We were surrounded. Standing in a dark corner of an even darker
room, crouching to avoid the bullets shot at us. Without warning,
the earth started shaking beneath us. The walls around us were
crumbling. The dusty furniture started moving slowly toward us,
as if someone had taken the world and tipped it so that
everything moved in our direction. It seemed that every single
object was trying to hit and harm us in some way. Suddenly, a
huge piece of wall flew right our way. For a split second I stood
dumbfounded and than everything came rushing back to me. I pulled
Dr. Moore out through the door-less doorway, just a second too
late. But the damage was already done; one of her legs was hit
and bleeding severely. She had fainted, leaving me alone to deal
with her, them and whatever was happening around here. How had I
gotten into this mess and, more importantly, how was I going to
The bright sunlight of a cold Monday morning found me asleep on
my desk, with a bunch of case files surrounding me. I woke up to
the smell of fresh coffee, as detective Bloome walked in with two
cups in one hand and a case file in the other. Her sweet
child-like face was wrinkled, as it was often these past few
months, and her hair was falling out of her usual tight bun. Even
though she looked depressingly under slept and unkempt, which is
how I appeared too I am sure, there was a glimmer of excitement
in her eyes. When she put the coffee on my table, I was
surprisingly alert waiting for her to speak.
"We have another case," she said as I was drinking my first of
many sips of coffee. "He did it again. I'm sure it's him. The
case has got his style and signature. But this time he was
careless; the girl is alive. He beat her, but not hard enough.
She's got some scars, but should be able to speak tomorrow. The
CSI's are investigating the crime scene right now"
"That is great news." I declared. But then I realized what I had
just said. I couldn't believe I was genuinely pleased that a
young and innocent girl was raped and stabbed,. "This means that
we might be able to close this case at last, Bloome. I'm sorry
for the girl and her family, but-"
"-if we manage to put that bastard behind bars, this will all be
worth it. Five other families will be able to finally sleep at
night, knowing that their daughter' murderer is caught and locked
"Have you spoken to the family yet?"
"Yes, called them this morning. Girl's fine, physically. She's
getting a psych check-up today. The parents said they'd do
anything to help and they're bringing her in tomorrow."
Then she sat down behind her desk and started drinking her
morning coffee. We sat in silence for a while, but I knew that
the exact same thoughts were passing through our minds. We were
thinking of the past few months, endlessly working on a case with
almost no evidence. Of not being able to get more than five hours
of sleep, not being able to go home to our families. We were both
hoping that the moment when this girl's life was ruined and taken
away from her hands, would be the moment that our lives would be
finally be given back to us.
I woke up next to Dr. Moore on a cold road. It looked as if time
had stopped around here a long while ago. And along with time,
everything else has stopped. The sky was a dull gray, typical for
an early gray autumn morning. The air was heavy. The sun wasn't
up in the sky. The ground was dry and dead. I couldn't see any
signs of life anywhere. I couldn't even see anything that was
dead. It was all empty. I turned around and saw the doctor
staring at something in the distance. For a while I studied her.
She was standing, not needing her wheelchair anymore. Her clothes
were dirty, but there still was an air of elegance and
superiority to her. Her outer appearance however, didn't truly
portray her inner self, I was sure. According to what I had
witnessed, she was quite shrewd and logical, but underneath that
she was caring and sensitive. When we first met, she had reminded
me of someone, but I couldn't put a finger on who. Now I realized
at once. Miss Marple, my wife's favorite character. Even though
Dr. Moore was only in her fifties, she had the spinster's
deceiving appearance and also her mind.
"Shall we proceed, Ben?" she smiled as she turned to me.
"Of course, Dr. Moore," although she had asked to be referred to
as Grace, probably one of those psychological tricks, I just
couldn't call her by her first name.
At last, I turned and saw what she had been looking at the entire
time. It was a city, large and deserted. The buildings were
empty; the streets had no cars or even traffic lights. Everything
was a monotonous gray. Just like its surroundings, the city
showed no signs of life, as if someone had dropped an atom bomb
which destroyed all living beings.
"What do you think detective?"
"It's exactly what I imagined the apocalypse would look like,
"I couldn't have put it better myself. Let us go in."
We walked towards the city in silence. As we came closer I
realized something that I had missed while looking at the city
before. The buildings were in a shape of a perfect circle. Each
had only one doorway on the front and one on the back, and a few
small windows. There weren't any empty, passable spaces between
the buildings. What seemed like the city was actually a
protection wall. And the only was forward was in. This place was
starting to frighten me.
"Dr. Moore, can you feel it too?" I asked.
"Feel what?" she wondered, stopping right in front of a building
and inspecting it.
I walked inside and she followed. We walked right through a
small, dirty room and to the door on the other side.
"It's just a feeling like, well, like this is the peace before
I wasn't sure if she would have agreed or laughed because what we
saw next stopped both our heartbeats. Inside the outer wall of
the buildings was a smaller wall, and inside that an even smaller
one. The entire city was like a Russian nesting doll.
"Wow," I exclaimed. But soon after that I realized that what had
scared me, wasn't what had scared the doctor. She was looking at
a crowd of humanoid figures that were coming around the walls. I
couldn't see their faces clearly, but I was sure that they
weren't humans. Mechanical copies, maybe, but definitely not
actual living humans. Their faces were blank and expressionless,
and their walks were motorizes and exactly the same. I grasped,
just like Dr. Moore did, that these things were a threat sent for
only one purpose-to eliminate us.
Around noon on Tuesday, I saw Bloome bring in Ava Sullivan, the
victim, and her parents into the police station for examination.
I went over to meet the parents and introduced myself:
"Detective Ben Thompson, I'm in charge of you daughter's case.
I'm sorry this happened to her and that we're rushing you through
this procedure, but it is necessary in this case. I'm sure
detective Bloome has told you the details."
I stopped talking, while they nodded, and took a moment to
examine them more carefully. The father was big and strong, but
by the way he was holding his wife it was obvious that he loved
her and that he cared about his family a lot. The mother was
falling apart; she looked like she'd been crying for days and
couldn't stand on her own if her life depended on it. But she was
putting up a strong front: her hair was tightly secured, her
make-up was flawless. She looked like one of those mothers who
stood strong at their weakest, just to reassure their babies that
everything is going to be all right
"Yes, yes. Detective told us that the man-Sanders was it?" said
the father with a coarse voice, breaking the silence.
"Malcolm Sanders," said Bloome who had just reappeared, having
taken the victim away.
"-that he had already done this to some other girls. And that he
killed them all. And that you think that it's him, so our little
girl just needs to tell you that she remembers him."
"Yes, sir. We only need her to point him out from a line," I
replied. "She can take all the time that she needs, but we would
appreciate it if she could do it as soon as possible."
The mother burst out into silent tears. She looked at me and
shook her head as if to say it's nothing and it's most certainly
not my fault, but I couldn't keep from feeling that way. I
noticed Bloome waving at me to go over to her.
"The girl is having some issues dealing with the situation," she
whispered when I had excused myself and walked over to her.
"What kind of issues?" I asked.
"She's developed a problem with communication. She won't talk to
anyone, not even her parents. She doesn't look at the
psychiatrist. She acts as if no one exists."
"Are you telling me that our only chance at getting this guy has
developed a severe case of autism?"
"Autism can't be developed," she started, but stopped with the
lecture when she saw my look. "But yeah, kinda."
"So, what are we going to do?" I hissed, noticing that the
victim's parents were looking at us suspiciously.
"Don't worry, I have a plan. Have you ever heard of the somnology
Thirty minutes later, we were sitting in front of an expert team
of five people, planning how to extract the information from Ava
Sullivan's disrupted mind. A lady of about fifty, in a
wheelchair, with a magnificently strong aura came in.
"Hello, I am Dr. Grace Moore, expert in somnology. I take it
you're detective Anna Bloome, Martha's daughter," she said
extending a hand to Bloome.
"Yes, and this is detective Ben Thompson, my partner."
I shook the old lady's hand and found it surprisingly strong.
This woman reminded me of some other person, but I couldn't
recall who. So I focused on the main issue -getting the victim to
"Ah, the typical strong detective type. Tall, dark and brooding.
You could be in a novel, my dear, if you would just fix those
early white hairs and take a little bit more care for you
appearance," she said, taking a quick glance at my rounded beer
"Doctor, could we please return to the case?" asked Bloome,
interrupting her, as I made a fleeting attempt to suck in my
"Yes, of course," said Dr. Moore. "Well, you did a smart thing,
young lady, when you decided to come to us. Your case would be
quite perfect for our research and you might get some results. I
hope that you are both introduced with what we are planning on
Bloome nodded and they waited for my answer, but I could only
reply with a blank stare.
"Have you seen the movie "Inception"?" the doctor asked me.
This time I could answer positively and was quite pleased with
myself, until I saw their superior and slightly pitiful looks.
"Well, the basic concept is true. Yes, we can simulate and enter
the REM stage dreams through altering the alpha wavelengths that
are emitted during sleep. And yes, we can use this method to
extract information, which is thankfully accepted in a court of
law. Everything else from the movie, you can forget because it's
exaggerated, altered or simply made-up. Hollywood, the only place
where people can take a long-lasting scientific research and turn
it into a story about a man and his life."
"I know," I agreed with something that I definitely didn't
understand, "but can we get back to the case now?" I was getting
anxious and doubtful whether this woman could help us.
"Ah, yes. Well, two of us-that means me and one of you. And I
shall prefer that stronger one," she declared looking at me. "The
two of us will enter the dream through the alpha wavelengths as I
said. We will stay there for only twelve hours, since we've
realized that any period longer than that is highly risky," she
lectured, while I shared a nervous glance with Bloome. "We will
do what we have to do and wait for our timers to go off. These
timers," she pointed to a small watch-like thing on her right
arm, "are set to go off when our time has passed. Normal clocks
don't work in dreams because the passing and perspective of time
is much more different there. The combination of the noise
created by the timer and that exterior noise, which is something
like a loud alarm clock that my team will set off, should wake us
"And if it doesn't?" I said, not genuinely concerned because what
I had seen in cinemas reassured me of my safety.
"There are some other ways of waking a person up, which our team
could try. But, so far we haven't had a case that refused to wake
up. So, we don't really know what happens if such a thing
"Couldn't we just shoot ourselves, like in the movie?" I said
regretting my words the moment they came out of my mouth since
everyone in the room, including Bloome, shot me a reproachful
"Didn't we tell you to forget the movie? You could try shooting
yourself, but we really don't know what the consequences, so
anything that happens would be on you."
"Okay," I said, feeling both humiliated and a little scared. "So,
when do we begin training?"
"That's the beauty of it; there is no training. By entering the
REM stage every night, you are prepared. We could begin any
moment the girl is able to."
"She is already in the laboratory, waiting for us," finally
Bloome spoke, obviously disappointed that she wasn't a part of
Everyone started moving towards a back door, so Bloome and I
"Sorry, kiddo. Next time is yours," I said, intentionally putting
salt on an open wound. She was just about to come up with some
witty comeback, when she abruptly stopped walking and stared
sadly at the corner of the room. What she was looking at was a
young girl, probably still in her twenties, who was obviously
detached from this world. She was physically attractive, with
long blonde hair, a heart-shaped face and big innocent brown
eyes. A few small scars and bruises could be found on her face,
neck and arms, but medically she seemed fine. However, she stared
ineptly at her fingernails as if the people around her didn't
exist. Every few seconds her mother raised her eyes excitedly
when the girl seemed to be looking in her direction, but her face
fell at closer examination. The father made an attempt to grab
the girl's attention by taking her hand, but failed se he sat
down with his face in his hands and didn't move for a long time.
I saw as every person on the team that entered the room looked at
her and felt sympathetic. Some of them attempted to catch her
eye, but all failed. Dr. Moore went over to both the parents and
the victim and formally introduced herself. Bloome followed her
example, introducing herself to the victim, but neither got any
results. Ava Sullivan didn't respond in any way.
I found no point in so introducing myself to the victim, so I
didn't. Then Dr. Moore pulled me and Bloome aside and told us the
case was ideal. She instructed Bloome to take the parents away
and explain everything to them. I, on the other hand stayed and
joined her. She turned to the rest of her team and waved her
hands to get their attention. She straightened up and spoke to
them in a formal voice:
"We may begin. You all know what to do."
And thus began my life's biggest nightmare.
I was left with an injured woman and an entire army of human-like
creatures to cope with. On the bright side, we had managed to run
through three more building-walls and I was able to see the end
of them. What I was able to see was a small circular room, at the
exact centre of the circles created by the buildings. It was a
dark room, lighted by what appeared to be a candle or some other
unstable source of light.
The bullets coming through the windows brought me back to
reality, or at least the reality of the dream. I glanced at the
timer and saw that we had six more hours to finish our mission. I
pulled Dr. Moore in my arms and ran as fast as I could without
looking back. I ran until I tripped on a small cushion, which, I
noticed, was located in the building before the last. I examined
my surroundings, but there was nothing new. Each room was just
like the others: deserted, filled with unused furniture and dust.
It looked as if no one had lived there for years, and for a brief
moment I wondered where the guards lived.
The speed and gush of air must have woken Dr. Moore because she
started crawling around looking for things to support her leg
with. I helped her and in only fifteen minutes we had improvised
with the objects around us and successfully immobilized her leg
and found two parts of lamps for her to use as crutches. I also
pushed most of the furniture to the doorways and windows to stop
the guards from harming us. I made my best effort, but I felt
that they might be able to find a way around and the fear of the
unknown consequences almost overcame my reason. So, I helped Dr.
Moore into a standing position and started towards the room in
Unfortunately, we walked quite slowly towards the darkest and
final room. A thought struck me. The entire city was actually
built around this tiny circular chamber, to protect it. All of a
sudden this little room became the centre of my existence. The
only thing I cared about was reaching it and seeing what was
inside. It was as if the solution to all our problems was in
Surprisingly enough, it was. In this room we found what we were
subconsciously looking for this entire time.
The room was medium-sized, but appeared large because of its
emptiness. There was only one small table and a chair that had
fallen down. What I had thought was light from a candle, was
actually light from an electrical bulb. But what struck me as odd
was its constant flickering. This, however, seemed to interest
Dr. Moore because she studied it for quite a while. Then she
turned to the object of our adventure. Against the wall, slumped,
sat a young girl. The drab color of her clothes seemed to blend
with the grayish walls. Her hair and face were even deader than
in real life. She hugged her knees and shivered slightly,
although there wasn't a breeze in the room. Ava Sullivan stared
at a non-existent point in the distance.
I realized that the doctor was waiting for me to take charge of
the situation. Even though I had dealt with a few raped or abused
victims in my life, I felt absolutely unprepared. Still, this was
our only hope, so I had to try.
"Ava? Ava Sullivan?" I started trying to get her attention, but
In a sudden streak of inspiration I sat down next to her, in the
same position she was and just sat there quietly for a while.
During that time Dr. Moore had sat down on the chair and was
politely staring at the light, away from us. I tried getting her
attention again, but instead of speaking this time I touched her
hand. The first few times she pulled it away, shivering more as I
touched her. But, the sixth time she didn't pull it away. I
didn't know much about autism and its treatments, but this seemed
like the best way to create contact.
"Ava, I really need your help," I said, but she didn't respond.
I turned her head to face mine. As our gazes met she struggled to
move her head, but I didn't release her until after she had
calmed down. I had forced her to notice me, now it was time to
ask her to help me.
"Ava," I repeated slowly. "Can you help me? I really need you.
We," I said pointing at me and Dr. Moore, "really need you."
Maybe I was imagining it, but I saw a glint of recognition in her
lost brown eyes, so I carried on.
"Ava, can you think of the night three days ago? Can you think of
the night when you didn't have money for the cab fare and was
walking home alone? Can you do that for me, Ava?"
What happened next was something I definitely wasn't prepared
for. Her body started shivering as if she was having a seizure.
She moved away from me and her eyes welled up. But the biggest
change wasn't in her. Our surroundings started spinning in a
infinite circle of blackness, until we could see an image. Just
like a small cinema, a story was being shown. A pretty girl, the
shadow of which lied in the background twitching, was walking
down a dark empty street. Footsteps could be heard in the
background. Slow, heavy footsteps. The footsteps of a big and sad
man,. As suddenly as it came, the picture left. It was replaced
by a happy scene; a sunny day in a park, where a father was
teaching his daughter how to ride her pink bicycle. She fell and
he fell with her. Soon they were both laughing and hugging.
I didn't understand what had happened, but I knew we needed to
somehow return to the previous memory. Dr. Moore was looking at
the girl, who had now stopped shaking, with intrigue and
fascination. She whispered something to herself, nodding her
head. I didn't quite hear what but I caught the words "strong
will" and "refuge". I came closer to them and looked straight at
"Ava, I need you to go back to the previous memory. We have to
see at least his face, so we can do something. Please, Ava,
please," I whispered, touching her fingertips.
She started shivering again and the first scene reappeared. The
man walked towards the girl and she ran. But, because of her high
heels, she tripped and fell. In just a few strides he was above
her. Unfortunately, his face was covered with a hood, so I was
unable to see whether or not it was Malcolm Sanders.
I felt Ava stop shaking before I realized the picture had
changed.This time a school-aged girl was sitting in the front
desk, with two neat pigtails on each side of her head. She was
sucking at one of them. A boy of the same age walked in with the
teacher and was seated next to her. She smiled nervously and he
waved back, although they were less than a meter away from each
I could have looked and this wonderful scene for a lifetime, but
I knew we were wasting time. Before I could do anything, though,
the doctor took initiative and finally made contact with the
"Sweetie, we just need one more picture. Let us see his face.
That's all we need. One more time and you're done. Just one last
time," she pleaded.
This time the pictures changed gradually. As the last remains of
the classroom faded, Ava started shivering again.
The man was holding the girl's arms and pushing her into a
corner. I was proud that she put up a lot of resistance,
scratching and biting and kicking him any chance she got. Then,
the perspective changed and we were looking through her eyes. Ava
started shivering worse than ever and the memories became a blur.
First kisses, graduation, birthdays, diplomas; everything was
mixed up. A collage of happy memories, all except one. And then,
right between her prom and her first car, we finally saw it. The
hood fell off the dark face and its lines and eyes were clearly
distinguishable. It was without doubt the face of Malcolm
The moment that we recognized the face, both Dr. Moore and I
jumped to act. She whispered something into Ava's ears. It
sounded like a lullaby. I just stood there awkwardly, not knowing
hat to do. After a while, the room went back to normal. Ava
"That's enough. That's perfectly, enough," cooed Dr. Moore
putting her hand around the girl.
I touched her hand, looked her in the eyes and softly whispered:
I woke up in the laboratory after what seemed like centuries. Dr.
Moore's team was looking at me and the doctor to explain what had
happened. I was grateful when she took the job of narrating our
experience, because there was something I felt I had to do.
Ava was also just waking up. She was acting like the first time I
saw her: looking at her nails, or the walls or anything but the
people surrounding her. Her parents had also fallen asleep
looking at their child. One loud cough and they were up and
bustling with questions.
"Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, I assure you everything went well," I
said. "We have the piece of information we were looking for and
it confirmed our suspicions. You can take you daughter home now."
They smiled a sad smile, took Ava's arms and guided her toward
"Mr. Sullivan," I hesitated, "take good care of her. She's a nice
"Uh, yeah. Thanks," he mumbled.
My words seemed to have confused him. His wife rushed through the
door, trying to hide her tears. He was left holding Ava all by
himself. She appeared not to have noticed anything that was going
on. But, a few seconds before they reached the door, she turned
and looked right at me. I mouthed "Thank you. We've got him," and
grinned. She turned and left with her father, but there was a
faint smile on her beautiful face.