At the same instant, Philo and Indra sat up in bed, breathing heavily. “Aagh!” they said together.
“Oh shit,” Indra said. “I had a horrible dream.”
“Is this the one about being that skinless gargoyle you’ve been working on?” said Philo. “’cause I was just having the same dream.”
“That’s the one,” said Indra. “I’ve been — I mean, I’ve been working on Agony nonstop and I’ve been… I mean, ugh.”
“I know what you’ve been doing,” Philo said. “Those fake cadavers you’ve been making out of flank steak creep me out too.”
“The plaster wasn’t picking up enough texture,” she said. “I had to redo the whole thing so I could get dermagel molds. But that meant thinking about all of it again, and … and just hold me for a little while, okay?”
So Philo held her for a while, with her face burrowed into his shoulder and his hand stroking gently, up and down her spine. His breathing settled down before hers did.
But when her breathing settled down, she looked into his eyes and started to cry. “Damnit,” she said. “Please, Philo. Please stay.”
Philo shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but it’s no good for us to be having nightmares together. We can’t sleep together on nights when it’s going to be like this.”
“Philo, it’s when I’m having nightmares that I need you the most,” she said as he crawled out of their bed.
“I know, Indra, but what happens if I get sucked into your nightmare and we get Lost in it together? One of us has to stay okay to pull the other out, remember?” Philo stood up and banged his head on a pipefitting that ran through their room. “Ow. Sorry, angel, but I’m going to turn on the lights.”
After a moment of fumbling in the dark, he found the switch behind the burnished-metal panel next to the door. A lamp, which seemed curiously too short, came on to reveal their room, which, in a former life, had been a pallet bay in the warehouse where they lived. The ceiling was twenty feet over their heads, and bits of metallic sculpture hung from it on long wires. High overhead, a skylight was open to the night.
The walls were mostly covered with seascapes Indra had made by cutting out wave shapes in stainless steel and bronze. They were covered with clear nail polish to protect their mirror finish from tarnishing and smudges. The bed was a huge wrought-iron four-poster with a canopy, sitting unevenly on a floor that was covered a couple of feet deep in hooked and woven rugs, and the floor lamps seemed too short because they were sticking up through all the rugs. She had made her own dresser out of stainless steel and bronze, too, with the seams joined and formed by a TIG welder.
Philo picked up his clothes, still strewn on the rugs from their lovemaking the previous night. “I’m sorry, Indra,” he said. “I really am.”
And then he left, and they were both alone. Damnit, it was always the way, Philo thought. People like Indra always had to face their nightmares alone. He didn’t know it, but Indra was thinking the same thing.
There was a couch in the crane bay, but gentle snoring told him that J.D. was sleeping there tonight. She had her own place, but she’d gotten Lost six times in the last two months, and Philo and Indra kept finding her again. She didn’t get Lost as much if she took her meds, but if she took her meds she couldn’t get into the kind of head-space she needed to be in to keep track of the million details of her computer programming job either. He thought morosely that J.D. wouldn’t last for long, but what could they do except show her a good time whenever she wasn’t Lost? Everybody lives exactly one lifetime and you might as well enjoy it if you can.
Axel and Alex were still up watching TV. Philo could see the flickering light leaping and dancing in the room with all the kilns, but the sound was turned all the way down. Of course. The twins didn’t speak any English; they understood people, not words. Philo wondered what they were watching, but decided not to join them and find out; they were too close to Indra’s bronze studio, where Agony was slowly taking shape.
So he kept going, eventually winding up in the room on the opposite corner of the building from Indra’s. This had been a break room once, but now it was a spare bedroom. It still had the long counter with the sink on top and the cabinets under it, but now the cabinets were stuffed with his clothes and Indra’s omnipresent toolboxes.
A broken vending machine stood in one corner, casting a pale neon light. Indra had used a hydraulic press to punch a crowbar straight through its coin counting mechanism. He folded out the hideaway bed from the couch, then popped open the vending machine’s front cover and nabbed himself a candy bar. He hunted around for a glass, came up empty, turned on the water in the sink and drank from his cupped hands. Finally he pulled some blankets out of the cabinets and unplugged the vending machine to turn off the light.
When he slept again he dreamed that he walked alone along a beach, but when he looked back there were many sets of tracks, all leading to him. They were big tracks and small, of old people and young, male and female. He smiled, until he noticed one set of tracks that had spurs behind the heel, and deep curved claws in front of the toes, and the trace of a barbed tail that followed behind it in the sand.
Indra’s dreams were not as pleasant.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.