It was a dream, he knew, but what kind he could no longer determine. He was at school, wandering through the film department of his university, the halls familiar yet faded around the edges, like a photo taken with a shaky hand. It was a wealthy school, a fact he never really considered in the past, but now he could not help but notice that the new linoleum floors had fresh wax and the walls were newly painted. They seemed to glow with wealth and prestige, bright markers carving a dark path. He looked down at his hands, shadowed in the glow of the yellow paint.
The hall was empty, the doors peppering its length all locked tight except for one. The door furthest down the hallway was wide open, a faint light emitting from the doorway like a beacon. Chuck moved toward it with soundless steps – he never heard his footsteps in his dreams – but it was hard to walk, like walking at the bottom of a swimming pool with the water bearing down on his long limbs. Patiently he traversed the hall one slow step at a time, passing one closed door and the next.
The lack of mobility in his dreams used to make him panic. When his own body refused to work as he knew it, when it was slower than in real life or wouldn't move at all – the panic that came with the lack of control often made him wake before the dream had even begun. It had taken a few years for the fear of his dreams to cease completely, a few more years to grasp that those dreams weren't just uncanny coincidences or his brain working through last night's dinner, but visions of coming events, boring events: his cousin spilling cake at a party, his brother practicing a jolly folk song on his violin, a joke about a badger and a raccoon his professor would tell in documentary class. It amused him to know these things would happen even if he could not be sure of when they might take place or how. In the past, before this whole mess unfolded -- before his little brother had been abducted by some psychopathic dead guy -- Chuck had been glad of the limitedness of his visions. It was no fun, he had supposed, to know everything to come down to the very second. It would make for a very boring life, and Charlemagne Quentin was not a man to stand for boredom of any sort. But then he had had a vision of his brother being injured, of that girl Max standing over him, and from then on he cursed his prophetic sight. What was the good of being able to see what was coming if you didn't know why or when?
And so he had done the only thing he could. He warned Ben, who laughed him off. He waited for that girl to show up, waited for his chance to frighten her away. But he had failed and Ben was gone and so were his visions at night, replaced by nagging suspicions that there was more he should have done and clues he should have seen.
But now he walked in his first dream in four months.
There was a tingling in his joints that could have been excitement or fear. He suppressed it; strong feelings weakened his hold on his dreams, and he was not ready to wake up just yet. He neared the open door, posters that sought roommates and offered to sell textbooks shining like illuminated roadsigns along his path. He slowly raised his hand (the pressure was always worse when moving upwards) to rest it on the doorframe. His edges of his hand blurred; he ignored it and stepped into the room – and fell into an alley.
Chuck stumbled on the gray pavement and tried to curse. The words wouldn't form in his throat; it would be that kind of dream, it seemed. Instead of a dark room he stood in an alley as bright as midday, ensconced between two dusty brick buildings and a heap of trash cans that reeked of rotting fruit and stale breads. The bricks were sharp and clear, each individual rectangle outlined in gray plaster, the cement beneath his sneakered feet pocked with dried gum.
At the mouth of the alley stood Benjamin Quentin. The dream wavered, breaking into ripples that shook the brick walls and blurred Ben; Chuck wrestled with his desperation, his relief, his fear, until the world quieted again. He raised his hand and took a step forward, tried to speak – still heavy, still silent. Still a dream.
He wore the same pressed jeans, his favorite, the same blue shirt from the museum, the front dark with blood. His dark hair was gray with dust, his face ashen and thin. He was carefully blank, neither smiling nor frowning, an expression so alien Chuck was hard pressed to believe it was his same brother. Chuck's hands shook; he stilled them with care. Ben had both his eyes, two warm brown eyes –
Except he didn't –
One brown eye and one of blue amber –
Chuck clenched his fists, tried to run forward but it was too hard, the air was too thick like molasses or rope or wire and he took a deep breath and shouted hard, until the words forced their way through his throat and into the sky, "Is that what I need to find, Ben? I'll find it if it is, promise!"
And then he woke.