The Trail, Pt. II

Preceded by The Trail, Pt. I by Paul Wiersma.

Blenhiem Palace - Eye architecture

“That night Dean had a dream that he was walking through a vast and empty palace.”

THAT night Dean had a dream that he was walking through a vast and empty palace. At chest height, Bulbous lights jutted out from the walls like glowing eyes. They cast their light on floors of perfect white marble, and pillars that stretched up to a ceiling that could barely be seen at all. He couldn’t be sure if it was made of a stone so dark that it appeared the way it did, or if it was only so high that he couldn’t make it out in the light of the eye-lights on the wall.

He coughed. A strange thing to do in a dream he would later think, even one as vivid as this. Despite the cavernous room it never echoed. The eye lights dimmed, then began to pulse, and he decided to take a look around.

The instant that his foot hit the floor from his first step the lights brightened and filled the place with a light so bright that he had to close his eyes against it. They were accompanied by a loud thrumming sound that rose in volume even as it descended in frequency, and he thought that it was thrumming in the same tempo as the lights. Over its slow bass he almost didn’t hear the footsteps behind him.

Dean was out of sorts most of the next day. He went to the school where he taught, but he felt distracted and a little depressed that the students seemed so disinterested. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to think that way. Elementary school wasn’t the place for people like him. It wasn’t the place for people who wanted to teach and not just babysit and collect a paycheck.

In the teachers’ lounge Deana asked him if he was all right. He didn’t hear her the first time, had been looking down into his mug of pitch black coffee, so she asked him again.

“Oh. I just didn’t sleep well last night” which was true.

“Well, I can’t have my doppelnamer slouching off on the job. I sure hope that coffee isn’t from the decaf pot.”

Deana was the sort of person to coin annoying words and then use them perpetually. Doppelnamer had been a reference to how similar their names were, not exactly clever, but then that had never been Deana’s strong suit. She had become particularly fond of the term after the faculty Christmas party. She had gotten pretty tipsy that night and so had Dean; when he drove her home she had given him a blowjob and a kiss goodnight (the fact that they had been in that order was more than a little off-putting to Dean).

Neither of them had spoken about it since, and Dean suspected that her constant use of “dopplenamer” whenever he was around was her odd way of trying to break through her awkwardness towards him. He didn’t look up at her now, but not because he felt awkward. “It isn’t decaf” he said, but didn’t really remember or care.

“Well that’s good” Deana offered lamely. She didn’t make any more attempts at conversation, and Dean was more than okay with that. They sat there for a few more minutes, but Dean knew that her students would be out of PE in ten minutes and she left abruptly, closing the door a little harder than was strictly necessary, Dean thought.

As soon as she left he began to develop an inexplicable feeling of being watched, and he began to feel tense as he had in the woods the day before. The black coffee looked like the garbage bag he had seen in the woods; too black by far, and although he jumped when he heard it, Dean thought the sound he heard was the coffee maker. It was a hissing, gurgling sound. Anyone could have made the mistake, but the coffee maker sat on the counter, its one red light looking out on the world dull and listlessly turned off. Behind it was the door to the storage closet, and behind that, who knew? Perhaps only more blackness.