Rachel stood on a beach of gray sand, three red moons sinking down toward the sea. She wore loose sweatpants and a T-shirt, and she was barefoot. The sand was cool, but the strap on the big automatic rifle slung over her shoulder dug into her skin.
Suddenly the sea churned in a wide whirlpool, ten yards out from the shore. Red tentacles rose up, thrashing around, and then a huge body rose up on four legs and trudged toward the shore. Three wide white eyes jutted from the top of its hatchet-shaped head, and rows of jagged teeth sprouted from its wide jaws.
Rachel turned and ran across the sand. She heard the monster’s footsteps behind her, but she kept up a steady pace, not too slow but not fast enough to wear her out. At gate of the castle, she rang a bell hanging from a high tower and turned around, the rifle heavy in her arms. Waiting.
A door popped open next to the gate. A kid with thin rusty hair, maybe 10, leaned out. “Who are you? You’re not the right one!”
Rachel whirled around. The creature from the sea walked on tall bony legs, clawed tentacles whirling around its bulbous head. She triggered a burst of bullets at it. Yee-hah! The rifle shook in her hands until it was suddenly empty. She dropped it, her hand aching.
The monster’s high scream pierced the air. It staggered and fell on the sand, and then it rose up like a spider, digging its arms into the dirt to pull itself forward.
“Come on!” The boy waved an arm. “Get in here!”
Rachel slid through the doorway. The kid jumped back, then slammed the door and shot three big metal bolts as she collapsed on the ground.
“You’re okay.” He knelt down. “I’m Harry. We’re safe. Sort of. But he’ll come soon. Won’t he?”
“What are you talking about?” Rachel looked at the empty rifle. She didn’t know how to reload. Or if she even had more bullets anywhere in his pockets. “What are we . . .”
“This way!” The boy led her down a short passageway and then into the dark red sunlight of a dying day. In a narrow square food carts served small servings of meat, potatoes, fish, and vegetables to throngs of thin, hungry, desperate people.
A tall woman in a long black robe stood at the top of a high stairway, in front of an open doorway opening into a squat, round building. A temple?
The woman gazed down. Her expectant smile turned into a frown. “You’re not Tom Jurgen.”
What? “No, but I’m his girlfriend. Who the hell are you?”
The people of the city, haggard and weak, turned to look at Rachel. Maybe some of them believed she was the hero who would save them from the monster outside, Others just gave her a skeptical glance and then went back to the business of trying to find enough food and water to keep their families alive.
Rachel jabbed the kid next to her in the stomach. “What’s going on?”
Then the gate shuddered, like cannonballs pounding at the wall. Rachel swung around and saw one big white eye rise up in the air. A long red tentacle reached down onto the platform surrounding the wall from inside.
A guard screamed as the creature yanked him up into the air. Archers shot arrows into its arms and chest, but the monster roared as it flung the guard down to the ground. The archers scattered, and other guards hurled spears at its chest. The monster roared again and clambered over the wall, knocking guards over with its long, wild arms.
“Save us!” The boy next to Rachel crouched on the ground, his arms over his head. “Send us the hero. Please . . .”
“Wow.” Rachel sat up in her chair, running her hands through her hair. “That was weird.”
“As weird as this?” I was watching the “Spock’s Brain” episode on the TV.
“No, but . . .” She rubbed her eyes. “I was on this gray beach, and there was a monster. It chased me into some castle, but everything there was waiting for you. Like you were some kind of hero or something.”
Something clicked in my head. A woman in a black robe—Diamond—telling everyone my name. “Wait . . . Oh hell.” I groaned. “I think I had the same dream.”
“Oh god.” Rachel sat upright. “Does that mean I’ve got what you’ve got? Am I sick like you? Am I going to die? I was going finally going to buy a fish!”
I called Andrea. She took Rachel’s temperature, her blood sugar, and a vial of blood, but she didn’t seem concerned. “No fever, your sugar’s fine. I’m not sure how to process this since you’re not a patient, but . . .” She slipped the vial into a front pocket and winked. “I’ll figure something out.”
“Thanks.” I looked at the clock. 6:35 in the morning. I could order breakfast at 7:00. “So tell me about your dream.”
Rachel ran her hands across her hair. “Well, it was on a beach with gray sand, and there was some monster coming out the sea. I shot at it with my rifle, but—
“You had a rifle?” I was filled with resentment. “All I had was a sword! Why did you get a gun?”
“It was one of those assault rifles.” She shuddered. “It was kind of cool, except I ran out of bullets in about three seconds. That never happens in the movies. They shoot and they shoot and they shoot, and they never run out. I saw Die Hard. One of them, anyway.”
“Yeah.” From what little I knew, any automatic rifle would exhaust its clip in a matter of seconds. And that meant . . . “We were in the same dream. But maybe it wasn’t really a dream.”
“You can’t even get sick like a normal person?” Rachel slugged my shoulder. “Ow! That gun hurt my wrist and it’s all your fault.”
“It usually is.” Her wrist might ache, but she still had her punch. “So what happened to you?”
We compared dreams. Most of the major details were similar—the sand, the sky, the monster—but some were different. The number of moons in the sky, the sword, the age of the boy at the door, and especially the machine gun.
“He was pretty scared.” Rachel stared out the window. “They all were, even though they were trying to hide it. And that thing . . .” She shivered. “Like Cthluhu without the charm.”
I nodded. “They need help.”
Rachel stood up. “But you have to get better from this weird infection.”
I looked at the IVs in my arm. Which one was pumping the antiobiotic? If I shut it off—
“Don’t even think about it.” She cocked her arm again.
“You really are psychic.” I probably wouldn’t do it anyway. I’m too much of a coward about pain and sickness. And dying.
Rachel sighed. “I guess it’s time for some research.” She sniffed her sweater. “And a shower.”
“Go on home.” I was a little surprised she’d actually spent the night. She hardly ever stayed over at my place—or wanted me to spend all night at hers.
Maybe she liked me.
Rachel kissed me goodbye and I watched the rest of Star Trek. Once Spock’s brain was back in his body, I picked up the phone to order breakfast.
Dr. Raje was Indian or maybe Pakistani, with deep brown eyes and a quiet but firm voice. She checked my vitals and look at my chart on her iPad.
“A private detective?” She cocked an eyebrow. “Lots of divorce and workers comp cases, I image.”
“And some weird stuff.” Vampires, zombies, and monsters in my dreams. “What do I have?”
“A bacterial infection. We can’t identify it, and it’s not responding to the antibiotic we put you on yesterday, so I’m switching to—” a long scientific name that sounded vaguely threatening. “How are you feeling otherwise?”
“Sleepy mostly. Thirsty.” I gulped some water. “Strange dreams.”
“That can happen. Any pain?”
Just where Rachel hit me. “I’m a little achy when I get up to go to the bathroom.”
“We’ll get you something for that. The best thing you can do is rest and drink lots of water.” She tapped the screen with her stylus and closed her laptop. “The nurse will be right in to change your IV.”
But Dr. Raje didn’t leave. Instead she looked at the door. “Will your girlfriend come back to visit today?”
“I hope so.” Had I gotten Nurse Andrea into trouble?
“Have the nurse page me when she comes in.” And she left.
Oh no. I grabbed my cell phone.
Rachel answered on the second buzz. “You still alive? I’m researching shared dreams, but so far—”
“You need to come in.” God, if the infection didn’t kill me. Rachel probably would.
“What the—am I sick? Did you get me sick?”
“What the—am I sick? Did you get me sick?”
“The doctor wouldn’t say. She just wants to see you. I’m—I’m sorry.”
The silence between our phones lasted for what felt like ten thousand years. Then Rachel cleared her throat. “Shut up. It’s not your fault. Besides, maybe she was just wants to ask me why I hang around with a doofus like you.”
Ouch. “I wonder that myself sometimes.”
“Give me an hour. I still haven’t taken a shower. Do you want your laptop? I’m bringing mine.”
“See you soon.”
So an hour and ten minutes later Rachel was in my room, facing off against Dr. Raje. “Hi. I’m Rachel. What’s going on?”
The doctor glanced at my bed. “Do you mind speaking with Mr. Jurgen here? We can find a private area if you’d be more comfortable.”
“What are you talking about?” Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, am I pregnant?”
“No, no.” She shook her head. “But I’m afraid you have the same infection your boyfriend does. Not as advanced, fortunately. But I’d like to admit you for treatment. We can bring a bed in here so you can stay with Tom, or we can arrange another room—”
“Here.” Rachel glared at me. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Dr. Raje looked at me. “Is that acceptable?”
“Of course.” How much worse could it get? Rachel was already mad at me. “But just—how did I give it to her?”
“Don’t think like that.” She picked up the phone on the table next to me. “It’s possible she gave it to you. Or it’s something in your building. You should probably have your apartment inspected, The hospital can give you the number of an inspection service. —Yes, this is Dr. Raje, I need another bed in room 1014. Thank you.” She hung up. “They’ll be in here in a few minutes. You should just focus on resting, drinking lots of liquids, and getting better.” She looked at Rachel. “Both of you. I’ll check in later.”
I didn’t know what to say. Had I caused this? Maybe it was something in our building, mold or mosquitoes. I’d have to call our landlord. But she was a little old woman, and she was already suspicious of me. And Rachel.
Rachel sank into a chair. “This is a nightmare.”
“Speaking of bad dreams . . .”
She pulled her laptop and mine from her bag. “Yeah. Dream telepathy is a thing. Freud experimented with it, and a few others, but scientifically it’s not confirmed. But some people say they’ve done it, usually during stress. I’d say this counts.”
But the people in the black castle . . . “Maybe it’s their stress. Could they be, I don’t know, reaching out for help?”
“From who? Why would they pick someone like . . . um . . .” She gazed down at the floor. “Let me rephrase. Give me a minute . . .”
A new nurse marched into the room, pulling an IV rack with her. Her name was Rosa, and she was followed by two orderlies pushing a hospital bed. Rosa dropped a gown on the mattress, and then wrapped a plastic bracelet around Rachel’s arm. “We’ll leave while you change. You can put your clothes and valuables in this plastic bag. Then I’ve got to place the IV. Do you want something to drink?”
Rachel stared at the bed like it was her coffin. “Just some water.”
I put my bed up as the nurse walked away. “We can order food. I won’t even order a cheeseburger. There’s lots of vegetarian stuff.”
“Good, because I didn’t eat breakfast. Or dinner last night, for that matter, after I found you.” She picked up the gown and smiled. “Shall I change right in here? Give the orderlies something to fantasize about?”
I smiled. “Just make sure you close the blinds.”
“Oops.” Rachel giggled and waved through the window. Then she pushed down her jeans. “This isn’t going to be glamorous, but—hey! Don’t fall asleep on me here!”
“S—sorry.” Suddenly I couldn’t keep my eyes open. “I just have to . . .”