January 17th(?): Checking Up
For the first time since we'd met Dannon, I was able to sleep in 'til ten o'clock. I didn't realize I had until I fell out of bed and landed on my alarm clock. One of the stupid-looking bells cut into my bare neck. I mouthed a curse and shoved it under the bed. Suddenly it seemed like a really awful idea, keeping an old-fashioned alarm clock. My fault probably, I'd broken the small plastic box-y one
There was no one else in the room, except for Petersen, who was engrossed in improving his haunt. The laptop hummed almost pleasantly. I pushed my hair out of my eyes, trying to slow my heart down and stop the bleeding. It felt like a rather nasty paper-cut, but I couldn't see it to gauge the size or severity. Difficult to look at one's own neck, especially after just waking up.
I got up and staggered into the bathroom and fulfilled a rather obvious need. On my way back to my bed, I was attacked by my reflection. I would have stared at it, but my first reaction was to recoil from the mirror. "Did I get drunk?
No." Despite the fact that I was certain I'd shaved the previous morning, I had what appeared to be a few days of beard greeting the world. My eyes were bloodshot and my entire face was subtly tending to puffiness.
My toothbrush was attached to the wall by some kind of specialty container. I took it and found some comfort in the familiar act of cleaning my teeth. It didn't give me any answers and it certainly didn't clear the fuzz from my brain, but it did stop my mouth feeling like a hairball depository.
The cut on my neck didn't look too disturbing, although it was a strange upward curve, thanks to the bell that had caused it. Unfortunately, it matched up with two inexplicable freckles and formed a simplistic smiling face. I hoped no one would notice. If it scabbed over, I'd have to wear a scarf or something.
I shaved as quickly and neatly as my current level of consciousness would allow, and then stumbled back into the bedroom. Still no one there. I glanced at my wristwatch. "Half past ten
"Oh, you're up!" Petersen's head popped out of the laptop keyboard. He looked different, but I couldn't figure out why. "Everybody's been worried about you."
"They have?" I rubbed my eye with the heel of my hand. "Why?"
It was his hair. It didn't look as flyaway as it used to, as if he'd calmed down and it was reflecting in his image. He brought his arms out to rest his head on his hands. "I told them you were out to lunch. I've seen people get sick like that before."
Although I was fairly used to not understanding Petersen, I was starting to get frustrated. "All right, so I was ill. How long have I been out of the loop?"
"Three daysno , wait, I tell a lie. Two days. The first day, you were still mostly responsive."
I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came out. It had been bad enough just waking up to find myself mostly alone. Never mind the comment about being "mostly responsive", three days was still three days and it was too long. Very large things could happen in that kind of time. I sat down hard in the computer chair, coming perilously close to falling past it entirely. "What have I missed?"
"Not very much." He pulled the rest of himself out of the computer and sat cross-legged several inches above the surface of the desk. "One of the higher-ups refused to let Dannon take you to a hospital, so he stormed off to find you some medicine."
"When was that?"
"Yesterday, I think. Maybe the day before." Petersen scratched his head. "He couldn't wake you up enough to take it, though. He seemed really upset about that. Left again, and came back with an IV, but he took it out last night.."
I looked down at my arm. Sure enough, there was an apparently fresh puncture, as well as a lightness in the skin around it that hinted at recently removed tape and gauze. It must have been Dannon who'd made a permanent place for my toothbrush, probably just to give himself something to do. Even when Joseph had been alive, he wouldn't have done anything like that, he'd had too much fun watching me search for my toothbrush every morning. I half suspected him of hiding it most of the time. "All right, I think I understand some of this. Or none. Never mind. Where is Dannon now?"
Petersen pushed his glasses up with his index finger, watching the ceiling intently as he thought. "Let's see
He said something about classes and his break being over."
"Class? I thought he'd dropped out to join us."
"That is how things usually go
But I asked him about it." Something gave me the feeling that Petersen would have gone red-cheeked if he'd had blood. "What he said is mostly not worth repeating."
"I can imagine." I was starting to feel genuinely awake now, but that only brought the leftovers of illness into sharp relief. My limbs felt watery and oddly incomplete, yet simultaneously too long. Fatigue tore at my joints and in general made me feel as if my whole body needed to yawn. Worst of all, I had the oddest craving for a sandwich with fried eggs and a liberal sprinkling of beef stock.
It took a little more effort than usual to search for Joseph's presence in the building. When I did find him, I shot up out of the chair and ran as best as my knees would let me into the bathroom. It was a particularly pathetic hobble that even an arthritic giraffe would have laughed at, but it got me there.
The lock on the window was jammed, so I knocked very carefully on the glass. "Joseph, what are you doing out there?!"
"Hey, look who's finally out of bed! How're you feeling, Mr. Invalidpants?" The familiar blue head poked cautiously through the window pane. Seeing him made things feel a little more normal, even if he was outside guarding the bathroom window.
"Like a reanimated log." I moved back to sit on the lip of the bathtub. "Get back inside already."
"No can do, Sleeping Beauty." There was a tightness to the way he spoke, as if he were under some sort of physical or mental strain. "Abney paid you a little visit a few days ago."
I nearly fell backwards into the tub. "What?! When?"
"Nearest guess is sometime after Petersen got his new haunt. Maybe that night." Joseph pulled his head back out, but I could still hear him perfectly well. "Abney's figured out how to get into dreams."
Equilibrium ruled the world and even the laws of causality bowed to it. Extremely good things exacted a bad price, so it stood to reason that extremely bad things exacted a beneficial price. As spirits descended further into madness, they also grew more powerful. And Abney had started out madder than a New York real estate agent.
"Look on the bright side, though, Hollowmark."
"At least your neck is happy."
Of course he'd seen it. I covered my face with one hand, sorting through my cluttered thoughts. If Abney had gotten into my dreams, it was no wonder he'd been able to make me sick. "I've always had trouble waking up from nightmares, haven't I?"
Joseph stuck his head back through the window to nod meaningfully, then disappeared again. "It's another of the many, many things that makes you such an incredible pansy."
"Thank you for that, Joseph, I had almost forgotten how highly you regard my self-esteem." Perhaps he was just in a good mood because Dannon had left, however temporarily.
If it was temporary. "How long will Dannon be gone?"
"Until mid-afternoon. But he's not exactly working under a curfew, you know."
I did know, but hearing the subject brought up made me want to give him one. Just to see what he would do with it. I started putting things away, just to keep my hands busy. "What did you do when you first joined the organization?"
"Why are you asking? You already know."
"Conversation's sake. Just tell me again." I hadn't forgotten, I just wanted someone to talk to me. It was a good distraction.
There was a distinct lack of hesitating action. He didn't sigh. "I checked out of the funny farm and disappeared from public record, same as you did."
I winced. "You didn't have to add that last bit."
"Just reminding you of some of the little things we've got in common. You came close to having even more in common with me, while you were out."
If I could have hit him with something, I probably would have. "That's pretty harsh, even for you."
He was silent for a long time. I was about to leave the room when he drifted through the window, all the way. "Sorry. Being dead sort of atrophies the tact muscles
Especially on that score."
I didn't answer. My hands were shaking, and my stomach was shriveling up. At least we had forced an extraction team to hurry out to the house on Sanchez Street. They'd cleared the block in truly record time, but horror stories always had a way of leaking around. My conscience rested easier than I did these days.
"Are you going to forgive me?"
I leaned on the wall so my knees wouldn't have a chance to abandon me. "When have I ever had to forgive you for anything?"
"Just now probably counts as one and a half."
"Let's forget about it."
Right. My call. The only decision I wanted to make was whether to drag myself back to bed or fall asleep on the carpet with a few steps to go. "Why am I so tired?"
"Nightmares don't really make for restful sleep." Joseph disappeared again. "I'm guessing the sedative or whatever it was didn't take."
"The what?" That was not a word I let pass by peacefully.
At first, there was no answer. For a second I was afraid I wouldn't get one at all, but then he said, "The kid. He brought a few things from a hospital, or a pharmacy, something like that. Scary how he knew what they were all for, if you think about it too long."
They must have been small things. I hadn't seen anything out of place in the room. I walked over to the window and leaned my forehead on it. It was like touching the inside of an ice cube. "Did Abney get in here?"
"No." The hard edge in Joseph's face was oddly comforting. He was very angry, and not at me. That could often be a good thing. "The whole building would be locked down if that had happened."
"Nearest guess is that dreams can bridge physical distances if you know how to do it."
"Which Abney apparently does."
I could practically see him shrugging. "It makes as much sense as anything else."
Unless there was someone on the inside who was as psychotic as Abney. I shuddered at the thought, pushing myself away from the window. No one would do that, even if they wanted me dead. "I'm going back to sleep.
That is okay, isn't it?"
There was a long pause. Then, "I guess. You've woken up once, so you can probably do it again. And maybe knowing your dreams are under attack will give you an advantage."
I hoped he was right. Especially since I was so tired that I almost didn't care if he was or not. My bed loomed like a day of poor weather and file work, only much more inviting.