The preview of Dash: Into Space! continues with Chapter 9.
If you just tuned in, you can catch up with Part 1 and follow the links at the end of each episode until you end up back here.
All caught up? Great!
Then, as you know, in our last episode, Dash was chased by a strange glowball, until he turned the tables.
Now Dash confronts a new mystery…
Chapter 9: This Isn’t Happening
The room was big. Almost as big as the Plainsville High School gym, but with a much lower ceiling and a far more irregular shape. The proportions here were all wrong. There were no corners or right angles to be seen. The room was shaped like half a kidney, but not quite. Every visible surface was curved, usually in ways that strained the eye. There was the same strange, misty light as in the corridor.
Curious structures dotted the chamber, protruding from the floor like mushrooms or from the ceiling like stalactites or out from the walls like misshapen shelves. These protuberances were formed from the same composite ceramic-metal stuff that this whole strange place seemed to be made of. Some were covered with clusters of glowing crystal rods in various colors.
All very weird.
But nothing next to the weirdness of what else the room contained.
Scattered across the floor, and placed almost randomly on the shelves and platforms were hundreds of objects. Objects Dash recognized—ballpoint pens, cheap plastic sunglasses, blue tins of Spam, family size bottles of iodine, packs of 9-volt batteries, vacant-eyed Barbie doll heads, two-liter bottles of Diet Maiden-Cola, trucker hats printed with funny slogans, and hundreds of cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
There were piles of black nylon dress socks, drugstore pantyhose and white acrylic athletic socks. Roll upon roll of Saran Wrap, duct tape, and Hello Kitty! stickers. Piles of Slim Jims, bags of orange marshmallow Circus Peanuts, cans of Cheez Whiz. Hundreds of coconuts.
Dash saw a pyramid of car batteries, cases of WD-40, and a stack of naked-woman-outline mud flaps. He also noticed several thousand cartons of Tyger cigarettes, along with a litter of Nick Tyger paraphernalia: lighters, mouse pads, tins, ash trays, plastic mugs, playing cards and posters depicting the cartoon tiger cigarette mascot being cool and sexy.
It looked like someone looted the world’s biggest truck stop.
Seeing all these familiar things did not put Dash at ease. He again suspected this might all be a dream. What else made sense?
“What is all this?” he asked the glowball.
“Okay, here we are,” it replied, again using Dash’s voice.
“You’re a lot of help,” muttered Dash.
The ball rolled farther into the room. Dash followed, pausing to scoop a black t-shirt off the floor and put it on. It portrayed a tuxedo-clad Nick Tyger, cigarette dangling from his feline lips, spinning a roulette wheel. An admiring glamour girl clung to his arm. “Treat yourself to a Tyger!” commanded the dark orange text.
“I wonder if there are any pants in here?” mused Dash.
The glowball did not reply. He followed the rolling sphere around a bend, to a part of the room not visible from the door.
He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and gooseflesh form on his arms. A sickly knot blossomed in his gut.
Lying atop one of the mushroom-like platforms was a headless steer. Despite being very obviously dead—the missing head was a big clue—there was no smell. Also no blood or guts or anything like that. The animal had been completely exsanguinated.
That was freaky enough.
But on the steer’s flank was a mark Dash recognized: the brand of the Red Cloud Ranch. Hadn’t Gil, in the parking lot, the other day said something about cattle mutilations there?
“This is creeping me out,” said Dash. He took a cautious step forward. His bare foot brushed something cold and rubbery. He looked down, then leapt back with a cry of alarm.
The steer wasn’t the only dead thing here.
Sprawled on the floor were three small bodies. He had almost stepped on one of them.
They were no bigger than children. But they weren’t children. Not unless they were wearing masks and costumes—but Dash knew at a glance the proportions of the bodies weren’t human.
It was the three freaky little dudes from his dream.
Or vision. Or whatever it was before. And might still be.
These were the same ones, he was sure. But now they were dead.
Or at least very stiff and very still.
They were bipedal, three to four feet tall, wearing metallic bodysuits. They had six long fingers on each hand. Their big black eyes stared blankly. Their sucker-shaped mouths were fixed in rigid O’s of…well, Dash couldn’t really ascribe any particular emotion to their expressions.
“This cannot be happening,” said Dash. “This cannot be real.”
Dash knelt and, hesitantly, reached for the nearest creature’s face. He couldn’t explain how, but he knew this wasn’t a doll or a robot or a wax dummy. It was a living thing. Or a once living thing. He hesitated, half-expecting it to bite his hand or jump up and grab him by the throat.
It did neither.
The flesh felt spongy and cold. It yielded slightly to Dash’s touch, then sprang back to shape as he yanked his hand away. He noticed a sticky brown residue on and around the body. Near its feet was an almost empty 2-liter bottle of Diet Maiden-Cola. There was also something clutched in the creature’s hand.
Dash pried the six fingers open.
Half a pack of Mentos candy rolled to the floor. The fingers snapped back into a clenched position.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” muttered Dash.
Dash examined the other two bodies. They too were covered with the sticky brown residue. He found more scattered Mentos and half-empty bottles of diet cola.
Okay, three dead little dudes and a headless cow in a room full of beer, cigarettes, batteries, and junk food. Empty cola bottles and candy scattered around.
“What happened to them?” Dash asked the glowball.
The blinking orb said nothing.
Dash explored the room. The glowball followed him. He found no more bodies and no other exits. When he returned to his point of entry, the door was gone. As if it were never there. Dash asked the glowball to open it again, but got no response.
Dash also found no pants. He knotted several t-shirts together into a makeshift loincloth—very Tauric Strongbull. He looked ridiculous, but at lease he wasn’t butt naked. He also put on a pair of the athletic socks to protect his feet. Would it have killed these aliens to abduct some Nikes?
Next he had a meal of cold Spam, Slim Jims, and Circus Peanuts, washed down with flat diet cola.
Only then did he treat himself to a Tyger. And a PBR. And then another. Dash wasn’t a real drinker, but right now beer seemed like a very good idea. He leaned against a stack of boxes and took a long swig of Pabst, followed by a puff of his cigarette. His head was soon buzzing. But he felt much calmer than he had since waking up in the egg-shaped room.
Dash exhaled a cloud of smoke and said, “Little glowball, if this isn’t a dream, then I’ve been abducted by aliens who shop at Wal-Mart.”
The glowball made no comment.
“Which is almost the least scary of those options, you know?”
The glowball, now bathed in greens and blues, said nothing.
Dash downed another beer.
“Yer’sha good little glowball,” slurred Dash. “Good ball. Good boy. You follow me like Otto does. M’gon call you Otto too, m’kay? Otto Two. Me Dash. You Otto. Got it?”
“Me Dash. You Otto,” said Otto.
Dash laughed. “No, other way ‘round. Okay, shleepy now.” He stubbed out the cigarette. “Gotta rest. Just close m’eyes a minute. You stay, okay, Otto. Otto stay.”
“Otto stay,” repeated Otto.
“Good boy,” said Dash. “Good boy.”
And then he was asleep.
And so ends Chapter 9. Pleasant dreams, Dash. Maybe things will all be back to normal when you wake up.
Be here next time, when Dash says: “I just hope there’s an emergency exit.”
Thanks for reading!