It wasn’t exactly the worst of places to fall asleep. Abigail wasn’t picky; she could sleep on a vaguely flat rock if the situation demanded it. It was the vibe that kept her awake, a heavy miasma of anxiety, uncertainty, loss, fear that emanated from every shuffling and rustling body in the women’s lingerie department. Rows upon rows of terrified souls not too much unlike herself who had recently had their lives upended and were deposited neatly amongst the empty shelves and disembodied torsos of the store. Abigail regarded one of these mannequins and tried to figure out which sick fuck thought to keep the creepiest of props in the same place where a bunch of freshly traumatised mages slept.
She wriggled her arm out of her sleeping bag, pointed her index finger and levelled her finger gun at the peeling model. “Pew, pew”, she breathed, pretending to shoot it - and flinched and rolled over and curled in on herself as a brief, candle-sized puff of purple flame quietly fizzled out of her fingertip and dissipated into the darkness. Multiple disapproving glares were thrown her way. “Sorry,” she apologised a little louder, pulling the hood of the sleeping bag further down so she could cover her blush.
Sleep came for Abigail, in that creeping, insidious way that it sometimes does in times of strife - little by little, falling into slumber then waking, falling deeper each time, head and mind growing clouded and foggy.
Until she was asleep, and her eyes opened.
Abigail was struck by the sun, like a radiant gunshot, as she looked up into the sky through the skylight in the centre of Goodnight almost by reflex. It was luminous and blinding, and warm and welcoming, and alive
And so was Goodnight.
For but the briefest of moments, Abilgail was surrounded by the hubbub of a busy, thriving mall. She could smell food - not just uncleaned greasetraps, but real, freshly cooked food - and she could taste excitement
. She had never tasted
it before, but there it was, like wine but much better
- or like soda, but much heavier
Then it was gone.
The sun was still up, the skylights still there and clean, the floor tiles still sparkling and bleached - but the place was empty.
Where there once was the wine of life, there was now something bitter and sour and salty - like tears, or the wide wide sea, or loss.
In the distance, breathing; ragged and sad.
The air felt a little like water.
Abigail rubbed her nose on the back of her hand and looked around. She wasn’t quite taking in the details of her surroundings just yet but recognised the mall and its vast emptiness. Her feet already took her towards the source of the breathing with no motive other than to sate her impulsive curiosity.
She went up the escalators - still and quiet now - and around the pillars of the food court - silent and frozen - and she wound around and around the building until the sound finally localised itself.
Behind a service door. Then up more stairs. Then round one of those invisible corridors that staff use to get around and appear where they’re needed, seen only when appropriate, heard almost never.
Eventually, she found the manager’s office. The proprietor’s office? It was too fancy, somehow, to simply be the office of a general manager, as she pushed the door open and took in the plush beige carpet, not yet stained by sun, the long dangling white blinds, hanging like half raised hands on the current of the breeze flowing from one open window to the other - the bottle, rich brown glass and black lacquered label, glistening in the light of the sun, which somehow was setting now, resting on the rich oak of the desk.
Behind the desk there sat a man. He was tall and lanky, young looking but tired, wearing a brown tweed business suit that - to anyone else - would have clearly been finely tailored.
He raised a glass to his lips and swallowed the delicate amber therein, before his ragged breathing resumed. It took only a moment for his eyes, red and puffy, to clench shut again, and his body to be wracked with silent sobbing.
The only other thing on the desk was a photo frame, facing him.
Abigail was about to make a move to hastily leave this man and his emotions to himself but a twinge of pathos stilled her feet. She knocked on the door instead, though her presence was already made known. “Hey, uh,” she wracked her brains for a good, empathetic opening to an awkward conversation. “Y’all good?” was all she could come up with.
The man behind the desk stirred - but not in her direction.
“Fuck, fuck. I’m sorry dad.” His hand took ahold of the photo frame, like he was trying to lean on it, like he would fall if he didn’t, and never get up again. “I’m so fucking sorry, dad.”
After a moment, he became lost in sobbing again, tearing his gaze away from the photo like he couldn’t stand looking at it any more - and pouring himself another drink, by reflex.
Far off in the distance, Abigail might have heard footsteps. Or mumbling.
“I’ll uh...I’ll leave you to it,” Abigail rubbed the back of her neck. She gave it her best shot and it either fell short or the man was intentionally ignoring her. Either way, she knew she wasn’t welcome here. She felt it in her gut and didn’t need anyone having a mental breakdown to prove it. There was something nagging the back of her head and it gradually pushed her onwards until her errant wanderings became a sort of slow jog and, as she covered more distance, traversed the winding corridors and glass facades of the endless mall with an increasing sense of urgency, her mind became preoccupied then dominated by the fact everything was too
empty. “Fuck’s going on?” she said out loud, if only to hear a voice in this pristine replica of Goodnight.
“What?” Came another voice - unrecognisable, but nearby, even if it sounded distant. “Who are you?”
“Ain’t nobody important,” Abigail responded warily, slowing down to a halt and spinning this way and that to find the source. “Where you at? Come on out, I don’t bite.”
Footsteps.Footsteps.Two pairs of footsteps, neither of them hers, both of them approaching.
That wrongness in Abigail’s gut increased sharply. She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to just make her presence known in this strange alternate Goodnight. If she was her old self - her good, Christian self who didn’t dabble in witchcraft - then now would have been a good time to hit the bricks. But Abigail had fire
now, and all her previous experiences with fire had always ended up poorly for everyone involved. She was feeling brave and, with all the arrogance of youth, she was feeling invincible. She stood her ground.
After a moment, around the corner came -
The footsteps stopped, they’d been coming from that direction, there should be someone in front of her right now.
“Who are you?” Came a voice - not too close, but present - from behind her.
Abigail wheeled around and fell clean on her ass.
In front and above of her, there was a thin man with a patchy black beard and a gaunt, unpleasant face. He wore a navy hoodie with a bizarrely indistinguishable logo or design of some sort on it, and black skinny jeans.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
here, dumbass!” Abigail shouted back, scrambling to her feet. “This here’s my home!” It was imperative, said some animal hindbrain hardwired to keep Abigail from dying, that she didn’t give away too much information to this scruffy looking stranger in an abandoned mall. “Question is who are you
“I… you… you live here?”
Abigail latched onto the confusion like a terrier latching onto an ankle. “Don’t seem too surprised, you hobo-looking sumbitch. Everybody’s gotta have a roof under their heads. Just what the hell are you doing wandering ‘round late at night?” What time was it? Abigail was too engrossed to check. Her legs tingled and her heart raced. First sign of danger, she’d blast this man in the beard and take to the hills.
He took a moment, the confusion on his face faded to a deeper expression - one of complex thought, calculating mind.
“You can’t live here. Not if you can see me. Not unless…” He inhaled tentatively, as if deciding what to say. “Unless you’re dreaming. Like me.”
“Oh yeah?” Abigail said, a mixture of hotheadedness and fear bubbling away in her chest as she realised she was losing the upper hand - quickly. “Would someone who’s dreaming be able to do this
?!” She raised her arm, tried to use her fire spell-
And woke up to burning plastic and a lot of heat everywhere. Abigail shot out of her sleeping bag like a bat out of hell with a shriek of surprise, scrambling backwards, patting out the smouldering spots on her clothes with a sheen of sweat. All she could do was stare at the burning heap as her heart rattled in her ribcage and she took quick, fluttering breaths. She could feel the eyes on her from every direction as her head swivelled this way and that, looking for the bearded stranger.
“Anyone got a spare sleeping bag?” she called out, trying to lighten the mood. “Think mine’s bust!”
It took a minute for anyone to respond, as the tension in the air built and built; who was this fucking girl, setting shit on fire and making our lives even worse? Who the fuck was that, burning valuable supplies and wasting our resources? Which stupid child was too dangerous to be kept around?
After a moment, a gentleman at the entrance to the storefront sighed. It was one of the guys from earlier, when they’d been giving speeches - the one with hair.
“I’m sorry, kid. We don’t have any more sleeping bags. You wanna come with me for a bit, please?”
“I ain’t done nothing,” Abigail responded levelly. “Ain’t done nothing on purpose,” she added on after some thought. In her contempt, she left the sleeping bag to burn and smoulder and release rancid chemical fumes into the room - partially because she felt it was vindicating for her unjust treatment, and partially because she didn’t know how to make things stop burning when they started.
“Right. Jack, make sure that fire is out, get some air freshener or something. Sorry about this folks, I’ll…” he paused for a moment, realising that there wasn’t actually a lot he could do to make it better in the moment,”... see you at breakfast, I guess. Come on kid, follow me.”
He turned and walked down the walkway, overlooking the ground floor, as his compatriot sighed too, and moved to stamp on the sticky remains of a polymer sleeping bag.
“Alright. What happened?” He said, looking back at her with exhausted eyes, still walking.
Abigail mulled it over. ‘I tried to torch a homeless man’ didn’t seem like a suitable excuse. She worked her jaw and rubbed the back of her neck. “Been havin’ real lifelike dreams lately, and I tried to use my magic in one,” she admitted reluctantly. Something felt off
when it came to her weird night-time hallucinations but she wasn’t too keen on letting other people know in case she came off as crazy.
For a moment, the man stopped in his tracks - not quite enough to break his stride, just enough of a hesitation to interrupt it.
He picked up the pace a little, then abruptly turned left and headed down the frozen escalators to the ground floor - and then further back, towards the rear of the mall.
“I see. Tell me more about these dreams of yours, kid. In fact, what’s your name? I’m Simon.” He said as they reached what was clearly some sort of makeshift HQ - lit by electric lanterns and heated by no more than the warmth of the few bodies still there, it occupied the ground floor of a generic, empty department store. There were a couple of tables that didn’t fit the remnants of the original shop’s aesthetic at all, and they were either covered in supplies, or in maps and paperwork.
Apart from one, which had a row of coffee urns on it.
Simon sat down on a rickety chair near the map table, and someone pushed another such chair towards him as Abi approached.
Abigail regarded everything with suspicion. She did not vibe well with this office space, these strange and official-looking figures and the row of coffee urns. As she leant back in her rickety chair to better regard the map in a blatant attempt to snoop around, she only gave Simon a modicum of respect hidden under several bundled up layers of caginess and distrust. This place was the principal’s office and a police station all at once. She regretted mentioning her dreams the moment she picked up on the surreptitious change in atmosphere and it gave her lockjaw ever since. Her gaze slipped around the room in the hopes of catching a gaudy parka, or a dishevelled old man with a bullet wound.
Simon’s eyes were large, but narrowed. He raised an eyebrow as she looked around.
“Hey, I’d really like to hear more about these dreams of yours.” His voice was quiet, but firm. Not teacherly, exactly, but certainly businesslike - definitely serious. “If they’re the sort of thing that are going to have you keep setting yourself on fire, or setting things on fire, or setting other
people on fire, then I need to know as much as you can tell me.”
“No, it’s-...it’s fine, I won’t do it again.” But it had nothing to do with the fire. Abigail wouldn’t meet his gaze and became interested in her fidgeting fingers instead. She knew that it had nothing to do with the fire the moment he hesitated, and this wasn’t middle school - none of the people in this room, or this building, owed her anything. They weren’t bound by trivial matters such as ‘law’. Abigail picked up on that pretty quickly through Simon’s tone, some subconscious survival instinct kicking in and telling her to quit acting out and do what she’s told.
After a long hesitation, she decided to own up a bit more. “I’ve only had two,” she started. “They’re-...super lifelike. Nothing weird happens in them. Well, like, there’s -weird- stuff in it, but not like, flying pigs n’ shit,” Abigail caught herself rambling, her gaze flickering uncertainly up to Simon’s then sharply back to her hands. “I always remember ‘em. Clear as day. More like they’re memories than dreams, y’know?”
Simon nodded, then looked up at one of the other people in the room. Attention had subtly shifted onto the conversation they were having.
Out of Abigail’s view, the person Simon had looked to nodded briefly.
Simon took a moment.
“Thank you for that. What’s your name, kid?” His expression softened. In the background, there was movement as two of the people who had been at work over the maps before Simon had come in left.
“Am I in trouble?” Abigail met Simon’s gaze now. Things may be uncertain, and her dreams may make her burst into flames on a whim, but she knew where she stood when it came to being in trouble. It was a point of pride for her to at least show no fear in the face of a solid scolding.
Again, Simon took a moment, mulling over her sentence in his head.
Eventually, he leaned back on the chair too, and closed his eyes for a moment.
“No. I don’t think you’re in trouble - or at least, trouble isn’t the right word. You were having one of these dreams when you… well, set yourself on fire, right? What were you doing in the dream when it happened?”
“I was trying to scare off some guy.” That seemed like a valid enough explanation. “He said that the only way I’d have been able to see him was if I was dreaming too, if that helps any. So I tried to scare him off, and set myself on fire.”
And just like that, the seriousness was back.
“You saw someone in your dream? Did he give you his name?”
Abigail shrank. “I ain’t even given -you- my name, what’d you think?” She snapped, going on the defensive. “Even there I was certain to make sure I didn’t say nothing stupid!”
Abigail looked away again. Oh god. Oh fuck. She was quick to cover up her nervousness. “H-he had a scruffy beard, he was wearing a uh, blue hoodie, dark hair...He looked pretty mean, I didn’t trust him. Not one bit.”
“Right. What did
he say? And what did you
Abigail shrank back even further. Her legs got tingly. She was used to denying everything, saying nothing and occasionally insulting authority figures. But this was way, way out of her element. “He kept asking who I was, and what I was doing there. I told him in no uncertain terms to get fucked and get lost, and he sorta clocked on that, if I could see him, then I was dreaming...Then I said something like ‘oh yeah? Could a dreaming person do this?’ And then I set myself on fire.” Abigail added in the voices and the theatrics. She gesticulated. She rambled. She tried her damndest to avoid that one
key detail that gnawed away at her insides like maggots.
Somewhere tucked away in the back of the office space, things started to shift imperceptibly in the gloom. It was just a few papers here and there, gently starting to lift as if some slight but very steady breeze caught them. The coffee urns made gentle shifting noises that went largely ignored as Abigail played out her theatrics and Simon kept a close eye on her expression.
“Are you sure you’re not leaving anything out?” Simon leaned in a little, his eyes grim.
“W-what’s the punishment gonna be like if I did?” she asked. “It’s still a dream, after all, and I was more scared of him than I was anything else.”
“Punishment?” Simon seemed surprised. “No, look, kid, that’s not how this works. Nobody- nobody is gonna, fucking, punish
you, or leave you behind, or hand you over to the FOE. We’re not that kind of people. You’re a whole damn person, we’re not gonna fucking, like, hurt you. We just need to know everything you can tell us. If something happened that might put some of us, or you, in danger, well I just need to be able to plan for it, ok?”
It took Abigail a considerable amount of time to confess. She spent a lot of that time fidgeting, wriggling, looking for an easy out and hanging her head in shame. “And if,” she croaked, feeling the bile rise in her throat out of sheer undiluted terror, “and if...the dream just so happened to be in, in some kinda different version of the mall, and I said that I lived there…?” Her voice petered out into a hoarse squeak.
Simon’s eyes closed as she said it.
Slowly, he nodded.
“Aw, fuck me.” He breathed slowly, sinking into the chair a little.
Several coffee urns dropped back onto the desk in unison, making a resounding crash. Most of them clattered onto the floor - a couple of them broke. Abigail doubled over at the sound and covered the back of her neck and her head with her hands. “I didn’t mean to!” she cried out, shifting her chair back with a kick of her legs to put distance between herself and her interrogator. The room responded in kind - a lot of the little things on the desks put distance between themselves and the surfaces, maybe an inch or two, as staplers and maps and empty coffee mugs lazily drifted upwards. “I-I-I was just trying to scare him, I was trying hard not to tell’im nothin’!”
” someone yelped as a flood of still-warm coffee soaked the floor.
“Woah, hey, hey, kid, it’s ok. It’s gonna be ok, we’re not- we’re not fucking angry, ok?” Simon gave a start as the noise started, reaching forward instinctively to try and calm Abi down. “Seriously, kid, I mean it, I- I know you tried your best, ok? We’re not- we’re not gonna-”
And like that, he twigged.
“We’re not gonna hurt you, kid, really. We’re- we’re here to protect you, alright?” He got onto his knees to reach forwards, gently, towards Abi, staying below her rather than above her, his stutter resurfacing for a moment.
“How many people,” Abigail groaned, “did I just put into danger with my big fuckin’ mouth? What are these stupid dreams anyhow?! Why’s it matter! It’s just a dumb hobo!”
“I don’t know how many, if any, might be in danger now - and I don’t know very much about the dreams, either, but I know someone who might.” Simon laid his hand on her shoulder. She flinched at the touch and kept still. “All I know is that some magic users, they sometimes get weird dreams like yours, and that sometimes two people who are having those dreams, they can stumble into eachother and meet. Is that right, Syl?” Simon looked up at a tall, black woman, who was busy standing up the coffee urns.
“Close.” She replied curtly. “It’s not always people
who you find in those dreams. But close.”
“Can you make’em stop?” Abigail croaked, wishing she hadn’t immolated her sleeping bag and much preferring the cold hard floor to this fresh nightmare.
Sylvia turned to face Abi, face expressionless.
“Y’aint got some sorta sedative or sommin’ that can stop me from dreaming up anything?” Abigail ventured.
“Not one a child should be taking - or that you could use for very long.” She turned back to the coffee, sighing at the mess. There was a gentle tap as one of the free-floating paperweights bonked into the side of a filing cabinet.
Abigail hid her head in between her knees, trying to fold herself up into nonexistence. She kept quiet for a while longer before asking “what happens now?”
“I’m gonna let you use my sleeping bag to try and get some rest, kid. Then I’m gonna go see about reorganising our watch. Tomorrow we’ll see about these dreams of yours - we were planning on giving everyone some basic safety training and stuff anyway, right Syl?”
She didn’t reply.
“Ok. Come on, kid. Let’s get you a glass of water or something.”