BY SCOTT DEEGAN
Alan Freeman was a pain in the ass. Especially to be co-attendees to another insurance seminar, but that was our job. We had to know the in and outs of each policy that Franklin And Associates offered their employees. There were three of us attending this year Alan, Maxine, and myself. Maxine lucked out, being the only female and she got the single king room. While Alan and I got the room with the two doubles. Two years ago I had been the only male F&A sent and was looking forward to being in the king room, but the hotel had switched reservations with another company who had four people attending. One of their team members arrived early and was ecstatic to find himself in a king instead of a double. Instead of bitching and making him move, I opted to share the room with his associate. A nice enough guy by the name of Greg who turned out to be a pretty good roommate. I ran into him last year and we shared a drink in the bar. Kinda hoped he was attending this year as well, his wife was expecting and I was kinda curious as to if he now had a son or a daughter, as I did. Yeah, Greg was a good roommate, a hell of a lot better than Alan.
Alan Freeman was a pain in the ass but he was also my best friend. We both started at Franklin on the same day and went through orientation together. Because we were new, we were assigned the same projects. They say familiarity breeds contempt, in our case it was the exact opposite and we’ve been friends for almost 17 years.
Maxine had started the year afterward and I guess you could say she was the Hermione Granger of Franklin And Associates smart, pretty, and determined to succeed. She may not have been able to make a feather float with ‘wingardium leviosa’, but she was able to secure a prominent spot in the company’s infrastructure and was able to bring Alan and I along for the ride. She did us a solid even though she referred to us as the two dickheads. You see Maxine had a secret, and she made the mistake of getting a little tipsy on after work cocktails one night and blurted it out.
At the office Maxine went by her middle name, Marie. Marie Paddington. Only Alan, myself, and I’m assuming a few family members were allowed to call her Maxine, and only Alan and I would ever be able to call her by the secret name she got in high school and live to tell. The secret she told us was that nickname, the shortened version of her first and last name, yes her nickname was Maxi Pad. We did occasionally use this name and we did live, but we never told. Until now, that is.
Maxine was a doll. Alan was a pain in the ass, or more to the point his secret was. Alan loved horror book, read them all the time and because of this I hated sharing a room with him. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t against horror books or reading, it was more the affect it had on him. When Alan slept, he dreamed the same as everyone else, but unlike everyone else Alan’s dream didn’t happen in his head and he was never involved in them. No, instead of keeping his dreams to himself, Alan acted like a virtual reality projector that involved whoever happened to be in the immediate vicinity. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I had escaped zombie attacks, out swam a shark, spent the night running from all manner of deranged serial killers, or almost became dinner for a family of cannibalistic hillbillies. I didn’t really mind so much when he used to read smut magazine that he’d pick up from truck stop book racks, but lately he’s just reading horror. I’m pretty sure this might be the reason he chooses to live alone.
We had arrived at the hotel where the seminar was being held at 8:30 Thursday morning and just had time to deposit our bags in the room before the nine o’clock meeting. This was the first time I caught a glimpse of the book Alan had along. On the cover was what appeared to be a stairway ascending up the side of a pyramid into a galaxy of stars. I didn’t fully catch the title something about sleeping Gods by either a Mike Drake or a Mark Duke, I can’t recall which. Knowing Alan it was probably some alternate universe or cosmic horror bullshit. I didn’t really have time to check it out, I had to be somewhere.
The day went as expected beginning with a welcome meeting and being broken into groups to create a more interactive experience. The thinking was smaller groups encouraged discussions that would benefit all involved. Maxine, Alan, and I were all placed in different clusters depending on our specific job. We didn’t meet up again until dinner and then went on to the evening event. It was close to eleven when I finally returned to the room.
Greg hadn’t returned this year and there wasn’t anyone I knew in the lounge. Maxine had skipped the evening event and Alan had taken off for the room right after it had finished. I thought I’d see if there was anything going on but that turned out to be a bust.
Alan was asleep when I walked in and I could now see the name Mike Duke on the spine and the words Where The Gods Sleep. Alan didn’t appear to be dreaming, for one thing the room was normal, and he didn’t appear to have been asleep long enough to have entered the paradoxical stage or REM sleep. The deep sleep that allows dreaming to occur typically takes about ninety minutes to reach, although I had no way to know for sure I didn’t think he had reached it yet. I decided to push my luck and take a shower prior turning in. I found a hot shower before bed helped me to sleep, especially in a strange place. And if I could reach REM sleep before Alan began to dream, I would be able to reach morning without incident.
The shower did the trick, relaxing me and washing away some of the stiffness that had settled into my back after sitting in banquet room chairs for twelve hours. I pulled the curtain of the shower back to reveal the bathroom was the exact same as when I entered. This did little to assure me I was safe, it just meant so far I was still afforded a chance at a peaceful night. After dressing in fresh boxer briefs and sweatpants I opened the bathroom door to find my chances had evaporated.
The room was gone and I as turned to go back into the bathroom I found it had been enveloped by Alan’s dream as well. The room, if it could still be called a room, rolled in dark grey clouds. A heavy mist hugged the floor and covered the surface of every object, when I tried to move the the mist clung to my legs like a thick taffy and I had to continually move to avoid getting stuck. There wasn’t really much of a landscape and when I tried to make anything out it changed. The whole area seemed to have ever evolving creatures that were a mixture of Sid and Marty Krofft creations and Pokémon meets Jurassic Park. What appeared to be a hybrid of an elephant and a giraffe but larger lay sleeping where my bed should have been. I moved slowly around the sleeping beast, not wanting to wake it, I wasn’t familiar with Mike Duke books and had no idea what to expect if I woke it. I needn’t have worried because when I reached the end of what should have been the foot of my bed, the creature changed and then a hairless Fluffy of Harry Potter fame lay there instead, minus a head. The television suddenly appeared out of nowhere and turned itself on and just as quickly changed into a blinking eye that showed different star patterns each time it opened. I heard movement from behind me and as I turned realized that this was the first sound I’d heard.
Alan Freeman and his bed were the only things left undisturbed by the dream, the noise I’d heard was him shifting. There was movement that caught my eye as a long eared monstrosity that I recognized at once as a Landstrider, the creatures the Gelflings rode on in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal approached me and disappeared as the room came back and a tall dark haired woman who slightly resembled Maxine mixed with Trish Stratus pushed me towards the bed. She gently pushed my chest until I lay on my back and swung her leg over my hips, she bent toward me her eyes locked into mine. I could feel myself becoming aroused, as her face came closer her lips parted and she started beeping before dissolving into nothing I sat up and looked for her, but only saw Alan moving to silence his alarm.
Later that morning at breakfast, after we had both had the chance to fully wake up, I asked Alan about the book.
“Don’t know,” he answered. “I’m only a few pages into it.”