The Caledon Clinic was a bright, modern, sprawling complex set back from the street in a quiet residential development that combined apartments, townhouses and bungalows in a pleasant, well-planned, harmony. Ian had taken the bus to the clinic because he wasn't sure he could drive in his condition. He walked along the asphalt driveway admiring the neatly mown lawn and the tastefully appointed trees that gave the entrance to the clinic a park-like atmosphere. How very serene, Ian thought as he nodded and smiled at a white-coated passer-by.
Despite the calm mask he wore and the studied deliberateness of his walk, the tension centered in the pit of his stomach betrayed his anxiety. He swept his doubts into a corner of his mind and covered them with a carpet of confidence. Confidence is the key. He crossed the parking lot and climbed the wide steps that led up to the main entrance. He pushed through the polished aluminum and glass doors.
Inhabited by three well-manicured receptionists, a large reception desk sat in the exact center of the foyer, an island of subdued tan and white on a shiny sea of polished granite. At each corner of the lobby, long black vinyl couches were arranged symmetrically around squares of green carpet dotted with strategically placed potted ferns and palms. Ian ignored the faces peering at him through the leaves, and walked confidently to the reception desk. He stood in front of the nearest receptionist, and waited patiently until she looked up from the file she was reading.
“Yes? May I help you?” she asked in a pleasant tone that irritated him.
“Yes," Ian answered with equal pleasantness, “I have an appointment at three o'clock with... uh,” He fished for the small white card in his shirt pocket. I left it in my other shirt! Ian smiled sheepishly and was about to tell the receptionist that he had forgotten his psychiatrist's name when a familiar face materialized from the background.
He smiled at her and almost gave her a hug, but stopped, remembering that their relationship was on hold for the time being.
“Come on,” she said, touching his elbow, “I'll show you where to go.”
Ian smiled apologetically at the receptionist and allowed Linda to lead him across the foyer to the elevator. He sensed a psychic distance in Linda, but he couldn't think of anything he could say that would bring her closer, so he just smiled at her.
“I was afraid that you weren't going to make it,” she said coldly as she pushed the elevator button.
“Why? Am I late?” Ian asked as pleasantly as he thought she would bear without becoming suspicious.
The elevator door swished open and they stepped inside. Linda pushed the elevator button for the third floor and the doors swished closed.
“Very clean place,” he commented to her, but she didn't answer. The silence was unbearable and Ian hummed to relieve the tension, but it didn't help. He sensed he was aggravating Linda and stopped. The elevator door swished open and they stepped out into a long, shiny, very clean corridor. His boots echoed loudly in the empty hallway and he heard the clang of metal somewhere in the distance. The echoes reminded him of the last walk of a condemned man on his way to the gallows.
“This is it,” said Linda pointing at a door with the number triple three painted in gold leaf on its frosted glass window.
Ian opened the door and stood politely to one side to let Linda go in first. Another reception area, he thought as he followed her in, imagining a vast maze of reception areas, one leading into another without ever actually going anywhere: a labyrinth, and he was about to meet the Minator!
Two sparkling clean women were leaning over a desk talking. They looked up and smiled in unison.
“Linda!” exclaimed the older woman, “Good to see you!” Linda introduced Ian to the two women. Laurel Hayes, the secretary, and Margaret Wood, the Minator...
“Pleased to meet you,” Ian said politely to each of them in turn as he shook their hands.
“Well, come into my office,” Margaret said to Ian pleasantly.
“Thank you.” He glanced over at Linda questioningly.
“I'll wait out here,” she told him.
“Fine.” Ian smiled at Margaret as she held her office door open for him. “Thank you,” he said politely.
The door closed with a finality that Ian found unsettling, and he was set even more on edge by the muffled quality of the sound in the room. Well, this is it! he thought as he absorbed the features of the room. A desk by the window...a wall of books... an armchair and a sofa... more potted ferns...
“Would you like to sit down?”
Ian looked at Margaret and shrugged. “Sure.” He walked over to the couch and sat down nervously. “I guess this is where I sit,” he said smiling.
“If you like,” said Margaret, sitting in the armchair beside him.
“Am I supposed to lie on this thing?” he asked jokingly.
She smiled at him pleasantly. “If you want to.”
Ian was annoyed by her ease and affability. He was trying to establish protocol, but she wasn't helping him by being so amenable. He noticed an ashtray between the couch and the armchair.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asked hesitantly. “No, feel free,” she said.
He suddenly remembered he had brought the journal with him, and he looked down at it. He held it in both hands. He looked at Margaret and she smiled back at him.
“Maybe later,” he said, “I... uh, did Linda tell you anything about me?”
“She said you had changed a great deal...” Margaret prompted.
“Yeah,” Ian admitted, “I guess I have...”
“In what way?”
He looked down at the journal again. “Well, it's kind of hard to explain. I brought this book...” Ian held the notebook up. “I thought you could read it because it kind of explains what happened...”
“Can't you tell me?” she asked.
“Well, not really,” he explained, “I... I suffer from... uh, blackouts. I can't remember things, and this book has stuff written in it after I come to. I thought maybe you could find something in it that might explain things...”
Ian could see the light of interest flicker in her eyes. He handed the book to her.
“Any particular part you would like me to go over first?” she asked as she took it from him.
“No. I guess you could start reading and ask me questions about it,” he suggested.
“Fine.” She opened the notebook and began to skim over the lines, but after she had skipped the first two pages, she turned back to the first page and read more slowly.
Ian lit a cigarette and smoked it thoughtfully as she read. He knew it had been a mistake coming to the clinic. He wanted to leave, but he knew he couldn't if he wanted Linda back. He glanced over at Margaret who had become absorbed into the book. He closed his eyes. The darkness inside his head comforted him, and he relaxed, letting himself float free, hoping that she wouldn't ask him anything for a while. He could hear her turning the pages of the journal. Must be a speed-reader, he thought as the muffled sounds around him faded away. He could smell burning wood.
Ian opened his eyes.
He was back in the cave with no recollection of his visit to the Otherlife. He thought that Nick had returned from the truck and lit a fire, and stared at the fireplace.
There was no fire, but he could definitely smell smoke.
Ian stood up stiffly and wandered over to the entrance of the cave, stifling a yawn. He peered through the plastic. A huge cloud of black smoke hung over the ridge across the valley. He decided to put on his outside gear and investigate the source of the mysterious cloud.
After he bundled himself up, Ian stepped through the camouflage door, fumbling with the strap on the helmet. He looked across the valley at the cloud and forgot all about tightening the strap.
A forest fire!
Ian's first thought was for the truck. He had to move it! Where? To the landslide maybe. Park her in the lake, away from the trees. Ian ran back into the cave to collect the battery. He stuffed the plastic bag containing the rotor and the keys in it into his pocket, and picked up the battery with both hands.
As he stepped out from the cave, the first tongues of flame shot up from behind the hills. How long would it take the fire to reach the truck?
As if to answer his question, an evergreen on the slope facing the lake exploded into flame. And another! He didn't have much time at all. Ian broke into a run. He was still suffering from the radiation sickness, and his whole body ached as he raced down the hill, but he pushed himself, spurred on by the urgency of rescuing the truck. He stumbled several times because he couldn't lift his feet high enough to clear the rocks that lay in his path. The sky grew darker, and the smoke that blocked the light stung Ian's eyes and throat. He stopped to wipe the tears from his eyes and catch his breath. The air was hot, and he sweated heavily under the burden of his extra clothing. He could hear the roar of the fire and the crackling of burning wood...
I'm not going to make it!
The smoke was making it difficult for Ian to tell where he was. His knees threatened to buckle underneath him.
He heard a distant shout over the roar of the fire. Ian could barely see Nick scrambling up the slope toward him through the haze.
“Get the battery!” Nick shouted.
Ian held it up as far as he could manage.
“C'mon!” Nick shouted, “There isn't much time!” Nick stood waiting, glancing behind him to check on the progress of the fire. Ian pushed himself harder to reach Nick and a tree flared up on his left as he ran past it!
We're in the fire!
As Ian closed the distance between them, Nick turned and began running “Follow me!” Nick shouted.
“No, Nick, wait!” Ian's leg muscles were developing painful cramps and Ian knew he wouldn't be able to keep his grip on the battery for very much longer. “Take the battery!” he screamed to Nick, “I can't-”
Ian tripped on a fallen branch, and stumbled.
To his horror, the battery sailed away from his hands into the air, and, in a slow spiraling arc, it fell, hitting a rock and splitting open.
Ian was stunned. He stood staring at the battery as the acid leaked from the cracked casing and hissed as it spread out on the ground.
It can't happen!
That's the only thought he had.
It can't happen!
Ian was aware of Nick and the flames, but he couldn't move! He stood staring dumbly at the broken battery.
Nick shouted at him. “Forget it! Just keep moving!”
But Ian had frozen. He tried with all his might to move, but the commands couldn't reach his muscles. Nick started running toward him.
Ian heard a cracking noise and stared in horror as a huge burning tree fell downward.
“Nick!” he screamed, “Watch out!”
But he called out too late! Still running, Nick looked up; the tree caught him full in the back, and he disappeared under the flames.
“Nick!” Ian screamed and broke into a run toward the spot where Nick had been standing. “Nick!”
A wall of flame reared up in front of him! Ian shielded his head with his arms, but the heat was too intense to reach Nick. A bush to his right burst into fire, and as Ian turned to look at it, the tree behind him exploded into flame! The fire had surrounded him! I have to get to the lake!
In every direction Ian ran, flames blocked his path, and he was forced to turn and run somewhere else. He soon lost his sense of direction. He stumbled, tripping over a large rock. As he hit the ground, Ian caught a glimpse of the stream through the flames and crawled toward it, ignoring the burning pieces of wood that fell on him.
I have to get to the stream!
As he reached the crest of the stream bank, a flaming tree trunk smashed down on Ian's foot. The burning branches pushed Ian into the ground and he screamed. The fire spread to his clothes, and Ian struggled frantically to extract himself from the tangle of branches.
I can't die like this!
Not this close to the water!
I can't die!
He thrashed wildly at the tree, kicking at it desperately with his free foot, until suddenly, in an incredible explosion of pain, his foot pulled out from under the trunk, and Ian fell headfirst into the rushing water.
The cold water brought his senses back to him in a rush. The sting of the burns to his body where his clothing had caught fire cut into him and a throbbing pain in his ankle cut through his brain like a hot knife. He prayed his foot wasn't broken and pulled himself upright, but he couldn't put any weight on it.
Hobbling painfully, Ian half-swam, half-crawled upstream. A red-hot shower of burning debris rained down on him. The burning particles seared his skin, raising tiny blisters, which felt like needles sliding into his flesh. Tongues of flame, blasts of furnace wind, licked at his face, singeing his eyebrows and burning his mouth and throat. He knew he had to get to the lake but he had no idea of how far he was downstream. Oh God, Ian prayed, Don't make it too far! As if to answer his prayer, the wind cleared the smoke briefly, and Ian saw the lake! His heart leapt and he scrambled frantically over the last few rocks where the stream widened out into the lake. He had made it! He waded into the waist-deep water at the head of the stream. Just a few more yards and I'll be safe! he told himself.
He heard a spine-wrenching cracking noise and looked up.
A huge tree toppled toward him and Ian screamed hysterically as he scrambled back downstream to get out of the way. A small branch stabbed him viciously in the back and pushed Ian under the water. His mouth and nose filled instantly with water, and he thrashed wildly against the tree holding him. Water filled his lungs and he exploded from the water gasping for air, still squirming to free himself from the tangle of branches. He staggered away from the tree and fell backwards into the water.
The hot steam raised by the fallen tree seared his lungs, and Ian felt he was going to suffocate.
The tree had fallen across the stream, blocking his only exit from the inferno. The heat was too intense to stay where he was; he would have to try to squeeze under the tree. Ian took a deep breath and swam underwater toward the lake.
He came up against the mass of branches of the fallen tree. He would have to go through them! He pushed his way into the tangle, grabbing a large branch and pulling himself forward. Hand over hand, he twisted through the tree. His oilskin caught on something and he slipped it off, squirming free of the branches, his lungs aching. Ian was deeper than he thought and the air broke from his lungs before he could reach the surface.
I made it! I know I made it!
Ian kicked hard and came up clear of the tree. He rolled over and floated on his back. His lungs burned from the smoke and the effort of swimming, his muscles ached and his skin was a mass of cuts and burns.
But I'm still alive!
And the thought of being alive for a little while longer was enough.
His waterlogged clothes dragged him down. He pulled off his helmet, and carefully set it in the water. It floated upside down, and drifted toward the fallen tree. He let it go, and stripped off his jacket and shirt. Ian inhaled deeply and curled up underwater to remove his boots. The boot on his good leg came off easily, but he tried several times to pull the boot from his sore ankle, but he couldn't get it off. Even the slightest movement sent an explosion of pain shooting through his nervous system. He knew it was broken.
He struggled out of his clothes, and swam towards the lakeshore, naked except for his right boot. He headed for the dark patch that marked the landslide, the only place along the shore that wasn't burning.
The weight of the boot increased at every stroke and pulled him under the water. He sank below the surface, and his feet touched bottom!
Ian pushed against the silt, and his head broke free of the water. He gulped a quick breath of air and sank back down again. He bobbed in the water on one foot, moving shoreward, until he could hop and still keep his head above the surface. He waded into the shallows and collapsed in knee deep water. He swam closer to shore, then lay motionless in the water watching the fire.
The ground looked liked molten lava covered with a thick brown crust. Along the beach, the truck sat slightly askew. It seemed to be undamaged, but as he stared at it, Ian realized that all he was looking at was a blackened shell. All the glass, rubber, and plastic had burned and melted away. She's just another blackened carcass...
He turned his back on the truck and looked up towards the cave. He couldn't see it. Both sides of the valley were on fire and tree after tree exploded into flame as the fire crawled up and over the ridge above the cave.
He was terribly small and helpless lying there, a small waterlogged rodent...
A dying rabbit...
He closed his eyes. He was tired and his head hung in the water. Slowly, he dragged himself towards the beach.
And as he crawled onto the beach, he thought of Nick and began to cry.
He cried for a long time.
It wasn't simply Nick's death that made him cry.
It was everything coming out of him at once.
It was Bill and Pete.
Lisa and Dorothy.
Elizabeth. And Jeff and Jenny. Linda and the doctor. Sam and Annie. Dog. And all the once-living-now-dead.
All the unborn generations that would now never exist.
Ian cried for the Human Race.
He cried for everyone he had known, and the millions he would never know. He was the last man on Earth. Everyone he had known was dead.
It was everything,
And the nothingness it had become...
Ian's mind slowly withdrew from the desolation of the Warworld, crawling away from the pain of his injuries, searching for a refuge from the agony of being alone on his dying planet, and like a newborn puppy nuzzling up to the warmth of its mother's teat, it sought out the only place he had left to hide...
Ian came up against a thin membrane that separated the Warworld from the Otherlife and pushed against it, thinking that once he broke through, he would be safe, but as he increased the pressure against the thin pliable wall, he sensed the grip of the Dream People pulling him back. This time the actual physical presence of the Dream People was absent, replaced by the awesome force of their psyche, and his will battled desperately against theirs.
In a final surge, he ruptured the membrane. With a deafening roar, his Warworld experience poured through the opening, disintegrating the membrane totally, and the memories from both worlds fused into one. He opened his eyes...
“You talk as if the Dream is an entity separate from your own personality,” he heard Margaret say.
“Do I?” Ian blinked at her.
“Yes. Is it?”
“Is it what?” he asked, “Separate?”
“I think so...” he answered slowly as he mulled over the concept she had offered him. “I suppose I do...”
The idea had lit a fire in Ian's brain. The thought raged through the newly opened corridors of his mind, burning away the thin walls he had built, and Ian began to see himself from a new, more distinct perspective.
“But it isn't is it?” he asked her.
“No,” he said firmly, amazed by the scope of his new awareness.
“It's a part of me. A part I've never seen before...”
Ian hesitated, not sure of where his thoughts were taking him. If the Dream is a part of me, then so are the Dream People... But why do they come for me? He thought about the times that they had reached out for him, and he began to see a pattern. The method of their approach...
“What are you thinking about?”
He was annoyed at Margaret for interrupting his flow of thought. I was so close to seeing the answer...
“I... I'm not sure,” Ian told her, “I was thinking about the Dream People. Why they come for me, I mean...”
He glanced at her, and her look held a question. No, it's not a question. It's a command. She wants me to tell her why they come for me. Something held Ian back and he didn't want to tell her. He felt restless.
“Is it okay if I walk around?” Ian asked.
“Certainly,” she said smiling.
Something in her smile reminded him of someone, of a place he had been. He walked to the window and stared out at the city. In a couple of hours, in a matter of seconds, all this will cease to be... The thought caught him off guard and he glanced at Margaret to see if she had caught the change he had felt.
She had. He could tell by her eyes. Ian smiled at her and she smiled back pleasantly. She accommodates every move I make. A perfect foil... Who's manipulating who? And the answer dawned on him and he knew. He knew...
“Have you got a car?” he asked conversationally.
“Yes I do,” she answered, “A blue Ford.”
“No, a two door.”
From where he stood, Ian could see the clinic parking lot, and his eyes traveled down the line of cars, searching for a blue two door Ford. There it is!
“Does it have a vinyl top?”
“Yes, it does.” A slight edge of annoyance crept into her voice, and she shifted her position in her chair. She's very good at covering it up, he thought, but then she's an expert at covering up. He could tell she was wondering how to turn the Conversation back to the Dream, but he knew who was manipulating who...
“V-8?” he asked and began wandering around the room, picking up objects and examining them, putting them down as he talked, edging closer to her desk. To her purse sitting beside her desk...
“No, it's a six-cylinder,” she replied calmly, “But we didn't come hear to talk about cars.”
“No,” Ian replied, “But I can tell a lot about people by what kind of cars they drive.”
“Really?” she asked amused.
“And what can you tell about me by my car?” she asked, still smiling.
Ian leaned over her desk, with both hands planted on the imitation wood grain top.
“I can tell that you keep a revolver and a box of shells in your glove compartment!”
The color drained from her face instantly. She masked the shock almost immediately, but for a brief, glorious second, Ian had seen what he had been searching for...
He had finally found the flaw in the Dream, and he knew the Dream for what it really was... It's a part of me. Just as Margaret was part of him. And Linda. And the city. And the whole damn Otherlife!
“And how do you know I keep a revolver in my glove compartment?” she asked. Very smooth. Such control!
Ian reached down and turned her handbag upside down on her desk, and as the contents rattled on the hollow top, she leaped from her chair, spilling the journal onto the floor, and made a desperate lunge for her keys. Ian whisked them out of her reach a split second before she could grab them.
Margaret was sprawled across her desk, and Ian grabbed the collar of her suit, twisting the jacket across her throat with both hands, and pulled her viciously across her desk towards him so that they were face to face.
“I know because you are only a figment of my imagination...” He twisted the collar tighter around her neck. “Because my mind has put you together from my memory...” She tried to struggle free, but was in an awkward position and had no leverage to push against Ian or pull away. “Because I know why the Dream People brought me here...”
“So I can look my guilt in the face, Doctor...” He could see the panic reach a maximum pitch as she realized that she was about to die, and her face melted before his eyes, fusing into the face that he knew her by. The face of the Doctor...
Ian tightened his grip around her neck and her eyes bulged grotesquely. Her blood vessels expanded as the pressure built behind the constriction, and he squeezed until her eyes dulled and stared at him without seeing.
She was dead.
Her features rearranged themselves into the face of Margaret, and he let the body fall onto the desk, and it rolled onto the floor. A sense of relief swept over him. She had no more influence over his life. Ian hadn't killed a human being. Only her ghost. He had removed a symbol of his guilt from his mind.
But the relief was short-lived as he looked down at the body and around the room. Ian had expected the Dream to dissolve and return him to the Warworld, but it hadn't. He looked down at his watch and began to panic, knowing that he had to break free from the Otherlife before the Bomb dropped, and he didn't have much time.
I'll die here if I don't escape in time! I have to get out of here. Back to the apartment! He looked at the car keys he still held in his hand, then around the office. The only door was the one he had come through from the reception room. Ian picked up the journal from the floor and walked across the carpet towards the door, and to his horror, it opened.
Laurel stood in the doorway. She stared at Ian, then at Margaret's body and cried out.
“What's wrong?” asked Linda from the outer office, rising from her chair.
Ian lunged for the doorway, and Laurel stumbled backward into her chair to avoid him, and fell noisily behind her desk.
“What's wrong?” Linda screamed at him.
He stopped and looked at her helplessly. “I have to go back,” he told her. From the corner of his eye, he saw Laurel reaching for the phone. He dove over the desk and yanked it away from her, and desperately ripped the cord from its receptacle. He looked up in time to see Linda peering into Margaret's office. Her hand went up to cover her mouth.
“Oh my God!” she gasped and whirled to face him. “Why?” she cried at him, “Why?”
Ian glanced down at the journal, and wanted to say so much to her, but he knew that it would be a waste of time.
“I... I'm sorry!” he blurted, and turned and ran. As Ian slid into the corridor, two white-coated men stepped from the elevator. He ran the other way. An exit sign! Ian could see a fire door below the sign, but before he reached it, Laurel's hysterical voice echoed loudly in the corridor.
“Stop him! Somebody stop him!”
Ian glanced back as he ran. The two men stood staring in amazement in Ian's direction.
“He killed a doctor!” Laurel screamed.
Ian reached the fire door, and yanked on the bar. It won't open! Ian shook it violently before he realized he would have to push it to open the door. As he leaned against the bar, Ian heard one of the men yell “Come on!” and then the hammering of running feet on the granite floor. The door clanged open and slammed against the wall inside the stairwell. He heard Linda shout “Don't hurt him!” as he leaped down the stairwell, taking the stairs a section at a time. Whoever was chasing him hadn't reached the stairwell by the time he burst through the door on the ground floor and into the parking lot. The fire alarm was triggered by his opening the outside door, and the shrill ringing of the fire bells filled the air.
Ian scanned the line of cars for the doctor's car. There! He raced toward the Ford and passing pedestrians stared at him in amazement. The first few people were leaving the building in response to the fire alarm.
He reached the passenger door of the blue car, slammed the journal down on the roof, and jammed a key into the lock. It didn't fit. He held the keys up, looking for a car key. He found one with the Ford logo on it and slid it into the lock. It doesn't work! Ian jiggled the key desperately, glancing back at the fire exit. The two men from the elevator had reached the ground and were searching the crowd that poured from the building. One of them pointed in Ian's direction, and they both began running towards him.
The key turned in the lock and he heard a click. He pulled the key from the lock as he opened the door. Ian looked behind him. He wasn't going to have time to start the car! The gun! He slid the key into the glove compartment lock and twisted. The glove compartment door dropped open and the revolver slid out onto it. He picked it up and whirled, pointing the gun toward the two men who ran towards him.
He squeezed off three rapid shots and the air filled with screams as the people in the parking lot scattered in every direction.
Now I've got time! he thought grimly. He grabbed the journal from the roof, threw it on the front seat, and climbed in after it. Ian slammed the door shut and locked it from the inside. He slid behind the steering wheel, reached over and took the keys from the glove compartment lock. The key he had used to open the door didn't fit the ignition. He held the keys up and searched through them until he found one that looked like it might be for the ignition. He slid it into the slot, and it fit.
Ian was startled by a loud bang on the window beside him and looked up. One of his pursuers was hammering on the glass with his hands. Lots of luck, fella! Ian smiled at the man and turned the key. The engine roared to life and he dropped the car into Drive just as the second man arrived.
Ian was safe in the car, but quite a large crowd had gathered in the parking lot because of the incessant ringing of the fire alarm. He couldn't drive out of the parking lot. He decided to take the path of least resistance. The lawn! While he had been in the clinic, the lawn sprinklers had been turned on, and as a consequence, there was no one on the grass. He revved the engine and removed his foot from the brake.
The rear wheels screeched and the car jumped forwards and bounced over the curb and onto the lawn. He turned the windshield wipers on as the spray from the sprinklers hit the glass. The rear wheels spun wildly on the wet grass and the tires spat clumps of turf behind him as the car fishtailed in huge arcs across the lawn.
He glanced in the rear view mirror and smiled at the pandemonium he had caused. Looks more like the madhouse it really is now, Ian thought smugly.
As the car bounced across the sidewalk and onto the street, Ian could hear the wail of approaching sirens over the ringing of the fire alarm. He spun the car around and raced down the street towards his apartment.
His panic dissolved, and Ian's thoughts cleared. He glanced in the rear view mirror and could see police and fire vehicles converging simultaneously on the clinic. He squealed around the next corner and slowed down. They won't be looking for me for a few minutes yet, Ian thought.
He looked at his watch. He had to get back to the Warworld soon. Ian was beginning to doubt that the Otherlife was a creation of the Dream. He hoped that the city before him was an illusion, but it was such a perfect copy of the Otherlife, he worried that there were no more gateways open for him to return to the Warworld. He couldn't find any flaws that he could use to escape through.
He looked down at the doctor's revolver. An artifact from the Warworld. But how can I use it to escape? He made another turn.
Ian's heart stopped as he noticed a police car parked outside a donut shop. It was empty. He breathed a sigh of relief, but seeing the patrol car made him realize that the news of his encounter would be going out over the police radios at any moment. He spotted an empty parking space and pulled into it.
Ian shut the car off and slid the revolver into his waistband. He opened the box of shells, and emptied the bullets into his jacket pockets. Picking up the journal, he opened the door and a passing van honked at him and swerved, narrowly missing the open door. Ian shook his head at his own inattention and climbed out of the Ford, holding the notebook close to his body to hide the gun.
He glanced up and down the street and saw a yellow taxi amongst the traffic coming his way. Perfect! he thought, Call a cab! and waved at the taxi driver. The cabbie stared at him, shrugged his shoulders and drove past.
Ian was shocked. It's my dream, he thought irritably, He should have stopped for me. After all, it's my dream... He couldn't understand why the Dream wasn't working the way that it should. Ian had the impression that the jaws of an invisible trap were about to spring closed upon him.
He worried that as long as he was immersed in the Otherlife Dream, his body in the Warworld would be helpless until he could escape and reenter it. He knew his body wouldn't last long in the state he had left it. Unless he returned to the Warworld before the Bomb went off, he would die with the rest of the world in the Otherlife, and his body, his other self, would be marooned in the Warworld.
Ian waved, and to his relief, the cab pulled up alongside him.
“Hop in!” yelled the driver through the open window. Thankfully, Ian opened the rear door of the taxi and climbed into the back seat. He told the driver his address and the cab pulled away.
Ian glanced out the rear window. Two uniformed policemen ambled lazily out of the donut shop and walked towards their car. His heart pounded heavily against his ribcage. The police are the jaws of the trap. And for some strange reason he thought of Gus.
He gazed at the streets as they slid past his window, knowing that in the next hour or so the people, the cars, and the buildings would be nothing but radioactive dust. Ian found it difficult to imagine everything around him suddenly disappearing in a flash of white searing heat, even though he had already seen it happen.
Where are the Dream People now that I need them?
Ian had realized while he had been talking to the doctor, to Margaret, why they had come for him. To bring me face to face with my guilt. I blamed the doctor's death upon myself. But not because I was the one that pulled the trigger that finished her off. Because I should have done all I could in the Otherlife to have prevented the War from happening, and that if I'd done that, she would have lived. I had held myself responsible for her death without knowing why...
His mind had produced the Dream People to drag him back to the Otherlife to show him the connection. But Ian hadn't seen it. Instead, the Otherlife Dream was a haven from his responsibility and began to seek the things from it that it had never offered him in the first place...
Peace and security. I was using the Dream to hide from the War. THE SAME WAY I DID IN THE OTHERLIFE! And that's why they changed course and began pulling me from the Otherlife Dream into the Warworld. They were trying to stop me from keeping the appointment with the doctor. Because I was going for the wrong reason...
He had gone to the doctor to provide himself with a means of rationalizing the reality of his new Otherlife. To seal off the Warworld. To convince himself that the Otherlife was the real face of the world. And that it would last forever as long as I could ignore the reality of the War...
Ian had looked upon the Dream as a separate entity as Margaret had suggested. But it wasn't really Margaret talking to him. He was talking to a different part of his own mind. And in the same way, the Dream itself was a part of him.
Just as the Dream People were a part of him.
They're all symbols.
“That'll be four-fifty,” said the driver shutting off his meter.
“How much?” Ian asked.
Ian pulled out his wallet and counted his money as the driver waited impatiently for his fare.
“A ten is okay,” said the driver pointedly.
Two hundred and twenty-seven. He handed the entire amount over to the driver who stared at the bills in amazement.
“Keep it,” Ian said to the open-mouthed cabbie, “Take the day off and go for a drive in the country.”
"Just do it!" snapped Ian impatiently, but he didn't wait for an answer. He walked quickly across the sidewalk and into the lobby of his apartment building.
The old woman he had seen in the parkade was stepping into the elevator, and Ian yelled at her to hold the elevator for him. She stood patiently inside the elevator, her finger resting on the hold button as he hurried to catch it.
“Thanks,” he said breathlessly. Ian pushed the button for his floor. As he turned to stand facing the front of the elevator, he caught a glimpse of a police car, lights flashing, pulling up in front of the apartment block.
“Damn!” he swore, and stabbed his finger at the button for the top floor. Ian smiled at the woman who gave him a strange look.
“Wrong floor,” he explained lamely, unsuccessfully trying to put the woman at ease. He stared at the light travelling through the numbers above the door, drumming his fingers impatiently on the tattered cover of the journal.
The elevator stopped at his floor and the doors opened automatically. He pushed the door close button, but the elevator still waited the specified length of time for the passenger it thought was there to step from the elevator.
Ian smiled apologetically at the woman, and she moved further away from him, eyeing him suspiciously. Satisfied the non-existent passenger had left, the elevator closed its doors and trundled upwards unaware of its needless stop.
“C'mon, c'mon,” Ian muttered at the elevator, watching the numbers above him light up one after another.
The elevator stopped again and opened its doors, and the woman sidled past Ian, not taking her eyes from him until she was safely out of the elevator and in the hallway.
“Bye,” he said pleasantly as the doors closed. Once he was alone, Ian pulled the revolver from his waistband, and checked the cylinder. It was empty. He dug into his pockets and pulled out a small handful of bullets and began clumsily loading the chamber. He dropped a few shells on the floor, but he ignored them. He glanced up at the floor indicator just as the top floor number lit up. The elevator doors opened dutifully, and he stepped into the empty hall.
As an afterthought, Ian stepped back inside and held down the door open button with the barrel of the revolver and pressed the buttons for every floor in the building.
He smiled as he backed out of the elevator and turned. His smile drained from his face in shock as he realized he was back in the cave. He stood staring at the rock face. I'm back! The elevator doors swished shut and he looked back at them.
There was nothing there!
He was back!
The pain in his foot shot through Ian like a lightning bolt, and he collapsed on the floor with a cry of agony.
The breath was knocked out of him as his naked body hit the floor. Gasping for air, he lay on the floor of the cave, tears of frustration forming in his eyes.
Still clutching the revolver and the journal, he dragged himself from the cave to a nearby boulder and propped himself up with his back against the rock. He lay the revolver on the ground beside him and placed the journal in his lap.
Ian ran a finger lovingly along the charred cover. Soiled with dust and ground-in dirt, taped and re-taped, the pages were beginning to fall apart. He remembered when the notebook was new and the worn and filthy pages had been crisp and clean and blank. It was no longer the same book.
And he was no longer the man he had once been. A world had been destroyed since then, and he had lived through its destruction. The holocaust had forced him to travel within the labyrinth of the different worlds created by his own mind, searching for an alternative to the fate that he knew Humanity faced.
But he hadn't found one.
He knew that there must have been a path that could have been opened by the human race to avoid the annihilation of a planet, but it required the combined effort of millions to avoid nuclear warfare.
It required a massive effort on the part of each individual combined with equal effort from every other individual to change the path of future history, and deny the examples of past generations
Ian sighed and opened the book, turning the pages until he found the first blank page...
What's done is done and can't be changed. I have to accept what is...
I wish I could.
I wish I could!
But whenever I get close to accepting the world for what it is, I can't face it. It's like peering into a deep, dark chasm, and I know if I get too close to the edge, I'll be overcome by vertigo and plunge into the endless abyss below.
There's too much weight on the dark side of the scales and my mind is performing an insane juggling act on a high wire with no net beneath me.
Only a dark pit from which there can be no return. I wish that I could write something that would prove that the struggle wasn't all for nothing, that Humankind knew what it was doing.
But I can't.
Looking at the blackened landscape beyond the cave, I know that none of us really understood the planet we lived upon. If we had, the War would never have happened. It's ironic: all that time that we had in the Otherlife before the bombs dropped on us, I took for granted all that I now cherish. But we learned nothing before it was too late. Problems that had once seemed beyond our power to resolve diminish into insignificance now that I have seen the desolation of this nuclear wasteland. Could it have been prevented?
It should have been.
I wish I could return to the real Otherlife, and show this world to the people of the Earth, so that they could see the kind of a world that their action or inaction was helping to create...
But then again, I guess no one would believe me. They would think I was making it up. And I would say that perhaps it does sound like fiction, but the reality of this fiction is greater than the fiction upon which we base the reality of living under the threat of nuclear extinction. We cannot ignore the premise upon which this fiction is based...
Talking about it won't change it.
Even though so many of us knew what the final outcome of the arms race would be, we all sat on our thumbs and hoped that an invisible, and non-existent, someone would find a solution.
“What can I do?” we all asked, and then did nothing. By not acting against global conflict and nuclear war, we all contributed to its happening.
I guess it's no use talking so self-righteously about this War after it's taken place. That's like voting after the election is over and the winner has been declared.
Only nobody won anything,
And we all lost everything.
The Earth still exists of course, but only as an empty piece of rock spinning around the Sun. Humankind, its soul, has been ripped out of it. The planet has become a lifeless corpse. Too late, I can see the Earth for what it really is...
An offering from God...
We were given a place to live, to do with whatever we pleased. Only there was a catch. The planet was rigged so that we could never possibly survive the consequences of our actions if we made the wrong decisions as to what we would do with it. If our choices had been the right ones, the world could have become a paradise, and we would have flourished.
We have made our decisions...
Along the way, we discovered how the Universe was held together and promptly began to try and blow it apart. Just little bits of it. We found the power of the sun, the source of all life on our planet, and used it to destroy the very life it was designed to nurture. The narrow little visions each of us held prevented our seeing the long-term consequences of our decisions, and piling one shortsighted choice upon another for century after century, we lost our sense of perspective.
We based our decisions upon our immediate needs as individuals and nations and failed to consider the true value of life, and what a precious gift we had been given.
We ignored the effects that our choices would have upon a Universal time scale. We were so wrapped up in the petty little squabbles amongst ourselves, that we failed to hear the subsonic rumblings of the planet beneath us. Even if we hadn't blown ourselves into oblivion, I think that we would have poisoned the planet with the deadly toxins that our societies were producing.
The Universe has a fail-safe system. It has isolated the planets from each other by vast expanses of vacuum, so that if one of them proved to be an ideal culture medium for life to spawn into a sentient species, and that species should evolve into a particularly cancerous form of life, then that strain of planetary parasite will never reach a stage of evolution that will allow it to spread elsewhere.
The energy required for a life form to leave the planet of its origin can be obtained only through processes that require a certain maturity of thought to fully understand them. If the balances upon which the Universe exists are upset by a species ignorant of the ramifications of utilizing the power that they are tapping into, then that species will be destroyed completely by its inability to fully control the energy it has discovered and will no longer present a threat to the rest of the cosmos.
Like children playing with live hand grenades, we used our weapons as a threat against each other until our childish arguments lead us to actually pulling the pin. We wielded power without fully understanding the consequences of the violence that it would unleash. We have turned the planet that has nurtured us for so long into a vast wasteland, incapable of supporting Life.
It isn't our planet anymore. The Earth has been made unfit for human inhabitation. The Human Race has proved itself unfit to inhabit the Earth. We have thrown away our birthright.
I feel sick. Not just physically- I have witnessed the end of the world, and I am heartsick. So much was open to us. The Universe was ours. If only we had been more patient. More careful. If our choices had been taken with a greater collective wisdom and less individual selfishness, then thousands of years from now our descendants would have traveled amongst the stars, humbled by the magnificence they would have witnessed, yet strengthened by the knowledge that they were a part of that very same magnificence. Now, they will never exist.
In our ignorance of the miracle of which we were a part, we have relinquished the right to exist. We have thrown away our most precious possession, The Gift of Life. We have rejected the offer from God, from the Universe. Contract null and void.
We have failed the test.
But it's more than mere failure...
We have committed a crime.
A crime against the Universe.
A crime against God.
And the penalty for that crime is Death!
I've been running from that death, but I know now that there is no place for me to hide. I am a part of the Universe and must abide by the laws by which it exists. Those laws demand my death.
Not because of my own particular actions or non-actions, but because I am a member of the Human Race, and our combined decisions made us and our world into what it has become at this moment. Every Human Being is held responsible for the well being of the Earth and the creatures that exist upon it. We all neglected our individual responsibility for the safekeeping of our planet, and in doing so, we have also neglected our communal responsibility. We have all been accessories to murder, and we will all be executed for the crime of murder.
WE HAVE KILLED A PLANET.
And I am going to die with it.
And because of it.
My body feels its death. Slowly, I am rotting away inside. I can feel the walls of my cells collapsing one by one, and as each cell dies, I am brought that much closer to my own death.
I don't know how long it will take me to die, but it won't be in this hole in the ground. There's nothing left to salvage here. Everything has been destroyed by fire.
Except this book, and there are only a few blank pages left. I won't be using them all. The things that I want aren't inside this book, they're outside in the world around me. I want to be surrounded by others of my own kind. In a free and open space. Perhaps I will be granted one last wish, and I will catch a glimpse through the clouds of nuclear war of the stars that are so hopelessly out of reach.
The Universe hasn't singled me out to die, but I feel an indescribable sadness, and I am not comforted by knowing that I won't die alone.
I am merely a single cell of a much larger organism, the life form once called Humankind, and I know that when I die Humankind won't die with me, but my death will bring it that much closer to its eventual extinction.
And Humanity is dying..
I can feel its death all around me.
I was but a cell...
Ian picked up the revolver and held it in his lap with both hands, staring at it, admiring the dull sheen of the metal. Such a beautiful machine, he thought, wondering at the delicate precision of its parts that were designed for only one purpose.
To destroy Life.
He sat cross-legged on his bed. He couldn't rid himself of the Dream. It was so much a part of him that he knew that there was only one way to destroy it, and that was to destroy himself. He looked around him and wondered whether he could ever escape. It didn't matter anymore.
He couldn't find the Real World and he doubted if it had ever existed. Perhaps my whole life has been a dream. He had crossed from one reality to another, and everywhere he had gone, he had seen death. Accidental. Intentional. What does it matter? Death is the only Reality. He knew that the Dream had made him incapable of functioning as a human being no matter which reality he found himself within.
The revolver rose slowly from his lap, moving of it's own accord, and as it slowly moved towards him, Ian knew that he was incapable of stopping it from performing the function it had been created for.
The removal of Life...
He heard someone banging on the apartment door and voices, but the sound came from so far away. And it had come too late. The barrel of the gun rested against his temple and the trigger forced the mechanism within the cold steel casing to move with it. The machine had no awareness of the values of the human being that controlled it. It had only one purpose...
He heard the crash as the apartment door broke inward and the thudding of running feet on the hallway carpet as the hammer moved slowly back to the point of no return.
Ian was aware of so much in that fraction of a second that it seemed an eternity. He saw the look on the face of the police officer as he entered the bedroom and he could hear the sound of Linda's voice from the hallway. He watched the lives that were being played out in the separate apartments in the building, and the lives that meshed together for that brief moment on the street outside.
As the hammer jerked forwards, Ian was aware of the thousands of busy human beings as they went about their business. And their pleasure. Their sorrow and their happiness...
A baby was being pulled from its mother's vagina and opening its eyes for the first time as the firing pin plunged into the primer. Children played in the summer sun as the primer ignited from the concussion and shot flame into the gunpowder inside the cartridge. An ice cream vendor pedaled through the park watching two lovers in the grass whispering to each other as a group of teenagers played football nearby.
The gunpowder ignited and expanded as friends and family threw rice at newlyweds emerging from a church. The old woman from the elevator tut-tutting at her little green and yellow budgie as the gases pushed the bullet from the cartridge, and as the bullet began to spin along the barrel, a little girl was bending down to play with the puppy she had been given that morning as a birthday present.
As the bullet pushed into the skin of his forehead, a sphere of uranium-235 imploded thousands of feet in the air above the city, and before the bullet had time to enter his brain, the fireball of the bomb vaporized everything that he had seen...
But he didn't die.
He floated free of his visions as thousands of bright pinpoints erupted upon the planet Earth and ripples of fire raced outward across the planet destroying everything the flames touched. Slowly the fires faded into darkness until the world was nothing more than a bare pebble:
The same pebble he held in his hand.
The same pebble he had sworn to protect.
Don't worry, little rock, we'll survive...
His words echoed in the emptiness of his mind as his frail, emaciated body began to convulse and was racked by involuntary spasms. Finally he could no longer hold himself upright. The tattered notebook fell from his lap, its pages spilling haphazardly on the charred earth. He collapsed upon the scattered papers and pulled himself into a quivering filthy fetal ball.
Not a sound came from his lips as he finally stopped shivering. His breathing became shallow then stopped altogether, and as his heartbeat fluttered and died, the tension drained from his body and it sagged downward slightly.
A fraction of a second before his brain became dark and empty, the clouds broke and a beam of light from a single star, the star around which his planet revolved, shone down where he lay.
But he didn't see it.
The Dream was over.