The building seemed familiar – Global Vortex, the headquarters.
Along with me, on the escalators were going down men and women with VIP or
Global Vortex badges, all of them looking concerned, like an ID worn
where everybody could see it. In the lobby on the ground floor, there were
clerks, lawyers, notaries, and secretaries, all coming in waves. As soon as
I set foot on the floor mosaic, the human river had swallowed me, dragging
me along. For just one moment, I felt safe – anonymous, losing myself in
the crowd that was unabatedly heading towards the exit. Were the working
hours over, was that a fire drill?
I was walking along the glass wall, and, looking outside, I noticed the
first inconsistency with reality. It was noon, and the sidewalks, the
streets, should have been crowded. Today, I couldn’t see anybody. It didn’t
seem strange to the people in the building – not this, not the leaden sky
that was so low that it seemed to have swallowed the floors of the
skyscrapers in the area.
All of a sudden, it started raining; big drops were hitting the ground like
bullets, and it wasn’t just a figure of speech. The raindrops were making
holes in the pavement with liquid jackhammers, and the asphalt was starting
to look like a sieve, from which green steam rose, coiling in the air.
Was it raining sulfuric acid, cyanide, or heavy water?
The doormen stepped aside, letting out the first human echelon from the
column advancing in order. Then the doors closed again, and what followed
happened in grim silence.
About thirty men and women had gotten out. None of them got too far,
collapsing one by one under the gusts of rain, under the sky that seemed to
have guns with countless loaders. A secretary was able to open her
umbrella, just to be left only with a skeleton of spikes in her hand, and
her face covered with spots like measles. The rainwas melting
cotton and plastic, vinyl and skin. One man was looking doubtfully at his
palms, where the flesh torn into strips revealed its phalanges. Some of the
people were falling, getting up just to take a few more steps, and then they
were collapsing never to get up again. Others were taking off their steaming
clothes, peeling them off along with their skin. Many were crawling on their
elbows and knees, or they were writhing on the pavement. Some of them had
found cover under the eaves, but the rain still found them, falling
sideways, with the precision of a sniper. They all wanted to gain one more
minute of life, of agony. Plenty of them had tried to go back to the
building, but the doors remained closed, under the careless watchful eyes
of the doormen. One woman was hitting with her fists against the
unbreakable glass, until she melted, dripping down the window like a
crushed jellyfish. One lawyer took out a gun from his jacket’s pocket – how
come the security guys didn’t seize it from him? He put the barrel under
his chin and fired one shot. I didn’t hear it. Beyond the glass splattered
with pieces of brain, death was unleashing silently, in an orgy of red and
grey – more red than grey.
The people inside didn’t seem to panic. They were standing shoulder to
shoulder, in a compact mass that kept increasing with newcomers, brought by
the escalators. The first rows had frozen in front of the doors – couldn’t
they see what was happening outside? Something was vibrating in the
amorphous crowd, like a barely restrained impatience.
They were waiting to get out.
On the street, no one was moving anymore. On the ground floor of
I could hear the buzzing of the surveillance cameras. When the doors opened
again, employees and customers got out all at once looking forward to a
cyanide shower, and the column was ten steps farther.
And I went along with it.
The doors closed again, airtight, letting the show unfold silently. I
ignored it. I had seen the premiere; I was not into seeing the movie again.
The third time, I was going to be one of the protagonists – and that
I wasn’t sharing the self-destructive enthusiasm of the herd; neither did I
feel the need to be purified, permanently.
But, did I have a choice?
I wasn’t just some background performer, I was the main character. Skylar
had worked so hard to stage the show only for me – how could I not
appreciate it? I could. The Karghan knew I was ingrate, ungrateful, that’s
why he had removed my free will with a virtual scalpel. My thoughts were
still mine, but my body was obeying the will of the programmers.
Beyond the glass windows, the bodies were lying stiff on the pavement, and
those who were dying were struggling less and less. Soon, the column will
move again. Solutions? An asbestos umbrella was ideal but impossible. A
bullet through my head, shot with one of the doormen’s gun, again it was
tempting, if I hadn’t been on autopilot.
Suddenly, the transparent gates glided sideways, spitting out the first
rows into the square paved with dead bodies. The human stream started to
move forward, taking me with it, like an encrusted scales in the skin of a
No! I shouted voicelessly. Four more steps, and then I’ll be out in
the deadly rain. I closed my eyes, so I wouldn’t see the Styx pouring down
from the sky, closer and closer.
I felt someone grabbing my hand and pulling me apart from the kamikaze
stream. Something like thunder went through me as if I had touched a high
voltage wire. Each cell of my body – electrocuted, scorched − was
screaming in silence.
“Breathe deep, Lorena.”
Ewan. Was it possible? My eyelids twitched, and our looks mingled, blue and
“I’m all right,” I answered his unspoken question.
I was still shaking, and I was moving slowly as if I was learning how to
walk again. But I had regained control over my body. I measured my steps
after Ewan’s, getting farther from the exit towards which everybody was
heading. No-one stopped us; no-one turned their heads to look at us. We had
become invisible, as we were immune to the force that was controlling the
people on the ground floor.
My heart was beating fast, but not out of fear. Ewan had found me, he would
have waited for me on the edge of any mouth of hell that
The Master of Nightmares
wanted to push me into.
“Always,” he smiled modestly.
I smiled too – he had read my thoughts, but I forgave him. It hadn’t been
easy for him to find thisparticular dream, among so many
possibilities; otherwise, he would have come earlier, sparing me the
delights of suspense. And next time he might be too late, as we both
knew it very well.
In front of the door with an electronic display above it, Ewan pushed the
call button and the doors slid sideways, allowing us to enter the
nickel-plated cage. We had just gotten in, and the elevator started to go
up by itself. We had been going up for several minutes, when it suddenly
stopped, and the lights went out, leaving us suspended in darkness. It was
a blackout? Before I figure things out, it started going up again, shaking
and squeaking. A dusted flickering light bulb, ready to take its last
breath, had replaced the spots in the ceiling, and it went perfectly with
the rest – a wooden cage with a wrought-iron grill door.
When that fossil stopped, rattling all over, Ewan slid the grill with a
protesting squeak, and I got out, grateful to feel the floor under my feet
More like a purple carpet, crossing a hallway bordered by two rows of
identical doors – the floor of a Victorian hotel, at a time when there were
no elevators. The one we came with had disappeared, replaced by the
upholstered door with number 307. Ewan had brought me from a time and place
that were unknown to him, to ones where he had once been – therefore the
trip through the museum of technology. I was walking between the tapestry
walls, passing by the gas lamps, trying to figure out whenwe were.
The Global Vortex steel and glass mammoth building was dating from
the ‘80s. Two centuries earlier, it had been a luxury hotel. It was called
“Hotel Commodore,” Ewan reminded me.
In front of door number 307, he took a key out of his pocket and unlocked
it, inviting me inside. All the apartments in all the hotels in the world
gave me the same feeling, and the one we had just entered was no exception
– an artificial comfort, as if everything was temporary, as if it meant
many people came here, but no one left any lasting print. Stuccos,
paneling, baroque furniture, Buhara carpets, Meissen china, tapestries – it
was a mix of French refinement, British snobbism, and American bad taste.
But Ewan was thinking about something else.
“I almost let you down, Lorena. I made it on time today, but what about
The helplessness to protect the person you love, for whom you would give
your life a thousand times was a feeling I could understand, a feeling I
“I don’t worry, nothing will happen to me.”
“Do you really think so?”
He searched my eyes, letting me tell him with words what he didn’t dare to
read in my mind.
“I believe in you, Ewan.”
We love with our heart, not our mind, but I kept this through only to
myself. And I did well, because Ewan pulled me close to him as if we were
getting ready to jump into the void, tied by the same elastic cord. He put
his palms around my temples, sticking his forehead to mine. And I saw the
aquarium sarcophagus inside which Ewan was floating, eyes closed, arms wide
open – a drowned man, descending into the deep ocean, without ever touching
the sand on the bottom. Around him, countless tubes were pulsating,
vibrating, and wrapping him like the arms of an octopus that was draining
his blood through mouths like suction cups. Actually, it was the other way
around – the rubber cephalopod was feeding him, keeping him alive, just
like the gelatinous fluid was replacing the air in his lungs. When was the
last time he had really breathed? Suspended animation was like being
imprisoned in a liquid coffin, with no sounds, no images, and no sensations
– that was neither life nor death. Anyone would have gone insane after
something like that. Anyone.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks, and Ewan picked them up one by one with
his lips, and dried them with his breath. He was there, but he was
also here, with me. He had found a way to escape the morbid hug of the
tubes, the amphibian body, preserved in the caloric soup.
I looked again at the man inside – sensors stuck to his forehead were
extending into translucent cables, struggling like Medusa’s snakes, ready
to grab any scattered thought. But the monitoring screens remained blank,
the oscilloscope needles were inert...Ewan had isolated himself in his
universe, where he was intangible, at least for now, until
The Master of
Nightmares would lose his patience and cut the feeding cord.
But that was the last thing on Ewan’s mind.
He was feverishly unbuttoning my silver-grey suit with which the
programmers had dressed me to push me into the nightmare – to look just
like the businesswomen, tycoons, and the elite of the white collars from
Global Vortex, all of them with the single secret desire to die in
terrible torment. The blouse also had buttons, mother-of-pearl buttons. Ewan
made them pop with a single jerk, and then he kissed me on the neck, on the
shoulders. For a moment, we broke away, just enough for me to pull his
T-shirt over his head, and for him to unzip my skirt, letting it slip down
on my hips. I stepped out of the cloth ring, and I took off my shoes, one
by one – Dolce & Gabbana, high heels, and pointed-toe shoes – not
exactly my style. I took off my blouse, discovering with amazement what I
was wearing underneath – Calvin Klein electric red underwear.
Ewan was looking at me with Pygmalion eyes, the carver that had fallen in
love with his creation. I wasn’t Galatea, but the hands that were slipping
over my body could have brought a block of marble to life. And I wasn’t
feeling like I was made of stone, but rather of hot boiling magma.
A whisper brought chills through my ear lobe.
“Lorena, when was the last time you made love?”
“I don’t remember,” I answered sincerely.
Was Ewan teasing me? He seemed serious, but he hadn’t stopped his anatomic
exploration. He was finally able to untie my bra, and he had one more
“Do you think I forgot how it’s done?”
I started to laugh, although two centuries of abstinence was a
“I will help you remember.”
I kissed him too – pretty convincing, because, the next moment he took me
in his arms, carrying me to the sofa. I could feel his body pressed against
mine, his tense muscles, and I could hear his strong heartbeats.
Ewan was kissing my eyelids, forehead, and cheeks, with burning, healing
The calling made me shudder, awakening a volcano of feelings and sensations
that had been dormant under the snow, in the lethargy of a long arctic
“Yes?” I was able to say between two quick breaths.
“I’m beginning to remember.”
Then there were no more words, only the light flowing from Ewan’s eyes, a
green sun rising from the ocean towards the sky that was me, waiting for
it, receiving it; just the silent dance of the bodies, synchronized moves
that answered to one another without mistake – slowly on purpose, then
faster. We touched, we tasted, we got lost in one other, each time finding
our identity and the desire to lose it. Me, him – who was who? We were
melting in a pot from which a perfect, androgynous being was born.
, another word for fulfillment. The rush of blood was calling us,
taking us deeper into a frantic trance. We were trying to meld completely,
atom by atom. Not the gravitational attraction – we were realizing at that
moment with amazement – was the real engine of the universe, but the
. It had always been in me, chained to the rock of the unconscious mind. I
freed it, letting it grow, devour me, consume me. I died and I was reborn,
again and again, from my ashes.
It was a dream, a beautiful illusion, a moment stolen from eternity. I knew
it, just as well as Ewan did. And we made it last.
© 2023 Rodica Bretin
Bio: Rodica Bretin is a member of
the Union of Writers from Romania, the PEN organization and the
Association of Fiction Creators from Romania. She is the author of
novels and storybooks in the domains of fantasy, science-fiction,
paranormal, and medieval times. Rodica Bretin is published in magazines
from her country, but also in Cirsova Magazine, Aphelion, Gracious
Light (SUA), Teoria Omicron, Maquina Combinatoria (Ecuador), and
She lives, with her cat Lorena, in Transylvania,
Romania, in a town called Brasov, surrounded by old and dark forests,
not far from Bran Castle were the legend of Dracula was borne.
True stories from the sixth decade, the Communist
period in the Eastern European countries, are published in her blog.
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