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This story is a leftover from Nightmarathon, inspired by [ profile] ysabetwordsmith's prompt, "Sometimes dreams or nightmares get delivered to the wrong address. It can happen to anyone, but probably happens more between headmates." It got sponsored by AnonSwede!  It's part of the Battle the Universe series, and you'd be best off reading The Choice and One Step Ahead first.  Happy writeathon, everybody!

Return to Sender, Addressee Deceased

TJ gets nightmares from system members who’ve died.

Zie doesn’t look it, but zie is the most senior member of the system, except Kara.  So zie figures zie just gets all the psychological junk mail for the deceased.  Zie wishes zie could pull a return to sender; zie barely even knew half these people, due to the Long Sleep.  But it doesn’t work that way.  The people may have died, but their dreams live on.

And their nightmares.

TJ wakes up, gasping and covered in cold sweat.  Zie’s in the body; they’re in their spacious bedroom at Law & Justice.  They’re safe.  Everything’s fine.

Zie curls up on zer side and starts to cry.

Back in headspace, zie feels the Zombie shift.  The Zombie doesn’t sleep.  It presses up behind the body’s eyes, rubs hands up and down TJ’s—the body’s—arms, making a soothing, crooning hum noise.

“I was Lauren,” TJ whispers. “I was fourteen years old.  I was a girl.”

The Zombie keeps humming.

“I was—I was—”

Too late.  It’s gone.  TJ always was shit for remembering dreams, but times like this zie wishes otherwise.  It feels important, somehow, but it falls out of zer head like sand.  Zie makes an exasperated noise and claps zer arms over zer head, interrupting the Zombie’s petting.

“Why can’t Kara get these?” TJ asks. “She’s the senior.  She’d know.  She’d remember.”

The Zombie makes a sympathetic noise.

After some tossing and turning, TJ gets up.  Maybe a cup of warm milk will do the job.  The Zombie tags along; unlike TJ, it’s fronted in HQ before so knows the lay of the land better.  The halls are dim for night, all gray and shadowy, and the enormous portraits of superheroes past look grim and creepy.  TJ feels like they’re in a hall of disapproving, glowering ghosts in Spandex, and zie shivers.

With the Zombie’s help, TJ makes it to the kitchen without any wrong turns.  Unfortunately, neither of them know how the place is organized.  Colored stickers adorn everything, but TJ has no idea if they stand for ownership, allergy warning, or hell, lethality. (Since god only knows what Gammabeast eats.)

After finally finding some soymilk in the fridge without any stickers, TJ locates a mug and gets down to business.  Zie’s pouring when the Zombie suddenly growls, lurches into the body and turns.  A man in a turban and hoverchair is behind them—the All-Seeing Eye.

TJ nearly spills soymilk down their front. “Dude, don’t do that!”

The moment zie says it, zie regrets it.  Eye has only spoken to Lorry.  Lorry, who talks all deep and manly with a Chicago accent, not the adenoidal adolescent whine TJ has.  Eye has also been giving Lorry the squinty eyes since the Zombie’s cracker hoarding thing weeks ago.  He’s giving the squinty eyes now.

“You’re up late,” he says.

TJ hastily tries to modulate the voice.  The Chicago accent’s a lost cause, but at least it’s not thick; maybe Eye won’t notice. “So are you.”

The Zombie is fidgeting and making antsy noises.  TJ sends it calming thoughts and puts the mug in the microwave to heat up.

“I’m up because of you,” Eye says. “That was quite a nightmare.”

“Yeah, sorry, I get—” then, “wait, you saw it?  You remember it?” Maybe…

But Eye says, “No, just noise.  No words.  Sleep makes things blurry.  Why?” He raises an eyebrow. “Do you want to know?”

TJ hesitates.  Zie knows that Eye doesn’t like Lorry much, and the Zombie’s starting to flap its hands and make unhappy sounds that shows it doesn’t like him much either.  But maybe…

“It’s just, I never remember my nightmares,” TJ says.

“Most people would consider that a blessing.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s… it feels important, somehow.  You know?  If I’m going to get scared shitless anyway, I’d like to remember why.”

Eye’s face is pretty poker, even under all that beard, but he seems to soften a little.  Maybe he thinks nightmares would turn anyone batty.

“Hmm.  Well, if you’d like me to take a look, I might be able to…”

Behind the body’s eyes, the Zombie lurches to its full height and paws at TJ’s shoulders, snapping its teeth.  It emits a low, keening wail.  In the body, TJ recoils.

“No!  No, that’s—that’s okay,” TJ says, trying to sound calm.  The Zombie never snaps at zer. “Thanks, I’ll… I’ll get back to you on that.”

Eye’s giving them the squinty eyes again.  Thank god the microwave goes off, giving TJ and excuse to grab the mug and get the hell out of there.  The Zombie is still upset, but at least it stops being aggressive once they’re safe in their room.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” TJ asks. “It’s okay.  It’s just a nightmare.  It can’t hurt you.”

The Zombie flutters its hands.  It tries to speak.

“Lo,” it says. “Loooooooo…”

TJ waits.  Speaking takes all of the Zombie’s power and focus, and zie doesn’t want to distract it.

“Looooreeennnnn.” It says.

At first, TJ doesn’t get it.  Lauren?  What—

“Oh,” zie says. “Oh man.”

Zombie is silent, exhausted from the effort.  TJ hugs it.

“Oh man, buddy.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.” Zie gives it the body and the warm milk. “Here.  It’s okay.  Drink up.”

The Zombie lets zer hug it.  It drinks the milk, and it calms down; for all TJ knows, it doesn’t even remember the exchange, in its twilight mind.  But TJ doesn’t sleep after that.

Lorry wakes up grumpy with a sleep-deprived body. “Okay, which of you jokers was out last night?” He grumbles as he shaves. “What were you doing?”

“Just had nightmares,” TJ said.

Lorry winces.  He knows that TJ gets all the junk mail. “Sorry about that.  Anything I should know about it?”

“Nah,” TJ says. “Don’t worry about it.”

Some messages aren’t meant to be forwarded.

Thank you!

Date: 2014-09-14 07:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is sweet and creepy at the same time. I think I like Zombie, and would enjoy seeing more of it.

Special thanks to AnonSwede for sponsoring this.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-09-14 10:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I specifically wrote this story with the intent of getting TJ and the Zombie more screen time, since other BTU stories have focused on Lorry, who has an entirely different perspective on things and ways of dealing with them. The Zombie isn't a BAD entity; it just has a lot of trouble communicating its needs and intentions in a way Lorry understands.


Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-09-14 10:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
>> I specifically wrote this story with the intent of getting TJ and the Zombie more screen time, <<

Yay! That makes me happy.

>> The Zombie isn't a BAD entity; it just has a lot of trouble communicating its needs and intentions <<

True. Based on my observations, the most survival-oriented member of a system often becomes the system scapegoat, but is essential anyway.

I like this

Date: 2014-09-15 03:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Perhaps because it is so terribly creepy. There's an edge of mundanity to it, too, which just makes the surreal moreso.

Mostly OT...

Date: 2014-09-15 06:13 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Dunkel)
From: [identity profile]
I use my cellphone almost exclusively now, and the landline receives 98% junk.

Day before yesterday I got a fundraising call... for my wife, whom I lost to cancer almost three years ago. I DID NOT LIKE IT. And I said, or snarled, "She's not at this location. You'll have to reach her at Xxxx Yyyyy Cemetery, Zzzzz, Massachusetts!" And I hung up on his apology.

Sorry. Thanks for letting me vent.

This is the icon she used.

Re: Mostly OT...

Date: 2014-09-15 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Uuuugh, that sounds awful. Is there a reason to keep the landline at all?

Also, Mac and I once were the poor ass stuck calling folks in a similar vein, in a line of work there were lots of old sick folks. The whole time, we were DREADING that we'd do something similar, and that one of our customers had died within the past year.


Re: Mostly OT...

Date: 2014-09-15 10:21 pm (UTC)
ext_12246: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Secure Internet.
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