Scammers and Scanners
In Long Hill, at the entrance of the Outer Circle (interdimensional):
“When you enter the Outer Circle,” said Lan-Lan to Vera, “the most pressing problem is recall. On moving into its atmosphere, you will forget who you are and why you are there.”
“If I cannot remember who I am, I will be very vulnerable,” said Vera as she backed away from the entrance at the top of Long Hill.
“Don’t worry,” said Lan-Lan. “The loss of memory is only partial. If you can grasp onto some of it, its return will be hastened.” He stepped through the archway into the Outer Circle saying, “I will be with you.”
Vera glanced backwards to Long Hill but, instead of being inviting, it looked misty and impenetrable. She recalled Mullum-Mullum’s initial instructions,
Think not you can return on the path that leads to the fork.
Taken once, it disappears as the choice lies ahead.
She took a deep breath and walked forward.
May the Great Ones help me, she said to herself, and hopefully them.
Once inside, Vera felt perfectly fine. She was on a line with many other people. It looked like a circus. It was a mild afternoon and the air hung with an unhurried expectancy. Lan-Lan was beside her. She liked standing next to him because he had a commanding presence and people looked at him as if he was a celebrity or royalty.
When seated and waiting for the show to begin, Vera noticed something peculiar about the circus staff walking up and down the aisles. There seemed to be two distinct uniforms. One was brown and one was soft blue. The brown-uniformed staff were the ones at the entrance scanning the tickets. The blue-uniformed staff seemed to have a slight glow around them. They were rescanning people’s tickets.
“Why are they rescanning the tickets? They already did it at the entrance,” Vera asked Lan-Lan.
“They are looking for something,” said Lan-Lan. “The brown ones are referred to as the ticket scammers and the blue ones as the ticket scanners. But that’s an inside joke.”
Vera did not feel that she was on the inside of that joke.
There were several peculiar things about the blue ticket scanners. Firstly, they weren’t checking everyone’s tickets. It looked rather random. Secondly, most people did not seem to see them and would try and walk right through them. The scanners would merge into the jumble of the crowd and reform somewhere close by. Thirdly, Vera realised that they were scanning tickets not with a machine but with their thumbs.
One of them appeared by her side. By now, Vera was a little unnerved by them. Lan-Lan smiled at her and indicated to hold out her ticket. As the ticket scanner ran his thumb over the barcode, the lines rearranged themselves into a different order. Vera stared at her ticket and then at the ticket scanner. The ticket scanner, in his turn, stared at Vera and then Lan-Lan. He promptly left.
“You know circus people,” said Lan-Lan. “They are a weird bunch. Take no notice.”
Vera was not so sure that she should take no notice but was reassured by Lan-Lan’s calm authority.
In the Outer Circle:
The blue ticket scanners were not the only thing that most people seemed to be unaware of. Of graver concern was a large, black figure with a cloak. It was about ten feet tall and wore a hood which covered most of its face. It had a malevolent energy field. Although the ticket scanners knew it was there, they, for the most part, ignored it. It, however, was watching them closely to see their scanning results.
“Who is that?” asked Vera pointing to the creature.
“It is the Dream Maker,” said Lan-Lan.
“That sounds innocent enough,” said Vera unconvinced.
“It is far from innocuous,” said Lan-Lan. “Its dreams are highly deceptive and vicious.”
After the ticket scanner departed, the dark creature headed Vera’s way. It was suddenly looming over her. She could see the eyes of the creature. They were red and fiery but also cold and blank.
“What does it want?” Vera said to Lan-Lan as she grabbed his arm and tried to hide behind him.
“It wants your memory,” said Lan-Lan.
“Make it go away,” said Vera.
“I can’t,” said Lan-Lan. “It is here by consent of every person who ever came here.”
Vera tentatively turned to the creature. Although it was peering at her, demanding something from her, it didn’t seem to be able to take it without her permission.
“I remember who you are,” said Vera turning to Lan-Lan in a strike of revelation. “You are Lan-Lan, Lord of Long Hill, and I am Vera, Lady Faith.”
The dark creature withdrew with bitterness draping from its shoulders. The blue ticket scanners formed a circle and merged into one light band. The circus noise dimmed. Vera and Lan-Lan stood in the now quiet room.
“The Outer Circle is made of dreams,” said Lan-Lan, “which are fed by the Dream Maker. If one can remember that one is here for something more than fragile dreams then one will have passed the first pivotal test.”
Vera recollected that Mullum-Mullum had initially told her, “The most common reaction of those who get to the first circle, the Outer Circle, is to abandon the quest immediately.”
“I see,” said Vera. “The quest is not abandoned deliberately and consciously. It is abandoned because we cannot remember what we are doing. The mission is aborted before it is even started.”
“Congratulations,” said Lan-Lan. “You may now proceed beyond the Outer Circle.”
Vera smiled at Lan-Lan. She felt that they were becoming real friends.
Back in Waldmeer:
Amira tried to keep baby Lan-Lan away from Gabriel. It wasn’t always possible. She had to have him when Ide was at work and Ide‘s shifts at the hospital varied. Gabriel didn’t want children. He certainly didn’t want someone else’s children, least of all, Farkas’s. Lately, Lan-Lan had been there a lot when Gabriel was home. This morning, Gabriel was complaining about everything, stomping around, and generally being painful.
“I know whose child it is, Amira,” Gabriel blurted out accusingly. “I’m not that dumb.”
“Really?” said Amira.
Gabriel scowled at her.
“I mean, really you know whose child it is. I didn’t mean, really you’re not that dumb.” She was making it worse.
As Gabriel had never asked her which friend she was helping out, she had never told him. She knew it wasn’t a great solution but she couldn’t think of another. She sighed. It was Gabriel’s home too. And his life. He had a right to live as he wished. The problem was that she couldn’t not have Lan-Lan.
“I don’t understand why he can’t look after his own frickin’ kid, himself,” said Gabriel angrily. “And now I feel bad because Lan-Lan is just a baby and it’s not his fault.”
Lan-Lan was playing happily on the floor. Little children are terribly resilient. Gabriel felt worse for looking at the child. He grabbed his work things and stormed out the door.
“Oh dear,” said Amira to Lan-Lan, “What will we do?”
Lan-Lan prattled on with some helpful baby advice. If only they both knew what he was saying.