Andrew’s legs were strong and the running effortless, his breathing deep, even though his chest felt tight. Athletic ease fought with tense anxiety as he drove forward through the long grass. Stopping suddenly, as the road fell sharply to nothing more than jagged rocks below, he searched for another escape route.
‘Halt. Stay where you are.’
The voice was distant but closing in. Andrew turned and looked back at the trampled grass and the stumbling figure approaching, then, tightening the bag over his shoulder, he leaned forward and launched back along towards the man. Crouched and quick, he balled his hands and tensed his shoulders, anticipating contact; desiring it. Adrenaline coursed through him, an exhilarating rush which heightened as he closed on his pursuer, who now stood half-turned and confused. ‘He’s scared.’ Thought Andrew. ‘I can make this quick.’
The chase may have made sense to the red-faced cop when he sat behind the wheel of his patrol car, but meeting the miscreant head-on was not in the plan. Too proud to run, he stood side on, hopeful of tackling his man, but sure not to invite a direct collision. Andrew was too quick, too strong, his commitment absolute. He met shoulder with shoulder, shouting out as he leapt into the impact. The policeman flew backwards, his own pain expressed only briefly as the air was forced from his body. Andrew did not even miss his stride, moving onwards and slowing only slightly as he checked that his bag was still secure. He smiled broadly at the feeling of the rough canvas bag, bulging with money, pushing against his back. His whole body pulsed with life and he screamed joyfully as he quickened his pace once more.
He soon reached the cop’s car, the open door an indicator of careless haste, and stopped to catch his breath. Stretching his neck, he took in his surroundings, revelling in the silent emptiness. He threw the bag onto the passenger seat and climbed behind the wheel, smiling at the dangling keys.
‘This is an official vehicle so don’t forget your seat belt.’ Again he smiled as he clicked the belt into place and turned the key in the ignition. Foot down, the engine roared into life and the tyres spat dirt and gravel into its wake. ‘Let’s go Andy boy.’
As the car sped along the dirt road and out onto the motorway, Andrew’s senses were heightened, acute; his emotions raw and invigorated. This was a high he wished would never end. Shifting up through the gears, he pushed the car ever faster, desperate to keep up with his mind. Watching the world dissolve into a blur of colour, he screamed in ecstasy; an ear-piercing shriek that seemed almost inhuman. Sound and vision merged, peaking in an unholy maelstrom. Then there was only blackness.
Maria’s body was still pulsing and sweating as she opened her eyes. Her head was spinning and it was some moments before she could make sense of the hotel room. Reaching to her side, she arched her back in an exaggerated stretch as she grabbed her water and drank greedily. Gradually, her breathing slowed, along with her heart.
‘Jesus, what a rush! What a place!’
The place in question was the Hôtel de Rêves, a place of faded grandeur and strange delights. A source of false mythology, its reality was yet stranger than fiction. The clientele both select and random. Some came to try its strange curiosity and left, quiet and troubled, never to return. Some were immersed in the experience and went home refreshed and excited. Others were gripped by this organic, yet unnatural opiate, returning as hollow-eyed addicts, over and over again.
For Maria it was new and unexpected. An Ouija board-type experimentation, but one that connected with God knows who? That it had worked was surprise enough, but to have felt so much was astonishing. Reaching for the bedside table once more she picked up the glossy black card, reading the bold red letters once again.
WELCOME TO THE HÔTEL DE RÊVES.
FORGET WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD OR READ
THIS IS AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS ALL YOUR OWN.
RELAX AND ALLOW YOURSELF TO SLEEP, THE REST WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF.
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO CONTACT OTHER GUESTS AND ATTEMPTING TO DO SO WILL RESULT IN AN IMMEDIATE, AND PERMANENT, BAN.
ENJOY THIS UNIQUE JOURNEY.
It was indeed unique and startlingly so. Maria had not looked into the stranger’s dream; she had become the dreamer, feeling his every movement and emotion. She didn’t know how it worked, or why, but it certainly worked. Shaking her head, she stepped out of bed and smoothed back her long dark hair as she stretched her neck once more.
‘Who’d have thought that I’d be a guy for a night?’
She laughed to herself and posed in the mirror, trying to flex her muscles. As she looked on, she focused on her brown eyes, the object of so much flattery, and concentrated; staring as if she might see him return her gaze.
‘It was a dream, get over it.’ Her thoughts dragged her away and to the shower, a refreshing blast of water to restore reality. Grabbing at her clothes, she dressed with some urgency, checking her watch twice without really registering the time. Then, grabbing her purse, she stepped to the door and knocked. After a short while the door to her room opened and a serious looking blonde lady walked in.
‘I trust you had a good stay, Miss Roman?’
‘Er...Yes, yes thank you. It was, well… it was different.’
‘Yes Miss Roman. Now can you please put this on?’
The blonde lady handed Maria a blindfold, which surprised her even though the process had been explained before.
‘Oh right. A blindfold, of course.’ She tried to laugh but felt nervous.
‘It’s alright Miss Roman; it’s just a safety measure for new guests. It protects you as much as anyone. I will lead you to your car.’
Maria tied the blindfold and allowed the woman to check it, then blind and faintly embarrassed, she was guided along the corridors and out to the car park. Blinking as she yawned, her sight was restored and the lady turned towards the darkened glass door.
Once in her car she turned on the radio and pulled out onto the road, unconsciously increasing the volume as a Guns and Roses song blasted through the speakers. She felt herself smile broadly and her foot pushed down until all around her was a blur.
She was aware of herself more than normal, aware of the small details. Her leg movements felt delicate as she pushed down on the pedals, so soft compared to her most recent driving experience. Her neck muscles were much more relaxed, the act of driving so easy and automatic. It was as though the previous night was not a dream but an ultra-real experience. Bringing her mind fully into the present, she saw the needle of the speedometer as it jerked to the right and eased off the gas. She had to be sure this wouldn’t end with a blank darkness.