A little fucked up, I know, but I realized that the first person narrative I was trying for just wasn't going to work. For one thing, there've already been several deaths in the story, but they were all taking place off-screen, so to speak. If I weren't trying to hit a fucking insane deadline, I'd rework the earlier chapters. Instead, I'll make the switch to third-person now, and correct the earlier stuff either in December or if/when I hit the 50, 000 word mark.
Some bars are for socializing in, and other bars are for drinking in. The Barrel was the latter. The radio never left the classic rock station, and the regulars never left the video poker machines. Aside from a poker game on Friday nights, the back room was almost constantly deserted.
If someone was looking for an overweight, blue-collar, alcoholic divorcee, they would check The Barrel, but in the hunt for two college-age, attractive women, it wasn't likely to make the list, so Luke figured it was an ideal place to lay low. To be safe, he sat himself where with a lean forward, he could see the front door, but would be otherwise out of sight.
He and Susan were drinking from a pitcher of draft, but Mary had opted for a glass of wine, in spite of Luke's derisive snort. It hadn't come out of a box, but from the twist of her mouth after her first sip, it might as well have, and after that she set it aside and eyed it with distrust.
Luke's paranoia had been contagious, and the trip to the bar had been largely silent. The building tension, though, was palpable. His performance at the theater had earned him a very slight measure of trust, but that was fading, and had taken a sharp blow when it turned out that his cunning plan was to bring them to a dive bar.
He took a long swallow of beer, and began with a sigh. "Okay, so thousands of years ago, some guy sees a tree in the dark, and thinks it's a monster. Or maybe he had a bad dream, or ate a strange mushroom, or licked a passing toad. However it happened, he thinks that he saw a vampire, or a goblin, a werewolf, whatever. Then he goes back to his tribe, and he's like, 'hey everyone, you won't believe this shit'."
"But then everyone *does* believe that shit. And the word spreads about this monster that Ogg saw in the woods. And then the children are told to be careful when they're in the woods, because there's a god-damned monster in them, and they believe it, and eventually it's common knowledge that the monster exists. And over time, the story gets embellished, and more people think they see the monster.
"That's pretty much folklore in a nutshell. Here's where my story might get a little hard to swallow. Are you familiar with the concept of consensual reality?" The women shook their heads. "Shit. Basically, the idea is that the world is the way it is, largely because we believe it to be so. Like, the sky is blue because everyone believes that the sky is blue."
Mary looked skeptical, and Susan blurted: "That's retarded."
"Maybe, but for the sake of argument, let's say that it's true. So we've got this monster story, right? And over time, the growing consensus is that it's true, that the monster is real. That it exists, not in theory, not in a Jungian analysis sense, not as a dream or a manifestation of our fear of death, but as flesh and blood and talons, and ripping people open like a fat guy tears into a bag of chips."
"So if everyone, or at least most people, believe that the monster is real, then one day, there is a real monster. And the next tribe over have a legend about a giant, and the guys across the river believe in a murderous shadow, and the ones who live ear the caves believe in some shit too terrible to describe, and all that is real too. And so it goes, until the world is overflowing with ghosts and goblins."
Luke looked back and forth at the women, trying to gauge their mood. Neither had run off screaming about the crazy man, which seemed like a good start, but it didn't look like he had made any converts yet.
"Uh, if all that is true, why aren't there monsters anymore?" Mary asked. "Not to mention elves, angels, and greek gods?"
"Good question. First of all, we developed the capacity to tell the difference between the things we've dreamed and the things that actually happened to us. That probably cut down on a lot of it. And from there, we started writing off all the weird old stories as dreams and flights of fancy.
"We created a division between the waking world - our plain old vanilla reality, and the dream world. And we put all the shit that we didn't want to deal with into that other world."
"Problem solved," Susan said, with a mocking sneer.
"Nope," Luke countered. "Because of Jewish golems. Ever heard that old story? A Jewish mystic builds a golem and sets him to doing certain tasks, but eventually the golem strays, develops a will of his own, becomes rebellious. It's a common theme - Mickey brings the brooms to life but can't control them, or Skynet becomes self-aware and tries to destroy humanity. In this case, in all cases, maybe, we dreamed our gods and monsters into existence, but couldn't dream them out. You can start an avalanche with a yell, but once it's coming down the mountain, you can't stop it with one."
Mary slammed her hand down on the table. "What does any of this bullshit have to do with me?"
Luke heard the front door of the bar open, glanced over his shoulder, and whipped his head back, terror in his eyes. “There. That guy that just came in.” They leaned over the table. “Look at him carefully.” He spoke in a strangled whisper. “He's wrong. Can't you see it? The angles of his face, the way his clothes drape over him, the look in his eyes. That is not a man. Do you see it?”
It took a couple seconds. The atmosphere around the table changed, the air felt crisp and electric, like being outside just before a summer storm. He watched Mary go pale, and Susan hissed “Holy fuck, what is he?”
Luke laughed. “He's just an ugly guy.” Mary blinked, and the charge in the air vanished. “You,” he said, wagging a finger at Mary, “are the girl that sees the monster in the woods.”
She glared at him. “What did you just do?”
“I just used the power of suggestion. You did the rest. You're what's called a dreamer. That consensus reality I mentioned before? It's more of a republic than it is a democracy, and you're an elected official.”
“I don't get it.”
“Back to that tribe I was talking about. At one time or another, all of them probably saw something that spooked them. Living in the woods, at night, everyone's imaginations must have played tricks on them. But they either dismissed them, or when they talked about them, nobody was convinced. You, and people like you, your thoughts sway people.”
She rolled her eyes at Luke. “I'm, what, a telepath?”
“In a way, I guess. You can't read minds, and you can't directly control them. It's just that your imagination, your dreams, are contagious. People take their cues from you. When you thought that the guy at the door was something else, Susan did too. I might have too, if I didn't know I was messing with you.” Luke paused for a minute, then continued in a subdued voice. “Three people, who a pretty reliable source told me were also dreamers, are already dead. You might be next.”
“Why?” She asked. “Even if I believe all this, or any of it, what does it mean for me? Even if I'm supposed to be some kind of dreamer, why would anyone kill me for that?”
“I don't know,” Luke admitted. “I can't figure out the motivation either. Killing all the dreamers in town is a stupid move, it'd make Trenton a dead zone.”
Susan interrupted. “What does that mean?”
“Well, I mentioned how we sort of divided things into the real world and the unreal world? Yeah, well, not everyone is a fan of that idea, especially on the other side of the line. There have been attempts to reconcile the two worlds before. My instinct says that the killings are another, but I can't figure out how.
“People like Mary are the first domino in a chain. Make them believe something, like that all the monsters and whatnot are real again, or that there isn't a barrier between our world and theirs, and it will spread, like herpes in a free love commune. Kill them, though, and you make that impossible. Then you've got to change hearts and minds directly, one at a time. It's taking an already gargantuan task, and amping up the difficulty to eleven.”
Mary took a deep breath. “I don't know if I believe any of this. But... I don't want to die. I'm not sure why I trust you at all, but I do, about that at least. If I'm in danger, what do I do?”
Luke shrugged. “I don't know. I'm just the messenger in all this.”
“So you're just abandoning her – us?” Susan asked, harshly. “Thanks a fucking ton for that.”
Luke stared down at the table, a sheepish look on his face. He tried to meet their eyes, but couldn't. “Fine,” he said, defeated. “I know a guy. He might be able to help you. Daniel Lawson. Father Daniel, actually.”
“You want us to find Jesus? Great plan.”
“Daniel's more than just a priest. He's a part of all this, the esoteric stuff. He should be able to help.”
“And what about you?” Mary asked. “You're a part of all this 'esoteric stuff' too, right? Are you another dreamer?”
Luke shook his head. “More like, I'm another dream. Kind of.”
Susan gave a derisive laugh. “Could you be any more vague?” She stood up from the table. “Come on, Mary, fuck this noise. The guy's useless.” She gave Luke a hard look. “Give us your priest's address, maybe he won't be a huge asshole.” She dug a pen and an envelope out of her purse, and handed them to Luke. He wrote the directions to Father Daniel's church on the back, trying to ignore the hostile stares directed at him, and the gnawing guilt in his stomach.
He stayed mute, eyes downcast, until they started to leave. “Uh, be careful.” He said, lamely. They both gave him a scornful look. “The barrier I was talking about. Some things can get through. Little stuff, mostly, but one of them could be murdering people. If you see something that looks or feels wrong, if you get the sense that something is unbelievable, or doesn't belong, trust the feeling. And run.”
Mary nodded, curtly, and Susan answered, venomously: “Yeah. The only unbelievable thing so far is how much of a douche bag you are.”
They walked out of the bar, and Luke poured himself a beer, angry with himself for agreeing with her.
Across town, Aaron Cole was closing up his booth, Luke's visit nagging at him. I shouldn't have pushed about the reading, he thought to himself. I know how much he hates anything that smacks of fate and destiny.
The front door opened and shut behind him. He sighed, looking at his watch. So much for clearing out early. He turned around, trying to look wise and mystical, rather than tired and annoyed. “I've been expect- Oh, fuck!”
The thing at the door was not a man, though it wore the look of one, and not very well at that. It looked like a poor artist's drawing of a man – overlong limbs, an uneven, left-skewing face, eyes like black holes. It wore a crumpled, filthy suit, several sizes too small. It grinned at him, displaying a wicked jaw of rusted steel teeth.
“You know,” Aaron said, mustering his courage. “Killing me is just going to piss him off.” He noted, with savage pride, that he managed to sound calm, even bored, as if hideous things accosting him at work was an everyday occurrence. When the thing didn't lunge at him immediately, he could almost believe he was going to survive. He sat back at his desk, and reached under it. His hand found the knife taped to the bottom, and dropped he placed it in his lap, and then pulled out his cards.
“Care to have your fortune read?”
The thing sat across from him. “No cards,” it said, with a voice like a knife on violin strings. “Toss bones.”
Aaron shrugged. “I can't. I don't have any.”
The thing reached into its breast pocket, and threw finger bones onto the table. They were red-stained, and clumps of flesh still stuck to them. Aaron gagged, and made to stand up, but the thing grabbed and held his forearms. Aaron could see his pale, shaking reflection in the thing's eyes. He could also see his death, if he was not very, very lucky.
The thing held him until he stopped struggling, and then released him. “Toss bones,” it repeated.
He took them in his hands, and thought that he was only imagining that they were still warm. “I saw a bone guy at work, once. His had runes carved into them.” The thing bared its vile teeth at him. “Fine,” he said, sharply. “I'm just saying, I probably won't get any readings from this.” He tossed down the bones.
It was almost true. For a few seconds, they were just bones sitting on the table, and then he saw the pattern emerge. With a scream, he jumped back from the table, clutching the knife as the thing vaulted towards him, roaring. He slashed outwards with the knife, and it left a deep slit in one of the thing's palms. It reeled back, black blood spilling out onto the carpet. That cost sixty bucks, Aaron thought, hysterically.
The pool of blood smoked. The knife in his hands was growing hot, and the blood that had splashed onto his hand felt like acid. Aaron lunged towards the thing, knife pointed at its heart, but it writhed out of the way, and bit down into his shoulder, tearing off a wide chunk of flesh. Aaron screamed and tried to swing the knife back, into the thing, but it moved like a snake, and then it was behind him.
Fingernails like razor-blades tore long furrows down his back. He fell forward, collapsing onto the desk, and scrambled over it, dropping the knife.
He kicked backwards, connecting with the desk, and heard it smash into the thing. His hand flew to the door, and wrenched it open.
Another of them stood there. The two could have been twins. They laughed in unison, and Aaron let out a broken sob. Just as I saw it, he thought sadly. Stupid fate.