It was mid-afternoon when I left Aaron's, which in July meant it was hot enough to grill steaks on the sidewalks. I rifled through my pockets, hoping in vain that some reverse-pickpocket had given me bus fare on the sly. Sadly, I was just as broke as I'd been when I left my apartment.
It takes about half an hour to walk to the movie theater, which was built under the mistaken assumption that the reason why the old theater had been struggling for decades was because it wasn't big and gaudy enough for people today. Whoever paid for the new one made sure that that wouldn't be the case this time around, by building a looming monstrosity, slapping two searchlights in front of the lobby (Or am I thinking of some other kind of light? The kind of light that points into the sky, and that Commissioner Gordon uses to call Batman) It was also built opposite a strip mall that only had three stores, and right on the edge of a residential area. It stood out, in other words.
Surprising absolutely nobody except its new, proud owner, the new theater tanked disastrously. There was a bustle of traffic to it for a few weeks, for novelty's sake, and then after that it limped along. It didn't even have the benefit of being the closer theater to the high school, which at least would have resulted in a steady supply of stoned teenagers skipping their afternoon classes to dry-hump in the back row. The place stayed open though, maybe just out of contrariness, and made just enough money to keep the lights on and the corn popped.
As I walked towards the theater, sweat gushing from my pours, I thought about Aaron's bad feeling. It wasn't surprising that he'd sensed trouble on the horizon, but why hadn't I? Three dreamers died in Trenton over two days had to equal some seriously twisted mojo all over town. I should have been reeling in it.
What I am, and what I do, I thought to myself. Is it a use it or lose it kind of thing? I didn't have a clue. I should have been given an instruction manual. I found myself growing irritated at that, and then at myself for caring. I wanted nothing to do with any of this, I reminded myself. I just had to give a girl a warning, and move on with my life. I could wrap it up in ten minutes. Mary Gleeson would probably be so grateful for the heroic effort I'd put into walking half an hour across town that she'd let me catch a free matinée, and I'd still have enough time to take a nap before I had to be at work. Aaron's bad feeling could be damned, for all I cared.
Even after I'd resolved that though, I kept my eyes open for anything that didn't belong. There's a knack to it that can't really be taught, though it's not unlike looking at those pictures that seem abstract until you focus in a certain way and see the hidden picture. The brain tends to gloss over things from outside our reality. People look right through them, half the time, and the other half they dismiss them as momentary daydreams. Which makes some sense, since they are technically dreams, but it's a good thing that the barrier isn't weak enough to let anything really dangerous through.
I saw nothing out of the ordinary, though. Well, okay, I was walking through the welfare section of town on a hot summer day, so I saw enough that most people would call abnormal, but it's not nice to talk shit about your neighbors. Everything I saw belonged, then.
When I got to the theater, I searched even harder though, for threats natural or supernatural. I've never scoped out a place before, I thought with a laugh. Go figure, just this morning I was pointing out that I wasn't a detective. Give me five more minutes and I'll be tailing suspects and calling women dames.
I gave up the search with a sheepish laugh, and walked into the theater to meet the dame – woman, the woman – that I was supposed to warn.
Why didn't I rehearse this? I asked myself frantically, as an avalanche of cool, conditioned air came crashing into me. Hey Mary, I experimented, so how about that weather? How's the family? Oh yeah, somebody, or possibly some thing, is maybe going to kill you, for reasons I can't explain because they're too retarded to say out loud. A coyote told me so. Yeah, this was going to go well.
The girl at the ticket booth was good-looking, though I've been told I'm a terrible judge of that sort of thing. I like a girl who looks at the world like it owes her money, and she's had just about enough of its excuses. This girl had that, not to mention a nice, tall figure, long black hair, and striking blue eyes. I approached, and if anything, the disdain in her eyes deepened. I liked her immediately.
“Can I help you?” She asked, and all the apathy in the world rested in those words. There was nothing in the world she'd rather do less than help me. She'd obviously been working the theater for a long time, or had a previous job in retail. It takes time to build that kind of monumental loathing for a customer.
“Uh,” I said, smoothly. “Is there a Mary Gleeson working here today?”
I got a slow blink, and the suggestions of a frown at that. “Maybe. Who wants to know?” Aha!, I thought to myself. Hello, Mary Gleeson.
I weighed my options carefully, and decided to just jump right in. “This is going to sound weird, probably crazy. I think you're in danger. Like, a lot of danger.” Nothing so far. “You, ah, visited a psychic recently, right? At the flea market?” I felt unaccountably warm, and hoped I wasn't flushing.
She glared at me, and reached for the telephone. I had a feeling that she wasn't calling for pizza.
“Wait, please, just hear me out,” I said. “I'm not crazy,” I added, and even I thought that made me sound nuts.
“Hey, Susan!” A cheerful voice distracted us both. A petite girl with a shaved head entered the ticket booth.
“Mary, do you know this guy?” The girl I'd assumed was Mary, evidently Susan, pointed at me. “He came in looking for you, and saying all this weird stuff.” I stood there dumbfounded. “I was just about to call the cops on him.”
I sighed. It was time to bring out the big guns. I probably should have done so from the start, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I don't have many tricks. Perhaps if I hadn't spent my life shirking my responsibilities, I might have picked up a few. I do have one interesting talent, though. “Wait,” I said again, shifting my voice into a peculiar cadence. They waited.
It's not hypnotism, but you could think of them as kissing cousins. I can speak the truth, and make it heard. This is old, old talent, stone age juju. It gives me terrible migraines afterwards, which is why I don't bust it out very often.
I caught the real Mary Gleeson's eyes. “Every night, you have vivid, incredible dreams. And you don't understand how some people don't remember their dreams, or how the details fade away after they wake up. You remember your dreams like you remember family trips and birthday parties. Am I right?”
Still dazed by my words, she just nodded in reply.
“You get a song stuck in your head,” I continued, picking up the pace a little, “and later you hear someone else humming or singing it. Or you learn a new word, and then you hear it all the time. When you're in a good mood, everyone around you is smiling, and when you're miserable people bicker around you all day.
“Your daydreams aren't like other people's, either. Most people daydream about being a superhero, or about someone they're attracted to, or about being a movie star, whatever. Your daydreams are like regular dreams. You forget where you are, what you're doing. You have no control over them. Sometimes they're nightmares, so vivid you scream. They can last for hours.”
Another nod, and Mary was starting to look scared. “You can trust me, Mary. I'm a friend, and I mean you no harm, but you are in danger, and you have to listen to me.” For the last sentence, I let the cadence fade from my voice, and they came back to themselves.
They were both still staring at me, twins in shock. Susan went to put the phone receiver back in its cradle, without looking away from me. It hit the desk instead, and she just let it lie there. Did I do it properly? I asked myself. The migraine like an icicle in my brain suggested yes, but I was out of practice.
“Wh-what,” Mary stammered. She coughed twice to clear her throat, and the glassy look left her eyes. “What kind of danger am I in?”
“Well,” I began. “The, uh, mortal peril kind.” She swallowed, hard. “People are already dead.” I realized this was probably the best chance I would ever have to use that line from Terminator, but I gave up the idea with only a little hesitation. No sense alienating her seconds after winning her trust, especially since that trust was ephemeral at best. “This is going to take some explaining,” I went with instead. “And not here. I know a safe place where we can talk.”
She thought about it for an agonizingly long time before nodding.
“I'm coming too,” Susan added in. I'd all but forgotten her. I turned to dissuade her, but the diamond hard look was back in her eyes, and I knew I wouldn't stand a chance. “She's my best friend,” she said.
“Okay, fine. You might regret this later, though.”
She laughed, bitterly. “I already do.” I liked her even more. The two women walked into the back to gather their things, and I walked to the window, focusing my vision again. Now that I was in this (temporarily, I reminded myself), my paranoia had ratcheted up, but as far as I could tell, everything outside was as it should be. Just a hot summer day, taking a walk with some new friends, one of whom is possibly wanted dead by person or persons unknown. I began to sweat again, which did not bode well for when I got back outside.
The door into the Employees Only area opened, then shut again. I turned to face them, tried to put on a look of fierce resolve. “All set?” I asked. They were. “Alright. Come on then. I'll explain everything.”
We walked out into the July sun. “Er, does anybody have bus fare?”