XXXIX. White Rabbit

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Danielle was falling through a vortex of multicolored lights. Or... a tunnel? There was a light ahead, and she was falling toward it.

She felt something spreading in her head and stomach. A sensation. She felt...

She felt warmth and safety, but she wasn't sure why. She knew she had to get to the light. She struggled to move... her arms?

The light. It was important. It was real. But... she wasn't sure what it was. Or where she was. Or what she was doing.

As she felt consciousness return, she tried and failed to orient herself. She couldn't tell which way was up and which way was down, like she was underwater or trapped in snow after an avalanche.

She began to panic, reaching around herself to hug herself. She ran her hands over her arms and frowned.

She looked down at her hands. They looked... normal. They felt normal.

She blinked hard, looking around, trying to recognize her surroundings. Everything was vague and conceptual. It was difficult to attach words to the things she was seeing.

Anything beyond basic geometric shapes, anyway. She saw circles, squares, triangles, cubes... for a moment she thought she saw a cube with too many sides, but she blinked and it was gone.

"Hello?" She called out. She stepped forward, feeling around with her hands. If she could find a light switch--

After running her hands along the walls for a while-- had there been walls before?-- she gave up. She took a deep breath.

She was dreaming. She had to be. This was all another nightmare, that was all. It was all something her mind had assembled to deal with the shock and devastation of the events she was dealing with.

She wondered a bit about the lucidity of that thought. She didn't feel like she could control what she saw and felt and heard. It felt all sort of... dizzy and random.

Like she was in a dream but her brain had forgotten how dreams were supposed to work. A memory tingled. Had she... what had she done, before falling asleep?

She stopped struggling for the memory and took a breath. That felt normal, at least. She closed her eyes and reached out.

She lowered her fingers.

She started to move her fingers to play her keyboard.

No sound came.

She frowned.

"Come on," she said. "It's my dream. I'm in charge. I perceive what I want to perceive."

She insisted, pushing that insistence out. Made the intention concrete.

She focused.

She pressed her fingers down.

No sound came.

She sighed and looked down at her fingers.

"Okay, come on. Visualize... a keyboard. One white rectangle."

She closed her eyes, pressed her finger down, and hummed middle C.

She calmed herself, and pressed her finger down again, and hummed again.

"How hard is it to dream about playing a song?!" She shouted in frustration.

"Jeez, it's... okay, just keep focusing, just keep doing it, maybe I'll just... lose track... and it'll start working."

She felt kind of silly, but she kept her eyes closed, and kept imagining the keys.

She pressed her fingers down where the keys should be, and hummed a minor scale as she played it.

She let herself lose herself a bit, just imagining the keyboard, the keys, and letting her muscle memory take over as she hummed along.

She began to play a few notes of a sonata, humming the notes all the while.

Her fingers found their places easily, and she focused on the notes as she hummed them.

She finished the song, then started over from the beginning. If nothing else, it was a calming meditation.

She heard the notes.

Her heart began to beat faster and she kept playing, savoring the sound, distorted though it was. Why was her dream doing it this way?

She hoped she would either gain more control or wake up soon. She kept playing, now feeling the keys under her fingers.

She opened one eye to see the keys there. They looked... right.

She looked around hopefully, wishing to see the familiar surroundings of her apartment. She looked around for Agatha and Alan.

But she was still alone.

She sighed and began to play the same song again. She wasn't sure why, but she felt like repeating the process was helping to solidify the dream somehow.

She could feel a seat under herself now. She focused on the normality of it, grounding herself.

She felt very awake now. She could hear the music clearly and distinctly. She could feel the cool keys under her fingers.

She played the song's climax and sat back, frowning.

"I'll open my eyes, and I'll be awake," she said to herself.

She opened her eyes and looked around.

She was in... a room.

She stood. It was a normal enough room, if almost unrealistically nondescript. The more she focused on details, the more they stood out, as though they had been there all along.

She couldn't remember ever seeing this kind of detail in a dream before. She could see the carpet, with individual fibers.

She bent to touch it and felt at it, frowning.

"A clock," she said. She looked around for a clock. She strained her eyes for a moment, blinking at a circular shape on the wall until she realized it was a clock.

Had it been one all along? In dreams, clocks were supposed to behave strangely. But this was like she'd only just recognized that it was a clock.

Did she have some kind of head injury? A concussion? If she wasn't dreaming, where was she?

"Hello?" She called out again. She took deep breaths, willing herself to be calm. If this was a nightmare-- and it sure felt like one-- she would only make it worse by panicking.

She saw a hallway and began walking down it, doing her best to recognize things as she walked along.

"Aphasia? Is that a thing? But that's just, like, forgetting the words for stuff, right?"

She pointed at a door, or the space where there should have been a door. "Door," she said out loud, slowly, carefully.

She looked at the tip of one finger and focused on it as she moved it around in her vision.

She didn't feel like she had brain damage. But as she described and imagined the things around her, they became more solid and well-defined.

She blinked hard, looking around. She stepped... outside? And looked up.

"The sky," she said.

"It's blue. The sky is blue. It's big and open and has clouds..."

She blinked again. The sky was blue. It was big and open and it had clouds.

She didn't have to mention the sun. She didn't have to mention the way it should smell outside.

Those things were flooding in on their own, now. She touched her clothes. Her own, normal clothes. The ones she had been wearing when...


When what?

"Okay," she said, "Either I'm dreaming, or..."

Her neck prickled.

"Or... I'm not alone? Hello? Am I dead?"

She called up to the sky. "Hello? Is there anyone there? I'm Danielle Dahl. Am... am I dead? Hello?"

And then she knew.

There was someone there.

She spun around, but didn't see anyone.

"Hello?" She called out. "I don't know where I am. I'm very confused. Can you help me?"


"WHOA!" She stumbled back, swatting at her face.

"What the-- how was-- what did-- augh! No! Don't do that! What was that?!"

She felt at her temples, the bizarre combination of concepts drifting away already.

She picked up... some of that. Vaguely. Something about being with Agatha and Alan in the car?

But... the car was totaled.

And there was a lot more going on with... whatever that had been.

"Uh... I'm sorry, I don't... I don't understand what you did," she said.

"Can you just, uh, talk to me? Tell me where I am? Can you tell me where my wife is?"

She only heard the not-silence of the not-landscape.

"Okay," she said at last, "Can you just... can I see you? If we can see what we both look like, maybe we can wAUGHSHIWHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!"

A towering black pillar had appeared before her. It stretched up into the sky. Besides being cylindrical, impossibly tall, and so black as to seem two-dimensional, it had no obvious features.

For some reason, when Danielle looked at it, she got the impression of eyes. Millions... trillions of watching eyes.

She crawled backwards away from it.

Don't panic.

If it's a dream, take control.

She screwed her eyes shut.

"Okay, whoa, whoa. That was... not what I was expecting to see. Uh, dream-entity... can you maybe look a little bit more like, uh, a person?"

She opened her eyes.

A nondescript person stood over her, looking down at her with a blank expression.

They were humanoid, but clearly not human. They just lacked... detail. The person wasn't wearing any clothing, and was seemingly genderless.

"Uh, hi," Danielle said.


"AGH!" Danielle held her head, shaking it. "It like-- it puts a taste in my mouth when you do that. Stoppit! Talk like a normal person!"

The person inclined their head.

"You... make sounds! With your mouth! Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do! Easy!"

The person opened their mouth and the scale emerged like it had sounded from her keyboard.

Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do

Danielle blinked. "God, this is the weirdest dream ever or you're the worst angel ever or the most confused demon ever," she said.

She rubbed her eyes. It really felt like she was really rubbing her eyes.

"Hokay. Let's, uh, let's start somewhere simple. Let's... let's play a song."

They did.

Danielle had no idea how much time passed just playing Beethoven and Bach for the dream-person.

"Okay," Danielle said. "Let's try something."

She played a low minor chord.

"No," she said. "No." She played the chord as she said it.

She focused on the concept of negation. She shook her head vehemently, thinking of stop signs and red lights and big X's and game show buzzer sounds.

Then she played a high major chord.

"Yes," she said. "Yes."

She thought about affirmation. Nodding her head hard, she thought of sailors saying "Aye, aye." Green lights. Thumbs ups. Eureka. Agreement.

The dream-person understood instantly. It opened its mouth and made the high chord.

It pointed to the sky, which turned blood-red. It made the sound of the low minor chord.

It pointed again, and the sky was blue. It sounded the high major chord.

"YES!" Danielle shouted, playing the chord herself on the keyboard repeatedly. "YES!!"

The stranger watched her closely, then began cautiously mimicking her movements.

She laughed and jumped up, taking the person's hands. They looked at her in confusion as she danced them around in a circle.

"Oh, man. Okay. We can work with this."

The person looked her in the eye, opened their mouth, and made a very high major chord.

"Okay, okay. Um. This is going to make it a lot easier, haha. Uh. I'll... start off with the important one, I guess. Am I alive?"

She imagined life. Breathing. Walking. Laughing. Spending time with Agatha. Trying new foods. Traveling.

It took the person a while to consider. Then, they emitted a high major chord.

She played it back at the person happily, grinning widely. "Yes! I'm alive! Ha! That is... such great news."

She played a few improvised notes to celebrate being alive. She felt like she was operating on silly dream logic, but if she couldn't wake up, that was okay as long as she had some control.

"Okay, okay. We'll get you speaking English soon enough, I hope. Uh, in the meantime... are you... God? An angel? The Devil? Something like that?"

The person only had to consider it for a moment before emitting a very low minor chord.

"Right. Huh. So are you..."

She got goosebumps.

"Are you... an alien? Are you... what attacked the bridge?"

The person made the happy sound of agreement, smiling widely like she had.

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