Montrose walked in silence, guiding Uri with one hand and sword in the other. Barandus did not speak, but there seemed to be a low growl rumbling out of his throat as they moved past the unseeing figures. He reached the doors first and began to scan the exterior. Montrose’s heart sank when Barnabas clenched his fist.
“What’s out there?”
The bear sighed. “A lot of figures, but I can’t tell how many are chatterlings just yet. Most are probably like these,” he said, gesturing around the room, “nothing more than shades of apathy. We need to watch first and size up the threats.”
They watched the distorted surroundings, buildings twisted in their dimensions, appearing to be hewn from rock and twisted metal. After a while, they saw a familiar figure. A copy of Uri was trying to furtively traverse the neighborhood. He was darting from recessed doorways to disappear into the crowds before finding another alcove. As he neared, several figures had surrounded him by concealing themselves in the mob of shadow people. The bears could hear his shriek as he was grabbed. They dumped out his backpack before throwing him to the ground.
Barnabus stood as a statue, then said, “Uri, I want you to grab your memory when the coast is clear. Can you do that?”
The boy was calm, but held an expression of determination. He nodded.
“Montrose, get ready to rush them.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Montrose hadn’t even finished the sentence before Barnabus threw the door open and charged across the street. After a brief moment of shock, Montrose took his friend’s hand and they raced after the bear.
Barnabus rushed three of the chatterlings, knocking them to the ground, then spun around, sword in hand, and cut down two of the creatures. His movements weren’t graceful, but certainly efficient. As one dissolved, he was already reversing the stroke to deal with the next. One managed to wrap his arms around the sword, and hooted in triumph. Barnabus’ response was to release the hilt, and drop low, scything the creatures legs out with his own. He fought the remainder with his fists, easing into a boxer’s stance. His blows drove them back before disappearing in the now familiar burst of smoke.
All this transpireds before Montrose and Uri could cross the street. Uri quickly ran to his sobbing counterpart who disappeared after making contact. Barnabus turned to the other bear, his eyes narrow slits.
“Be faster next time, boy.”
Without another word, he turned and began walking in the direction the memory child had been walking. Montrose quickly took the child in hand and followed.
“Where are we going?”
“Wherever he was headed. It’s as good as any other.”
After a few minutes, Montrose swallowed hard and spoke to Barnabas’s back.
“Why are you so angry with me?”
“Because you hesitated, he said after a moment.
Barnabus spun on his heel, interrupting Montrose.
“You are a teddy bear, remember? What might have happened if I hadn’t been able to take them down so quickly? Would they have joined into that amorphous creature we saw earlier? Corrupted the memory? How much harm could they have caused?” The words were hissed through clenched teeth, setting Montrose rocking back on his heels in shock.
“And what would have happened if they had gotten to Uri,” he retorted. “You were willing to drag him into danger.”
Barnabus continued to glare, then abruptly turned and continued walking.
“Get off the street,” a voice whispered.
Uri’s head jerked up at the voice and he bolted into the open door where the speaker was standing. She had mousy hair and, in all respects, looked as average and unnoticeable as possible. The bears quickly followed the child and the woman quietly shut the door. Moments later a group of figures rushed past. They were obviously searching for something. Montrose guessed they were after Uri. He looked at the woman and realized she lacked the hazy appearance of the shadow people. Her features were more clear, as though she had followed them from the real world into the nightmare. Uri whimpered, walking over to her with his arms outstretched. She caught him in an embrace that was both gentle and fierce.