“Jean!” I screamed, when Abigail materialized before my eyes, holding Jean’s limp body in her arms. Blue Tara, Michael, Charlie, and the others appeared behind her. I wanted to run up to Jean and Blue Tara, but Kali held the blade of her sword against my neck. Abigail lay Jean’s unconscious body on the grass at her feet. She raised her hand toward Blue Tara. Blue Tara tossed Abigail her sword.
“You fools!” Kali cried out. “You are too late. What has been set in motion can not be stopped. They are coming. Your world is ending.”
I craned my neck to glare at Kali. “Who are they?” I wondered. Could things actually get any worse, I thought to myself?
Kali’s long red tongue flicked out of her mouth as she chortled in response. “Hell is empty. And all the devils are here,” she screeched.
“The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope,” I retorted.
From Red Square I heard a bell ring. I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket. Five o’clock. A second bell rang. The phone slipped out of my fingers and crashed to my feet. A third bell rang. The glee on Kali’s face turned to shock as the blade of a sword whistled past my ear and plunged into Kali’s skull directly between her eyes. Abigail’s sword. Kali’s sword fell away from my neck and clattered onto the pavement. I looked up to see Abigail’s arm extended forward, as if she’d thrown a javelin at a heptathlon. Goose bumps rolled across my skin as I realized how close the sword came to my head. Kali’s body slumped over the fountain’s concrete rim. I grasped the handle of Abigail’s sword. Kali’s head slipped off the blade. Her body splashed into the pool as the fourth bell rang. I squeezed my eyes closed in anticipation of the fifth bell. “Stop it!” I pleaded.
They say dreams are metaphors for our lives. Could be. Certainly would explain how strange our dreams are. Although I can never understand why I keep losing my clothes in my dreams. While everyone else goes about their business mostly fully clothed.
Could be dreams are something else entirely. Something special. I have come to believe dreams are windows into parallel universes. Dreams are windows that give us glimpses into the lives of our alternate personas in any number of alternate realities. This would explain why the me in my dreams never seems to be me, exactly. Inevitably the me in my dreams is a variation on the theme of me. Older. Younger. Richer. Stupider. Better looking. More hair. Different. But still me. This interpretation of our dreams would be kinder to the world of our reality. Our alternates in the parallel universes of our dreams are typically dumber, slower, and denser. Or just more obtuse. Sometimes I have parrots. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have a car. Sometimes I don't. And when I do, invariably I can never remember where I parked my car. I seem to ride the bus a lot in my dreams. Or trains or boats or planes.
I believe there must be a way to take advantage of these windows into the multiverse. A way for us to manipulate our dreams to allow us to actually travel through the windows of our dreams into these alternate realities. If only our dreams weren't so fleeting, I could chase after the woman of my dreams.
She keeps appearing in my dreams. I always get jarred awake before I discover her name, or even where she lives. But she always returns. Like she's tempting me to follow her. And damn if I don't want to. I just need to figure out how. The same woman, or variations of her, spends quality time with my alternates, in various alternate realities. I think I would recognize her if I bumped into her on the streets of Seattle, but because I've never seen her in my reality I don't know who she is.
The woman of my dreams is invariably tall, athletic, vivacious, educated, and charming. She can be white or black, but I still recognize her when I see her in her various manifestations. She never chides me for losing my clothes or forgetting where I parked my car. On occasion, she even has a parrot. It's because I seem to know her in these alternate realities that I never think to ask her who she is, or even ask her name. We go on grand adventures in these dreams. Trips to Paris. Cross country ski trips. Cruises and camping. Sometimes we live in these huge mansions, so big I get lost in them. I cherish my time with her. I just need to figure out a way to bring her back here to my reality.
I squeezed my eyelids shut until I felt tears dribble down my cheeks. I stopped my breath. All my senses focused on my ears, waiting for the clanging of a bell to penetrate my eardrums. My legs swayed precipitously as a wave of giddiness swept over me. My hands grasped the sides of a lectern in front of me to steady myself. I resigned myself to whatever fate befell me. Wait. What? My fingers traced the lectern’s polished wood edges as I waited for the inevitable clang of the bell. Something was not right. Confusion pushed into my darkened brain as my fingers caressed the polished wood.
My brain began to register the incongruity of my fingers pressing into polished wood just at the moment the raucous clanging of a bell tore through my eardrums. My eyes reflexively popped open, as if to allow the sonic wave an avenue to escape my skull without exploding my head. My hands jerked in surprise. A splinter caught my finger. “Ouch!” I cried out. I stuck the finger to my lips to try to sooth the sharp pain.
“You do not belong here,” I heard a voice call out to me.
As the clamorous metallic clanging dissipated from my brain my eyes focused on the scene before me. Instead of Drumheller Fountain and the sweeping vista of Mount Rainier, a sea of questioning eyes stared back at me. A hundred pairs of eyes from a hundred students standing at attention. A few of the students at the front of the ensemble stared curiously at my finger raised to my lips. I gazed across the hall to the clock hanging on the back wall. Five o’clock. “Oh. My. God!” I exclaimed. I stood at the head of the history lecture hall on the second floor of Denny Hall, the old gothic brownstone history faculty building on the U Dub, University of Washington, campus on the edge of Seattle. I stood ready to teach my five o’clock Introduction to U.S. History 102 class.
As the last reverberations of the bell floated out the wide open windows on the rays of streaming spring sunshine bathing the lecture hall the students, all one hundred of them, slapped their right hands against their chests. They thrust the one hundred right hands into the air above their heads, palms forward. In unison, one hundred throats cried out “Dear Leader!” Again. And again. I squeezed my eyes shut in a futile attempt to keep from drowning in a sonic sea as the waves of chant engulfed the room. My hands grasped the lectern again to steady myself. I forced my eyes open as the students uniformly dropped onto their chairs. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the department chair, Dr. Glenn Hackman, peering through the glass window in the door to the lecture hall. His face wore a district frown.
I averted my eyes from Hackman’s scowling face to frantically scan my lecture notes spread across the top of the lectern. For some reason, I couldn’t recall the lecture one hundred pairs of probing eyes expectantly waited for me to deliver. I realized I had failed to salute Dear Leader at the bell as all faculty were expected to. I was pretty sure that was the source of Hackman’s displeasure. I was also pretty sure I would hear about it from the chairman himself. As an adjunct professor of history facing tenure review I dreaded the black marks that could torpedo my pending promotion.
“Professor?” I glanced up to see a hand tentatively raised over a woman’s head in the first row directly in front of me. I stared transfixed at the hand as it slowly waved back and forth. A tinge of recognition tickled the back of my brain. “Professor?” the woman repeated. My eyes followed the woman’s arm down to her lithe black leather clad body. Dark skin. Long dark hair cascading over her shoulders. A svelte dark body wrapped in dark black leather.
“Yes?” I lamely responded.
“Are you okay, professor?” she asked. Her raised hand dropped to her lap.
I pulled my eyes away from her to search for the seating chart I knew I would find prominently placed on my lectern. I checked the first row. Kay. “Yes?” I repeated. “. . . Kay?”
“Are you okay, professor?” Want me to notify the department secretary?”
My eyes squeezed shut again as the image of a brilliantly blue phantasm drifted through my brain. My daydreams seemed to grow in expression and clarity to the point where I had difficulty discerning reality from fantasy. With the dreams came ferocious headaches that seared the recesses of my skull. I brushed my fingers across my cheeks to wipe away the tears I felt sure everyone in the hall could see. The woman named Kay commenced to stand. I grasped the lectern to steady myself. I forced a smile. “Please stay seated,” I said sternly.
As Kay dropped back into her seat, with a wink, she silently mouthed the words ‘You do not belong here, professor’.
“Huh?” I grunted as I pondered the meaning of the preposterous words that silently wafted across the space between us. What the fuck does she mean, I don’t belong here? I glanced over my shoulder at the chalkboard behind me. I studied the words ‘Dr. Aeson Introduction to U.S. History 102 Reconstruction’ scrawled across the board in big bold black letters with what I was pretty sure was my handwriting. Where else would I be if not here in the history lecture hall of the U Dub’s Denny Hall, the turn of the last century gothic pile of brown rock that served as the university’s history faculty building? My eyes scanned the lecture notes spread out across the top of the lectern before me. Compromise of 1877. Fall of Reconstruction. I shuffled through the notes as I wracked my brain trying to remember where I ended my last lecture.
The door to the lecture hall opened. My eyes popped up in wonder. All one hundred heads of the one hundred students spread before me turned their one hundred pairs of eyes to examine the woman striding besides Dr. Hackman into the room. The hall fell so still I could hear the chins of the male students hit their desks. Hackman bent over to whisper to a female student seated in the front row. Her face flushed as her eyes gasped wide in surprise. She snapped her Introduction to U.S. History 102 textbook shut. She snatched up her notebook and her jacket as she jumped out of her chair and scurried out the door. A broad grin across his face, Dr. Hackman waved the new student toward the empty seat. “Please come see me after class, Professor Aeson,” Hackman demanded in the eminently superior faux British accent picked up on a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford as he retreated for the door.
I absentmindedly nodded, my eyes glued to the new student. As she settled behind her desk, she gazed up at me with a look that could hypnotize a hummingbird. “Good evening, professor,” she greeted me. A vivaciously gleaming smile broke across her face. “Roxanne,” she added.
“What?” I dumbly replied.
“My name is Roxanne,” she clarified.
I could swear she winked at me. I stared dumbfounded into her gleaming ruby red eyes. The words to an old song drifted through my head. ‘You don’t have to wear that dress tonight. . .’ I had never seen a person, a creature, any creature, so red as this woman. “Huh. . . miss?” I finally managed to mutter. “Are you in the right class?” I glanced at the chalkboard behind me to assure myself I was in the right class. She stuck out of the predominately freshman, and woman, class like a geoduck on a platter of clams.
“Yes, professor,” Roxanne replied with a grin. “Dr. Hackman will explain everything to you after class.”
“He will?” My eyes broke free from the grasp of hers to sweep down her athletic body, uncaringly slumped back in her chair, unlike the other ninety-nine students sitting stiffly, pens in hand hovering expectantly over blank white notepads. “Of course he will,” I muttered. I raised my hand to brush my hair back out of my eyes. I froze, hand to my forehead. I stared out into the sea of one hundred pairs of eyes studying me quizzically. I lowered my hand to glance at my palm, not sure what I expected to see. Not even sure what I was looking for. I combed my fingers back through my hair. How long has it been since I had this much hair, I wondered? A ticking sound tickled my ear. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. An awkward stillness settled over the lecture hall so deep I swear I could hear the clock hanging on the back wall ticking away.
“Are you okay, professor?” Roxanne asked, her voice cutting into my brain and reverberating around my skull so sharply I nearly jumped out of my shoes. I noticed Kay smirking at me.
I squinted at Roxanne, trying to keep my eyes from falling captive to her alluring body. I couldn’t understand how the other ninety-nine students in the class didn’t have their eyes glued to her, or at least the male contingent of the class. I wasn’t sure which part of her seemed more odd. She definitely was older than the other students. Markedly more self-confident and mature. But it was her physical qualities that captivated me. An explosion of intensely red hair erupting from her head so fiery red I imagined I saw wisps of smoke circling around her head. Her skin so red I thought she might have just walked out of an Australian summer. But not sunburned red. More like the skin of a perfectly waxed Washington red delicious apple. Delicious was the word I was looking for. Her black capris and skin tight red sweater didn’t so much as shield her uniqueness as accentuate her attributes. Her lone adornment was some sort of carved ivory talisman hanging from a gold chain draped around her neck.
I forced myself to look back at my lecture notes. I lifted a couple of sheets. I stared at the next. A sheet of white paper blank except for one line of text scrawled across the page in bold black letters. ‘Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha’. I immediately recognized the Blue Tara mantra, the battle cry for a cult of religious fanatics infesting Seattle and spreading across the country determined to resist Dear Leader and his New American Order. I peered up at the class. My eyes swept across the impassive faces of the students poised to consume whatever regime approved dictates I chose to feed them. My eyes dropped back to my lecture notes. “Compromise of 1877,” I mumbled.
A voice broke the stillness of the lecture hall. “You do not belong here,” the voice insisted.
I stared up. “What the fuck?” I blurted out.
Several students in the front couple of rows audibly gasped. A student in one of the back rows bolted out of his chair. “Om tare tuttara tura soha!” he cried out as he rushed toward me. A male student. Typically nondescript freshman. Young. Standard freshman garb. Sneakers. Blue jeans. Purple and gold U Dub sweatshirt.
The wheels of my brain churned as I tried to comprehend why a religious fanatic would attack a simple adjunct professor. “What the fuck,” I muttered again. I held my breath as the student neared. My hands gripped the lectern. I braced for collision.
The student brushed past me. He slid to a stop at the chalkboard. He grabbed a marker and, writing over my name, scrawled the words “Om Tare Tuttara Tura Soha” across the board as he yelled the words out. Finished, he dropped the marker as he spun around, his face flush with uncertain accomplishment. He raised his arms over his head. His mouth opened as if he prepared to pronounce a manifesto. His face froze, eyes wide in surprise as the door to the lecture hall blew open.
Two black clad campus cops burst through the door, semiautomatic pistols in their outstretched hands. “Halt!” one of the cops yelled, even though the insurgent stood frozen before the chalkboard.
“Om. . .” escaped the fanatic’s wide open mouth, the only word the cops allowed the student to utter. The jarring clap of a gunshot spun me around to face the student. My mind tried to comprehend why the student stood at the chalkboard, his eyes staring blankly back at me. I noticed a hole in the student’s forehead. I stared dumbfounded as a stream of red blood gushed out of the hole. My chin settled to my shoes as the body gently slumped to the floor. This lecture hall did not seem to me to be any place I wanted to be.
The cops raced past me to the body. They dropped to their knees as they meticulously searched the corpse’s clothing. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Dr. Hackman rush into the room. I grimaced as he yelled “Class dismissed!” Needlessly, I thought, as a deathly silence like a funeral pall settled over the lecture hall. Hackman pointed one arm toward the door. He spun his other arm around and around like a traffic cop. “Quickly students!” he called out. “Professor Aeson will resume his lecture at his next class,” he assured the students as they fled out the door. As the last student filed out I hurriedly scooped up my lecture notes, remembering the seditious page of paper hiding in the notes. As the cops continued to examine the corpse, I hurried toward the door. I realized Roxanne, alone of all the one hundred students, still sat in her chair in the front row of an otherwise empty lecture hall. I halted, my eyes mesmerized by hers. “Dr. Aeson,” a voice called out. Roxanne’s hypnotic eyes refused to release their grip on mine. “Dr. Aeson!” the voice persisted. A hand clasped my shoulder. Startled, my eyes broke free from Roxanne’s. Hackman stepped between me and Roxanne. His hand squeezed my shoulder. “If you will, Dr. Aeson. My office,” he commanded.
“Yes, sir!” I snapped a reply back deferentially, once I realized who was talking at me. Hackman turned and scurried out the door. I fell in behind him to follow him across the hall into the history department offices.
“Trouble?” the department secretary, Nancy, asked, a remorseful look across her face. Nancy DaFoe. Probably the best looking middle aged woman I know. Someone who clearly took care of herself. I smiled weakly and wordlessly in response as I followed Hackman into his office. I liked Nancy. As did all the adjunct faculty. I fantasized about asking her out on a date. Best friend any of us adjuncts had in the department. She took care of us grunts. Snappy dresser, too. Couldn’t understand how she could afford the Brooks Brothers suits she favored on what I was pretty sure was a crappy salary. She had money anyway. Most likely a husband, though she always came alone to department parties. I know I never saw a wedding band on her ring finger.
“Dr. Aeson!” Dr. Hackman’s admonishment snapped me out of my daydream.
“Yes, sir!” I responded, bowing my head submissively. I was pretty sure I was in trouble for something. I faced tenure review at the end of the term. Like most adjunct faculty in my position I’d lick Hackman’s Salvatore Ferragamo shoes if that’s what it took to curry his favor. I knew Hackman could afford his snappy dress because I once saw his paycheck on Nancy’s desk one time she was passing out checks. I stepped toward the visitor’s chair I knew parked in front of Hackman’s Georgian mahogany leather top campaign desk acquired on a conference trip to London. As I prepared to settle into the chair I was startled to find Roxanne already seated in the chair. “Huh?” I grunted in confusion, wondering how she beat me into Hackman’s office.
“Dr. Aeson!” Hackman called out again. I craned my head to face Hackman. I could never quite understand why he felt the need to basically yell at subordinates standing directly before him. I guessed it was some kind of superiority complex. Hackman only called me ‘Dr. Aeson’ when visitors were in earshot. Otherwise he usually just called me, as he did the other adjuncts, by our first names. “Dr. Aeson,” he repeated, this time more subdued. “I wanted to introduce your newest student to you.” Hackman waved toward the woman sitting in the visitor’s chair. “Dr. Aeson. Please meet Roxanne.”
I gazed back into Roxanne’s smoldering red eyes. My legs wobbled as a bolt of excruciating pain tore through my brain and bounced around the inside of my skull. Roxanne cracked a wry smile. “Headache, professor?”
The wheels of Dr. Hackman’s executive padded leather office chair squeaked as he leaned forward to rest his chin on his folded hands. I stared at the ends of his red silk bow tie dangling loose from his unbuttoned shirt collar. It seemed odd that Hackman would call me into his office just to introduce a new student. It irritated me that Hackman was still present in the history offices after hours.
Let’s face it. I am not a morning person. I jumped at the chance to teach evening classes so I could sleep in mornings. Plus I thought the offer might earn me a few brownie points with Hackman that I could cash in come time for tenure review. As well as the gratitude of the tenured faculty who did not want to teach evening classes. So I taught two evening classes twice a week. Five and seven o’clock. Best part about teaching evening classes was knowing the history offices would be free of Hackman and the other tenured faculty. Hackman compulsively left his office promptly at five o’clock each and every day. I could set my watch to him. I usually saw him walking out the door undoing his bow tie as I started my five o’clock intro class. I tried to suppress a frown. Who still wore bow ties in this day and age, for chrissakes?
“Isn’t it just a lovely day?” Dr. Hackman remarked, his lips spread into an uncharacteristically wide grin. The forefinger of his hand twirled one of the ends of his bow tie. As a specimen of a history professor, Hackman struck a pretty unimpressive figure. An English history professor of not much note, in spite of his Rhodes scholarship, he acquired the department chairmanship only because he seemed the least threatening option to the other tenured faculty. I always thought he tried to cover his physical mediocrity with his fake British accent and impressive British clothing. Physically Hackman was on the slender side. Average height. Average hair, but well coiffed. Average nerd. Sported Burberry suits which he purchased from some suit of the month club in Britain. I’ve seen the boxes.
‘What the fuck?’ I thought to myself. One of my students just got shot down right in front of me in my classroom, and Hackman was going on about the weather. “A lovely day indeed, Professor Hackman,” Roxanne replied.
Nancy shuffled into the office with a metal folding chair in her hands. “Here you go, Jason,” she said. I smiled a thank you. I liked the fact she was not one for formality. She planted the chair next to Roxanne. “What a terrible experience,” she added, patting my shoulder. “What has this world become? So sorry you had to go through that.” She gave me a sorrowful look as she turned and retreated from the office.
“Terrible experience?” Hackman commented, his eyebrows furrowed questioningly.
“The shooting. . .” I started to mutter as I dropped onto the chair.
“Had to be done,” Roxanne interjected. She dropped a hand onto my knee. I stared at her, startled. I stared at her hand grasping my knee. “I am sorry you had to experience that.”
“Huh?” I mumbled.
“Why yes. Terrible. Just terrible,” Hackman responded flatly. “But here we are.”
“Huh?” I mumbled again.
“I don’t normally introduce new students to my faculty,” Hackman continued. My eyes fell back to Hackman’s bow tie. “But Roxanne is not just any student.”
“She’s not?” My eyes bounced back to Roxanne, studying me, a gleaming ivory smile spread across her face. My eyes dropped to her hand still resting on my knee.
“Roxanne is an agent,” Hackman said.
“What?” I stared back at Hackman.
“A secret agent.” I could feel my eyes bulge out of their sockets as they bounced back and forth between Hackman and Roxanne. “Roxanne is an undercover agent for the regent of Seattle working to root out the insurgents here on campus trying to overthrow the regime.”
“Insurgents? What insurgents?” I protested.
“You just witnessed the insurgents in action, Professor Aeson,” Roxanne insisted. I could feel her tighten her grip on my knee. Her ruddy lips, curled up into a broad smile, dropped precipitously into a pronounced frown. “An historian like you should not deny the evidence of your own eyes.”
“Evidence?” I retorted. “All I saw was a harmless religious fanatic, who, as far as I can tell, worships an animal deity. Just a simple animal lover. Don’t they worship a parrot? Or something. Hardly seems like a capital offense.” I pressed my fingers to my eyes as I shook my head.
“Ideas, professor,” Roxanne retorted.
“Worse than any animal worship. These fanatics worship an idea.”
“An idea?” I’m sure Roxanne saw the confusion in my eyes. “What idea?”
“What freedom?” I responded sardonically.
Roxanne smiled as she squeezed my knee again. “Freedom from the regime. That is why these fanatics are so subversive and so dangerous. That is why they need to be rooted out and eradicated by any means necessary.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. I shook my head again to try to shake out the pain trying to infiltrate my brain. I began to wonder if I should read anything extra into Roxanne’s continued grasp of my knee. Can’t deny I found her attractive. The muscles of her taut body rippled under her skin-tight sweater in a seductive sort of way as she leaned toward me. What the heck. I pressed my luck. I dropped my hand from my face onto my knee, brushing her hand. An electric shock of excitement raced up my arm when my hand touched hers, followed by a wave of goosebumps. It dawned on me that Hackman could not see our hands because of his desk. “These are just nature worshipers,” I insisted, forcing a grin. “Simple pagans. Hardly subversive revolutionaries.”
“Come now, Jason,” Dr. Hackman interjected. His addressing me in the familiar form jarred me. I pulled my hand back from Roxanne’s. “In these troubled times we can never be too careful,” he continued. “I am sure the authorities have more information about who is, and who is not, a subversive than we could possibly know.”
“The regime can never have too much information,” Roxanne replied. Hackman’s eyes gaped wide in surprise at this mild rebuke. “That is why I am here.”
“It is?” I said, my voice cracking with uncertainty. I wondered if I might be the subject of suspicion.
Roxanne squeezed my knee uncomfortably. “Yes, professor. I am directed to monitor your class, and others, for subversive activity. But particularly your class.”
Oh shit. I felt my face flush. I felt sweat beading on my forehead which I was sure Roxanne sat close enough to see. The thought crept into my brain that Roxanne knew about the subversive sheet of paper hiding in my lecture notes. I tightened my grasp on the sheaf of papers in my hand. “Why my class?” I ventured. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought. “It’s just an intro class. Freshman students, mostly.”
“There is a known subversive registered in your class that we are tracking.”
“What!” Hackman exclaimed, his eyes bulging wide in shock. He fell back in his chair. The chair’s wheels creaked badly as the chair rolled back from the desk across the hardwood floor. Hackman stretched out to grab his desk to pull himself forward. He coughed as he stammered, “Why don’t the authorities simply arrest this person?” He snatched his silk blue paisley handkerchief out of his breast pocket to muffle his coughs. “Why put our students at risk?” he pleaded.
“If your students ever become at risk we will certainly move to arrest her,” Roxanne replied.
“Her?” I said in surprise. “What is her name? Which student is she?” I detected a grimace flash across Roxanne’s face.
“I am sorry,” she snapped back. She dropped her hand from my knee. “I misspoke. You can understand that for security purposes I can not reveal the identity of the person we are surveilling.”
“Your secret would be safe with me,” Hackman insisted.
“I am sorry, Dr. Hackman. But we are waiting for our suspect to lead us to the coven of witches that are behind the resistance movement here in Seattle.”
“Coven of witches!” I blurted out. “Seriously?” I shook my head in disgust. “They’re just religious nuts. Pagan animists,” I insisted. “So they worship birds. What’s the harm in that?”
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Roxanne replied.
Hackman excitedly jumped forward in his chair. “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” he remarked.
Hackman and Roxanne both turned their heads to stare at me as if expecting me to add a verse from Shakespeare. “Sorry,” I shrugged. I haven’t read Shakespeare since my college days.” I peered into Roxanne’s gleaming red eyes. “I guess you won’t be taking my tests then?” I smirked.
Roxanne’s gleaming red eyes winked back at mine. “There is a matter you can help the regime with,” she said.
“There is?” I swiveled in my chair toward her, my knee brushing hers.
Her hand grasped my knee again. “Dr. Hackman has informed me that your area of expertise is western expansionism and the frontier contact period with Native American peoples.” The tone of her voice suggested this was more a statement of fact than a query.
“Yes, that’s true,” I replied. I glanced nervously at Hackman, staring back at me impassively, his hands folded under his chin. I wondered what else he might have told Roxanne.
“Very good,” Roxanne replied, her face brightening. I worried if her face got any brighter it might combust. “There is a special collection of artifacts and documents stored here at the University of Washington. . .” I noticed she didn’t say U Dub, “. . . I would like you to investigate for us that may help shed some light on the forces arrayed against the regime.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” I wracked my brain trying to imagine what could possibly lay in the university collections that could be of any relevance to the resistance movement.
“You are familiar with the famous archaeologist Franz Boas?”
“Of course. I’ve been through that collection time and again.” Besides a couple of carved masks I couldn’t imagine what could possibly interest religious nuts.
“What I am about to tell you is not to leave this office,” Roxanne replied. She squeezed my knee so sharply I winced. Hackman leaned forward across his desk, ears perked up. “A trove of materials has recently been discovered that Boas collected during the Klondike Stampede that has lain hidden in your collections for all these years.”
“These materials have special significance that I believe those you call religious nuts are very interested in.”
How could I not know about any lost Boas materials? I’ve been all through the archaeology collections in the Burke Museum, the storehouse for all the U Dub’s natural history and archaeology collections. “I would really like to see this material!” I blurted out.
“In due time,” Roxanne countered. “I am staying at the Ambassador Hotel across from the campus,” she continued. “Do you know of it?”
“Of course,” I replied. Swanky digs that celebrities visiting the campus favored. I’ve met a rock star or two there.
“I want you there at nine o’clock sharp to continue this discussion. Everything will be explained to you.”
Damn, I thought. Usually I was just getting out of bed at nine in the morning. “I believe I have office hours at nine in the morning,” I muttered apologetically. A blatant lie, but what the hell. “My students will be expecting me,” I added for good measure.
“Nine o’clock tonight,” Roxanne corrected me. “I am off to a meeting with the regent of Seattle to discuss my progress on this matter. Then I can explain to you exactly what it is that you can do to help me.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. My lectures were all pretty much recitations of canned regime-approved content. I could recite my lectures in my sleep. And some days I did. “Okay,” I agreed.
Roxanne stood up. “Do not be late!” she said sternly. Hackman bolted out of his chair. Since my chair blocked Roxanne’s exit from the office, I jumped up to fold the chair out of the way. Roxanne put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I winced. Damn, I did not want to get into an arm wrestling contest with her. “If your service to the regime proves as useful as I believe it will, Dr. Hackman assures me your cooperation will be taken into consideration during your tenure review.”
Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Hackman smirking at me. “Why, thank you,” I stammered. “I will do what I can,” I said in the most obsequious tone I could muster without sounding desperate.
“I know you will,” Roxanne replied. She grasped my hand and pressed it. I thought my arm might go numb from her grasp. I need to work out more, I berated myself. “You will do just fine,” Roxanne added with a wink. With that, she brushed by me and hurried out the door. I noticed Hackman’s hand dangling across his desk. I know it was intended for Roxanne, but I turned and shook it anyway.
I shrugged and exited Hackman’s office. Nancy’s chair sat empty. I noticed the noise level in the hallway significantly subdued as the traditional young student demographic got replaced for the evening by the older working student crowd. I absentmindedly headed back towards the history lecture hall to prepare for my seven o’clock intro class when I nearly bumped into a burly black clad campus cop hulking in the doorway, a menacing machine gun strapped over his shoulder. He roughly thrust his hand into my chest to keep me from pursuing my objective. “Crime scene! he barked. “No admittance.”
“What?” I stammered. “I’ve got a class to teach.” I stretched up on my toes to peer across his shoulder into the lecture hall. A crowd of black clad cops, standing in a pool of red blood, hovered over the corpse of the student, still stretched out on the floor. I could see Roxanne standing with her back to me, conversing with one of the cops. He turned his head to gaze at me when he noticed me staring at him. His look sent icy shivers cascading down my spine. I dropped back on my heels, shaking from a sudden chill, ready to beat a retreat.
“Let him through!” I heard Roxanne call out. The burly cop stepped out of the doorway and waved me in.
I took a couple of steps into the lecture hall. I froze mid-stride when my eyes fell back onto the cop standing with Roxanne. Uncomfortably tall. Pencil thin. A good stiff breeze off Elliott Bay could knock him over. A shock of unruly white hair that looked like it hadn’t seen a comb this century covered his head. But what turned my blood chill were his eyes. Deep set. Almost sunken. Eyes so fiery red they seemed to burn with the fires of Hell. I forced my eyes back to Roxanne. “I’m sorry. . . huh. . . Roxanne,” I stuttered. “But I’ve got a seven o’clock intro class to teach here.”
“Not tonight, professor,” Roxanne replied gruffly, her chin raised haughtily. “My officers will be processing this crime scene all night. You have a nine o’clock appointment,” she reminded me. “Do not be late.” She turned to resume her conversation with the strange cop.
A hand grasped my shoulder and yanked me back into the hallway. “She said, not tonight!” the burly cop berated me. “Be gone!” I nearly tripped over my feet trying to back away. I spun around and dashed for the stairway to get me out of the building.
The sun had already set on this sparkling spring Seattle evening as I skipped down the stone steps leading away from Denny Hall. The delectable scent of cherry blossoms in full bloom struck my nostrils. I stopped. I took a deep breath, hoping the fragrant air would clear out the nightmarish images trespassing through my brain. The sodium lights planted along the sidewalks bathed the old stone buildings on this part of the campus with a warm amber glow. I bent my head back to gaze up to see if any stars were visible. A critter, some kind of bird flapping furiously out of the dark, startled me. The creature darted out of one of the old elm trees and disappeared over the roof of Denny Hall. Goosebumps crawled up my back. Too big to be a bat, I thought. An owl, maybe? Were there any blue owls, I wondered? I sighed and continued walking up the sidewalk toward Suzzallo Library.
The tenured history faculty enjoyed the convenience of old but comfortable offices right in Denny Hall. We adjunct professors had to settle for whatever space the university could dredge up. In my case, the subbasement to the grand cathedral to books, the century old collegiate gothic stone pile called the Suzzallo Library.
The subbasement used to house the old coal burning furnace and equipment shops back in the day when coal was a thing. The university had reclaimed parts of the grimy old catacombs for storage and, reluctantly, office space. This proved advantageous for me. Few students dared navigate the dungeons and depths to find their way to my office door. And the university collections sat right on top of me whenever I needed to pin down a pesky document.
I hiked across the nearly deserted Red Square spread out in front of the library building. Known as Red Square for the red bricks that constituted its paving material rather than the political proclivities of the student body. At this time of the evening most students were home for dinner. A flutter of wings above the library caught my eye as I stopped at a little used and hardly noticed maintenance door on the south wall. I fumbled with my keys to unlock the door. I skipped down two flights of metal steps to a harshly lit drab concrete hallway leading to my office door. I hurried past several other doors that I found always locked. Some day I thought I might break into them, in the interest of history of course, to see what secrets lurked behind them.
I grunted in disappointment when I found the door to the office ajar. That meant my office mate, and fellow adjunct professor, Mike. . . Dr. Michael Bulgakov. . . was still inside. Didn’t he have an archaeology lab to teach this evening? I had hoped to sneak a beer out of the mini-fridge he kept in the office.
To stretch our paltry adjunct professor pay, Michael, and I before him, had taken to camping in the office. Not kosher, but considering how secluded the place was, we never were too concerned about being found out by the administration. Michael kept a cot in the closet to sleep on. His mini-fridge stocked with essentials such as beer and sandwiches. And a trunk full of clothes. He trekked to the gym for showers. I used to camp in the office as well, but I recently moved to an apartment in the north Seattle neighborhood of Ballard.
Fact of the matter is, I bought an old building in Ballard, the Saint Charles Hotel, a nondescript turn of the last century boarding house that had been converted to self-storage a while back. I could afford the purchase because of some recent luck with the lottery. Big enough luck to purchase and restore an old building. Small enough not to make waves. I failed to tell Michael about my good luck. Matter of fact, I didn’t tell anyone in the department, not even Nancy. My thought was that if I failed my tenure review I could try my hand at something else entirely. Something very Seattle, like roasting coffee. Opening a coffee shop.
I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Michael’s chair sat empty, except for his black cat Margarita, curled up for a nap. She raised her head and greeted me with a meow. That’s strange, I thought. Why was the door ajar? I stepped in, pushing the door closed behind me. I walked to the fridge to retrieve a can of cold Rainier. As I popped the tab I turned toward my desk. I froze. A woman sat in my chair studying me, a wry smile edging across her face. “Hello, professor,” she said. Tall. Lithe. Striking dark skin deliciously wrapped in black leather. The woman from my class. The woman named Kay.
The can of cold Rainier slipped though my fingers and crashed to the concrete floor. I bent down to grab the can before the contents completely escaped. “What. The. . !” I exclaimed. I glanced back at Michael’s chair. “Where’s Michael? What are you doing here? How’d you get in?”
“I am sorry to catch you by surprise, professor. The door was unlocked. . .” I wasn’t buying what she was selling. It wasn’t like Michael to leave the door unlocked, especially with the cat. “But it is important that I talk to you.” She rose from my chair and stepped toward me. A reassuring smile cut across her face. “I do not know how much time I have. But it is critically important that I convince you of one thing.”
“What’s that?” I felt an insatiable thirst engulf me. I took a sip of the beer.
The woman named Kay stepped up to me. She placed her hands on my shoulders. “You do not belong here.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? Was that you in class tell me that?” I drained my beer.
“The woman named Roxanne is not who she claims to be.”
“Huh? Who is she then?” I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket to check the time, remembering my appointment with her.
“I know you are meeting with Roxanne tonight.”
“You must be on your guard. Believe nothing she tells you.”
“Who the fuck are you?” I blurted out, my ire elevated. “How do you know this? Why should I even believe you?” I flipped the empty can into the recycle bin and dashed back to the fridge to grab another beer.
“I am a friend who. . .”
“Friend?” I interrupted her. “I don’t know you. Except you’re in my class.”
“I am a friend you know quite intimately,” Kay continued.
“No I don’t!” I insisted.
“Let me show you.”
Kay stepped up to me. She pulled the beer can out of my hand and set it on Michael’s desk. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders. She pulled me to her. Her luscious black hair swept across my face. I breathed in Kay’s intoxicating odor, like vintage wine. Pungently smoky and flowery. Her lips touched my lips. Her lipstick tasted like a rich dark chocolate frosting. I felt her tongue press between my lips. Her tongue pushed against my tongue. One of her hands slipped into my pants. I squeezed my eyes closed. A sense of recognition crept into my brain.
“We are home,” Kay whispered in my ear. “Open your eyes. And your mind.” I opened my eyes. A brilliant white light dancing over a field of pure crystal forced my eyes closed again. “It will take your eyes a few moments to adjust to the light. I will shield your eyes.”
I hesitantly forced my eyelids open. A radiant sun settled for the night below a sparkling crystal plain that stretched out from us as far as I could see. Unimaginably great walls of glimmering crystal structures towered over us into a twinkling night sky. Kay stood before me. Naked. She held my hands in hers. Her dark skin gleamed in the setting sun like a chocolate candy bar. I wanted a taste of her. She pulled me to her. As her breasts pressed into my chest I realized I stood naked. I jumped back from her. I spun around searching for my clothes. “I must be dreaming,” I rationalized. I’m always find myself naked in my dreams.
Kay stepped up to me and grasped my hands. She pulled my hands up to her breasts. “Does this feel like a dream?” She leaned over to kiss me again. Her tongue traced my lips. I was just about to surrender to her embrace and allow my dream to run its course. Kay dropped my hands and stepped back, worry creasing her face.
“What is it?” I asked, somewhat disappointed.
“We must return.”
Kay grabbed my shoulders and pulled my body into hers. I squeezed my eyes closed as I breathed in her sweet smoky scent. “What. The. Fuck!” a voice barked in my ear. My eyes popped open. Kay stood in front of me throwing on her clothes. I stood in a pile of my clothes. My office mate Michael stood in the doorway, glaring at me, his face flushed, more embarrassed than angry. “Just help yourself to my beer,” he added with a chuckle, his eyes transfixed on Kay getting dressed. I jumped into my clothes fast as I could. “I went by the history offices and heard about the shooting. Thought you might have come back here. Guess you’re not too broken up about it,” he smirked. “Say, why is there beer on the floor?” Michael asked as I frantically dressed.
I slipped my polo shirt over my head and tucked the tail into my pants. “Mike. This is Kay. . . Kay. My office mate, Michael Bulgakov.”
“I know,” Kay responded, stepping to my side. Her hand grasped mine.
I could see Michael eyeing our clasped hands. “You do?” Michael replied, his voice saying otherwise. “I don’t know you. Do I?”
“It is complicated,” Kay said.
“Isn’t it always?” Michael laughed. Like me, my office mate Michael was average height and average build. Slightly chunky in all the wrong places. A diet of beer and bagel sandwiches would do that to you. Noticeably thinning brown hair he hid under a Seattle Seahawks cap when he wasn’t teaching. Clark Gable mustache. Claimed women liked guys with staches. Says the guy I’ve never seen with a date. Favored khaki pants, Ralph Lauren shirts, and Nordstrom jackets he collected on trips to Goodwill or Value Village. Two hundred dollar Vasque boots he picked up for ten bucks. Michael was the cheapest well dressed university professor I knew. “You’re not hanging here, are you?” he asked me suspiciously.
“I’ve got a meeting at nine o’clock,” I replied.
Michael breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh good. Nine o’clock? I’m about ready to call it a night. I’ve got an early start in the morning.”
Michael was no more a morning person than I was. My eyelids arched markedly. “Oh. What’s up?”
“I’m meeting with a representative of the regime about some newly discovered Boas artifacts. . .” I stared at Michael incredulously. “You know. The archaeologist Franz Boas.”
“Roxanne,” I surmised.
“What! How did you know that?”
“I’m meeting her at nine at her hotel about the same thing.”
“You are? Well. Me too. Only nine in the morning.”
At least I didn’t get stuck with the morning meeting. I checked the clock on my cellphone. “Oh shit!” I exclaimed. I glanced at Kay. “Sorry. I’ve got to run. Didn’t realize it was so late.” I grabbed my jacket.
“I will walk out with you,” Kay replied.
I think I saw a flash of disappointment cross Michael’s face. We said our goodbyes and ran out the door.
Kay followed me up the steps out to Red Square without speaking. I rushed across the red brick without waiting for her. I hoped she had other plans. The suspicion crossed my mind that she might be the subversive Roxanne warned about. Confusion wrestled in my head with a growing headache as strange random images fluttered through my brain. Images of Kay. Or a woman who sure looked like Kay. Kay together with me. And Michael. Kay and me in various stages of undress. Or no dress at all. Images of fantastic and frightening blue creatures. Flying monsters. An improbable crystal city floating in the clouds. I picked up my pace. A salty pea soup fog draped the square, thick and sticky as cotton candy. I started to shake as the cold damp fog seeped into my skin and chilled the blood running though my veins. I zipped up my fleece jacket and stuck my hands into the pockets. Students flitted through the fog like apparitions in a horror movie.
Kay proved to be in better shape than me. To my disappointment she matched me stride for stride. As we reached the edge of the square at Fifteenth Avenue she grasped my shoulder to stop me. “You are in grave danger,” she insisted.
The fog had grown so thick I could barely see her face even though she only stood an arm’s length away from me. The white fog gave her dark form an ethereal feel. I felt myself in a dream. I couldn’t understand how such a creature could exist in my reality of documents and artifacts. “I don’t know who you are or what you want. . .” I started to say.
“But you do know who I am and what I want.”
My faced burned so hot with anger I was sure it could illuminate the fog. “Would I say I don’t if I do!” I cried out. A passerby scurrying off Fifteenth Avenue stared at me with alarm as he disappeared into the fog.
“The problem is you do not know who you are.”
My jaw dropped to my chest in response to such a ludicrous statement. “What the fuck!” I exclaimed. Either she was bonkers. Or I was. Kay reached up and touched her fingers to my forehead. A wave of warmth penetrated my skull and flowed down through my limbs. My burgeoning headache evaporated. “How did you do that?” I gasped.
“I can help you with that,” she replied, a wry smile cutting through the fog.
“Help me with what?” I responded, although I knew what.
“Your headaches. I know they are growing in severity.”
I leaned forward close enough to peer into Kay’s eyes, like burning embers of coal glowing through the mist. How could she possibly know about my headaches? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied.
Kay took my hands and pulled me to her. “Of course you do. The tlogwe is trying to take control of your mind. And your soul. Without my help it will overwhelm you and destroy you. The tlogwe is our only hope to fight the black witch.”
I yanked my hands out of Kay’s grasp. “Black witch? You are certifiably nuts!” I cried out, more to convince me than her.
“On the contrary, I may be the most sane person here.”
“In this reality.”
Pain commenced to creep back into my brain. “Now I know you’re nuts.”
“You must work with the tlogwe. Not against it. I can guide you, if you allow me.”
“What the fuck is the tlogwe?” I asked.
“A great gift.”
“A gift of what?”
“A gift that will make right all that is wrong with this world.”
“How do you know about this tlogwe?” I asked as I turned to skip down the steps to Fifteenth Avenue. Kay’s reply pursued me through the fog. “I am the one who gave you the tlogwe.”
I needed only rap on the door to Roxanne’s suite with my knuckles once before the door swung open. The woman who greeted me was not Roxanne. “You are late,” she admonished me with a thin smile. With a broad sweep of her arm she motioned for me to enter. “Roxanne expects punctuality from the people in her employ.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied sheepishly. “But I don’t work for Roxanne. I teach at the U Dub. . . huh, University of Washington.”
“I am a Seattle girl. I know what the U Dub is,” the woman replied, her smile broadening into a grin. “Oh, and you now work for Roxanne.”
I couldn’t prevent my eyes from sweeping up and down the woman’s taut body. Her feet, toe nails painted red, appeared barefoot underneath an exquisite floor length floral print silk wrap dress, loosely secured with a blue band around her waist. The silk jersey accentuated her athletic physique as well as her physical attributes. Slightly taller than me, she appeared of an age that was hard to estimate. Not old. Not young. As she moved I could tell she took care of herself. Probably worked out, unlike me. Long brunette hair fashionably braided back. She turned to face me. Brooding blue eyes above wide Seattle pale cheeks gave her a seductively Slavic look. A Natalie Portman look. I started to think maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad gig after all. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath her silk wrap.
“Come in and make yourself at home, professor. We have much to discuss. I was just about to pour a glass of wine. Shall I make it two?”
My attitude brightened considerably. I smiled to myself thinking I liked a job with perks. “Why not?” I replied nonchalantly. I peeked into the suite’s other rooms. “Is. . . huh. . . Roxanne here? I’m supposed to meet with Roxanne. Nine sharp.”
“Roxanne has other obligations this evening,” the woman replied as she stepped into the pantry. “I will be briefing you this evening.”
“Okay,” I said, uncertainly. I settled into a plush vintage armchair. The woman returned with a glass of red wine in each hand. “I hope cabernet is satisfactory? Ninety-five point Napa Valley.”
“My favorite,” I replied with a somewhat embarrassed grin as the woman bent down to hand me a glass, revealing significant cleavage barely contained by her silk wrap. I hurriedly took a sip of the wine. “That is nice,” I commented. “I mean the wine,” I stammered. I wanted to kick myself for being such a dolt. I wasn’t sure if I was more surprised by the wine or the woman.
The woman dropped herself into an adjacent armchair. She crossed her legs and leaned back. “Tell me about yourself,” she asked. “Since we are going to be spending a lot of time together. . .”
“We are?” I studied her over my wine glass, trying to hide my red face.
She brushed off the interruption. “I want to know all about you.” She reached over and patted my knee.
What is it with knees, I wondered? I leaned back into my chair and took a deep breath. “Well. Not sure how much you know about me. . ?” I commenced, perfectly sure she knew everything about me, “But my name is Jason Aeson, and I’m an adjunct professor in the history department.” The gears in my brain spun furiously as I wondered how much I could safely elaborate my resume.
“I am so sorry!” the woman exclaimed, jumping forward to the edge of her chair. “How rude of me. Of course you do not know who I am.” She stretched her hand out to me. “My name is Linda Jean. My friends call me Jean. I will let you decide if you would like to be my friend.”
I took her hand. More of a grasp than a handshake. A very firm grasp. I winced, thinking I really do need to start working out. I caught her wink at me. “Pleased to meet you. . . huh. . . Linda. . . Jean. Jean.” I took a gulp of the wine. “What can I tell you?” My brain felt like its moorings on my skull were slipping loose. I peered at the wine glass. A faint alarm bell buried deep in my brain started tinkling.
“What is it like to win the lottery?” Jean asked slyly.
“What?” I grabbed the wine glass with my other hand to keep it from slipping out of my fingers. “How do you know about that?” I asked lamely.
“No state secret,” she replied with a grin. “I also know you purchased the old Saint Charles Hotel in Ballard with your winnings.” I stared at Jean, my eyes wide with wonder. “Public record,” she explained. Also my stomping grounds. I live in Ballard, up by Salmon Bay Park.”
“You do?” I drained the glass of wine.
“You will need to win another lottery to be able to afford to renovate the old derelict.”
“It’s not in that bad shape,” I protested. “I’ve already started renovating the apartments upstairs.”
“I may be able to help you with that.”
“Do not be so surprised, professor. We can be very generous with those who prove themselves valuable to the regime.”
“I’d appreciate it if you. . . or Roxanne. . . wouldn’t. . . huh. . . wouldn’t share this information with Dr. Hackman, or anyone else in the department,” I said nervously. “I’ve got tenure review coming up at the end of the term and what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“Your secret is safe with me. But you do not need to worry about your tenure review.”
Jean rose from her chair and disappeared into the pantry. She returned with the bottle of wine. “A refill?” she said, more a command than a question. She leaned toward me to pour the wine. The folds of her wrap slipped open. She chuckled as my face flushed. “Come now, professor. I do not have anything you have not seen before.” The thought struck me she did not mean that in a generic sense. My blush so seared my face I thought smoke might pour out of my ears. I took another gulp of wine. My brain commenced to spin within my skull. I had trouble focusing my eyes. Jean took my hand and pulled me to my feet. “Let us take the wine and get to know each other more closely.” I seemed to lose the will to resist. She pulled me toward the suite’s bedroom.