The world can be changed by one person. But Eric doesn't believe it...yet. A tale of power
|"The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking." Albert Einstein
"For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality. For magic and applied science alike, the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men." C. S. Lewis
The Professor’s Love Trouble
There were no lights in the windows, so she knew he wasn’t awake. Still, there had to be some explanation for the dream that startled her awake, and if he could explain it, even just a little bit, it would be worth driving over here to wake him.
The brass door knocker shone in the shape of her fingers. She reached up, matching her fingertips to their silhouettes on the horseshoe shape. For a moment, her hand paused. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, what her mother called an ungodly hour. Had she really any right to be here?
Yes. Manners didn’t matter. She had a right to know what he had done to her.
Five angry knocks echoed through the vaulted hall. The hollow sound could even be heard from the outside steps. Minutes passed. Was he so deeply sleeping? Her arms shivered with bumps, hairs standing on end. She hated being alone in the dark, especially outside this great house. After three months of being a frequent visitor, its vastness was beginning to feel creepy. And it wasn’t long after she met him that she began to suspect that Will was hiding something important. He always looked perfect, not a blemish. That was too much for any woman, but then there were his other oddities. Why was she never allowed upstairs? Why was he always so thirsty? He was the only person she knew who carried around a gallon jug of water. But most of all, how did he appear in her dreams? She was beyond believing it was just random chance. She had never dreamed of one man so frequently before. Besides, he was too real in these dreams. Too much himself, and not enough her vision of him.
She thought she heard a noise in the direction of the garbage can off to her left. “It’s just a stray cat,” she whispered, her eyes shut tight against the burning in her stomach. Maybe she ought to try the handle. If it was locked, she would turn and leave. But if it wasn’t… This might just be the chance she had been waiting for, the chance to see what lay upstairs in the forbidden territory of her boyfriend’s creepy mansion.
She pressed the small lever below the deadbolt and pushed. The creaking door gave way. After all his rules about the upstairs, no lock on the door? She rushed inside and shut it behind her, feeling the right wall for a light switch to the hall chandelier. There it was. Her grateful fingers flipped it on and her burning center waned. “He’s probably just asleep upstairs,” she told herself, comforted by the sound of her own whispered voice. “I’ll just go up there and tell him I had a nightmare. He’s a sweet guy. He’ll understand that I had to see him. And then I’ll just ask him if I’m going crazy or if he can actually see into my dreams.” She chuckled darkly. “That’ll go over well. Maybe I am crazy.”
The stairs creaked, just as she expected. She had never met a staircase that didn’t, but it would have been nice to meet one now. Her toes carefully reached each step, softly, softly. Finally, she was at the top, the hall light partially obscured by a wall. She was thankful for the carpet here that allowed her to walk with greater haste. Which room would be his? She couldn’t believe she had been dating a man for three months without knowing where he slept. For all she knew, he slept in a coffin. Her skin chilled once more. “Too many vampire romances,” she laughed at herself silently. She passed several rooms with closed doors. In front of her, twenty or thirty feet away, stood an open door with light pouring out. Maybe he wasn’t asleep after all.
She moved more quickly, less stealthy, eager to have the confrontation done. Surely, there was nothing to fear. As she approached, the light in the room took shape: an old glass lantern sat on a single round table in the corner, its flame waning with little oil remaining. Except for this, the room was almost empty. As if it could sense her unauthorized presence, the little flame died out. It was then that she realized the room had no windows. The sick burning reappeared in her stomach. It was more than her vague fear of the dark, or being alone. She stood perfectly still, straining to make her eyes see through the pitch black. It seemed ages before they adjusted and saw by that tiny, distant light source back on the main level. The first shapes she made out were the table and lantern she had already committed to memory. Next, her eyes surveyed the walls: bare, except for a whiteboard bearing some kind of chart in black dry-erase marker. There was no way to decipher it without more light. What a strange, empty room. Lanterns lasted hours, but why would Will keep one burning in an empty room? There had to be more here than was first apparent.
Against common sense, she left the doorframe for a closer look. Two steps into the room, she stumbled over him, letting out a yelp of surprise. It was like tripping over a stiff beanbag, not a sleeping body, so at first she didn’t realize what her feet had found. Her hands caught her fall on his stomach, and groping fingers searched out his face, but found his bare arm instead. The moment she grasped it, her fingers flared in shock of its ice-cold touch.
William was dead. Her breath caught in her throat in a painful bubble of air that she couldn’t gulp down. How much of this scene was her empirical night vision, and how much her imagination? The sight of his pale, cold outline made her sway in a dizzy fog.
Her scream rent the eerie quiet, blocking his quiet moans from her hearing. She turned and ran, tripping downstairs in a bruising spin, feet over chin. Even then, she shot up from the floor and out the door, oblivious to the pain of her fall. Keys shook in her hands as she unlocked her car and attempted to cram them into the ignition. She longed for a safe place, shook her head over and over again. Finally, the key clicked into place. The engine purred and tires squealed, reversing to miss the bushes.
The front door of the great house slammed open against the inner wall, calling her eyes to the dark figure in the doorframe. It was him. Not dead. Not alive. What was he?
Her foot bent into the floor on the gas pedal. She screamed again. Her cry was abruptly halted as the car pelted into a stone brick planter along the U-shaped driveway. The airbag hit her squarely in the nose, and reality faded to black.
Standing beside her with pain in his eyes, Dr. William Astor removed the bent door that trapped his girlfriend inside the totaled car. “Don’t worry, Anna,” he whispered softly in her ear as he lifted her lightly from the bloody seat. “You won’t be haunted by me anymore. You won’t remember anything. I promise.”
If I can’t find a new protégé soon… Dr. William Astor fretted from his position in space. He wasn’t really in outer space, but he wasn’t exactly on earth, either. He thought of what he needed: a deep thinker whose thoughtfulness wasn’t grounded in reality. A child, perhaps? But the moral considerations of that weighed on him heavily. He could never ask a child to brave this world between worlds. It was bad enough having to ask an adult. The very tangible image of Caleb filled his view, but it wasn’t really him. There were no brainwaves attached to the person—just a four-dimensional image from Dr. Astor’s mind, the result of his troubled thoughts resting on the man before him.
He couldn’t bring himself to feel fully responsible about Caleb. After all, it had been Caleb’s choice to continue in the project, and his choice again to abandon it. Still, the abandonment of Caleb’s family in the process was more than regrettable, and as Caleb’s mentor, he did own some culpability for his mental welfare. He swiped angrily at the image with his whole arm, and it vanished. Control, he reminded himself, was tantamount here.
It had taken months to get over his recent romantic loss. Anna, the dancer, had been worse than a love interest—she had been an obsession. Now he realized that it hadn’t been romantic feelings for her that made him peek in on her thoughts and dreams constantly, but this growing insecurity. After all, he justified, how many heartbreaks can one man stand in a single lifetime? But then, his lifetime had already been longer than most, and it was set to be longer still. He was distracted again by the appearance of his former girlfriend smiling alluringly on his downstairs sofa. That, too, was an illusion. She was safely away from him with no memory of her horrific discovery of his lifeless body. For all she knew, they had broken up that night without tears or regrets. She was back on track with her dream to dance on Broadway, if only she could make it out of this boring city. The memories weren’t painful anymore. He smiled at her naïveté. One thing he had promised himself after reversing time for Anna was that he would never pursue someone so obviously his inferior in maturity and intellect. He was on his way to 90. It was practically pedophilia to date Anna or anyone her age.
Self-chastisement could wait—he had an eternity for regrets—but the savior of this broken society was alive somewhere in this generation. He had to believe it. He returned his thoughts to the person he needed, concentrating intangibly on the brainwaves he sought, dream waves, theta waves. At once, a million people appeared, floating through the air around Dr. Astor. A businessman was giving a PowerPoint presentation in his pajamas. A little girl was chasing an ice cream truck, being chased herself by a dragon. Dr. Astor focused harder, willing himself to ignore the distractions. He needed to see past the idle nighttime dreamers to find those in a meditative state.
The regular dreamers vanished from his view, and a few lone men and women remained. Most who had achieved this mental state were busily chanting the same phrase over and over again, or humming a single mantra. They were at peace, but not thoughtful. He let them drop out of his circle of concentration. Now only three remained, and two were friends of his already. Reluctantly, he let their waves move past him. The old Indian man nodded to him once before returning to his endless library. And Caleb. He was enjoying his son’s sixth birthday party for the hundredth time this year. It was difficult to ignore; Dr. Astor’s heavy inclination was to snap Caleb out of his tragically disconnected superlife, back to the reality that was his wife and children at home. But he had tried before, and Caleb had proven himself beyond help. He seldom returned to reality, and each time he was more dissatisfied with the experience. Caleb regarded his old mentor with a suspicious eye, but when he saw Dr. Astor moving on, he relaxed and went back to helping his son blow out his candles.
The only remaining man was even younger than Caleb. Dr. Astor looked into his mind to ascertain his business here. Only mind travelers came this far in to create their worlds, and this boy-man was no mind traveler. He walked through his dreams, but he didn’t seem aware of his own power.
The red-haired man-child was thinking intensely about outer space. He didn’t even notice Dr. Astor observing him. It took several moments of hearing the fellow’s fantastic thoughts before Dr. Astor realized who he had happened upon. No wonder the man appeared so childlike in this place. It was the famous savant writer, Eric Pierce. He was called, in his own hometown, the boy who never grew up.
Dr. Astor chuckled at his find, a dark noise that startled the young writer, whose eyes darted straight for him. Immediately, Dr. Astor vanished from the place. Waking from his coma on the carpeted floor, he blinked his eyes rapidly and laughed again, a dry and raspy sound in his parched throat. “Water,” he gasped, reaching for the gallon jug on the table.
“I’ve found him at last,” he grinned to himself. “Eric Pierce will save the world.”