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Trapped Within a Dream: Part Nine


by chibicelchan

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Death and Reynolds walked, almost as one, out to the lobby, where the lights were off and the window blinds closed. The man and his daughter were sitting in chairs, looking shaken.

      Rose went up to the door, then quietly asked if the woman was still there and if she was alone. A quiet voice replied the affirmative, and Rose opened the door.

      The woman was short, on the plump side, with glasses and long black hair. She had a kind face and a quiet manner, and she respectfully bowed her head to Rose, then to Death and Reynolds.

      "Please excuse me," she said softly. "I realize that the chances are very slim that you have any information on the pet I seek, but I'm sure you understand that I must try to retrieve him."

      Death nodded, looking at Reynolds with suppressed amusement. What a surprise this woman was in for, if indeed, 3298eyyfda was the pet she was looking for.

      Reynolds wasn't quite convinced that it was so, however, and she cleared her throat.

      "Your brother, you say, abandoned the pet?"

      "Yes, that's right. KooleskatRdude0090."

      "Well, if you don't mind my asking, what interest do you have in the matter?" Reynolds asked.

      "Oh, you must understand. My brother is young and very irresponsible. I spent much time at his house, caring for his pets while he was at school. I grew to love both of them almost as if they were my own. When I found out what he'd done, I was devastated. Kitty is so sweet."

      Death stifled a laugh and Reynolds looked at him with surprise and amusement of her own.

      The woman, however, was confused.

      "Did I say something funny? My English isn't especially good," she said with a hint of sarcasm. She spoke with an accent, but it was clear her English was exceptional.

      "Not at all, Ma'am. What did you say your pet's name was?" Death asked, hiding his injured hand behind his back.

      "3-2-9-8-E-Y-Y-F-D-A. I always called him 'Kitty'."

      "Kitty," Reynolds muttered. "Naturally."

      The woman was even more confused, and Death smiled self-indulgently.

      "Ma'am, if you wouldn't mind following us, I think you may be in luck."

      Her eyes lit up, and she covered her mouth with both hands.

      "You're kidding. TELL ME you're not kidding!"

      Death simply turned and began walking toward the back, and Reynolds shook her head.

      "What's your name, then?" she asked.

      "Mei."

      Reynolds nodded, and the three of them walked into the back, passing Dan on the way. He looked dejected and rather hopeless, and held up a hand when Reynolds tried to speak to him.

      "We had a little escape," Death explained calmly, which prompted Reynolds to glare at him.

      "Yes, I know. How on earth did it happen?" Mei asked.

      "Oh, you know. Just one of those things. He's in here, but he's sorta... out."

      "He's in, but he's out?" Mei asked, confused.

      "Unconscious." Reynolds clarified.

      "It was worse than my brother said..." Mei said sadly.

      Reynolds began to contradict her, but Death looked at her sharply, and she bitterly remained silent.

      Death pushed open the door, and Mei drew in a gasp and tears came to her eyes.

      "Oh, Kitty!" she cried, rushing to his bedside. "Kitty, it's really you! Can he hear me?"

      "It's hard to say. Feel free to talk to him, though," Reynolds said, swallowing her anger and annoyance.

      Mei smiled gratefully and leaned over the Kougra, stroking his ear.

      "Kitty, it's me. Auntie Mei. How are ya, Kitty?" Mei said through her tears. "You look okay, Kitty. You look pretty good. I'm... I'm sorry it took me so long to come, but I came. I'm here, Kitty. Kitty... I'm right here. Kitty... I'm here to take you home."

      Reynolds was unable to hold back her tears, and with a glance at Death, she recoiled in surprise to find that he was regarding the scene with almost childlike wonder.

      "Doctor?" she asked huskily.

      "Christine. I've... I've never seen anything like this before, you know?"

      "Me either. It's... incredible."

      Mei held "Kitty" in her arms and sobbed, whispering.

      "Christine, imagine. Imagine," Death said.

      "Imagine what?"

      "This. This same scene, every day. No more abandonments. People who love their pets with everything in them."

      He turned to her with determination. "Imagine going out of business."

      Reynolds said nothing.

      ***

      The sun had gone down, and Dan finally dared to go outside.

      "It's stuffy in here," he told Rose, who nodded absently, reading a magazine.

      "Doesn't sound like there's anyone outside anymore. Imagine, people bringing their pets all the way here and having to turn around and go back home," he speculated.

      "Yeah. Bet that's a tense dinner," Rose murmured. "'Hey, sorry I tried to abandon you, please pass the potatoes.'"

      Dan smirked.

      "Back in 5."

      "Days or weeks?" Rose asked.

      Outside, Dan sighed for a moment, then stared up at the night sky.

      "It doesn't do much for the soul, but it sure is pretty," he sighed.

      "You noticed that too, huh?" a female voice asked quietly.

      Dan jumped, startled, and looked in the direction of the voice, only to see Hally sitting on the roof, kicking her legs restlessly.

      "Hey, I thought you were going home."

      Hally scoffed a bit, then shrugged.

      "I waited my whole life to get here. I can listen to my owner say 'I told you so' until the end of time, but I'll never be able to do this again."

      Dan frowned.

      "Hang on, I'm coming up."

      Hally looked behind her.

      "Is there a stairway that leads to the roof?"

      "Oh, ye of little faith," Dan grinned, then with a flourish, he began to flap his ridiculously tiny wings. Hally leaned over the edge of the roof and watched with shock as he floated about a foot off the ground, then crashed back down painfully.

      "Dude! Are you okay?!" Hally asked.

      "Oh, yeah. Darn... wind current," Dan muttered. "Tell you what, how about..."

      "I'll come down there," Hally volunteered.

      "Oh, I was hoping you could throw me a rope or something, but hey, let's do it your way."

      Hally smiled despite herself, and she pushed off and hovered in the air for a second before dropping down next to him.

      "Yeah, wings. Overrated." Dan grinned.

      "Especially when you can't stop," Hally said.

      "I never had that problem."

      Hally snickered, sitting down on the grass.

      "Have you been here the whole time? You haven't gone anywhere?" Dan asked.

      "Yeah. I had to go up on the roof because..." she swallowed. "People kept asking me questions. Like I... worked here or something. Don't worry, I didn't say a word."

      Dan shrugged, sitting down as well.

      "The doc won't ever admit it, but you know, this was probably the best thing that's happened to this place."

      Hally stared at him.

      "Oh, sure, it'll lose us money and our reputation, and people won't trust us anymore. Who knows, though. Maybe it'll discourage people from treating their pets like they're disposable if they know the Pound can't be trusted. Already tonight, how many hundreds of pets would have come in here that are still at home with their owners now?"

      "You're just trying to make me feel better."

      "Well, you know... you're not the only one who messed up on their first day. Hey, I've never told anybody this, but on my first day here, I managed to..."

      He stopped for a minute, looked around, then continued, "See, there's a space for the pet's name, then one for the owner's name. SOMEHOW, I managed to input 400 pets into the Pound under their owners' names. Someone went to do a search on the owner, it'd say they were in the pound. Absolute mess."

      "How did you fix it?"

      "Oh, I never did. When I left for the day, I tripped and dumped the records in the toilet. Lost everything. Sprained my ankle, too."

      "You made that up!" Hally cried.

      "Wouldn't that be nice."

      Hally shook her head.

      "But that's different. You never got caught."

      "No, but the new records came out of my paycheck. I ate tinned olives for 8 months."

      "Dan... I appreciate this, I really do. And I know that if it hadn't been for you, I'd have never gotten the job at all..."

      "But shut up?"

      "No! No, I couldn't be that rude," Hally exclaimed.

      Dan looked taken aback, then a soft smile came across his face.

      "You know, you really brought something special to this place," he said sincerely. "All of us, we're so... jaded. Me, the docs, Rose, Sandy... we work here because we're used to it and because it puts food on the table. We barely tolerate it, you know? There are days... days when I just don't think I'll ever be able to do this again. Days when I look at myself in the mirror and I just hate who I am. Some days I wake up and I just say, 'today I quit.'"

     He nodded, and looked at Hally. "But you... you're just so different. You're an example of what's good, what's hopeful in the world, and you know, today... I woke up and for the first time ever, I was happy to be coming to work. I'll never forget that feeling as long as I live."

      Hally looked at the ground, overwhelmed.

      "Well, now I REALLY can't tell you to shut up." She laughed.

      "You know what?" Dan said suddenly.

      "Huh?"

      "You and me, we should be friends. I mean, go out for coffee, share wacky misadventures kind of friends. Regardless of this stupid place, or where we work or don't work. We could go back to Lil' Wadjet and play with the toys or some stupid thing like that."

      Hally grinned thoughtfully.

      "That sounds really... fun."

      "It does?!" Dan asked, almost incredulously.

      "Man, you should see what me and my friend Sophie do. Usually we sit in a cafe for hours and then one of us gets bored and makes an excuse to go home early. At one point, my whole family was in the hospital, and the next day, she was diagnosed with a rare form of Sneezles and had only 24 hours to live, so the day after that, I'd been captured by Dr. Sloth and somehow escaped, but at any minute I could become a mutant, and I'd likely infect the whole restaurant."

      "Well, gosh, that sounds kinda fun, too," Dan shrugged.

      "Yeah, I dunno. She could hang out with us too, I guess."

      They looked at each other and grinned.

      "So, you think we should make plans, or just wing it?" Dan asked.

      "I don't know. When do you, uh... y'know... work?" Hally asked, forcing the word "work" from her mouth as if it were a bad-tasting bug.

      "Weekdays, I leave at 8. I have this weekend off," Dan said.

      "8 at night?" Hally asked. "Wow."

      "Well, I have to clean up all the stuff before the doc takes over."

      Hally looked down and shook her head.

      "The doc. I finally met him, you know."

      "You did? What'd you think?"

      "I think I was in a cage and totally humiliated."

      "Oh no," Dan cringed. "That's just..."

      "Yeah. I mean... I can't deny that I only wanted to come work here for him. You know it, Dr. Reynolds knows it, everyone knows it."

      "Except the doc."

      "And probably a couple other people, too. That Ken guy, he doesn't know--"

      "The doc doesn't know." Dan said, his eyes widening.

      "Probably... who else works here? Mandy, Candy? I forgot..."

      "HALLY!" Dan exclaimed.

      "What? I'm right here!"

      "THE DOC DOESN'T KNOW! But you're still here!"

      "What are you talking about?"

      Dan tried to leap to his feet, but was hindered by his size and lack of physical prowess, and finally pushed himself up and grabbed her hand.

      "Come on!"

      "Come on where?!"

      "Inside! The doc's still here!"

      "What? I can't go back in! I'm a criminal!"

      "Trust me, he's not gonna see it that way. Reynolds, yeah, she's another story, but the doc... and he has authority over her!" He began babbling excitedly, then gasped. "Hally, have you officially been fired?"

      "No, but believe me, I know-"

      "Come on!" He pulled her to her feet and began hurriedly rushing toward the door.

      "Wait! No! Are you crazy?!"

      He stopped, then turned to her, leaning in dramatically.

      "Look, Hally! I'm doing this for you! Do you want your job back or not?"

      "But... I'm lousy at it! I mean, were you HERE? Did you not notice--"

      "I noticed you make a mistake. I made a mistake too... but what I said, Hally... it still applies! I want you to work here! I want your dream to come true, and since you haven't been fired, since Reynolds hasn't come looking for you..."

      "She might have already fired me, how do we know?" Hally said.

      "But the doc, Hally! Listen, at the very least you can meet the guy under a bit more dignified circumstances."

      "Oh, Dan, I couldn't... I mean, this is all so..."

      "Hally, you can do it! You know this guy's book backward and forward! You could recite it in your sleep. And your resume, you're more than qualified!"

      "Uh... well, who can argue with that," Hally murmured.

      "Now, I'm dragging you in there kicking and screaming if I have to."

      "But Dan... even if he IS sympathetic, even if he DOESN'T think I'm a lunatic, and even if he DOES give me my job back, how do I know I won't mess it up again?"

      "Hally, you can't give up! I mean, look at me! I'm a legend at Lil' Wadjet, am I not?"

      "Absolutely."

      "Over that toy car. But do you think I did that overnight?"

      Hally paused.

      "I thought you did it in one bite."

      "Common misconception. While Skeiths have the physical ability to digest almost anything, our teeth are no more equipped to chew through metal than yours. That legendary chewed car took days! There were days my teeth hurt so bad that I thought I could never chew again, but I stayed focused, Hally, because I had a DREAM!"

      "Wow. Really?" Hally asked.

      "Yeah, y'know, whatever."

      Hally shook her head, smiling.

      "If you really believe in me..."

      "How could I not?"

      "Okay."

     "Okay?"

      Hally held out her hand.

      "Drag me in."

      ***

      Mei refused to leave 3298eyyfda's side once she was in the room, and when Death came in later to check on the two of them, she was sitting on the floor, against the wall, with her coat spread over her like a blanket.

      "You know, we have chairs," Death said.

      "Oh, doctor," Mei said, getting to her feet. "Please, how long before I can take Kitty home?"

      "Well, barring further complications, I think it'd be safe to say within a week. Of course, our policy is to only allow pets 48 hours to be adopted, but I think no one can argue that your circumstances... indeed, EVERYONE's circumstances, are rather special."

      "A week?" Mei looked dejected. "But..."

      "I can assure you, we will give him the finest care that he's likely to get anywhere."

      Mei shook her head.

      "Oh, doctor, please don't misunderstand. I trust you and Dr. Reynolds implicitly, there is no question about that. But... this place... it frightens me. Wouldn't it be possible for me to adopt him, then rush to the hospital immediately? Or, or... couldn't I care for him at home?"

      "Well, it... I suppose it would be possible... but he's got a nasty infection and most likely a concussion. The hospital can treat him, yes... but we're just as qualified."

      "Oh, please don't be offended!"

      "Who's offended?" Death asked, clearly offended.

      "Well, I... I'm so grateful for..."

      "Of course you are, grateful for the services. It's just the setting that bothers you."

      "Oh, doctor, the place is... I've heard such horrible stories..."

      "Well, of course you have," Death said quietly.

      "Are they true?"

      "I can't lie to you. This place is... I can't even think of a word bad enough to describe how I feel about it, and it was wrong of your brother to do this. Kitty should have never even imagined seeing the inside of this place. I guess... call it my ego, but... I want to be able to help him."

      "Oh, doctor, you have-"

      "No, I haven't. I mean, not really, anyway. When he came in last night, I was busy with paperwork. I mean, imagine, paperwork. I'm a doctor, for pete's sake. I didn't go to medical school for all those years to learn how to push a pencil. A patient came in... THIS patient, and I didn't even bother coming out of my office for an hour. By the time I came out, he was stable. Resting comfortably. Alive, no thanks to me."

      He stopped suddenly, then looked at Mei with surprise.

      "You're still listening," he said.

      "I am."

      "Why are you still listening?"

      "Shouldn't I be?"

      "You're giving me the impression you're interested."

      "I am interested."

      "That's unusual," Death said.

      "Well, Doctor... I read your autobiography several years ago."

      "No kidding. Didn't think anybody read that piece of garbage."

      "It wasn't garbage. I liked it, kind of."

      "Don't say."

      "Please, Doctor. Continue."

      Death shrugged, then began to pace.

      "Oh, it's what Reynolds said. Today she accused me of being a zombie and a control freak, right before she put in her resignation. I was able to write it off as hysteria for as long as I could, but what she said... it was true. This place, I mean... what it's done to me can never be repaired. No matter what I do, for the rest of my life, I'm going to be seen as that scary, ruthless doctor who makes sausage out of poor, innocent pets."

      Mei's eyes widened.

      "Sausage?!"

      "It's a stereotype! Don't repeat what I said, the media'd love to interpret that as a confession," he sighed. "The point is, Reynolds is right about what's happened to me. But I let it happen. I got so caught up in the angst and the 'oh, poor me' and the misery that I've forgotten what it is to be a doctor. To HELP pets. I used to jump at the opportunity to... to leave my office. To get out of my chair. It's like breathing in this place is too much of a hassle."

      "I'm sorry."

      "No! You don't... you see..."

      He took a deep breath. "Reynolds talks about moments in this place that will stay with her the rest of her life. Everyone does. Everyone sees pets come through here that they'll never forget, adoptions that bring tears to their eyes, and the whole bit. I gave up on that so long ago. The last moment of any sentimental significance that I can remember was the day Rose spilled coffee on the carpet and actually cleaned it up... until today. Until YOU!"

      "I don't understand."

      "When you came in here, looking for a pet, it was like those scenes that used to play out in my mind when I first came to work here. Yeah, adopting a brand new pet is great, but with every single abandonment, I always hoped that SOMETHING would change the owner's mind. I didn't care what it was; the inconvenience of filling out forms, the look on their pet's face, something, anything. In all the years I've worked here, I've almost never seen anyone who abandoned their pet change their mind after the deed was done. And when it did happen... the person always acted like they deserved a medal or something. Like their hand was forced. I don't-- am I making any sense?"

      "I... I don't know, exactly."

      "Your relationship with Kitty is just... it's so amazing. It's as close to a happy ending as I've ever seen in this place. And it makes me wonder, how many more happy endings could there be, if someone just tried a little harder?"

      "Doctor, that is so admirable... but people are like my brother, you see? I would never condone what he's done, but I know him, and I know that he would not have changed his mind. You grew angry and sad, seeing that people do not care. Isn't that a sort of wisdom?"

      "Yes," Death said quietly. "But I'm doing nothing. Being resigned to the way things are doesn't mean you give up trying to change them. And anyway... I found out something else today, too."

      "What is that?"

      "That there's always a way out. Those pets escaped today... and they proved that the Pound is not invincible. The Pound is not the end."

      "Your credibility has been shattered."

      "Absolutely. Our credibility as captors. Let that credibility rot! The only credibility I have any right to care about is my credibility as a physician, which brings us back to the original topic."

      "I believe I understand... it's sort of atonement for your sins, am I right?"

      "In so many words. Mei, it's important, right now, that you know that Kitty barely stood a chance when he came in here."

      Tears came to her eyes, and she lowered her eyes.

      "I can never thank you-"

      "Mei, I have already told you, I did nothing. Dr. Reynolds saved his life."

      "And she is leaving."

      "Well, we... we'll deal with that when we deal with it. Mei, I'm asking you, very humbly, to give us a chance. To give ME a chance. You can stay here if you'd like, until we're sure he can leave. You probably don't, however, and I know asking you to trust a place like this is a major leap of faith for anyone, but Kitty would remain here, in this room, under our care. He wouldn't be placed in a cage, or mistreated in any way."

      "Doctor, is this some sort of disclaimer?" Mei asked, a small smile playing at her lips.

      "Well, I would hope you wouldn't be so uncouth as to file a lawsuit against us for some reason, but yes, I suppose you could say that."

      Mei got to her feet, her black hair obscuring her eyes.

      "I have to work in the morning," she said quietly.

      "I... I see."

      "Will you permit me to come visit Kitty after work?"

      "Um...yes."

      "A week, you said?"

      "Best-case. A week and a half, maybe."

      "That'll give me time to save up for a paint brush," Mei said thoughtfully.

      "I... suppose it would."

      "Doctor, I've never been a believer in miracles. Never in my life. While my childhood friends wrote letters to the faeries and hoped against hope for miracles, I was always the logical one. If I couldn't touch it, see it, account for it, it wasn't so. But... coming here, and the escape, and finding Kitty... what else could it be called BUT a miracle? Coincidence? Sure... but somewhere, fate was really on my side. How would it look if I just threw all that away? And besides, I don't believe that you did nothing, Doctor."

      "What do you mean?"

      "Your hand."

      Death instinctively pulled it out from behind his back and looked at it.

      "Oh, this... well... don't get me wrong! Kitty's a very well-behaved-"

      "He bit you, right?"

      "Like I was a pretzel."

      "Yes. I knew it," Mei held out her own hand, and Death saw a very visible red scar in the shape of teeth marks.

      "No kidding."

      "What can I say, he is a Kougra. And if he's upset, you know it."

      "Oh, he was upset."

      "He didn't hurt anyone else, did he?" Mei asked.

      "Oh, uh... no."

      "He's stubborn. He has his own ideas of what's good for him and what's not, and if he doesn't agree with you, he doesn't hesitate to let you know."

      "Yeah, I got that impression."

      "Oh, but he really is such a sweetie... now I have to ask, are you sure this isn't too much trouble?"

      "What, keeping him here?"

      "Yes."

      "Not a chance."

      "Now I must ask... can I bring my brother here with me? Tomorrow, after work?"

      "Oh, uh... sorry. We only take pets."

      Mei blinked at him, then burst out laughing.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Trapped Within a Dream: Part One
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Two
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Three
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Four
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Five
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Six
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Seven
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Eight
» Trapped Within a Dream: Part Ten



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