"Well, I have to say it's something of a relief," said Charlie. "No offense intended, but Dr. Haven was starting to freak me out a little. He could be pretty intense."
Dr. Knutley nodded along with Charlie's words. You're a brave man, Charlie, she thought. Or perhaps you're still too frightened of what Haven put you through to admit that he hurt you. In either case, you won't have to worry about that man getting near you again. Knutley had been unable to locate James Haven for two weeks. The reports of his erratic behavior had become alarming. Even nurses were talking about the way Haven had abused this patient, almost as if he were trying to torture the man instead of trying to help him recover from a serious emotional trauma. They told tales of Haven slapping and punching Charlie, using drugs on him that were outside of the normal range used in treatment, and even whispers of using electrical shock. Knutley was still trying to separate fact from imagination on those allegations.
"Charlie, you've made excellent progress here lately," Knutley told him. "Your injuries have healed to the point where we would normally be sending you home. I'm still a bit worried about your emotional state, but that is largely up to you. You are a legal adult, and seem rational and aware. If you want to leave, I couldn't in good conscience say no. How do you feel about that?"
"I feel much better physically, that's for sure," Charlie agreed. "My dreams have been calmer for the last week or so, and I feel like I'm sleeping better. I guess I'm improving, but I would feel fine if Melissa were here. Or even if I knew where she was and that she was alright."
"Have the police found any information at all?"
"Not that they've shared with me," Charlie answered sadly. "I'm really quite worried about Melissa. I keep having dreams about her, but they don't make a lot of sense to me."
"Can you share some of them with me?"
"You'll think I'm crazy…" Charlie stopped abruptly, blinked twice, and then grinned. "But then again, you already think I'm crazy. So what have I got to lose?" He laughed easily, plainly amused by the thought rather than testing her for a reaction, so she joined him by chuckling.
"Now Charlie, you know I would never call you crazy," she said with a reassuring smile.
"At least, not where I could hear you," Charlie said with a sly look at her. She paused before saying anything else, evaluating his conversation. He truly seems well adjusted, all things considered, she thought. If I were just meeting him without any knowledge of his delusions or the violence surrounding his visit to the hospital I would assume he was a witty and eloquent man, someone who was comfortable with himself and his place in the world. So what could it be that drove Haven to abuse him? What secret does Charlie hold that is worth torture?
"So what have you dreamed about your wife lately, Charlie?"
"My dreams of her have been really odd," he said introspectively. "It's like my Angel is caught up inside one of the stories that I have written. Well, the stories that I was writing. I haven't finished any of them yet."
"You've told me about a few of the characters already," Knutley offered. "I like what you described of Ingvar; he seems like quite the character. No pun intended." Charlie smiled at her in appreciation of the word play.
"In my last dream, I saw Melissa with Ingvar and Cara, Mikey and Niall, and Celora. I think Ronin was around somewhere, too. All of the main characters I had created in the books I was writing before all of this started getting so crazy."
"Perhaps this is your subconscious desire to know she is safe," Knutley said. "You're worried about her and so you're placing her among people that would protect her and keep her safe from harm."
"Maybe," Charlie said in a dubious tone. "The thing is, they don't seem like any dream I've ever had before. They seem like I'm watching something real, like watching them through a window. There are times I feel that I could reach out and touch them."
An impossibility briefly surfaced in Jane Knutley's mind. What if he really is seeing her? No one else has found a trace of her since this whole thing started. The police have no idea where she went or how she got out of the station without being seen. So what if Melissa somehow found a way to go into her husband's story? Jane frowned slightly as she chased the errant thought out of her mind and tried to restore a sane view of the world once more. She thought she had succeeded, but a seed of doubt had been planted. It was a doubt that challenged her world-view and would lead her to think the unthinkable in time.
"I have to be honest with you, Doctor," Charlie said softly, almost conspiratorially. "There are times that I think the sane thing is to accept everything that I've been thinking and dreaming as real and to ignore what I've always accepted as the fantasy. I think that's what Dr. Haven wanted me to do, although he never really said so."
"Really?" Knutley asked in surprise. "I mean, of course I accept that you feel that way Charlie. You should know better than anyone what you feel about any given topic. I'm just surprised that Dr. Haven would be giving you that impression." Dr. Knutley had a sudden hunch that this might be getting close to the core of the problem she'd been trying to unravel since Haven had gone missing. She tried to keep a nonchalant tone as she asked Charlie the question she really wanted the answer to.
"So what do you think Dr. Haven wanted from you, Charlie?" Jane watched as his expression clouded, growing distrustful and perhaps even fearful. She smiled as warmly as she could, though her stomach had clenched at the sight of his fear.
"I can't really say," Charlie said at last. He had lost some of his fearful expression when Jane smiled at him, but he still gave her the oddest feeling that he was a hunted animal crouching in fear before a suspected predator. He does know what Haven wanted, but he's afraid that if he says anything I will want the same thing from him, she thought. Damn it all, what did that man do to Charlie that made him so afraid? She broke eye contact, giving Charlie the chance to relax somewhat while she tried to think of another way to ask the same question that might elude his defensiveness. Before she could make up her mind, Charlie seemed to make up his.
"I want to trust you, Dr. Knutley," he said. "I have to trust someone and I have a feeling that says you are a good person. I'm going to choose to believe that intuition."
"No one here would ever want to harm you Charlie," she began.
"And yet, Haven did hurt me," Charlie told her levelly. "You want to know what he wanted from me? What he kept asking me to do for him? And what made his angry enough to… hurt me when I couldn't comply?"
"Yes, Charlie. I do want to know."
"Dr. Haven wanted me to make him rich and famous," he said. Charlie watched Jane's eyes carefully to see how she took this information.
"Rich and famous," she repeated. "You mean like a study case that would make him famous? I'm afraid I don't really understand what you mean."
"No, he was after something a little more direct than that," Charlie told her. He still seemed suspicious, but Jane thought he also wanted to tell her everything to clear his mind. "Dr. Haven believed in my ability to create things with my writing. He wanted me to make him rich and famous, the owner of his own clinic."
"He believed in your ability," she repeated. "Did he ever explain what it was that made him believe?"
"I proved it to him."
"And how did you prove it to him?"
"You might have noticed he is driving a new car recently," Charlie told her. "Dr. Haven challenged me to create a new car for him, one that would be suitable to his imagined status. He gave me a laptop computer to work on and a few hours to write. When he came back I was able to toss him a set of car keys to a new Mercedes sedan that was parked out in the employee lot."
"How were you able to arrange that?" Knutley asked. "I didn't think you had access to that kind of money, Charlie."
"You're not hearing me, Doctor. I wrote a short story about Dr. Haven's new Mercedes. I described the car; what it looked like, where it was parked, and the fact that the keys were on my bedside table." Charlie paused, looking at her with a haunted expression. "When I closed the laptop, the keys were sitting on my bedside table just as I had described in my story. When Dr. Haven came in later and demanded proof I was able to toss the keys to him and tell him where it was parked."
"I don't know what to say, Charlie." Jane sat silently for several minutes while she digested this story. Charlie said nothing, intuitively understanding that she needed this time to process his claim and decide whether to believe him.
I just hope Dr. Knutley doesn't want to make me prove everything to her, too, Charlie thought. Haven was such a greedy child once he understood what I could do. Jane Knutley stood without saying anything and walked across the room to the window. Charlie watched her but kept his silence.
Jane stared out of the window for several minutes, thoughts churning through her mind. This is complete nonsense, she told herself. What Charlie claims cannot be true; this must be the assertions of a delusional mind. And yet, if I take into consideration all of the other events around this case, it would make sense. Jane thought back to a conversation she had with another doctor in the doctors lounge months before. Her associate had been reading an article in a science journal that claimed several physicists were privately putting forth a theory that thought and belief affected the nature of reality. According to the article, while the scientists believed this wild theory expressed what they were observing in the laboratory, they were afraid to publish it outright for fear it would end their careers. Just like this could end my career if I take it seriously, she warned herself.
"I'm sorry Charlie," Knutley said without turning around. "I'm afraid this is too much for me to accept all at once." She heard Charlie start to reply, and then his words were choked off. Jane turned quickly to see what the problem was and nearly screamed in surprise.
There was a man restraining Charlie with an arm looped around his throat, a man with a striking appearance and odd familiarity. He was dressed in robes of white silk, and had long white hair that covered most of his face. Jane was standing frozen in surprise, one hand covering her pounding heart. The man in white had long slender hands with very pale skin. There seemed to be white-golden scales reflecting light from the backs of those hands. He was whispering in Charlie' ear and Jane thought there was something familiar about him, although his outward appearance was outlandish. The sound of his whispering called to mind another voice, but before Jane could put her finger on it she was shocked into motion.
"Let go of me," Charlie gasped. "Haven! Let me go!"
Haven? Jane thought. She recalled the sound of Haven's voice and realized this strange man did sound like the wayward doctor. "Well Doctor, you have been missing work and now you make a strange entrance in costume. You will kindly explain yourself." She faced the men, hands firmly on her hips, feet spread in a dominant stance, exuding confidence. Haven raised his gaze to meet her eyes, and Jane felt her confidence waver. There were more of those white-gold scales rising from his nose and forming a ridge up the center of his forehead. His eyes had a fierce look that gave her pause. He looks… evil, Jane thought with a shiver. Like a predator of some kind.
"Doctor Knutley, How nice to see you again," Haven sneered. "Please keep your distance. I need Charlie alive, but there is no such need for you."
"I won't let you hurt one of my patients, Doctor," Knutley told him firmly.
"Your patient?" Haven replied, surprised. "Charlie is my patient. He is mine! He is the key to my triumphant rise. What the Shadowed Man began, Charlie shall complete by giving me his gift. One way or another, I shall have it."
Haven is barking mad, Jane thought. She didn't move, afraid her motion would break the tableau and force Haven to precipitous action. Is he talking about the same Shadowed Man that Charlie talks about? I wonder. And the police told me that Melissa mentioned him, too, before she disappeared. I wonder if I can distract him and reach the pull cord for the orderly? Knutley began edging sideways, hoping to appear merely frightened instead of devious. Haven's eyes narrowed at her movement as though he detected her real intent.
"Doctor, if you call the orderlies I shall simply kill them as well," Haven said with a slight smile. "You should be far more concerned about whether I will go away and leave you alive. Now, please stand still and Charlie and I will be leaving."
"I will not let you walk out of this room with Charlie," Knutley said as she stepped confidently between Haven and the door to the hallway. Haven smiled more broadly, obviously amused by her challenge. I have a bad feeling that I've misjudged him, Jane thought.
"Silly mortal woman," Haven sneered. "What makes you think I will leave by the doorway?" Haven tightened his grip around Charlie's neck and began to shimmer. At first, Jane thought it was a distortion of her eyesight caused by tears in her eyes, but as she blinked vigorously she had to accept that there was a change in the light surrounding Haven. He and Charlie were growing less distinct, fading from view. She was suddenly terribly frightened for Charlie and dashed forward to grab his hand and pull him from Haven's grasp.
Charlie reflexively grabbed hold of her hand and Jane tried to pull him free. She was looking directly into Charlie's eyes as he tried to tell her to run, gasping for air. Jane would remember the fear in Charlie's eyes until the end of her life. She felt a force pulling at the pit of her stomach, like she was falling. The light dimmed around her, though she could still see Charlie clearly, Haven's arm still locked beneath his chin. Wind was blowing around them, vertigo pulled at her mind spiking her with fear. She kept her eyes locked on Charlie's as though they were the only solidity left in her world.
Jane felt as though she were spinning through a cold, dark place. The sensation of falling accelerated somehow, and now she had the distinct impression that they were falling at terminal velocity. And then, like in a dream, she felt herself hit a solid surface and passed into a blessed darkness of unconsciousness.
* * *
Jane awoke to dim gray light that barely defined the lines of stone blocks before her eyes. She simply stared at the lines between the blocks for what might have been minutes or hours, she really couldn't tell. She didn't even know at first whether the blocks formed the floor or a wall. Finally, after what seemed forever, she tried to move. Her joints and muscles protested, pain flaring in her legs and her left shoulder. Jane breathed in sharply at the pain, and succeeded in rolling onto her back. How cliché, she thought. It looks like I'm in a dungeon cell. Haven is really going all out to create the illusion. There was a heavy chain connecting a manacle on her right wrist to a steel loop set into the stone wall. She panicked at the sound of the links rattling when she moved, feeling trapped and unable to breathe suddenly.
"How are you feeling?" Charlie asked from somewhere near her. Jane sat up carefully, wincing at the pain in her joints. When she finally reached a sitting position she found that she was resting on a narrow cot against one wall of a dank stone cell. The blocks that had filled her vision formed the walls of the enclosure on three sides. The fourth side contained a door set in the center of iron latticework separating her cell from a dim hallway. She strained her eyes in the dim light and finally saw Charlie sitting on a similar cot in the cell across the hall from hers. He, too, was chained to the wall of his cell.
"Where are we? And how long was I unconscious?" Jane asked him.
"I woke up here about three, maybe four hours ago," he said. "As for where we are, your guess is as good as mine."
"Haven hasn't said anything?"
"I haven't seen him since I came to," Charlie said. "He certainly seems to have changed, hasn't he? I never would have guessed that he would become the monster in one of my stories."
"Do you believe that is what's happening?" Jane asked timidly. Her fear was overpowering her intellect at the moment. "Do you believe we've been thrown into a story-world?"
"It would seem to fit the facts rather well, but I don't understand how Haven could do it. And if he could bring us here, then why does he still need my ability?"
"And why does he need me at all?" Jane added morosely.
"That I think is because you came by accident," Charlie told her. "But I think he plans to use you to put some leverage on me. I don't think I'm willing to let him do that."
"How can we stop him?"
"I've already taken care of the first part… I think."
"You don't sound very certain," Jane said.
"I'm trying to use my ability to send you home, but all I have to work with is a sharp rock and scratches on the wall," he said with a chuckle. "It's not my best composition but I hope it will be enough to return you to our world safely. If you're willing to try, of course."
"But what about you? Can't you send both of us back?"
"I'm going to try," he answered after a pause. "But I don't have much to work with here. Haven needs me alive and able to work. You are the one at risk for the time being and the most important one to get free."
"What do I have to do?" Jane asked.
"Just listen to my story and want to go home," Charlie told her. I shouldn't go along with this, Jane told herself. I should be brave and stay with him until we both get free. Hell, I shouldn't be buying into this delusion at all, but dreams don't usually come complete with physical pain and I really do hurt.
"Alright, I'll do my part Charlie but I want you to get free too," she said after a couple minutes of silence.
As Jane sat up straighter on her cot and tried to be brave and resolute, Charlie started to read his story fragment. He kept his voice so low that she had difficulty hearing his words, but the phrases she caught sent shivers running up her arms and left her hair standing on end. The chain fell from her wrist as the manacle disappeared abruptly. Oh my God, Jane thought. He really can change reality with his stories! It's all true. Charlie's voice was more urgent now, though still too soft for Jane to hear more than an occasional word.
The cell seemed brighter somehow. Jane looked around for the source of the illumination but couldn't see where the light was coming from. After a moment she realized that she was glowing. It's almost like I'm sitting somewhere with sunlight coming in on me through an open window even though I'm here in a dark room. But when she looked around her, she couldn't make out the stone walls of the cell anymore. There was only darkness where they had been a moment before. Jane Looked for Charlie but found that there was only darkness in that direction now as well. She could still hear his voice speaking softly, but only as a murmuring. She couldn't make out words any longer only the susurration of a voice speaking quietly in the distance. At last, even that was gone.
Jane was conscious of a change in the surface she was sitting on. Instead of sitting up on a hard cot, she felt like she was sitting in a soft chair with a high back. It feels like my office chair, she thought. She move her hands experimentally and found a cool hard surface right about where she would expect her desk to be. Her fingers suddenly encountered something hard and she drew back, startled, then reached out to find the shape of her computer keyboard.
"Charlie?" Jane called. The light returned, or her eyes were once more able to see. Everything was a blur at first, but began to clear as she blinked her eyes and then rubbed at them carefully so she would smudge her makeup. Jane was back in her office at the hospital, but Charlie was nowhere in sight. Apparently he had been unable to return with her after all. "Oh Charlie, why didn't you come back?"
Jane pushed herself back from her desk and turned her chair toward the window. Bright sunlight soaked into her body bringing warmth to drive out the chill and the fear she had been feeling. She sat without thought for as long as she could keep her mind silent, just feeling the warmth and peace. At last she surrendered to the sadness and covered her eyes with her hands and began to cry.
* * *
Charlie kept reading his makeshift story until the sparkling light faded from the cell where they had been holding Dr. Knutley. When he could see into the dark cell again he could see that it was empty. I just pray she went back to her office where I meant to send her, Charlie thought. God, please watch over her and keep her safe. And I wouldn't mind if you decided to help me just a bit, too. Charlie smiled in the dimness, feeling more in charge of his own fate since the night he had collapsed. Odd, since I've decided to believe the impossible I feel better and more in control that I did when trying to be sane. Maybe it feels more comfortable once you decide to accept insanity.
Now to decide what to do for myself and for my Angel, Charlie thought. He tried to calm his breathing and his heartbeat, thinking about Melissa. If she really is somewhere in my worlds, maybe I can do something for her. Maybe I can even get to her, wherever she is. Charlie focused on his memories of his wife, hoping to find a way to link to her thoughts. He felt silly at first, he really didn't believe in telepathy or anything beyond what could be directly experienced in normal human life. It was something of a dichotomy in Charlie's world view; he wrote constantly about magic and fantasy worlds filled with mysterious creatures, and yet in his normal life he was down to earth and practical. Or at least, that was how he thought of himself. Since all this had begun, he'd found himself more and more coming to think differently about what was real.
And then there was that dream with Patience and Lucas, he thought. It felt so real, even though it was impossible. If I accept that this… all this, is real, then maybe I can act on my own behalf. Now, to find Melissa. He tried to imagine where in his fantasy worlds Melissa might have gone. Charlie had pieced together some ideas of what had happened to his wife from the whispered conversation between Dr. Haven and the police investigators, before Haven had become so scary.
I think that Haven is trying to grab the power of creation for himself, he thought. But he changed somehow. It seemed like he had become a character in my story somehow, but I know that I never did anything to him, or at least, not that I am aware of. Could I have affected him without knowing it? Charlie pursed his lips as he thought about the possibilities.
"Maybe it was me that affected Haven," said a voice near Charlie. He started violently and sat up, looking wildly for the source of the voice. He couldn't see anyone either in the cell or in the hallway outside. There was a dark shadow in a corner of his cell, and he thought he detected movement in that shadow. "Hello Charlie. Long time, eh?" Charlie could see blue eyes in that shadow now. The Shadowed Man was back.
"Why are you here?" Charlie asked sharply. He had a sense that the Shadowed man frowned. How he knew