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 get out?
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, doctor.”
“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 the storm.”
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 department?”
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 speak.
“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 belly.
“Doctor, could we please return to the case?” asked Bloome, interrupting her, as I made a fleeting attempt to suck in my stomach.
“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 doing.”
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 up.”
“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 occurs.”
“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 look.
“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 this project.
Everyone started moving towards a back door, so Bloome and I followed.
"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
“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 the middle.
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 there.
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 failed.
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.
“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 other.
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 girl.
“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 Sanders.
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 stopped shaking.
“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 the doors.
“Mr. Sullivan,” I hesitated, “take good care of her. She’s a nice kid.”
“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.
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