The rendezvous had been set to 4:44 PM, Dream Semi-standard Time, which didn’t mean much since Draem is timeless, even for the Swiss. Sure they were allowed to bring chocolate and cheese, but a functional clock? Strictly forbidden in this land.
It was ten minutes to whenever so Madame Claudette presumed she was early when she arrived at the Parched Pumpkin. Pushing past the double doors of the homey establishment, she swam into a blanket of sweet smoke, tinged with cinnamon, sandalwood and freshly dug earth. Past her walked a man who was monochrome to the point where the young woman thought she’d become temporarily daltonic. Luckily, the man stopped before slamming into Claudette, although that might have to do with her purple parasol pointing straight at his chest.
“My apologies,” said the man after taking the cigarette from his mouth. “A lady should not have to worry about a man who has momentarily forgotten his gentleman’s ways.”
He flashed a toothy smile and she couldn’t help but gasp at the sharpness of his fangs. He chuckled to her response. “No need to worry about me, milady. Appetite’s full for the day. I insist though, please pass.”
Before she could hesitate further, a young man cut through the crowd and put his hand on the grey man’s shoulder. “So you met Claudette, Liam?”
The vampire put the cig in the corner of his mouth long enough for a drag. “That I did, Master Estrada. Although we may have to schedule a search party.”
JD looked strangely at the man. “What for?”
“Flashing a smoky smile, he responded, “To search for the cat that has made its way off with this lovely damsel’s tongue.”
Despite the obvious fear, Claudette gave a shy little laugh.
“There we go,” Liam said, approving at her finally relaxing. “Much better, although I must be of, duty calls.”
“Man! Really?” asked JD.
“I’m afraid so. Master Odstein does run a tight ship you know.”
“That he does, good friend. Then off then, to save that particular world. You owe me a round though.”
Liam smiled with a puff of smoke. “Let’s call it two rounds and you also put a good word with him for me. Sound about right?”
JD clasped hands and patted the vampire on the back. “Deal.”
Liam turned back to Claudette and her happy curls and gave a friendly smile. “A pleasure, miss. Have fun.”
As Claudette and JD made their way to the bar, the young woman couldn’t help but notice her friend looking at her a bit cheekily.
“What?” she asked, inviting his smile to stretch a little wider.
He got to the bar and wiggled his pinky and index fingers to Jules the squid bartender. With a flick from two tentacles, JD reached out to the bar just in time to catch two mugs of ice-cold curiosity cola. He took one and offered it towards the young woman, while holding his own up to toast, “here’s to colorful moments with grey people.”
She blushed and shook her head at his cheek. “You’re such a Richard.”
JD leaned back with his sly smile. “Clever, I’m sure Detective Tracy would love to know he’s been used so cleverly in a pun.”
She held up her mug again and took another drink.
“So are you ready?” asked JD, his cola already half downed. He loved how the cola’s caramel bounced on his tongue, with hints of coffee, cream, nutmeg and ginger, although he didn’t love that as much as the ideas that would swirl within the mug as the bubbles danced towards the bottom, painting pictures within the glass.
When he finally snapped back into unreality, he saw Claudette snatching cola from his hand and downing it in one gulp.
“Whoa!!!” exclaimed JD impressed, “Let us never ignore the value of a woman who can drink.”
Nodding for them to leave, JD followed his friend outside where they stopped in their tracks. Gumdrop rain was coming down heavy and holding out his hand, JD caught a couple and popped them in his mouth, causing him to suck air in with his eyes popped open. “Mint!! Whoooo... We’ll have to find a corner or else we’ll catch our death in cool.”
“Isn’t it catch your death in cold?” the young woman asked.
“Well not when we’re talking about mint gumdrop showers. A minty flu is even less nice than what it sounds like.”
“But that doesn’t sound nice at all,” replied Claudette.
JD turned to her. “My point exactly. We can wait inside ‘til the shower passes.”
“All right,” said the curly haired young woman, clearly not wanting to postpone their outing even further.
JD looked towards the bar and whistled when he saw the crowd that had gathered from who knew where and which he was now pondering how we could cut through. Luckily, Jules saw him with his squid eyes and through some poor mime skills, JD was able to communicate with the giant squid. Jules took two bottles and tossed them towards the ceiling, where two caterpillars were stationed just above the bar. The caterpillars caught the bottles with little velvet hands that stuck out from their back. Before Claudette could even begin to wonder how that could help, the cater pillars dropped from the ceiling with a pop and sprouted twelve tiny wings with another pop.
Their flight was clumsy yet certain and in a few seconds their little velvet hands released the bottles into JD’s hands. The young woman took one of the bottles and tried to open it with a twist, to no avail.
“Do you have a bottle opener?” she asked.
JD looked at the bottle in his hand, “I think these are tickle off bottles.” With a tickle in the under part of the bottle, the little glass bottle popped its top off giving off a funny little giggle. Claudette did the same and looked at the label to see what she was going to drink.
JD took a sip, smiled in approval at the smooth creamy flavor and tossed a grapefruit sized ruby to the squid. The young woman’s eyes sprang forth but before she could say a thing, JD clarified: “Money and jewels are of no use here, dear madam. The real riches in Lucid and life are in stories and experiences. Besides, it’s not like I can take that with me when I wake up. Let’s go to a booth.
They walked around the crowd and Claudette noticed how squishy the floor was. She also took notice that the light that came from above was actually the inner brain part of the pumpkin which was glowing a warm orange with its bright seeds pulsing like Christmas lights in see-saw rhythm.
Claudette took a sip of the Giggle Suds and laughed as the fizz tickled her lips and the roof of her mouth. Looking around, she took in the decor of the Parched Pumpkin as well. Looking around she finally paused a moment to take in the decor of the Parched Pumpkin.
The entirety of the walls had intricate etchings that connected throughout the interior of the pub, at times expanding to create huge murals on the walls. There was a headless horseman riding a zebra, a pimped out version of Cinderella’s carriage, a large Jack of clubs playing card and above the bar, the depiction of what had to be the most sincere pumpkin Claudette had ever seen.
The floor was squishy although firm since it didn’t bother her tartan heels. There was only one problem: all the booths were taken. So looking around while sipping on his suds, JD spotted a lovely woman with glasses in a booth looking straight at the young man with a friendly smile.
“Linda!” Jay cried out and quickly hurried over, pulling Claudette by her hand although being careful not to be rude in his pulling. “How have you been, Lin?”
“Care to introduce your friend, Jorge?” she asked.
JD became all bashful. “Aush, Lin.... do you have to use my real name? People might not take me seriously.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your name, Jorge. Although it’s been a while, so I’ll humor you... but still, you still haven’t introduced me to your friend or invited another friend to a drink.”
Just then, a bottle fell from the ceiling and into JD’s hand. “You were saying?” he said as he tickled the bottle open and handed it to Linda. “And this is Claudette, a very lovely friend whom I’m going with to the Circus once the rain settles down.”
“A pleasure,” said Linda with a smile and sliding to the side to let them into the booth. “So how are things with lovely Jane?”
Immediately, the cheekiness melted from JD’s face and the tenderest smile arose with a small blush. “All is fantastic, Lin. Actually heading out on an adventure soon so we’re looking forward to that while surviving day by day in the Mundane Marshes.”
“Oh, lovely to hear about he trip although sorry about the marsh still bogging you down.”
“It is what it is,” he said while taking a sip from the giggle suds.
“And how did you meet JD, Claudette? By the way, I love your name.”
Claudette beamed at the compliment and took a sip from her suds as well. “Well, this crazy Yank appeared one day out of the blue-“
“Out of the purple, luv,” interrupted JD, we’re much too kooky to come out of the blue.”
Claudette gave him a good punch on the arm in thanks for the clarification. “So as I was saying, this yank started one day saying some crazy ideas and one day we started meeting for adventures in between waking sessions. It’s fun to fill out a map of this world –“
“Which you are to name,” interrupted JD again.
“WHAT?” asked Claudette clearly taken out of her line of thought.
“Not today, mind you. But eventually, that’s up to you.”
“But you do all the writing?” she protested.
“Do I? And you provide the ideal raw materials through friendly conversation. Mind you, I’m still waiting for more picture of this place.”
“And a name!” she protested again.”
“Precisely,” he said with a wink and a clever smile. “Now on with the story, it’s rude to ignore such a lovely I-talian-y guest.”
“You’re Italian?” asked Claudette returning full attention to Linda.
The woman giggled as she pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose. “That’s right.”
“Any interesting flights or museum visits lately?” asked JD with a devil grin which Linda responded with a punch on his other arm. “Come on ladies! I have to drink somehow, you know! Clau-Clau, finish your side of the story so Lin can wow you for a bit.”
Claudette looked at JD with slim eyes that showed appreciation and the potential for another arm punch. “So as I was saying, this git showed up, started talking crazy and I joined in. This is the third time we hang out. How about you guys? How did you meet?”
Lin took a sip from her own Giggly Suds before replying. “He hurt his back and I fixed it through a mirror.”
At a loss for words, Claudette shook her head with a smile. “Seems that’s as par for the course as it can get for this guy.”
“He’s a sweetheart though,” added Linda.
“Which is why he was able to land someone like Jane,” added Claudette.
And suddenly with a parched throat, JD was at a loss for words to which both women responded in stereo: “It IS possible!!!”
A stampede of laughter broke out and just as they all finished catching their breath, three new Giggle Suds made their way towards them. Three tickles and pops and their conversation continued.
“So how about you, Lind? What have you been up to?”
At this question, Linda took a generous drunk from her suds.
“Whoah....” JD remarked, “That intense?”
“I was trapped in a frowny bog.”
“Oh my....” said Claudette. “How long?”
“Longer than is healthy, my dear. The air was dank and a misty grey mist made everything smell, look, taste, sound and feel dull. It was as if everything was covered in adhesive and stuck me to one place.”
“So what did you do?” asked Claudette as she and JD sipped at their suds in twin-like fashion.
“Well I stockpiled some words and emotions, quite a large cache, honestly...”
“And then....?” asked JD.
“I lit a match of inspiration and boom.”
Like two kids listening to tales from a master storyteller, they exclaimed in hushed tones, “whoah....”
“Whoah indeed. The explosion took some sorting, but things started to flow and the Goddamned Dam once broken flowed into Ri-berry River so I saw my opportunity and chopped some pretzel logs, bound them with sauerkraut reeds and fashioned some fruit roll-up sails, then down the river I went.
“Survival was fun actually. I caught some Swiss fish, which are like Swedish fish except a little more neutral in flavor, some happy-crabby river shrimp and I squeezed strawberry kelp to keep hydrated, not to mention that dried kelp is a great snack.”
Tickling another round of suds, JD stared amazed. “So how long were you on the river?”
Linda pondered as she sipped on her suds. “God those are good,” she said looking at the bottle. “Well give or take, I was on the river about a month. I could have camped in a dozen places but I was so happy to have no obstructions in my path that I just kept sailing. Then came the Strawberry falls.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Claudette.”
“Oh indeed,” replied Linda. “Just when I was getting used to smooth sailing, I suddenly feel the pull of the river increase quite suddenly. Before I know what was going on, I found my raft plunging over the falls! It was the best of luck that bananas often cross with strawberries because I landed on a banana slide that eased me right back onto the river to the approval of beetle monkeys who gave my landing an average score of 8.2. Not bad especially since I didn’t even know I was going to be diving.”
Claudette blew out a breath of relief. “I’ll say! Sounds like quite the adventure!”
“That it was,” smiled Linda, “The next few days were pretty smooth sailing, got myself a tan until the river drizzled my raft into the Blueberry Syrup Sea, which is just over the ridge. I saw the Pumpkin and decided to stop by for a drink, which is when I bumped into you. I have to be off though, Jason is having a Skylander sleepover which I found out through a snail who had mail for me at the Berry Delta.”
“Sounds like fun!” JD said. “Ok, so don’t let us keep you Lin. It was so awesome to see you!”
“As it was to see you and meet you, Claudette.”
They exchanged warm hugs and JD led Linda outside where she got on a bicycle.
“Where to now, Linda?” asked Claudette.
“Great question!” answered Linda with a cheeky smile. “Why don’t we find out?”
And with a kick to the bicycle, Linda sped off towards the water, banking towards a reef and soaring into the air.
“She’s a great gal,” JD said. “So how about you? Ready to wake up?”
Claudette looked at him cross, clearly expecting to wake up.... but they didn’t and JD smiled. “I’m glad you remembered to change the time on your clock.”