When last we met, the Hand Made Man makes his presence ever more known, and the gang starts to prepare for their inevitable showdown. Also, Gareth is a horse.
Wally, Alia, and Gareth are still in their shared dream, with Wally and Alia sitting astride horse-Gareth, making fun of his giant phallus and Alia wishing he was a unicorn instead. While they chat, gravity starts to change, with the building orienting itself “normally”. Gareth starts galloping down the side of the building, fighting against the severe slope. As the building finally goes vertical, still at least ten stories above the ground, Gareth leaps, willing himself to fly, as he sprouts wings in a burst of rainbows and light.
As they soar above the ground, an insistent knocking sound is heard, and they wonder if that is something from the real world invading the dream, and if they will (or should) wake up. As they all try to force themselves awake, Wally begins vibrating and poofs away. Alia and Gareth take it in stride, and start discussing where they should fly, given that this is a dream and anything is possible.
Then they’re not flying, but standing in a dark stairwell just off the street, facing an imposing black door with an iron screen. Gareth recognises it as the entrance to an opium den he used to frequent in the 80s. The door suddenly falls inward, the inky blank space beyond emitting a fetid smell that Alia associates with bad memories of a sadistic client. Wanting nothing to do with it, she tries to leave, although the staircase keeps stretching away from her. She cautions Gareth not to go in, whatever he does. She tries to leave again, as Gareth turns to peer inward, seeing nothing. Alia is gone. Gareth calls into the blackness a couple of times, receiving no answer, and finally decides to go in anyway. Suddenly he is in the hallway of the den, and he starts tracing back to where he recalls having gone before, ending up in the common area. Where it used to look like a flop house, it now looks significantly classed up, albeit decaying.
In the centre of the room is a scene from a BDSM club. Suspended from the ceiling by chains and hooks is a bald man, covered in tattoos and piercings. Beneath him is a chess board, set up to play, though no one has moved. Surrounding him is a group of men and women in fetish clothing , staring at him, with their eyes rolled back in their heads. Meagan is among them. Sitting in a chair in the corner, knitting, is Goom. His yarn project is massive, and takes up much of his corner. Gareth walks around the freakshow nightmare to talk to Goom. They end up having a rather banal conversation about shared dreams, noting that Wally and Alia were present earlier, and how whenever Goom has lucid dreams, he tends to just let them go by until he awakens. Gareth thinks this is a fine idea, don’t play into their games, and they allow dreamtime to pass until, inevitably, they both awaken.
Goom is still in Wally’s apartment. He creeps over to Wally’s room, where he and Alexis are asleep, and listens, sniffing to make sure that they’re in there and alive. He is satisfied with what he senses. He grabs a snack and turns on the television when the knocking starts. He checks out the peep hole, sees nothing, though notes that the hallway looks normal.
Wally shoots bolt upright in bed, the knocking from the shared dream continuing in wakefulness, and grabs for a table lamp. Alexis similarly sits up, alarmed. Wally places the lamp back down, and motions to her that he’s going to go out to check. He and Goom talk briefly, and the knocking stops, followed by the patter of feet outside. Goom cracks the door open and sees a little black boy in pajamas disappear into another apartment. Wally is familiar with the boy, having seen him before. Realising that it is 4:30 in the morning, he decides against knocking at the boy’s door. Returning to his room, Alexis has put on some pants and is brandishing the lamp, silently motioning Wally over and showing him the base of the lamp. It is bugged, not dissimilar from what he had once seen on the pharmacy phone in CVS. Wally doesn’t say anything, and they go out to the kitchen to start breakfast.
Alex is getting dressed that morning when he hears his closet door start rattling. Swinging it open and standing back, he sees an orb of distortion, pulsing outward, and on every few pulses it emits a sound like a car in a tunnel, accompanied by violet light. Alex takes a picture of it with his phone and mass texts it to the group. The noise gets louder and a green hand bursts forth, grasps at him, shudders, and then the whole mass dissipates. Alex feels where it was, and that spot of air feels hot and humid, though it normalises.
After receiving the image, the group messages back and forth, finally deciding to meet at a Chinese restaurant to chat. Alex contacts his daughter to let him know that they’ll have to reschedule because of the paparazzi. After they’ve all arrived, they discuss myriad things: Wally’s bugged apartment, the shared dream from the night before, Alex’s freaky closet. They are interrupted by the familiar whine of the emergency broadcast system. Due to a major gas leak, the mayor is ordering the evacuation of the entire island of Manhattan. It will be done in sections, to be as orderly as possible.
This is their moment, they know. They have to take care of the Hand Made Man beneath the city now. They contact Yuri-ko, Madame Butterfly; while Wally speaks with her it becomes grossly apparent that she is somehow extracting the memories from a user of one of his “Sand” users. She informs them that they are having a much more profound effect on the Hand Made Man than her previous group some decades before. When she hears of Alex’s encounter, she goes odd (or moreso than usual) and says that she is sending assistance. They will need to attack on two fronts – the physical and in dreams.
Drake, meanwhile, is placing calls to Luthor and other connections. He ends up making a contract with a group of mercs on the condition that if they show up armed to the teeth and work to take out whatever target Drake indicates, no questions asked and they never speak of it to anyone, that they will be rewarded most highly, financially, including $1000 a head up front.
Before long, a black box truck pulls up. Wally recognises its driver as the heavily tattooed man who drove Yuri-ko’s limousine some weeks back. The passenger in the cab of the truck hops out and opens the back, revealing 16 men in SWAT gear. They have room for four more, and Alex, Alia, Morgan, and Gareth step in. Within a few minutes, two late model Impalas roll up – these are the thugs that Drake has hired. Introductions are made, and Drake, Wally, and Goom get in with them. The motorcade drives away, all three vehicles driving to Wally’s old building, parking around back by the loading bay.
As everyone starts to get ready – the thugs pulling out an impressive collection of illegal firearms, the SWAT guys putting on their gear, weapons being offered to the group for self protection. The tatted up driver, clearly the leader of M. Butterfly’s gang, pulls Alex aside. He informs Alex that the six of them are to follow their directions. Mission one is to get him, Alex, out alive. Second is to take care of the Thing beneath the city, third is to get the rest of Alex’s friends out alive. Alex takes this all in and, once the guy has stepped away to make his own preparations, calls the other five around him to let them know. Drake asks them all to make a pact with him that if anyone abandons their group, bad things will befall them, but if they all stay and protect one another, they will do better in the fight. Everyone agrees and the pact is sealed. They know that, though they are each armed with a pistol, that their job in this will be to somehow enter the dream world and tackle the Hand Made Man on that front while the rest attack him with physical weapons.
Goom has an uneasy feeling about the tattooed man leading M. Butterfly’s group, and from afar gives him a good sniff. It clicks – the tattoos, the sweat, everything – this is the guy who broke into Gareth’s apartment several weeks before, leaving the note for Wally and the suspicious footprint on the window sill. Goom confronts the man about this, and the guy tells him that they were meant to find the footprint. Goom then tells Gareth, who is watching the guy strip down to nothing but a fundoshi. Obviously distracted, Gareth says he doesn’t mind and the guy can come back any time. Drake tells him he really needs to get laid.
Alia calls upon her connection to the animal kingdom, trying to summon dogs to protect them. While she only gets one to answer her call, it is a fearsome looking pitbull who readily joins the already massive group. The group files into the building – eight of M. Butterfly’s group, followed by the misfits, the remaining eight SWAT guys, and the thugs. The SWAT team opens a grate in the basement, dropping a rope down into the sewers. Everyone manages to get down, even the dog, although Wally lands a bit hard.
The air is thick, although there is a mercurial scent playing in with the typical rancid sewer smell. They keep catching whiffs of cotton candy, sweets, ash, and a distinctly chemical smell. Goom, taking it all in, realises that he has smelled this chemical before at Wally’s. There is also a purple haze permeating the area. Goom indicates the direction in which the odor is strongest, and they head that way. Though the SWAT team has flashlights mounted on their guns, providing enough light for the small army to see ahead of them. About 50 feet into the sewer, it opens up into a four-way junction. When they get within 30 feet of the junction, Alia’s dog starts growling. They stop, the tattooed man nods, and all lights are extinguished, plunging them into darkness. They sense an ambush.
There are noises up ahead, it sounds like a group of people using pickaxes or chisels. Goom smells rotted meat and acid, something like a wet dog, but it is not the pitt with Alia. He tries to alert the rest of the group, turning to Gareth, who is immediately behind him, and pinching at his nose to silently indicate that he smells something, when one of the SWAT team calls “ABOVE!” and the area is lit up with gunfire.
At the ceiling of the junction is a giant spider. Her abdomen is spit open, revealing dozens of wet human children’s faces. She has ensnared of Yuri-ko’s men and is consuming him.