The screaming of a large steel door cracked open the silence of the cluttered back room. Chadwick’s shiny shoes pushed in through the doorway first, as he tilted a gray fedora high to get a better look around. He flinched from the squeals of metal on metal as he pushed his shoulder into the door, shutting out the filthy back alley gusts that blew newspapers and stench like aqueducts of overconsumption. Cages rattled as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim haze. He adjusted the wire frame glasses on his face as he took his first step forward, knocking a pile of opera playbills over, and fluttering erupted from the front cages. Breaths of wind brushed against him from the nearest cage. The amorphous mass of woodwind notes revealed a piper, one of the rarer Dreams to be seen by the public. Chadwick had read about them in the reports that crossed his desk a few times in his five years with the bureau, and he relaxed a little, remembering that none had ever done any real harm. He gave a quick whistle, a few playful notes to see the piper’s reaction. It floated up so the flat face studied the newcomer, and then whistled a soft trill as its colors rippled in the low light.
Chadwick let himself smile at that. Most Dreams were innocuous enough, the kind that showed up in petting zoos. There was a darker kind, though. As an inspector with the Bureau of Dreams, he’d read the top secret reports about criminals born with a talent for creation, and he wanted to close his eyes reading descriptions of the chaos their Dreams had caused. The tip that came in had been true. Chad wished it hadn’t. He wished the force had enough manpower that someone else had to deal with this. He wished he had told someone that he used an anonymous tip as an excuse to meet a local celebrity. In the end, the uncovering of an unregistered court of Dreams meant the paperwork involved would keep him up for at least another twelve hours. It was turning out to be a long night.
Chad picked up a playbill. The faded cover showed a stunningly beautiful woman’s face. He had seen Madame Joyce perform when he was a kid. He knew the rumors that she was a Dreamer could never be proved. Seven times over the past ten years, the Bureau of Dreams had scoured her records and residences looking for some indication that she had created and nurtured without license, but never found anything substantial. The dozen cages that rattled with life along the dark walls of the metal room showed bright pink, green and silver. If these creations were new, it felt unlikely that Madame Joyce was the Dreamer. The quickening of a dozen dreams in the two years since the last investigation would be unprecedented.
Chad walked past Dreams that were musical, bestial, and sculptural. A petri dish of quicksilver formed and reformed before his eyes, swirling in the last cage along a long metal table as he made his way to the back wall. Its constantly changing form seemed to be searching for words. He drew closer, and smiled when the quicksilver formed into a waving hand. “You’re pretty good. Want to try your luck?” He whispered softly as he opened his trench coat revealing a gun at his hip. Draw on the count of three?” He cocked his head to the side as the quicksilver made little laps in his cage. In one swift move, he jerked his hand out in front of him, index finger forward and thumb in the air. Before he could lower his thumb, the quicksilver formed into a caricature of a revolver, spun the cylinder and let out small ‘pew-pew’ sounds.
He laughed to himself as he rounded the end of the long metal table. He tripped on a knee-high cage and a rattling snarl jumped at him. Slimy green scales beat against the cage on the floor, lashing out and reaching for the intruder. Its feline form writhed behind metal bars, hissing and screaming. Chadwick grasped for gun and breath. From behind its prison, the unfamiliar creature pressed toward him, extending tongues and claws wherever it found an opening in the cage. The green scales turned an arterial red at the sight of the gun muzzle.
“Well now, is that any way to treat someone in their own home?”