Chapter 1: Pain
Phil groaned as he eased himself face-down onto the table. He lay prone for several minutes, inert on his stomach as he attempted to straighten out his back, and contemplated the sick aching between his shoulders and the shooting pains in his wrists.
This tour had been a disaster. In addition to frequent rain, incompetent venue managers and multiple technical mishaps, he'd managed to hurt his back after a particularly awkward drumming session. You're getting old, Phil, he thought miserably, and clasped his hands on the back of his aching neck.
He was on some level aware of the next show due to begin that evening, but at the same time it was very difficult to care about it.
Presently he could hear the sound of incredulous laughter echoing down the hotel corridor, followed by the grating of a key in the lock. The door opened and the laughter ceased as two people entered the room. From his position Phil could see only two pairs of dark shoes and slacks, but he already knew who it was. He craned his neck to look at them.
“Hi, guys,” he offered weakly, raising a hand and letting it drop again, arm dangling off the edge of the table. “I'm ready, just wheel me onto the stage and we can get started.”
“Don't be stupid,” Mike scoffed as he leaned down to get a better look at his friend. “You look awful.”
“Is it your back again?” Tony's soft, precisely clipped voice was touched with concern.
“Yeeeaaah...” Phil sighed. “It's getting worse. The pain's into my arms now and I can't even make a fist.” He tried once more but only succeeded in prompting another agonizing stab, and his face tightened. “Fuck...”
“Look, don't try that. We still have time, I'll call Tony and tell him you can't play,” Mike said, in reference to their manager, the other Tony. But Phil shook his head, raising himself just enough off the table that it wouldn't cause muscle spasms again. The attempt failed.
“I can and I will play tonight,” he said, grimacing at the fresh spasm. “And don't you go telling Tony, he's already bloody furious about everything. I just need some pain pills and I'll be all right.”
“You'll hurt yourself more, is what you'll do,” Mike said, a note of irritation in his voice. He crossed the floor in a few long strides and sat on the edge of the sagging double bed. “I'm calling Tony—”
“You do and I'll kill you,” growled Phil, though he knew there was little he could do to make good on the threat. To his relief, Mike did refrain, at least for the moment. He was about to ask for his pain meds again when Tony wordlessly placed a hand on Phil's back and massaged it gently.
For a brief moment the the drummer was silent, accepting the keyboardist's touch. He even managed to relax slightly before he realized the room had gone oddly quiet. Then:
“Why, Tony darling, I didn't know you cared,” Phil quipped, and all tension broke instantly as they laughed.
“Does feel nice, though,” Phil admitted. “You be careful, I might get used to this.” The would-be masseur only snorted and shared an amused look with Mike.
“Hang in there,” Tony chuckled. He hadn't yet removed his hand from Phil's back, continuing to rub between his friend's shoulder blades. “We're worried about you, y'know.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” was the drummer's only reply. Mike cleared his throat.
“So... not to change the subject, but is there any particular reason we couldn't get more than one bed to sleep in?” The three men cast a doubtful look at the solitary double bed in the center of the shabby hotel room.
“Oh well that's very simple,” Peter said, appearing behind them from nowhere and speaking in a tone that suggested the answer was obvious. “The dreamer of this scenario needs an excuse for gratuitous homoeroticism, and this was the best she could do.” He leaned in the doorway with a smirk as Mike gingerly tested the mattress. The unexplained appearance of their former bandmate went wholly unremarked upon.
“Are you sure about that?” Tony's jewel-blue eyes were hard with skepticism. “I mean it seems suspiciously genre-savvy...”
“Tony, the phrase 'jewel-blue' in that last sentence ought to be some kind of clue.”
Phil raised an eyebrow. “...the fuck you talking about, Pete?”
“Anyway, I can't say I'm surprised,” Mike said, pointedly ignoring this odd exchange. “At this point a room mix-up seems positively normal.”
“Still. I should think Tony—other Tony,” Phil said, nodding at present-Tony, “should have something to say about it.” He paused and glanced at Peter again, who smiled back at him with shining blue eyes. Like two halves of a mirror, Phil thought. It was the way he thought of himself and Peter. Mirrors, not quite identical but also strangely alike. It was a thought that had occurred to him many times through the long years, the way his life and Peter's had intersected, reflected each other, the way their singing voices used to weave tightly in an eerily similar double-track. And even now, a similar baldness.
“I can send you a picture, Phil, it lasts longer,” Peter snarked, but there was genuine laughter in his eyes. Phil shook himself; he hadn't realized he was staring.
“Oh, sorry Pete, it's just that you remind me of someone incredibly handsome,” Phil said, exaggeratedly tossing a hand through his own nonexistent hair. Tony crossed his arms and smiled tightly in the way he did when he was trying not to laugh.
“So what should we do?” Mike asked.
“Well, Mike! Fortunately I've just had an idea. Help me sit up, please, someone.” Both Tony and Mike stepped forward to gently support their friend as he eased into a sitting position. Phil held onto their shoulders until he was able to stand and move, albeit stiffly. Standing up brought a certain amount of relief, actually.
“Oh Phil, not the packing tape.” Peter flicked his eyes derisively to indicate the roll of clear packing tape that was suddenly visible on the dresser, just beside the telephone.
“Where did that come from?” Mike couldn't remember seeing it before.
“And how did you know?” Phil said, slightly miffed that Peter had anticipated him. But he caught Mike's eye and held his hands out, open-palmed. “Mike? I want you to tape the drumsticks to my hands.”
“What?” Mike barked with a single loud laugh.
“I told you I can and would play tonight. Go on. Please?” Phil took a step toward his much taller friend and playfully butted him towards the dresser with his shoulder.
With a heavy sigh, Mike allowed himself to be pushed. “All right, get your drumsticks. Sit over here.” He sat on the edge of the bed again and Phil followed suit, scooting close to his friend and briefly leaning into him with a sigh. Then he bounced on the dubious mattress once or twice, testing the springs. It creaked alarmingly.
“Bloody hell, that doesn't sound good.” He frowned at the bed as Mike unpeeled a length of tape and began to wrap it around Phil's outstretched fists, securing the drumsticks in his loose grasp. “That's it. Some tape and some pain pills and I'll be good as new. I suppose I should take them before you strap the other hand.”
“Hold still.” Mike continued to wrangle the sticky tape with some difficulty. Without a word, Tony slipped quietly into the bathroom and returned with a cup of water and the bottle of tablets. He joined them on the bed and watched the clumsy taping operation with mild amusement.
“How many, Phil?”
“Two.” Tony obligingly shook out the pills and placed them in the drummer's unbound left hand. Phil tossed them in his mouth and nodded gratefully as he reached for the cup of water.
“Peter's gone,” Tony said simply, as Phil swallowed the tablets.
“Oh,” he replied vaguely, gulping on the last mouthful of water. Somehow, this occurrence didn't seem the least bit unusual to any of them.
Chapter 2: Cold
Mike sprawled his lanky body across the length of the bed, his arms folded behind his head in contented exhaustion. The lights in the room were harsh and prevented him from falling into deeper sleep, but he left them on for the benefit of Tony and Phil, soon to return. The night's setlist and the roars of the cheering crowd still rang in his ears. With his eyes shut, his mind wandered through the show in a blur of muddied sound and waving arms and fingers hurting with their effort on the strings. They had each given their all that night, in spite of everything. Tony's synths were exact and flawless as usual, Phil had somehow managed to overcome pain long enough to drum the hell out of the solos and come out smiling. His own guitar vibrated curiously in his mind, and a shiver went up his back as he recalled the throbbing, driving heartbeat of his bass. The vari-lights all flashed down in one sweeping motion, crashing shocks of color across the stage as he synchronized in the floating space between the sounds of keyboard and the drums and sleep, until a voice intruded:
“Mike. It's cold.”
It was Phil. The lights had been extinguished in the unknown time Mike had been asleep, and in the new profound darkness of the room there was nothing to see of Phil's expression, but his voice despaired. Mike stirred and muttered from somewhere deep in his throat:
“S'not that cold.” His words slurred together thickly in his exhaustion. “G'back to sleep.”
“I can't, it's freezing.” Phil was drawn tight into himself with cold, his limbs shivering as he pulled the blanket over his head and moved closer, seeking his friend's warmth in the lonely darkness.
Mike's eyes fluttered open, but there was nothing to see, only the softness of contact between their bodies. Phil was in fact cold to the touch, particularly in the icy hands now brushing across his sides, but though Mike flinched at the chill he did not resist.
“Ahh, you are cold. Are you sick?”
“Don't know.” Phil's reply was muffled by the sheet, and he continued to shudder. “I hope not.”
Mike shut his eyes again, and with an unseen indulgent smile he curled an arm around Phil's shoulders to draw him closer. At the same time he grasped the drummer's cold hand in his own and pressed it firmly against his stomach to provide a faster warmth. Gratefully Phil rested his head on Mike's bare chest, and sighed as he heard the comforting thump of the guitarist's heart.
“Better, thanks,” Phil murmured, and his shivering gradually relaxed into a steady rhythm of slow and tired breathing. “I missed this. I missed this contact,” he whispered.
“Mmmm,” Mike said, but he was already asleep. Soon the two of them sank deeper into sleep and the delicious shared warmth of bed.
On the other side of the bed Tony snored gently and kicked once at something in his dreams, oblivious to everything. The sky had turned a creamy sunset orange marbled with pink, and he and Peter were alone together in a sparse field with only a broken-down Mellotron for company. They sat at the bench in silence, pushing keys and making adjustments, but nothing they did tuned it properly. Peter nibbled some long stalks of grass and addressed the sky:
“Now wasn't that sweet. Phil never cuddles with you,” he said archly, flicking his long hair away from his eyes. The singer was suddenly years younger, his face and body soft and youthful and effeminate, his blue eyes bright with promise. A tambourine was balanced precariously on his head.
“Phil is probably coming down with something,” Tony commented as he kicked again at the temperamental Mellotron. Somehow without having been told he was aware of the closeness between his two friends, nestled elsewhere yet nearby in the dark. “I don't need his fever and chills.”
“As you wish. The dreamer finds this sort of “comfort-between-friends” thing very touching; she'll find a way to work it in. Though I should think poor Phil has suffered enough already.”
Tony paused. “You keep mentioning the dreamer. Who is this person?” Peter gazed downwards in hesitation and chewed at a fingernail.
“The dreamer is... strange.” He chose the word after several careful moments. “She seems preoccupied with the sounds of our bodies and our internal states.”
“Internal states? Of us in particular?”
“No. It's a common theme with her creations. Hunger, fullness, the steady rhythm of hearts and the movement of blood, quiet breathing, cycles of nutrients, heat, emotions, arousal, sleep, sickness, vulnerability. All these she finds compelling.”
“Are we, then, her creations?”
“Not exactly. You, all of us, exist in the plane we're accustomed to, but there also exist certain dreamers, who... it is hard to explain. I suppose they borrow your personality for a while, play with it, shape it to their expectations. You are made to do things that may be wildly out-of-character, say things you might never say. Sleep with your bandmates.” Peter shrugged indifferently. “I'm only able to speak to you in this way because the dreamer decided I should remain aware of her intentions. She sees me as someone outside reality.” He grazed two fingers over the bridge of his nose, and a trail of black and violet paint followed, spreading until his face was a new mask of color. “See?”
Tony frowned. “But why are you telling me all this?” Peter's painted face broke into a crooked smile and he leaped up from the bench, striking the tambourine sharply against his hip.
“Silly. Because you're dreaming, too!” He planted a swift kiss on Tony's forehead and with that he was gone. The scene shifted fluidly and Tony found himself on a darkened stage alone, seated behind the same broken Mellotron, listening to the screams of an eager audience howling into the night. And suddenly he knew what he needed to do. He placed his hands lightly on the instrument and his fingers instantly melted into the keys. Wire and magnetic tape burst forth and coiled up his arms like living vines, tightening all around him, encircling his temples and forehead, and after the initial wave of fear, he relaxed. He knew that now he was able to send thoughts to the Mellotron and it would respond with new sounds, any sound he could imagine, any song he was capable of remembering. It required a supreme effort of concentration, but he could do it. The machine was part of him now, just as he was a part of it; they were one, and the stage filled with simultaneous complex time signatures that somehow matched in a single song, even as multiple lines of thought burned in all directions like lasers redirected by a mirror. His eyes were shut tight and sweat broke out on his forehead but there was joy, joy, and suddenly all his friends had appeared to join him in the song...
In bed Tony's breathing had turned quick and shallow, but unseen in the sleeping darkness was his beaming smile.
Chapter 3: Heat
The gray light of the rainy morning found all three still asleep. The cheap hotel mattress had sagged even further under their combined weight, causing them to fall together in the center. In his restless sleep Phil had managed to sink lower in the bed, tucked under Tony's chin. Tony and Mike's foreheads rested together and their arms had become entangled during sleep as they clung to one another, trapping Phil between them.
It was Mike who stirred awake first. The first thing he noticed was Tony's hair tickling his nose, and he raised his head with a sniff. Then with a smile he moved his free hand to run his fingertips over his friend's tangled silver hair. Tony always had such luxuriant hair, he reflected, and blew a light puff of air through the strands.
Mike considered the position they were in. To move now would probably wake the other two. But they would have to get up soon anyway. He lay quietly and listened to the rush of rain pelting the windows. In that space of time he felt a deep sense of protection for his sleeping friends, as though he had to keep them safe. From what, he did not know.
As carefully as he could, Mike did his best to disentangle himself without waking them. They stirred a bit and Phil seemed to nuzzle comfortably into Tony's chest, but they did not awaken. With a final indulgent look at them Mike stretched himself and padded off to use the bathroom, mentally reviewing the day's schedule. It was time to pack up and move to the next show. He never cared much for the transitions; travel was often long and dull and occasionally dangerous, but at least he was in the company of friends. Perhaps the trip wouldn't be so bad, even if it was raining. As he finished up and washed his hands in the sink, staring blearily at his tired reflection in the mirror, he saw the door open out of the corner of his eye. Phil stood there, looking equally disheveled and slightly dazed.
“Oh! Sorry Mike.”
“No, it's no trouble. I'm finished.” He paused to dry his hands. “How do you feel this morning?”
“Hm. Better than yesterday, anyway,” he replied with a wide yawn. “And... thanks, by the way.” Mike smiled, remembering how they shared their warmth through the long night.
“I, uh... I don't suppose you were going to use the bath?”
“I was, yes.”
“Oh.” Phil cast his eyes to the floor, and presently his expression turned slightly mischievous. “I was just thinking. Perhaps we could save some time, y'know. Use it together. Like we used to.” He flicked his eyes up flirtatiously. Mike pondered this for a moment, remembering. He smiled.
“I guess you are feeling better. All right. Come on then,” he relented. In truth the idea excited him in a way he had not felt for quite a long time. He and Phil used to fool around constantly while on the road, but they hadn't been on tour together like this for years. The opportunity now was too good to pass up. They shut the bathroom door quietly, leaving still-snoozing Tony clinging to the bedsheets for warmth and a few extra minutes of sleep.
“He'll be angry if he finds out we had fun without him,” Phil giggled as he removed his shirt. Mike shrugged and started the water in the shower.
“Well, he doesn't have to know,” he replied with a smirk. The shower, like everything else in this forsaken hotel, was substandard and strangely narrow, but it would be enough for their purposes. It wasn't as though they had much of a choice. Impatiently Mike dabbled his fingers under the water; it was infuriatingly slow to heat. Phil had moved close behind in a similar impatience and coiled his arms around Mike's waist, rubbing his hardening erection slowly against his friend's ass and lower thigh. It was enough to make the taller man instantly hard, and he turned away from the shower to catch Phil in a tight embrace, kissing him roughly. Phil's moan of surprise was muffled by the kiss but he responded with equal vigor, standing on his toes and reaching up to bury his fingers in Mike's tangled hair. Still holding to each other with quickening breaths and pulse, they stripped off their remaining clothes and flung them unceremoniously to the floor before stepping into the shower.
The water had finally begun to heat. Mike stood with his back to the spray, feeling his skin prickle and burn slightly under the warmth, and he arched his back, relaxing in the heat. Phil pouted as he stroked his hands smoothly over Mike's remarkably lanky body, now wet and glistening.
“Hey, don't take it all, it's getting cold over here,” he said.
“Hmmm, I won't,” Mike replied languidly. He leaned over to grab the bar of hotel soap and lathered it between his hands, smiling as he spread the foam onto Phil's chest. Phil glanced up at him through his lashes with a characteristic pleased little smile, and he spread some of the soap on his own hand before reaching down to gently fondle Mike's balls.
They spent some time trading places under the hot water, slowly moving their hips together in growing passion. Before long Phil was panting aggressively. He spread his legs and attempted to wrap them tightly around Mike's waist, letting the taller man support his weight.
“Fuck me, Mike. Right now, just fuck me.” It was all Mike needed to hear.
With a quiet growl Mike pushed him hard against the cold tile as he groped between Phil's legs, sliding a soaped-up hand past the length of the drummer's cock and between his buttocks. Phil gasped as he felt Mike's fingers enter him and his grip tightened on his friend's shoulders. He felt so close to release even from the sensation of fingers sliding in and out, stretching him open, but he willed himself to hold on, to feel Mike slide his cock in him and fuck him properly like he craved. Mike met his eyes, wide with excitement and lust, and began to guide himself inside as Phil angled his hips longingly...
A sudden slap on Mike's ass made him yelp and nearly drop Phil in shock. He was certain that Phil hadn't, and indeed couldn't have done that from the position they were in. His suspicions were confirmed as he saw Phil's expression of surprise, eyes locked on something behind him.
“Tony!” Phil exclaimed as he recovered from the slip. He had ended up in a sitting position between Mike's legs, sliding on the flat of his hands as he attempted to regain his footing on the slick bathtub floor.
Mike turned around to see the smirking face and pale body of Tony. He stood under the spray of steaming water, naked and erect and strangely beautiful in his silence. His cock was flushed and throbbing with the fullness of blood and his skin took on a similar blush from the heated water.
“I heard you two in here,” he finally said in mock reproach. “Having fun without me? That won't do.” He trailed a teasing finger down Mike' chest.
“Sorry, Tony,” Mike said, feeling strangely abashed. He'd been with Tony so many times before, but oddly enough he couldn't remember if Phil had ever been present at the same time. The thought flustered him. “Just thought you might like some more sleep. Uh... care to join us now?”
“Naturally,” Tony purred. “I suppose we've all known each other long enough for this kind of familiarity. We might as well enjoy ourselves.” He closed a hand around Mike's shaft and rubbed his thumb over the tip, slowly. Mike let out a shuddering breath.
“Oh yes,” he sighed. Tony's touch had always been very different and somehow more subtle; he could play either one of them like a set of keys whenever he chose. He allowed Tony to draw him into an embrace, their bodies sensuously wet and sliding together as they fondled each other. Phil watched as Tony ran his nails along the length of Mike's back, leaving bright red streaks on the skin. In fascination Phil traced a finger along the marks, wondering if it hurt, but judging from the noises of pleasure Mike was producing, it hurt so good.
“Ahh, fuck me, Tony,” Mike was saying, his voice indistinct and somewhere far away in bliss. “Please...”
“Turn around,” Tony murmured, closing his teeth softly on Mike's ear. At the same time he began to finger Mike, probing inside him and creating a new thrill of sensation. “I believe you and Phil have some unfinished business.”
“'At's right,” Phil said brightly, relieved that someone was paying attention to him again. It occurred to him that he had never watched Tony and Mike make love before, though he knew perfectly well they had always done so. To see his two friends kiss inflamed his desire for their touch even more, and he was growing desperate. He reached up as Mike turned around to meet him in a kiss and resume what they had begun, trembling with eagerness. He clung to Mike and allowed him to take hold of his legs again, wrapping them around his waist, and this time, after a few tense seconds, felt him plunge deeply into his willing body. Phil cried out in exhilaration, bucking his hips in a hard rhythm against Mike's, trying to draw him in as deep as he could go. With every thrust he felt the sliding friction of his cock pressed against Mike's stomach.
“Oh, Mike, oh, I'm gonna...” It wasn't long before Phil's gasping breaths quickened and his eyes squeezed shut, and with a loud howl of pleasure that was almost like the climax of a song, he came, spurting over Mike's belly. The release was so intense that he almost lost his grip and fell, but he steadied himself on the back wall of the shower, breathing hard as an expression of utter peace passed over his features.
But Mike was not finished. He continued to pound into the unresisting Phil even as Tony was doing the same to him, grasping his hips tightly from behind and thrusting into him with a fierce intensity. They braced against each other, feeling the moment build inside them with terrifying immediacy, until with a loud groan of pleasure they both came, hot and abundantly.
For several moments the only sound was their own open-mouthed breathing and the continuing flow of the shower down the drain. Trembling from their efforts, Phil and Tony clung to Mike and relaxed into his strength. Mike didn't feel any less drained but he managed to support the other two, leaning his back against the tile as he drew them all close together in a firm group hug. They all looked at each other with bright eyes and started to laugh.
“Water's getting cold,” Tony commented, and slicked a finger against the watery remains of Phil's ejaculate now running down Mike's body.
“Aw, thanks mate, it was great for me too,” Phil cracked, causing Tony to snort in amusement. Together they rinsed away the remains of their debauchery and shut off the rapidly-cooling water. It was time for them to leave this place at last, but somehow in the afterglow of their emotions, it was difficult for them to go.
Chapter 4: Blood
“Tony...” Phil nudged his friend softly. His head rested on Tony's shoulder after an hour of slowly drifting together in front of the television.
“Yes?” Tony stirred from a drowsy half-sleep induced by the TV's drone, the dim lights and the rocking lull of the tour bus. It had been a long day on the road, and such trips always tired him out even if he wasn't the one driving. He rubbed the back of his neck; the persistent pounding in his head hadn't helped matters, either. It had not abated since early that evening, but he had decided it wasn't worth mentioning to anyone.
“Could you rub my back again?” Phil shot him a coy, playful look from under his lashes. Tony met his gaze with a look of mild surprise. He was never quite certain if Phil was joking or not when he used that cheeky glance.
“How's your back, then? Is it worse?”
“No... no in fact it's not too bad. But last time you did it, it felt so nice... would you do it again?” Even in the dim blue shadows his expression betrayed an unexpected sincerity and vulnerability, and for an instant Tony flashed back to something half-remembered in his sleep. What was it Peter had told him about a dreamer? But the full memory eluded him.
“'Course I will,” he said. He sat up on the cushion only to feel the pressure of his headache increase. He flinched involuntarily and put a hand to the back of his head.
“What's the matter?” Phil's expression sobered when he caught sight of his friend's distress.
“My head... I've had a terrible headache all evening.”
“Oh, Tony. You should have told me.” Phil rested his head on Tony's shoulder again, then ran his fingers through his friend's silver shock of hair. “Don't I sound like the selfish one.”
“Never mind, you didn't know.” He shut his eyes. The sensation of fingers stroking his hair was creating a very pleasant and distracting tingle down his neck. “It'll get better.”
“'Course it will, 'cuz this is what we do...” Phil gently pushed Tony forward into a sitting position and massaged the keyboardist's back and shoulders in a firm rhythm. “Do you want an aspirin?”
“Maybe later. This is... fine.” He let his aching head fall back as Phil continued to massage his muscles deeply, rhythmically pushing his upper body forward and back. Bless Phil. His touch had always been a little rough, but like his drumming it was very solid and at the moment it was exactly what Tony wanted. He sighed and reached over one shoulder, interlocking his fingers with Phil's for a minute or two of quiet understanding.
“Don't forget about the dream, Tony.” The sudden voice from the television was alarmingly loud against the muted backdrop of other sounds, and Tony startled. Peter was gazing directly at him from the screen, turned away from a news interviewer with a finger raised in warning.
“Don't forget, or you're in danger. There's blood on the keyboard.” His voice had deepened unnaturally and he solemnly raised a hand, his eyes fixed on Tony's as a sudden bright trickle of blood appeared on his palm, flowing crimson down his arm. Tony recoiled from the image and felt his heart pound in horror.
“Pete, what're you on about this time? Honestly.” Phil glared in annoyance at the television. “Tony's not feeling well tonight, stop frightening him.” Now it was Peter's turn to look mildly shocked.
“Phil?” His image fuzzed with static for an instant. “Damn. I was speaking to Tony, you weren't supposed to hear that.”
“Well what do you expect? Going on about blood on the keyboard, that's disgusting...”
“Blood on the keyboard, millions of ordinary people are there...” Mike sang in quiet mockery from the other side of the bus, not knowing exactly what was going on but unable to resist the opportunity to use the lyric. Phil and Tony leveled an unimpressed stare.
“Well it scans the same, anyhow,” Mike mumbled, and humbly returned to his cup of tea.
“Anyway, this attempt has been an embarrassment.” Peter wiped away the blood and breezily waved his hand as if to dismiss everything that had just occurred. “I'll try again later. Feel better, Tony, and remember what I said.” His image flickered out of existence, leaving the television to its ordinary chatter. Tony shook his head in confusion.
“What did he mean? What was he trying to say, exactly?”
“Who knows with Peter. But for someone who didn't want to join this tour, he does show up an awful lot.” Phil cast a final suspicious look at the TV before wrapping his arms tightly around his friend, shifting his weight to topple them both onto their sides. Tony couldn't help but smile and allowed himself to fall.
“Hey, be careful of my head,” he chuckled.
“I'm always careful!” They now rested in a spooning position, with Phil cradling his taller friend protectively. He squeezed his arms around Tony's stomach and rested a firm hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat through his shirt. “Try to get some sleep, then,” he murmured into Tony's ear. “Forget what he said...” He yawned, once again lulled by the darkness and monotony of sound. Drowsiness soon overcame them both and they surrendered to a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 5: Slippermen
“We're here!” Phil cheered as he hopped off the bus.
“Took long enough,” Tony grumbled. He dragged his luggage to the curb where Mike was already standing. The guitarist was staring at the new venue with a puzzled look on his face.
“Question is,” Mike said, as though speaking to himself, “where's here?”
Phil stretched the stiffness out of his limbs as he followed Mike's gaze. Nothing unusual registered at first, but then his eyes narrowed at the massive concrete building shadowed against the heavy gray sky.
“This isn't the arena.”
“I know. Where are we?”
“Hey!” Phil turned around to address their driver, more than a little annoyed. “What's the idea of dropping us here?”
The doors hissed shut and the bus pulled away despite their shouts of protest, leaving the three of them standing awkwardly in the shadow of the ominous square building. They gazed at it in uncertain awe.
“There's nowhere else to go,” Tony said quietly. “Do you think the others made it here already?”
“No, they'd be at the arena,” fumed Phil as he jabbed a number into his cell phone. “What the hell's going on...”
“Are we in danger?” Tony spoke slowly, with a creeping feeling that he was forgetting something terribly important. Mike looked at him blankly but didn't answer.
“Fuckin' hell,” Phil swore, angrily flipping his phone shut. “I can't get an answer from anybody. Fuck!” A cold thin rain pattered on the pavement and he thrust his hands in his pockets.
“I suppose we'd better go inside,” he muttered. Mike nodded and they gathered their things, approaching the mysterious structure without another word. There was only one door in the facade, and not a single window to be seen. They tested the door, half-hoping it wouldn't open and they would awaken from whatever nightmare this was. But it opened just the same.
They found themselves in what appeared to be a giant concrete warehouse, dimly lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs on the distant ceiling. All around them was a shifting, uneasy noise of footsteps on the gritty floor, but they saw no one, only glimpses of shadows at the edges of their vision that vanished when they looked at them directly. A whispering sound grated in the darkness as the door clicked shut behind them and locked.
Phil and Tony hung back, moving close to each other for protection.
“I don't suppose this is any sort of backstage,” Phil offered weakly.
“No, but I do hear singing.” Mike had stepped into the center of the floor and was listening carefully to something beyond. They all strained to hear. Sure enough, there was the faraway wail of a single plaintive voice calling to them in song. And the voice itself was unmistakably familiar.
“Is that Peter?” growled Phil. “If he's the one responsible for all this I'm going to kill him...” At that moment the memory returned unbidden to Tony in a flash.
“He warned us something would happen. Don't you remember?” he exclaimed. “He warned us about a dream.” Phil and Mike stared at him in confusion.
“On the television last night! Remember? I didn't know what he was talking about.” Tony flinched as another shadow crossed his vision, closer this time.
“Oh... and I said to forget about it?” Phil said, dimly remembering. “Then this must be the dream. Ours? His?”
“Come on, let's get out of here,” Mike urged. He turned and began to walk into the darkness.
“Do you know where you're going?”
“No.” He didn't stop. Phil and Tony shared a wide-eyed look before following.
The warehouse seemed to go on interminably as they followed the siren song. Time stretched out slow and their steps grew heavy but they continued on, ignoring the unsettling noises in the dark. At last the shadows gave way to a rig of harsh bright lights from above, shining onto the dark wooden floorboards of a stage. They set down their gear behind a heavy purple curtain and sighed. A stage, at least, was something familiar. But the singing continued with no obvious source.
“Hello? Peter?” Phil stood on the empty stage and called out uncertainly, bracing himself for any sudden appearances by his old friend. Several minutes passed and he failed to appear, but a new sound alerted them to something else stirring.
“You don't belong here,” a rough voice said, and they all turned to see a looming figure half-obscured in shadow. They saw nothing of its features, but it was evidently very tall and unsettlingly irregular in its outline. Sort of... bumpy.
“Yeah I gathered that,” said Phil, glancing sideways at the thing. “Would you mind explaining a few things? Where's Peter?” The thing shifted slightly and drew breath with a thick rattle of phlegm. Phil didn't try to disguise his look of revulsion.
“Go upstairs,” it rasped. As it shuffled away it stepped into a patch of reflected light and they caught a sickening glimpse of discolored slimy skin and flaking lumpy pustules. Tony felt something rise in his throat and he covered his mouth.
“That wasn't...?” Mike didn't finish the question, staring after the apparition in shock.
“Yeah. I think it was,” replied Phil, voicing what they all suspected.
“But that was real,” Tony muttered as the nausea passed slowly. “Peter never looked that way even in costume.”
The lonely wail of song began again. They could not make out any words, but the voice was closer this time and seemed to emanate from above them. A staircase had appeared offstage, leading to a new level above the audience seats. They glanced at each other in silent agreement and began to climb the stairs.
The upper level was wholly unremarkable at first glance. They faced a double row of office doors, all painted a dull gray-blue, and each with signs like “Administrative” or “Director's Office” printed in dingy white letters on a brown board. They waked slowly down the hall, sometimes glancing into rooms for any evidence of people or the source of the singing, but they found none. Then, the song abruptly stopped and all was plunged into silence for several minutes. Mike suddenly motioned for the other two to stop.
“Look,” he said, pointing towards the floor.
It was a fox. A real fox stood some five feet away, watching them cautiously with bright golden eyes. They stared back in puzzlement. Before they could question where the animal had come from, or why it was there at all, the fox raised itself onto its hind legs. It began to grow taller. Its body shifted and morphed swiftly into something resembling a man, and then, standing fully upright with front paws transforming into clawed hands, it grinned at them and said with quiet menace:
An alarm bell blared deafeningly and every door flew open at once. Instantly a crowd of faceless people streamed into the hallway, pushing, shoving each other in a single-minded stream. In a terrifying split second they all turned their heads as one, revealing that every last face had no eyes, just round black sockets where eyes should be, fleshless and burnt. The trio cried out in horror and began to run.
“Mike! Tony!” Phil shouted as he felt himself swept up in the eyeless horde. He felt as if he was running through thick glue, slow-motion, too slow to save himself. But his friends were suddenly nowhere to be seen.
Chapter 6: Thirst
It was very cold.
Tony stirred weakly and felt the hard scrape of frigid concrete against his face. A terrible ache pounded in his head once more as he raised himself with a groan. He looked around him to allow time for his memory to trickle back slowly.
There was no color anywhere; all black-and-white like an old film. A distant rushing sound like wind and unkind whispers hissed in the darkness, and there was a high-pitched electric buzzing from somewhere near. The sight of tall gray concrete pillars all around him suggested a parking garage, though he saw no vehicles. And he was all alone.
He stood up shakily and rubbed his head. He couldn't remember if the eyeless people had brought him here (he shuddered remembering their gaze), or if the scene had simply changed around him, but that didn't seem important. He was simply here, and needed to find the way out.
“Mike?” he called uncertainly into the void. “Phil?” His voice echoed endlessly in the concrete labyrinth without answer. He began to walk aimlessly, his footsteps loud in the awful silence. The garage was completely featureless and seemingly without end, and before long he was aware of a terrible thirst.
“Need a drink?” The guttural, slimy voice from before made Tony gasp and freeze in his tracks. But instead of the diseased slipperman, a different figure slid into view this time. It was a very old man, bald and stooped and incredibly frail, but there was an incongruous look of salaciousness upon his sagging mask-like face and evil glittered in his sunken eyes. Most disconcertingly, he wore no trousers, only a long white shirt that hung down to cover his crotch. The old man's tongue protruded between his teeth as he took a shaking step forward.
“Did you hear me?” he croaked.
Tony swallowed in a dry throat. “Y-yes, I heard you.” He felt a frightened urge to run, but at the same time there was an unusual sense of recognition for this horrible sight. His mind flew back many years, recalling a strange and distant time when anything seemed possible and they sang of fountains and hogweed and musical boxes. “You're—Peter's character?” No answer.
“Are you Peter?” he ventured again. The old man grinned obscenely but said nothing.
“Look, where am I?” Tony fumed. This whole situation was beginning to irritate him.
“Look for the machine,” the old man finally grunted. “It's just over there... I'll show you.” He took several steps closer as Tony recoiled.
“N-no.” Without another word Tony turned on his heel and ran. Somehow he knew it would be a mistake to allow this creature to touch him, and horrible visions of assault and rape flashed before his eyes. No telling what would have happened had he stayed.
As he ran he felt the strangest sensation of floating above the ground, as if his feet did not touch the pavement. He did not know how long he ran, and stranger still he did not grow tired, but his thirst had magnified until all he could think about was finding a drink of cool water. And still he seemed no closer to the end.
When he finally stopped, he noticed the electric buzzing sound from before had grown louder, filling his ears with its drone. He rounded a corner and there, bathed in a hard white florescent light, was the machine. Tony had never seen the device before but he knew there was no mistaking what the old man must have been talking about. And had this been any other situation he might have laughed—it was a vending machine. He swallowed the thick saliva at the back of his his dry mouth in anticipation of a drink.
As he approached, vaguely hoping there was sufficient change in his pockets somewhere, he began to realize there was something terribly ominous about this machine. The whole device fairly sparked with electricity and a gray metal seat was built into the side, attached to the top with a long coil of white wire. Tony looked closer and his eyes went wide as realization dawned on him. This was an electric chair. He was meant to sit in it and take his chances.
“Half the time it dispenses a drink,” he murmured to himself as he ran a finger longingly over the drink choices, all of them sweet, cold water. “The other half the time... it kills you.” He shuddered and backed away slowly. No water was worth that kind of agony. He had to get out...
With a new flash of light, the vending buttons transformed into a set of black and white synthesizer keys, all in shining plastic. After a pause, Tony gingerly reached out to brush the familiar keys with his fingertips. Was he meant to play something? Bracing himself for a shock, he softly pressed one key.
The evil machine shrieked long and loud with a sound of tortured rust. Covering his ears, he stared transfixed in horror as a black fluid began to seep down in rivulets from the keys and oozed onto the concrete floor. Blood, there was blood on the keyboard. Just like the warning. His heart pounded fast. It was time to get out, it was time to run, run anywhere, run—
The floor opened and swallowed him up.
Chapter 7: Image
“Fuck, I've had ENOUGH!” Phil shouted and kicked at the walls in his fury. He was still alone. For what seemed like the hundredth time he fled down an ever-changing hallway and prayed the alarm bell wouldn't ring while he was there; he couldn't face the flood of eyeless people yet again. He wandered in circles, past classrooms and laboratories, up and down flights of shifting stairs, hearing murmurs of restless crowds but not seeing a soul emerge from the sterile labyrinth. At one point he even went outside into the rain, on the vague rumor that a bus was due to arrive and take him into the city again, but it was not to be.
After what seemed like hours of fruitless wandering he finally discovered a huge auditorium, painted entirely black and with a single lighted screen on the stage. The screen shone with only a sickly blue light, but there were sounds coming over the speakers, metallic clanging noises as though someone was walking over a grate high above. Phil craned his neck up. He saw no one, but near the entrance doors he saw a thin metal ladder leading to what looked like a recording booth. He shrugged and began to climb.
“Hey! Is anybody...” He reached the top and nearly tripped on the narrow catwalk but balanced himself just in time, clinging white-knuckled to the the metal railing. Good lord, this place was a death trap. The catwalk was some forty feet above the floor, and it swayed disconcertingly. Somehow it seemed to be supported by a single fireman's pole sticking into the floor. Heart in his throat, he edged slowly towards the door to the booth and fumbled it open, shutting it behind him with a sigh. Then he turned around and nearly screamed in disbelief.
Mike was sitting cross-legged atop a desk, his deep-set eyes seemingly more heavy-lidded and sleepy than usual, as though lost in thought. But upon seeing his friend he smiled broadly in genuine pleasure.
“Phil, where were you?”
Phil suddenly wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. Instead he rushed forward and tackled his friend in a tight hug, burying his face in Mike's chest.
“Hey, what's the matter?” He patted Phil's back reassuringly.
“Mike, I've had a horrible time here. This is the worst gig we've ever done, you know that?”
“I don't think this is a gig. Granted, technical mishaps are something of a tradition, but this is something else.”
“I'm just glad you're here. You really are here, aren't you?” He reached up and cradled Mike's face in his hands, shaking him gently to convince himself of the reality. Mike grinned and took Phil's hands into his own.
“Ugh, thank God. I've lost all track of time, I couldn't find anybody except a crowd of strangers, and wherever we are it sure as hell doesn't stay the same the second time you walk through. I must have gotten lost a hundred times. I tell you it's creepy, I don't like it...” Mike said nothing. He had uncrossed his legs and leaned on the edge of the desk, waiting patiently for his friend to finish. Phil was clearly upset, and babbled on in frustration for some minutes until he was nearly on the point of tears. He stopped and turned away, red-faced with shame.
“Hey, it's all right.” Mike paced forward to put a hand on Phil's shoulder and rub it gently. “I don't understand what's happening here either.”
Phil leaned into the touch. When he gazed up at his tall friend he felt the same rush of closeness, the same intense desire for his contact and protection, that he had felt for all these years. He moved closer and brought his arms about Mike's waist, letting his head rest at chest-height against his steady heart. He smiled as Mike returned the gesture, rubbing his hands comfortingly up and down his back.
“You were asleep the last time we did this,” Phil murmured.
“I'm wondering if we're not still asleep.”
“No. That's what Tony thinks... have you seen him? We need to find him!” He broke away from the embrace and reached for the door to the booth, but realized that suddenly there wasn't any door. He pushed against the blank space in the wall, confused.
“There's no hurry, really.” Mike stretched lazily and opened his mouth in a huge yawn.
“And why not?”
“I've been watching that door. It doesn't open for me and sometimes it disappears. It will come back—I just don't know when.”
“It doesn't open?” Phil's shoulders slumped in defeat. “You could have told me the minute I walked in here. We might have gotten out together. You know, made a break for it or something.”
“Sorry. But that isn't even the strangest thing.”
“Oh, really.” Phil peaked a skeptical eyebrow. He was past caring why these things were happening.
“Look at this.” Mike went over to the mixing boards and picked up a videocassette lying on the seat of a chair, rewound and unlabeled. “I found this when I came in. I've watched it at least three times, but each time it was slightly different.”
“It's... well, it's us. It shows things that we've done before. Or will do. I don't know what to make of it, really.”
Phil frowned worriedly. “Let's see it then,” he muttered. “Maybe it'll explain some things.”
“Wishful thinking,” Mike sighed, but he dutifully put the tape into the VCR resting on the shelf above the mixing boards and took a seat. “It projects to that screen out there,” he said, gesturing to the huge blue flickering screen in the auditorium.
“I still don't know how you can be so calm about this,” Phil said as he settled into a chair.
“Well. I feel better knowing you're here,” Mike replied in a quiet voice.
“Aw.” Phil scooted his chair closer and rested against Mike's shoulder trustingly. They settled in to watch the tape.
The first image on the screen was of Mike wandering through some kind of endless locker room. The showers dripped as he made his way cautiously over the slick green tiled floor, and there was row upon row of toilet stalls and urinals along the walls. His image could be seen peering into each of these stalls but rejecting each one before moving on. The real Mike shifted in his seat, flushed with embarrassment.
“Um, I was hoping this wouldn't be part of the tape this time. But yes, just after we got separated, this place is where I ended up. I needed to take a piss.” Phil laughed.
“I seem to recall dreams like that. But none of these toilets seem to meet your approval, Michael. Fussy.” Mike coughed and pressed the fast-forward button without comment.
The tape wavered with static and switched to a new scene. All three of them appeared on-screen in a brightly-lit daytime television studio. Tony was speaking in the characteristic clipped, slightly nervous way that he always seemed to have for interviews.
“Yes, I think our latest tour incorporates all these influences, and naturally we've tried to... ow, Phil...” From their seat in the booth, the real Mike and Phil burst out laughing at their screen images; other-Phil had produced several rubber bands and was snapping them in other-Tony's direction, who was doing his level best not to crack a smile.
“Funny, I don't remember doing that,” Phil said, grinning.
“Look at me trying to ignore what you're doing!” Mike laughed. “This is what I mean when the tape is different every time. Last time this part came up, Peter actually made a surprise appearance and you flung the rubber bands at him. Then he turned to the camera and I think he was speaking to—oh!”
Mike startled as the scene cut out suddenly with a loud pop, and for a heart-pounding second a spectral face seemed to flash in the pattern of the static. Then nothingness. Phil and Mike looked at each other with trepidation.
“Um. What was that?” Phil finally ventured.
“I don't know... this wasn't part of the tape before.” They watched as the muddy image slowly resolved into a black stony landscape that seemed to stretch out forever. A high, lonely whine of wind rushed through the speakers. Even though there was no physical indication, a certain visual haze over the scene suggested a shimmering, oppressive heat. For a while there was nothing else. Then, a sound of slow footsteps crunching through the brittle earth. A human figure staggered onto the landscape. Even with its face turned away, the figure was undeniably familiar.
“It can't be...” Phil muttered. He stood and put his fingertips on the glass window of the booth, as if trying to reach through the distance and touch. The figure teetered for a second, then collapsed, rolling over on the barren slope.
“Tony!” Phil and Mike cried out in one voice. They watched helplessly as the image of their exhausted friend struggled to get up again. His lips were parched and he bled from multiple cuts in his hands.
“How long as he been like this? Where is he?” Mike shouted, his voice shaking.
Suddenly there was a confused shouting of many voices and heavy clanging footsteps rushing up the metal ladder to the studio. In horror they stared into the auditorium at a seething, amoeba-like mass of the eyeless people crawling through the aisles, over chairs, onto the stage. Their thin hands clawed at the flickering screen and tore it to the floor even as Tony's image still projected onto the back wall, ghostly and silent. Debris was being hurled in all directions now. A brick flew through the studio window with a tremendous crash, narrowly missing their heads.
“The door!” Mike cried. Phil whipped around to look at the wall. The door had reappeared, but it had changed; now it was merely a scrap of flimsy plyboard with a padlock on it. He gritted his teeth.
“Right...” Without another word Mike lunged at the door and landed hard with his shoulder against the plyboard. The wood instantly splintered apart into flying shards.
“Quick!” The two men pelted through the shattered opening and leaped over the mindless mob into the darkness, feeling their bodies fall slowly as they twisted in space.
Chapter 8: Volcano
They fell hard on black barren ground, and immediately a crushing heat rose from all sides like a wall, stifling the breath in their chests. Aching, Mike struggled to his feet and raised his eyes to a dull purple sky choked with ash and smoke. Beside him Phil sat up stiffly and began to cough.
“Are you all right? Nothing broken?” Mike extended a hand to help Phil stand up.
“I don't think so...” Phil felt his bruised ribs. He hurt all over but nothing seemed too damaged. He gazed around him at the mountainous alien landscape. “This is where we saw Tony,” he said. “It must be.”
For a silent minute they strained to see into the hazy distance for any sign of him. Then Mike spotted the faint trail of blood droplets over the black rocks. They scrambled to follow it, picking their way upwards over an increasing slope. The heat, if it were possible, only seemed to grow worse as they went on, and sweat poured into their eyes. But they did not stop.
At last, nearly halfway up the immense slope, they discovered him.
“Tony!” They rushed to his side. Tony lay prone upon on the rocks, his bleeding hands slack and unmoving. Mike shook him, but there was no response.
“Hey. Tony? Can you hear me? Wake up.” A very tense few moments passed with no answer. Phil knelt beside them and gently touched Tony's face, and for a second his eyes blurred with anxious tears. Then, to their immense relief, Tony's breathing began to quicken. His eyes fluttered open, unfocused and full of pain. Upon seeing his worried friends he managed a tiny smile.
“I knew I'd find you here,” he whispered in a cracked voice as dehydrated as the earth around them.
“God, what happened to you?”
“I don't know,” Tony sighed, shaking his head slowly. “But I need water.”
“Don't worry, we'll get it for you,” Phil reassured him, even as he wondered where the hell they were going to find water in this place. He lightly caressed Tony's damp forehead and brushed the tangled hair from his eyes. His fingers came away shining with sweat. “We're going to get you out of here.” But Tony only shook his head once more. His glazed eyes reflected a changing rust-red sky.
“There is no way out. I tried...”
Mike took hold of Tony's injured hands and turned them over, wincing at the sight of blood. Without hesitation he tore a strip from his own shirt with the intent of bandaging his friend's wounds, but he abruptly stopped, baffled. The white strip of fabric had suddenly turned clear and sticky. It was a few moments before he realized it had transformed into a long strip of plastic packing tape.
Phil stared. He looked down at his own hands, remembering.
“That was when... you taped my hands,” he said slowly.
“Not the packing tape again,” said a quiet, smiling voice behind them.
Mike and Phil turned, startled. A faceless hooded figure in a blood-red cloak loomed against the clouds of skyborne ash. Grasped tightly in its hands was a large clay pitcher with two handles, all painted over with gold. For several seconds no one moved.
“Well?” said the mystery figure, its voice slightly raspy. “Isn't anyone going to say hello?” There was a pause, broken only by a cough from Tony, his throat completely dry.
“...I'm going to take a wild guess and say that's you, Pete,” Phil said at last, sitting back on his heels in the dust.
In answer the figure withdrew its hood, revealing Peter's familiar soft, white-bearded face. “Yes,” he said. His features were drawn into a characteristic look of worry and sadness, a peculiar anxious expression that he had carried all his days.
“Have you come to help us, then?” asked Phil, glancing down at the golden pitcher with mistrust. “Or is this some other illusion you've cooked up for us?”
“I keep telling you it's a dream,” Peter said patiently. “And it isn't my dream, either. You wouldn't listen, but I can't blame you for not understanding. I'm only here to help.” So saying, he knelt on the ground next to Tony and tilted the pitcher carefully. Water trickled into his cupped hand and through his fingers. The excess droplets soaked instantly into the thirsty earth as he held the liquid to Tony's lips.
“Here, Tony,” he said. “Drink up.” Tony stirred at the taste of water and ran his tongue over his lips. He opened his mouth and Peter offered him more. After a few minutes of this Tony frowned and seemed to grow impatient.
“I can do it myself,” he said tersely, and held out both hands as a cup to receive the water.
“Your hands are bleeding,” Peter observed.
“I don't care.”
Mike smiled and helped Tony sit up as he washed the blood and dirt from his hands and gulped down more water greedily. If Tony was already arguing, he was going to be fine.
When they had all refreshed themselves (the pitcher never seemed to run out of water, no matter how much they drank) Mike decided it was time to ask the obvious question.
“So where are we?”
Peter smiled and shook his head, pitying them. “You're all so lost... just look around you!”
He waved his hand at the landscape, and a new light burst from behind the clouds of ash, glowing a deep, heated red-orange. They stared in horror as the light revealed just where they were sitting, perched on the lip of a steep precipice that plunged deep into a yawning caldera, churning with lava and steam. A few steps more, and that might have been the end of them. Tony crept away from the edge, slowly.
“It's a volcano,” breathed Mike, staring into it a thrill of fear.
“We should dance on it.” Even in his awe Phil couldn't help himself, and accepted Tony's exasperated eye-roll with a grin.
“He's right, you know,” Peter said. “That's what you have to do. Dance on the volcano.”
“Oh for crying out loud.” Now it was Mike's turn to roll his eyes. “Peter, is everything in this story a song reference?”
“Well, not really. The whole thing about the eyeless people, that was original. I think.”
“Does it mean anything?”
A long pause. “No.”
Tony scowled. “Brilliant.”
“If we dance, then,” Phil asked, “does that mean we can go home?”
“It must,” Peter replied. “The dreamer has taken too long to finish the story as it is. I suspect she is running out of ideas. Or perhaps she is waking up...”
“Yes, yes, all right,” Tony interrupted. “Then we have to hurry. Where are our instruments?”
“You won't need them,” said Peter. “The audience already knows the tune.”
Sure enough, the familiar jangling opening notes of the song floated over the landscape from nowhere as the sound of a chanting crowd swelled in the distance, calling them, demanding a performance with their deepest love.
Gen-es-is, Gen-es-is, Gen-es-is...
The trio looked at each other, a little fearful.
“Peter's gone again,” said Tony, though they all knew it.
“Well,” sighed Phil, “it was to be expected. Come on. How does it go...”
Phil teetered on the edge of eternity as he turned on his heel and began to dance, looking back to his friends with sparkling eyes. He held out his hand. “You've got to go faster than that...”
“To get to the top!” Mike sang. With a wide smile he guided a reluctant Tony into the dance, holding his vertigo-ridden friend upright as they all joined hands.
“Don't let me fall!” Tony cried out, terrified, but the song continued and they held tight to each other above the boiling heart of the earth, whirling in their disorganized dance, laughing and singing to the unseen thousands.
All too soon they felt the edges of the dream rapidly dissolve.
It was finally time to get back home.