Something drives me away from a dream in anger. I am being harassed, at a summer camp of which I have dreamed before. There are riots. I escape in a canoe and get back to campus, but it isn’t far enough. The mob is coming after me, blasting me with questions, grabbing at my clothes like stinging gnats, a cloud of mosquitoes. What do they want? I knew at the time. I can’t remember. Something innocent, at least by comparison. What ever it is, I want it to stop. I want to shut them out, to bury my head in my arms so I can’t hear their voices.
Something about the whole situation becomes just too absurd. For an instant that elusive stroke of dream-consciousness reaches down and brushes at my dreaming self like the jolt of a lightbulb going on in the void above my head. I am dreaming, and this is not what I want from my dream. I want…something else. What? Peace and quiet! Enlightenment!
I do the first thing that comes into my head to shift the narrative. I heave at the crowd, swinging my arms at them exactly as I would to brush away insects. I turn and run.
I flounce down several flights of stairs into a dormitory basement, turn the first doorknob I see and disappear into a darkened, blue christmas-light lit boudoir. Three girls are getting ready for bed. They are frightened by me at first, but calm down almost immediately to an uncanny degree of familiarity. Every woman I meet in the dream reacts to me this way. Each time, it incites the same knee-jerk series of emotional responses. First, relief. Because they seem to know instinctively I’m not the killer, when in fact my own memory of what immediately precedes is already so muddled I can’t be nearly as certain. Relief is overwhelmed by fear–on their behalf, because if they react this way to a total mess of a stranger such as myself, who’s to say they won’t react exactly the same when the real killer comes? Then this at least somewhat noble, heroic fear is tainted with a twinge of a blacker fear for myself, and of myself–fear that I really am the killer. It ends with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, as it occurs to me just how easy it would be.
The blonde one has tattoos and thin branding welts on her back, and wears a short, ratty nightgown. She is gaunt, drug-wasted, but voluptuous. I compliment her scars. I tell her they are beautiful. She asks if I really mean it. Her voice is earnest, fragile, as if this is a question that has plagued her. I assure her I am sincere. She is sincerely flattered.
The mob that was chasing me runs past the door. I sit waiting, chatting in the same eerily relaxed and familiar manner with the three girls in their pajamas, until the sounds of shouting recede. Then I bid them good night, and slip out, back up the basement stairs into the orange lamplit night.
There are people everywhere, playing frisbee among the pine trees, walking past in little huddled pods, nobody alone, everyone at least peripherally aware that someone else in the dark nearby is a predator. I half-recognize the odd cul-de-sac behind Bush Hall. This is Tufts, more or less.
I think about the three girls. It was like I hypnotized them.
For the first time I notice a knotted plastic bag I am carrying. There is something squishy and sticky inside I am loath to touch, and I know without having to think that it is evidence–evidence that will link me, however erroneously, to the serial rapist. I have to get rid of it. Burning is the first thing that comes to mind. I think of the smell of melting plastic, the musty reek of what’s inside frying away. It’s the safest way, the most complete. But I haven’t got a blow torch. A match isn’t going to cut it.
I climb over the green grass up the hill to a pair of dumpsters. My hand is on the lid to lift it, but I hesitate. I know how clumsy this is, how likely it is to be found if any one of the dozens scattered around me in the dark gets even the slightest suspicion. A campus cop strolls past, in conversation with a pair of students. I shrink back into the shadows between the dumpsters, thinking about what it takes to bring kids and cops together, knowing there’s a real chance I will be the serial rapist in these people’s eyes if the cop so much as looks my way.
He goes by, and I sag.
Fuck it. At least I can avoid getting caught with the thing in my hand. I creak the dumpster open, pitch the plastic bag into it and start across campus to my room as fast as I can walk.
At the end of the long corridor on the second floor of Lewis Hall, Nate and Damian are sitting at their computers. Nate is intent on a paper; Damian is playing.
I sit at my computer. Damian leans over my shoulder. He has built a small custom Warcraft scenario in order to teach me a lesson. It consists of nothing but a seemingly endless passage. Damian is the Tauren Chieftain. He is behind me. I am the Blood Mage; I know I have to flee, not stop for anything, or be destroyed. Damian has provided the Blood Mage with artifact means of ascending the tech tree. I am fumbling to understand them, planning how best to mount a defense against the Minotaur, when the passage comes to an end.
I stand at a window in the stairwell at the end of the corridor in Lewis Hall. Warcraft is gone, back safe in my computer. Below me in the courtyard, waiting on the stoop for someone to open the back door, is a small, soft-featured Indian girl, her black hair glossy in the orange lamplight. She looks up at me and asks to come in. I rush down to hold the door open for her. When she sees me face to face she shrinks back; I know she’s wondering if I’m the rapist. “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “I’m not him. I’m a nice guy.” She believes me–completely. She bows her head and submits to my protection, preceding me up the stairs. When a couple of guys I don’t know pass us, she sort of sidles into my shadow. I look down at myself, wondering what it is they all seem to see that I don’t.
On the third floor the Indian girl joins a crowd of others in the common room. She thanks me. I feel like a dick.
For a change of scene, I go across to the stairs at the other end of the corridor, and emerge onto the second floor from the opposite direction. There’s another girl standing there–hair golden brown, tall, athletic and wholesome-looking, with a couple of chemistry books in her arms. She is the first woman I’ve seen tonight to whom I am completely unattracted.
She looks at me hopefully, opens her mouth to plead perhaps for her life, and the killer, who was standing behind her, hidden by her body, snakes a hand over her mouth and snarls, pulling her backwards in the direction of my room. I follow, warning him to let her go. He flicks open a knife, puts it to her throat and tells me to get lost.
Behind him Damian and Nate turn around, jump out of their chairs and freeze. Neither seems able to act. They don’t know what to do. I stare at Nate, willing him to get something pointy out of his desk to cripple this kid with. He doesn’t move. So I reach past him, pulling open the drawer. The first thing that comes to hand is a blue, ultra-fine tipped ball point pen. I turn, grab the killer by his bleach blond hair and point the tip of the pen at the tear duct of his right eye. A dot of ink balls on the tip.
“Let her go, or I swear I’ll fucking stab you in the eye.”
The knife presses into the girl’s throat. She barely even yelps. The killer’s breathing is louder. I plunge the silver tip of the pen into the bloodshot white mass of his eyeball. The blue plastic disappears into the widening cavity. He doesn’t seem to react. It’s as if I’m doing nothing to him, though the pen is buried in his skull nearly up to the hilt. It must be pressing into the brain by now!
Then it does, and I jerk awake.