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Night's Utmost Nothing

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Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
Exit: light
Enter: night
Take my hand
We're off to never never land...
-lyrics from “Enter Sandman” by Metallica 

 

"We know your thinks.”  -The Nano 

 


 

The sun is setting and the air is crisp with the promise of rain.  A cool breeze lifts Monroe’s curls and soothes his heated skin. He’s spent the last twelve hours on Charlie Matheson’s tail - far enough back so that she doesn’t notice but close enough not to lose her.  Now that she’s settled for the night, he figures he should do the same. Exhausted, he sits beneath an old elm tree, leaning against its gnarled trunk. Letting out a weary sigh, he closes his eyes.

 

In his dream, Bass Monroe is back in Philadelphia, lounging within his quarters at Independence Hall.  He’s wearing a crisp blue uniform and sipping whiskey from a sparkling crystal glass.

 

Everything is familiar and Bass feels very much at home.  Almost...happy.

 

He gently places the glass down on the polished mahogany of his desktop and picks up a stack of papers.  He’s reviewing the top sheet when Jeremy Baker enters the office without knocking. The man always did know how to make an entrance.  He’s also in uniform and offers a snappy (if insincere) salute before perching on the edge of Bass’ desk, holding a cup of coffee in one hand.

 

Bass stands slowly, fists resting on his desk, leaning closer to his visitor, feeling a confusing surge of emotions.  Happiness at seeing his old friend but also foreboding, although he can’t place its origin at the moment.

 

“Bass,” Jeremy says with a friendly grin.  “How are you?”

 

“I’m...fine.”  Bass hesitates, unsure what his expected response should be.  Something feels off. There is a wrongness to Jeremy that Bass can’t easily identify.

 

Jeremy takes a sip from his coffee and frowns.  “This is bitter. Need to throw it out.” He turns the mug so that Bass can see the insignia on the side.  It is a picture of the all-seeing eye - the same symbol Randall Flynn had used, the same one as on the wanted posters.

 

“Wanted posters,” Bass mutters.  Bits of reality are beginning to peek through the mirage of the dream.  “We’re not really here. Philly is gone.” He looks hard at this friend.  “You’re dead.”

 

Dream Jeremy shrugs and takes another sip.  “You have to take care of her. She’s important.”

 

“Who?” Bass asks, baffled by Jeremy’s words.

 

“The Matheson girl.”

 

Bass sits back down in his desk chair and shakes his head.  “Easier said than done. She’s not going to let me take care of her.  She’d rather skin me alive. She hates me. I’ll be lucky if I can even follow her to Miles.”

 

“You have to change her mind.  Make her see that you should work together.  She can fight with you and with Miles and together you can defeat Flynn’s people.”  Jeremy taps the side of the cup, pointing once again to the image of the eye within a triangle.  “The Patriots are going to be a problem. A big one.”

 

“I have to take care of her so the US guys don’t hurt her?”  Bass doesn’t bother hiding his skepticism. “Trust me. The girl is pretty good at taking care of herself.”

 

“No.  You have to take care of her so that when the time comes, she can help you and Miles beat them.  These US guys aren’t just a threat to you or to her. They are a threat to humanity.” Jeremy rubs at his temples and for the first time Bass notices the paleness of Baker’s skin and the way his veins stand out like highways on a road map.  

 

Jeremy does not look well.  It probably has something to do with the bullet hole Bass can now clearly see in his friend’s temple.  Crimson oozes from the wound in a steady stream and Bass notices that the shoulder of Baker’s uniform is drenched in red.

 

Bass feels dread swirling in his gut as the stench of death wafts across the desk.  “You aren’t Jeremy at all. Who are you?”

 

The thing that looks like Jeremy Baker sighs.  “Who we are is not important What matters is that we are very concerned.”  Jeremy’s expression is oddly serene.

 

Monroe’s dreaming mind whirls with possibilities.  “We? Are you a ghost?’

 

Jeremy shrugs.  “No, but close enough.”  Baker is staring at his cup.  Bass looks at it too, curious as to why it holds Baker’s attention so fully.  The all-seeing eye shimmers and shifts, morphing into an American flag. Carefully, Jeremy overturns the now empty cup, turning the flag upside down.

 

Bass feels a chill as his mind churns up long forgotten memories of the flag code: “ The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

 

“She’s in real danger?” Bass asks, his voice rough with uncertainty.  The last time he’d talked to Charlie was yesterday when she told him he couldn’t possibly track her.  She’d been wrong (he’s managed just fine) but that’s not the point. Bass wonders if she’s okay.

 

Jeremy stands up.  His expression is now deadly serious.  “She’s in trouble and you have to go to her.  Sometimes she can take care of herself, but not tonight.  Tonight she needs saving. She’s in a town called Pottsboro.  It’s not far from here.”

 

Bass hesitates, lost in thought.

 

Baker’s face twists with anger.  “Stop wasting our time! Go, now!”

 

Bass wakes with a start, his skin still crawling from the memory of seeing his dead friend again after all this time.  Not sure what to make of the strange dream, Bass decides to pack up and head toward Pottsboro as quickly as possible. He remembers passing a sign for the town maybe a mile away from where Charlie had set up camp.  

 

If it was just a dream and Charlie is not actually in trouble, he’ll find some whiskey and drink until he can sleep without dreaming.

 

If she really is in trouble?  Well, he’ll see if he can offer some help.

 

The moon is full which helps Bass make good time as he hikes to Pottsboro.  The town is just as shitty as he’d expected it to be and he finds the bar easily enough.  It doesn’t take much imagination to determine that’s where the trouble is. Where Charlie must also be.

 

The first sign is the locked door on a business lit from within like a Christmas tree.

 

The second is an elbow busting through glass.  The sounds of a fight and the scattered words he hears tell him the rest.  

 

Bass smiles humorlessly.  “Bingo,” he says, caressing the hilt of his sword.  

 


 

Dark clouds boil in the moonlit sky as Bass trudges along the uneven road with Charlie Matheson unceremoniously carried over one shoulder.  She’s dead weight and he’s dead tired, but he keeps moving. The rain is still distant but the wind whips at his clothes, stirring his curls and cooling his skin.  Now that he’s put a few miles between them and that piece of shit town Pottsboro, Bass wants to find shelter.

 

As the wind begins to howl, he gives up his search for an actual building and sets his sights on an overgrown area under a crumbling train trestle.  It’s not ideal, but it will have to do.

 

The leaves on the ancient oaks and what’s left of the bridge above provide a canopy that will protect them from the worst of the coming rain.  He puts Charlie down, checking to see that she’s breathing. He has no idea what those jackasses gave her or how she might react to the drugs. The possibility that she might get sick before regaining consciousness has him pushing her to lie on her side.  He didn’t carry her all this way just so she could choke to death on her own vomit.

 

After covering Charlie with a threadbare blanket from his pack, Bass takes a short walk around the perimeter of the trees, watching for anything that shouldn’t be there.  In particular, he’s looking for a posse of locals out for revenge after the bloodbath in the bar. The moon is full but the angry clouds frequently throw everything into deep darkness.  He waits, watching as the sky changes from dim moonlight to inky blackness and back again.

 

The terrain is pleasantly posse free, so he heads back to the place he’d left Charlie.

 

Sitting down near her sleeping form, he takes a satisfying drink from his flask.  She’s still out, but her breathing appears to be regular. Bass isn’t a doctor, but he’s pretty sure she’ll be okay.  At any rate, he’s not worried enough to stay up fretting about her. Freaky Dream Jeremy wanted Charlie safe and she’s safe.  

 

Bass figures he’s done enough for now.  

 


 

Charlie slips into wakefulness from a sea of thick black.  Her eyelids feel heavy. Her limbs are weak and shaky (and damp?).  Her eyelashes flutter against pale cheeks. She can feel and smell the rain and her first conscious thought is to wonder where she is.

 

After a few feeble attempts, she sits up and looks around.  She sees him immediately and is on guard. “Monroe?” Her voice is a cracked whisper.  Her throat hurts.

 

He tosses a canteen her way and she grabs it but more out of reflex than because she wants a drink from him.  She makes a move to get up but feels dizzy.

 

“Take it easy.  Take it easy. You need to flush the drugs out of your system.  Drink.”

 

Charlie’s foggy brain attempts to connect the dots.  How did she get here? Why is he with her? “How did you find me?” she asks.

 

“You’re not as hard to track as you think.”

 

“How long was I out?”

 

“A full day.  Don’t worry, I was a complete gentleman the whole time.”

 

Charlie drinks from the canteen, savoring the cool rush of water on her parched throat.  “Why are you doing this?” she asks.

 

“A show of faith. I need you to take me to Miles and your mom.  I know I can never make it up but I gotta try.”

 

Charlie sees the way his eyes glisten in the firelight.  It’s like he’s trying to be sincere, but she isn’t buying what Monroe is selling.  “Wow, can you make your eyes water like that just at will?”

 

“Huh?” He looks almost confused.

 

“This poor wounded Monroe thing?  Well, it’s pathetic. You are a sociopath.  You say what you need to get what you want.  You hide behind a mask but deep down you’re a killer.  That’s all.”

 

She lunges for the knife but he seems to have read her mind and he’s faster than she is.  In a moment he’s in her face with the knife at her throat.

 

His voice is low and deadly.  “You’re right about one thing.  I am good at killing. Very good. Even better when I’m with your uncle.  For the time being we’re all on the same team. Those US guys are going to be a problem - a big one.”

 

Charlie can’t deny that she’s worried about the US guys as well, but she has no desire to let him know she agrees they might be in trouble.  “What if I tell you to go to hell?” she asks.

 

“What makes you think you got a choice?”

 

Charlie starts to snap at him, but realizes that he’s right.  What choice does she have? Yes, he’s the enemy but right now she’s weak and unwell and probably won’t be able to escape even if she tries.  Maybe if she bides her time, he’ll let his guard down. Once she’s feeling better, she might be able to give him the slip.

 

Resolved to do exactly that, and finding her eyes once again drooping with exhaustion, she shrugs.  “Whatever. I’m tired.” She jerks away from him and drops back onto the blanket she’d been covered with earlier.  She lets her eyes close and darkness descends without effort or warning.

 

At first Charlie’s dream is little more than a continuation of the scene at the bar.  Monroe is there, slashing at the assholes who’d drugged her. Blood flows from numerous wounds on the fallen.  The sound and smell of death is almost overwhelming.

 

Even in her dream state, she wants to get up and defend herself but her limbs are heavy and her brain is sluggish.  So she just watches numbly from the sidelines.

 

Her thoughts are interrupted by a familiar voice that reminds her of baked bread and marigolds and HOME.  “You said you like him when he fights.”

 

Charlie feels tears burn her eyes.  “Maggie?”

 

Maggie is perched on the edge of the bar.  She’s wearing old jeans and a tee shirt. She’s watching Monroe with rapt attention, following his every move as he cuts his way through the wannabe rapists.  

 

Charlie is so happy to see Maggie’s familiar face that it takes a minute to register her words.  “Wait. When did I say I like when he fights?”

 

“In New Vegas, you were watching him.  Your heart was beating very fast. Is he attractive to you like this?  When he is fighting for you?”

 

Charlie’s gaze returns to Monroe. “No, it wasn’t like that,” she says, but her words feel hollow.  He’s all sweat and determination and she must admit, disturbingly attractive.

 

Maggie glances over at Charlie.  “Does he save you like this often?”

 

Charlie starts to say no, but remembers the tower.  She shrugs. “A couple times.”

 

“It is good that he is willing to do this for you.  We need you to cooperate with each other. We need you to fight together.”

 

“Together?”  Charlie shakes her head.  “No. In fact, I’ve tried to kill him, but as you can see - he’s not the easiest guy to kill.  I have no idea why he’s here or why he’s doing any of this.”

 

Maggie frowns.  “Well, whatever his motivation may be, you need to be nice to him.  He is important, Charlie. You’re going to need him alive.”

 

“Pretty sure I won’t need him at all.”

 

“That’s where you’re very wrong.  Things are coming. Bad things. Monroe is going to help you.  You will work with him and with Miles and you will win. But only if you band together.”

 

Charlie isn’t sure what to make of any of this, so she ignores it.  “I missed you, Maggie. I think about you every day. I’m so sorry for all the times I was hard on you”

 

Maggie nods absently.  “Charlie, you need to focus.  These Patriots? They mean business and you have to stop them.”

 

Charlie’s mind wanders as she feels a surge of emotion overwhelm her.  Flashes of memory play at the back of her mind: Maggie showing them all the proper way to plant watermelon seeds.  Maggie making potato soup over the wood cook stove. Maggie snuggling up to Ben, her face nestled lovingly against his neck.  Maggie playing chess with Danny.

 

Maggie dying.

 

“Oh no,” Charlie says as realization begins to dawn.  “This isn’t real. You’re gone. I watched you die. You’re dead.  Dad is dead. Danny is dead.”

 

“Yes.  Maggie is dead.”  

 

Charlie ignores the weird way Maggie is referring to herself in the third person.  Instead, she glances at the bar scene again and realizes that it’s playing on some kind of loop.  The actual fight had lasted mere moments. None of this makes sense but Maggie being here is the oddest of all.  

 

Seeming to realize that the jig is up, Maggie hops off the bar and approaches Charlie.  “You’ve lost many people you loved, Charlie. You need to know that Monroe’s lost many people too.  He is hurting just like you are.”

 

“Except that some of the people I lost were killed on his orders.”  Charlie feels a surge of anger.

 

Maggie tilts her head to one side, curious.  “Really, though? Is that honestly how you remember things?”

 

Charlie falters.  “His men killed Dad.  One of his choppers shot Danny.  He killed half my family.”

 

“Those things are all his fault?”

 

“Yes.  Well, maybe not directly.”

 

“Would you feel comfortable being accused of personally ruining the family of every man you’ve fought in battle?”

 

“No.  Of course not.  That’s war. You have to do what you have to do to survive.”

 

Maggie waits, watching Charlie with her head tilted.  Finally she speaks. “Explain why the rules are different for Monroe?  It’s okay for you to hate him but not okay for the families of those you’ve killed to hate you?”

 

Charlie is flustered.  “I don’t know. Maybe. Probably.”  Her shoulders droop. “No.”

 

“If you want to save the rest of your family, you need to work with him.  It’s time to put all the thoughts of revenge behind you. You don’t have to forget but you will need to forgive.  A new enemy is here and you have to be ready to fight it.”

 

“With him?”

 

“Yes, with him.” Maggie hops down from the bar and steps closer.  She reaches out a hand and grasps Charlie’s before pulling her up.  “We’ve watched you both. The two of you are similar in many important ways.  You will be good partners.”

 

“I’m just not sure.  This sounds crazy.”

 

“The future needs you - both of you working together.”  

 

“Wait,” Charlie says.  “You’ve seen the future?”

 

“We’ve seen many futures.  The best one is the one where you get through it together.  That’s the one where you both manage to survive.”

 

Charlie’s eyes flash open.  Monroe is still sitting on the other side of the fire.  He’s watching her, as he takes a drink from his flask. “Bad dream?” he asks.

 

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

 

He nods, his gaze turning back to the fire.  “You and me both.”

 


 

The dream is still fresh in Charlie's mind the next morning when he asks her where they’re headed.  She toys with the idea of arguing further, but this man is clearly not going to take no for an answer and frankly she’s tired of arguing.  “Texas, south of Old Houston. Town called Willoughby.”

 

Monroe watches her, his expression guarded.  “Decided to work with me?”

 

“No.  Decided to take you to Miles so he can kill you himself.”

 

Bass shakes his head, a hint of a rueful smile playing at his lips.  “Nah. He’s a lot like you. Tries, but can’t ever actually kill me.”

 

Charlie snorts.  We’ll see.”

 

They load up the wagon and begin to head southeast.  The sunlight warms their skin as they ride. An occasional breeze drives cyclones of fallen leaves across their path.  The old road they travel is patchy and uneven, winding through tree covered hills. Now and then they catch a glimpse of the river which the road follows.

 

They’ve been traveling for a couple hours when Monroe pulls the wagon over.  He hops down and ties the reins to a young sycamore tree. “Taking a piss,” he says over his shoulder before disappearing into the foliage.

 

Charlie takes this time to relieve herself behind a shrub on the other side of the road.  They both approach the wagon at roughly the same time. Monroe grabs the side and starts to pull himself up but hesitates.  Charlie has stopped cold, her eyes on his. They both turn their attention to the horses. They are suddenly agitated, stomping nervously.

 

“What’s going on?” Charlie asks.

 

Bass opens his mouth to answer but no words come out.  His vision blurs. His knees buckle. Everything is black.

 

In this dream, Bass is back in his hometown of Jasper, Indiana.  He’s standing in line at the movie theater with none other than Jeremy Baker.  “You again?” Bass asks.

 

Baker’s holding a jumbo bucket of popcorn.  “Yes. We wanted to be sure you understood.”

 

Bass’ mouth is watering.  He hasn’t even thought about popcorn in years, but the hot buttered kernels smell so good, that Bass is barely able to focus on Dream Jeremy’s words.  “Understood what, exactly? You told me to save Charlie. I did that.”

 

“You saved her, yes.  We know that you don’t plan to stay with her.  You want to find Miles and turn your back to Charlie.”

 

“She’s a kid.  How can she help us?”

 

He nods toward the door of the theater entrance.  “We’ll show you.”

 

Once inside the theater, Baker and Monroe find seats toward the center.  They have barely sat down when the lights dim and the screen flashes to life.

 

“First, we want you to see what might happen if you choose to ignore our suggestion to work with Charlie.”

 

“Suggestion?  That's rich.,” Bass mutters.

 

Baker frowns.  “Just watch.”

 

The scene is stark.  A long highway is straight and pristine as it knifes through the landscape.  On either side of the road are forests and farmland. Bass mostly ignores the trees and old barns.  His eyes are drawn instead to the people marching in unison down the road.

 

The marchers are silent, staring straight ahead.  They wear identical tan uniforms and have rifles slung over their shoulders.  The angle changes, zooming in. Faces come into focus.

 

“What the hell is wrong with them?” Bass asks, his voice unsteady.

 

The marching people are a variety of colors and sizes.  Men, women and children are all represented. Their lock step echoes through the theater with a loud Thump! Thump! thump!.  

 

None of these things are what scares Bass.  It’s their eyes.

 

Tall, short, black, white - none of the marching people have eyes.  Although they march confidently forward, each and every marcher has gaping black holes where their eyes should be.

 

Jeremy doesn’t look at Bass.  “They can’t see. Because you didn’t help them.”

 

“It’s my fault that they don’t have eyes?”

 

“If you don’t work with Charlie and Miles, this is one possible outcome.”

 

The scene changes again as one row of soldiers - Bass can tell that’s what the marchers truly are - comes into sharp detail.  One by one, the faces are shown. The first two in the row are familiar and Bass leans forward trying to get a better view. Suddenly, and in unison, the two turn to the camera.  

 

“No!” Bass says, recoiling back as the images of Miles and Charlie - both with black holes for eyes, stare his way.  In a split second, their focus moves and the scene changes to follow their blind gaze.

 

Hanging from a tree by the side of the road is a stiff figure.  The rope around his neck is tied tight and the head is tilted at an unnatural angle.  The skin is gray. Bass gags as he recognizes that the hanging body is none other than his own.

 

Bass surges to his feet, glaring at Jeremy,  “What the fuck is this? Miles and Charlie without eyes and I’m hanging from a tree?”

 

“This is one possible outcome if you choose not to work with Charlie.”

 

“One?  So there are others?”

 

Baker nods, his expression bland.

 

Bass sinks back into his seat with a shaky sigh.  “Bring it on, Ghost of Blackout Future. I’m ready.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 


 

Charlie is conscious for only a split second longer than Bass.  She watches him fall but doesn’t have time to cry out or even be terribly concerned before she also collapses onto the hard packed dirt below the wagon’s wheels.

 

In the dream, she’s back in Wisconsin, sitting on the much loved Ferris Wheel where she’d spent so many lazy afternoons.  Charlie glances down and smiles when she sees the old Return of the Jedi lunch box resting on her lap. She unclasps the latch and lifts the lid reverently, her heart hammering in anticipation at revisiting this long lost treasure.

 

A frown replaces her smile when she sees her keepsakes have been replaced with a stack of photographs.  She sifts through the pictures with her fingers, not focusing on any one image. She feels a tingle of awareness and glances up.  “You?” she asks Maggie who stands maybe five feet away.

 

“Hello Charlie.”

 

“You are not really Maggie.”

 

Not Maggie nods.  “That is true.”

 

Charlie’s heart clenches as she watches Maggie.  “Can you maybe pick someone else to look like? Someone who wasn’t special to me?”

 

In the blink of an eye, Maggie’s form ripples and reshapes.  Her curly blond hair is replaced by short gray hair. A beard grows in.  Maggie’s feminine features are replaced with masculine ones and she grows ten inches taller in a split second.  

 

Charlie scowls as a familiar face solidifies before her eyes.  “You don’t mess around, do you?”

 

“His name was Will Strausser.  Your memories of him are not fond.”

 

Charlie snorts.  “You got that right.  Bastard worked for Monroe.  Wanted to kill me.”

 

“Can we proceed now that we are displaying a face not special to you?”

 

She’s ready to agree, but reconsiders.  “First, I want to know what you really look like.”

 

Strausser hesitates for only a moment.  His visage shimmers again and he becomes a Will Strausser shaped sea of molten silver.  White and black digits appear, one after the other, filling the space with a seemingly endless string of text.  Line after line fill the silver shape. The digits pulse and march on as if with no end in sight.

 

“Uh, that looks like the writing in my mom’s crazy notebook.”

 

The sea of silver writing flickers again, molding back into the image of Strausser.  “Your mom is one of the creators. She is special to us.”

 

“Okay,” Charlie chuckles.

 

“Why are you laughing?”

 

“You just said how special my mom is using the face of a guy she killed with a screwdriver.  Come on. That’s kind of funny.”

 

Strausser does not crack a smile.  “We are not interested in your humor.  Can we proceed?” he asks again.

 

“Yeah.  Pretty sure I have no say in that.  What do you want me to do?”

 

“Look in the box.”  Strausser nods toward the lunch box and the pictures within.  

 

She feels a flame of dread flickering through her gut as she grasps the rusted metal edges of the old lunch box.  “What’s in here?”

 

“Reminders and warnings.”

 

Charlie doesn’t want to look at the pictures but knows she must.  She picks up the first. The edges are ragged and the surface is creased.  In the picture she is a child with pigtails and a missing front tooth. At her side sits her baby brother, with his big blue eyes and crooked smile.  Charlie smiles fondly at the picture, stroking it’s surface with a calloused finger tip. “Danny,” she says.

 

Setting aside that picture, she picks up the next.  This is one of her parents. Ben is laughing and Rachel is leaning in close.  Rachel’s grin is one of sheer joy. Charlie sighs. “I forgot they were happy once.  Truly happy.”

 

The thing that has chosen to look like Strausser says nothing, watching her.

 

She sifts quickly through the next few pictures.  There is one of her grandparents, one of Maggie. Another is of Nora.  The next picture she picks up is wet to the touch. She turns it in her fingers, watching in awe as blood drips from the surface of the picture, trailing down her arm in long winding stripes, staining the pictures below.

 

She wants to drop the bloody picture but can’t.  As the blood slides away, the image is revealed. It’s her dad again, but he’s flat on his back and his eyes are blank.  “No,” Charlie moans. The photo changes, and it’s Danny’s lifeless face she sees, then it is Maggie’s and Nora’s.

 

Charlie’s tears are hot as they stream down her cheeks.  She is frozen, unable to throw down the picture and unable to look away from the revolving door of dead loved ones featured on its surface.  As the next image comes into view, she holds her breath. This time, the blank staring eyes are her own and right between them is a black hole, a tiny bit of smoke swirling lazily up from the wound.

 

“What is this?  What are you?” Charlie asks, finally able to throw the picture aside.  She stands, letting the lunch box fall to the floor of the ferris wheel bucket she’s been sitting in.  

 

“Who we are is not important right now.  Only the message matters. The first pictures are to remind you of all you’ve lost.  That last one is to warn you that things can get worse.”

 

“You think you can scare me by telling me I’m going to die?  Well, sorry to disappoint but I know I’m going to die. I’ll probably die young.  What of it?”

 

He says nothing but looks down at the pile of photos that have fallen loosely to the ground.  She sees a new picture that has fluttered to the top of the pile. This time Rachel’s face is looking lovingly at Miles Matheson.  They look happy and Charlie feels her pulse slow back to normal. The picture changes, turning into a tiny flat movie screen. Miles and Rachel are laughing and then they stop laughing and look toward Charlie.  “You could have stopped this,” Rachel says.

 

“Stopped what?”

 

But then she sees the truth.  As they both turn to face her, Charlie can see a swath of fresh blood across their throats.  

 

“Okay.  What do you want from me?”  Her hands are shaking so she fists them at her hips to stare angrily at Strausser.

 

“We want you to work with Monroe.”

 

“Already said I would.”

 

“We know you didn’t mean it.  We know that you plan to kill him when you can.”

 

Charlie has nothing to say to this.  It is, after all, the truth.

 

“You may not want to work with him, but you need to.”  Strausser points at the pictures. “Or you’ll lose what’s left of your family.  Maybe more.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Look and see for yourself.”  

 

Charlie sees that the ferris wheel is now surrounded by an expansive field.  As far as the eye can see are rows and rows of gray tents. From each tent steps a person.  They are of all ages and genders. All stare straight ahead as if sleepwalking. They chant something unintelligible and the hum of the low speech sends chills down Charlie’s spine.  “What are they?”

“Patriot soldiers.  They have been brainwashed.”

 

“And you’re saying that if I work with Monroe, this won’t happen?”

 

“That’s our prediction.”

 

Charlie watches as the people march from their tents to join a long line.  The line moves forward quickly as all the soldiers fall into step. She sees the cliff but they don’t seem to have noticed.  “Watch out!” she cries. But they don’t hear. They are blind and deaf and when they fall over the edge of the cliff one by one; they don’t even scream as they plummet to their deaths.

 

It is the silent fall that rips her apart.  She opens her mouth to scream, but suddenly she also has no voice.

 

Strausser doesn’t say anything at all and somehow this is more frightening to Charlie than any words he’d spoken up till then.

 


 

Bass’ dreamscape changes.  Gone is the movie theatre. Gone is Jasper, Indiana.  Bass and Jeremy are now walking side by side down a shady lane.  The trees overhead shift gently in the breeze. The sunlight filters through the branches, casting shadows on their path.

 

“Where are we now?”

 

“Kansas.”

 

“Okay.  Why are we here?”

 

“Want to show you how things might turn out if you work with Charlie.  With Miles.”

 

Bass shrugs, having already given up the idea that he can disagree with Dream Jeremy.  He knows he just has to get through this, whatever this is.

 

Baker thrusts a newspaper into Bass’s hands.  “See this?”

 

The headline blares “PATRIOTS DEFEATED AT LAST!”  A picture below the fold is hand drawn and clearly shows prisoners in Patriot uniforms being lead onto a ship.  Under the illustration are the words, “Sent back to GITMO”.

 

“So the good guys won and the bad guys are long gone.  Why are we in Kansas?”

 

Baker leads Bass off the road and down a narrow foot path.  They stop where the woods end and a small meadow begins. At its center is a small cabin flanked by a row of apple trees on one side and a large vegetable garden on the other.  Bass can clearly see Miles on the front porch. He’s petting a dog that sits at his feet. Bass watches as a dream version of Bass Monroe comes out of the house. On his shoulders sits a little boy with blond curls and a wide grin.  “Faster, Daddy!” the little boy yells. Bass jogs into the yard, laughing along with the boy. Miles watches their antics with a smirk.

 

The door bangs open and this time it is Charlie standing there.  She watches them with a warm smile, one hand absently stroking her swollen belly.  “Come on in. It’s time to eat.”

 

Dream Bass heads back the way he’d come with the giggling child bouncing on his shoulders.  “Come on, Uncle Miles!” yells the little boy.

 

Miles nods, standing and following his brother into the house.

 

Bass looks at Jeremy.  “What are you showing me?”

 

“A world where you have Miles back as your best friend.”

 

“And?” Bass hates that his voice is cracking but the idea of having a family again - even one as incredibly unlikely as the one he’d witnessed - has him hoping for things he’d thought long out of reach.

 

“And a family who loves you.”

 

“This is going to happen?”

 

“This is something that can happen, if you work together.”

 


Charlie and Will Strausser are walking up a staircase in an old building.  She feels like they’ve been walking forever. “Where are we going?”

 

“You need to see another version.”

 

“Of what?”

 

“We showed you how things can go if you don’t work with Monroe.  Now we’ll show you what might happen if you do.”

 

They reach a landing and cross to a balcony railing.  But instead of looking out over a lower level of the building, they see instead an expanse of land.  Rolling hills are covered in smoking rubble. Dead bodies litter the landscape. Most look a lot like the Patriot soldiers from the other dream.

 

Charlie is ready to ask what the significance of all this is when over the crest of the tallest hill come several figures.  Miles is first. His arm is bloody but he’s grinning out at the field below. Rachel is at his side, her arm woven through his good one.  They both look exhausted but happy. Aaron is next. He’s slightly out of breath, but has a rifle slung over one shoulder and a goofy smile on his face in spite of the fact that one of his glasses lenses is shattered.

 

Monroe and Charlie round out the group.  They appear to have seen the worst of the battle and are both splattered with the blood of less fortunate fighters.  Bass holds a dripping sword in each hand and Charlie’s bow hangs from her own, an empty quiver on her back.

 

“So, we won?” Charlie asks Strausser.

 

When he doesn’t answer, she turns her attention back to the scene below.  She watches as that other version of herself moves closer to Monroe, resting her tired head against his chest.  Monroe looks down on her with an expression of pure adoration.

 

Dream Charlie, in turn, looks up at Monroe with a similar expression of trust and love.

 

“Yes,” Strausser says with a very small smile.  “In this world, where you work with Monroe and with Miles...in this world you can win.”

 



When their eyes open, Bass and Charlie are both instantly fully aware.  Charlie scrambles to her feet, wiping at her face and clothes to remove dust from the road.  Bass stands more slowly, stretching sore muscles as he looks around, scanning the area for anything unusual.  

 

They are alone on the road.  The trees move with the gentle breeze.  The horses calmly wait for direction. His gaze falls on Charlie.  Her expression mirrors his own inner thoughts.

 

"Dreams?" he asks.

 

She nods.  "Yeah."

 

His thoughts go to Jeremy.  “An old friend was in my dreams.  He’s dead now.”

 

“Same with me.  Mine started with Maggie.  She’s dead too but she used to be my Dad’s girlfriend.  Then I asked it to change who it looked like and so it did.”

 

This gets Bass’ attention.  “Changed to look like who?”

 

“That prick who worked for you in Philadelphia.  The one with a gun to my head.” Charlie scowls at the memory.

 

“Strausser?” Monroe winces when Charlie nods.  “Listen Charlie, I’m sorry about all that.”

 

“Whatever.  We have bigger problems today.”

 

“Yes, we do.” Bass reaches out to stroke the flank of the horse he’s closest to.  "Did you see Patriot soldiers?

 

“Lots of them.  Sometimes they were killing us or turning us into zombies."

 

"I saw things like that too."

 

"But sometimes when they weren’t turning us into zombies, we were winning."

 

He nods.  "When we were working together."

 

"Yeah, but do you think that's really the future?"  She can't meet his eyes, her mind fills with the image of herself leaning against Monroe like they were together and not just as fellow soldiers.

 

His voice sounds lower when he answers.  "I think they showed us a possible outcome.  I don't think anything is guaranteed."

 

Charlie pulls herself up into the wagon.  "Can we trust them? I’m not sure we can."

 

Bass sighs as he pulls himself up into the wagon and settles onto the bench seat at her side.  "Probably not. Seems like whatever that thing really was, it has its own agenda. Part of that agenda is us beating the Patriots.  But we could be their next target.."

 

"We also want to defeat the Patriots, so maybe we worry about the Patriots first and then figure out the things that came to our dreams?”

 

“I think it’s a good idea, and like they said it will probably be better if we work together - you, me, Miles."

 

Charlie’s mind is filled with thoughts of the future and she wonders what it may hold.  Glancing at Monroe, she notes his gaze is focused ahead. He looks tense and on edge. She remembers the final dream.  The urge to sit closer and to lean her head against his shoulder is suddenly one she has to fight. She shakes her head and looks forward.  The Patriots are their goal. The rest will work itself out later one way or the other.

 

He watches the road ahead but sees nothing, letting the horses find their way.  In his mind, he can’t stop seeing the little boy bouncing on his shoulders. He can see Charlie, pregnant and happy at that Kansas cabin.  He sees his friendship with Miles restored. He can’t stop the seed of hope that is beginning to grow in his soul. The idea that there could be a possibility for life to turn around is new and precious.  Seeing that glimpse of a possible future (where he has both Miles back in his life and a loving family) gives him a new passion for life and for winning the war they face.

 

“Yeah.  Can't hurt to work together," he says, glancing her way.  He sees the way the sunlight adds gold to her hair and the way her eyes flash at him like blue fire.  He wonders how he never noticed before just how beautiful Charlie Matheson is.

 

As the wagon jostles along the path, Bass Monroe feels his heart swell with hope.  At his side, Charlie smiles slowly, soaking up  Monroe’s change in mood. They both look ahead to an open road and an open future - one where nothing is promised but everything is possible.


End