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In His Dream He Plummets

by Wess Foreman

Smashwords edition copyright 2012 Wess Foreman (wessforeman.com) Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

1.

In his dream he plummets through the thin crust of reality to find another reality. A world turned upside down and dissolving rapidly from within. A world in chaos. A world on the brink of destruction. He runs through bleak riotous streetsmobs of men forming up in packs among the rubble using whatever they find as weapons like so many villagers with shovels and pitchforks and bricks because in his dream the world is drowning in its own destruction. All around them the ground is ripped open forming great fissures and chasms in the earth's crust where toxic fumes spew forth and volcanic ooze threatens to erupt and blot out the sun and choke the very atmosphere with it. And powerless the people cry out in fear and not knowing what else to do they rage in anger against each other in the streets and fling their bodies into the fires like so many loose bundles of kindle-wood. And only he can save them. In his dream he can fly and he can see beyond the city to other lands countrysides and oceans and mountains and other populations of the worldand he can see everywhere is in ruins and smoldering and lost. Strange creatures are emerging from unexplored depths of blue waters and from dark forests deep and beneath the crust of the earth and they turn against the humans and in their great numbers threaten to overtake them and cast them into the gathering darkness below. And only he can save them because in his dream he alone is all-powerful. And he can save them if he wanted to. But he wonders if he should save them. Wonders if he should instead just let them all perish. To see the earth still spinning. Barren but still orbiting its yellow sunthat bright bonfire of hydrogen and helium ablazestill circling around and around. Planet earth. Going on and on for eons into the future. Unsympathetic to the small cries of human anguish that once washumanity's one true note of unityand he shares in the planet's lack of sympathy. He sees them in much the same light useless bits of bone and flesh pouting and shouting out in their fear and hatred and meaningless longings. A furious mound of fire ants disrupted and angry and useless. And life going on without them. Leaving them to their mortal fate. Here but a moment and then put out again. Extinguished. Life yet returning to the planet, one green shoot after another. Sprouting forth from tiny seeds up from black ash and detritus and biologically rich compost created from such historic death. And in the end the dream runs out and he returns through the Looking Glass waking up to his own reality, to the life he remembers before sleeping. And nothing thankfully has changed. Nothing but his own knowledge of the dream upon waking. His own fading memory of humanity's ultimate demise.

And he wonders if there is something wrong with him to conjure such awful dreamsof things unreal and grotesqueand he is reminded of the world around him, his own reality, which has itself become unreal and grotesque and maddeningly stale. Jake Plesco sits in silence letting the car's a/c vents blow cold air all over him. His skin has grown numb to the sensation. He has not moved in a long time; he does not know how long it has been; he does not know if he will ever move again. An up-tick of wind outside the car makes a scattering of precipitation on the windshield but he takes no notice. He looks beyond and through the raindrops into the gathering gloom out therewhere he was once expecting someone in a dark hoodie to appear and approach his vehicle from the city side of the street; he gazes now out into the liminal space between this world and the other. Lost in a trance. In a deep darkness. His cellphone pulses in the passenger seat beside him. He jerks out a hand and angles the phone up to read the caller IDEd Morgan head of securityhe silences the ring and drops the phone back to the seat. Ed has called four times in the last hour. Jake has been avoiding himEd Morgan is good at talking people off ledges and this is the biggest ledge since the death [the death, that's all he can bring himself to call it]. And it wouldn't be a big deal to answer the phone and talk to Ed Morgan but his mind is beginning to unravel. He can feel the intricate tendrils of reason beginning their escape. Their separation one from the other. And his mind has been doing that a lot lately. It's a real job hazard. He feels the car interior shrinking in on him and finds it harder to breath with each and every passing moment and he wants desperately to get outneeds to get outthe drizzle-coated windows refract the light from the street lamp overhead and make it impossible to see out and the woods along the road on his side are dark and ominous and he thinks he sees movement out there but cannot make out what it is if anything and yes something is definitely moving seemingly closer and he strains his eyes to see the slinking thing but cannot make out the irregular shapes and patterns and A sudden rap at the window gives him a start and he cowers behind an upturned arm. He is breathless and sweating through his shirt; his heart beats a rhythm too vigorous to follow. The car's a/c motor sighs and releases another wave of freon-chilled air upon him and he feels the shock of it on his skin. He sits up straight. There comes another rap at the window beside him and he can hear the muffled voice of someone beyond the glass calling to him Hey man open up. You here for me mister? Hey dude you okay in there? At length Jake lets down the electric window to find a skinny black kid with a chin beard shifting on his heels, pivoting his head about as if his life depended on not being seen with this white dude from

the citytwo syrupy white orbs for eyes stained with hints of yellow-brown around the edges cutting back and forth in the dark. Jake avoids looking directly into these eyes, staring instead at the thick chain of white gold around his neck and the red nylon neck straps of the jacket and the mocha-brown skin of his neck. The kid's voice is hoarse and too throaty and Jake thinks maybe he's older than he appears to be. Two hundred man. You got the money? Two hundred? Come on I don't have all night dude. You interested or not. I was told it would be m-more like one-fifty. The price is two hundred man I don't know what nobody tol' you. Jake thumbs through a wad of bills within his wallet keeping his hands low and in shadowselfconscious about doing so in front of this strangerdistrustful of this kid and of this neighborhood. And this reality; he does not trust this reality. You got it? Hurry man I got to go. I got it. I got it here. One sec. And Jake hands over ten of the fifteen twenty-dollar bills he brought with him. The kid folds the bills into a wad and jettisons it down the front of his jeans and says It all heretwo hundred? Jake nods and says That's it. The kid drops a heavy paper bag in through the window without looking and keeps a roving eye on the street and says Alright; alright. Have a nice dayhear? And I don't want to see you around here with that mister. Thanks. Jake thumbs open the paper bag and glimpses the black-taped handle of the thing withinit is enoughand he closes the bag rolling it tightly in on itself and stuffing it deep under the passenger seat. By the time Jake rolls up the window again the kid is long goneJake looks for him but does not see him anywhere. He lowers the car's a/c and puts the car in gear and drives away into the cold damp lonely world. Into the only reality he's ever known. One that is rapidly changing into something unrecognizable. Into something unspeakable. He thinks of her. When she was alive. Months ago. Alive and happy then. Happy in her own way which wasn't the same as other people's happy but it was enough for her. He made her smile then hadn't

he? Made her smile and for her that was saying something for she did not smile easily. They walk along the wide sidewalk and breath in the night air. The black currents of the river flow to their left and an empty street lies to their righttired old buildings beyond the street and beyond and above the buildings, wisps of smoke and steam rise silently into the blackest of skies despite an almost full white moon in clear display above them. He speaks to her in excited bursts for they are thoughts that must be spoken aloud. He jokes with her to get her to smile. To make her happy. Claudia. No one's named Claudia are they? Not really. Where are you from? What do you mean no one's named Claudia! California? East coast. And up north. We moved around a lot. Ah. Your parents must have named youwhere are they from. She stifles a smile and looks away from him and when she looks back she laughs. It is a soft and brief laugh. Almost melancholic in its tone but it is a laugh. My father's family came from Germany. My mother is Canadian. The last bringing out an otherwise dormant accent to her voice. That makes sense. And how about you? Jake is not so unusual. I'll change it though. For you I'll change it. Jake is a good American name. Don't change it for me. He smiles at her and she returns the smile but the smile is mild in his estimation; he thinks perhaps she is not used to conversation, not this casual sort of conversation anyway; or perhaps there are other things on her mind. Perhaps she is not as romantically engaged with the aura of the moment as he is. Arm in arm they stroll. They stop to watch the river which can't quite be seen except where the big ships move by and in the wake of those big ships where the moonlight is disturbed, shining back at them in thin moving ribbons of reflected light. There are street lamps and other lights all along the other bank. Up and down the river. Lights winking at them in irregular intervals like fireflies in a rural land. A cool breeze lifts up out of the ravine and brings to them the rich river smells which tell the true character of the landthe true landthe land beneath and long before the great concrete foundations of the city. She rests her head softly upon his shoulder and he can feel her there. Through his clothing. The

warmth of her. Her lilac scented hair. Her thoughts floating out into the ether. It's so peaceful. Mm. A moment passes. If I ever want to kill myself remind me of this location won't you? Don't talk like that Claudia. It's not funny. I'd throw myself in and sink to the bottom. I'd jump in after you. You'd do that? I used to practice holding my breath underwater. How long could you go? I don't know. A long time. That was a long time ago. I can't swim. No? I've triedit wasn't for lack of trying. I'd have thought you could. I can float on my back quite well. Well good for you. She squeezes his arm and he laughs. They huddle close together and continue their stroll along the empty street. The sleeping city is restless. Tossing in its slow slumber. Out of the night a leather-clad man on a hot scooter rumbles up a side street and makes a careless turn. A small foreign car squeals its brakes and beeps its insufficient horn at the young rider then drives away into the night. Jake wonders to himself if they will witness a horrible accident here once he wakes up from this deep sleep. Once this dream, this paused frame of reality rolls on and this moment occurs once more but without second chances and without a net to catch the fallen. This is the truth he keeps from her. The truth she must not know, for how could she believe him and how could this go on. This one perfect night together. The starting point is always the samein both realities he wakes from the deep sleep and looks aroundbut there is always a slight peeling away which occurs in this reality, this alt-reality. Slight and ever increasing as time goes on. And the longer one goes the less alike the two realities become. Chance and other forcesmysterious and minuscule and unidentifiedpress their weight upon the world and it could be that the scooter and the car collide next time. Could be that Claudia and he do not have this evening together at all. But that is the job. That is why he is here. To create a better world. To

get a glimpse of the future and from it create a better world. She watches his fingers. They twitch and make intricate paths around each other on the table before him. He watches them tooboth of them in silence watching Jake's stubby fingers bend and twist around each other incessantly. He notices the silence then and looks around the room as if to spot what's not making so much noise. The silence is brief, interrupted by the sound of her chair moving beneath her, scraping as she gets up from the table to busy herself in the kitchen putting away clean silverware and flatware and bright plastic cups. Jake tucks his hands away and leans back in his chair still jittery and nervous about everything wrong with the world. The crisp night air still clinging to his skin like it won't wash off and his clothes still cold and damp to the touch. He scratches at a patch of dry skin on his arm and runs both hands through his hair then brings them back to the table. Fingers reuniting and moving again writhing together on the table in front of him. Of a sudden they both speak at once. A blurt of lost sentence fragments that neither understands. The room returns to silence. Jake relents You first. I was sayingyou haven't been yourself lately Jake. You've changed. You know that? We've both changed. You think there's What? Jake resets, pauses a beat. How does one explain one's madness? One cannot. You believe in hope? You think there's hope in this world? Hope for us I mean. She closes the silverware drawer abruptly and walks back toward him. He studies her face as she comes into the lightwaiting for her answer, waiting for some sign of hope. He sees nothing in her face. It is somber and closed and distant. Devoid of the youthfulness it once possessed. Her eyes are cold; they look dead to him. And she does not stop to answer; there is no answer for him. She breezes byright through himwithout saying a word and takes with her all the warm air in the room and Jake shivers thinking he's just seen a ghost. But he hears or thinks he hears her voice, a whisper in the other room in the dark We used to believe in hope, didn't we. He wakes up in a fog. He does not know where he is or what day it is. Twelve month loop. He remembers that much. Twelve months in this deep sleep, this alt-reality. He blinks his eyes. He is in his

bedroom lying face up on his bed. This is home. He is home. He reaches an arm out testing the mattress beside him. It is empty and cold. She is not here with him. Twelve month loop. She is not here. He is here alone. He sits up in bed and takes in his surroundings. The nightstand. The tall dresser. The bedside alarm clock says it's just after seven. The door to the bathroom stands open and there is only darkness within. Sunlight filters through sheer curtains and casts an otherworldly glow across the bedroom, igniting the room with its brillianceit used to be a comfort to him. He slides out of bed and calls to her. He splits the curtains to peer out but the light is too bright for his swollen eyes to take in. He blinks at stars and retreats from the window calling out her name as if forgetting that she is not here. Forgetting that he has already decided she is not here. He is here alone. In another part of the house he hears a tinkering of dishes. He calls out her name. Questioning the otherwise silent house. He steps into the hallway. Moves into the living room. The front door is open he feels the draft upon his bare legsand the living room is in disarray. A lamp is overturned. A sofa cushion is ripped open and its stuffing is scattered about. A picture frame is smashed and askew on the wall. Her name leaps to mind but he does not speak it. She is not here. She did not do this. Another small sound: a fork or spoon slipping on a plate as if someone were dining casually in the kitchen. He calls out. Who is there? Hello? The sound stops. There is a crash then a scrambling of tiny claws on the linoleum floor. A blur of fur and chattering. A mammal the size of a large house cat scampers out of the kitchen and makes a line for the open front door. His heart jumps in his chest even as his mind recognizes the masked form of a juvenile raccoon making its hasty exit chattering the way they do. His heart subsides. He closes the front door but it falls from its hinges and lands in a heap of ashes and the house is no longer there and he is in a burned-out neighborhoodeverything coated in ash and black soot and bluecast smoke mixing with the fog of morninghe chokes on the smoldering air and catches himself before calling out her name again. She is not here. The world has changed like beforelike in the reoccurring dreambut this time he has no powers of far-sight and no ability to fly or to save anyone or anything. Everything around him is dead and smoldering and he is lost and alone. He walks out into the street and every step breaks through the thin black crust of reality. A crow calls out from somewhere and the sound echoes in his head. He hears the wind pick up and feels the sting of dust in his eyesblinking and wiping away and shielding them with an upraised arm. The clouds are gathering above him and there is no sun despite the brilliance he

experienced moments agothis is how dreams work, he thinks, they don't usually make senseand beyond the dark clouds he imagines the eyes of an enormous god looking down at him. Watching him as if he were some reptile in a terrarium-worldhe alone in the world now. Alone and weary and mourning her loss as if it had just occurred. He shouts up at the heavens What do you want of me!? And there is no discernible difference in the movement of the cloudshe half expects them to move differently somehow, perhaps to part or grow angrier in their movement. But the clouds are resolute in their shifting and sorrowful churning and he is shouting at an unhearing or uncaring god else there is nothing there at all. He imagines he is the last of humanity. Everyone else is gone or turned to ash. Everyone and everything. And he is stuck in this dream and does not know what to do about it but experience it and eventually wake from it. And try try try to make some sort of sense of it. Again a crow calls out from somewhere unseen. It's brash voice exaggerated in its texture like the crumble of chalk interrupting an otherwise clear intonationcayaaw it says in distant mockery. Cayaaaw-cayaaw and it is an angry voice and it echoes in his head above all else. Caw-cayaawlike chalk but angry and he wonders if this is the voice of the watching god. And maybe this is all there is to say about his intrusion here. Maybe this is all the wisdom he has saved up for himself in his life and all the wisdom he will receive from this dying planet. And he shakes his head to get the echoes out but this does not seem to help. Caw-cayaaw! Caw! Caw-cayaaw! There is a hissing sound at his feet. It is the sound of tears hitting one by one by one into the redglowing embers of the ground. Tears from his eyes falling and turning to steam. She is gone. She is not here. He is alone here. That is the truth of it. That is the meaning behind the insistent crow-calls. She is not here. He is here alone. This is his mantra. Caw-cayaaw! Caw! Cayaaw! She is not here. He is here alone. He must not forget. He wakes up from the dream and feels a deep sudden emptiness in his heart. He reaches for her the sheet beside him is cold. She is not here. He is here alone. Such sweet delusion, he thinks, while it lasts. And for the moment he is present and whole and does not fear the unseen and does not see her here with him. Alive and living with him. And in his head he knows she is long dead. He can think clearer now as well. And for the first time in a long time he is a complete person and he wonders at the feelings of loss and guilt within himself and thinks that maybe it was better before. When she was with himor seemed to bewhen he thought she was with him.

Then it was easier. A simpler world where his choices and feelings were isolated and limited. This is much harder. Closer to the bone. As the fine powder-dusting of reality settles in around his life. It is always reality to those living itwho said that? She is not here. He is here alone. He hears the shower turn off. Hears her drying off in silence. He loves her. He does. That's why he keeps her safe and why he keeps her out of his reports and his weekly logsnot that anyone would care or be able to do anything about it. It is his decision. His choice. She walks into the room drying her hair with a towel and he watches her. She is his reality. She glows pink and her skin is translucent and new from the scalding shower and her sullen eyes are downcast, all the while thinking some distant sorrowful thought. Her hair has grown long overnight; it falls over her breasts in one flowing mane of silken brown. She moves across the room in half light knowing he watches her but not acknowledging him; not even to say good morning. This is just her way. She is naturally distant and melancholic and unaffected by her reality. It is the thing that drew him to her at the beginning, the thing that keeps him enthralled. Even now. Even now. She pulls on a t-shirt and Jake rolls out of bed and pulls on a pair of jeans. I'm going to be late for work. You go in today? Progress reports are due. Why do they call it that. What? Like you're in grade school or something. I don't know; it's just a name Like you're in preschool. I guess it's just a name they picked for itsomebody. It's demeaning. It's just a namewhat should they call it. Not that. I'll call after work. You're not coming home after? I've got that thing after work.

What thing? That thing, that mentor training thing. It's like you're in preschool. I've got that afterward and that might run long today. You'll be home late. I'll call. He dresses and they eat breakfast togethercold cereal and coffee and a bit of The New York Times. She clears her throat as she reads her sectionsparts about the wars about malnourished kids and families torn apart. She reads all the news about what's wrong with the world and clears her throat from time to time as if in quiet defiance of such atrocities but she reads it all nonetheless. Jake scans the headlines mostly. He's gotten good at scanning for major events in the world. This is part of the job. There are other newspapers stacked on the table as well but he hasn't time to read this morning. Jake spots a headline touting a major upset in the world of major league baseball. Maybe I should place a bet. Right. You're right it doesn't work that way. Mmm. Doesn't work that way. I'll be late; I've got to go now. You'll call. I will call after work before the thing this afternoon. Be careful. It's not that bad around here. Don't worry. It's bad everywhere Jake. I'm late. He walks out the door without looking back. Into the wide world. Leaving the ghost of her behind. She is not here. He is here alone.

2.

This happened days before the world exploded. Days. And though I can't remember what happenednot now anywayI know the world did not explode. I know life as we know it went on pretty much unchanged and the life that was headed for extinction was saved. Permanently altered. We'll never see that life again. We're living a new one now. A better one. Tyler Brann pauses for effect and slips off the first of a stack of index cards. Burning it to the bottom of the deck and straightening the cards in his hands. He stands at the podium before a small gathering of close cropped military men. An attentive crowd. Serious men with serious tasks ahead of them. He continues speaking. He is a born speaker and the tiny microphone on the podium is amplifying his voice only slightly. Time is not like everybody thinks. It's not a candlestick burning one end to the other. For one thing there is no such thing as the futureno unburned candle wick awaiting the flame. There is only the present. The now. He pauses again lingering on the last word like it matters. Like it holds some weight. And the past is not a concrete thingit is but a memorythe accumulated knowledge of the present we've already experienced. It gets complicated with physical things like movementgravity and inertia and acceleration and growth and the likenot to mention the process of aging and our own memory of things. Learning and so on. Witness the dichotomy: LIFE is not stagnant but TIME is. Each moment a self-contained snapshot. But I'm getting ahead of myselfI don't claim to understand it all. I am not after all a scientistnever claimed to be. Morris Turpin sits listening with the others and smiles to himself at that last remark. He knows the speaker and if Tyler Brann is not the absolute definition of a scientist Turpin does not know what one is. Okay so maybe he's not solely a scientist and maybe Brann never got a Junior Scientist badge or anything. But it plays better this wayTyler Brann downplaying his expertise in the field puts the recruits at ease with all this new information somehow. He is merely a speaker at this moment in time playing out his part as speaker. I say all this as an introduction to my story and I see now the folly in it. With all I know and all I've seen, this much I've learned: there is no convincing anyone who has not yet seen behind the vast curtain of time. I won't try to do that this morning. I'll tell the story as I know it. That is all I can do. You'll discover the rest on your own. You'll have your chance. Tyler Brann is something of a legend around here. Morris Turpin met him many years ago and they became fast friends. That was before Turpin entered the programback before the technology was refinedBrann himself was a technician working on the project and making it the true marvel that it's become. And what it has become is both a blessing and a curse. It gave the world a chance to save itself

and at the same time ushered in another era of paranoia and distrust among the nations. Another Cold War more horrible than anything preceding it. The talk is over. Standing applausestanding because it's Tyler Brann up there. Actual and in the flesh. Turpin watches from the back of the room and sees Brann shaking hands with the Director and with a few of the new recruits and a row of visiting dignitariesbowing and smiling and shaking hands and nodding graciously. There is an energy in the room that Turpin can't quite place. Perhaps it is having Tyler Brann home again and in their midst. Brann is a busy man these days with his new public relations postalways traveling, dining, golfing, and the likeall in service to the program. Turpin. Good to see you. And there is something sparkling behind the eyes. Something alive and warm. Something that makes you seem like the only one that matters in the world, thinks Turpin. Public relations suits you Brann. Long time. They shake hands and smile without showing teeth. It has been that. How's life treating you. You're still in the program right? Still taking my loops. Not as many as before not like in the old days. The old days. Brann shakes his head as if trying to decide whether here and now is the best place and time to reminisce on such things. We need to catch up. There was something I wanted to talk with you about. I was going to say the same thing old friend. How about lunch todaysomething off-campus? I'll clear my schedule. We'll talk later then. Nodding and smiling. Shaking hands one more time. Brann moving on to other conversations and other pleasantries around the room. Ever the smiling professional, thinks Turpin, he does not even flinch at the small fold of paper I slipped into his hand in that final handshake. The fold of paper which reads simply: Need help. The warehouse. 1pm. It isn't an established code or anything and it's not as though they are spies passing notes and making secret dropsnot all of them anywayso Turpin hopes Brann will understand the urgency of the message. He hopes he will remember what warehouse he's referring to. He hopes he will be free to meet him at that time and hopes that he will come alone and that he will tell no one else. He hopes above all that Brann can help him. His grasp on reality is slipping.. Morris Turpin forgoes the table stacked with finger foods and punch and avoids talking to anyone else in the room. He walks out a little-used door taking a right down a small corridor through a security

checkpoint then another checkpoint before exiting the building into the late morning haze. There are two guards on dutythere are always two guards on dutyoutside the double doors, one on either side and Morris nods at one of them. He looks around before stepping out of the safety of the alcovea false feeling of safety perhaps but he takes what he can get from the world. It didn't used to be like this. He sees the usual: two surveillance cars with two men per car and another man leaning suspiciously against a telephone pole across the street eying Turpin and smoking a cigarette which seems to put out twice as much smoke as any normal cigarette would. As if he's communicating using smoke signals with whatever corporation or whatever country he's spying for. Turpin cannot suppress the nervous energy which rekindles within his chest. It didn't used to be like thissurveillance men, spies, assassins, oh my. And news reporters. There is a news van now Turpin spots it coming slowly down the street riding its brakes and looking for a parking spot. All of them doing their jobs, trying their best to divine some symptomatic change in the status quo. Trying to discern from the outside what's going on within. And they have their ways, Turpin knows. They manage to eek out bits of information from time to timeusually minor things usually nonfatal things but there is always the chance. Turpin steps out of the alcove and walks west down the sidewalk and he feels the change immediately. And it isn't something he can put his finger on; it isn't a concrete thing. It is a subtle change. A shift within himselfsomething in his charactersomething ephemeral and unexplainable. The change from company man Morris Turpin into who he is outside his job. Lonely paranoid Jake Plesco. Losing his grasp on reality. Jake takes a taxi ride along a scenic route through the downtown business districtthrough several congested intersections down a few back alleyways which don't appear on GPS devices and along the riverfront boulevard where traffic is always light. He watches out the back window from time to time. Tries to spot any trailing cars. He has the driver drop him off at the corner, a block away from his own car. He slips unseen behind a fence row then with one final look around him, gets into his car and drives away. He arrives at last at a safe house tucked in among middle-income suburban ranch houses. He goes here as a measure of security. To make sure he isn't being followed but also to kill a little time. He doesn't go in to work much anymore. Doesn't take his loops. He's frankly surprised he still has a security clearance to get into the place but he pops in from time to time to keep up appearances so at least the front guards remember his face. Plus he's managed to get himself involved with the mentor program at the facility where he helps train new recruits and handles some debriefing sessions here and therethis is how he avoids accepting new missions. How he avoids taking loops.

Jake pulls out the brown paper bag, unrolls it and pulls out the small revolver, tucking it into his waist. Then he gets out and enters the safe house with a key and locks the door behind him. He goes through his routines checking all doors and windows and rooms and closets, making sure everything is safe. This safe house is not often used by other agents; Jake thinks of it as his own. Looking out the front window he sees a dark gray Ford Explorer parked on the street. He cannot tell if anyone is in the vehicle. He moves to the back door and looks out the window there, scanning the back yard making sure there is at least one safe exit. He moves from the back door to the front, double-checking the street where the SUV is parked. Problem is, he cannot remember if it was parked there when he arrived or if it came along afterward. The windows of the vehicle are too dark to see inside. And he is stuck here. If he leaves he will not know if he is being tailed and by whom. If he leaves he could still be followed for that matterthey might have somebody watching the back door as well. Jake's fingers tremble as he watches out the front window; they jitter and dance at the seams of his pants. Am I sweating? he thinks. He is sweating and his heart rate has definitely spiked. Jake takes deep breaths and a few slow paces around the empty front room. I must think. I must clear my mind and think this through. I must He stops moving. Was that a car door closing? He moves to the window and peers out between the blinds. A large man is approaching from the street, walking a straight line toward the front door of the safe house. Jake double checks that the door is locked. He wipes his damp forehead with one of his sleevesis it hot in here or am I running a fever?he takes another look at the stranger. His stride is confident. He's wearing a coat and tie. His haircut is short but not a military cut necessarily. His face is in shadow as he walks but Jake sees clearly from the way his suit coat falls that the man is wearing a holster on his hip. Maybe an undercover officer or a detective but he cannot be sure. Jake steps away from the window. He's nervous. He's unsure of what to do. Whether he should answer the door or not. Maybe he should just leave out the back way. The doorbell rings, followed by a brisk knock on the door. And truth is, Jake Plesco is frozen in place and unable to move. Unable to make a decision. He is so frightened by the unknownthis unknown variable in his already frantic life. Another knock sounds at the door. As if the man knows someone's hereknows Jake is here waiting just inside the door, sweating and shaking and afraid and waiting here. Turpin. Morris Turpin? This gets Jake's attention and he gasps. He holds a hand over his mouth to keep further sounds from escaping.

I know you're in there; I watched you go in Turpin. And truth is he sounds like a normal guy. Doesn't sound like a foreigner. Doesn't sound threatening in any way. And Jake moves his hand away from his mouth. Who's there? Who is it. Turpin it's CaullerJoe Caullerfrom the facility. You remember me don't you? Jake exhales with relief. He reaches for the door handle then stops himself looking up at the door as if to properly address the man behind it. How do I know this is Joe Cauller eh? How do y How do I know. That's right. Convince me. Turpin open the door. Come on. How do I know tell me that. Well you recognize me don't you. Did you get a look at me? Can you see me through the peephole in the door there? Jake hasn't thought of that. He doesn't admit as much but takes the time to look through the peephole before responding. Yeah you look somewhat like Joe Cauller. Somewhat? Cauller doesn't wear a gun on his hip for instance. He doesn't do that. And what would Joseph Cauller want with meout in public like this. Doesn't make sense. Are you okay Turpin? It doesn't make sense is all. And why would he follow mehe wouldn't do that. I'm here aren't I? And this isn't a gun holster by the way it's my cell phone Turpintake a look for yourself. Turpin looks and can see the distorted man in the peephole lift up his coat to revealyes just a cell phone hooked to his belt. Turpin opens the door. Well what are you doing here Cauller? Why did you follow me. Tyler Brann sent me. He wanted me to tell you he can't meet with you today. He can't see you until . . . Until? Yes not until I can talk with you and clear up a few things. What sort of things. What's this about Cauller? It's not an easy thing to hear.

What is? Can I come in. We could Come in yes. Thanks. What is it. We could sit downyou should sit down really. No tell me now. You killed Tyler Brann. .... I followed you and I just saw him giving a speech not half an hour ago I followed youcalm down won't you. He's still there as far as I know. You don't have to shout. Brann told me about the meeting and He told you? Why the hell did he tell you about that. I had the idea Brann is dead!? No see Is it hot in here? We should sit down I think. That's what I was saying. They sit down on folding chairs around a card table in what would be the dining room if the safe house were a properly furnished house and not the empty shell that it is. Jake's knee starts hopping and he's biting at a fingernail as he talks. Now you said I killed him didn't you? That was while I was under. Deep sleep? You went under? That's what I meanit was my idea and Brann said it wouldn't be a bad idea so So you went under and followed him and And you killed him yes. I didn'tI mean I wouldn't But you didI was there. Why would I I was there Turpin.

Well what happenedit doesn't make sensewhy would I do that? I asked you that. Afterward I mean. All you would tell me is that none of it mattered. That all of this was a mistake and that you were on some kind of extended loop and that something went sideways. Jake is up and pacing the room. Joseph Cauller watches from his seat, thinking maybe he should have brought a gun and maybe this was a mistake coming here. Jake checks the thermostat on the wall and sees that it's set to heat instead of cool and he moves the switch over. He hears the sound of the central air kicking in, hears the sound of the blowers working and the air filters sucking-in abruptly with the change in air pressure. That's better. So: I guess you think I'm a security threat now, that it? I'm here to sort it all outthat's all, Turpin. Honest. I don't know what happened in there. By the time I got into position, after I heard the shot . . . Is that how he was . . . Killed? A single gun shot wound to the chest. Point blank. I heard the shot and my heart jumped into my throat. I didn't know what happened. How long was your loop? Did you talk to me for very long after that? What did I say? Turpin. Like I said, you weren't making a lot of sense. It was like you thought you were currently on a very long loop and something had gone wrong. And you believed what you were saying; I could see it in your eyes. Jake stops pacing and clears his throat. He doesn't know how much he should tell him. How much Cauller should know. I don't know what to say, Cauller. Tyler Brann is a good friend. I don't see how I could ever That's the problemI know that, Turpin. I know that. That's why I'm here. To sort it all out. And Brann? Brann? He's baffled too. All of us are All of us? Who else knows? Is this an official investigation type thing here? No. It's not that. No, it's just a few analysts we brought in on it. Don't give me that, Cauller. Analysts! I know better than that, you know. Are there others coming? On their way now? This is ridiculous: I haven't done anything. Not in this reality anyway. Not where it counts. Wait a minute! Wait just a minute. Jake returns to the table and takes a seat. His fingernails scurry on the table in front of him, incongruous with the rest of him. He leans in and almost whispers. Wait a minute. You already know what's going to happen here. You ran another scenario, didn't you. I know you. If you didn't bring backup with youbecause you're a very careful guy, CaullerI

know you. If you're here alone that means you know this ends peacefully. You know how this ends. Turpin. Look. Tell me how this ends. Alright. Here's what I know. We're going to walk out of here and get in my vehicle and we're going back to the facility. From therewell there's going to be a lot of time for discussion. We're going to get to the bottom of this. I don't know how it ends but that's what happens next. Right. And you're so sure of that, are you? It's what we do Turpin. It's what we do. That's right. What if I did the opposite of that? What if I were to run right now? What if I were to sock you right in the nose and run out the back door Hey, hey. Calm down, okay? That's not what happens. Whatever you do, we'll end up back at the facilityyou know that. We've been here, what an hour? Reality doesn't shift too much in that amount of time. Imperceptible. You know that. So, calm down. I don't appreciate the condescension, Joe. I didn't mean anything. Besides, what do we know? Maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe we haven't thought it all out this, this reality shifting theory of ours. Maybe there are variables. Maybe things could change drasticallylike say, what if an agent such as myself, one who knows all the theories behind it all what if he were to simply choose to do something different? That ever occur to you? Turpin. You're not making sense, alright. If that was your intention, you would have done it in the alt-realitywhatever you did there is what you'll do here. And this? All this? Are we having the same conversation as before? Not identical, no. But the same conversation, pal. Same agitation in your voice. Same disbelief. Same theorizing. Same conversation. And it ends with us walking out together. Jake rubs his forehead with his thumb. His head is hurting now and it's getting harder to think. All these notions, all these theorieshe's always viewed them from a single point of view. His own point of view. Never from the alt-reality point of view. Never from where he is now, the target of an investigation, the object of the procedure. This is all new to him and all very confusing. There's one thing that's different, Cauller. I just thought of it. It's the same, Turpin. In the alt-reality

It's the same. Listen: In the alt-reality, we didn't have this discussionabout you having gone ahead in time, about us having this conversation, about the conversation being the same as in alt-reality understand? We couldn't have had that discussion because it didn't happen; it was our first conversation. You're not thinking like an agent right now, Turpin. Reality is always reality to those living it. Ah. You lied. You came to the same conclusion in alt-realitythat I would have 'gone ahead in time,' as you put it, unless I had already lived through it and thought it safe to meet you without backup. 'Reality is always reality to those living it.' Who said that? That was Tyler Brann. Was it? What happened, Turpin? I have memory gaps. I'm not sleeping well. I get these headaches. Used to be a steel trap up here, but. What happened. What's wrong? I guess you didn't hear me before. Tell me now. If I told you, you wouldn't hear me. You wouldn't believe me. Reality is always reality to those living it, Cauller. Oh, I see. The extended loop theory. This isn't reality, right? This is alt-reality. Sideways. I think maybe that's why I shot Tyler Brann when you went under. It was two steps removed from true reality. My reality, I should say. Plenty of variables could change, wouldn't you think? Theoretically I mean. Alt-reality within an alt-reality? What do you thinkgood theory? If it were true . . . it's a fine theory. Wouldn't surprise me. If it were true. Yes. That's right. Well it's true Cauller. It's true. Look. I don't know what happened but I'm stuck here. This isn't reality, not my reality. I'm stuck here, and, andI'm falling apart, is what's happening. Maybe it's physical, maybe it'sI don't know mental, metaphysical. I don't know what. Maybe there's a limit to how much a man can take, how long a man can go . . . Listen to yourself. It's the truth.

You sound just like before, you know that? You're not making sense. You shot him Turpin. Point blank, understand? You shot him and you'd shoot him nowwhat I don't know yet is why. Why did you shoot him. Why would you? I wouldn't! Jake Plesco pounds the card table with a fist causing Cauller to straighten in his seat. Jake stands and it's as if he has no control over his actions anymore. He grabs one edge and flips the flimsy table over to one side. Cauller is surprised and is falling backwardcaught up in his chair and falling back chair and all falling and landing with a crash on the empty floor on his back. Jake catches up to him where he lands and grabs his shirtfront, lifting him up off the floor. He makes a fist and sends it smashing into Cauller's upturned face. There's your proof, Cauller. Joseph Cauller moans in the aftermath and covers his bloodied nose with a hand. Jake is standing over him breathing heavily, eyes the size of billiard balls. Jake shakes the pain out of the knuckles of his hand, rubs at them awkwardly and in the growing silence says My theory is sound, Joe. Think it over. Stay away from me and stay away from Claudia. I'll be in touch. Jake bolts out the back door into the warm chaos of the afternoon but stops short. Stops in his tracks just outside the doorthere are agents out here, just out of view. He knows this. He senses them. They wait for him with their weapons drawn. Safeties off. He does not see or hear them but he knows they are here. Cauller's voice shouts after him Claudia is dead Jake. She's dead. You know that, right? She is not here. He is here alone. He calls me Jakehe knows I am not myself anymore. How does he knowhe knows because he has seen my future; he knows how this ends; he knows. A figure steps out from the shadowsEd Morgan, head of securityfollowed by another man: Tyler Brann, himself We were worried this might happen you know. It's never been done beforeloops as long as you've gonebound to be some . . . difficulties. Jake is frozen in place. There is no escape now. The truth is known. There is nothing but surrender. He is trapped here and that is all. Nothing else is realthat is the part that jumps to his mind, this is his own reality even though it is alt-reality, and it's all in his head so to speakonce his loop is up this world will be no more. Just like that it will vanish like a bad dream. He will wake up from deep sleep with this one fading memory and Claudia will be alive and all will be right once more. The world will

be real. And he could save her next time, he knows he could. You're probably thinking of killing yourself right about now or you will be soon, considering it. And it makes sense, all that you're going throughperhaps man was not meant to be cut off from his own reality for so long, that was a theory we had up until now. Now it's confirmed. You're the tested hypothesis. All that waits now is to relay the resultsyour reality waits for you, we wait to find out the psychological effects this has had on you. But of course if you killed yourself now . . . And he doesn't have to say the restif Jake committed suicide there would be no memory of this alt-reality, nothing for the scientists to pull from his mind upon wakingthat only works on minds that have reached the end of their loops and wake up naturally. Jake's mind flashes to the gun tucked into his waist. He reaches for it, wanting to end it all, to wake up from the deep sleep and breath real air again, to have his life back again. But even as he reaches, he hears the snick of a dart gun firing its instant sedative. He feels the pinch of it in the meat of his shoulder. He feels the weight of the world on his back. His eyes roll white in his head as the wide world spins around. He dreams of a dream within a dream. He will live out the rest of his loop. She is not here. He is here alone.

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