This was originally supposed to be flash fiction for Chuck Wendig's Blog Terribleminds, but, I got a little carried away. I appreciate any kind of comments or constructive criticism you have, I haven't written many stories and help is big help. without further ado, The Operator
“No no no, you can’t be here. This saloon is for pandas and their guests only.” I look past the waitress. Her face is painted white with black rings around her eyes. Inside are pandas wearing vests and cowboy hats, gnawing on bamboo. I tell her I am a guest of some very important panda visitors and if it pleased her I would rather not mention their names and make a commotion. Her eyes widen and her hand goes over her mouth in a little O. she leans toward me conspiratorially and in a hushed tone asked “It’s true then? Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing will be here?” I tell her to be quiet, no one must know. I am here to inspect the premises and I hoped they weren't always this unfriendly.
That was a bit too much. I hear faint thunder rolling in the distance. There are only two rules to being an operator. Never tell them it’s a dream, and never ever get lost in the storm, or you may never come back. You can never force any one to do anything in their own dream. It makes the storm come closer. Still my threat did the trick, panda girl moves aside. I do my best to walk in officially and make toward the back. That’s where I last saw Emily headed.
It’s Emily’s dream. She doesn’t know it, but if I can’t make it to her, she’ll die. Another operator came here earlier and implanted a psychic dagger, in the real world, she’s in a comma, and there isn’t much more time.
I hop over the bar and go into the kitchen, panda girl follows me in. “sir what are you doing?” She asks. I ask her if she really expected me to let Ling Ling eat here without inspecting the kitchen first. I tell her to wait by the door for them to arrive. She obeys but she nervous. That isn’t good. Nerves make the storm come. In her dream, Emily is everyone. I need to be nicer.
This is already going horribly. Ideally the operator shouldn’t be noticed, he or she should make sure the dream stays dull and forgettable. Try not to interact directly with the ego. Do not operate on close friends and relatives. This is all according to the operator manual. But sometimes shit happens and you just have to deal with it.
I find Emily in a back room of the kitchen playing poker with two pandas and captain Mal Reynolds from Firefly. Emily is raking in a large pile of Doritos and the few odd sticks of bamboo. I ask Emily how she is.
“Okay, how are you?” she asks. I tell her I’m fine as Emily throws down a hand with an ace, a jack, a two a three and a five.
“I’ve got the big card!” she whoops and rakes in more chips. Emily does not know how to play poker. I’m about to ask her for a word in private when panda girl walks back into the room. “They’re here” she tells me. Dang, now we have to figure a way out. I ask Emily if she would like to see Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. She jumps out of her seat “only like forever!” she yells and runs out of the room. I’m about to follow after her when Mal grabs me by the arm “hey, you don’t really know these panda guys do you?” no, no I don’t. “That’s ok. I got a plan.”
We walk out into the saloon; it seems as if all the pandas are looking at me. It’s raining lightly outside. Panda girl and Hsing hsing are having a conversation in bear talk. Panda girl marches up to me.
“They say they never even heard of you! You faker!” Mal takes over “well you see there’s a very simple explanation and that is…” Mal shoves panda girl out of the way “Run!” I grab Emily in a fireman’s hold and follow after him, I push outside passed the confused panda bears and run after Mal up the ramp of the spaceship Serenity tied to the horse post outside. We make it up the ramp and it closes behind us. Mal yells to Wash to get the ship moving. I’m actually kind of nerding out right now. I love firefly. I’m surprised that all this is in Emily’s dream. I remember mentioning about it to her once, I never actually thought she would go watch it. We lift off into the sky.
Emily is by the stairs to the upper bridge talking to Kaylee and Inara, the mechanic and the “companion” respectively. I ask Emily if we can have a moment in private. I need to get some kind of clue to where the dagger is, or what it is, a dagger can look like all sorts of things. The girls all giggle,
“Sure,” she says “but can I ask you something first?” she’s smiling bigger than ususal. Sure I tell her. “Have you been following me?”
I’m not sure how I should respond in this kind of situation, the operator manual is a little hazy about these things, it just says “be careful”. Yeah I guess so is what I tell her, it comes out more bashful than I intended. The girls giggle as a group again, it’s like being in middle school.
“Ok” she says, “I just have to go do something with Inara first okay?” Is she blushing? I tell her it’s ok. I don’t want to force her to talk this second; I can only imagine what the storm looks like in space. She tells me she’ll see me soon and walks up the stairs. Someone pats me hard on the back. It’s Mal. “You handled yourself well kid” uh thank you? I tell him it was his plan. “Lets take a quick walk” we walk together toward the cockpit.
I don’t like this. Figments shouldn’t be interacting with me on their own like this. And I shouldn’t be talking back, it’s against the manual. This is her dream not mine; and I need to get the dagger out, who knows how she’s doing on the outside. “So I hear you’ve been following Emily huh?” Mal asks. Jesus Christ. I try to explain that its only to ask her some questions. “hey man” Mal cuts in “it’s ok if you like her, treat her nice remember, I saw her first” I’m not about to argue with one of Emily’s figments about this, Luckily I don’t have to. Our conversation is cut short by a loud bang.
“Meteor shower! Every one to their stations” Mal yells
. Oh shit. Shower. Storm. I need to find Emily. I ask Mal if he can steer us clear of this. His face is pale. “How do I know? I’m just an actor.”
I bolt back down the hallway, when I make it around the corner Inara is waiting. She has a sly grin. “You’re just in time, Emily is waiting for you, you can have your little private moment”.
The operator’s manual says that in all possible instances, it is best to go with the flow of the dream. This can sometimes be difficult.
I walk into the room and Emily is waiting for me. I feel my pants tighten. She’s in fish net stockings, a black thong and leather corset with bare breasts hanging over. They seem bigger than usual. “You’ve been a very good boy” she tells me. I never imagined Emily having sexual thoughts at all, not mention ones like this. She’s usually so shy.
“You’ve been such a good boy, I decided to get you a bone.” She holds up a big black veiny dildo, and smacks it in her hand like a police baton. My pants are no longer tight. “But before you can have it, you have to get in your cage.”
I’m not getting in a cage; but she won’t take no for an answer. She slaps me across the face with the big black dildo. I need to change my strategy, for self preservation if nothing else. She’s in a place in her mind where her fantasy has gone way over the top, so I have to go over the top along with her.
No, I say I have a big bone for you! I grab her around the waist and give her a deep kiss on the mouth while I take the dildo out of her hand and throw it as far away as possible. I rip open my shirt.
“I’ve been waiting so long to do this” I tell her.
“Is that true?” she asks. Hell yes I tell her, and I wonder if I actually mean it. “does that mean you’ll want to date me after this?” she looks bashful again, the way I’ve always known her. She’s blushing all the way from her cheeks to her exposed breasts. My pants are re-tighten.
Things feel like they’ve gotten real. Yes, I tell her. I lean in, close my eyes and kiss her. When I open them we’re outside. We’re at a zoo.
The panda habitat is in front of us, and things seem normal, except all the pandas are sitting at tables like before in the saloon. Emily is beaming up at me. She takes me by the hand and we walk along, I’m still no closer to the dagger.
I have to save her. my worry must be on my face. “What are you thinking about?” she asks. I don’t know what to say, I can’t very well tell her the truth. Or maybe I can. She knows about the operators, she may be able to cope, maybe even help.
“Emily,” I tell her, “you need to listen to me carefully.” I hold her by the arms and look into her eyes. “This is a dream.” Thunder cracks loud.
“So, so all this is fake then?” she asks.
“No” I tell her.” I’m real. I’m here to help you. But you have to help me.” It’s raining now. Things are getting wobbly. She looks at me.
“what’s going on?” she asks. I tell her another operator implanted a psychic dagger somewhere in her mind, and that we need to find it and remove it. A panda turns into a fish, then back into a panda flopping on the ground. It’s storming.
“I have an idea she says” and bolts off. I try to tell her to wait, I chase after her, I have to know what she’s doing. The cement rolls up like a carpet underneath my feet. I’m not getting anywhere. I shout for Emily. Her head pokes back over the horizon. It’s only ten feet away.
Something’s wrong. Her face is losing color, she’s out of breath. Then she turns pure black like a night sky and the world starts sucking into her.
It’s like watching water go down a drain. I run in the opposite direction. If I get sucked down, my mind becomes part of emily’s forever, and Emily is dying.
When I run I find I’m no longer in a zoo but running through a suburb. Out running the funnel is easy enough, alone but her brain is working against me. Streetlights are turning into snakes, the ground is trying to jump up and trip me, and the rain is heavy, it’s like water in a sink.
I keep running as fast as I can until I fall flat on my face. I look at what tripped me. It’s a teddy bear. A panda teddy bear. I realize I hear crying. Down a side street is a little girl. It’s Emily.
I grab the bear and jog up to her. She’s holding her hand, it’s bleeding hard.
“Shh Shh” I say “Look what I found.”
She sees the panda in my hand. “you found him!”
“Sure did, and he tells me he’s missed you a whole bunch.” She grabs the panda with her good hand and holds him close.
I try to take her bad hand. “No!” she yells and pulls away. The end of the alley is starting to bend toward the drain. There isn't much time.
“It’s okay. I can help okay sweetie, will you be a good girl and let me help you?” she looks up unsure. Even in the pouring rain it’s clear she’s been sobbing for hours. Maybe days. She shows me her hand.
There’s blood pouring out between her first and middle finger. There’s a bit of glass sticking out. I grab it and tell her I’m going to pull it out on three, but I only make it to two. The shard inside her hand was long, it must have gone at least halfway down her flesh, but now that it was out, it didn’t bleed much.
I found it. Now Emily was safe.
“Come on, lets go.” I cradle her in my arms and we walk off. The rain is already getting lighter, the world isn't sucking away. The little girl is holding close to my jacket. The rain is almost gone. Somehow we get out of the suburb and we’re walking thru a field. I look down. Emily is full grown again, but she doesn’t feel any heavier. She looks up at me, beaming like before. She puts her hand on my face. It’s time to wake up I tell her.
“Already? But this dream is just getting good”. There’s a blanket set out on the grass in front of us. “Please just ten more minutes?” she asks. I think we can manage that I say as I lay her down. She kisses me. The ground is dry. The sun is warm.