Day One Hundred and Forty-eight: Dream Intervention
Cory’s dream trembled under my fingertips. I was barely even touching it and I could feel its tenuous fabric try to shrink away from me.
Dreams are like that. You ever hear someone try to describe a really weird dream that they had? They search for words, they try to make comparisons that don’t make any sense. You know: “She was my girlfriend but not my girlfriend, and for some reason she was a robot, but not like a Terminator robot but like one of those things you see in an auto plant. And made of marzipan.” Right. They make perfect sense when you’re in them, and absolutely none from the outside. The internal logic is flawless, but to someone looking in, the whole thing is like a fragile, evanescent soap bubble just waiting to go.
It takes a lot of practice to get in and out of them without breaking the whole thing down around you, too. Fortunately, I’ve had that practice. And a little bit of luck.
I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and a touch – and I was in.
The dream was pretty boilerplate, and about what I’d expect of a sixteen year-old boy. Lots of dark corners, nothing really clear except when you were looking straight at it. It was hot and everything felt sluggish – when I moved, it felt like everything happened a half second too late. I focused, and everything snapped into sharp relief. All it takes is a shift of perspective. It’s like watching a movie and reminding yourself that the guns are shooting blanks and the explosions are largely computer-generated. It takes some of the fun out of it, yeah, but if you were living in it, then it might save your life.
The school hallway brightened a bit as I reminded myself of where I was, and what I was doing there. I heard screams. The notebook in my pocket told me what I needed to know about the kid: Cory Shillinger, he was a football player and probably the best on his team. A bit of a bully, but that came with the territory. And that wasn’t why I was there. Not to punish him for anything. Just to remind him of something.
The photo I’d pasted into my notebook was all the reference I had, so I pictured a much younger Cory in my head. Dirty blonde hair, skinny, teeth that hadn’t been fixed up yet. I felt the image wrap around me like a tight corset, and when I called up a mirror on the wall, I saw that I looked at least enough like him to pass in a dream. But there was one more thing I needed.
I pulled the badge out of my pocket and pinned it to the faded Star Wars t-shirt I was wearing. The badge had three simple words on it: I AM YOU. He would see it, but not really know what it was. It was a symbol, and nothing more, and it would be all that was really necessary to convince Cory of who I was supposed to be. Honestly, I could have decided to look like Mark Twain or Marilyn Monroe or Jabba the Hutt, but I figured it would be best not to push my luck.
The real Cory came barreling around the corner a moment later, and I banished the mirror. He was running feverishly from something that I’m sure was really horrifying. The way I saw it, he was running from symbols that I saw as just floating bundles of words. “Terror.” “Humiliation.” “Pain.” “Danger.”
The usual stuff.
Cory himself was gorgeous, or at least mostly so. He had the body of a teenage quarterback – all lean and tight and muscled from head to toe. And I do mean head to toe – all he was wearing was a pair of boxers, and even those were flickering in and out as I looked at him. His skin was breaking out in sores that pulsed and opened and closed and moved about his body. His hair was falling out, and as he screamed, I saw that he was missing teeth.
Very impressive. Poor boy was pretty much getting the grand package of nightmares. I cracked my knuckles. Time to get to work.
I put myself in his path and held out a hand. A great wind blew in from behind me, picking up papers and books and even the odd desk or two. It blew from me towards Cory, and bent in a tight circle around him to blow the symbolic monsters away from him in great tatters and rags. Cory screamed and wept as the wind blew past him and howled and shrieked horrible things that only he could hear.
I lowered my hand and the wind snapped off. Cory dropped to his knees, holding his head in his hands. I let him sit like that for a moment, or however long that was for him.
“Hey. QB,” I said. “You gonna sit like that all night?”
He looked up, and I could tell that he’d be a heartbreaker if he just had clear skin and all his teeth. I shook my head. “This isn’t gonna work,” I said. “Stand up.”
He looked at me dumbly.
“C’mon, QB. Stand up.” I crooked a finger and he stood on unsteady legs. I raised a hand to his chest and laid a hand against his skin. His form rippled for a moment, and all the deformities and disfigurement faded away. “There you go.” I patted his chest, and I’m not ashamed to say that I let it linger there for a moment. “You… um, you might want to think about wearing some clothes.” I glanced down, and so did he. “But you can take your time.” I winked. “If you want.”
He didn’t. An eyeblink later and he was wearing his football uniform, pads and helmet and all.
“All right,” I said. I shrugged and turned around. There were a couple of chairs there that hadn’t been there before. “Have a seat,” I said. “And take that helmet off. It makes me uncomfortable.” As he sat, I took another button out and pinned it to the football uniform that I seemed to be wearing as well. Gotta be more careful about that. This button read YOU TRUST ME. Manipulative? Maybe. But one does what one must.
I sat and he sat as well. We stared at me for a moment, then licked his lips and said, “Who are you?”
“Good,” I said. “You can talk. You’d be surprised how often that fails in here.” I handed him a drink in a cup labeled RELAX. He took it and blew over the top. Hot chocolate, probably. When he’d taken a sip, and the pads deflated from under his uniform, I started to talk again.
“Cory,” I said. “You’re in trouble.” I gestured over to one corner of the room, which had gone from being a school hallway to a bare stage. A spotlight clicked on and illuminated a strange tableau. Cory, holding another boy close, their arms wrapped around each other in mid-fall. Look at it one way, and it was the middle of a brawl – the other boy’s feet were about to come out from under him, and I could see Cory getting ready to pull an arm out for a punch. Cory’s face was a mask of rage, the other boy’s torn by fear.
Seen another way, though, and they were holding on to each other out of desperation. Cory was trying to hold the other boy up, his arms tightening around his waist and they both slowly dropped to the floor. The anger on Cory’s face warped to pain and anguish. The other boy’s face was still overwhelmed with fear, but it was altogether a different kind now.
We both looked at it, and then I turned to Cory. “So,” I said. “It looks like there’s something you might need to talk about.”