“How long has he been like this?” said Churchill.
Dolci stretched back in his chair and gestured at the control room monitors. “Fourteen hours.”
“Is he okay?”
Doctor Sanders chimed in. “Ran a complete physical on him, blood work, EKG, EEG. Everything looks good.”
“You drew blood and it didn’t wake him?”
“No. We moved him to the bed and he didn’t rouse a bit. I think you could set off a bomb in there and he’d sleep through it.”
“I’m curious about that EEG. What’s his brain doing?” Churchill said.
“Nothing abnormal, though his activity level is higher than the baseline we took when he first arrived here,” Sanders replied. “The only real difference is his REM sleep. It’s nonstop.”
“Dreaming like crazy, eh? Have we seen that in other patients on Memnon?”
Churchill rose from his chair. “Keep me posted.”
Their kitchen. Breakfast. The sweet odor of waffles. Nine-year-old Ethan couldn’t wait. He uncapped the maple syrup bottle in anticipation of the first waffle.
Then he heard a thump and he looked up to see his mother roll across the linoleum to come to rest on her side. One soft moan came out of her. Then she lay still.
No, no. He didn’t want to see this vision. He didn’t want God to punish him. But the image continued. Ethan saw his useless struggles to rouse his mother.
“She had a stroke, Ethan.” Doctor James leaned over him. “She didn’t suffer.”
“Then why did she moan, Doc James? Why?”
The old doctor did not have a ready answer and young Ethan saw the lie forming in his eyes.
Young Ethan opened his eyes and made the dream go away.
Frantic, Ethan dressed and ran down the stairs from his room to the kitchen. As he rounded the corner, he heard loud hissing. He watched steam rise as his mother poured waffle batter onto the waffle iron.
No, he was sure it wouldn’t happen today. Some other day, but not today.
He stood in the doorway and watched her close the waffle iron, then turn to the sink where she had a colander full of strawberries. He watched the sure fingers pinch off the stems, then run each strawberry through the clear stream of tap water. He watched the pile of fat, red berries rise in the green porcelain bowl next to the sink.
She felt his eyes and she turned. Suddenly engulfed in her gray stare, Ethan broke out in sweat and his breathing became shallow.
He wanted to tell her. He wanted to do something to make it not happen. But he knew if he said anything she would become angry.
Her hard stare turned to ice as she saw in Ethan’s eyes the same look as before her husband’s death four years earlier. At that moment, she hated her son. She also feared him. He was far more capable than her mother had been.
She knew she had to make her peace with God.
It would happen soon.
Ethan trudged across the sun-drenched landscape of his farm. One moment on rolling hills, knee-deep in rustling grass; the next he hiked up a moss-covered pathway along a rocky ravine. He came to a table of rock next to a narrow pool fed by a trickling waterfall, his favorite place in all his six hundred acres. As his eyes drank in the scene, he knew his body slept in a locked room at Neural Research.
How am I doing this?
Dreams don’t feel like this. They don’t have this level of detail. The scents and sounds are distinct, the light is exact.
As he peered into the shadowed waters, he saw a pale face like a plaster Mardi Gras mask, rise from the depths. As it broke the surface, the eyes opened and the mouth moved. “Ethan, I’m alive.”
Beth climbed from the water and stretched out on a flat, moss-covered rock. Long, lean, tan, naked. She wrung out her hair and then reclined on her side with her head propped against her arm. A shaft of sunlight stuttered through the tree canopy and converted her eyes to smoky jewels.
Ethan knew she had died and he knew he had to be dreaming. He knew he would awaken and feel her loss all the more poignantly for having conjured her up. But he sat next to her nonetheless.
“Feel me, Ethan. I’m real.”
His fingers hovered over her flesh, hesitant, not wanting the illusion to disappear. Then he set his palm on her stomach. Despite being wet, her skin radiated heat. His fingers stroked across skin as soft as the petals of a water lily.
Burnt flesh reeked in his nostrils. His body twitched. “Ted, no.” He felt the Memnon and his mind blinked and Ted’s face leered above him.
No, not here. Not this time and place. Wake up!
Ethan opened his eyes. He lay in his bed. The luminous numerals of the clock on the opposite wall said . He had returned to the present.
He lifted his right hand and unconsciously rubbed his fingertips against his thumb. He snapped fully awake at the feel of water on his skin. He held his palm to his nose. That special honeyed scent that he associated with Beth wafted into his nostrils.
What am I doing?
He had no explanation.
He breathed her until his fingers dried, feeling her loss, but also seeing that he had gained something. He knew something new. But how could he use it?
Ethan looked forward to the morning’s session.