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Burnt Out Ends Of Smoky Days

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His dreams are strange and creeping, full of undersea caverns and the roots of mountains and fields of flowers made of ice.

It's the armchairs that throw him.

I don't usually do this, says the figure across from him, looking deeply uncomfortable. But my sister was...insistent.

This could be either of two sisters (well, three — but one is unlikely, or at least he hopes so, although if nothing else it would make an interesting story).

When Dream stands up and begins to climb the flight of stairs, he tries to follow, only to find the steps extending endlessly under his feat. "Hey!" he calls, somewhat testily, towards the top landing. "Do you mind?"

You can't just walk straight in, chastises Dream. You know how these things work.




He crosses the river without looking back, snares the jackrabbit and slices it open, breaks the golden egg in its stomach, and trades the needle for a magic bean.

There are, it turns out, only nine dancing princesses. He thinks vaguely that he ought to remember that.

When he reaches the gate, it feels like he's supposed to begin the conversation, so he opens with the witty gem: "Sorry about killing you."

It was only a story, says Dream, with a kind of stillness that somehow gives the impression of being a shrug. Besides, you got the idea from Doctor Who in the first place.




The library is huge and ancient and modern and he can smell the stories in the air, feel their infinity on his skin, and he knows, if he hadn't known before, hadn't known it in his bones since the day he was born, that this is where he wants to go when he dies.

"I'm not dead now, am I?" he says hopefully.

I hope not, says Dream, with what is either total seriousness or the world's most perfect deadpan. I wouldn't want to make you late for the appointment.




He's sitting in one of the comfortable chairs with 668: Neighbor of the Beast when a young girl leans over his shoulder. "He's one of mine!" she says excitedly, pointing to one of the names along the top of the page. "Or he used to be. Or maybe he was supposed to be, but he got eaten by an alligator first. I forget."

He looks at her (or tries to) for a few bemused seconds, then says, "One day my son swapped me for two goldfish."

She breaks into the most delighted grin he's ever seen, then turns to one of the aisles and yells, "Matthew! This one makes sense!"




He leaves a long, half-asleep message on Terry's machine before collapsing back onto his pillow.

"Only nine princesses?" he repeats when Terry calls him back, and the other man says "It's the only coherent thing I could get out of you, but you seemed pretty insistent about it."

"Was there anything else?" he presses, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "I don't even remember calling."

"Maybe it'll come back to you," says Terry philosophically. "Good thing it was your dream and not mine, eh?"

Neil tries to laugh, the way he always does at jokes like that, mostly because there doesn't seem to be anything else to do; but the laugh comes out green and mauve and shiny, and for some reason he spends the whole rest of the day forgetting not to feel okay.