Keys

bearded older men in tall hat

“Well, first of all,” Barret is saying in his dream, “I don’t really get why there’s such a reluctance to actually get the instruments to play together, in these student pieces. Unless we get all Adorno on it and talk about commuter trains.”

There’s a polite inquiry from the back of the room of the dream.

“Commuter trains,” Barret hears himself say obligingly, eyebrows going up and down, “you know the experience. We’re going in the same direction. We’re all rolling somewhere together. But we’re all alone.”

His eyes flutter open as he feels broad, wet leaves stroke his face. The Jeep—he’s still in the Jeep—is negotiating a terrain change, moving from pitted blacktop to a narrow, deeply carved deer path or hog trail or something. The air is full of latent rain. The Jeep is moving almost delicately, like a spider, over tufted hummocks and ruts left behind by ancient tires.

“Christ on a bike,” says the gal behind the wheel.

“Want me to spell you?” asks Drin from the back seat, the Drin, Barret remembers, the Shadow King and ghost patron, the answer to a lot of unasked questions, the maker and unmaker of war.

“I’m fine, love,” the gal replies, not sounding so sure.

“We look to rejoin the main road up apiece,” Drin says, and Barret knows that tone well, the tone of the reassuring captain of the ship, peerless and perhaps immortal; the one who knows the dangerous reef is nearby. “They still have to go by the road, the long way around. We get back on the blacktop, we’ll have to wake him up for directions. Till then, straight on until morning, my lady.”

It’s hard to keep his eyes open. The musician Dance is sprawled in the back, surrounded by strange, glinting lights—an artifact, Barret thinks, of the dream, the other dream, the first dream, Auren Han standing beside him in the yogurt section at Trader Joe’s, holding his hand and making him recite the sequence, slowly, his left eye just beginning to wander—it does that, Barret knows, when Auren is pushed past endurance.

“Remember this,” Auren said in the dream, and Simon smiled a thin smile beside him.

“He’s got the numerical sequence now. That’ll bring up the locks. Give him the key.”

Auren, grey in the fluorescent lights; and his hands, touching Barret’s, cold.

“Auren, give him the key,” Simon said softly.

Empty carts, piloted by no one, coursing the aisles around them. Barret hearing their rattling wheels as they pass. For a long time no other sound; then Auren, sobbing.

Barret, slowly surfacing, remembers: this terrible sound from the other dream, the first dream. He remembers the bracingly cold air from the dairy cooler, and Auren’s baritone voice, and Simon’s light touch on the back of his neck, at the precise point the spirit guys say that gods like to enter the human body.

Of course, he heard that voice in his dreams for years. Certain pieces of music he had to stop playing, stop performing, because he would shudder to a halt in mid-stride, in tears.

The Jeep shies right, the gal—Emma, jesus, that’s her name—curses impressively, brings the vehicle to heel, and Barret flinches, blinks phantom numbers away. A sound remains, it’s right in his ear, lover’s voice in lag time, crooning a wordless song.

“Oh god, I promise, I’ll remember,” he cries, and Emma, her face fierce, quickly turns her head to look at him, struggling in the passenger seat.

“Barret? Remember what, love?”

Drin reaches across from the back seat, touches him then.

“Barret? Wake up, son. Wake up. We’ve got terrorists.”

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