Chapter Five: The Many Countdowns
“Hey, Way! I’ve been waiting forever. What’s up, man?” Gadge grinned, walking up to me as the secretary swiped my ID card. She looked me up and down—in a completely businesslike fashion—before handing it back to me. She was human of course, like most of the hired hands around here. She must have been new because I didn’t recognize her.
“Nothing. You?” I replied, half-heartedly as we made our way to the elevator at the back that read: ‘Authorized Personnel Only’. I slid my card in the reader and we waited for the elevator to come back up to the ground floor. 21…20…19…18…
“I’m great, but you haven’t talked with Skylynn yet, have you?” Gadge cast a wary eye my way and I shook my head, letting my hair fall part way into my face before I brushed it behind an ear.
“Because you seem to be in an okay mood.”
“What does Skylynn want?” I held back my sigh by running my tongue along my teeth.
“Ooh, man. She pissed!” Gadge whispered the last word as if she might be lurking around the corner to smack him upside the head for talking about her. His eyes widened as he pulled at his ear.
“I broke up with her over a week ago.” Do I have to remind everyone?
“Well, she’s still pissed,” Gadge amended, tapping his hand against his leg—a habit of his that he had had for as long as I could remember. He always had to be doing something with his hands.
I blew air past my pursed lips and shrugged tiredly. “That’s her problem now.” The elevator doors dinged and we stepped in.
“Skylynn is…was…the perfect match for you! You guys were the ‘it’ couple!” Gadge said once the doors closed again.
I hit the number 14 and an eye scanner popped out of the panel. I leaned forward, let the laser pass over my eyes and then backed away so Gadge could do the same. The elevator knew how many people were in the contraption, and you couldn’t dare try to sneak anyone down to Headquarters if you wanted to keep your life intact—or so they drilled into the newbies.
Gadge, the computer geek he secretly was deep down inside, had found a way past this security precaution. He had somehow hacked the system and found out that if you typed in a particular coding when the keyboard popped out, then it would think there was only one person that needed to be authorized. In this case, you still needed one Dreamcatcher who was authorized to enter the Headquarters, but other than that, we could sneak anyone in. If we wanted. But so far, there was no one we’d want to, or have the need to, sneak into Headquarters. We weren’t stupid. At least not that stupid.
“She’s not, Gadge. Would you drop it?” I grumbled.
The elevator began moving once it had made sure both passengers were authorized and Gadge shot me a look and said, “Why did you do it?”
Glancing over at him, I saw him fidget with his hands. I asked, “Break up with her?”
He didn’t answer as he leaned back against the railing, folding his arms over his chest. Gadge wasn’t a particularly large guy. He was actually quite skinny and was probably considered a runt of the group. He was of average height and what he lacked in muscle, he used for charm and…hair. He took care of his hair, almost like it was his car or his child—if he was old enough to have a family, but he wasn’t, and it wasn’t like he was responsible enough to think about it either.
I sighed. “Gadge, she wasn’t right for me. Yes, I know we knew each other since…almost forever.” Gadge opened his mouth but I barreled on, “And yes, we were best friends, but she changed so much since we were kids…She’s not the same anymore, and it wouldn’t be natural if she was. We are both different people, Gadge. No more ‘Skylynn and Waylan’, alright?” He remained quiet and I closed my eyes, rubbing my temple. “Can you just drop it?”
“Sure, man. Of course…I didn’t know that it affected you this much…” Gadge muttered.
I released a held breath and leaned my head back, sagging against the mirrored wall of the elevator. If we’re attacked by a level five demon right now, I wouldn’t care, I realized. I would most likely let it kill me and put me out of my misery. I didn’t know how to help Elizabeth. I didn’t know who this ‘Kylie’ girl was and why she needed help and how I could help her in the first place. I didn’t know what to do with a jealous Dreamcatcher ex-girlfriend that used to be my closest friend outside of Gadge and Hermie. I didn’t know what my life consisted of anymore. I wasn’t sure if I would be okay with change or not, but I felt a change coming and I wanted to be ready. Ready as I could be.
“Way? Man?” Gadge nudged my arm as the elevator dinged and came to a halt.
I glanced over at him. “Yeah?”
“No hard feelings, alright? But just to warn you, Skylynn is on the war path and she’s probably planning your public humiliation as we speak.”
We promptly walked out, into one of the levels of the Dreamcatcher Headquarters. This was the spy section of Headquarters and we were a smaller unit of about thirty or so Dreamcatchers. There were more units within the Dreamcatcher agency—the Guard, the Detectors, the Spies, the Faders, and more. We rarely worked with other units once we’re assigned although it wasn’t uncommon for Dreamcatchers to be transferred to a different unit. In fact, Hermie was a transfer from the Guard. He didn’t like talking about it much and we never asked.
“Thanks, Gadge. No hard feelings.” I turned away and began walking to the other end of the large, spacious room. “I need to get to work. I’ll catch you for the lunch hour.”
“See you, man!” Gadge called, flipping his hand in a salute as he hurried off in the opposite direction. Gadge had computer monitor duty most days. He had to watch to see where dreams were coming from and filter them through to the Dreamcatchers that were waiting to receive those dreams and to protect the naïve humans at the other end. I was assigned to Watcher duty and I had the beds today which meant that I was to be on the receiving end of those dreams. Humans would be emotionally, and physically, destroyed if it weren’t for Dreamcatchers. We had their backs. We were in the same grouping as Angels and Demons, just no one had heard of us before. Back in the day, there were a few rare storytellers who believed in us, or had dreams and wild imaginations—that were, in fact, not so wild to us—about beings such as Dreamcatchers.
When you think of a dream catcher, you most likely think of the pretty little webbed and feathered room decorations that you either made or got as some sort of present from a kooky aunt or superstitious grandmother. Well, I apologize in advance for bursting your bubble. Dream catchers did serve a purpose. They could ward off demons and Nightmares, but they also helped link Dreamcatchers with dreams. Imagine it as a strong Wi-Fi connection or a sturdy, static rope used when rappelling up a steep, rocky mountain. This connection linked us with the bearer or owner of a dream catcher and their dreams were more likely to reach through to us, than, let’s say, a dream by those without one. It was like seeing the normal light of a dream or Nightmare attack shine on the map on the computer’s monitor versus seeing the light blink and shine bright red—if that made any sense.
“Hey, Waylan. How are you this lovely Sunday morning?” Melody asked, from the next bed over. She was putting her shoes on and gathering her things. Her shift must be ending. Melody Springs was in her late twenties. She lived with her German Shepherd puppy somewhere in the city—she was a secretive sort of person. She was a close friend of Hermie. I also knew for a fact that she hated Skylynn’s guts.
“Feeling as if I’m working overtime too often these days…” I said before smiling and adding, “But the kids need food and those IRS hell-raisers—not the demon kind, if you know what I mean—keep showing up at our doorstep. The bank is after my home, Mel.”
Melody laughed and shook her head, slinging her bag over her shoulder before standing. “Sorry to hear it, Waylan. I’ll pray for your wife and kids as soon as your little fantasy comes true.”
“Well, shucks, Mel. You’re so sweet.”
“My morning is going mighty swell, if you cared to ask!” Melody called as she walked away, swinging the cord of her headphones in the air at her side. I could hear the laughter ringing in her voice. “I just had a long, restless nap! Take care, kiddo.” And with that, she was gone from the sectioned off room containing the beds.
I smiled grudgingly and quickly took of my shoes, placing them, and my bag, in the container under the bed. I took off my jacket and hung it on the hook outside the cubicle before I kneeled on the bed, shutting the padded doors with a soft click.
The cubicle beds had been upgraded. There used to be curtains instead of the padded doors, but when Dreamcatchers on Watcher duty began to fall out of the beds and consequently, injure themselves, we invested in padded doors. For any claustrophobic Dreamcatchers, they usually traded for a different assignment, like Training duty, or dealt with it. No one liked training the new, cocky little bastards who came in thinking they knew everything and were God’s greatest creation to walk the earth. Training duty sucked. Thank goodness I wasn’t claustrophobic.
With a deep breath, I lay down and placed my hands on my stomach, slowly and methodically relaxing all of my muscles in small sections. I always started with my feet and worked my way up. I had known about Dreamcatchers ever since I had turned eight years old. My father had told me. My mom was out getting the cake for my birthday party. She didn’t know that my dad was going to tell me that day, but he did. I had worshiped my dad for so long. I started working alongside my dad as a Dreamcatcher when I turned twelve. Six years later, and so much had changed since then.
My thoughts wandered as I went through the motions of preparing for the Watch. I hope there is something good in the cafeteria today for lunch. The fish tacos were good on Friday. What am I going to do with Elizabeth? I can’t let her become a Dreamcatcher. I promised her long ago when we were kids that she didn’t have to follow in Dad’s footsteps. I told her I’d be there to protect her. And I knew she believed me. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a nice cold Pepsi. In a glass bottle. With the frost still hugging the sides. Soon my thoughts were drifting to that of the strange dream I had before in my room when I was leaving. The voice…I remembered. It definitely sounded feminine. So it was female. She said her name was Kylie. My mind automatically began piecing the puzzle pieces together, trying to work towards a solution that I couldn’t quite reach. And she is in California. Was she a Dreamcatcher? Or a seer? Or—?
“Waylan Parker, please prepare for your next Watch,” a voice echoed in the small chamber.
Way ahead of you, creepy robotic female voice, I thought with a long, deep sigh as I forced my mind to clear. The name “Kylie” echoed in my head for a moment before I was able to shut it out completely.
“5…” The voice continued. I had always felt like I was entering a spa or I was getting prepped for a face massage when light, smooth jazz came on. I guess it was supposed to be relaxing—to me it was unnecessary and kind of silly. The voice continued in between the lazy chords, “4…3….2…1…Receiving information from…” The voice paused and another, peppy voice cut in, saying, “Canada!” The original voice continued without a hitch, “Please relax and proceed with mission.”
Oh, Dreamcatchers who programmed the Watchers’ stations, you make us sound so heroic and secret agent like.
If only I believed that to be true.