Where: The Dorms
When: Night Time, Any Day of the Week
Rally knew that he was running late, but this was ridiculous. He could only be a couple of hours late at the most, yet the place was abandoned. Totally devoid of life, the boy could swear nobody had been around for weeks even though he'd been scheduled to meet someone here just earlier in the evening.
He couldn't remember just exactly who that was, at the moment, but he remembered it'd been a fairly important date that he missed out on. Now he was here, standing alone beneath a cold, dark sky while errant night breezes threw leftover debris around his feet.
Carnival grounds stretched out around him with old and disused rides falling to rust almost as he watched. Rally could practically feel the aged, stressed metals of their construction coming apart. Dirt and mud kicked up from what had to have been years of rain coated almost everything, and what wasn't filthy with time had faded to incomprehension.
Clearly he was a little further off schedule than he suspected.
For a moment he considered calling out just in case someone was around, but something about the silence and weight of age the place carried kept him quiet. Not exactly a superstitious boy, but even the most rational of men would be hard pressed not to see ghosts in a place like this. It was just damn eerie and more than a little creepy. Rally decided to just give it up and go home, maybe whoever he'd missed would understand after he explained.
Turning around, though, he realized that he couldn't remember exactly how he'd gotten here. Logically, he'd walked from the carnival entrance, but if anyone knew where that was they weren't exactly stepping out of the shadows to show the way. It was probably behind him somewhere, but all Rally could see in that direction was more decay in the form of rotting displays.
In front of him it was pretty much the same way, and even to either side it was nothing but more and more concessions stands and rides. Somewhere there should at least be a fence, a border marking that he could follow to get back to the parking lot. However, at the moment he seemed to be standing at the crossroads of what had to be the shittiest carnival in all the known universe.
"Screw this..." He finally said to himself, his voice coming out weak and strangled as if he couldn't quite breath properly. That was a little weird, and again he felt strange hands of dread fold around his chest. Trying to throw off the sensation, Rally picked a direction and started walking. As long as he kept a straight line he'd have to hit the edge eventually.
Almost as soon at the decision was made, things started looking familiar. As if the very act of taking action had improved the situation, Rally began to feel better. The grounds were still filthy and decayed to the point where he actually feared to touch anything, but at least he knew he'd be out soon. The familiar comfort and power of a car waited for him out there somewhere, he just had to track back to it.
Unfortunately, familiar ground or not he didn't seem to be making progress. Every time he managed to pass a rotting landmark, either a midway style game gone to seed or a stand filled with the infested remains of greasy junk food, he seemed to remember the exit being just a few more rows down. He'd think he was almost there, but each time there were always another couple of attractions to go. Another few feet, just around the corner or a moment of "oh yeah, it's this way".
There was the cotton candy machine that contained the universe's creepiest spider colony, a million hairy legs dancing around in a home where tangled webs blended into spun sugar. He could have sworn that the exit was just behind that and he gave the booth a wide birth as he made his way around it.
But behind that was the dunking booth filled with sluggish water and decaying leaves, he remembered now that he had to turn left there and make his way towards the whack-a-cat where the hinged felines stared at him with dead and crooked eyes. But after that was the arcade he'd poked his head into only to glimpse dark shapes moving between the gutted machines accompanied by dangerous growls. He'd elected not to investigate that torn tent further, but instead remembered a turn he had missed by the corn dog stand covered in grease gone to mold and mildew.
It seemed like hours that he'd been walking through the grounds, never getting closer to his goal but always just a few steps away. From time to time he'd have to backtrack as things turned strange and unfamiliar, but always he seemed to be on the verge of discovering the way out. Eventually he found himself standing before an ediface much larger than the minor attractions he'd been passing so far. Still a hastily constructed building with a corrugated steel walkway barely concealing the wheeled rig of a trailer underneath, it proclaimed itself to be a fun house. Though Rally doubted anyone ever had much fun inside even before the place was abandoned.
It looked cheesy enough with faded paint and shredded banners advertising great joys within, Rally knew what a ripoff these things were. Undoubtedly the interior would be a shallow disappointment of perhaps a shifting tunnel followed by a short walkway and a few ladders. Things like that almost always just dumped the suckers paying money for the experience into an empty building, nothing more than a brief glimpse at possible thrills beyond the entrance and then a 'gotcha' moment of realization. It was just another carny cheat, that's all.
But it also seemed to be standing in his way. Rally thought he remembered this place, the big building stretching out to either side, blocking the way. Wasn't it concealing the scattered trailers and administrative shacks of the park operators? Couldn't he, if he just got to the other side of this thing, find his way out and back to the parking lot? He thought that was right, but looking around in both directions he couldn't see a clear way past. The local booths seemed to crowd around it like sharks circling a kill, or homes being hauled into a sinkhole. He could try to figure out how to skirt the damn thing, but it seemed like he'd have to lose sight of the fun house to do that, and he wasn't sure he could get back here.
Staring at the peeling posters and dead lights of the building's facade, he decided that he could just go through it instead. There wasn't much inside, just an empty building to disappoint naive kids. He could let himself through it and finally be out of this pit, so it was up the rusting stairway and into the gaping maw of a clownish doorway.
Nothing ominous about that, no sir, Rally thought to himself.
Sure enough, the entrance led to a short tunnel that would, in presumably better times, lead through a rotating barrel or shifting steps. Right now everything was dead and the boy had a moment of vertigo as he felt the cheap rigging of the mechanics threaten to surrender. Everything he put his foot on was loose with age and disuse. Clearly not the best of upkeep went into the attraction even while it was running, now the damn thing felt like it was about to collapse at any moment. He considered turning back and trying to make his way around the building again, but he decided that pushing through was better than facing the abandoned decay of the carnival itself again.
Besides, if he moved fast and pushed on then he'd finally be out. Rally stepped carefully but quickly over the treacherous footing, holding on to what was left of an old handrail lining the path. There were gaps in the ancient support, rusted edges of metal that had apparently fallen to dust years ago, but Rally managed to make it through. Soon enough he was past the worst of it and finding more solid ground in what must be the building proper.
This, he thought to himself, was where the heart wrenching truth would be revealed to patrons. This is where the initial tunnel, normally bright with promise of greater thrills beyond, would open up to reveal the empty building and a fast exit. Nothing more than a lie of what was waiting after it was too late to ask for a refund or make a complaint where other suckers could see.
Unfortunately, this time that didn't seem to be the case. As Rally managed to penetrate the first tunnel he found himself staring down a long corridor lined with mirrors. Apparently they went all-out for this version of the typical cheat and managed to give the patrons a few more laughs for their money. It was still just an inexpensive hall of mirrors, though, and the boy was pretty sure it wouldn't amount to much either. He kept going.
There was a room ahead, he could see that. Maybe fifteen feet of hallway and warped, dirty reflections of himself before he stepped into a greater maze than he thought possible for the small building. Light was coming from somewhere, though he couldn't identify the source. It was also cleaner in here than the rest of the carnival as many of the aged surfaces around him were still intact, polished to a point where his own image came back to him cleanly. A confusing jumble of reflections faced his new discovery but at least it was better than the abandoned decay he'd been finding up until now.
It was actually warmer in here, too, and he felt a greater confidence in his surroundings as he continued to move forward. He wasn't that much closer to finding his way out, but at least now he was on a more comfortable path. The mechanic tried to not look too closely at the images themselves as they were just a constantly shifting and confusing torrent of distractions. Instead he kept his eyes on the floor, watching for where the mirrors joined with the clean and now solid steel he walked on. That made things a bit easier, focusing on the path rather than the mirrors themselves. All of the information coming back from them did nothing but throw off his perspective.
Rally continued moving like this, feeling better about his progress with each step, until he found himself facing a dead end and his own unhappy image blocking the path. He'd have to turn around at this point, go back to the last few sets of turns and see if there was another way through, something that didn't lead him to blank wall staring back with his own eyes.
In a moment he would go back, but for now Rally raised his hand without explanation and reached forward. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to feel, but the movement seemed to come of its own accord and he barely even registered the act before he was placing a palm flat against the glass of his own reflection.
Surprisingly, he didn't encounter the smooth surface of a mirror. Instead the hand he was reaching with passed through the image reaching back at the same time like it was going through a the surface of a pool. The mirror itself gave way like water, just the very slight resistance of surface tension, and then he was looking at his own hand through the refraction of perfectly clear fluid.
He corrected himself on the thought, it wasn't perfectly clear. In fact, as he looked at his hand beneath the surface of the mirror it seemed much darker than it should, almost black even. It looked for all world like he was wearing the glove from his school uniform, the matte black biker's gauntlet covered with tough riding leather and reinforced plates.
Pulling the hand back in surprise, Rally saw that he was wearing the glove. In fact, he was wearing the entire uniform and suddenly he felt the stifling closeness of his helmet as well. He hadn't remembered putting it on, but obviously he'd made his way through the entire park dressed like that.
That was an odd way to show up for a date. The boy wondered, not for the first time, just what the hell he was doing here. He didn't remember who he was supposed to meet, he didn't remember how long he'd been here and he didn't know the way back home. The whole damn experience was just starting to get on his nerves.
Looking around, Rally came to realize that the images surrounding him had changed as well. Gone was the dead end corridor that he though hemmed him in to be replaced by a dozen or more mirrors each throwing back a differing reflection. Granted, the one directly in front of him still showed the boy wearing his riding leathers and helmet, but that was the only one.
To his left, standing strong and proud, was the armor he was constantly playing with and frustrating over. It loomed over him tall and straight with a central power core humming away on its back and the gleaming hilt of a chainsword coming up over one shoulder. An armored, powered beast it was staring back at him with empty plate glass eyes. It was working, fully functional although unmoving, Rally knew that if he were to climb inside it would grant him more strength than he ever thought possible.
But that wasn't the only image. Turning away from the hulking machine, he saw another version of himself. This one was standing with Vijana by its side, and though the image thrown back was human in appearance, Rally could feel much more beneath his own tanned skin. Metal bones and steel cable muscles made up this form, hydraulic fluids and lubricants was the blood. In a normal day as he was now, still a student at Claremont Academy, he tended to merge with machinery just to drive to the grocery store. The image, though, as if a future version of himself had entirely melded with the ironworks that he always touched with his mind. It was a strong body, constructed of technology but still with a human soul, and easily a match for even the superhuman werewolf standing with him.
Another version of himself could be found as well. This one eschewed the technology of the first two for a greater development of his mind. The telekinetic power that now worked only on an instinctive level was fully mastered. It granted him a dominance over the world at his fingertips that was unmatched in his own experience. Incredible strength was his to command, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. He could tell almost anything about an object by touching it, he could find the weak points in any construct or even command steel to warp and bend by holding it and twisting with his mind. Machines were his slave and the power held within was unleashed through long hours of training.
There was an image very close to that one, standing just next to it and a little behind. This one was focused on his mind as well, but through human skill rather than inhuman power. He was better trained, more talented in the finer arts of superheroics and much more like the Raven of vanished days. No less competent than the psychic image that slightly overshadowed this form, Rally could feel the confidence of a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with gods just from the force of his will and the application of intellect.
Other images went on from this, some clearly resulting from a failing at the school. A number of the realities being presented couldn't keep pace with the superheroics of his betters and thus had dropped out. Some wore the clean and sharp uniforms of military or law enforcement, displaying F.B.I. badges or special forces insignia, while others donned the flightsuits and racing jackets of test pilots and professional drivers.
Some were more twisted versions of himself. He could spot what seemed to be a cat burglar clutching on to a cursed gemstone worth a fortune and granting him a dark power, but which would kill him should it ever leave his grasp. Many wore the disfiguring scars of horrifying accidents and bore the weight of dead passengers, killed by his own careless guidance. All of them, however, presented futures each as likely and full of potential as the next. Some working at the school itself as a teacher, others mired in the hidden universe's they'd crafter for themselves. A world Rally's to be, each just waiting for him to make the right choices that would bring them all to life.
He stared at the scene, trying to understand what it meant and memorize the events that would lead down each path. The floor beneath him started to rumble at the attempt and the mirrors began to shift and warp as the maze rattled. A roar sounded in the air and he felt himself being hauled, mercilessly, out of the dream he was no longer afraid of.
Rally found himself waking in his room, the images fading into a jumble of confusion as he sat up in bed. The roaring continued as he realized it hadn't been part of the dream and the boy leaped from bed to his window.
Outside, over the city somewhere, he could see what had to be a rocket launching up from the night time streets. A bright glare beneath it gave way to a dimly glowing contrail, and Rally could see the gleams and dark shapes of heroes flitting in pursuit. Probably just some would-be world conquerer launching his latest attempt at dominance. Whatever it was, someone was already out there taking care of it. This wasn't Rally's concern, not yet anyway.
Someday he'd be out there with them. In one form or another, he was pretty sure about that. But not tonight, not just yet. Giving the action a silent urge of encouragement, Rally climbed back into bed.
Summary: Rally dreams some more.