Welcome to the New Normal

Breaching the Walls

Dreams, Speculations, Coffee, and Couch

A Denny McCloud Story

Monday, 31 May 2027
Miriam’s apartment, Cozy Coffee
0930hrs, local time

Denny cleaned up what little of the debris she could out of her apartment before she crossed the hall to knock on Miriam’s door. Though she was well aware that Alexander had generously offered to repair the damage out of his own considerable funds, Denny was reluctant to agree to anything before she talked to Miriam first.

For all I know, Miriam has other ideas on making repairs. I’m already in Dutch for the security deposit. I don’t wanna get any deeper by wrecking any renovation plans she’s made. She sighed and knocked with her most professional-sounding rap. Great, Den. Just great. You’ve had it less than a week and you’ve already trashed it. Maybe you should rent out an underground bunker from Jason or something. It might be safer for everyone involved.

After the knock, there was a brief pause before Denny could hear Miriam undoing the chain on the door and swinging it open to talk to Denny. Miriam looked like she had some circles under her eyes but she still had a smile on her face as she greeted Denny, even if it was a small one. “Hello there, Denny. How are you holding up?”

“Well enough, I guess.” Denny dredged up a smile in turn. “I’m either gonna have to up my caffeine intake or get more sleep. And we all know how well the sleep side of the equation worked. I’m really really sorry about the … well, everything. Can I come in?”

“It’s a whole new world, Denny,” Miriam said, motioning Denny inside. “I owe you and the rest of the group Tyler’s life and probably mine as well. Some structural damage that will end up getting paid for is not something to dig yourself deep into worry over.”

Miriam’s apartment was much like the Cozy Coffee, eclectic, yet strangely warm and comforting. There was a plush couch up against one wall and an antique rocking chair sitting in the corner. A basket nearby the chair held a rolled up tablet and a flute but no sign of a television or a computer. Miriam held her hand out to the couch. “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Denny’s eyes sharpened on the flute but she tore her attention away from it, not wanting to pry. Huh, I didn’t know she played. She’d never heard any music coming through the walls, at any rate. She sat down on the couch, figuring Miriam probably didn’t want her crowding her while making the coffee and instead kept up the conversation. “It might be too late for me not to worry but I’ll try not if you’re not. Still, I’ll need to rig up a tarp or something to keep the bugs out til the repairs are done. Please let me know if you need me to work it off downstairs. I know you said not to worry but I really don’t like the idea of just getting off without doing something about it. I’m not a kid anymore. I figure my security deposit’s already toast but I think I’ve done more than that in damages, so … Um. Yeah.” Denny grimaced at the carpet. “So much for not worrying, huh?”

At the mention of the tarp, Miriam raised an eyebrow and turned away from the kitchen cabinet where she was grabbing them mugs. “I was hoping that you would be willing to stay with me until the repairs on your apartment wall were done. I wouldn’t expect it to be more than a few weeks.” She turned back and grabbed the cups and a coffee grinder from the top shelf. “It’d have to be the couch, but I promise to give you your space.”

Politeness argued against taking Miriam up on her offer, even as practicality urged her to accept. Skewered, Denny reacted as she always did—by running her mouth as she decided. “Oh, man, Miriam, I can’t. It’s not—I mean, I would love to but that would be really rude considering all the trouble I put you through already and—and I don’t know if what happened last night wouldn’t happen again—and I really should shut up and think before I dig myself any closer to China.” Crossing her arms and hunching over them, Denny shut up for a minute. “I think,” she said finally, “that I would like to but I’m not sure if I should. I wasn’t just being polite when I said I didn’t know if what happened last night wouldn’t happen again. I’m not entirely certain what happened or rather, how. I know you want to help me out and I don’t mean to insult you but are you sure you want to risk me trashing your place, too? Of course,” she added, straightening up as the thought occurred to her. “You could just turn me off before I go to bed, but I confess that’s only a stopgap measure. It won’t do squat toward my controlling my dreams. So … I guess it’s really down to you. Do you really want to risk having me here?”

Yeah. Keep talking, Den. I hear the weather’s real nice in China this time of year.

“Of course I do.” The conversation paused for a minute or so as the sounds of an electric coffee grinder filled the apartment along with the smell of coffee beans. As Miriam prepped her high end coffee machine, she looked over at Denny sitting on the couch. “I may be the safest person you can room with, Denny. Rather than worrying about whether I can handle it, I think you should be thinking whether anyone else could. And I’m certainly not going to let you sleep in an apartment with no wall between you and the outside world.”

Miriam came out of the kitchen with a small basket of cookies. “They’re not fresh, I’m afraid, but I keep them around to snack on and thought you might like one. Maybe even two,” she said with a knowing grin on her face as she set the basket on the ottoman in front of Denny.

“Ohh, chocolate chip macadamia pecan…,” Denny breathed reverently. The world’s troubles took a backseat as she nibbled on a cookie. She held her hand under her chin to catch the crumbs and said nothing until the cookie and the crumbs disappeared down her gullet. Which only rumbled for more, reminding her she hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. Wondering if it would be rude to offer to cook Miriam breakfast for the opportunity of actually getting a proper meal, Denny compromised by taking up another cookie and nibbling it slowly. “A little taste of Heaven, Miriam. Just like your coffee. And rather than argue against your logic, I’ll gratefully accept your offer. I won’t be any trouble—well, I’ll be as little as possible. I promise. I don’t need much room and I don’t have a lot of stuff. Just my duffle and my tablet gear and …,” she breathed a laugh. “Maybe I should leave the drawings where they are, yeah?”

Sure. Laugh. Don’t admit you’re wondering if maybe Mom had the right idea and really should have burned them. That the creatures were from the drawings her mother had secreted away hadn’t escaped her attention. And not for the first time, Denny wondered what had prompted her mother’s decision to remove them from her proximity. How had Helene kept the drawings from coming to life since Denny’s powers manifested? Did she have something to contain them or something that nullified her ability to animate what she created? Or was mere distance sufficient for the task? If so, how much distance was safe enough?

Miriam nodded from where she stood at the entrance to the kitchen. “Perhaps that might be best for the time being. At least until you and Jason do some testing to figure out what is going on. I can’t turn you off and sleep.” She shook her head. “I need to find another name for that. That sounds so mechanical and harsh.”

“Yeahhhhhh,” Denny said, nodding. “I can see why. We should call it … oh, a disruptor power or nullifier or something, but I won’t deny an off-switch would come in handy. So,” she firmed her chin and straightened her shoulders. “I’ll just have to train myself one. But not here. Out at PA would be best. Thing is, Jason doesn’t have anything set up like that yet. At least, not to the point where I can stay.” Denny toed off her boots and curled up on the couch with her coffee, frowning as she considered her options. “So I guess we’ll keep me separate from my drawings for the time being and sleep with one eye open. Or in shifts, maybe? What do you think?” Denny looked at Miriam over the rim of her mug, hoping that together she and her friend would come up with a workable solution.

“Have you had this happen before, Denny? Summon things during your dreams and not wake up while it is happening? I find it somewhat strange that none of us heard the wall collapsing.”

Denny blinked and nearly choked on a cookie crumb as Miriam’s words made her start. Several thoughts fired off in her head and she struggled to enforce some order even as she coughed and tried to catch her breath.

Why hadn’t anyone been woken by the noise? Was there any noise at all? Something like a wall collapsing would have woken the dead, much less a sleeping teenage girl. Her friends had trouble waking her up, when a single shake would have sufficed to rouse her. She was deeply asleep, they’d said. Was that an effect of the summoning dream? If so, was that why she hadn’t heard anything? Miriam had said she’d been deeply asleep too, as was Alexander. They all lived and slept within yards of each other, their apartments fitted close together on the coffee shop’s second floor. Was the deep sleep catching? Did Denny cause it? Or … ? And what about her other dreams, the ones where her grey cat had by degrees become real? Moving to her pillow as origami, later greeting her as a flesh and blood cat? Was this the same? And what about the other clues—the gold light, the serene calm she felt, the glowing ropes and fishing lines? The sense of casting something out into the void and pulling something back in? What about the flashes of dark she’d glimpsed in her dreams and ever-so-briefly when awake—the dark punctuated by stars? What did the thirteen pointed star and thirteen sided polygon mean? They’d floated to the surface of the starry dark in one of her dreams, glowing golden and bright. Was there any significance to them? As for stars and skies, last night’s dream had figured a glowing green sun. It reminded Denny of the green glowing energy that Miriam described she could see hovering around people with Powers. It reminded Denny of the green ribbons she’d seen extend from Miriam when she used her own power.

Too many questions chased each other in her head and Denny screwed her eyes shut and dragged a ragged cough all the way up from her toes, trying to clear her airway and her mind. Eyes tearing from the effort, she ventured a tiny breath and finding she could breathe again, she said, “You said you were deep asleep when we knocked on your door. The others said I was doing the same when they woke me. Alex, too. We were all deeply asleep. Maybe deep enough not to hear anything? I was dreaming of something green. Lately dreams about my powers have green or gold in them. You see green with the powers. Do you think they’re connected somehow? I know I’m not making a lot of sense but trust me, if you could read my thoughts right now, I’m actually doing quite good.”

Miriam sat down on the couch next to Denny, her coffee cup cradled in her hand. She nodded at Denny. “I think so. I worry that maybe I caused the dreams somehow. Or worse yet, put you all so deeply asleep. Because my dream had that same green woven in it.”

“What did you see?” Denny asked, her curiosity was genuine and held no accusation or censure.

“At first, it was a green light all around me. Then the green light pulled away, or perhaps I did and I could see it was part of a bigger pattern, one belonging to a person. I couldn’t see…or didn’t care about their face.” Miriam shrugged slightly as if she wasn’t sure which. “It didn’t seem to matter, I was very calm and peaceful as this was going on. And then I pulled back even more and the patterns of the people started to blend into a bigger pattern of green until I could see the entire planet wrapped in its own green pattern. I started to pull back more but that’s when I got woken up.”

“Wow.” Denny tried to imagine it, thinking of the globe carpeted in green LEDs with fiber optics networking them all together. Only less … mechanical. Geez, Den. These are people we’re talking about. Maybe it’s more like all the neurons in your brain lighting up and firing off at once? Or like what Xavier saw when he activated Cerebro. Which led to an interesting thought that went through her head and out her mouth. “So you were connected to all the green-powered people on the planet?”

Miriam shook her head. “I’m not sure, Denny. I didn’t feel connected. More disconnected, really, like a watcher.” She looked over at Denny with a questioning look on her face. “What do you think us sharing these common elements in the dreams mean?”

“Not sure,” Denny said slowly. In her eighteen years, she’d read voraciously across countless subjects and covered dozens of genres in her never-ending quest to see and know everything life had to offer. While reality and fiction were worlds apart, there were some similarities. One of them surfaced from her memory. “Did you ever read The Stand? You know, that book by Stephen King? I know it’s an oldie, but it’s a goodie and it gave me goosebumps reading it. Thing is, there was this character in it, a wise woman who foretold the conflict between Good and Evil. I’m not saying you’re her but … I think that someone who could See the Powers like you can might have that Power for a reason. Like …,” Denny faltered as the thought gave out. “I need to think it out some more but I’m getting the sense that if you can see something like this worldwide, then something big is happening. And by big, I mean something bigger than ‘Hey, we all get nifty keeno powers now’.” She sighed a low grumbling sigh of frustration. “Maybe I need more coffee but I have this sense of something hanging just past my ability to grasp. I know this is significant and there’s something huge just past the horizon but while I can sense the general shape of it, I can’t get it to focus enough to actually recognize what I’m looking at. It’s like … like having a drawing in your head but you can’t actually see it, you can only feel it, its mass and shape and … yeah.” Denny stared at the cooling coffee in her cup, embarrassed at being so damned lame. She was better at description, usually. “Sorry, Miriam. I wish I could be better help nailing this down but I can’t right now.”

“I don’t think we know enough yet, Denny, but I think you’re right. I’m not sure about destiny or Good vs. Evil, but there’s something bigger that we can’t quite see yet.” Miriam took a sip of coffee as she and Denny sat there thinking about what it all meant. “We just have to figure out what our subconscious is trying to tell us and why the three of us.”

Denny sipped her coffee in friendly silence and when the moment grew long, she said, “I’ve noticed little bits of dark here and there when I summon things. And they’re showing up occasionally in my dreams. And by dark, I mean, dark with stars. Like when the Angel teleported here. And when Cassie sometimes ports and when Jason Hulks out he’s freakin’ made of it. And it was there in my dream last night. There was green but the lake I was fishing in, that I pulled my creatures out of—it was starry dark, like the night sky or outer space. Infinite. Another dimension, maybe? Another universe? A universe where creatures like mine exist for real? You know, like we’re travelling through stacked universes or parallel dimensions. I know it sounds horribly clichéd and tropey, but even clichés have an element of truth in them. It’s why they’ve stuck around long enough to get clichéd. Because people recognize the truth even as they laugh it off. So … maybe you and I and Alex and even Cassie and maybe even Jason, we’re all drawing off another dimension somehow. It shows up in flashes when we dream or when we exert our powers. Or in Jason’s case, manifests more concretely. Maybe we’re connected via some sort of dimension we haven’t fully figured out how to access yet.” Denny set her coffee aside and hugged her knees to her chest. “I don’t know. I haven’t actually taken Philosophy 101 yet. Or looked into any of the Eastern contemplative religions. There might be clues there, but I suspect they’d all be reflections or shadows of the truth I’m actually looking for. Like seeing the wind going through the leaves of the tree instead of the wind itself. How do you nail the wind down so you can study it?” Denny slid a look at Miriam. “I’m digressing again. Sorry. But I suppose the subconscious is all slippery-sideways anyway and digressions are par for the course, right?”

Miriam smiled comfortingly at Denny. “Your digressions are one of the things I enjoy about conversations with you, Denny. I suppose alternate dimensions would only be somewhat more strange than everything that has happened so far. But I wonder…why now?” Miriam’s tone suggested she had been thinking about it for a while.

Denny had to look away at Miriam’s approbation. After three years of little to no contact with her more imaginative peers, of having to turn her back on the world she’d once lived and breathed as a younger teen, having Miriam take her seriously was like coming home.

To be not-weird. Or too geeked-out for words. Or flat-out Looney Tunes. “Thanks, Miriam. That means a lot to me,” Denny managed then, her voice thin. To keep herself from breaking down, she didn’t stop there but said on. “As for the rest, maybe the answer to ‘Why now?’ is ’It’s necessary’. Like the forces of good are getting gathered to fight the forces of evil. You know, some might say that reality is something that the Universe made up in order to understand itself. Maybe good and bad things happen for that reason. Maybe the Powers are just a manifestation of the Universe using a new set of tools to figure something out. Geez, that’s too depressing to think about. That we’re nothing but imaginary constructs of a sentience in the middle of an identity crisis. You know, you can stop me at any time, Miriam. Just reach out and smack me one.” Denny picked up her coffee again and said as she sipped, “I think I’m beginning to understand why philosophers all end up drinking themselves silly. It’s the only sane response.”

“I wonder if any of the rest of the Vanguard had the same dream?” Miriam questioned. “I would guess not, since they showed up to wake us up. So why us and not them? It comes back to me causing it.” Miriam frowned a little in thought as she stood up and held out a hand for Denny’s cup. “Can I top you off, Denny?”

“Please,” Denny said, handing over her cup. She rose and followed Miriam. “Why us and not them? Maybe it’s as simple as they weren’t asleep and the three of us were. I got the idea that they all had stuff they were doing that kept them up.”

Miriam nodded slowly as she refilled Denny’s cup and handed it back to her. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I’m trying too hard to put a complex reason onto a simple situation.”

“True.” Denny savored her first sip of fresh coffee for a moment, then continued. “We could probably say the same for everything else, too. Maybe the Powers just are. Like having an atmosphere wrapping our planet. It’s there cuz it’s there.” She wrinkled her nose at Miriam over the rim of her mug. “Of course, I dislike that scenario. The writer in me wants it to be more complicated and the sf geek in me wants it to involve the paranormal or an alien invasion. Preferably accompanied by a kick-ass soundtrack.”

Snark, much? Perhaps. But you can only concentrate on the doom and gloom so long before it makes you crazy. So for God’s sake, crack a joke.

“Hmm, let’s leave the aliens out of this, shall we? I think we’re complicated enough without having to worry about that.” But a smile crossed her face as she said it. “Speaking of which, do you need to get some things from your apartment so you can start getting settled in?”

“All right. No aliens.” Denny sighed. “But it would have made it simpler to deal with, having a clear-cut target. As for the rest, I’ll just grab my bags and be back in two shakes.”

And that’s what she did.


Malificent taimdala

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