The shape hissed and shrank somewhat, retreating into the filthy but recognizable beanbag it was sitting on. After a few seconds Francis realized that what he was looking at was not in fact a pile of hoodies and sweatpants, but a skinny teenage boy inside a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants. And he had horns. And he was balancing a typewriter on his bony knees.
“Oh,” Francis said, “So you’re where the stink’s coming from.”
“Can ya warn me before ya turn the lights on?” Said the boy, his voice quiet and raspy. He licked his lips absently (Francis got a glimpse of his teeth— sharp and fatal-seeming), then, at once, noticed Francis and turned his attention to him.
“Ah. You brought him,” said the boy (Francis realized that this was probably The Sleeper, although he didn’t seem to be sleeping). He shoved the typewriter off of his lap unceremoniously and stood up, lurching. He had a stoop to his full posture, like his entire being slouched.
He stumbled up to Francis and leaned forward, so close that their faces almost touched, close enough that Francis could smell his breath, which smelled just as bad as the rest of him. Sleeper brought a hand up to Francis’ chest and let it rest there, palm flat on the surface. Francis felt like he was being tested, and unsure of what to do, simply stood there, breathing evenly.
“He’s good,” said Sleeper after a moment, leaning backwards. “You can train him.”
“What a relief,” said Heather, sighing. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to find anyone else who can enter dreams out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Enter dreams? What.” Said Francis. But Heather didn’t answer, and Sleeper suddenly looked exhausted. He brushed the hair out of his horns and looked like he was about to say something, but his knees suddenly buckled and he looked even more scrawny and pale than he really was.
“The Sleeper.” Said Heather, stooping to pick up the music box that Francis had overturned. “Or just Sleeper, he’d prefer you call him. But ‘The Sleeper’ is his proper title, I guess— hey, don’t touch that.” Francis had picked up a huge dusty leather-bound book and was flipping through it curiously. Heather yanked it out of his hands, glowering at him.
“Do you even know what I brought you here for?” Heather asked.
“So we could smang it?”
“No! So we could see if you— what’s wrong?”
Francis had frozen up, one foot in the air. He was staring at a dark shape in the corner, head tilted to the side and eyes squinted, trying to identify it. It seemed to be moving slightly, but only slightly, and there was a repetitive clicking noise coming from it, somewhat like an egg timer or perhaps a bomb.
“Oh,” said Heather, “You found him.” She yanked on the chain dangling from the ceiling, turning on the light.
In a town with a population of 4,000, on a rainy summer day, a boy and a girl climb the two flights of stairs to the single apartment complex in Bentville and enter a one-room apartment with a sloped roof.
“Wow, what a weird place to live.”
The floor is littered in toys and books, everything from jack-in-the-boxes to encyclopedias.
Francis (the short one) flashes a grin at Heather (the tall one), tripping over a music box in the process. The fall is nearly spectacular, but he manages to catch and steady himself before continuing.
“Whoever lives here has to be a total weirdo—oh my God, it stinks in here.” The smell of body odor is incredibly strong. The fact that there is no air conditioning really doesn’t help. He holds his nose and continues, “A weirdo, unless it’s you that lives here, of course.” He winks in a way that doesn’t suit his height. “You are one cool lady.”
“I don’t live h—”
“I mean you are really fantabulous.”
“I don’t live here,” finishes Heather. “He does.”
“Eh? Who?” Francis stumbles over some Legos, hopping on one foot before regaining his balance.