This week’s experiment in flash fiction was brought to you by PSYCHOLOGY! Everybody’s got it (according to Miss Adelaide).
The Personified Subconscious Department
By H. M. Snow
The lights dimmed to practically nothing. At the same time, a giant screen lit with footage of a small apartment bedroom.
“That did it.” Twenty-four grasped the tiny hands clinging around her forehead.
Nine came out of the shadows to help free Twenty-four from the clinging infant. “Strange,” said Nine. “A baby, turning up in one of Herself’s childhood dreams.” He gave a vigorous tug. “You can let go now, Three, you know.”
“It isn’t that simple.” The infant was midway through a transformation from human to a sort of plumber’s putty with a humanoid shape. “This one’s a real strangler. Give my fingers a pry, would you?”
With their combined efforts, they managed to separate Twenty-four and Three so that Three’s transformation could continue to completion. Twenty-four rubbed her forehead. She too was fading back from human to humanoid putty. “How are things going, Two?”
“The Haste is going well. No time for a proper shower, of course, but what can you expect? Herself has to be at work in ten minutes.” Two, as efficient as ever, had nearly completed her transformation, leaving only traces of Herself’s sister still visible in Two’s features. A buzzer sounded at Two’s elbow. She pressed the button. “P.S. Department, Two speaking.” After a few seconds, she pursed her gray lips. “I said P as in Papa, not B as in Bravo, and you know it. You aren’t funny, you know. Now what is it?” She listened again. “That can’t be helped. It’s the Haste. Accidents happen. Just cope with it and stop complaining.” She pressed the button to cut off the conversation. “Sophomoric humerus and his prank calls. I sometimes wish we could cut the nerves to that one and be done with him.”
Other numbers were busily tidying away the props into cabinets around the edge of the room. Nine stood quietly thoughtful in the midst of all the tidying.
“What’s on your mind, Nine?” Twenty-four patted her comrade on the shoulder with some care, avoiding the spiky skeletal underpinnings that stretched Nine’s putty-gray skin. “You’re thinking a lot after this one.”
Nine smiled distantly. “Lucky number Twenty-four,” he remarked. “And when I say ‘lucky,’ you know I simply mean the number that Herself finds most appealing.”
“You get to be Herself’s dream self more than any of us. Can you think why a baby might appear in a common childhood dream? The other details were accurate—the wallpaper,” Nine pointed to the pattern fading on the walls. “Exactly the same. The dressers, same.” He stopped one of his fellow numbers in the process of pushing an eight-drawer dresser with tarnished knobs toward one of the storage cabinets. He slid open the top drawer. “Finding her sister’s clothes in her dresser should have produced enough agitation to wake her up for the Haste. It’s a classic ‘threat of appearing in public naked’ dream, with sibling issue overtones.”
Twenty-four nodded. “And?”
“And,” stressed Nine, “what’s a baby doing here? Herself is more or less indifferent to babies. I don’t understand.”
Overhearing from nearby, Three asked, “Must we understand?”
The bustle of numbers tidying came to a sharp halt. A few of them shushed Three. But Twenty-four only said, “It pays to listen to Nine. He’s the one with the skeletal structure, after all. The number Nine isn’t bestowed at random. You know how Herself feels about ‘Nine’—almost like she feels about ‘Twenty-four.’”
“Only completely different,” Three added.
Twenty-four smiled. “We’ll just take the baby under consideration. It might be something emerging, you know, with age. Herself is getting to that point in life.”
This caused a murmuring among the other numbers. It was Nine, however, who said, “It doesn’t seem like Herself at all. Even at her age. That’s why I said it doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t,” admitted Twenty-four. “But we’ll take it under consideration. That’s our job, after all.”
Two called out, “The Haste is at departure stage. Haven’t you got the props tidied away yet? It’s nearly time to process the work experience again, and you know what an ordeal that is.”
“That’s an ‘All hands on deck’ if ever I heard one,” quipped Twenty-four. “Let’s go, everybody. Work stress waits for no number.”
Bonus: More of Miss Adelaide’s Psychology, courtesy of YouTube: