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The Manic Mind of Man

The Struggle Streets

a part of The Manic Mind of Man, by Captain Grue.

Oh God, oh man. Here I am on Struggle Street once again.

Captain Grue holds sovereignty over The Struggle Streets, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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The Struggle Streets is a part of The Source of Mind.

There are no Places in The Struggle Streets.

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The manifestation of man's collective depression and dread.
What we have here is a series of dystopian streets, dense with dodgy houses and covered in a thick noxious smog that moves through the Source at a glum pace.

There are as many houses in the Streets as there people who are depressed, but only while they are so. When someone in reality is cheered up or enters a more pleasant mood, their house on Struggle Street will fade away. Just as when someone falls into sadness, a house will open up representing their disparity.

Because of this, architecture can vary from a silver-steel Blade Runner-esque unit to a medieval thatched hut.

Consistent is the thick smokey fog that drowns the Streets and produces buildings, giving any who smell it a feeling of despair or sympathy for it.

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Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen
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Frederick’s eyes snapped open, and he stared, looking but seeing nothing. He didn’t hear anything either.
Where's the storm? He thought groggily to himself.
He was still lying on his back, but his bed seemed a lot more uncomfortable…it was really hard. He sat up slowly and blinked, rubbing his eyes. When he pulled them away, he felt a cold shock freeze his insides. His hands, or more specifically, the sides of his fingers and knuckles, were coated in fresh blood. What…?
He looked at his arm, but the cuts he had given himself moments ago, although inflamed and red, were sealed. The blood wasn’t coming from his arm…so where was it coming from? He hesitantly placed his fingers on his eyes again, and rubbed gently. When he pulled them away, a new coat of blood was beginning to drip down his hands.
My god…I’m crying blood!
He was suddenly acutely aware of his surroundings. He whipped his head around, and his eyes widened as he suddenly realized he was not in his bedroom anymore. He scrambled to his feet and clenched his hands together as his eyes roved over the new bedroom he was situated in.
There was a bed, he had been lying on it earlier. The floor was made of dark, old wood planks, as were the walls.

The entire room was bare aside from the bed, a threadbare green carpet with holes in it, and a small window lent a gloomy light to the inside, casting a cross-framed shadow on the bed. Frederick took a deep, shaky breath, and waled over to the window, peeking outside. What he saw shocked him. Rows and rows of dark grey houses lined a dull cracked pavement road, penetrating the cold grey overcast sky as far as the eye could see. None of these were identical, however. He saw medieval towers with little dreary modern apartments between them, with little houses of every style and age next to them. It was like some giant had taken every toy building set imaginable and had left them cluttered together in a single suburb.
How drunk did I get last night? Where am I? Frederick thought, shocked. He placed his hands on the window sill and gazed out into the dark and dreary world set before him. Mist seeped through the streets, blown by an invisible, intangible wind.
Frederick had no idea where he was, but something about this place seemed so familiar.

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Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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A knife twirled in his fingers, and a grimy tongue licked the inside of his mask. A large leather belt held his overbearing coat, sandpaper skin hiding behind the holes from his mask. Underneath it, he smiled. This house had been empty for far too long. Out of all the places in the Source, most humans who travelled would end up here and Dreadhead relished every opportunity to entertain himself with company. As soon as Frederick's eyes opened, he dashed away from outside the window and out of sight. Rats hurried across the street to meet their master. Dreadhead withdraw the knife into his pocket. "Playtime." He whispered, and instantly shifted into the form of a rat.

Following the edge of the house, the rat pushed itself under the the front door and into the room containing Frederick. To Dread, this would come off as one of the more subtle houses. Fine details gave clues to the owner's mental state, every hole in the carpet and wear in the walls. These things were to be appreciated. The tap of rat feet was silenced by the carpet, and it jumped up on the less than superb bed. As Fred looked through the window, Dreadhead snapped back into form and laid provocatively across the bed.

Dreadhead's voice was loud. Cockney.

"You a virgin, mate? Heheheh! You fuckin' reek of nubile ineptitude!" His laugh was acidic, scratching itself through the mask in a playful jab. Similar to a drunk insulting someone they may or may not be friends with. He rolled off the bed laughing, pulling himself up on the opposite side of the room Frederick was on. He would take a moment to acknowledge his reaction, before continuing when he saw fit. "Ah'ight, babychild. Welcome to yer new home." He presented his arms outstretched, "This is what ye putrid miseries provide you, mate. Peachy. Most folk stay inside, don't ever come out." He pointed his head towards the window, distracted. Eyes worried. "I suppose they don't see doors or sumthin'."

Collecting himself with a brush of the coat, Dreadhead proceeded to casually produce his knife.

"What say you tell me what ya think's goin' on. If it ain't a good guess I'll gut ya!"

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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The city was incredible dull, lacking in both color and excitement. Ettie walked for some time through the grid-like streets, weaving between houses of all shapes and sizes. Silence was so thick around her that the sound of her breathing was somehow disheartening. A frown curved her lips and a sigh escaped her.

Somehow, she knew there wouldn't be any shiny things here.

As she passed through yet another side alley her attention was drawn to a flicker of movement in the window of a building one street over. Ettie backpedaled, an eyebrow raised, and realized she had somehow wandered upon a lone human. She paused where she stood, unsure whether to approach, when Coal suddenly emerged from her shadow and pulled her into the darkness of the alley.

'I smell a rat,' he growled and the skin upon the back of her neck prickled. Moments later another figure was in the room. A sourcekind? Or perhaps a very changed traveler?

Ettie leaned back into Coal's cool form, his icy feathers brushing her hot skin. His beak tapped the top of her head twice, perhaps in warning, but he spoke no more; he tended not to speak much, anyway. Approach was dangerous, considering both Coal's ominous words and the unknown identity of the second being in the room. But Ettie had been in that human's shoes before. Alone. Terrified. Confused. And while she only held a shred of hope for a return to reality, that shred forced her to investigate.

"I won't get involved," she said quietly. "But I want to get closer."

Coal was understandable reluctant to give into her wishes, but he always gave in when it came to her. His form shifted slightly and suddenly she was draped in darkness, her form disappearing into the shadows of the surrounding buildings. She crept to the building and positioned herself within the shadows just to the side of the window. The being of unknown origin was speaking in a rather unpleasant way, with threats and acrid laughter. Ettie remained there, back pressed to the siding of the house, unable to see but listening closely.

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Frederick watched the gloomy skies drift sullenly over the collection of dead houses, trying to wonder why he felt so terribly at home here, when he heard a loud, obnoxious voice ask if he was a virgin. He jumped and whirled around, hands clenched and eyes wide, and they widened further as he took in the strange man that was lying seductively on the bed before him.
“The fuck.” He sputtered. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”
He instinctively attempted to back away from the figure, but he felt the window press up behind him, the cold glass freezing his back. The figure was wearing a trench coat, and had a top hat with…teeth? ringing the inner brim. He tried to focus on the man’s words, and listened all the way up to when he flicked out a knife. Frederick’s eyes narrowed.
This guy’s crazy…he’s crazy, just like me. His lips lifted into a bitter smile at the thought.
Even if I answer incorrectly and he ‘guts’ me…it’s still what I want, right? There is no correct way out of this, at least not that I can see.
He relaxed a little, and leaned his back against the window, letting the cold glass chill his shoulder blades.
“I think that there are only two explanations for this place.” He answered the strange man, trying to keep his voice as calm as he could.
“I am either dreaming, and dreamt that I was cutting myself too, and this is a part of it…”
His smile twisted into a grimace.
“Or I’m already dead, and this is the afterlife.”
He looked around, brooding. "I suppose I deserve this. What's your name?" He asked sullenly.
If he was going to be in hell, he might as well get to know his roommates. Folding his arms, he did his best to keep eye contact with the masked man.

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Five guttural laughs pushed through Dreadhead's cloth mask, thick with his accent and spreading his foul breath across the room. Reacting to Frederick's apparent fear, his excited eyes made themselves presentable. Tiny, yellowish maggots could be seen dancing around them, although on a closer glance they would appear to be swimming inside of them. His hat took breaths, silently wheezing. He then took the time to listen to Frederick's words. The smile. The false sense of confidence giving way to gloom. Why, he could feel the walls of this house getting stronger.

Dread was disappointed by the young man's answers, bringing his free hand up to console his face.

"Who are you? Dickens' Scrooge or sumthin'? Name's Dreadhead, son. You ought to know it, I came from you lot."

As if he had never threatened him, Dread withdraw the knife back into his coat and resigned to casual speech. He was a whole lot calmer than he let on. Like a true psychopath, meticulous and charismatic in his methods. As the moment stood, Dread just wanted to help the poor chap get a grip so he could get on with it.

"This ain't no afterlife or purgatory, tho' I'm sure you folk who take short trips would like to call it that. And it ain't no dream either. How 'bout we take a walk? Tell me 'bout what you were doin' before you woke up and such. Pretty rare that someone gets out of bed here, most just stay asleep until they're done."

Dreadhead intended to lead Frederick outside, and walk beside him down the street. A particularly inquisitive rat sniffed outside the window, around where someone may or may not been hiding.

"You mentioned you cut yourself? That sounds pretty fuckin' dim. My mate Jack- Wait, hold up, son." Something caught Dread's attention, something behind him outside the house's window. The rat from the window ran over to crawl up inside his pants. It was scared, something Dreadhead never was. One hand moved into his coat to grip his knife. "Come out, sneaker! And be dandy!" His shouts were rich with playfulness, as he swung his head around to scan the area. "It ain't kind to peeve!"

It's quite possible that the one hiding (or her companion) might already know Dreadhead as well as his many aliases. She might even have another one for him. Whatever the case, Dread remained alert for whatever may happen.

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Frederick waited in sullen silence (he did not very much appreciate being called Dickens Scrooge) as Dreadhead called out to an unseen person who had apparently been eavesdropping on their conversation. There was a moment of silence, but no one revealed him or herself.
“I didn’t hear anything.” He muttered, crossing his arms and shivering ever so slightly. The old house was drafty, and he could feel the cold from the fog outside slowly wrapping its fingers around him, working its way through his thin tattered black clothes and chilling him.
He didn’t feel like going on a walk, he didn’t really feel like doing anything, but Dreadhead seemed too unpredictable for Frederick to be comfortable with denying his request.
“I’m ready to get out of this house if you are, Dreadhead.” He said resignedly. He paused, then smiled conspiratorially. “Unless you want to look for whatever’s spying on us?”
He didn’t actually believe that anyone was there, of course, but he believed that it was best (for now) to play along with the masked man until he figured out for himself what was going on.
He leaned back against the chilled window, letting his back slowly grow numb from the freezing cracked glass.
“It’s up to you.”

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Dreadhead's mustard, screwball eyes darted around the window. They did not blink. He definitely saw something. He knows these streets like the back of his hand, and knows all the entities that pass through it. Whatever was out there, it wasn't taking an action anytime soon.

"No..." He said, then whirled around to Fred with a twisted smile and jovial approach. "No, mate! Nuthin's up to me, that ain't how it works. Never has been, never will been." He withdrew the knife, and headed outside.

"It's your door, ya sadsock geezer. And in my experience, no one gets out by stayin' in."

Dread looked out towards the street and up into the grey fog that made up the sky. Strange shapes fly overhead above the cloud, casting large blots of shadow. He chuckled, and looked back to Fred.

"Whachya wanna know, mate?"

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Frederick gave the eerily jovial masked man an appraising look, then gave a barely audible sigh of relief when he folded away the knife.
“Well…ok. Where are we? This isn’t my house, and…”
He turned to look over his shoulder out of the window he was leaning against. Cold white clouds drifted aimlessly through the muted grey street, blurring and obscuring the odd randomized houses lining it.
“...I’m not in California anymore, am I?”
He felt a little angry at his helpless confusion, and, straightening, clenched his fists, letting them fall to his sides. “Can we get out of this damn house? I need to clear my head.”


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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Outside, Dread smiled as Fred began to lose himself. It was a nervous smile. The windows on Fred's house were cracked. A small amount of debris let loose from the ceiling as the house rumbled. However his will to leave would let him, and allow some of the fog to be lifted. A combination of jealousy, joy and that all encompassing dread flowed through him as he watched. In the end it was merely depressing to watch someone with such power squander it in ignorance.

"No, yer not in California. But you still might be, in a way. And yes, this is most certainly your house. Whatever travesties yee be experiencing will be thrown against the foundation of your own being." He gestured towards the house. "And so... Broken windows." Whirling around and avoiding eye contact with Fred, Dreadhead observed the other houses. "I ain't callin' you out though, son. Been a while since someone's so much as left their bloody dwelling."

On closer inspection, it would appear that the majority of other doors on the block would not have door handles or keyholes.

"It might be easiest for you to believe this is a dream, I suppose. Reach your own conclusions, uh... Say, what's yer name?"

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Frederick coughed and swore as a small cloud of dust rained down on him. The house had started creaking, and it was starting to unsettle him.
“My name is Frederick. Frederick Dredsen. ” He muttered, moving towards the door. He pulled it open, wincing at the complaining shriek it made, and began to walk down the rotting wooden steps to the first floor. The man was right, it was his house, but it looked…different. Everything was darker and older. The curtains had moth-eaten holes in them, the carpet was dirty and matted, and there seemed to be more trash than usual accumulating in the corners of every room. And the windows were cracked.
He ran shaking fingers through his wild hair and stepped into the unlit living room, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. He knew where the door was, the door to the outside, but he was scared. He had no idea what was on the other side, what might happen if he went outside. He didn’t trust the man, he didn’t trust this…place, and he didn’t trust himself to react maturely or healthily to anything that might happen. Frederick gritted his teeth, hating his thoughts. He sat down on the dusty arm of the ripped couch and waited for Dreadhead to enter the room.

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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"A fellow Dready boy! The boys in the mop'll get a kick outta this.." Dread's excitement was shortlived. It appeared to him what had appeared time and time again. The house was having its way with its host. In a way, the house itself was its own Sourcekind. It disappointed him greatly to see Fred doom himself to the couch.

But it had been so long; too long, for another new arrival to stay inside. The door on Fred's house still had a handle, and as long as that was the case there was still hope. Besides, it's not as if Dreadhead had anywhere better to be.

He walked in and sat down on the floor across from Fred, head pointed down. For a while he fidgeted and stayed silent. His hat breathed slowly, in and out. Kindnesses and niceties bothered Dread. They unnerved him like any old murder couldn't. And yet, an overbearing pain compelled Dreadhead to speak, dropping much of the playful ruse.

"Look, mate, for better or worse this is where you are. You've entered the Source. And these are the Struggle Streets. A cesspool manipulated by your own nasty thoughts. Here, look at my knife."

Dread pulled it out and showed it in front of Fred. It would appear rusted, stained with dried blood. Although every second the knife became cleaner. The serrated edge would smooth out, and the steel might gleam. It's possible the knife might even form features familiar to Fred. "It is the most vague representation of a knife possible. Its image is given by the folks who imagine what a knife looks like. It's the thought of danger that gives it the power to cut. So close yer bloody eyes, and think fuckin' hard about what would make this horrible dream a little more delightful. Then open those peachy peepers, ahyeheh. Make your own reality."

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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Frederick listened to Dreadhead’s words warily.
The Struggle Streets? What the hell was he talking about?
A cesspool manipulated by my own thoughts? He let a small smirk twist his lips. It would certainly explain the oppressive, black, rotting mismatched town, as well as its absence of any real color. His thoughts were interrupted when the man pulled out his knife again, turning it over in his hands and letting the waning light glint on the dull silvery sheen of the blade. It looked very familiar to him, but he couldn’t place it.
He stared at the knife, doing his best to pay attention to what Dreadhead was saying. What would make this place more delightful? He shut his eyes, listening to the masked man’s raspy, biting voice as he spoke.…Make my own reality? He clenched his fists. What the fuck was this man talking about? He didn’t understand, he couldn’t explain it, but the man’s words made him feel…odd. Like there was something that Frederick was missing.
Inhaling deeply, he tried to clear his head of the shadows that clung to his mind. It was hard, there were so many. Doubt, fear, and anger clouded his mind, and he tried to force it down, but he couldn’t. There was too much of…everything for him to get rid of it.
Then he had an idea. Instead of trying to dissolve the frustrated anger he felt for his situation, could he use it? Would that help him, or just make it worse? Could he control the outcome? The corners of his mouth curled downwards in a small grimace, and the cracks in the windows silently spread a fraction.
What could he do? What could possibly make this better? Frederick was in hell. His skin broke under his clenched fingers, red lining the underside of his fingernails.
“Dreadhead.” He spoke quietly and with an unsettling tone that suggested approaching insanity. “I have nothing. There is nothing I…” He stopped, struck by a sudden realization. He was quiet for a minute.
I know what I want.” He whispered, eyes opening, focusing on the knife. He recognized it now. He stood up, licking the blood from his palms, and strode past Dreadhead over to the door, that goddam motherfucking door that was always closed, always blocking his way, always preventing him from… He didn’t bother with the handle. He slammed into it full force, and felt exhilarated to feel sparks of pain in his shoulder and head. And splintering. He felt the door splinter a little. He laughed, an excited, harsh sound that escaped his mouth, and slammed into it again. The door was suddenly webbed with black cracks, and a few chips of wood dislodged and fell on the rotting floorboards. He began punching it, slamming it with his bloody hands, and the door began to fall apart.
"Get...the FUCK...out of...my...way!" He rasped at the fracturing door. Piece by piece it fell, white wood stained with dark red, until nothing but jagged white wooden fangs lined the top and bottom of the doorframe.
Frederick stopped, stooped over from the effort, breathing unsteadily. Still staring at the cracked pieces of the object of his struggle lying scattered on the street, he straightened slowly. Feeling a ferocious grin pull at his face, he turned and gave Dreadhead a bloody and bruised thumbs up.
“This works. I am fucking delighted, Dreadhead.”

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Character Portrait: Ettie James Character Portrait: Frederick Dredsen Character Portrait: Dreadhead
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"... Hah? Wahahahah! We're lucid dreamin' now, son!" Dreadhead was ecsatic, and headed out into the street in somewhat of a frenzied dance with his knife as his partner. An encore of rats clapped their hands around the road. The sky was still very much miserable, but moved faster through the sky. Flashes of red and yellow lit up some distance above the fog, giving the street a glow.

At once Dread stopped to address Fred. "But you know you coulda just gone through it all normal-like, right?" He moved back into his dance. "Bah! Whatever gets ya goin' and yer crimson blood flowin'! Oh the Kaptain's gonna love this-" Dread stopped once more, almost as if frozen mid-movement, "That's if the yella fella doesn't get to you first, I suppose..."

Dreadhead calmed himself back down and approached Fred whilst blowing his nose into his own cloth mask. It was all kinds of grotty.

"You'll want to keep hold o' that furious mojo, son. You're new here. Makes ya valuable. Just as well you wake up here, I ain't give one single toss who'd do you in. Say, I know a couple folks who might be able to help ya. They could get yer marbles all sorted in order. Well, one of'em would. The other's a tried and true citizen of the Source. What you brainstormin', boy?"

High in sky by a nearby thought, unbeknownst to Fred or Dreadhead, a bombardment of yellow clouds billowed towards the Struggle Streets. It would not arrive for a while, but every occasionally a yellow bolt of lightning would pass through the fog above the two of them.