Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 15.2

Chavez had seen demonstrations of hypnosis used to assist witnesses to remember minute details of crime scenes, and believed there was something to it, but the whole idea of post-hypnotic suggestion was frightening.  What sort of commands could you put in a person’s head, that they might have no idea were there?  He couldn’t imagine giving someone that kind of access to his brain, and paid close attention to every word Ojeda said. 
The large man seemed like a decent enough guy, but no one had explained to him exactly where this “Visulex” experiment went wrong.  Until that question was answered to his satisfaction, no one got a pass.
Chavez wasn’t even sure what the crime was, though.  As far as he could tell, all of the permits and authorizations for the Visulex experiment had been in order.  Creating a public nuisance, maybe?  It hardly seemed fitting.  Assault and battery of Douglas Wright?  The chain of causation broke down when it passed through an alternate reality.
Chavez knew he was in over his head, and felt he had to take some risks – like trusting Ojeda – to get this case under control.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t come back to bite him.
Ojeda had just reached the point where he was giving Elizabeth the message for her brother.  He read from the hotel memo pad, where he had written down the message so that Chavez could see exactly what he was going to say.   
 Ojeda’s voice was deep and soft.  “You will see Matt in your dreams.  When you do, there is something very important that you will need to do.  You will ignore everything else that is going on, and say to him, ‘Hector says that your dreams become real when you sleep.’”
At that moment, everything was illuminated by a blinding light outside, turning the room into planes of black and white.   
Ojeda  looked at him with alarm.  Chavez waved at him to stay down, then shaded his eyes and moved to one side of the window.  As he leaned out to try to find the source of the light, the door to the room crashed open behind him.   
Shouts, waving rifles, men in riot gear.  Hector thrown to the ground.
More rifles swung to cover Chavez.  “DEA!  Get your ass on the floor!”
Slowly, Chavez put his hands up, laced them behind his head, and knelt down as the Mobile Enforcement Team advanced.  “I’m FBI,” he said, as calmly as he could.  “My badge is...”
“I said ON THE FLOOR!”  The butt of the rifle struck him between his shoulder blades; he barely got his hands around in time to avoid cracking his skull as he fell.
From the other side of the room, he heard, “Hector Ojeda, you are under arrest for illegal possession of a Schedule I controlled substance.  You have the right to remain silent...”
“Listen to me,” Chavez said to the muzzle of the rifle that was inches from his face.  “I’m FBI.  My badge is in the pocket of my jacket, on the back of the chair.”
Someone must have checked, because a few moments later, he was hauled to his feet and his jacket and badge were thrust into his hands.  Another drug agent approached; the others got out of his way.  The SAC, Chavez figured, or whatever the DEA was calling the top agent on the scene these days.
“Agent Chavez.  My name’s Kilpatrick.  You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?  Sorry about the misunderstanding, but we weren’t advised that the FBI had anyone on this case.”
Chavez shifted his shoulders gingerly, feeling for a fracture.  “You should have been told.  The Bureau’s local office knows I’m here.”
Ojeda was being led out of the room in cuffs.  He looked over his shoulder at Chavez, and shook his head harshly.
“Is he really that dangerous?”
“Sorry, Mr. Chavez.  We’re going to need to take your statement, and we can’t muddy the record by giving out details.”
More interagency bullshit, thought Chavez.  “You can’t tell me why I’m going to be sleeping on an ice pack for a month...Wait!  Where are you taking her?”
Two agents were leading Elizabeth out of the room.  She was clearly disoriented, and the agents were holding her up between them.  Chavez pushed past Kilpatrick and moved toward the door.
“Agent Chavez!”  Kilpatrick said.  “She’s a witness too.  Are we going to have trouble here, or are you going to let me do my job?”
“If I don’t get some answers,” Chavez said, “then we definitely will have a problem.”
Kilpatrick waved over another agent, and they whispered together briefly.  They approached Chavez.
“Look,” Kilpatrick said, “I’m sorry about the crossed wires.  This is Agent Packer.” 
Packer’s eyes flicked to the side at the introduction; it was quick, but noticeable.
“I’m going to leave him here when we go to take your statement,” Kilpatrick continued.  “Once he’s taken down your story, he’ll be able to give you some more details.  Best I can do.”
 “Yeah, sure.”  Chavez pulled out the desk chair, and waited to see what was going to happen next.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 15.3]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 15.1

Aleph-n: Matthew - Lily
Professor Harte wondered whether there was such a thing as true darkness anymore. 
When he had finally decided that there was nothing more he could do for Lily, Harte had turned off all of the instruments in the examination room, then all of the lights in the house, and retreated to his study to be alone with his thoughts.  His attempt at blacking out the world had failed: the last embers in the fireplace had yet to flicker out; moonlight filtered past the edges of the window’s drawn shade; the phosphorescent hands of his watch ticked away the seconds.
People brought light wherever they went, so much that fragments remained no matter how hard one tried to eliminate them.  In the darkest room, the eye sought out every glimmer, desperate for form and dimension, eager for distraction from oblivion.
They were lost, all of them.  His last effort at redemption had failed, and there would be no next attempt.  He thought about turning himself in to the authorities, but found it impossible to delineate his crime in a way that any law enforcement agent would believe, let alone prosecute.  He grimaced.  So this is what it takes to leave me at a loss for words, he thought.
He did not move at the sudden illumination of the study by headlights sweeping past the window, or the crush of tires on the gravel driveway outside.  The knock at the front door went unanswered, and he stayed seated when a key turned in the lock and the door swung open.
Steps in the hallway.  “Doctor?  Are you here?”
The hall light came on, casting a wide bar of light into the study.  It fell just short of his feet.
His housekeeper, Nina, stepped into the doorway.  She should have been a silhouette, but faint reflections allowed Harte to see her face.  Light everywhere.
“Doctor Harte, what are you doing sitting here in the dark?  Everyone’s been looking for you.  I’ve been worried sick.”
He realized he should have been surprised to see her, but wasn’t.  He let it pass.
Nina moved to Harte’s side, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Please, Timothy, please tell me what’s going on.  The police have been asking questions.  What happened to Lily?  Is she here?”
“Not any more.”
“Is she all right?”
Harte shrugged.  How could he answer that question, phrased in that way?
Nina gently tugged him to his feet.  “Come on, we need to get you home before you get into real trouble.  I’ve called your lawyer; he’s going to meet with you tomorrow.”
Harte stood in the center of the room, impassive. 
“Doctor, you’re going to have to pull yourself together if I’m going to help you.  I’ll take care of cleaning up here, but you have to tell me if there’s anything here that we shouldn’t leave for the police to find.”
Harte frowned.  “Lily’s possessions are in the upstairs bedroom.”
“What about your laboratory?” she pressed.  “Is there anything sensitive there?  Anything about what you’ve been doing?”
“Nothing that I do not intend on deleting shortly, in order to put an end to this madness.  Three individuals lost are enough.”
“Three?”  Nina sounded alarmed.  “You helped Lily transcend?”
Harte shook his head.  “It isn’t your issue.  The matter is not within your responsibilities.”
“Oh, I think it is, Doctor,” Nina said, as two heavily muscled men stepped into the study behind her.  She nodded to the men.  “Take him.”
* * *
            Think ocean, Hector Ojeda told himself.
            Hector had grown up on the shore; the Atlantic had been his backyard.  It took no effort to recall the warmth of the water when swimming in the wind and the rain, the exhilaration of being tossed about by the wild surge of the waves after a storm.  And the first lesson that anyone who played in the surf learned was that you turned sideways to let the waves go by.  There were some waves you jumped and some you ducked under, but standing and facing them would only get your teeth brushed with sand.
            It had become Hector’s philosophy of life.  It didn’t matter how wild or weird life could get, or how dull.  You just thought ocean, jumped or ducked when you needed to, and everything would be fine.

            You couldn’t stop paying attention, though.  Letting your mind wander while trying to hypnotize a woman clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress late at night in the cheap hotel room of an alpha male FBI agent was not a good idea.  That’s when the ocean would smack you. 
            “So you really think this will work?” Chavez asked.  Hector needed Matt’s sister to relax; the agent’s pacing wasn’t really helping the mood.
            “Well, if we had a few weeks to train Elizabeth here in lucid dreaming techniques, I’d rather do that.  But since we don’t, this is the plan.”
            Elizabeth was sitting on one of the two queen beds in the room; her fingertips were tapping a staccato beat on the bedspread.  “Will I see my brother when you hypnotize me?”
            “Who can say where Matt will turn up?  I doubt it, though.  You won’t actually be asleep while you’re hypnotized; that’s a common misunderstanding.  Hypnosis is more like being extremely focused on one thing, to the exclusion of everything else.  When you’re focusing on a person’s voice, like I’m going to ask you to focus on mine, you become very susceptible to that person’s suggestions.”
            “All right.”  She sounded nervous, and why not.
            “Don’t worry.  I’m sure Agent Chavez here will be watching me like a hawk.”
            “You’re sure you’re okay with this, Elizabeth?” said Chavez.
            “Tell me again what’s going to happen?”
            Hector nodded.  “No worries.  I’m going to hypnotize you, and try to plant a post-hypnotic suggestion that will activate the next time you go to sleep and see Matt.  It’s just a message about what’s been happening here.”
            “I’m not tired. I don’t know if I can fall asleep.”
            “Hypnosis is very relaxing.  It’s very common for people to fall asleep afterwards.  But even if you don’t, the suggestion will stay in place for a while.”
            “Does it have to be me?  How do you know I’ll see Matt again?”
            “I don’t.  That’s the great big question mark.  We know virtually nothing about where Matt is.  But you’re our best choice, since you’ve already seen him once, and you’re likely to at least dream about him again.”
            Matt’s sister turned to Chavez.  “Should I do this?”
            Chavez sat down next to her.  “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but I can’t decide for you.  I don’t know enough to say whether this will work or not.  I’ll be honest with you, though -- if this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what else we can do for your brother.”
            “I’ll do it, then.”
            “All right, let’s get started,” said Hector.  “Agent Chavez, if you could turn out all of the lights except the small one by the desk?  Elizabeth, why don’t you sit up against the headboard and try to make yourself comfortable?”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 15.2]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 14.5

When did Betsy realize that I didn’t remember?  Why did she tell me they died in a car accident?  Why didn’t she tell me the truth?  Did she think it was better that I had forgotten?
* * *
            When the mists parted, Lily and Mina were in a hospital room.  A figure lay on the bed, wrapped in bandages.  The checkered linoleum floor of the room tickled Lily’s memory, but she couldn’t say why.
            Mina sighed.  “Six months, thirteen days, and seven hours,” she said.
            “That’s how long you’ve been in the hospital?” Lily asked.  Again, Lily sensed that the words she heard herself say were not the ones her lips were forming.
            “I think so,” Mina responded in the same manner.  “I’m pretty sure I’m not dead, although this is close to what I’d imagine hell is like.  But I think I remember being pulled out of the building, being in the ambulance.”
            “You can’t wake up?”
            “One nightmare ends, I show up here until the next begins.  After a while I realized that I was dreaming, and tried to escape, but that’s when the monsters come.  I’ve learned a few tricks, like how to use the mists, but one way or another I always come back here.  It’s no more than I deserve.”  Mina sat in a chair next to her own body. 
            “You’re in a coma,” Lily said.
            “Yep.  At least you’re here to keep me company this time.  For a while I wasn’t sure what you were, but I can tell now you’re like me.  Don’t worry, sooner or later you’ll get killed, disappear, and probably wake up in bed.  That’s what seems to happen to everyone else.”
            “I don’t think that’s how it works for me,” Lily said.  “I’m sorry about what happened to you, but I’d better leave; there’s someone I have to find.”  She turned away from the unsettling figure on the bed.
            “Go right ahead,” Mina said.  “If you can find a door, you’re welcome to use it.”
            Lily looked; there was no exit.  She was trapped.
* * *
            I was trapped.  Time passed.  No dreamers would come here to free me; this was my own prison.  I would starve in this dead end, this open coffin, under the gruesome sky.  I’d never have a chance to talk to my sister about what I’d seen.
            I could see this world’s stationary moon from where I was.  Framed by the four walls, it reminded me of a cue ball on red baize.  I’d never liked red on a pool table; I preferred the traditional green.  Hector, why didn’t I listen to you when you tried to warn me?
            Then, something clicked in my head; I remembered other words that Hector had spoken.  “Did you know that when people see themselves as being stuck, they’re almost always facing a real choice instead?  It’s when they’re rolling down a road with no exits that they think everything’s fine.  Funny thing, people.”
            Funny thing, I thought.  If Captain Forrest was right, this dream world didn’t approve of choices; those who wanted things and chose to pursue them were frustrated – or destroyed – because desire was inseparable from fear, and this world fed on fear.  Every time I had manipulated the dream, I had done it unintentionally, like the broomstick, or used a dreamer to do it for me. 
            But what if I wasn’t afraid?
            I had seen the truth, and it was terrible.  I had run from it, avoided the messages of my dreams until the truth pursued me into the waking world.  I knew now why I couldn’t sleep.  It was terrible.  But it was also the past. 
            I finally reached the place where Lily had tried to help me get.  There was a lot yet to do, a lot of talking, a lot of thinking.  But I was ready to stop being frightened about what I had already survived.  No – I chose to stop being frightened.
            In that instant, the sky began to fall.
* * *
            It felt as if everything in the room had jumped three feet to the right, and landed in exactly the same place.
            “What was that?” Lily asked.
            Mina shrugged.  “No idea.  It’s never ha...ah...”  She broke off, and stretched her mouth wide as if she were gasping for breath.
            Then Lily felt it in her eardrums, a sudden pressure.  She pinched her nose and tried to compensate, but the pressure was building too quickly.  She couldn’t exhale; her lungs felt like overfilled balloons.  She clawed at her throat.
* * *
            The walls imprisoning me folded away to the sides, as the ground and sky slammed together, flattening everything between them.  There was a flash of an infinitely blue pigment, deeper than anything I’d ever seen and briefer than a blink.  I was stretched out like a canvas, and I was aware of other people layered on top of me.  I realized that I had never been alone, that there were thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of dreamers in exactly the same place, in that same dead end.  As the universe compressed in my vision to a single bright line, I could see them all.
            One in particular.  I reached out for it.
* * *
            Black spots were flickering before her eyes.  Lily clutched at the corner of the bed to stop herself from falling, but it kept slipping away from her grip.
            A great echoing, ripping, noise filled the room, and the pressure exploded away, as if they had been in a balloon pricked by a knife.  She gasped as the air rushed from her lungs.  A wind tore through the room from unseen directions and left the same way. 
            And there was Matt, catching her as she fell.
* * *
            I had reached out without thinking when I saw Lily in that thin slice of reality.  As soon as I touched the bright line, everything sprang back into three dimensions, and I was there, seeing her crumpling slowly to the floor.
            Lily looked up at me and smiled, as I lowered her to sit against the foot of the hospital bed.  I understood immediately, even before she spoke.  The buzzing sensation when I touched her was unmistakable.
            “I’m glad you’ve arrived on time for our session,” Lily said.
            I don’t know what I had been expecting, but I still felt a fist around my heart.  Lily was dreaming, of course.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 15.1]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 14.4

            Lily’s first instinct was to run.  She grabbed Mina’s hand – it did not feel as strange to touch the other woman the second time – and tried to pull her into motion.  The wall of fog was no more than half a mile away; if they lost themselves in the mist they might escape.
            But Mina dug in her heels and brought Lily up short.  “Hello, kitty.”
            Lily felt like the mist was rising in her mind; but Mina’s meaning – if not her words – started to become clear.
            “They’re like cats?  They’ll kill us if we run?”
            Mina nodded slowly.
            The line of horrors surged closer.  Lily squeezed Mina’s hand more tightly, and battled the urge to bolt.  One of Mina’s earlier comments came back to her.  “‘If you avoid what you deserve’ – they’re coming for us because I helped you out of the nightmare, aren’t they?”
            “There was a farmer had a dog...,” Mina said.
            “...and Bingo was its name-o,” finished Lily.
            The noise from the creatures was resolving into overlapping sounds: sirens; the crackle of flame; the hiss of a rebreather.  Barked commands and panicked shouts.  Over it all, an endless wailing. 
           Mina simply waited with a resigned expression on her face.  Soon they were surrounded by a ring of claws and teeth, tentacles and spikes.  The sound became tangible; Lily could feel the heat on her face, see the burning ceiling overhead, taste the processed air from the oxygen tank.
            She was becoming lost in the illusion.  At any moment her hair and clothes would catch fire, and she would go up like a torch.
           Just as she thought she would explode, Lily felt Mina tugging at her.  Her whisper filtered into Lily’s mind.  “It’s okay, sweetie.  I’ve got you now.”
            They moved.  Lily clung to the lifeline of Mina’s hand.  Beyond the illusory fire, she saw a narrow gap in the ring of monsters.  Mina forced Lily to slow her pace to a few inches per step.  The creatures seemed not to be able to sense them as they edged across the grass.
            They passed between a cyborg with too many heads and something that seemed to be mostly tongue; Lily brushed against the latter, and held her breath as it twitched and curled. 
            And then they were through.  The monsters were gone, vanished, and they once again stood in the open meadow.
            “What happened to them?  Who are you?” said Lily, half-aware that the words she was saying were different from the ones that were coming out of her mouth.
            The other woman responded, and what Lily heard was a string of nonsense.  But what Lily understood was: “I’ll show you.”
            Mina turned and walked briskly toward the wall of mist.
* * *
            I didn’t want to see these things, but I had been in the dream world long enough to understand that looking away wouldn’t do me any good.  Just for confirmation, I looked over my shoulder, and wasn’t surprised to find that the maze behind me was now a straight path back to the tower – and the dragon.    I had learned from Lily that you had to face your memories, or they’d continue to have power over you.
            That didn’t help when I saw the image of my sister on the floor, bruised and crying.  My heart clenched, as I remembered how angry and scared I was when I saw her like that, when I realized that she couldn’t take care of us.  She had fought for us to stay together; I had thought she could do anything.  It had taken me years to forgive her for being human, and by then she was lost in her own maze.
            Another turn, and I was at a dead end.  Looking back, I found that I was boxed in; a wall had appeared behind me.  Hanging on each wall was the painting that I had been working on in my studio, the planes of blue and yellow intersected by a red angle, the abstract that I had been avoiding calling “East 54th.”  My pulse started to pound, and I had no idea why.
            Then the paintings started to shift.  The planes of blue and yellow began to take on the texture of cloth, and the red angle a liquid sheen.  The effect was like the image captured by a video camera that was zoomed in too close to focus, slowly pulling back.  Further back, and the cloth became a dress, the red angle a carving knife, dripping with blood.  I looked away, but the image was all around me.
            Further back.  My mother in the dress, holding the knife. 
            Further back.  My father crumpling away from her onto the kitchen tile, one hand flailing, the other pressed over the wound in his chest.
            I pressed my eyes shut, but the walled-off memory came crashing through in my mind.  The worst fight that my parents had ever had, so frightening that I decided to watch because I was afraid what would happen if I didn’t.  Arriving just in time to see my mother stab my father in the kitchen of our old apartment.  My mother wandering off, still carrying the knife, while I ran and hid in a closet.  Listening to the sound of running water.  Betsy coming home later and screaming when she found our mother’s body in the bathtub.
            Other fragments came back.  The police taking me away, making soothing gestures and saying words I couldn’t hear.  Talking with state psychiatrists who left with worried frowns.  Someone telling Betsy that I needed special care, and her having a screaming fit about us being separated.
            I crouched in a ball, clasping my knees as tears forced their way out from between my eyelids.
* * *
            She had no form, and neither did Mina, but Lily knew that her friend was next to her.  The nothingness of the mists resolved before them to show an apartment building on fire.  Mina, in full bunker gear, moved through the smoke of a hallway.  Another firefighter paced her a few steps behind. 
            Her radio crackled to life.  “Willie, Ray, watch your asses.  The structure’s fully involved.  The chief’s pulled everyone out of the fourth floor and up.”
            Mina thumbed her talk switch.  “Damned firetrap.  Hope they string up the owner.  We’re on three now.  Just two more doors to check.”
            The next apartment was empty, but they heard faint wailing from behind the last door.  Mina shared a look of alarm with her partner.
            “We’ve got one up here,” Ray called in.  “Sounds like a child.”
            The reply was instant.  “Get in and get out.”
            “Roger that.”
            They checked the door, and broke it down.  Ray checked the rooms nearest the door while Mina moved straight toward the back, calling out for the kid.
            Suddenly, the building shook, and she tumbled to the carpet.   With a roar, the ceiling came down in front of her.  Burning debris from the upper stories punched an eight-foot-wide hole in the floor.  She’d only narrowly avoided being killed.
            “Willie!” Ray shouted, running towards her.  He helped her to her feet.
            “I’m all right...I’m all right,” she said.
            “Chief’s pulling us all out, right now.  The sixth floor just collapsed.  Come on.”
            Something moved on the far side of the fiery gap.  A young boy in pajamas.
            “Oh, god no,” Mina said.  “Ray, help me get to him.”
            Ray shook his head.  “No way across that.  I’ll call for a ladder, best we can do.”  He pulled at her arm as he called in.
            “There isn’t time.  The building’s coming down.  I can get to him.” 
            The building shook again, and Ray shoved her toward the door, one hand on his axe.  “Move, Willie, or so help me I’ll clock you and carry you out myself.  That’s an order.”  With a last agonizing glance at the boy, she turned away, and they ran for the stairs.
            The building shifted sickeningly as they reached the ground floor.  Ray pelted across the lobby; Mina lagged behind, and stopped.
            “Ray, I’m going back,” she shouted, ignoring his reply, and the shouts on her radio.
            She was halfway up the stairs to the third floor when they collapsed underneath her.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 14.5]