Mayumi, wandering the streets of Three Rats. She has told Alma that she wants to get to know the neighborhood in the daytime so she can navigate it more safely, in the dark. But really, she is trying to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the Station, especially of her family home: Alma’s beautiful room, chilled by the goddess’ cold fury at her, at Inspector Sky, all bottled up for days. She knows there will be an explosion. Probably Cherry, or Merri, will set it off – they are already whispering about it, fed up with the silence. Or maybe Sage will set it off, trying to reason with Alma. Mayumi only knows it won’t be her. She is too...tired.
And Sky. Back to being formal now, distant. The charming mask dropped, replaced by another. Withdrawn just as much as Alma, if not more. Mayumi knows what it is. He’s lost a friend. Every time she talks to him in the course of work in the records room, he is far away, hardly looking at her. Walls up. It makes her want to shout at him, or even hit him, hard.
Stupid. She’d been stupid, lying. Stupider, getting him to lie for her, then others getting caught up in it. But she isn’t the only one being stupid…
She stops suddenly, her eye caught by some writing. Japanese? “Dream Walker.” Maybe not Japanese, but she could read the characters. The tent is small but gaudy. In Urbia and the local blend of Portuguese and other languages, a beckoning message: “Having trouble with dreams? Madame Meng can help. Enter, mortal.”
Dreams...for more than twenty years she’d lived in dreams, a dream world of her own, ten of those years awake and aware of herself. She’d been raised by a man – she could hardly remember his face now. It was all slipping away, her whole life before just over three weeks ago, when she woke up here, in this...reality. Fading like dreams. But they were not dreams – she refuses to believe that! Not simply dreams. There has to be more to them or...her friends, her career, her...father. It will all be nothing, if she forgets.
On an impulse, she enters the tent. “Hello?” she calls, parting the heavy fabric of the tent’s entrance. “Is anybody here?”
Her first impression of the dark-purple, heavily decorated tent is an overwhelming woody-sweet scent filling her sensitive nose. Several oil lamps spill dim, smoky light over the numerous pillows. Carpets and drapery decorate the decidedly stuffy tent, the embroidery clashing together in a riot of swirls, spirals, patterns, and weird symbols. On second thought… thinks Mayumi, trying to slip back out, this is probably just some charlatan, and I’m just walking into a money trap...
“Hello there.” A young woman, barely outside the reach of adolescence steps into the feeble lighting. “Welcome to my humble abode. I am Meng, a simple seer.” She gestures towards a small, round table. “Please. Make yourself comfortable. I have some minor things to wrap up, but I shall attend to you shortly.”
Unable to escape now, Mayumi sighs and sits on an overstuffed cushion. She absentmindedly fingers a tassel, thinking, This is too much, while watching the young woman moving around the tent. Her ears twitch in irritation at the non-stop twinkling sound that seems to follow the young woman’s every movement, courtesy of all the bangles, beads, and tiny bells adorning her over-the-top outfit.
The numerous tassels that hang off Meng’s bodice do nothing to soften the sound of impact between the baubles that threaten to swallow up her figure, not that there is much of it to be seen in the first place, for her clothing is as layered and as complicated as her tent. The shawls, headdresses, petticoats, sashes, and other pieces of clothing with dress functions unknown to Mayumi wrap up the young woman’s figure with heavy embroidery, patterned in such a wild and nonsensical design that it wouldn’t look out of place from a mad fashion maven’s reject bin. Her makeup doesn’t make sense either. Unnoticeable before in the dim lighting, a slight tilt of the Meng’s head reveals that her skin is heavily caked with powder and greasepaint to May’s sharp, night-sensitive eyes.
The Bunny simply can’t understand it – mortal women usually put on makeup to make the years drop away from their complexion, yet the makeup on this young woman was obviously done with the goal of ageing, so thickly applied that it reminds May of a stage-actor’s makeup. If that acting is, in fact, the goal, it pairs up well with the young woman’s slow, deliberate actions that sets off the trinkets’ non-stop twinkling.
Slowly Mayumi realizes the twinkling sound isn’t as nerve-grating anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. Instead, it is now a soft, soothing chime to her ears, lulling her into drowsiness. The Bunny finds herself swaying dangerously on the overstuffed cushion, in a state of bliss as the young woman comes over, holding a cup of tea. Mayumi looks up sleepily at Meng and immediately dismisses her preconceptions. It must have been the lighting – there is no makeup, no ridiculous outfit… Instead here is a wizened gypsy, the seer now completely devoting her attention to Mayumi and Mayumi alone. The thought seems to fill her up with a warm, comfortable sensation, as if she has already taken a sip of the tea.
“You seem much more comfortable now,” says the gypsy, her voice sounding strangely ethereal to Mayumi’s ears. A gentle smile lights up Meng’s face. “Now, how may I be of assistance?”
At these words, May opens her mouth, about to pour out her worries and fears in an intermixed torrent of memories, feelings and words, probably like many others before her. But to her – and the gypsy’s – surprise, her lips refuse to speak, her mind blocked.
What are you doing! shouts a voice, making Mayumi blink in surprise. It is her own, but far away and distant. Wake up! her own voice yells at her.
Wake up? asks Mayumi. What am I supposed to wake up fro—
Realization dawns upon her, and the hypnotism spell loosens its grip and falls apart. The gypsy’s wizened mask shatters before Mayumi’s eyes to reveal a young woman’s face caked heavily in makeup, looking very unsure of herself as to what happened, now that the dreamy look on May’s face is gone.
“You!” Mayumi springs to her feet and rushes the gypsy, grabbing her by the layers of clothes and shaking her. “Trying to control my mind? Make me talk?? Who are you?” she demands.
The young woman tries to back off hastily in fear, but finds herself held tight in Mayumi’s unrelenting grip. “I swear, I only wanted to help! That’s all I do!” she insists.
“Would you just sit down for twenty seconds?” asks Meng. “Please? And don’t drink the tea,” she adds. “There’s a sleeping drug in there.”
Mayumi releases Meng, then throws her a dirty look. “Sleeping drug?” she asks.
“It’s how I run my business–”
“What? You drug them, then rob them?” May looks furious, breathing hard.
“Would you listen! To! Me!” demands Meng. “Seriously, if I ran my business that way, I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I have…”
“And how long have you actually done this?” asks May, switching from accusatory to interrogative as she bring her anger under control.
There is a reluctant pause. “Three weeks…” mutters Meng. “But all my customers were satisfied, okay? I’m good at what I do.”
The words ‘Dream Walker’ from the sign outside the tent come forth to Mayumi’s thoughts. “What exactly do you do?”
“Easy,” says Meng, making herself comfortable on a pile of pillows. “I can dream travel.”
Silence falls inside the tent – a long, thick silence so heavy and solid, it practically forms cobwebs in the air as Mayumi looks at Meng, her eyes revealing the full depth of her annoyance at the woman’s foolish notion that mystery means charm. Almost as if replying to an absolute need to keep the cliché, crickets begin chirping in their cages, hung just above Mayumi’s head.
“And…?” May asks finally, prompting a sheepish look from Meng.
“And...?” Meng repeats awkwardly.
“You can dream travel and…” Mayumi elaborates, her face perfectly blank.
Irritation shows in Meng’s face in a form of a red blush, visible even under the makeup. “And I can take people with me into dreams. Look, that’s what I do, and that’s probably why you’re here. If that’s not the case,” she gestures at the tent exit, “you can take your leave.”
The hard expression on Mayumi’s face melts away when she realises the implications of Meng’s words. “Dreams?”
“Any kind of dream. I do have my limits with nightmares, so if that’s where you’re going, I don’t guarantee a two-way ride.”
Mayumi couldn’t believe her ears. “Any kind?”
“Any kind,” says Meng. “Sit down, would you?”
“Even the ones that were real?” asks Mayumi, ignoring Meng’s request. “To me?”
Meng smiles, knowing she’s finally gotten her customer. “Yes. Most of my customers come to seek some kind of closure. For what I know not, since it’s not my place to ask–”
Without another word, Mayumi folds her legs under her and collapses onto the overstuffed cushion in a sitting position. “How do we begin?”
“Well, I do need to know what you want to do,” says Meng. “Traveling into dreams is pretty dangerous, especially when you have a stranger in tow. It’s essentially traveling through your subconscious mind – and possibly that of others. You have to be certain that you’re fine with letting me know everything related to what you want to do.”
May finds her enthusiasm deflating a little. “Everything? Must I tell it to you?”
“It’s not like you tell me, but I do have to watch over you so I can take you back to this reality. This means I may or may not hear or see things that you may, possibly, want to keep a secret,” Meng explains, her hand moving in a fluttering idle gesture.
“Do I have a choice?” the Bunny asks, her eyebrow raised at Meng’s vagueness.
“Not really, no,” says Meng. “I do try, but it’s not a hundred-percent privacy.”
Mayumi sits in silence, thinking, staring at the elaborate pattern on a cushion. Then she looks into Meng’s eyes. “Go ahead. Do it.”
“Okay,” says Meng, all business. “Relax, drink that tea after all, and make yourself comfortable. You’re going to find yourself drifting away... Don’t try to fight it... Just let yourself go…”
“… with the flow…”