Chapter One: The beginning of the end of the world as we all know it, or The First Encounter
When I arrive at the prison, I'm not allowed to see the Dreamer immediately. First they search me, patting me down - whatever they're convinced I'm hiding, I have no idea. Do they expect me to sneak in a weapon and try to assassinate him?
Well, then again, I suppose that isn't all that far-fetched. There are an awful lot of people out there who would probably kill the man, given his past. But I'm not one of those people, so for me this is just a pain. I have to hand over my cell phone, wallet, tape recorder; essentially, everything I carry except for the clothes on my back. I'm allowed to keep a pocket-sized pad and a pen with me, though they warn me that I'm not allowed to record anything without the Dreamer's permission. He's very strict about that, apparently.
And then they have a whole lot of questions that I don't know how to answer. Asking me if I know the Dreamer personally - I don't, I've never met him - and all sorts of things. Eventually, after skirting around the question numerous times and never vocalizing it, they finally work up the nerve to ask.
"Why did the Dreamer request you, specifically?" the man asks, hand hovering over the document he's filling out. I shrug hopelessly.
"I have no idea. I haven't gotten the chance to ask yet, sorry."
He doesn't accept my response, and peers at me closely, as if the answer might jump out if he stares at me long enough. I shift uncomfortably.
"But why you, of all people?" He finally looks away, pulling out a file instead and inspecting it. I'm tempted to peer over and sneak a look, but they'd probably have me arrested for it. "You're... You're not an esteemed journalist. You're not well-known. Not to be rude but, in the scope of things, you're nobody."
I nod a little, helplessly. I'm well aware of my insignificance, thank you for reminding me, sir.
He asks me a few more questions like that, and then they finally relent and decide that, yes, I can finally meet the man I'm supposed to be writing about now. They once again tell me everything that I already know - that I'm supposed to gather and record an unbiased account of his life, figure out his past, his motives, anything I can. I agree enthusiastically. After all, this assignment, random and obscure as it is, could very well be my big break. People are going to know about this; my name, on the lips of millions.
As I daydream about my future fame and fortune, the guards escort me down a long hallway – impossibly long, it seems, like a corridor in nightmares that stretches out before your very eyes. But after an extended, awkward period of walking with no words spoken between us, we finally reach the room. His room; the Dreamer's. Of course, I can't actually enter it and be physically near to him – not today, they told me. Secure metal bars block off the room from the hallway, and outside is a chair. I seat myself after a gesture from the guards, and notice a tendril of smoke curling out through the bars, a gray ribbon floating up towards the ceiling. As my gaze follows its ascent, a voice comes from within the cell-room.
"I won't talk with you here," the voice says, rasping slightly and unpleasantly. He hasn't been speaking much lately, from what I gather. I'm surprised for a moment until I realize that he's not addressing me, but the two guards still hovering anxiously in the hall behind me. I turn slightly in my chair to catch them shooting each other a suspicious, sideways glance before obediently retreating. Only when their footsteps fade into silence does the Dreamer talk again, and I swivel to hear him better.
"David Leclaire," he greets, after clearing the rust out of his throat. I nod slightly, uncertainly, not sure exactly what he expects out of me. Although he's chosen me as the one to speak to – the sole person who will carry his voice to the outside world – the truth is I don't have a damn idea what I'm supposed to do. He should have chosen someone else for the job, and I'm well aware of it. I'm a sorry excuse for a journalist, really; I don't have a shred of experience, and I just use that as my job title because it doesn't sound quite as pathetic as 'I have no idea what I'm doing with my life.' I intend to explain all of this to him, but the moment I open my mouth he begins to talk again, and I snap my mouth shut. "You're not allowed to take any notes while you're here, understand? No tape recordings or videos, either. Because some things I say are going to only be for your ears, and I don't want any concrete evidence, you understand?"
I do, so I tell him so.
"As for the things that are for the world's ears," he continues after a pause, "you're just going to have to remember."
I tell him that I think I can manage it.
"Good." There is the sound of movement within the cell. He stands and moves closer, one hand curling around a bar. He has delicate hands, I notice, long and slender fingers, like the hands of an artist or a musician. It's hard to see much else because there are no lights on in the cell. He leans the front of his forehead against the metal barrier, looking down at me. I get an impression of shadowy hollows under high cheekbones, a sharply angled chin. When he turns his head, the light from the hallway catches on a pair of glasses and reflects a bright glare. The burning lenses are the only clear thing within the cell. It's almost as if the bars keep the light out as well as any physical thing, unable to penetrate the deep darkness of that cell, keeping the Dreamer a shadowy, untouchable mystery.
"Now where should we begin?" He asks, and raises a dimly glowing cigarette to his lips. He breathes in and then expels the smoke in an ashen, noxious cloud that floats out and in front of my face. I pull back slightly, unable to help myself, and cough a little. No lung cancer for me, thanks. But of course, I'm not nearly brave enough to ask him to stop smoking. I can imagine it's one of the few pleasures he can have while locked away in that cell.
"Where do you want to begin?" I ask, unable to come up with a decision myself. He chuckles dryly.
"Aren't you the expert here?"
"What do people want to know? That's where you should begin. I haven't a clue myself, I've been trapped in this cell for months. What's the current buzz? Do they want to hear about the murders? Do they want to know what the Dreamer was as a child? You tell me," he says, a long tirade and not without a noticeable wave of bitterness behind it.
"Well…" I pause, thinking for a moment. "I guess everyone's interested in what you can do."
"What I can do?"
"Your… powers." I don't like referring to it that way; it sounds like I expect him to perform some sort of magic or miracle. "There's a lot of hearsay. I don't think anyone knows the difference between the truth and the rumors now. I think a lot of people embellish, blow it up like you're some kind of god…"
"Aren't I?" He asks. I'm stunned into silence, and he laughs. "I'm joking, of course." I'm not sure I believe that. "Here, let me show you." He holds the cigarette-free hand out through the bars, skin looking remarkably pale under the harsh overhead light, more like a porcelain doll than human flesh. He twitches his fingers, beckoning. "Come closer."
I glance around uncertainly, half-expecting guards to slink out of the shadows and interfere. But when no one arrives, I cautiously stand and move over, stopping just out of reach of the outstretched hand.
"Close enough for me to touch you," he instructs. I obey with a feeling of anticipation and vague nervousness, as if I somehow expect his touch to kill me - or at the very least, poison my mind and drive me to insanity. But of course, that has to just be rumor. It's... impossible.
"What color is your tie?"
"Your tie," he repeats impatiently, speaking as though I'm an idiot. "What color is it?"
"Red, of course."
"Good." He grasps the material, long fingers clinging to the edges of the tie. "What sort of things do people say I can do?"
"Oh, all kinds of things. It all depends on who you ask. Depending on who you talk to, you might be able to cure sickness like some Messiah, or bring plague like something out of hell. The stories are all so different that most people – people that haven't supposedly witnessed your work – really haven't got a clue. There's no overall image, just-"
"What color is your tie?" he asks again. I glance down at it indifferently.
"And what color was it before?"
"Well, it was blue, of course."
He sighs as if the answer displeases him, and recoils the hand, shaking his head slightly from side to side.
"You can't process it yet. It's okay – it happens with everyone. I guess people are so unused to things like these that their brain just compensates, creates false ideas… I suppose an average person's mind would just collapse in on itself if it recognized an anomaly like that. A glitch in reality – can you imagine? People wouldn't be able to cope." He sighs again. "So I guess it's for the best that you can't tell."
I don't have a damn idea what he's going on about. I don't say anything, but he seems to gather as much from my blank look. He laughs.
"What's so funny?" I ask, a little perturbed.
"Never mind. I'll explain the joke one day. Now, what do you want to talk about?"
"A lot of things."
"Of course, and hopefully we'll have time for all of them. What I'm asking is, where do you want to start?"
Hopefully we'll have time. The sentence sounds strangely foreboding, and I want to clarify what he means by 'hopefully,' but I hold my tongue.
"Let's start from the beginning."
"No better place to start, I suppose. But there isn't a lot I can tell you about the beginning – you'll have to ask someone else."
Well, that's no help at all.
"But," he adds, seeing my dismay. "I can give you the names of those people – person, rather, it's just one. This you're allowed to write down." He doesn't pause for me, so I hastily scramble to get out the pad and paper and write. "Amelia Bartholomew. She lives in New Jersey. She's the first one you'll want to talk to. Ask her for more names, she should be able to help. Come talk to me after that. I don't have a telephone, so I expect I'll have to wait until you travel there and back. See you in a few days." Just like that he's gone, retreated back into the darkness of his cell. To me, it looks almost as if he's been snuffed entirely out of existence in an instant.
"What should I ask her?" I call out, automatically speaking more loudly than I need to. Logically, I know that he's only moved back a few feet, but it seems so much more than that.
"Ask her about her son."
He refuses to talk more. I leave, and the guards silently escort me out.