Friday, November 04, 2005

Fourth Day

Wow, I surprised myself. I got up to my word quota tonight not only in time to go dancing, but even to watch the Daily Show beforehand. Don't know how long I'll last at the dance, since I'm pretty tired, but it's good to get the writing done.

Chapter 5

Jaden stood looking for a while at the house that wasn't there. He could come up with no good explanation for what he had seen, or what he thought he had seen. I'm probably going crazy, he thought. First the balcony thing yesterday, and now this house. I wonder if something did get whacked inside my head, in spite of what all those tests showed?

He pulled back from peering through the fence, and as he did so, he felt a sudden twinge of pain across his right, paralyzed, forearm. He jumped in shock, and then saw that his hand had clenched into a fist. He tried to unclench it, to wiggle his finger, but he still had no control. The pain faded quickly, though, and the fist gradually relaxed, seemingly of its own accord. Jaden wondered if this meant the healing process was beginning. Strange way for it to go about healing, though.

When he got home, he inspected his hand and arm under the kitchen light. There was a faint red line across his arm, about where he had felt the pain, but he couldn't tell what had caused it. Everything else looked fine, aside from the continued immobility. Most peculiar.

He pulled out the book on lucid dreaming he had bought. This, at least, was something to occupy his mind without having to contemplate the sorry state of his disabled hand.

He was at a chapter on "reality tests," how to determine whether you are currently dreaming or awake, in cases where you are unsure. Before this week it never would have occurred to Jaden to worry about this, but come to think of it, that strange house would have fit much better in a dream than in real life, so he read with interest.

The most common reality test is to find something to read – a sign, a book, even a clock. Whatever is handy. Then you read it, look away, then look back and read it again. In a dream it will nearly always be different the second time, whereas reality tends to be more consistent. Jaden wished he had known to try that out back on Richards Street. He figured the fact that he was reading the book and it was making sense was a pretty good indicator that he was awake just now, but he explicitly tested it anyway, just to be sure. All good. He supposed that since he had a fairly clear recollection of everything that had happened on his way home, and that it didn't include either going to sleep or waking up, then it was probably safe to assume that he had not been dreaming back at that strange, dark mansion. Still, he'd have to remember the test if he ever saw something odd like that again.

He got up to feed the fish. It was a little easier opening the jar left handed today. Then, as long as he was on the subject of peculiar things, and as long as he had just verified that he was awake, he decided to take another look out the window at the balcony across the way. He pulled aside a corner of the curtain and peeked out.

Nobody was out on their balconies at this hour, though there were still lights on in most windows. The exception was the apartment across from Jaden's, which was dark. At least, the windows were dark. A tiny blue light blinked from a corner of the balcony. Jaden reached for the light switch with his good hand and flipped it off, keeping his eyes on the little blue light as they adjusted to the darkness. It seemed to be on a small antenna of some sort, which was attached to one of several small metal boxes connected and covered with an array of wires. The wires themselves seemed to cover the balcony floor, and possibly even lead inside through a crack in the door, though Jaden really couldn't tell for sure. It didn't look like any equipment he could ever remember seeing.

Jaden pulled himself away and turned the light back on. Really, he had no good reason to be trying to spy on his neighbors, aside from some unfounded suspicion and what was probably a problem with his eyes. He didn't even know the man who lived in that apartment. He should just let it go, and not be so curious about what was none of his business.

He picked up the book again, settled into his beanbag chair and read for a while, until he eventually dozed off. He awoke slightly after midnight and pulled himself groggily up so he could go to bed properly. He switched off the overhead light and headed for his room, but realized that his computer was still on, lighting the room slightly with the glow from its monitor. He went over to turn it off, and saw that iTunes was still open, paused on the swing tune he had been playing the night before.

There was something new there, though, and it made Jaden pull his mind a little more awake. In the sidebar, there was a little blue icon indicating other users who were sharing their music on the network. The apartment complex had a wireless connection for use by all the residents, but for the most part Jaden never saw anyone else on iTunes. He clicked it, and saw a single entry, labeled "Julian P. Oddbury, Esq." It wasn't a name Jaden recognized.

Below that name were a list of playlists shared by that user. Jaden opened the list and read down the titles. Jonathan Logan Pace, Suzette Marie Pace, Benjamin Gregory Dickson, and on through a long list of names. Many were familiar, and Jaden realized that they were other people in the apartment complex. The Paces were the arguing couple downstairs, and he had met Ben Dickson from three doors down a couple of times before. Why were they all listed under this Julian person's name?

Jaden was wide awake now. He clicked a name to see what would happen. The playlist showed a list of video files, rather than audio, each with a date as a title, starting with that night's date and progressing back in time. Under Suzette's name, Jaden double clicked the current date.

A video began to play in the iTunes window. It was vague and foggy, and Jaden couldn't make much sense of it. There was a book with pages turning themselves, then the pages became wings and the book flew away. Other figures passed through briefly, then disappeared. After about 30 seconds he stopped the video and clicked on the previous night's date. He saw Suzette in this one, heard her husband yelling at her, saw him hit her. She ran down a corridor but was trapped. Everywhere she turned she was blocked, she couldn't get away. It was like a horror film. Or a nightmare.

Jaden realized what this was. He was seeing recordings of people's dreams. How had iTunes picked these up? He clicked through to another name and found a neighbor he didn't know in the midst of a sexual fantasy involving rather more whips and Jello than Jaden would have preferred, so he switched again. More people, and more dreams. It was incredible.

Then he scrolled down to the S's, and there he was: Jaden Sands. He clicked his name. iTunes showed a progress bar for a few seconds, then an error message: "The remote host could not be contacted. Please try again later." He was bumped back to his main library. He tried clicking again on one of the names that had worked before, but got the same error. A few seconds later, the shared directory disappeared entirely.

Without bothering to rationalize it, Jaden jumped up and ran to the window. Across the way, the blue light on the balcony had gone out, and a dark figure was hurriedly gathering up components and wires into a box. The box was closed and pushed inside the apartment. The figure followed and shut the door.