Dream is gone for a long time.
Time isn’t quite the same in the Dreaming, but Lucien still knows it is passing. He can feel it in the books, and their pages don’t move quite the same as they used to. Words have started fading.
Sometimes it gets...well. Boredom is not a concept that the residents of the Dreaming are terribly familiar with, but it’s close enough to describe the creeping sensation that maybe he does not actually need to be cataloguing these days, that maybe it’s not serving the purpose it should.
Which is why when Merv shows up in the library one day announcing that he has an idea Lucien decides that he may as well humor him this time.
“Heard a rumor about the boss,” he says, and Lucien doesn’t believe him but the books rustle behind him like shy excited children and Merv is grinning at him and surely someone else can supervise them, just briefly.
He turns to look at the books behind him again and it looks like the shelves shrug.
Somehow they acquire Cain and Abel on their way through the Shifting Zones. Lucien would rather they hadn’t done that, but Merv had insisted on a “pit stop” on the way out.
“P-please,” says Abel, shifting from foot to foot. “Things are getting, uh, different out here.”
“I happen to be enjoying it,” Cain smiles in a way that is not a smile at all. “But perhaps we are getting dull.”
Merv shrugs, which even though Lucien should be used to it always makes him a bit concerned that Merv’s head is going to displace itself. “The more the merrier,” he says. “But you’re responsible for your own snacks.”
They start in New York because Merv insists. The boundary is thinner in so many places in the city. Lucien doesn’t care for it much, too many bodies, but the line between dream and reality is so easy to cross there that he can’t really argue. At times he’s not sure the city is even awake at all.
The wax museum does seem to be a bit much, though.
They leave the city in a nondescript sedan with a backseat that shouldn’t fit two grown, well, men for lack of a better word, but somehow manages to with room to spare. Lucien has always thought cars lacked a certain grace. The wrappers slowly starting to litter the seats have not proved him wrong.
“Where are we going?” Abel asks, fingers running up and down the edge of the armrest.
“West,” Merv says. “Of course.”
He is not at all surprised when it turns out Merv has an affinity for miniature golf. They play at courses that are supposed to represent the fifty states or 18 different countries, pirate ships or jungles or circuses or zoos. At one, themed like a haunted castle, Abel tries to tell stories to the gargoyles.
“They’re not real,” Cain snarls.
“They could be,” Abel insists but he follows Cain away anyway, one longing glance over his shoulder. Lucien thinks he sees him mouth the word “happy” in the gargoyle’s direction.
They go to more mini golf courses than could reasonably be expected to be found along their route, really.
Merv is actually terrible at the game. Lucien has always suspected he lacked a certain degree of visual acuity.
Abel was the best at it, until he won a few times too many.
The Holy Land theme park was a colossal mistake. Abel dies four times in the name of historical accuracy before they manage to convince Cain to leave. The circles under his eyes are more pronounced each time.
A child watches them for a bit too long outside the park gates, eyes wide under the bright rim of a red baseball cap. The others don’t notice and Lucien does not acknowledge him.
Cain tries to push Abel into Niagara Falls after Abel comes back from the snack stand with the wrong flavor of ice cream bar. They leave after that, to Lucien’s faint disappointment. The rush of water reminds him of something he once knew.
They’ve already left the East Coast before they see a brochure for the World’s Largest Tooth statue. Lucien finds it strangely enjoyable, this human proclivity for gigantizing and miniaturizing everyday objects.
In Ohio, where it’s his turn to drive, they stop at the World’s Largest Rubber Stamp and an office building built to look like a giant basket. He does not feel the need to explain why and no one asks him to.
A woman who has worked in the office building for years realizes she has at last been struck by the epiphany that tells her how her novel ends.
Lucien has been trying for so long now to maintain a semblance of reason.
They veer to the southwest outside of Chicago. The middle of the country is a faintly golden haze as the sun glares out over field after field of wheat or corn or hay or whatever else they’re feeding to livestock these days.
They do not want to go back, Lucien thinks, though he won’t say it aloud. It is easier out here, where they don’t have to watch things, watch their home, slowly fall apart.
The prairies never change too much, it’s not in their bones. And they will always go back eventually.
It’s cold when they make it to finally make it to Wisconsin, what the radio—when they can pick it up—calls an early frost. Cain glares at Abel as he stomps his feet and rubs his arms, but wraps a scarf around his brother’s neck. Gently, this time.
The carousel, when they get to it, is empty. There may have been something there once or will be, but it is not for them.
Lucien is not sure what else he expected.
“Sorry.” Merv’s hand on his shoulder is warm but he brushes it off.
“This was your idea,” he says. “I’m merely along for the ride.”
Something chimes faintly in the distance and Lucien goes back to the miniature instruments room. At least perhaps that will be interesting.
When they get back, half the pages in the library have gone blank.
“It’s been a strange century for all of us, my lord.”