Long Dark Night Shift Of The Soul

by: The Exile

"In the night/ dream delight/ I want to see you standing there/ In the night/ dream delight/ I've found someone who really cares..."

I sang as I wandered through the plaza, my keen eyes searching the leaflets and free stuff, picking out anything that could be eaten or exchanged for beer and carefully avoiding anything else. Term was beginning and Fresher's Fair was crammed with students, laughing, yelling and being sick on the floor. It was midday and the sun was blinding me- if it wasn't for the promise of free stuff I would never have woken up this early, never mind be walking around like an idiot. Once I had finished fleecing the stalls for all they were worth, I headed towards the Student's Union building, hoping to find some of my friends. To my annoyance, a woman stood deliberately in my path and shoved a leaflet under my nose without offering me so much as a free pen.

"Sir, would you like to win a lifetime's..." I tried to move around her but she was inhumanly fast, moving in front of me whichever direction I moved in.

"Win, win, win at the Twin Seeds casino!"

"Go away." I growled, preparing to push her out of the way. Before I could do so, she glided backwards, llifted her hand and threw the leaflet at me. It ripped straight through my coat and blood began trickling from a cut on my arm. She began throwing more leaflets at me, her aim deadly accurate. Only one person can move as fast as that, I realised. I grabbed my chair leg of doom and ran after her, swearing in Nightopian. She easily stayed out of my reach, the continuous barrage of leaflets stinging my arms, legs and chest.

"JACKLE, YOU BASTARD! YOU'RE MY LEAST FAVOURITE LEVEL GUARDI..." I dropped my chair leg and collapsed, unconscious.

The clock on the wall said it was only ten minute later when I woke up in the medical room. A nurse was looking down at me, a concerned look on her face.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like I've woken up from a nightmare."

"Well, you look okay to leave now. How on earth did you get all those cuts?"

"They're paper cuts." I told her. Lifting myself from the bed, I walked out. She gave me an odd look.

I walked down the corridor, wondering what in Nightopia Jackle was doing on this planet. Did nightmares go to university as well? I had never considered this. Well, I should go back to sleep, I thought, so I can tell NIGHTs what happened. As I turned the corner, I noticed there was a new job shop. I laughed because I was totally unemployable. I was about to walk off again when a man in a suit came out of the shop and started yelling at me. Who the hell is it now, I thought, Klaws?

"Hey, do you want this job?" he waved an advert at me.

"Pardon?"

"You look just the right person for the job!"

"You need a new pair of glasses." I told him. I walked on until I reached the exit. Just as I reached to push the door open, a shop assistant ran out.

"The manager told me to give you this." he passed me a piece of paper. I read it. It was a job application form. I dropped it as though it was on fire, then ran, not looking back. I knocked over a sign and leapt over a stall, still going through my entire Nightopian vocabulary of curses. I heard people yelling at me and chasing me, their voices sounding like demons from the nightmare realm. I ran out of the University premises and down the road but they didn't stop chasing me. Eventually, blinded by the sun, thirsty and exhausted, I reached my house, opened the door, locked it behind me and fell asleep.

"Midnight Levelwalker! Wake up!"

A firm hand was shaking me awake. It was NiGHTs. Outside, the stars glittered in a beautiful night sky, too clear to be in the city- I was obviously in Nightopia. He made me a cup of the REALLY strong green tea that I liked and put it beside my bed.

"What the? Jackle..."

"Jackle? Did Jackle do this?"

"Do what?"

"You... you don't know?" he looked worried.

"Tell me." I ordered, "I'm ready for anything. I've had the most bizarre day..."

"Someone stole your mauve ideya!"

My face went white. I stared at the wall, unable to move or speak. A great chasm of horrified despair was opening below me, threatening to plunge me into an eternal night shift of the soul.

"Come on, we have to get it back. It's the most important ideya." he lifted his arms back theatrically. Level bosses are such show-offs. "Hope... love... courage... innocence... they're nothing if the human heart has lost its unemployability!"

"But if anyone sees me..."

"They won't. We'll fly high in the sky. The only people who can see us are Nightmaren and they don't have jobs to offer." he pointed out of the door. I followed him and took his hand. We flew up together, up into the endless ocean of stars, each outdoing the other constantly with our complex aerobatic tricks as we tried to bring our high score up a notch.

"Feeling better now?"

I nodded as I performed a double backwards paraloop.
"I wish I could stay here all night, every night, just me and the stars, like a celestial night-watchman."

"Levelwalker?"

"Hm?"

"You've been doing this for years now. You can kick Reala's ass for a 2.0, even Puffy's scared of you and, between you and me, I think Klaws fancies you. Why do you lose to Jackle so often?"

"I... don't know. I just panic when I see her. Even the background music... I think it's the way she laughs at you during battle. I hate being laughed at."

"She's a dangerous woman. I dread to think what she wants with the mauve ideya of unemployability."

Eventually we reached the strange world that was Jackle's domain. It looked like some kind of gambling hall on LSD, with psychedelic colours and walls that warped and shifted. It was circular and Jackle was standing in the middle, resplendent in her smartest jester's uniform and cape, idly shuffling a pack of cards in one hand while she argued with a furious-looking Reala.

"Reala, this is pathetic! You can't steal a mauve ideya just for this!"

"Who says I can't? You're boring." she stuck her tongue out at him.

"But it's just ONE morning!"

"Don't blame me, blame her over there." she pointed at me.

"Eh? What the hell have I done?"

"I was supposed to be in your nightmare, but because of your stupid sleeping habits, you had the dream at 8 in the morning!" she screamed at me in her annoyingly high-pitched voice, "Why am I the only thing you're scared of anyway?"

"I'm scared of one other thing." I told her.

"What's that?"

"Being woken up at 8 in the morning."

She screamed even louder and flew at me, throwing cards. I was ready for her this time, deflecting the cards with my +3 chair leg of doom. I jumped on her and hit her with it repeatedly.

"STOP!"

I looked around, recognising the deep purring voice. A familiar giant cat was dangling from a mouse-shaped ledge on the ceiling. Reala, bent over the unconcious form of Jackle, didn't notice him.

"Clawz!"

"Are you wounded?" he asked. I was gripping my chest with both my hands. "Let me look."

I shook my head and staggered backwards.

"Midnight..." whispered NiGHTs. "Show me what's wrong."

Since when could I refuse NiGHTs anything? I moved my hands away slowly. Above my heart, emblazoned neatly on my trademark black cloak, was a Tesco logo.

"We're running out of time!" swore Clawz. Hissing, he unsheathed his claws and pounced on Jackle. Reala took the blow for her but it was only a distraction. Bellowing a war cry, I ran at her with my chair leg of doom and hit her over the head with it. The level faded away in a brilliant burst of light.

The next day...

The local Tesco opened up as usual. The sun shone brightly. In the back of the shop, the manager tapped her desk with her pen and peered at the dark-clad stranger from underneath her clipboard.

"Are you SURE we said we'd give you this job interview?"

"I don't know." I smiled, "I was asleep at the time."

With those words, I put my feet on the desk and fell asleep.

In my dream, NiGHTs winked.