2: Living the Dream
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together, that’s reality.”
John Lennon, Singer/Songwriter
Time Branch ‘x’
April 14th, 2008
Ignition minus 1 month
Eleanor stood in the hallway, directing the removal workers as they carried the furniture and belongings into their new cottage. Despite all Callison’s degrees and doctorates, it was Eleanor who got things done in their household.
Their new cottage was in a quaint village called Brackingham, about an hour’s drive from their old house and two miles inland from the English Channel near Southampton. The welcome change of scenery and pace filled both Callison and Eleanor with a new-found sense of freedom.
During the last months at Quanta, Callison and Eleanor had started the hunt for a retirement property, but not liked anything they could afford. After initial frustration, and in a moment of bloody-mindedness, Callison had typed into the internet search engine ‘our perfect house’. The search returned millions of results, but the topmost result was this cottage, offered by Destiny Real Estate. The suitability had astonished them both.
Upon viewing the house in person, Callison had been even more dumbfounded to realise the layout was very similar to the one in his recurring dream. However, the cottage in his dream was derelict, and the exterior walls and surrounds were overgrown with foliage; this house looked well maintained and neat, the green of the grass outside a direct contrast from his dream. As he walked through the front door for the first time, the hallway and stairs presented themselves and led directly away with the stairs flanking the right-side wall. The lounge was through a door on the left. Callison had looked immediately for the writing above the fireplace, when he entered but there was none like the dream. The cottage also had a basement, which would be perfect for his research.
‘Ah, thank you,’ smiled Eleanor as the removal team carried in the dining room table. ‘That goes in the room after the kitchen at the end of the hall on the left. There’s a cup of tea for each of you in the kitchen, also.’ she added, ticking the table off her list. Age had been kinder to Eleanor than to Callison, and with her shoulder-length hair dyed brown she looked a decade younger than her husband. Her deep hazel eyes harboured nothing but kindness and honesty. Although Jack had been their only child, she had accepted the loss far better than her husband and it showed after all these years.
Callison emerged from the kitchen with a piece of paper in his hand. ‘Have you bought anything from Argos?’ he asked Eleanor.
‘Our bank statement shows a payment to ‘Argos catalogue’?’
Callison handed her the statement and she scanned it sharply before shaking her head in surprise.
‘No, I’m not sure what that is for.’
‘I’ll sort it,’ said Callison. ‘it must be a mistake.’
Callison paced up and down their new front lawn next to the yellow removal lorry, talking to the bank clerk on his mobile. A pair of workers traipsed up the garden path carrying a wardrobe, and there was a sudden bang as one of its doors fell open. ‘Careful!’ shouted Callison. ‘That’s valuable!’ The men nodded sheepishly and continued with more care.
‘I don’t understand, I haven’t made those purchases! What would a sixty-five-year-old man need with a Nintendo whatever-you-call-it?’ A pause.
‘I don’t have grandchildren!’ He paced some more.
‘Then reimburse me! If a masked robber came in to your bank and held you up at gunpoint, would you tell your customers that the mask identity has withdrawn all the money, or would you get your insurance to pay it?’ He went on trampling the grass.
‘Why is it different? Your system is the problem!’ Another pause.
‘My identity hasn’t been stolen. I’m still me! But my money has been stolen while it was in your safekeeping. Your system obviously has loopholes!’ His face was turning red. ‘I am careful with my bank statements!’ He looked up and growled at the sky.
Eleanor was approaching.
‘You’ll replace my credit card? And what if I need to use it today?’ The clerk advised he couldn’t. ‘That’s what I thought. I can’t. Well screw you –’
One of the workers cheered quietly.
Callison examined his phone looking for the ‘hang-up’ button.
Eleanor reached out. ‘Here, let me speak with them, dear.’ She took the phone. ‘Hi there, Eleanor Trebla here. I apologise, my husband is a little stressed right now; we’re busy house-moving. What seems to be the problem?’ She walked inside.
‘Whatever happened to “the customer’s always right”, eh?’ a young removal worker chuckled in a broad northern accent.
‘More like “the customer’s always screwed”,’ fumed Callison, fumbling to light a cigarette as he sank onto a garden chair waiting to be carried through to the garden.
‘Too true,’ chuckled the workman. ‘Mind if I smoke with you there?’
‘Go ahead,’ said Callison, ‘it’s a free country.’
‘Is it?’ said the worker.
Callison stared at him.
‘My name’s Danny,’ said the removal man, lighting up.
‘Banks, eh! Make a bucket of profit but won’t help the little guys.’
‘I’m not a little guy, I’m their customer!’ Callison smouldered.
The worker seemed unfazed. ‘You’da been treated differently if you’da had millions in your account.’
‘Don’t I know it! Where’s the logic in that?’
‘No logic at all. It’s like celebrities getting free gear when they’ve enough to buy it anyway. Peasants like us gotta work for it!’
A brief silence ensued as they both smoked.
‘Just wish we could go back to cash like the good old days,’ said Callison.
‘Big brother wouldn’t want that. They want to be able to track your every transaction. For your own safety, of course!’ he said, sarcastically.
Callison didn’t probe, continuing to smoke his cigarette.
Danny changed the subject. ‘So, what’s with these curious-looking objects in the truck? A large tubular object, and other bits and pieces of metal work?’
Callison had been manufacturing pieces of the Eye in his old garden shed. ‘A science experiment.’
‘What sort of science?’
‘Not giving much away there then, ay?’
‘You ask a lot of questions.’
‘Hey Danny,’ called the supervisor. ‘Gonna do some work today, or are you too busy talking?’
‘Oh well, guess I’ll never know!’ Danny flicked his cigarette onto the road and moved off.
‘When you get to that science equipment,’ Callison called, ‘give me a shout. That stuff can’t be chucked around like the wardrobe you almost broke.’
The basement of the cottage was spacious and in good condition with more than adequate lighting, although the stairs were only dimly lit by a low wattage bulb. It had an earthy, wooden smell in the basement and the bricks on the sidewalls were painted black.
‘Up a bit – left a bit – down a bit.’ called Callison as they manoeuvred the constituent parts of the Trebla Eye down the basement steps. It had been split into three components, the circular Eye part, and two halves of the sturdy, square holding structure. Two workers were needed to carry each part down.
‘What’s this contraption then?’ asked the other worker as he grunted and wheezed it down the steps.
‘Science experiment, right?’ Danny replied, looking eagerly at Callison while holding the other end.
‘Yes. Now concentrate, we need to get it around the corner at the bottom. I can take it from there.’
Once the three pieces of the Eye were leaned up against the walls downstairs, the workers left the basement to continue with the rest of the move.
Callison spent the next half hour bringing down a selection of plastic carry boxes from his car filled with circuitry, devices, magnets, CDs and research. When done, he stopped to survey the basement and all his extra kit on the floor, assessing where everything might go. The basement was perfectly proportioned. It was high enough to house the eight-foot square holding structure and still leave a foot of clearance below the ceiling; it was wide enough to walk around the structure and work on it from back or front; and it was deep enough to install some workbenches and shelves to store spares, data, books, papers, results, tools and any other equipment time-travel required. A computer would run all the necessary programs and algorithms for the electromagnets and serve as the display screen for the chronogrammatic control unit or CCU, which monitored the internal speeds and temperatures of the device. He guessed it would take about a week to assemble, after which he could continue his research.
Callison decided to hang a clock on the basement wall. As he held the clock up to position it on the wall, a removal worker poked his head around the corner, startling Callison.
‘Oh, sorry.’ It was Danny. ‘I saw the light left on and was coming to turn it off.’ The look on his face said otherwise.
‘I’ll turn it off. Thank you.’
‘Okay then.’ Danny hesitated for a split second before retreating up the stairs.
Callison finished hanging the clock while thinking about security. He’d need to keep the basement door locked and maybe get a stronger door and lock system. Or even hide the basement door in the hall completely with an elaborate book-shelf camouflage: spy-movie style.
He adjusted the clock to read three-thirty pm, before heading back upstairs. As he emerged into the hallway, he could hear footsteps and furniture noises coming from upstairs in the bedrooms. He pulled the small key out of his pocket and locked the feeble basement door lock.
After the removal workers had left the house, each having done an excellent job and receiving an equally good tip, Callison was settled on his old couch in his new lounge, watching motor racing on TV.
Eleanor was sat quietly at the dining room table, writing her daily memoirs as she’d done every day for nearly thirty years. It was like a document of her life – a document that presently took up two large boxes. Callison sometimes asked why she bothered; no one ever read them. She didn’t know why, she would say, maybe some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She had started the habit just after Jack died and couldn’t seem to stop. She was just writing about Callison’s bank rage when the telephone rang, and she disappeared into the kitchen to answer it.
When the motor racing finished and the ads began, Callison went over to the bay window and gazed out at the front garden and their new picturesque little street. Our new view, he thought, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lower lip. The front lawn, green and neat, ran up to a knee-high box hedge along the edge of the pavement.
‘It’s been all go today!’ Eleanor exclaimed, startling Callison. ‘You’ll be pleased to know the bankcard is sorted. That was them on the phone.’ She chuckled. ‘I had some hole to climb out of after your attempt at diplomacy!’
‘What would I do without you?’ He gave her a kiss, embarrassed that he’d got so worked up. ‘What have the little Hitlers done about it?’
‘Well they’ll reimburse us the one thousand five hundred, but we have to destroy our cards. It’ll be about five days before our new ones arrive. And we killed two birds with one stone, because now they have our new address, too.’
‘Still means we’re put out for it, though. Shouldn’t be like that, Ellie, should it?’
‘No, it shouldn’t,’ She knew how to comfort him without belittling his contempt for the system. ‘but we just need to keep going.’ She put her arm round him. ‘There are greedy people out there, but that’s just their way. We either let it affect us or we choose to get on with it.’
‘I guess you’re right,’ he said, ‘it just pains me, that’s all.’ He embraced Ellie back, and kissed the top of her head.
‘What pains you?’ she asked, resting her head on his shoulder.
‘The greedy people win in life, and it just doesn’t seem fair.’
Eleanor thought about his words. In the brief silence between them, they heard the news start on TV. ‘Oh, let me guess,’ Callison said with cynicism, ‘war, economy, corruption, murder, global warming and sport!’
They watched as a story broke about a drop in the economy.
‘See? Tick the economy off the list!’
The story was presented with a serious tone, and she felt it. ‘This is actually quite serious, Callie.’
‘It’s pure pantomime.’ he gestured at the screen. ‘Stock exchanges are like the collective egos of the world, built on confidence – or lack thereof!’
Eleanor ignored him, paying attention to the news. Callison watched too, but viewed it as drivel, and was about to go out to smoke his cigarette, when he caught a change of tone from the news anchor. ‘And finally, in a rather strange scientific breakthrough, a group of scientists in Europe have managed to magnetise water. Here’s Nick Collins with the report.’
Callison’s chin dropped. There was his friend, Peter Montague on TV, announcing a process that could magnetise water. The report showed footage of a metre-cubed metal tank full of water being turned upside down, but none of the water poured out of the container, as if levitated. It still sloshed about however, like gravity had been inverted. The scientific community was intrigued about its possible uses.
Well I’ll be, thought Callison. Peter looked well. The story was finished almost as soon as it had started.
‘That was Peter!’ Callison exclaimed to Ellie. ‘I worked with him at Quanta!’
‘Small world,’ she smiled, intrigued. ‘Maybe you should give him a call.’
Callison was hesitant. ‘Oh, I’d have nothing to say. I’m just glad he achieved what he said he was going to.’ He made his way towards the French doors in the dining room that led to the back garden. ‘I’m going for a smoke,’ he said. Pausing after a few steps, he said, ‘How would you like it if I fetched us a fish and chip dinner for tonight? We can try the local seafood?’
‘I think that would be wonderful.’ Eleanor replied.
Callison could have walked, but he was still in the habit of driving everywhere. Brackingham was only a small village. Perhaps retirement here was just what he needed. He pulled into an angled parking space on the main strip of the village. Free parking after five. It was half past. Great. A few other people were on the street, completely unaware of their newest villager.
The main strip was about two hundred yards long and contained a selection of small shops, providing essentials only – a convenience store, a pub, some bookshops, cafés and a small bed-and-breakfast all mingled with residential dwellings. The buildings lining the strip were in the old Tudor revival style, with pointed roofs and wooden eaves. But for the traffic, Callison felt he could almost be back in the 1600s. Trees lined the pavement on either side of the road, giving the street a natural feel.
As he strolled along, several cobbled alleyways branched off the street like capillaries. Too small for cars, the eaves of the buildings in these capillaries almost met overhead. He wandered up one, discovering little hidden shops, a jeweller’s and a small accessory boutique. A few other people were ambling about, perusing at their leisure. The alleyway led on past a quiet coffee shop and emerged into a quaint cobbled courtyard, with more small shops and restaurants dotted around the periphery. The village seemed to go on forever. But what he noticed next stopped him in his tracks.
It couldn’t be! Before him in the centre of the courtyard was a bronze statue of a bearded man pointing at nothing obvious. Callison recognised it immediately from his dreams about the cottage. He approached it hesitantly, his gaze transfixed on the piece. In his dream it’s as if the statue was gesturing him into the cottage. The static bearded man in front of him now was wearing a tri-cornered hat and knee breeches with hosiery, resting his raised leg on a closed trunk that looked like a pirate’s treasure chest.
Impossible, he thought. He moved closer to read the plaque:
Lord Admiral Pickering
Assassinated on the morning of the 29th February 1687
Erected in 1974 by the Village Mayor, Jonathan T Phelps
Admiral Pickering… thought Callison. I’ve never even heard of him. Why dream of his statue? Then the date of the Admiral’s death hit him like a sledge hammer – the 29th February; it was Callison’s birthday, the rarest of birthdays. He’d not met one person his whole life who had shared his birthday. The odds were too slim to be a coincidence, surely. He was beginning to doubt the veracity of his whole experience and looked around vacantly for a clue to the riddle.
Callison tried to work out where his house lay in relation to this courtyard. Uncannily, the statue was indeed pointing that way.
Suddenly gripped with curiosity and entirely forgetting the fish and chips, Callison left the square courtyard along another small alley that, unrealised by him, led in the direction of the statue’s pointed arm.
He felt dazed. The alley emerged onto another road running parallel to the one he’d parked on. It was a quiet road with a park just beyond, bordered by a low wall that opened into a semi-circle directly opposite him. A vacant bench beckoned.
Callison wandered across the road, settled on the empty bench and lit a cigarette. He inhaled and stared at the pavement, his mind racing. What the hell was going on? He remembered the BLISS4U number plate he’d seen a month ago at Quanta, the precognitive cottage dream and Peter Montague’s face on the news. But this? Dreaming of something as particular as the statue of a man he’d never heard of? Who died on his leap-year only birthday? It was freakish. He puffed hard again. Not knowing what to do as he sat, he unconsciously checked his watch. The digital display updated from reading 5:39 to 5:40pm the minute he looked at it.
Callison lifted his head. A man in a cream coloured suit with a matching cream top hat had settled at the other end of the bench. The man’s hat rested on his knees and a briefcase stood beside him on the pavement floor.
‘It’s a beautiful day, I say.’ The accent suggested he wasn’t from around here.
‘Yeah. It is.’ Callison continued smoking; this day couldn’t get any stranger.
The man took his hat and placed it on the bench between them. Two cars and a lorry buzzed past.
The man leant towards him. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Are you alright?’
‘No, it’s nothing. I mean – I’m okay.’
‘Have the coincidences started yet? The dreams?’ Came the strange man’s voice, as if knowing something.
‘What?’ Callison stared at the man. He was about thirty, with distinctive emerald eyes embedded in a thin face. ‘What’s going on?’ He felt a wave of panic. ‘You’re not real, are you? I’m going mad, I’m hearing things, seeing things.’ He touched the man’s arm and recoiled. He was real.
‘I’m as real as I think real is. I’ve been practising lucid dreaming for the past twenty years, and I give talks on consciousness. So will you, one day.’
‘In lucid dreaming you consciously wake up inside your dream, but don’t leave the dream. Then you can explore and talk to other lucid dreamers, people who are dreaming consciously too. There’s a lot of valuable information in the dream realm.’
‘What sort of information?’ Callison asked, wanting answers now. ‘What should I read into a dream about a statue, then? The statue never says anything to me, just points at my house.’
‘In your dream, is the front door usually open or closed?’
He thought. ‘It’s normally ajar, I guess.’
‘An open door is a sign that you’re exploring yourself, opening your field of awareness. A house in a dream usually represents the self.’
‘Oh, okay.’ Strangely, it made sense. ‘What about writing that moves and morphs and is impossible to read in the dream?’
The man nodded slowly, ‘Maybe there’s information waiting to come into your life. Coincidences are part of the wake-up process.’ he added, ‘They trigger the mind to open other avenues of understanding. Go with the flow, Callison; coincidences often lead down the most meaningful avenues of life.’
Callison was intently interested but couldn’t bring himself to blindly believe this crazy man.
‘Do you read?’ asked the man.
Callison was blind-sided. ‘Err, yes.’
‘I have a book for you.’
‘A book?’ Callison said with a confused expression. ‘For me?’ Surely, I must be going insane he thought, but his presumed insanity took a back seat for now.
The man’s emerald green eyes sparkled as he handed the book to Callison. ‘All about dreams. Just a pocket book. I hope you find it useful.’
Callison didn’t know what to say as he took the small book. His day was becoming increasingly surreal. ‘Thanks.’ He flicked through some of the pages. ‘But how did you know I was experiencing coincidences?’
The man looked ready to leave and smiled as he replied. ‘Maybe it was a coincidence?’
‘What do you mean? That doesn’t make sense at all!?’ said Callison.
The mysterious man picked up his briefcase, his hat already on his head. ‘This life you see around you,’ he gestured at the street, ‘it’s just a collective dream, created by the thoughts and emotions of its inhabitants, solidified into something we’re taught is material. It’s one of many collective dreams, or dimensions of perception, but you’ve been hoodwinked into believing this is all there is.’ The man stood up. ‘I have to be off. Read the book; it might help you.’
‘Please, don’t go,’ pleaded Callison, ‘I need more answers.’
The man held his gaze for a moment. ‘Answers are the fruits of questions, my friend. You don’t need more answers; you need more questions… You’ll figure it out.’
Callison was quiet for a moment. ‘But…’ The man was already walking away. Callison looked down at the small book in his hands, pondering why this stranger had given it to him. He opened it again and was stunned to notice a hand-written inscription just inside the last page. Somehow, he’d not seen it when he flicked through the pages earlier:
One day you will realise who I am.
The portal has already changed time.
You don’t need iron; magnetised steam will work best.
Beware the black suits.
Callison stared in wonder. Now, even more than before, he had to ask another question of the man, but he was nowhere to be seen. How did he know about the portal? What had Callison’s invention already done? He returned to the message, and reread it, incredulous.
He leapt to his feet. ‘Peter Montague!’ he exclaimed aloud in disbelief.
He had to get back home – he had work to do. He remembered: and fish and chips to get. He checked the time once more, and to his astonishment, the moment he did so, 5.39 flicked onto 5.40pm again.
Meanwhile, in a car parked fifty yards up the street from Callison’s bench location, two of the black suits warned of by the note had been watching the exchange. But to them, the man in the cream suit had been invisible and Callison looked to be talking to himself like he’d lost all grip on reality.