The Diffident Hero - NaNoWriMo 2012 - Chapter 2, pt. 2

He fell asleep instantly, but despite the scotch, he didn’t sleep deeply. Instead he found himself dreaming, and the dreams were intense.

It started out with a replay of the day’s events, only in slow motion and from a multitude of angles; it was like being everywhere at once, seeing everything, even the bits that neither he nor the cameras had seen. He saw the fire start in the basement of the building, a dusty old place where too much old crap had been dumped, lots of wood and paper and cardboard and far too many things covered in grease and oil, no doubt belonging to the maintenance men who kept the buildings’ water heaters and air circulation systems running. All it took was a single spark landing in the wrong spot, and the potential firetrap lived up to its potential at last.

It spread quickly throughout the basement, and even in the dream Brandon could feel the heat and pressure building fast as the air rapidly expanded. His perspective shifted; a young mother in a third floor apartment, looking out over the street with baby in her arms and daddy at her side. She held the little girl firmly, all of them happy and laughing at something funny daddy had said, when -WHUMP-

The building shook, mommy and daddy were thrown off balance. Dual instincts warred within mommy; she clutched her child in one arm and threw the other out to the balcony rail to steady herself, but lost her grip. Both parents screamed as the little girl went out, out and over, then the sickeningly long fall to the concrete below.

He saw himself, oblivious, reacting to the windows blowing out, leaping back, the little girl striking his chest, his arms snapping up automatically to catch her.

He saw the crowd, many of them already facing his way, their attention drawn by both the screams of the mother above and the explosive shattering of the basement windows. He saw their reaction to his miracle catch. He felt an immense weight of approval, but it wasn’t the crowd’s, and it wasn’t his own. It reminded him of nothing so much than the strangeness he’d noticed about the little girl herself.

He didn’t have time to dwell on that before his perspective changed again; this time he was who knows where. It looked like nothing so much as a swamp, of all places. He was standing knee-deep in it, and …

Why were his knees bare?

He had swamp water in his boots, and …

Why was he wearing a fur loincloth?

“What the hell?” he yelled at nobody in particular. He was startled at how loud and heroic his voice sounded. A mosquito bit him on the unusually large and solid bicep, and with startling speed and accuracy he swatted it, smashing it flat against the bulging muscle. “Holy crap.”

He raised a hand to his head, and sure enough, he was wearing a helmet very much like that stupid picture he’d drawn. The shield was strapped to his back, to judge by the weight, and the sword to his belt.

No sooner had he recognized his circumstances than his perspective altered once again, becoming more dream, less lucid. He saw his caricature-self march off into the swamp, headed for the heart of the forest in the distance.

He was not unchallenged; from his odd, disembodied perspective, he saw himself being eyed hungrily by a frighteningly large crocodile seconds before it darted forward to strike, only to watch himself cleave its skull nearly in two before it could bring the its massive jaws together on him. He hadn’t even seen himself draw the sword.

A short time later, as he was nearing the edge of the swamp, he watched helplessly as a 20’ snake dropped silently from the branches of a slimy tree overhead. It quickly coiled around his arms and shoulders, pinning him, rearing in front of him, mouth gaping. His caricature set his feet wide, bracing for action, and without flinching or even changing expression, flexed his entire upper body. The snake hissed furiously, muscular body trying to clamp down and crush the air from Brandon’s massive lungs.

It took a minute, but finally Brandon’s heroic alter-ego won out. With a huge outward and upward heave, he hurled the snake off into the water, then cut its head off with one stroke when it was foolish enough to return to strike again.

‘What am I doing? I mean watching? I mean dreaming? No more scotch on an empty stomach before bed,’ he found himself thinking. If this dream had been a movie, he’d have clicked it off by now. It was the worst sort of cheesy fantasy action hero schlock, the sort of stuff he’d outgrown years ago.

His over-muscled caricature was dragging himself out of the swamp and onto dry land. He wore fur boots to match the loincloth, though they were so filthy with swamp muck that it was hard to tell what they were at first. He pulled them off one by one and gave them a quick rinse in the water, pulled them back on, and continued on.

As he moved soundlessly through the forest like some overly large and unusually dense ghost, he found his perception shifting again. The woods grew darker faster than the dense foliage should have accounted for, faster even than the approach of night accounted for. His cartoonish form started to seem more real to him, less outrageously proportioned. Little details pinged into his awareness that had been lacking before; the wetness of his boots from the water, scratches from the swamp vegetation he’d pushed through, bruises sustained from the crocodile fight, countless insect bites.

He almost preferred the caricature, he decided. He wanted to stop and scratch the itches, but he had somewhere to be. A meeting needed to take place; he couldn’t be late. He wasn’t sure how he knew this. Must’ve been some kind of dream-logic. He had been called, and it was time to answer.

The forest was nearly pitch black and his tree-trunk legs were collecting an impressive variety of scratches from pushing on through the undergrowth. The character of the land began to change, gradually at first. The brush thinned, the ground became flatter, more level, at least where he walked. The plants around him became strange, almost otherworldly. Bio-luminescent life began to appear everywhere; bits of moss, glowing insects, traces of light along the curve of a leaf, all started appearing to light the woods with an ethereal glow. He was almost disappointed when neither Galadriel nor Na’vi appeared to him from behind a convenient tree.

A dark spot in the blue-green glow of the forest caught his attention in the distance before him. He watched as it steadily grew closer, until it resolved as a grove of trees grown so tightly packed that they formed a great wall of living wooden trunks, their canopy of branches tightly woven overhead. The tangled mass of roots at their bases made the ground treacherous save for a single, well-worn path which lay clear and smooth and led to a narrow arch between two great trunks.

He passed through the arch without a trace of the hesitation he’d have shown had it not been a dream. Beyond the arch lay a deep darkness, split only by the faint glow of the forest’s light from beyond. He stepped resolutely inside, and even that slight glow disappeared.

He stood waiting in that way that you do in dreams without conscious control. His eyes slowly adjusted to the dark of the space and he saw that he stood within a grove, the massive trunk wall surrounding a perfect circle of ground.

A light started to grow from the center of the circle, barely visible at first but increasing gradually in intensity. It began as a pale green, growing brighter and more intense, lighting first a circle of moss and then growing in diameter until it filled the whole clearing.

The clearing was smooth and flat and covered in a blanket of soft, lush green moss. As he watched, insects emerged from burrows in the trunks and the ground, further lighting the space and giving him a better view. The trees grew to an dizzying height, with the lowest branches not appearing until the trunks had risen a good twenty meters, and it was another 5 before they became tightly interwoven to form a solid roof.

His attention was wrested from the roof by … he had no idea what, but his gaze was wrenched down to the center of the clearing, where the light had concentrated into a near-physical intensity. The time of the meeting was at hand.

Now, where’s Galadriel? he thought.