Interlude 1- Earth

Reports are still flooding in regarding what is now being called a “mass shared dream-like experience” by experts and the “Sleepocalypse” on internet forums.  The vision appears to have been experienced around the globe, with accounts reported as far as Portugal, Brazil, Egypt, and possibly beyond. Opinions vary widely regarding the vision’s content, with some fascinated by the supernatural elements on display, while others take a dimmer view.  Joining us now is Mary Vicker, founder and chair of the CRFV, Committee for the Return of Family values to give us her feelings on the subject.

“Hi John.  This so-called ‘dream’ was an abomination.  Whether it was natural or caused by some unknown criminal, it has caused incalculable damage that will resound for generations through our country.  My twelve year old twins, like every other sleeping child in America, dreamed of green monsters with bare breasts running through the wilderness. What mother is prepared to have a conversation on the lewd nature of these visions?  What mother should have to? To say nothing of-

 Deb flipped off the TV, unwilling to listen to the inane report on the same topic for the fourth night in a row.  It had been wall to wall coverage ever since the night of the dream, with little new information to show for any of it.  Real life was hardly any better. Almost anyone who had experienced the vision—which was more or less anyone asleep by 12:30 on that Sunday night—talked about nothing else.  Discussions, theories, debates on causes…it was exhausting, especially if you didn’t care all that much. Not that Deb wouldn’t have been fascinated under other circumstances, but she had other priorities at the moment.

Her son was missing.

And this damn dream meant that getting any help was near impossible.  Everyone was sympathetic, to be sure, but no one had the attention span to focus on her problems with this weirdness going on.  Especially once they knew that she hadn’t seen her son in person for the last two years. The police had been polite, but all of their questions had been pointed, their interest visibly lessening with each answer.

No, he didn’t live with her.  Yes, he lived in a different city.  Yes, they went long periods without talking.  No, it hadn’t been a week since she had been unable to contact him.  It was infuriating! There might be distance between them, but her son picked up the phone like clockwork every month she called.  Deb knew in her bones that something had happened to her boy, even if no one else did.

She’d only turned on the news in the first place in some vain hope that they would have a segment about missing persons, maybe get the word out.  It had been a long shot, especially since no one had even contacted her about it, but Deb could feel herself getting increasingly irrational with worry.  Five days since their scheduled call. She hadn’t dared blow up his phone with calls and texts in case there was an explanation and he got annoyed, but her hope faded each day he stayed out of contact.

The worst part was the waiting.  Going into work, knowing that her routine was important, but unable to do anything useful for her child.  It was frustrating to be in Kansas, so far from anywhere she might make a difference. If she was in Los Angeles…

Deb bolted up on the couch, prompting the cat in her lap to yowl bitterly.  She could do that. She could fly out to LA, find her son. He’d agreed to give her his address so she could send him letters and presents, and she knew the college he attended.  Surely someone there would have some clue as to what happened to him. If nothing else, the police where he actually lived should be informed about his disappearance. And if it turned out he had just turned off his phone and was safe and sound, well…at least she’d know,  He couldn’t begrudge a mother’s worry.

Her mind raced ahead, considering the logistics.  She had plenty of sick days saved up, and it was slow this time of year at the shop anyway.  There would probably be a yoga class and workout that she would miss, but this was more important.  Say three days for the trip and come back on the fourth morning. Flight, hotel, food…she could swing it.  It was a lot easier to save up in a household that consisted of one person and one cat. Shit, Melody. The tabby would eat all the food in a day if she just put a big bowl out.  Maybe her neighbors could feed her for a few days. And if not, hell, this was a Kansas suburb. There had to be mice and squirrels around that she could hunt.

The piercing meow—really more of a shriek—that gave the cat her name came as she pawed at the door.  Mechanically, Deb got up to let her out, stepping carefully to avoid the rotund feline. She watched her waddle up to a meticulously cut shrub and take two tries to jump on top, walking away with an air of dignity that dared anyone to suggest her movements were anything less than graceful.

Maybe relying on the cat’s hunting skills wasn’t the best idea.

Still, Deb had a plan in place now, and already felt better for it.  She texted her boss that she would be out for a few days and set about buying the plane tickets.

Technically Deb had a computer—and even a smartphone since her sister in Maine had insisted on buying her one for Christmas—but she hadn’t ever really gotten comfortable using the internet for anything other than Facebook.  So she booked the flight by phone, pleased that they still had spots available on the plane the next day.

The rest of the night she spent packing and considering her approach to find her son. Presumably he would have roommates, though she had never met them.  He had refused any money she had offered, and it was hard to imagine a college student making enough to live on their own without support. If they could point her in the direction of her son, great.  If not, they would know what classes he had been taking and give her something to go on.

More relaxed when she went to bed that night, Deb fell asleep faster than she had in a long time.

***

It was a long drive to the airport in Topeka the next day, but at least the place was empty when she got there.  There were friends who could probably have driven her, but Deb couldn’t stand the idea of the small talk she would have to endure if she did so.  Instead, she paid to leave her car in the airport for the next few days while she was in LA. The worker was friendly in a customer service kind of way when Deb went to check in her bag and chatted ceaselessly while putting in her information.

“Put your bag there, ma’am.  So did you have that dream everyone’s going on about?” 

Deb nodded wordlessly, barely listening.

“Oh yeah, me too of course,” the man at the desk said.  “Woke up the next day, thought it was the craziest dream I’ve had in a long time.  Only to find out my whole family had the same one! Crazy. I didn’t even know what any of those people or whatever were in it, but my son said they were elves and dwarves at first, but he wasn’t sure when all those pictures started flashing by.  Something must have caused it, never dreamed anything like that before. Personally, I think it must have been one of those radio waves. There’s so many they use now, there’s gotta be one that can get into your dreams. Ok, here’s your tag.”

Thankfully, the process finished and Deb could leave before she had to respond.  Somehow any talk about that damned dream was starting to anger her, as if the world thought some stupid shared hallucination was more important than the disappearance of her son.  She made her way through security and onto the plane with a minimum of difficulty, her mind already far away in Los Angeles. The flight and layovers blurred together until she finally stepped foot in California, amid the chaos of an airport ten times larger than the one she had come from.

It was night when she arrived, and Deb considered checking in to her hotel, but the thought of delaying her search for even one night made her stomach clench.  She ordered a taxi and gave him her son’s address.

The driver wanted to talk about the dream too, but quickly caught the vibe from Deb that she wanted to stay quiet.  She spent the ride looking out the window, marveling at the claustrophobia of the city compared to anywhere in Kansas.  The freeways were closer to parking lots, tall buildings dominated the skyline, and what few stars were visible were filtered through a haze of smog.  Regret wormed through Deb’s heart that she had never been able to see it until now, hadn’t had the slightest idea of what her son’s life entailed. He had made her promise to respect his wishes though, and one of them was not to see him unless he initiated the contact.

She murmured a quiet prayer for his safety, and that he would understand why she had come if he was still at his home.  After the longest, slowest drive Deb could remember, the driver dropped her off with her pair of bags at the foot of what was obviously an apartment complex aimed at students.  It was all one building with a parking garage on the first floor and no apparent lock or barrier to entry. Despite the late hour, a number of young adults were out on the sidewalk, laughing and heading out to have fun.  It sent a pang through Deb to remember her own college days, even with the worry she felt.

Shaking off the sudden barrage of memories, she entered and made her way through the complex to find the number he had given her.  Many of the doors she passed were open and people wandered between them freely, laughing and calling out to their friends. The clamor echoed through the hall, creating a friendly, social atmosphere that made Deb’s heart ache.    Before she was really ready, she found herself in front of the apartment labeled with the number she had been sending packages to for the last year. This door was actually closed, and Deb dropped her bags, walked up, took a breath and knocked before she had a chance to second-guess herself.

A young man opened the door.  His eyes were red and a particularly recognizable scent floated out from within the apartment.  Deb ignored it completely. No judgement. She was not here to judge her son’s lifestyle.

“Umm…can I help you?” the young man asked, clearly confused.

“Hi,” Deb said with a smile.  “My name is Deborah Casterley.  I’m looking for my son, Luke. I believe he lives here?”  

“Oh.” the young man said, and paused for an excessive amount of time.  “He’s, uh not—”

“Not here right now!”  A girl interrupted, pushing the young man out of the way at the door.  Her eyes looked blessedly clear. “Luke isn’t here. Right, Aggy?” she said pointedly to the young man.  “I’ll take care of this, why don’t you go back inside?”

Clearly relieved, the young man—Aggy, apparently—wandered back inside the apartment out of sight.  Deb tried to crane her neck to see more of the interior, but the girl narrowed the opening to block the view.  Stymied, Deb gave this new girl a once-over glance. She was Mexican or something, her brown hair dyed with streaks of blonde.  Clearly in for the night, she wore pajamas and thick glasses. A bit pudgy, Deb noted. She smiled at the girl, injected as much friendliness in her tone as she could.

“Aggy, huh?  Must be a story behind that name.”

“Yep,” the girl replied, deadpan.  “He’s from Davis.”

Deb’s plastered smile faded a bit.  “So you said Luke’s not here right now?  Do you know if he’ll be back later tonight?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe try calling him?  Sorry I can’t be more help.”  She tried to close the door, but Deb stuck her foot in.

“I did try to call him.  That’s actually why I’m here.  He hasn’t responded to any of my messages and he’s always so punctual, so I’m just checking up on him.  When was the last time you saw him? Do you know where he went?” 

The girl hesitated.  “To be honest, I don’t think I should tell you any of that.  Luke told us a little bit about you before. If he didn’t call you back, maybe he just doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Deb’s voice grew colder.  “I just want to see my son.  Can you help me with that or do I have to go to the police?”

Instantly, the girl’s eyes turned hard.  “Good luck with that. Weed’s legal now, remember?  Call the cops and all that happens is they find out there’s a crazy woman here trying to force her son to love her.”

She finally managed to slam the door shut in Deb’s face, leaving her alone in the hallway.  She considered pounding on the door, but it probably wouldn’t accomplish anything. The girl’s manner made her think that she was telling the truth that Luke wasn’t there, but she didn’t seem particularly worried as if he was missing, either.  If he wasn’t at home, where was he? With more questions than when she started, Deb left the building and summoned another taxi to take her to the hotel. It was too late now, but she still had one more lead. Hopefully the university would be more helpful in finding her son.  Any information they had was probably confidential, but they wouldn’t refuse a worried mother, surely. Surely.

***

“How dare you deny me my rights as a mother!  My son could be abducted, or lost, or dead for all you know, and you won’t even tell me what classes he’s taking?  What’s wrong with you?”

She knew that the tirade was attracting attention and even felt a little guilty about taking her frustrations out on the attendant behind the desk who was clearly just doing his job, but after the tensions of the last week it felt impossible to just bottle it up and leave empty-handed.  Not that her outburst seemed likely to change that.

“As I just explained, ma’am, it’s not just school policy, it is federal law that I am unable to furnish any information regarding students to individuals without a release to receive such information.  You’ll have to contact your son and have him sign a release in order for us to be able to give you his class schedule.”

The official kept an air of impeccable calm in the face of Deb’s heated words.  It was like arguing with a particularly well-spoken brick wall. Which only infuriated her further.

“Bring him here and we would do it in a second!  But you can’t, because no one knows where. He. IS!”  The last word made the jump from vehement argument to outright shouting, at which point Deb regained some measure of self-control.  Forcing the man to call campus security would do nothing to help find Luke.

Before he could respond, she silently turned on her heels and stalked out of the registrar’s office.   Her last lead, up in smoke after half a day of investigation. She tried to conjure up any scrap of memory of her conversations with Luke that might help her, but nothing useful presented itself.  Truthfully, she’d always done most of the talking when he called, desperate to keep him on the line as long as possible. He had mentioned some friends in passing, but all she had were first names to go on, and she’d already seen the kind of reception that would likely wait for her if she did manage to locate any of them.

She paced through the campus, lost in a haze.  No matter how she approached it, her search for Luke appeared to have hit a dead end.  His friends hated her, the campus wouldn’t talk to her, and in one of the biggest cities in the world there was a near-infinite number of places he might be.  It couldn’t have been more difficult to find him if he was trying to hide from her. For the first time, Deb seriously considered the possibility that that was the case.  He had clearly shared at least some of his feelings about their relationship with the girl at his apartment, already making her wary when Deb came asking around. And despite her indignation at the registrar’s office, Luke had plenty of opportunity to allow her access to his school records.  In her heart of hearts, Deb could guess what his answer would be if he were here and she could ask him directly. She’d always held tight to the desperate belief that he still loved her, even after all that happened. Now the first tendrils of doubt were creeping in, and she wondered if he didn’t want her to be able to find him.

Unbidden, tears welled up at the corners of her eyes.  She wiped them away to avoid ruining her makeup, but they wouldn’t stop.  Her son was a stranger. She didn’t even know him well enough to know where he would go beyond home and school.  Hell, she couldn’t even say if he had decided to just…cut contact. They were half-estranged already, really. Maybe the entire thing had been one enormous overreaction on her part.  Deb thought that she could live with that as long as she knew he was safe. Either way, he probably wouldn’t be happy even if she managed to find him. Flying across the country, antagonizing his friends, yelling at the school…a half-hysteric giggle escape as she considered her actions from outside her own perspective.

“Jesus.”

The familiar voice broke Deb out of her self-pitying reverie, bringing her back to awareness of her surroundings.

She was walking along a brick path through a perfectly manicured park in the middle of the campus.  Standing nearby, looking at her wide-eyed with a set of books in her arms was the same girl who had shut the apartment door on her the previous night.  Behind her, a disheveled man walked up and down the pavement with a painted sign proclaiming that “The Dreams Foretell the End of All Things”, shouting at anyone who got close.

Suddenly self-conscious, Deb rubbed at her face, but she knew the streaks of mascara must have already been far too visible to hide.

“I guess you had a rough morning, huh?”  Deb bristled at the tone of sympathy from a girl less than half her age, but the tattered shreds of her dignity kept her from displaying it outwardly.

“The buildings on this campus have some of the most ridiculous architecture I’ve ever seen.  This is a university, not a Roman coliseum.” Deb paused as the absurdity of the non-sequitur hit her, then shrugged internally.

Off to one side, the doomsayer was working himself into a frenzy.  “Those who share in the dream shall share of heaven’s bounty!  Only the wicked are denied the visions of God!”

“Uh huh,” the student said, smiling slightly.  She studied Deb, seeming hesitant. After a moment she appeared to come to some kind of decision and exhaled.

“Look, I really have to get to class right now, but if you come back to my apartment after six tonight, maybe we can talk more.

“And what exactly do we have to talk about?” Deb asked, glaring.  She hadn’t forgotten the girl’s parting words from the previous night.

To deny the truth of the dream is to deny your own desire to be saved.  All things come unto those who have faith in the Lord!”

“Well, I figured Luke mostly, but if you’re gonna be a bitch about it we can skip the whole thing.”  She shrugged. “Come or don’t, doesn’t make much of a difference to me. I have to go.”

She hurried off, leaving Deb alone with the crier who was still screaming at no one in particular.

The deviant are blocked from the eye of God and His visions of truth!  His benediction shall touch neither the masturbator, nor the atheist, nor the homosexual.  Only the deserving shall be saved!”

“Shut the fuck up,” Deb muttered before walking to the nearest bathroom.

***

For the second time in as many nights, Deb found herself standing outside her son’s apartment door.  This time she felt unaccountably nervous, as though she were a girl standing outside the door to the principal’s office.  Shaking off the feeling, she knocked against the wood.

The same girl opened the door and allowed Deb to step inside.  She still looked dressed for class, though now she went without socks or shoes.  Deb glanced around the room. It was a fairly typical example of what she expected of a college apartment.  Torn couch in front of a large TV, kitchen that looked like it could use a thorough cleaning, carpet with mysterious stains scattered throughout.  The smell of pot lingered, though the girl was the only person immediately visible and she seemed as sober as the night before.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” she said, following her own advice and plopping down on the couch.

Deb glanced down and saw stains fresh enough to make her hesitate.

“I’ll stand, thanks.”

“Whatever makes you happy.  Why are you looking for Luke?”

Deb raised an eyebrow.  “I told you. He’s always very regular about our calls and now its been several days without contact.  I’m worried about him.

“Ok,” the girl said.  “But why are you looking for him?  He said you haven’t seen each other in years.  And that it didn’t go well the last time he left.  What made you drop everything to fly halfway across the country based on a call missed by someone you barely talk to?”

Deb stiffened.  “I don’t think it’s any of your business, but he’s not someone, he’s my son.  And really, I could ask the same of you.  Less than twenty-four hours ago you said I was trying to ‘force him to love me’ and slammed that door in my face.  Why talk to me now?”

The girl was quiet for a heartbeat.  Then she sighed. “Honestly, because when I saw you today at the park, that wasn’t the face of a batshit crazy mom trying to control her son.  You looked genuinely scared. So I thought I’d at least try to see if you’re doing this for the right reasons. So what are the reasons?  Why are you in Los Angeles?

Deb stared back.  Anger stirred at the idea that this girl would presume to act as judge for her relationship with her son.  She opened her mouth, unsure what would come out, but before she could speak one of the doors off of the living room opened and hit the wall behind it with a bang.

Aggy shuffled in the living room, looking around aimlessly.  “Izzy, have you seen LeBong James? I can’t find him anywhere.”

The girl closed her eyes in irritation.  “I don’t know where your fucking bong is, Aggy.  The living room’s mine tonight, get the fuck out of here.”

“I’m going, but I can’t leave until I find LeBong.  Just help me, it’ll be faster.”

Vete a la mierda,” Izzy muttered.  A knock came at the door.

“What the fuck now?” she said.  She got up and cracked it open. Deb looked over but couldn’t see who the girl was speaking to.  From her body language it seemed to be something serious.

Deb wandered toward the door, more out of desire not to speak to Aggy than anything else.  The visitor was speaking in a low tone.

“-anything that could help us find him?” 

Her heart pounding, Deb shoved her way past Izzy into the opening at the door.  “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re trying to find someone?”

A woman in a professional suit stood at the threshold, bemused at the sudden addition to the conversation.  “Yes, ma’am. I was just asking about a previous resident of this apartment. Luke Casterley?”

Izzy finally gave in and opened the door all the way, but Deb glared at her.  “Previous resident?”

The newcomer nodded.  “That’s correct. Are you acquainted with him?  There is a…search going on for him, and any information you might have would be helpful.” 

“Yes,” Deb said excitedly.  “I’m his mother. I’ve been looking for him too!  That’s why I’m here, actually. I’ll help any way I can.”

“I was his roommate for a long time,” Izzy said, cutting in.  “I want to help too.”

“Of course,” the woman said.  “In that case, would the two of you mind accompanying me?  We have a location for formal interviews not far from here.”

The two women glanced at each other, but didn’t complain.  Izzy quickly put on a pair of shoes and told Aggy he was on his own.  They left the apartment, walking through the complex and out to the sidewalk in silence until they reached a black SUV parked on the curb.  Deb noticed that it was in a no parking zone, but didn’t seem to have been disturbed. The professional got behind the wheel, and once they were moving, Deb couldn’t contain herself any longer.

“Do you have any leads on where Luke might be, ma’am?”

The woman glanced back from the driver’s seat, expression unreadable.

“You can call me Detective Howitz.  There’s nothing concrete on your son yet.  Our department is rather…specialized. The investigation is still in the early stages.  As soon as we learn anything, you will be the first to know, Ms. Casterley.”

Deb nodded.  There was silence for several minutes until Howitz cleared her throat.

“There is one question you might both answer for me now, though.  Ms. Cano, Ms. Casterley…tell me, what do you know about the mass dream that occurred last week?” 

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