The disoriented man walked down to where his friend stood. Omar called up the last few steps. “The door was unlocked.”
A short, elderly hunched-back man was in view on reaching the entryway. He wore a brown tweed overcoat and sat in one of the armchairs in the living room; a briefcase lay across his lap.
Omar made introductions. “Ally, this is Mr. Reznicek. Mr. Reznicek, this is Remote Man B.”
Aloysius’ lips mimicked the familiar words. “Remote Man B?”
The friend brought him up to speed. “That’s your designated target name.”
The dawdling older gentleman, with one spasmodic hand arrested inside the lining of placket, used the other to point his walking stick at the tall man, as though to make polite conversation with it.
The painter was not seduced to cordiality. “Whatís going on?”
Omar made a preliminary sketch. “I did find out a few things in Chicago, Ally. Like I said. This reality TV show is more realistic than anyone could ever have imagined.” He picked up one of the videocassettes in the floor from the previous dayís adventure and shoved it into the VCR.
The anxious resident, sinking to the sofa, commented, “Those are the useless videos I found in Jacques’ trash.”
Scratchy blackness streamed across the television screen, although the flashing clock from upstairs was visible in the lower corner. Omar explained, “Youíve been under hypnosis since the night of the strange phone call. This is you as you presently are, sleeping at a secure location.”
Aloysius laughed. “I copied over that tape yesterday! Thatís my busted clock on the nightstand!”
Omar ejected the tape and inserted another one; the picture was identical.
The artist leaned forward in a faint. “This can’t be?”
The friend paused to let it sink in. “Everything that’s happened to you since the phone call has been part of the contractual agreement you signed.”
Aloysius scoffed. “Signed what? I signed nothing.”
The elderly man broke in with a click of false teeth. “You did, Mr. Gauge. You gave us your blood and fingerprints.”
“That’s crazy! I gave those phony policemen my fingerprints just a couple of days ago!”
Mr. Reznicek corrected the impression. “The events are scrambled in your mind, Mr. Gauge. It is a precaution taken to ensure that you would have no certain recollection of the events leading into this, lest it ruin the premise of the show.” He opened his briefcase and handed a document to the fellow lawyer. “Though, rest assured, everything you’ve been experiencing has been a fabrication of your sleep.”
Omar took the pages. “I’m here in a legal capacity, Ally, as much as being here for you as a friend.”
Aloysius mumbled, “That can’t be me on TV.”
Mr. Reznicek elaborated, “I am not at liberty to disclose the extent of it, but the nature of this television program is quite involved. We have developed the ability to reproduce, down to the last jot, every point of your projected reality. This is not so much a virtual reality as the outskirts of a metaphysical one. Your fruitless attempt to find cameras and induce hallucinogenic states with pills has missed the point of our enterprise. All this you see around you is a figment conjured out of, what we call, ‘the web of dreams.’ In our unique experiment, we are breaking down this illusion like so many soap bubbles until we whittle down the phenomenon to its barebones: its last conscious moment of duality. It is a brilliant scheme, but like all new technologies this procedure has had its share of kinks. Hence, some of the transmissions you’ve received of late are not the ones you were intended to receive.”
Aloysius, stupefied, hardly listened.
Omar lifted his eyes from the document to squint out the darkening curtains. He assumed his loftier tone. “That shadow has been passing into your consciousness for some time, Ally, like pieces of an event that cannot be understood on its own terms, but takes many forms as it nears. The Universe is ending, little brother. In the blink of an eye. It is happening so fast that, as it gets closer to the last second of consciousness, it will all but stop. All space and time will precede it imperceptibly through the pinhole.”
Aloysius was having none of it. “You’re my canary in the mineshaft, remember? If you’re losing it, then that means I’m losing it, too!”
Mr. Reznicek picked up the thread. “We are convinced that, if we follow this path back through a single mind, we will glimpse some aspect of the true nature of reality. We may not understand what we see, naturally. At best we are only lobbing cans over the fence into Godís backyard. Still, we will be, in some sense, a party to the event.”
Aloysius remained bogged down in details. “Even if all this nonsense were true, what on Earth would possess me to sign up for it?”
The older man was quick. “Why, for a happy ending, of course. Your life in Chicago was a miserable affair. You were only too eager to jump at this chance.”
“What…? To be plunged into a nightmare? This is my happy ending?”
The foreign man shot Aloysius a stare. “The Day of Eternal Noon’s producers did not intend it should be perceived as a nightmare.”
“The Day of Eternal Noon?” grimaced the contracted man.
“This is our working title for the show,” Reznicek proclaimed enthusiastically. “The advance aspects of the story are quite glittery, but the background script was in conference intolerably long. The plot, admittedly, is something of a McGuffin, a Lifetime movie of the week, but the glittery bits…!”
(Aloysius was not impressed with the press packet.)
Reznicek, clearly his throat, sobered. “The nightmares you’ve experienced are most unfortunate, but, you see, my clients can only use what they have at hand in the way of your particular memories to communicate with you. The memories they chose were perfectly good ones, though when things were thrown out of kilter during the initiation procedure, the frequency shifted to other memories. Some not so pleasant. ‘Intrusive memories’, I believe, is the medical term.”
“Who are your clients, anyway?” snapped Aloysius. “Who are these people?”
“Why the folks who put you in the house, of course—and whose names I cannot divulge as a legal matter.”
Omar sought to focus his friend. “Like I said, I’m here as your counsel. They’ve brought you partially out of hypnosis to get your approval for terms rectifying the situation. I’m here to make sure they are agreeable terms.”
The fellow attorney laughed somberly. “Agreeable is an understatement, Mr. Bentem. The outcome here, however, depends on your client.”
Omar summed it up. “The procedure cannot be reversed, but the producers can guarantee, at the end at least, a happy ending, as stipulated in the first contract. However, this requires a midcourse correction.”
“They need the kid.”
Mr. Reznicek injected, “We want the child, Mr. Gauge. If you give us the child, then we can make allt right in the end.”
Aloysius gasped, “Who are you talking about?”
Omar was plainspoken. “They mean the kid in the bed sheet. The ghost.”
Mr. Reznicek expanded on the request. “The truth is, Mr. Gauge, your nightmares began with the child. My clients believe if they can remove the child from the matrix, they can affect the result they intended. This will require a hard clean, which means all your past memories will be recorded over. In their place you will be given a new memory: a future memory.”
The artist was defiant. “This is ridiculous.”
Omar stepped in as the older brother. “Ally, I don’t ask you to understand it. Just to trust me. This is not a betrayal. Think of it as an exorcism.”
Aloysius rubbed his forehead in frustration. “So what is actually happening here? Does the Universe cease to exist because my mind crosses some threshold?”
Mr. Reznicek put a poetic spin on it. “You will pass into it like a whisper, Mr. Gauge. A fond remembrance.”
“This should make me feel better?”
The attorneys shared a curious look; Aloysius sensed there was more to it than what he was being told.
Omar handed him the new contract for a signature. “There is, of course, a generous financial settlement attached to this new contract, for your pain and suffering.”
The signatory’s thoughts naturally ran to Emma, and his desire to pay her way through school. Hesitating, he pressed pen to paper.
Omar barked a stipulation. “You have to sign it as Remote Man B.”
“Who is Remote Man A?”
Mr. Reznicek cleared his throat, again. “You are the alternate candidate in this business, Mr. Gauge. The first choice candidate cannot fulfill his duties.”
Both lawyers shared another look.
This was nothing to do with poor Brae, the painter told himself. Whether she was ever real or not, her fate was beyond his control. This was to do with Emma, and the child she carried. This was about their future together. He signed the document.
Omar took the papers and gave them to Mr. Reznicek. “I don’t believe we have anymore business here.”
The elderly man placed the documents in his briefcase before rising to poke his way to the foyer. Opening the front door, he glanced back with parting words. “Though you have no reason to accept my well-wishes, Mr. Gauge, it is my sincerest desire that you live happily ever after.”
Omar removed the videotape from the VCR and turned off the TV once the man was gone. He was to the point. “When next you hear a knock, Ally, you will have no recollection of this conversation. And when you hear the final knock, you will know to surrender the child.”
“What about Emma?”
“The child... Do you understand?”
With the onset of drowsiness, the resident cobbled together one last question. “Who is my benefactor, Ommie?”
Omar moved to the door, but tarried to recite a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
With this, he stepped over the threshold.
Aloysius sat stunned after the door closed, but remembered Emma alone in the bedroom. He bolted off the couch and up the stairs.
THUMP! The startling noise rode up from downstairs on the back of a thunderclap, and rattled sconces in the hallway. He swung into the open doorway to find only his sweater lying on the bed. “Emma!” he cried.
The suitcase sent him tumbling to the dark floor.
Aloysius sat up to find the luggage lid knocked open in the scuffle. The white dress inside was duller in the chill. He reached in with deadened fingers to feel folds of cotton—not silk. Gasping, he pulled the bed sheet up by its corners and peered through its two rough eyeholes.
THUMP! Aloysius hurriedly returned downstairs. The steps on all but cuffed his chin as he yelled, “Emma!”
Leaves greeted him at the foot of the stairs, as well as the backdoor swinging under a stiff, wet wind. Grabbing his jacket, he followed the emergent path marked out for him. The gust had knocked Jacques’ torn envelope off the corner of the kitchen counter. The videocassette inside it bore a label: Property of Peek-a-Boo Motel.
Aloysius stepped over it and onto the squalling stoop, at last prepared to leave Spyglass Darkly House.
PART V: Chapter Twenty-six/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.