he Apprentice
The dream is always begins the same.
At first, I am happy and driving to some unknown destination on some unknown road. The road is two laned and straight as it meanders through some plain unattractive countryside. Nothing special about the trip really until I go over this one hill. It's always the same hill and there is always some country song playing on the radio. I haven't a clue as to why I would dream about country music. I rarely listen to the stuff but it is there playing as I drive over this hill. When I get to the top of the hill there is a semi coming up the opposite side of the hill in my lane. This is where it gets strange. You see, sometimes I'm in the car when the truck hits. Other times I am looking down from above or from the side of the road. It does not matter from which vantage point I am watching the accident. I can always feel the pain of the steering column slowly coming towards me and crushing my rib cage. The blood rises in my lungs and I slowly drown.
Death in the dream varies along with the view point of the dream. It is always slow and painful, that goes unchanged. At times, though, I have been pulled out of the car still conscience. I have found myself lying on the pavement. One night I even made it to an ambulance but I did not make it to the hospital. I've died in quick a firey explosion before, too. None of the various storylines are pleasant. I am always in pain and I always die.
For the superstitious, dying in a dream means death in real life but I always wake up without a scratch. It is not as though I actually believe the flying shards of glass that pierce my flesh in a dream will leave me bleeding when I awaken. I just always wonder why I never wake up before I die. I wished I could wake up before I died.
I do not understand a lot of things about this reoccuring dream- like why it is always the same and why, on this night, it ended unlike it ever has before. To my surprise and horror, this time I did not die. I found it horrifing because all these nights reliving that accident, it had become common place for me to see my death repeated but tonight I survived and that truely scared me.
I was driving up the same hill listening to coutry music, as always, but when I went over the top of the hill there was no truck. There was just a man standing on the side of the road flagging me down. I felt compelled to stop for him. When I did stop, it was John Smith, my employer, but I did not know him in the dream although I knew who he was when I awoke.
It's all rather peculiar, dreams that is.
Anyways, I stopped the car and got out to find out why he had flagged me down. He told me he had a job for me to do. A job that only I could do.
I was elated. I don't know what I thought he was talking about. I work for him now and it is not that exciting. Mr. Smith has spent his life studying crime in all its many facets. He’s a writer. Or at least that’s what he tells me. I've never read any of his books before. And I am his research assistant. I travel around with him from city to city spending most of my time searching through musty files in the basements of police stations and newpaper offices. I am acquainted with the atrocities of mankind ranging from mass murder to petty theft. It starts with the newspaper articles and it continues on. Mr. Smith doesn’t believe in doing anything halfway. He interviews the victims, the relatives of victims, police officers involved in the investigations, and sometimes even the criminals themselves. I, on the other hand, spend long nights in the editing rooms of television stations scanning footage, sifting through yellowed files in forgotten storage rooms of police stations, reading never ending stacks of court records and spinning through miles upon miles of microfilm.
I have had the chance occassion to go with Mr. Smith on his visitations. It is an amazing experience to watch him. He plays people and they sing whatever he requests. His demeanor is pleasant, unnaturally so, at times. No one besides me notices his cold calculating, even methodical manner of coercing people. Everybody loves him- the grieving mother who just lost her son in a drive-by shooting, the burnt out police officer who would have slammed the door in the face of any other interviewer, even the prisoner who has been sitting on death row for the last five years. He can get anybody to tell him what he wants to know.
The few times I have had the pleasure of watching him manipulate these unsuspecting research subjects, he always reminds me to pay careful attention during the interviews. “Pay attention. One day you will have my job.”
He likes to refer to me as his “apprentice.” He always tells me how much easier it will be for me. “Technology will one day allow you to do all this,” he says usually waving at large stacks of papers I commonly have piled around my hotel room, “without moving from your desk. Technology will free the common man from his work place while making him a slave to his PC.” It is true, though, I am a slave to the laptop I carry. While my memory is not infallible, my computer’s memory is infallible ninety-nine percent of the time. And I really like to see the envious looks on the faces of over-paid yuppie scum when they find out what my little machine packs- 120 MHz RISC processor, 32 meg of RAM, and a two gig hard drive. It's fun to watch them drool.
Having a laptop computer of my own is a job perk. It is one of Mr. Smith’s many redeeming qualities as an employer- he believes in technological advancement, he always buys the best equipment and he pays his employee, me, very well. Although, I don’t have much of a chance to spend that money being that I spend most of my time researching this, that, or the other. Mr. Smith provides airfare, hotel accommodations, car rental, and meals and as I have said, I have little spare time to shop. I buy new clothes every season out of necessity to cut down on lugging around suitcases of clothes that I do not need.
Mr. Smith, unlike me, is an impeccable dresser. While I tend to favour a bit more practical and less meticulous mode of dress, he prefers tailor fitted designer suits and brand name casual wear. I prefer the ease and flexibility of a worn denim topped with flannel or cotton, rounded off with an expensive but comfortable pair of sneakers. So he tends to nag me about my clothes. There have been numerous instances when I’ve met him for dinner and he looks at me, shakes his head, and points me back down the hall to my hotel room. He has surprised me couple of times with something he has found in a department store window, a tailored slack suit, or something similar. It will be admired in the mirror for a few minutes and perhaps even worn to dinner but it eventually ends up in a Salvation Army bin.
Besides fashion, we have few differences in opinion. I would say Mr. Smith and I were cast from the same mold.
But I ramble on, back to the dream.
Mr. Smith flags me down and tells me he has a job for me. Well, I am beside myself with glee and I gladly accept. I do not know what it is exactly that I accept, though. He never tells me just exactly what this job is but I seem to know. Actually, come to think of it, I think that is why I was happy when I was driving over that hill, I was about to get a job. I have had this job for over five years now and never felt that excited about it. So, I really do not understand why I was so happy.
I ask Mr. Smith when I start work and he says, "Now," and he walks towards a car parked on the side of the road. I follow.
Well, wouldn't you know it, but when we get into his car and start down the road, we pass an accident. My accident. I was not in the car this time when the truck hit. Or at least I did not think I was. I only stopped on the side of the road and accepted a job from a total stranger. I felt no pain. I felt nothing, not even a hint of recognition, as we passed the wreck. Like John's identity, I did not make the connection, that I was in that accident, until I awoke up this morning.
By the way, this week I am in Atlanta. This could be the reason for the change in the dream. The countryside I drove through in that dream looked much like what we passed through driving up from Florida. Actually, this whole trip has been a little awkward for me. I've had an odd feeling of deja vu, among other things, since I've been here.
For instance, this morning I got up and looked out of the drawn curtains of the hotel room to make sure that I had not been teleported to some other city during the night. This is a habit of mine from all the travelling I do. I have to look out my window to check where I am and as I said, this week I'm in Atlanta.
From the twenty-eighth floor of a motel, all the cities look, well, like cities. Although, Atlanta does have an awful lot of trees for a city this side. Not parks, but forests. I wonder how they survive this close to all these towering buildings and still manage to stay green. You’d think they’d get depressed at the sight of such towering edifices and that the trees would realize that they’re never going to reach those heights and just give up. Just die. But I guess the trees have hope.
I don’t have hope. I have that nightmare and a job, that’s all.
Not exactly all, sometimes there is this little bit of darkness that seems to bubble up from somewhere inside of me. I was standing at the window this morning when one of those little bits came to the surface.
I was watching the cars pass by on the interstate that cuts right through the middle of Atlanta and near the motel where we are staying. I imagined one car- only one- moved only a few inched from its designated path. There is so little space between lanes that one would think it common place for a car to be just a few inches off and roll right into the path of another vehicle until soon that one car became two and the numbers kept growing. Until there, upon the highway, was a massive pile of mangled machinery warped around the screaming faces of dozens of human beings. I was there on the asphalt walking near them as they called for me to help them. I did not. I would not. I listened to their death rattles as they gasped their last breaths to scream in agony. They saw death and could not run. I watched them die as the stench of burning flesh and hair filled the air around me. Mortality casting no shadow upon my thoughts as I imagined this whole scene being played out on the highway below.
I know it sounds as though I am stuck on this whole vehicular disaster thing but that is what I imagined. These visions are even more real than the dreams but they do not frighten me as much. I figure it is just my over-active imagination and the fact that I sit and read about such events during my research. Although, even now, as I look out over the Atlanta skyline and watch as the cars roll by only inches from disaster and fatality, I feel slightly disappointed that they remain within the lines.
Maybe I want someone else to feel what I feel in my dream- the pain, the blood, the confusion, and the knowledge that there is no hope awaiting, there is only death. I sometimes wish I did not have to sleep but I have to get up early tomorrow for another day of work.
Tonight, though, I might be lucky again. I might not die again. I might end up riding into the sunset with Mr. Smith. Again.
There is so much uncertainty about dreams and the subconcious. Too bad they don't come with instruction manuals. Unfortunately, they don't and I must sleep knowing the dream will be waiting.
I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Smith has lost his mind or if I have. Or, perhaps, maybe we both have. I told him about my dream. I had told him I had that reoccuring dream before but he told me that was not unusal. He makes a study of violent crime, I guess nothing is unusal to him, though. But when I told him about my "new and improved" dream, his demeanor changed slightly but that change was enough to get me worried.
You see, last night I dreamt that I met him again but this time it wasn't on the side of the road, it was in an building. And this time I knew why I was there. I was travelling on that road in the middle of nowhere for a job interview. Although, I am still unsure as to what the job was that I was interviewing for. I don't think it was for the position of research assisstant.
I travelled the same road as I did in every previous dream and pulled into the parking area in front of this homely little building. As I said before, we're in Georgia and this particular building looked like a typical Georgia structure. One of those little shops or garages that gets erected in the front yard because everyone wants to own there own business and doesn't feel like commuting to work. This building did not have the accompanying double wide trailer that typically stands behind it, though. It was just this cinder block box that sat in the middle of a bare spot of red clay. When I turned off the road I was able to distiguish the parking area because of the lack of these weeds that protruded from the clay and because there was a car parked there.
I haven't a clue as to what sort of business this building was suppose to be. There was no signs of painted plywood or even a piece of typing paper attached to the front window. For all I know, I could have been applying for the job of oil change and lube specialist.
I had a resume in hand when I walked, rather sheepiously, into the front door. And, lo and behold, who do you think was sitting there behind a desk? Yeah, Mr. Smith. He told me that I was right on time and to have a seat. So I sat down.
Now, I have never known Mr. Smith to get nervous. I personally doubt the man as ever even broken a sweat before but when I started recounting my dream, he seemed to get a bit edgy about this point. He asked me to continue and I told him what little there was left. You see, I sat down handed him my resume and he looked at it, nodded, and said, "You're just who I've been looking for." That is when he got up and said that it was time for us to be leaving. So, being the good little mindless hireling that I was, I followed without question. I mean, I never even wondered what had happened to the car I drove up in, even though it was nowhere to be seen when I walked back outside. But I got into his car anyways and we drove away passing that auto accident again not a mile down the road from the building.
"Are you sure that is all you remember," he kept asking me and I kept telling him that was all. There was nothing more. He sighed and we finished dinner in silence. I had already brought him up to date on my research at that point and told him that I had some more leads on a couple of cases. That was what made his last comment before leaving seem rather strange. He told me we would have to be leaving Atlanta soon. He has always been a stickler for getting all the facts on any crime, no matter how insignificant anyone may find that information. That is why I am worried. He would not up and leave in the middle of something without cause and I am afraid that my telling him about this dream might be the cause.
Sleeping this night was out of the question. I had too many questions. Questions I never bothered to ponder before tonight.
What am I doing here?
How did I get here?
Who am I?
Where am I going?
All I could do was shrug at the darkness of the ceiling and try to push my thoughts into other, brighter places. I could not see the light. I could not even see a glimmer of hope when I went to the window and looked out over the trees.
Humanity had taken over and the trees slept at night to grow in dreamlands far away from mankind.
I never believed my work could get to me but that last thought made me realize that reading about all those crimes had ingrained a horrible image of man on my brain. Five years of crime, death and auto accidents is enough to make a person lose their mind.
I had lost my mind... my past... my future... and myself somewhere on the way to employment.