The mental worlds Mary had seen thus far were organized, detailed settings so realistic that it was easy to mistake them for the reality. However, those had all been ones constructed or accessed through Rich’s ability. A mind not under the influence of such a power was messier, more chaotic, and far less bound by any convention of making sense.
Unlike her first time, Mary immediately understood that she was no longer in her own mind. Moments ago she’d been having a dream about a daffodil that was also a hunting lodge in the Alps, then, without warning, she was standing in a carnival. Along with the scenery change, her level of lucidity rose sharply. It seemed the act of leaving her mind gave her self-awareness not present during the usual REM cycle. She looked around, noticing the way the colors in the sky were shifting between blacks and greens, and the way the edges of the rides and tents were muddled, like painted images someone had smeared along the lines.
“I want to make a ‘not in Kansas’ joke, but even by myself that feels cliché,” Mary muttered. “At least now I know I can dreamwalk without Rich.” Carefully, she began walking along the cobblestone and dirt path under her feet. This isn’t to say the two elements were both present, merely that sometimes it was one and sometimes it was the other. Looking down and seeing the transition made her stomach queasy, so Mary instead kept her eyes level to take in the various sights.
She had to admit, this wasn’t what she expected from Alice’s dreams. There were various people milling about, some as patrons of the events and others working as carnies. The rides were bright and colorful, the scent of fried food hung thick in the air. After all the horror movies Nick made them watch, Mary kept expecting something sinister to leap out, but it seemed this dream presented the happy side of carnival. Maybe Alice had good memories of one?
“What the what-fuck?”
Mary recognized the voice, but immediately knew it wasn’t her dorm mate. Pivoting on her heel, she spun around to come face to face with Jill. The Super with dirty blonde hair was wearing a green dress that looked like it had come from the eighteen hundreds, all lace and poofs and fancy trim.
“Yeah, it’s me. Real me, too. Like not a dream version. It’s weird; a few minutes ago it was like I suddenly became aware of how weird this all was. I woke up without waking up.”
Mary nodded. “That happened when I entered someone’s mind unexpectedly before. I think the only reason it didn’t happen with Vince is that he was already partially aware of the real world in his dream.”
“Neat, so you’re a cheat code for lucid dreaming. You could make money doing that,” Jill commented. “Let’s see how well this works.” She closed her eyes and her brow furrowed. Moments later she was wearing a tank-top and shorts, topped off by a pair of flip-flops. “Thank the gods; that dress was chafing like a mofo.”
“Interesting,” Mary said, making note of this ability. It hadn’t been there in her previous journeys. Nick had been able to call upon the defenses in his mind, but he had never shown the power to simply alter the world at will. Perhaps that was because the other times were all playing in Rich’s worlds, and here Jill was the creator.
“Still doesn’t explain why you’re in my head,” Jill said, shifting her attention now that comfort was established. “Did you finish with Alice and decide to lay on me?”
“No, as far as I know I’m still bound to her,” Mary replied. “I guess we have to assume that, somehow or another, you and I made physical contact during the night.”
“It’s possible, I do tend to toss and turn when I sleep,” Jill admitted. “Oh well, this still counts as a win, doesn’t it? I mean, you can use your power without Rich.”
“It seems that way,” Mary agreed. “The next step is to see how far it can take me. Or, us.”
“What does that mean?”
“In the state Rich induced before, I was able to move through the person’s mind, and I freed them up to do the same. Memories could be revisited, portions of their personality spoken with, effectively it allowed me access to the deeper recesses of their consciousness.”
“I’m not sure how comfortable with that I am,” Jill said, her eyes narrowing slightly.
“There’s a chance it’s not even possible like this,” Mary said. “But I’d like to at least see. Why don’t you come with me. If we encounter a place or memory you don’t want me to see, you can just lead me away. No questions asked.”
A tall man pushing a cotton candy cart rolled up alongside them. Jill snagged a bag of the stuff, but when she opened it up it was instead a bag of popcorn. Mary took a bag too, though she held her own down at her side.
“I guess I can work with that,” Jill said. “The whole point of this was to help you, after all. I just didn’t realize how in depth your ability went.”
“You have my word, I’ll respect your boundaries,” Mary promised. “I just want to see if it’s possible.”
“Okay, but only on one other condition,” Jill stipulated.
“We wait a couple of minutes to start. Since this is a lucid dream and all, there’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
“Fine by me,” Mary agreed.
Jill nodded, but didn’t say anything more. Instead, she closed her eyes and focused once more. A golden necklace appeared around her neck, one Mary dimly recognized as the prop from an old sci-fi television show. As soon as it had formed, Jill began rising into the air. Her eyes popped open and a small squeal of joy escaped her lips.
“Just a few trips around the Ferris-wheel,” she called, then she was off, soaring through the air with the kind of speed and control that even Alice would have complimented.
As the dreamer rocketed through the air, Mary turned her own attention to the bag of cotton candy still clutched in her hand. She loathed the stuff, it was all fluff and no substance, but she hadn’t grabbed it because she was hungry. Mary closed her eyes the way she’d seen Jill do, pushing a mental image out into the world around her. When they reopened she was still clutching a see-through cellophane bag.
Only now, it was filled with caramel corn.