Sunday Storytime: “At this point, time is the only thing in my favor.”

This is from my urban fantasy in progress, currently known only as Book 4. In a previous Storytime, the ghost of Miranda Hutchinson reached out to the preternaturally talented artist Meliana Lucas through her dream, but didn’t get very far with her. Therefore, Miranda is going to try learning more about Meliana by talking to the analyst she named in her dream.

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It was a long distance from the former Rezarta to upstate New York, but as a ghost, distance was no longer a problem. Ghosts don’t really traverse distance the way mortals do; we travel in terms of what we know. If you can picture a place, you can get there in the blink of an eye even if it’s on the other side of the Earth. It would take an airplane several hours to get from Meliana’s neighborhood to her therapist’s office, but I could move about 90% of that distance in just a few clicks. The tricky part was finding the right directions. Having spent over a dozen years in national office, I could skip over to Washington without even trying. Once I was there, I pictured New York City and skipped straight up to Penn Station. It was fairly quiet at that dark hour of the morning, but it never really slept.

When you’re dreaming, you can choose your scenery.

The maps around the Amtrak station were unhelpful. I found the Greyhound lot and looked for dozing travelers. The ideal source would have been a driver, but they were inconveniently all awake. I made contact with someone napping in the vicinity of buses headed north, and asked him about Apple Creek. He pictured a sunny orchard out of a Thomas Kincaid painting; it was a lovely image, but not one of a real place where I might find Meliana’s analyst. I thanked my dreamer for his time and moved on.

The third one I tried said something about a sister and brother-in-law in Apple Creek and pictured a cozy residential street. I got all excited and asked about the post office. My dreamer started blinking through images of a church, a town hall, a small supermarket, a cafe, and eventually came to a building that could be a small town’s post office. During this procession, I felt a decisive, if not entirely precise, sense of direction from Penn Station. I showered my dreamer with thanks and left him to his nap.

I pictured the church, as it was the most vivid of the scenes he’d shown to me, and with a little push in the roughly north-western direction he’d given in the dream, there I was in front of the First Methodist Church of Apple Creek, NY. There was no one out and about at that hour, so I found my way to the post office, where I dug into the mail bin until I found a letter addressed to Dorian Gustafsson. It was for his office, but since he worked from the basement of his house, it was enough to let me find where he lived.

There was no one else asleep in Dr. Gustafsson’s house, and the pictures on the walls showed no sign of a former wife or children. He appeared to be a perpetual bachelor who lived in well-organized comfort. I had no idea what to expect when I approached him, sleeping soundly in his queen-size bed, on that first night. When he entered the REM cycle, I found him standing naked in front of a lecture hall full of students with bright yellow smiley buttons instead of faces. There was a potted plant standing in front of him to shield his erogenous zones from view. He was showing his class a slide show that appeared to have been gently adapted from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I strode in front of his button-faced class and quite rudely interrupted his lecture.

“Dr. Gustafsson, can I ask you some questions about one of your clients?”

I know how that sounds, but here’s the thing: since so few mortals could sense my presence when they were awake, I couldn’t very well go blabbing to anyone else with what he told me, and if I shared the information with another dreaming mortal, it would be indistinguishable from any other dream and they probably wouldn’t even remember more than a small fraction of the conversation when they woke up. He wouldn’t really be breaking confidentiality if I couldn’t share his answers with anyone else.

He looked perfectly delighted to see me standing in the way of his projection screen. “Why, President Hutchinson, which of my clients do you mean?”

“I’d like to know about Meliana Lucas.”

He walked away from the lecture hall and motioned for me to follow. Our environment changed into a sidewalk cafe, where I sat across a small circular table from Dr. Gustafsson, now dressed in Hugh Hefner-type pajamas. Beyond the sidewalk was a cheerfully populated beach with sparkling turquoise water. An elegant young blonde dressed in a red kimono arrived at our table and placed a brightly colored cocktail in front of each of us.

“Oh, my dear former President, you could not have picked a more fascinating client,” he effused between sips of his drink. “Before we start; tell me what you currently know about Meliana.”

“I know she’s the daughter of Amanda Lucas also known as Mandy McNally, and Daniel Lucas, and I know who they are. Meli is known as an exceptionally gifted artist around the former Rezarta, she does portraits in oil pastels every Sunday outside of the restaurant where her partner, Clarice Adrianson, waits tables, and Clarice is also her manager. She says she and Clarice have been together since sixth grade, but I don’t know how to interpret that. She has to charge more than twice as much per portrait as all the other artists in her town, or else they wouldn’t be able to compete.”

“What do you know about her parents?”

“Well, I know about Mandy’s career as a recording artist, and she seems to have withdrawn from the spotlight voluntarily, rather than fall into a pit of drugs and desperation like so many other talented pop stars. I know Daniel’s a journalist for the Southwest Herald-Times, and I recall reading something about him losing his family to a vampire attack as a young man, but he seems to have kept his life well under control since then.”

“Yes, Daniel has done exceptionally well for someone who entered adulthood under such tragic circumstances, but it helps to remember that the way he lost his family has a great deal to do with the privileges they created for him in his early life. Do you know who Daniel’s father was?”

“Abraham Lucas, was his name?” I recalled. “He was a big name attorney, right?”

“Yes, that’s one way to put it. President Hutchinson, how much time do you have?”

“At this point, time is the only thing in my favor.”

“Good, because I’m going to start at the beginning. This will take a while.”

Since mortals don’t usually stay in REM sleep for more than about a half hour at a time, and it was tricky to make a smooth transition from one dream cycle to the next, I had to spread my sessions with Dr. Gustafsson out over several days, but I will give him this much: he was perfectly happy to answer all my questions, and probably the most coherent dreamer I ever contacted. I don’t think there’s anyone else currently alive who knows the Lucas family better than Dorian Gustafsson, so I’ll let him take it from here.

***

“To be continued” goes without saying.