Aaarrgh, this isn't very interesting at allll...it's so boooorrriiinng. Arrrrgh, I'm writhing in despaiiiirrr...I think I'll go cry in the corner while all you readers (or rather, 'reader') review this to tell me how horribly horrible it is.

I need a beta. But I'm afraid that they'll be so disgusted at what I write that they quit. Aaarrrrgh. I'm sorry. Go ahead and read. And for cripes sake, tell me how to make this damn thing better!


How to Fix a Mind

A mental world was supposed to be absolutely saturated with some kind of symbolism. Lili couldn't draw any meaning out of this one, though.

She had fallen right into a jungle. It had to be a jungle because of all the vines. Speaking of which, the vines kept trying to grab her like snakes would, and they were hard to dodge because they were everywhere. Equally as numerous were the carnivorous plants that wasted no time snapping at her, straining at their roots trying to get a bite out of her. Unfortunately, as much as she'd like to, burning them all would have been very dangerous to her.

"Geez, is this person afraid of plants or something?" She quickly fired a psi-blast at yet another snake-vine and jumped over a giant, snapping venus flytrap.

"Maybe all of this represents something else," said Dart, trailing closely behind. "For some reason, there're a lot of school buses going around here too." Lili immediately tried looking for one and saw one of the buses running over a tree ferociously. For some reason, it was painted camouflage.

"So she's afraid of plants and schools and joining the army?"

"I don't think you're very good at figuring out the meanings of things."

They gave the savage bus a wide berth, but unluckily for them, it was occupied with running things over. And apparently, things that were actually able to move were much more fun to run over. The bus reared up like a rowdy horse, its engine roaring, before it chased the two children.

They ran and ran and ran and ran, but the bus simply sped up with them. The vines and plants all hurriedly jumped out of the way, not wanting to be a victim of the homicidal vehicle. Looking back at it, Lili thought she saw an evil, triumphant smirk on the front bumper just before both of them tripped on a giant root and into a little circle of sand, which actually had a circle drawn around it.

They quickly jumped up again, now certain that the bus would be right behind them now, but the lack of engine noise and a dull, echoing tapping sound turned their attention behind them.

Around the little circle of sand, the air looked…substantial? Lili could see it swirling around lazily, kind of like glass. Through the air, she could see the savage bus angrily running itself into the air-wall again and again before it drove off.

"Well," said Dart, breathing heavily. "That was lucky." He relaxed and sat in the sand normally, only to find that a stick was being waved at his face. It looked thin, and the tip had sand stuck to it. To the 'attacker's' credit, it was a sharp stick…

But the wielder was a scared little girl, younger than seven, and no matter the sharpness of the stick, she could be easily overpowered. "Who are you?" she quavered, but immediately continued, "You're not mommy! Go 'way! You're not s'posed to come in here!" The girl was definitely a much younger version of the woman whose mind they were in. The pale blonde hair was much neater and shorter, and her white skin and dress, cleaner. She seemed to be much less insane than her real-life counterpart, which was good too.

Lili came forward, trying to look nonthreatening, and said, "Look, um…your mom sent us…for…uh…" The only thing that the girl could think of at the top of her head was how she used to have a private tutor, since usually public schools didn't let her in. But now wasn't really the time to dwell on stupid, bigoted people. "…Tutoring."

This seemed to have been the wrong lie to say, as the girl's round eyes somehow widened even more. "Mommy would never do that! She said she'd be right back! I was s'posed to show her…she was s'posed to…" And then the girl plopped down into the sand and began to cry. Her loud, choking sobs shook her small frame.

Dammit, this was why Lili hated small children. So maybe she was technically a kid herself, but she didn't start crying whenever things weren't going her way. "Argh, I can't handle little kids," she complained, and just let Dart, who was closer to the girl anyways, make an attempt to comfort her.

Being a boy, this was rather awkward for him too. "Um, it's okay," he said after shooting Lili a glare for dumping this responsibility on him. "Your mom will come soon…" The blue-skinned boy made as if to pat the girl on the back, but she twisted away from him and waved the stick threateningly at him again.

"I'm not s'posed to let strangers touch me. That's bad. Then I get…get…kidnapped. Can't tell my name too. I'll get ate'n by a mean wolf." There was absolutely no sign of tears, leading Lili to believe that she had just been pretending before. Her opinion of the woman lowered again: she hated attention-seekers. "I bet you took mommy away! She hasn't come back for a long time! That means you're in..in…ca…hoots! Cahoots with the black thing!"

"Trust me, we're not in cahoots with anything."

"Nor do we associate, are in company with, have any relation to…" Lili droned, sounding rather bored now. Dart gave her another short glare (not that she really cared). "So anyways, what's this 'black thing'?" Whatever it was, it sounded just like the kind of mental thing they had to beat up.

"It came when mommy left..." The small girl let the arm holding the stick drop and stared off distantly at the sky, apparently forgetting that she was not 's'posed to give strangers…infor…information!'

"Mommy talks to people a lot and goes outside a lot now…I mean, before…so then she said I had to go on a school bus to a school instead, an' people there were mean an' scary an' noisy an' I came back here an' then she drove off, and then the black thing came. Mommy hasn't come back yet…it's been so long. And the black thing makes fun of me and tries to take away the only safe place…"

The girl suddenly focused on something behind Lili and Dart. Her sharp intake of breath already told them what it was she saw, but they turned around anyways.

The thing was certainly black, like a shadow. In fact, it was exactly that. The only things not black were the little dots of white for eyes and the big toothy mouth. It couldn't have been a grin; it was too neutral to be one. The figure didn't seem entirely there – parts of it wavered and faded before returning to shadow-black, but it must have been solid because the plants moved aside accordingly when it pushed through them.

Interestingly enough, it looked like a silhouette of the little girl.

All three of them stood frozen, the blonde girl out of fear, Lili and Dart out of confusion. The shadow came and started scuffing its foot on the border of the sand. As it did so, tendrils of vines started reaching in the gap of the line. The little girl pushed past the two psychics and started waving her stick at the shadow, shouting "Stop it! Stop it!" and then tried desperately to redraw the border. The vines curled around the stick, as if trying to stop her, but grew limp and disintegrated when the girl managed to redraw the line. The shadow watched this, possibly with amusement. It was impossible to tell with its unchanging face.

Come on out, it said, though its mouth did not move. It was a chilling voice, the kind that echoed and made you think you were imagining things. Come out, Josie Barith. We are having a party. What are you frightened for? Come out, nothing will hurt you… and here, the shadow giggled, making the hair rise on the back of Lili's neck.

"Stop it! Go away!" Josie flailed and waved the stick menacingly again, but this did nothing to drive away the shadow. It just kept giggling.

Go ahead then, Josie…continue living in fear. Forever waiting for your mother – At this point, both Lili and Dart shot at the shadow. The shadow drew back with an Urk! Slightly encouraged by this, Lili shouted, "Get it!" Josie made no move to move out of her secluded circle of sand as Dart and Lili suddenly jumped out at the creepy shadow. It realized it could be wounded by these beams and jumped into a jet black hole that suddenly opened up in the air. Without really thinking (except for 'The faster I take care of this damn thing, the faster I can stop worrying about stupid, camouflage buses'), Lili jumped after it. Dart hesitated, but hurriedly followed when he saw the hole quickly shrinking. The end of his hat got stuck, but he pulled it through with a little tugging.

Luckily, the place they jumped into did not have crazy buses or living plants. But it was friggin' dark. And there indeed was a party.

The music was a loud, generic throb that the people jumped in tempo with. The kind of music you didn't even have to listen to. The people themselves were more interesting, mostly because Lili could only see white outlines of them. The people were so dark that they would have been invisible if it hadn't been for their outlines. Not unlike those iPod commercials, actually. Unseen feet kept treading on her toes, making Lili kick back, but the crowd was one of those stubborn ones that kept on jumping and dancing and pushing no matter what you did. Too bad she landed right in the middle of it.

"Hey! Dart! Are you there?!" But the sheer noise completely drowned out her voice. The shadow crowd pushed and shoved her until she was right at the edge with hardly any room between the black wall and a person she couldn't see. Dammit, this was so annoying. Lili forced her arms out from between herself and the jumping person in front of her, and as she lay them on the wall, she felt a light switch. At least, she thought it was a light switch. It definitely felt like one.

Flick. The room turned white. The music stopped. The jumping black people were suddenly white cardboard cutouts. Apparently, there had been a disco ball, but it had been too dark for Lili to see it. It probably had been spinning when the room was black, but now, it looked sad and dull. The only sound was " – LIIIIiiiiiiii…oh, the music stopped."

There was some scuffling, and a few grunts, and then a yell as Dart fell over and sent a row of cardboard people to the floor, like dominoes. Lili pushed aside some more blank cutouts (making a few more chains fall) and laughed at the sight of the boy sprawled over slightly bent cutouts.

"That's not funny," he complained, trying to push himself up. "I got pushed all the way to the speakers! Do you know how loud that was?" And then another cardboard man fell on him, making Lili laugh even harder. "…Okay, that was funny. But seriously, shouldn't we be doing something else right now?"

"Yeah, yeah." Lili stifled her snickering as she pulled Dart up on his feet and together, they kicked down cardboard people and wandered around the room. Just like the dark room, there were no visible walls, so they often ran right into one. After Dart rubbed his forehead for the sixth time, he sighed. "No door…"

"Okay then, maybe we can punch our way out."

"I really doubt that," Dart replied, tapping the wall with a knuckle. It made a sound like glass.

"Never know until you try, right?" And Lili started pounding against the wall with her psychic, dark-purple-ish fist. After hitting it ten times in quick succession, the girl backed off. "Okay, I tried."

"Do you think that's actual glass?"

Lili frowned at this sudden question. "No, since we're in a crazy woman's head."

"That's not what I meant. I mean, do you think it'll behave like real glass?"

"No, because I just punched it ten times and it didn't even crack."

"You are really frustrating."

"Thank you."

"I was just thinking that when you heat glass up, it cracks. Or melts or something."

"So you want to try to pyrokinesis the hell out of it?" Lili looked thoughtful for a bit. "Can you even start fire on a wall?"

"Ah, I knew it wasn't that good of an idea…you can't really start a fire on a wall you can't even see…" The blue-skinned boy started rubbing the top of his stocking cap, as if trying to massage his brain into thinking of a better idea.

"No, actually, we don't have to set the wall on fire…" said Lili as she slowly glanced over at all the fallen cardboard people.


"You know, it's actually kind of disturbing making a bonfire out of stuff that used to be people. At least, I think they were people," said Dart offhandedly as he tossed a cardboard man into the roaring fire.

"I don't feel sorry for them at all. They were annoying." Lili fanned the flames higher with another cardboard person before throwing that one in as well.

"I didn't say I felt sorry for them, just that it may seem kind of disturbing."

"Eh, I've seen worse. Now quiet, I think I hear cracking…" And then, quite suddenly, the room exploded harmlessly and fell to the ground.

It was quite surprising to look at the floor and see the sky.

Lili stopped panicking as she tried reasoning through this. It wasn't just the sky she was apparently 'standing' on; she could see upside-down trees and bushes too. One of the savage buses rolled right under her feet, also upside-down. Considering that they had just followed what seemed to be a shadow into a dark hole and were then dumped into a ridiculously dark room, they must have jumped into one of those video-game-like 'shadow worlds.' So they weren't walking on the sky, they were walking on the other side of the ground.

"Ugh…this suddenly reminds me of your flying skills…" Dart moaned before immediately being punched by Lili.

"I think I know where that shadow is. Which way is that circle of sand?" Neither of them remembered, but thinking that they would find it eventually, they started towards a random direction.

And lo and behold, they saw an upside-down Josie, worryingly drawing the circle around the sand again and again. Right above her (or below, however you want to think about it), like a mirror image, was a mound of black sand with the shadow standing on top. It stared at the psychics with the small circles of lights it used for eyes.

Why are you here?

"Well, if you really want to know, we're here to kill you so that lady will hopefully stop being homicidal so we can ask her how to get into some other crazy lady's evil lair. Now shut up so we can kick your ass."

The shadow looked down, and though its expression never changed, it seemed sad. Ah. So I must fight you…are you sure?

Lili blinked. "Huh?"

You don't have to fight me. Can't you just turn around and leave? This is not your business. I only want her to follow me out of that place. I only want her to stop foolishly staying inside in fear, waiting for someone who won't come back.

"…So she would get run over by a bus…?"

And, continued the shadow, ignoring Dart's comment, Can you fight a fleeing opponent? The shadow suddenly jumped off the small mound of black sand and sped quickly away from the two, trailing inky black footsteps.

"Wha…! Hey!" The two tried chasing after the dark figure, but she had a good head start and was extremely fast. Though the two could easily see her against the white background, it wasn't like they could shoot at her. The shadow would dodge easily and continue running.

"…As…fleeting as…a shadow," Dart managed to gasp out after it felt like they were running for hours.

"…Don't make…stupid jokes…at a time like this…" Lili panted back. She was too tired to punch the dork this time. They both finally collapsed on the ground, lungs and muscles burning.

"…Dammit, we're gonna lose her…"

"That's what she's trying to do…She's hoping we'll give up and leave; see, look. She stopped to see whether we'll go away." Dart pointed to the black figure a long way off, almost at the horizon. Lili cursed under what little breath she had and stared at the little black footprints that taunted her so, laughed at how slow she was, how she would never catch up. The pig-tailed girl was sure that each individual toe print was snickering at her.

Why were there two pairs of footprints?

A few minutes of noggin-using later, Lili stood up, glared at the tensing shadow in the distance, and fired at it. It shot off out of sight.

Before Dart could start asking her incredulous questions, Lili hissed at him, "Invisibility. Now. And turn around." And Dart was left seemingly alone. Sure he would get punched again if he stayed visible, saying 'Huh? What?', the stocking-cap boy followed suit.

They didn't have to stare at the other horizon for very long. The shadow soon appeared, looking over its shoulder once in a while, but slowing down. Though Dart couldn't see what Lili was doing, he crept towards the shadow himself. She was probably doing the same thing anyways.

As soon as the shadow exhaled a relieved sigh, (could shadows do that?) the two psychics suddenly revealed themselves and each of them grabbed an arm. "Hah!" Lili shouted triumphantly, as the shadow started desperately struggling against them, but it was no use. It stared at the ground. I didn't want to hurt you, but I won't hold it back anymore…

"Okay, now what are you talking about?" Lili sighed, but didn't loosen her grip.

All this light shows what Josie sees us shadows as… As it spoke, it grew. Its arms became as thick as tree trunks, and Dart and Lili had to let go and back away. …And she sees me as… They could see two extra arms rip out of its sides and the dull teeth suddenly turning sharp. It dropped down to an animal-like crouch, and its new claws seemed to crack the mirror-like floor. As very sharp-looking antennae sprouted from the shadow's now very large head, it whispered, …a monster…

Black seeped from its feet and hands and covered the ground quickly.

"We should run," said Dart rather meekly, and they did.

The shadow, as it was monstrously huge now, was very slow, but that didn't matter. Its long reach let it easily lumber in pace with the small psychics. Even when Lili and Dart found the time to jump onto their thought bubbles and continue to run like hell, the shadow would sometimes smash the ground hard, making them suddenly uncontrollably airborne and slowing them down.

COME ON! STOP RUNNING! it roared gleefully, like an entirely different being. WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HURT YOU? ME? It gave a course, throaty laugh and made a swipe at the two, which just barely missed.

Dart tried retorting with a well-aimed psi-blast that hit the giant monster between the eyes, but it shook it off quickly and didn't seem to do any damage at all. "Well, I'm all out of ideas…how 'bout you?"

Lili glanced up at the very sharp teeth hovering behind them. "Do you think there'll be a light switch somewhere? Just wondering, since if we can turn this place all black again, maybe that shadow thing'll turn small again."

Dart casually replied, "There's probably one still among the shards of that room we kinda blew up, but I doubt it'll work."

"Hey, we're in a mind, helping an inner child and being chased by a drooling shadow creature! I'm sure anything's possible."

"…True…so what, now we're supposed to find the remains of a room in this endless, white space and pick up a small light switch while running?"

"I did say, 'anything's possible,' didn't I? Besides, the floor's black now. I'm sure it'll be hard to miss white shards on a black floor." Dart sighed, but helped Lili look around as they ran, dodging the occasional swipe. It took longer than Lili thought, but they finally came back to the mound of black sand.

"Okay, so it's around here somewhere," said Lili, throwing back a confusion grenade to try to give them more time to find the shards. "…And there they are!" Dart threw grenade after grenade, and while the shadow monster was dazed and wobbly, Lili knelt among the broken room and grabbed the light switch just as Dart ran out of grenades and the monster shook off the haze of confusion.

Running like hell again, Lili flicked the switch.

Nothing.

"Dammit!" the girl screamed.

"Told you," Dart quipped, then blinked. "Oh shit."

"Why! Won't! It! Make! This! Place! Black!" Each scream was punctuated by (besides exclamation points,) the click of the switch, which continued to do nothing.

"Maybe it has to be attached to the wall," suggested Dart.

"But there's no wall anymore! That's in a million pieces now!"

"Then maybe we're screwed."

"I hate it when you're so calm," growled Lili as she still hopefully flicked the switch up and down.

I'LL BE CATCHING UP TO YOU SOON, LITTLE ONES!

"ARGH, JUST SHUT UP!" In frustration, Lili chucked the light switch at the monster, and it landed on the lower arm and stuck there. The pig-tailed girl started grumbling about stupid insanity and stupid women and stupid shadows.

Dart continued to watch the light switch as his partner cursed and sweared beside him. As if testing out an idea, (actually, that's exactly what he was doing) the blue-skinned boy reached out telekinetically and flicked the switch again.

This time, something happened. More specifically, the shadow monster disappeared.

Before Lili could ask, "How does that work?" the floor beneath them fell away and they fell towards the real sky and landed on normal sand, at the feet of young Josie.

Josie didn't wave a stick threateningly at them this time. She was too busy staring happily at her mental world, which was now devoid of all plant life. Everything had been replaced with sand. Suddenly, Lili got the feeling that they had done something horribly wrong.

"It's so wonderful," breathed Josie. "Everybody left me alone. They're gone. They won't bother me when mommy comes home…" And suddenly, the girl jumped excitedly and pointed at a woman who seemed to have just appeared spontaneously. The woman looked a lot like her daughter, (or rather, vice-versa; the mother did come first, after all) but more business-like. The light-blonde hair was neatly tied into a bun, and she wore a grey suit. But there was something odd. The woman's face was shadowed, and her eyes couldn't be seen. Though she smiled as if happy to see her daughter again, she stumbled as if in pain, or mortally wounded. And the closer she got, the more she looked like she was wasting away.

Josie ran up to her mother, arms outstretched, ready for a heartwarming embrace (like the usual reunions movies tend to have), and her mother responded by leaning down to accept her child. That's when Lili saw a glint of metal near the mother's back.

There was a kitchen knife in her back.

"Uh, Josie…I don't think…" Lili started, but was shocked into silence as the two embraced and, quite suddenly, Josie's mother turned into a skeleton.

Josie didn't seem to notice anything, and though the skeleton grew limp and started to simply hang on her small shoulder, she just hugged it tightly. "Don't leave again, mommy…I'll cook for you here…It'll just be us…I can show you how well I've done on that test…Just sit here while I make sure…that we're alone…"

Warning alarms went off in Lili's head as she watched Josie roughly pull out the kitchen knife caked with old blood out of the skeleton's back and slowly turned towards the two psychics. Her expression was one of dazed insanity. When she laughed, Lili cringed at how similar was to the older counterpart.

They hadn't changed anything at all.