It was only a dream.
But then, why was she so terrified?
True, this had happened before, many times, but this was different.
Lucille was a lucid dreamer – normally she could recognize when she was in a dream and escape before it became too frightening. But not this time.
This time Lucille was huddled in a strange alleyway in some sort of dystopian version of Paris and she couldn't wake up.
The world felt sickeningly wrong: the colors were too bright and exaggerated. Everywhere she looked, the bloated hues failed to match natural colors in a way that made her skin crawl and the straight angles of buildings wavered, like a drunken artist had painted them. Streets wove in and out of building with no rhyme or reason. There was no sun or moon in the sky, only a toxic magenta color. The firmament was barren, not even a single cloud made an appearance. Shadows were a solid black, each one a solitary beast with no master. They crisscrossed and moved every so often; with no apparent light source, they had a mind of their own.
Lucille picked herself up – she couldn't stay here. Pinching herself wasn't working, nor was the 'I'm dreaming' if she could find The Rare Bird she would find some semblance of safety. Even though Lucille was in a labyrinth of her own making, the theatre was the place she knew best. She noticed she was wearing her show outfit and cursed herself for being so conspicuous. Two delicate white wings peaked out from her back and the ivory dress she wore wasn't even suited for a simple promenade. The woman tore the skirt off her outfit, it wasn't real anyway and walking seemed more important than looking sighed and exited the alley, hoping that she was alone in this dream.
Oh, was she wrong.
The street was packed with people of all shapes and sizes. Some were taller than two story houses while others were fat as moving trucks or as short as park benches. At first Lucille couldn't concentrate in their faces, each one a crazed blur in an ever moving crowd. Something didn't settle right in her stomach, their movements were too jittery or sickly slow.
Her eyes adjusted and what she saw made the blood freeze in her veins. Everyone – From rich to poor, from child to senior – was an insect. A centipede in a top hat scuttled by on its back legs with nary a glace. A wasp in formal evening wear bumped into her without apology. Two grasshoppers glared at her from a butcher shop window. One of the taller ones, a stick bug, almost stepped on her. Only Lucille's quick reaction time spared her from injury or worse. Bug faces in every direction leered or showed open contempt.
She held her head high and refused to show that she was intimidated. Lucille had no idea where she was going, but that didn't stop her from moving forward with grace and poise. A beetle hissed behind her and she didn't look back; she wouldn't give it the satisfaction. Over the din of the crowd she could hear faint music playing upon the wind. The voice was high but unmistakably male. Finding its source seemed like a good place to start looking for the theatre.
Ahead of her she saw a familiar shape. About fifteen steps away walked a figure with broad shoulders and a large hat. It wasn't quite a chapeau, but to Lucille semantics didn't matter. She needed to see a comforting face in this nightmare. The woman sped ahead, bumping into assorted insects as she passed.
Finally catching up to him, Lucille placed a hand on his shoulder.
The figure whipped around revealing a very angry looking mantis, its mandibles splayed in aggression. Lucille backed away before the creature could have taken further action, hiding herself behind what looked like a dragonfly.
Again she saw a familiar form in the crowd. The hat was exactly the same, and the coat, while a light khaki seemed to be the right fit.
It had to be him this time
Lucille dove into the fray again, ignoring the rude jostling and the cries of annoyance. Her target turned and made his way down an alley where traffic was much thinner. She followed; glad to have a reason to escape the hostile insect populace. He had slowed down, seemingly waiting for her, but he still didn't turn around.
Something didn't feel quite right.
Lucille caught up with the lone figure and was apprehensive; she kept as much distance as possible.
Her fingers lightly tapped on his arm. The figure turned around slowly this time, its shadow getting longer, its form becoming larger – too large for the jacket it wore. Eight long legs burst forth from its abdomen. She could finally see its face, proving it was far more dangerous than a peeved praying mantis and far more deadly.
Lucille gasped in horror.
It was Maynott.
But instead of sideburns there were mandibles. Eight eyes decorated his face where only two should have been.
"Why, hello there Lucille," his voice feigned warmth and familiarity, but the sibilant undertones were hard to ignore. He snapped his head to the side at an inhuman angle and his mouth widened into a toothy smile.
"So glad you could join me."
Lucille ran and she didn't look back.
The street ahead was still packed, but she hoped to use it to her advantage. She ducked and wove between a family of six ants and one very large maggot.
"We have unfinished business, you and I!" the giant spider called out.
He exploded into the throng like a wolf among sheep. By-standers that were not caught up in the fray kept their distance; they didn't want to capture the monster's attention.
His words degenerated into keening noises. Lucille made a mad dash for the closest side-street – not even a thousand chitinous citizens could protect her from Maynott's onslaught. Each footstep echoed on the pavement, surely a giveaway. Lucille would have ditched her shoes, but she had no desire to see if her dream world could conjure up broken glass.
She wondered what would happen if she did get caught. If she died here, would she wake up?
What kind of punishment would she endure if she didn't?
Lucille didn't want to find out, so she kept running down narrow streets. She kept to the original plan: She followed the music. As Lucille got closer the song became louder, the musician's lyrics more clear and defined. The singer crooned in soft soprano. His voice played with the words: dragging out syllables, consonants firmly placed like dance steps. His cadence slid high and low, each phrase a deft seabird soaring in the wind.
The guitar nestled itself in the song completely. Sometimes it offered up percussion like punctuation, sometimes strummed out notes that entwined with singer's melody. It was a tool that could be called upon to enhance his ballad, not a crutch to hide inadequacy – like she had seen some artists use. No, they blended together with harmony and precision unmatched by any person she had met in the real France, maybe even including Francoeur.
Her heart was pounding. She could hear Spider-Maynott scrabbling over cobblestone. He was getting closer and she couldn't afford to look back. The colors of the city were making her dizzy and sick. Lucille's eyes had trouble focusing on the neon pink sky. She couldn't keep this up much longer. Now was the time to be clever.
She rounded a sharp corner down a narrow alleyway, so narrow she side-stepped with her nose brushing brick and mortar.
Maynott slammed into the narrow passage, only to find he was too large to get through. Long legs crammed themselves between buildings in the desperate attempt to snag Lucille. Spider mandibles snapped that thrashed with frustration. A shrill insectile cry waivered over the musician's song, then fell silent. Eight tiny burning beady black eyes bored into hers, filled with rage, intelligence and cruelty. Lucille already knew what he was saying with that stare; He needed no words. Maynott would find her at any cost. It didn't matter if she woke up now, he would chase her again and again. He would find her. It may not be this night, or the next, but he would catch her and when he did, the worst nightmares of Hell itself would be preferable. She could almost feel his spidery hands sliding up her skirt.
She shivered and pressed forward. Feathers tore off her wings as she ripped herself from the alleyway and she stumbled into a passing man. The music abruptly stopped.
Whoever he was, the stranger was tall and obviously wasn't expecting her presence. He seemed to be the musician himself; a guitar was gently cradled in his left arm.
"Excuse me," Lucille looked up at his face "I am so sorry."
He was wearing a blue mask, the rest of his face indecipherable except for his eyes. They were shadowed by his black wide brimmed hat, but she could see that they were filled with good humor. His mouth was covered by a red scarf, but she knew the man was smiling. Unlike the rest of the Francoeur look-alikes, this man seemed to be human. A large black trench coat hung from his frame, over what looked like normal shoulders and a normal chest.
For the first time in this dream, Lucille found herself feeling safe.
Suddenly Maynott burst forth from a side-street. Saliva sluiced from his open maw and splattered on the ground in great fat gobs. His body expanded and contracted with frenzied breathing. Crazed eyes alighted on the spot where Lucille was standing. The creature rushed forward with wild abandon, screeching as it charged .
The stranger moved in front of Lucille, his hands grasped around the neck of his guitar. His feet were placed wide apart, ready for the onslaught.
Spidery face met instrument with a concussive twang. The stranger quickly jumped to the side, the body of his guitar ruined. All that was left was the sharp shaft of the neck.
Maynott's face was covered in ichor, but otherwise no worse for the wear. He lunged for Lucille- but her defender parried his claw. A side swipe knocked the hat and mask from the man's face. Blood dripped from an open lip as his scarf puddled on to the ground. He gritted his teeth and glanced back at Lucille. He motioned for her to run, but was suddenly caught off guard as a segmented leg came inches away from impaling his chest.
The stranger sidestepped and rushed the monster and stabbed its thorax with what was left of the instrument.
Maynott roared in fury but still refused to go down. Lucille's champion was in dire trouble. He was in very close quarters now, well within reach of those snapping teeth and stabbing ligaments. The monster's maw was close to ripping the man's neck out. The stranger wiggled the end of the guitar shaft, but it was stuck deep into the creature's carapace.
Lucille couldn't bear it any longer. She refused to let someone die for her, real or imagined.
"Over here you big, ugly idiot!"
She threw an errant guitar shard and it hit true, but it was harmless. It bounced off a segmented leg like a pebble against the rocky outcrop of a mountain. Still, it did the job. She had Maynott's full and undivided attention.
A raw menacing laugh bubbled up from the creature's throat. It threw the stranger aside and stepped slowly towards Lucille, as if savoring the moment. With each thud on cobblestone, the giant spider drew closer, intent on its prize. Too intent to notice the man he had tossed aside had picked himself up.
Lucille stood her ground. She'd done enough running. This was her dream after all. Her hands held no weapons: no gun, no sword, and no shield, but she did have pride. Pride demanded that she stood to fight. This woman was the Angel of the Rare Bird, not some prey animal scared by her own nightmares.
Maynott was now only a breath away, his long spindly limbs reached around her so that there was no escape. A slow smile crept across the spider's face. In a moment it would be over.
Just then, the stranger collided with the beast pushing what was left of the guitar deeper in. Maynott gasped and gagged, but the stranger kept driving it deeper. There was a squelch and a popping noise; the stranger shifted the wood back and forth a few inches, gore leaking out of the spider's massive frame.
Then Maynott was no more.
The creature's head separated from the thorax and hit the cobblestones below. Its body, too slow to catch on, twitched and writhed trying to find purchase on the street that slick with its own blood.
Lucille couldn't watch much longer – the carnage was too much. Instead her eyes found the stranger, who was gingerly picking up his hat and mask. He placed the Chapeau back atop his head, but shoved the mask into one of his pockets. Gloved hands brushed the grime off his jacket seemingly in vain. He turned to approach Lucille, kicking Maynott's head in the process. Lucille herself tried to brush off some of the gore, happy none of it was her own or her rescuer's. A lone wing protruded from her back, the other was lost in the fight. The once white dress was covered in yellowish blood and filth.
It was no matter. It wasn't the real outfit anyway. Instead, she looked at the stranger's now visible visage with interest.
Cheek bones rose high under an expressive brow. His eyes looked watery and tired, but kind. His nose was long and thin, but not unattractive. Shiny blue-black hair framed his face. It curled into lose ringlets that hugged a thick neck and extended only a little past the ear. Thin lips rested above a strong jaw line that showed some faint stubble. The corner of his mouth quirked into a smirk.
He knew she was assessing him and the man took three steps back and swept his hat off in an elaborate bow. He grinned and a small gap between his two front teeth made an appearance. Dimples decorated both sides of his cheeks. Irises that were a deep red umber caught hers and her heart stopped.
He offered his arm and pointed behind him. Maybe he knew where the theatre was. She trusted wherever he was going to lead her.
The streets seemed wider this time, and somehow friendlier. A butterfly cradling two larvae smiled as they passed and ladybug truck driver waived as he drove by. Shopkeepers looked out form their window, cheery insect faces bidding her welcome. The colors weren't as violent or as toxic as before. What was once poisonous neon was now simply bright and vivid. Lucille took a deep breath.
It wasn't exactly paradise, but it wasn't horrible either. Still, she wanted this dream to end already; it was exhausting just being here.
She looked over at her new found friend. He strolled along on an easy gait; his face was open and pleasant, as if he hadn't just defeated a giant spider in combat. His open mirth was disarming….but also disconcerting. Who was this man?
The title 'Man of her dreams' caused a snicker to escape from her lips.
Obviously not. Shouldn't the man of her dreams be Raoul? And he certainly didn't fit the bill of a handsome stranger.
She looked up at the gentleman's face and looked away again, blushing.
God, blushing. It's not like she was some teenager swooning over some made up hero.
All Lucille could do was hope that he didn't notice.
They rounded the corner and headed down the nearest side street. At the far end stood The Rare Bird alongside buildings she did not recognize. Of course! That's why she couldn't find her way through this labyrinth. She was looking for things like land marks and familiar street names. None of those things were settled in her mind like they were in real life. Why would she expect dream logic to follow actual street plans or maps?
They stopped a few meters short of the theatre and the stranger unhooked his arm. He took a step backward and bowed once again. This time, though, he proffered a single white rose out of nowhere.
It was beautiful. Light perfume played upon the air and she took it, silken petals caressing her skin. Lucille wanted to study it further, but wasn't given the opportunity.
Suddenly, the stranger pulled her in closer. His lips met hers. She wanted to shove him away. Tell him no, that she was taken – but those words slid underneath his tongue. She found that her fingers were running through his curls on their own accord. The stubble on his chin scraped against her cheek, sending shivers down her spine.
His hand, rough and calloused – traced the planes of Lucille's face, slowly resting to cup her jaw.
And then it was over.
The man pulled away, and made to leave. A crumpled flower was all that was left of their kiss.
"Wait!" Lucille called out. "I don't even know your name."
He turned then, giving her the saddest smile she had ever seen. Lips pressed close to her temple A name, so light and gentle against her ear.
The flower in her hand was whole again: pristine, white and elegant. His outfit changed: His hat and coat flared bright to match the rose she clutched. A sky blue scarf cascaded down the man's back. Red eyes burned into hers.
He backed away then, and his smile faded along with his visage. Fog swept in, marring the outline of the stranger's form. Now he was only a shadow slipping farther into uncertainty. She was losing him.
Lucille awoke to her own voice crying out into the darkness.
She was in bed, at home and in her room. Disappointment flooded the very core of her. Cozy sheets, so warm and comforting had never felt so empty before. She tossed and turned in vain; comfort was beyond her reach. Lucille hugged a pillow to her breast to quench the sadness building. Already, her dreamscape was fading from her memory into oblivion. Details were already getting hazy by the minute.
But then, Lucille's eyes alighted on her nightstand.
There, in a vase, stood a lonely white rose.
It certainly wasn't there when she had gotten ready for bed. She would have noticed.
Raoul couldn't have put it there – he didn't have the keys to her flat. He wasn't really all that romantic anyway.
A secret admirer was preposterous. No one would break into her house just to deliver a token of their affection.
This only left the giant flea she shared her house with.
He must have placed it there while she was sleeping. The thought brought a smile to her face. The Monster of Paris sneaking into her room just to bring her a flower. Those little gestures meant the world to her. It was just a strange coincidence that that rose happened to look like the one she had received in her imagination.
She briefly thought of a human Francoeur – the stranger in her dream, and heat pooled in her belly. If only… but it was hopeless. Francoeur was just so…different – It could never work.
It was only a dream.
As always- A very special thanks to Midground and greenisthecolorofmyenvy.
Also- this might not only be a one-shot. I want to see what you guys think. I kind-of think this is a bit boring/ meh…
Inspired by "The Suburbs" an Arcade Fire cover by Little Jeans and "We're the Ones who Keep You Warm at Night" by As Tall as Lions. My Update on my On-going: Going to be late dudes. After a food poisoning ordeal, I have two essays and an RA application- that and two concerts, a painting, an Oscar Party, a video conference, and a DJing gig at a dance. You'll see me next week.