had stopped raining, fortunately, instead lying flat in a spontaneous mini-field of grass, something else to add to his notes.
Kroko was the one to come over and check its authenticity. "[I don't see anything,]" he said sheepishly after a cursory glance. "[Just Dub staring at a wall. Sorry.]"
Wood turned back to the floating image. It did look remarkably like him, and seemed almost solid. But a drop in concentration, a blink, and the visual and hum disappeared completely, further startling Dub. He couldn't shake an internal smile as he turned to the notebook one more time.
[I, Dr Wood, can conjure realistic images and sounds at a thought.
Whatever caused this certainly has priorities I can get behind.]
Indeed, whatever caused this... that in itself was a conundrum.
Technically he knew what had administered these effects: the glow from the meditation. That was easy to correlate. But why had it appeared in the first place? Would it have occurred at that point anyway, or was it unlocked specifically by his foray into the side-route?
Had the potential to power up (or to harm) always been there?
No, it couldn't have been. Powers beyond those of conventional toys, flying crocodiles, spontaneous rainclouds... all were, scientifically speaking, impossible. His line of work had always allowed for some anomalies - he was a plush raven working amongst humans and with his ilk, after all - but the inconsistent awareness of plush toy animation, amongst others, could be explained away with simple (if controversial) theories.
What theory could explain away the abilities of the beings gathered around him right now?
Then again... he looked once more at the ball on a string. It hadn't shaken since he'd been thrust into this fiasco. Earlier on in the day, so long ago in this new perspective, he had said that this ball moving on its own was reason enough to suspend disbelief. If he could allow that, why not...?
But in turn, why?
"Wood, whit was th' point ay callin' us haur if yoo're jist gonnae sit aroond an' nae teel us anythin'?"
Right. The patients were still surrounding him, waiting for answers.
He placed the ball down and cleared his throat, looked at each toy in turn. "[Kroko. Lilo. Dolly. Sly. There is little point in me beating about the bush: all of us...]" No, not all, he remembered Dub back in the therapy room, persisting in his attempts to lift the couch at his insistence. "[...the majority of us have gained, for lack of a better word, superpowers.]"
Sly was the only one to vocalize a reaction: "[Awesome!]"
"[Specifically, powers mapping to whatever therapeutic mindset you were in at the time,]" he continued. "[The science and psychology behind these are questions I simply cannot answer. Not because they are too advanced for me, but because I wouldn't know where to begin in the explanation. So instead, we should figure out what to do with these new enhanced abilities, under the assumption that they won't disappear in the night.]"
"There's nae pure a--" Dolly, in her grassy patch, caught herself just in time. "Oaps. [There's not really a lot to do with them. We're pretty much stuck here until the humans get back, and I can't exactly turn off these things.]"
"[But neither can we merely sit around letting them fester. If their timespan turns out to be limited, we can ill afford to waste a golden opportunity.]" [So many unanswered questions...]
"[Maybe we can be D-Gruppe?]" Sly once again interjected.
"[A good suggestion, if any of us knew who D-Gruppe were.]"
"[You know, D-Gruppe. People with powers running around and being heroes. We could wait for Spieler to get back and dress us up in red capes, then we can go outside and be heroes too! Mind you, there were seven people in D-Gruppe, not five cuddle toys, and I don't think they ever lived in a clinic. Did they? I can't remember. I don't think Ali ever read past the first issue. He might have been a collector of Fix und Foxi though, I saw a few copies lying around but I dunno where, Shiva knows why because they were mostly not doesers not really, which is kind of the anti-opposite of what we think we should be do, right?]"
[...Christ,] Wood's mind whispered to him, [has Sly ever said that much in his time here?] Even Lilo had stopped clicking those infernal blocks and was staring at Sly in surprise. [If nothing else, these effects do wonders for inter-patient communication.]
"[No, it probably wasn't Fix und Foxi then,]" the snake finished decisively. Then, "[Dolly, you're winding a little again.]"
"[...Right.]" He had to return to the task at wing. "[Our present location and your mental states mean that we can't go out and be, ahem, "D-Gruppe" right away. So what I suggest is that we wait for the return of Spieler and Nadel, and explain our situation to them. I'll take responsibility for all of you and our 'powers' in the meantime. Even if they can't do anything to tame them, Spieler will have even more incentive to get you fit to rejoin society.]"
Kroko gave a little cough. "[And then can we do what Sly said?]" he asked. "[I like the idea of being a hero.]"
"[Obviously we'll have to put it to a majority vote closer to the time, but if all are in favour, then yes.]"
"[Double-awesome!]" Sly cried out, spontaneously circling the small group. "[Okay, we can't be D-Gruppe because they're already D-Gruppe, so what can we be cal--]"
Wood stepped out in front of Sly, tapering him out before he could go off into another ramble or crash into anyone. "[No naming yet. We can't learn to run before we know how to walk. Our first priority should be to test the range and potential of our abilities. What can we really do? What skies are our limits?]"
"[...I-okay. That works too.]"