Norman tries to help Martin.
He landed softly in a field of wheat. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but this vista of ripening wheat rippling in waves as it bowed to the wind. The sky above was untarnished blue, deep, limitless, without a hint of cloud.
He turned in a circle, searching for an anomaly, some change in the landscape to head for. There was nothing, just the endless wheat to the horizon, a featureless expanse of green and gold beneath that impossibly blue sky. This was going to be difficult.
But at least it wasn't flying. He hated that; his natural fear of heights always made him uneasy when forced to fly. Even this vast field without landmarks was preferable, unusual as it was. He turned again, knowing that time would provide him with something to aim for.
The house was just behind him, less than a hundred yards away. Little more than a shack, it's sun-dried timbers and blank, dark windows spoke of emptiness, a long-abandoned shell of a home. Without a thought of how he could have missed it before, he took a step towards the house and found himself at the front door.
The door handle was a bright, highly-polished brass fancy, all whorls and spirals, its backplate a gleaming design of intertwining dragons. He reached for it and, as his hand curled around the handle, the door vaporized and he was inside the house.
It was a ballroom. An acre of shining, smooth floor stretched out before him and on both sides, marble pillars lined the walls and supported an ornate ceiling high above. All was illuminated by crystal chandeliers, sparkling in the light of a thousand candles. At the far side of the room, a grand marble staircase ascended, then split into two and bent right and left as it spiraled upwards.
The room was empty and, as he began the walk across to the staircase, his footsteps echoed through the hall. He realized that these were the first sounds he'd heard since arrival and, at the same instant, became aware of a huge presence that loomed behind and followed him. But he kept walking, knowing that there would be nothing to see if he turned around. When he began to ascend the stairs, the presence faded behind him, as though forbidden to leave the ballroom.
Halfway up, the stairs changed and became wooden. They creaked at his step and the bannisters closed in until he was able to hold on to both as he continued to climb. At the top he emerged on to a landing, a narrow place with corridors leading off to left and right. The light was dim but here and there down the passageways shafts of sunlight streamed through open doorways, creating bright pools like streetlights at night.
Allowing instinct to guide him, he turned left and set off down the passage, glancing into each room as he passed. They were empty, bare of furniture and decoration, timbered spaces lit by dust-flecked rays of light through the shuttered windows. It was not until he reached the last room that he found what he was looking for.
The room was like all the others except that a man stood in the center, gazing at a closed door in one wall. The new arrival waited a moment and then spoke quietly.
The man in the room turned slowly to look at his visitor.
"You're not supposed to be here."
"But I am." The man stepped forward to enter the room. "Look at my face; you know me."
Martin's forehead creased as he tried to remember. "Dr Venning?" he asked.
"Yes, but you can call me Norman. I'm here to help you, Martin, but there are things you need to know first. You know that you are dreaming?"
Martin turned to gaze at the closed door again. "Dreaming?"
"Yes, dreaming. You have dreamed this dream every night for two months and now you're in IDT."
Martin glanced at him. "IDT?"
"Interactive Dream Therapy," said Norman. "You've been troubled by these repeated dreams and came to me for help. With IDT technology, I can be with you in the dream and find out what's causing them."
"Oh," said Martin.
"So you know you're dreaming? Think now, it's very important."
Martin smiled. "If I'm dreaming, I could wake up."
"No, don't do that. We need to solve this problem."
"I could make you disappear."
"Actually, you can't," replied Norman. "I am not part of your dream and you have no control over me. You're welcome to try."
Martin remained frozen where he was but around the two of them the room suddenly dissolved and they were standing in the wheatfield. A brief pause ensued as Martin saw that his visitor had not disappeared, then the scenery changed with bewildering rapidity; a seashore, a mountaintop, a city street. Still the doctor stood impassively as the world went mad and abruptly they were back in the room.
"Okay, so I'm dreaming and you're in it but not of it," said Martin. "How does that help me?"
"Well, I believe the problem is the door," said Norman, indicating the closed door in front of them. "It's locked, isn't it?"
Martin nodded. "Yes, locked, always locked."
"Let me try," said Norman. He stepped forward and turned the handle but the door refused to open. Fair enough, he thought; we go to plan B.
Turning back to Martin, he nodded. "Yes, locked, just as you said. But we can still enter."
"You have a key?" asked Martin.
"In a manner of speaking. Here, take my hand."
As Martin grasped his hand, the doctor moved forward and walked through the door, dragging the other after him. "It's a dream, Martin," he explained, "Anything can happen."
But Martin was not listening. His eyes wide, he was staring at the room they had entered. In one corner was a bed and upon it lay someone sleeping. They both knew instantly that it was Martin, another Martin, asleep and dreaming. As they tried to understand the implications, an alarm clock appeared from nowhere and rent the silence with its jangling cry.
The doctor's glance switched rapidly from one Martin to the other. "No, wait, don't wake up yet! I need to get out first..."
But it was too late. The doctor was instantly alone in the room. "Blast," he thought. "Trapped until the idiot goes to sleep again. What a waste of a day."
He stepped forward and sat on the bed. On the pillow lay a notebook with something scrawled across the page. He picked it up and read: Which is the dream, which reality?
Outside, just beyond the door they had entered, an enormous presence loomed, apparently released from the ballroom. Norman knew from experience that it could proceed through the door as easily as he had done. But, for now, it was waiting. Would it wait for Martin to sleep again? Norman could not know. In his own dreams he had always had recourse to escape through waking. But this was not his dream.
Word Count: 1,185