“Not too bad,” came a low voice. “Not too bad, at all.”
Fern sat up from the green linoleum floor and focused on the darkened figure perched atop the counter.
“I’ll be honest,” he said, hopping down, “I wasn’t expecting much out of you.”
“Prescryptor,” said Fern.
Prescryptor’s signature mint and navy outfit gripped his trim form. “I hope you don’t mind the venue,” he motioned with one hand to the kitchen. “It’s always nice to get a feel for prospective members through their dreamscapes.”
Fern stood up. The same shirt stuck to his shoulders with warm sweat. He glanced at the sink faucet and slipped the rags from his hands.
“Your team will be joining us, shortly,” Prescryptor said.
The room darkened next to Fern. A flickering, fluorescent bulb cemented itself in the ceiling, and a chair appeared under its sterile glow. C.K. sat with his stack of textbooks next to him, listening to the steady beeping of an invisible machine. He slowly raised his head and looked around, finding Fern and Prescryptor in an unfamiliar kitchen.
“I’m guessing you have business to discuss,” he said to Prescryptor.
“I like a quick study,” he answered.
With that, C.K. set his book aside and walked to where they were standing.
“And Blackout?” asked Fern.
A stainless steel refrigerator shoved itself next to the cabinets against the wall. Then the linoleum all twisted into glossy tile under their feet. A naked woman barged through the door behind them.
Fern gave C.K. a puzzled look, “Aren’t you a bit old for wet dreams?”
“It’s me,” said the woman, in an uncomfortably-deep voice.
“Bl-Blackout?” sputtered C.K., trying, unsuccessfully, not to stare at anything below her neck.
“You’ve got some weird hobbies, man,” Fern said while shaking his head at Prescryptor.
“It’s not his fault,” admitted Blackout. “My counselor told me it has something to do with suppressed feelings of vulnerability,” he explained.
“It’s actually not that uncommon,” joined Prescryptor. “Trust me, this is on the tame end of the weird shit that happens in people’s subconscious. This one time I was poking around a shapeshifter’s dreams,” he began conjuring an image in the kitchen. A tentacled unicorn was making inappropriate shrieks as it mounted a barnacle-ridden minotaur.
“We get it!” yelled C.K., closing his eyes with both hands outstretched.
To everyone’s immediate relief, the image dissolved.
“I can feel my body aspirating vomit,” Blackout said.
Fern’s lip curled in obvious disgust, “Is repressing memories one of your powers?”
“Do you think I’d have that image if it was?”
“Can you just tell us what this is about?” C.K. pleaded with a dose of exasperation.
“Oh,” Prescryptor cleared his throat, “yeah. Yeah I can do that.”
A steak knife appeared between them and flew into the ceiling. Everyone looked up, except for Blackout.
“Not to worry,” offered Prescryptor. “This won’t take long.”
The tap handle turned on the sink; water coursed its way around unseen hands before descending to the drain.
“We would like to extend an offer,” he said. “Your team was received well by the public. You had respectable ratings for the live news channels, as well as a strong replay value on internet video platforms.”
They looked at each other and tried to act cool, but, to Prescryptor, the excitement around them was like a thick layer of icing.
Blackout was the first to respond, “How much do we get?”
“We’re offering 25 percent of revenue recorded, dependent on ratings, plus spoils and access to our marketing team,” he said as if reading off a contract.
“Make it 30, and we got a deal,” replied Blackout.
Fern and C.K. stared at Blackout, completely incredulous.
“That’s cool, then,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. Then she shrugged at Fern and C.K., “Worth a try.”
C.K. couldn’t help but watch her breasts jiggle with the gesture.
“Jesus, C.K.,” Blackout covered her nipples with her hands, “control yourself.”
“Control your subconscious!” he spat in defense.
“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” said Blackout.
“They’re not supposed to jiggle that much!”
“Oh, so you’re the expert on tit physics, now?”
Fern peeked down for a closer inspection, “They do seem a bit…bouncy.”
“He’s got a point,” agreed Prescryptor with a slight tilt of his head.
“Maybe video games have given me an unrealistic expectation of my lady parts,” she said. “But I’m gonna need everyone to stop staring at my chest RIGHT NOW.”
And with that, everyone shuffled their feet and found something in the kitchen to gaze at for an awkward second. Fern’s eyes settled on the steam billowing up from the kitchen sink. C.K. focused on the empty space next to his chair, where the beeping sounds continued in an uninterrupted waltz.
Prescryptor was the first to break the silence, “I’ll have our costume department contact you once you’re all released from the hospital.”
“How much did we make off our last operation?” C.K. asked.
“Well,” said Prescryptor, “70 percent went to repairing the neighborhood you weren’t supposed to blow up.”
Blackout elbowed Fern in the arm, “Can’t listen to nobody, can you?”
“And 20 percent was deducted for unreasonable damages incurred to Yellow Bolt.”
“20 percent?!” Fern yelled. “He barely got scratched!”
“Actually, a surgical procedure was required to remove all of the shrapnel from his torso. He has a water-safety PA coming up soon, and we need him in peak condition,” Prescryptor said.
Blackout elbowed Fern, again.
“So what does that leave us with?” pressed C.K.
“About 14 thousand dollars,” he said. “Not bad for a first run. Keep this up, and you might even earn a meeting with The Boss.” After he uttered those last words, a yellow haze hovered over the sky outside the kitchen, like it was strangling the sun.
Then the curtains caught fire; a marble rolling pin crashed against the floor.
“I think that’s my cue,” Prescryptor smiled.
The monotonous beeping slowed to a long, flat drawl.
“I’ll be in touch,” he said turning around, headed for the screen door that flew open before he put his hands on it. He stepped out into the yellow light and dissipated into a mint mist.
The walls of their separate reveries began to close around them, returning them to their private islands of consciousness.
“We’re buying a new van,” Fern said.
“‘We’ never had a van,” corrected Blackout.
“I’ll do some looking online,” said C.K., “but I’ll need to buy new parts for my drones, too.”
Smoke clogged the kitchen, sifting around a pair of unseen hands holding the rolling pin.
“We can discuss the details later,” said Fern. He watched as C.K. returned to his chair and rested his elbows on his knees, “As long as we all understand what this means.”
C.K. took the hint. “Yeah,” he replied. “I’m in.” Sharp hands slid under his arms, lifting him back to his feet.
Blackout smiled at him, “Good to have you on board.” Then the rolling pin rose high in the air behind his head.
Fern turned and walked towards the screen door, where heavy smoke was pouring into the yellow afternoon. He paused in the doorway, flames dancing around the frame, and said, “Remember what it costs.”