The spell Stanford needed was not in the first volume of the Journal. He would have to go by memory. That was just as well, he would have to modify it for this special case anyway. Besides, when dealing with the dreamscape, it was the thought that counted.
Modifying the spell was simple enough. Modifying the ritual took a bit more creativity. Normally it called for placing candles around the sleeping form of the individual whose mind you wished to enter, and then placing your hand on their head. Obviously that wasn’t an option here. Ford considered many options for a stand-in for Stanley. A drawing, an old photo, the burnt scrap of his coat.
Then he thought of his reflection that reminded him so much of his brother. The more Ford thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. The mirror not only provided an effigy of Stan, it also acted as a representation of what he wanted, a window into the other world. It was perfect!
And so, by the end of the day, Ford had gathered a ring of candles around a standing mirror. He stood in the center, looking at his reflection. Boy, he looked like a wild man that had been hit by a bus.
“Ok…” He said, then took a deep breath, steadying his nerves. This had to work. It had to. “Er-herm. I’m Stanley Pines, I like punchin’ things, scarin’ people, and makin’ jokes at inappropriate times!” He didn’t quite buy it. He tried taking off his glasses and flexing his nonexistant muscles in the mirror. Better.
Now that he had the image of Stanley, it was time for the spell. “Ostende mihi gemello. Magister mentium. Magnesium ad hominem. Magnum opus. Nullum corpus. Lactis est bonum. Magister mentium. Magister mentium! Magister mentium!”
The candles flared blue, and when their light subsided, Ford found himself in a new place. It had worked! He was in Stanley’s subconscious. This was it, definitive proof that his brother was alive!
It was a gargantuan cave, with a sandy floor and driftwood littered everywhere. To his right was the entrance to the cave, where a familiar swingset stood. To his left, an enormous ship lay half-buried in the sand.
Suddenly, it clicked. This was the old cave where they’d found the Stan’O’War all those years ago! It was much bigger than in reality, but Stanford supposed this is what it would have seemed like to the ten-year-old Stan.
Ford couldn’t help but give a sad smile. This memory was so important to Stanley that it had become the basis of his entire subconscious. Ford never would have guessed.
His sad smile quickly changed to a frown. Was that why Stan had been so upset about his brother’s favor? But wouldn’t that have fulfilled Stan’s big dream? Ford shook his head and moved on. There would be time to try and figure out his brother’s convoluted psyche later.
On the enormous ship, Stanford found doors leading to different parts of Stan’s mind. His fears were boarded up, and his hopes were behind a closed door, with only the faintest glow leaking through the cracks. The only readily available passage was labeled ‘memories’. Perfect.
Ford began walking down the hall of memories. Doors and windows led to different moments. He just had to find one where he could talk to Stanley, make contact with his subconscious. Any memory would do.
Stanford opened a door that looked like it had come out of his own house. He saw himself, standing before the portal, the circle in the center glowing bright blue. Between the memory Stanford and the observing Stanford was Stanley, who was holding his shoulder in pain. The skin was burned bright red, making a strange symbol that Ford almost recognized.
“Some brother you turned out to be.” Stan growled.
Ford slammed the door shut. Not that memory. He didn’t want to see… no, he couldn’t talk to Stanley in that memory. He’d try another.
Further down the hall was a door Ford recognized from their parent’s house in New Jersey. This was more likely to be someplace he could talk.
“Hey, it was an accident!” an 18-year-old Stan protested, “But hey, maybe there’s a silver lining–”
Ford closed the door with a scowl. Not this memory either.
Just a bit further, Ford found a door with bars on the window. Well, it couldn’t be worse than the other two.
“Jorje, Rico, you two are the best Colombian prison friends a guy could have.” Stan said cheerfully, placing his arms chummily around the two large, scarred men sitting on either side of him.
“Espero que muera.” One said.
“Si.” The other agreed.
Ford sighed in annoyance. It’d have to do.
He stepped into the memory, eyeing the two Colombian prisoners. He imagined a key for the prison bars. He’d rather have something between him and them.
“Wha… Stanford!? What the heck are you doing here?” Stan asked, clearly flabbergasted.
Ford opened the door and pulled his brother out before the two others could react, then shut the bars again behind him.
“Aha, yes!” Stan laughed with relief, “I knew you couldn’t forget about me forever! Sorry amigos, but my brother’s finally come to bust me outta here! I’ll write ya both once I get state-side.”
“Stan, you’re dreaming.” Ford informed him. He fought the urge to pull his brother into an embrace. It was a dream. It wouldn’t be real.
Stan’s face fell. “Well… wouldn’t be the first time.” he said dejectedly.
Ford knew he should probably explain what was going on, but his curiosity got the better of him. He had so many questions. “What’s it like? How have you survived this long?”
“Eh, well, it’s really not that bad once you get used to it.” Stan shrugged “You just gotta convince them you’re not worth their trouble. Worst part is I’m the only one who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. But on the plus side, constant companionship and three free meals a day!”
Ford facepalmed. “Not prison, you knuckle-head! The other side of the portal!”
Stan stared at his brother in confusion, and his expression slowly darkened, like he had just realized something awful.
“I’m not… that’s real… oh no… oh sweet Moses…” Stanley suddenly grabbed Ford tightly by the shoulders. “Ford! Are- are you really here!?”
“Uh… yes and no.” Stanford stammered, suddenly unsure of how to explain. “I’m projecting my mental self into your mind, across–”
“Ford, you gotta get me outta here!” Stan cut him off. “I don’t know how much more I can take! Nothing makes any sense! And there are these crazy… things, some of ‘em can talk! One tried to attack me, but when it grabbed me it started burning! So now they all just stand there, staring at me…” He trailed off, his voice hollow.
Stanford stared at his brother, scared at the panicked and crazed look in his eyes. Stanley had often boasted he wasn’t afraid of anything. This of course wasn’t true, but it was still disturbing to see Stan’s bravado fall away so quickly.
“I’m working on bringing you back… it… it just might take time.” Ford tried to reassure his brother. “Stan, I don’t know how much of this you’ll remember when you wake up, but I want you to know I’m sorry. I’m sorry I dragged you into my problems. I shouldn’t have asked you to come.”
Stan looked like he was going to say something about that, and Ford waited a second. Nothing.
“But I promise,” he continued, “I don’t care how long it takes, I will save you. So don’t give up hope.”
Stan looked at his brother. He wanted to believe there was hope, but the burn on his back still throbbed with pain, a reminder of all that had gone wrong between the twins.
“You never swooped in to save me before.” Stanley said bitterly.
Ford’s stomach twisted with guilt. “I know. I’m sorry.” What else was he supposed to say?
“How do I know this is gonna be any different?”
“I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Stanley continued to stare at his brother, standing there just as he remembered. Perhaps that was because it was a dream. Ford’s face was plastered with regret. That wasn’t normal. Ford never regretted anything. Despite all the anger boiling inside him, Stan would do anything to take that look off his brother’s face.
“You promise not to give up on me, and I won’t give up on you.” Stan finally said, extending a handshake. Ford looked at the handshake apprehensively, a flicker of fear shot across his face. Then it was gone and he had given into the temptation to hug his brother.
Dream or not, it felt real enough for now.