Nausea set in. My mind raced, struggling to process the notion. “But then…why did I wake up in the office building? That’s not like any dream I’ve had. Shouldn’t it have been somewhere familiar?” He asked me if I did anything different. If I just fell asleep normally, or if I took drugs of some sort.
I told him about Dr. Travigan. About the little house surrounded by maple trees at the edge of the campus, and about the God helmet. He whistled. “Shit. That’s got to be it. A magnetic helmet? I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’ve met a couple of guys who were only here for a few minutes, frying their brains on some kinda dope they called DMT, but you’re the first person I’ve met who did it with a gadget. What year was it when you went in for this treatment?”
I told him, and registered undisguised shock on his face. “Well that explains it. Jesus. Why just you though? I shoulda been overrun by other people using the same machine by now.” I explained that the business based on the technology shut down some time ago and the only surviving helmet was in private hands.
“I see. And you say that a fellow by the name of Travigan owns it?” I nodded. “Well. That’s really something.” I asked why he wanted to know, and whether it would make any difference in how we proceed.
“Oh, it’s just…don’t trouble yourself kid. I was curious, is all.” We retreated back the way we came, once again clambering over the fallen wall with a section of the mural painted on it. The circular, inward facing facade, the house, all of it turned out to be just one of many similar constructs built out here in the wastes.
After piling back into the car and getting underway, we passed more and more of the queer little microcosms. Each one consisting of only what’s necessary to fool the dreamer inside. Props, scenery, banks of floodlights and sprinklers to supply rain.
“Shouldn’t we help them?” I asked. He shook his head, not taking his eyes off the road. “Think about how many there are. Just the two of us working nonstop wouldn’t be able to make a dent in the total number of dreamers, even if we kept at it until we’re old and grey.”
Assuming we age here, I thought. There was no longer any question in my mind why the nightscape passing by outside the car window looked so familiar. One in the same with the backdrop I remember from that damnable recurring dream.
“I never thought I’d be here” I murmured. His ears perked up but he said nothing. “I mean, it never occurred to me that this was an actual place I might wind up. Like how ancient man thought celestial bodies were just lights in the sky, before we knew they were other worlds.”
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. After a while the dream theatres thinned out, appearing less frequently until there were simply no more of them. Just a vast, seemingly endless expanse of wasteland all around.
I started to wonder if maybe there truly is no end to it. If, in leaving that little oasis of coherence, I’ve consigned myself to an eternity of driving through this abhorrent concrete expanse. Moist patches of it glisten as if in the moonlight, though there is no moon in the sky.
Naturally. When you’re dreaming, if you look at the Moon, you will realize it and usually wake up soon afterward. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? It used to bother me that dreams have universally consistent rules, though lately it makes more and more sense by the minute.
The car slowed. “What? What is it?” He pointed to a fast approaching forest of some sort. I knew not to expect trees but was still surprised when it consisted instead of rusty pipes. Just a vast, tangled mess of interconnected pipes, emitting occasional puffs of steam from leaky junctures.
“We’ll have to continue on foot” he grumbled. “There’s no way around this, believe me I’ve tried.” I was loathe to leave the relative comfort and safety of the car, but could see no gaps between the pipes large enough to drive between.
Laboriously stepping over and edging around the convoluted nest of piping only further slowed our progress. More than once, I only narrowly avoided a scalding blast of steam.
It proved difficult to grip the pipes for stability, when climbing over and around them, without cutting myself on the rust. Chilled condensation made them slippery as well, and humidity steadily increased as we pushed further in until our clothes were sopping wet.
The vapor soon hung so thick in the air that I struggled to breathe. Where it came fresh out of the pipe, it was unbearably hot. But in the gaps between those sweltering clouds, my drenched clothing rapidly cooled down in the night air and my teeth chattered.
So when the first opening appeared, I wasted no time dashing through it, even as John shouted after me. I emerged into the crisp, cold blackness of the concrete plains to find a structure in the distance. One unlike anything we’ve so far encountered.
Industrial by the looks of it. Rectilinear concrete, decrepit steel framework and a pair of crumbling smoke stacks jutting up from the roof. “Stop!” John cried, arriving next to me out of breathe. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t go in there.”
I could see nothing obviously amiss. There was no circular mural surrounding it as with the dream theaters, but it didn’t look overtly menacing. A curved bay window separated into tall, thin facets looked out over the wasteland, though I don’t imagine anyone inside could see out through it.
Their view would be blocked by banks of glowing orange bulbs suspended in front of every window, perhaps to give the impression of sunlight to anyone dwelling within. “That’s the foundry” John huffed, still winded from running after me. “I’ve seen countless people wander in there out of curiosity. None ever came out.”
I wondered aloud whether that might be because it’s an exit. John released an irritated sigh. “Look, I got you this far didn’t I? Just trust me. You want nothing to do with that place.” Reluctantly, I followed him back into the muggy confines of the pipe forest, now and then looking over my shoulder…wondering if he really knows best.
When we next emerged, panting from heat exhaustion, clothes dripping, it was to a sight grander than any before it. I must have fooled myself into believing I had a handle on what sort of things I could find in this place, because I felt wholly unprepared for the wall.
The wall’s concrete, of course. At least a hundred feet tall! So long that it extended from one horizon to the other, neither end visible from our position. Thin, wispy blankets of fog crept along the ground between the wall and the edge of the pipe forest that we’d just escaped.
“This is where my parents are? On the other side?” He didn’t answer the question but hardly needed to, as he wore a wide grin that implied it plainly enough. “I told you I’d get you there didn’t I? I told you I would, now here we are.” I took off my shirt while he congratulated himself, wrung it out, then put it back on.
As we covered the distance between the edge of the pipe forest and the base of the wall, I began to shiver again. The concrete seemed to chill my feet straight through the shoes. Not bitterly cold, just enough that I couldn’t get comfortable.
Now and again I could swear I saw the pipes which sprout from the ground and run along it subtly shifting position. Like the tendrils of some plant, or subterranean beast, which move only when I’m not looking. So absorbed was I that more than once I tripped over some piping, or a crevice in the ground.
Once close enough I began to make out features in the wall which weren’t visible from afar. Narrow walkways, windows, doorways and other signs that the structure’s inhabited. Faint black figures shuffled from doorway to doorway, retreating inside as they spotted us approaching.
The ascent was slow and arduous. Most of all making our way along exterior walkways, which were cracked and crumbling in places. Every time we ducked back into the structure through one of the countless doorways I felt relief, but also anxiety. We’re not alone here.
I didn’t get a good look at the figures which fled upon sighting us earlier, but I’ve got my suspicions. The fact that they behave as if afraid of us is no comfort, as I don’t know the reason. This place hides many secrets, none of them pleasant.
Stay Tuned for Part 14!