The story so far:
He reaches for Maggie’s shoulders, his own arms shaking. “It was not the radio. Damn it, Maggie, it wasn’t the radio!”
“Okay, Alex, okay, it wasn’t the radio. But if it was the sound machine, don’t you think the counting could have just been part of it? I mean, sometimes in hypnosis—“
“Hypnosis? Jesus, Mags, what are you trying to do to me?” Alex cries, his grasp tightening. Maggie winces, trying to wrench herself from him. “Anyway,” Alex says, softening, “It wasn’t like that. It was strange…sinister…”
Alex’s words trail off and Maggie watches his eyes roam unseeing around the small room.
“I think we ought to get ready for work,” Maggie gently offers her hand to him, “Let’s have some coffee and forget about this for now.” She leads him into the narrow kitchen, still frightened, but calmer than he.
“Happy birthday, Leonard!” The chorus echoes around the office along with that of ‘Who made this chili?”
Alex had given in to Maggie’s urges of normality, but hides in his cubicle reading the owner’s registration form and warranty for the Bentley sound machine:
The Bentley Corporation would like to thank you for buying the DreamCatcher. Our money-back guarantee on this product ensures your satisfaction one way or another, but we know you will love it.
The sound of his name and the feel of a hand on his shoulder jolts Alex from his reverie, and he turns to find his boss smiling broadly.
“But I need everyone to get back to work now, okay? You through with that cake, Len?”
“Actually, sir,” says Alex, “I don’t think I can stay, um, I’m really not feeling great. So, uh, yeah, I’m just gonna go ahead and go, so, um, happy birthday Leonard. Sorry, sir.” He saves and closes his open documents, shoves the Bentley papers into his briefcase and edges past his now frowning supervisor.
“I’m really worried about him, Karen.” says Maggie, “He said it was ‘sinister.’”
“I never figured him for using such a descriptive word. You know he never remembers me, right?”
“I know. Is Tom the same way?”
“No! Well… yes. But he tries. Listen, don’t worry about Alex, he’ll realize it’s nothing soon enough.”
“Karen… he grabbed me.”
“Oh my God, Maggie.”
Alex reaches the house and heads straight for the bedroom. He stoops to turn on the sound machine, but not before he digs out an aging tape recorder from the single, cramped closet. “Okay,” he says to the air, “How should I do this?” He finds paper and a pen and begins making columns and rows. “Twelve settings. What if each one is different? What if it only happens on the forest setting? What if it doesn’t happen at all?” The question sits on the dresser, facing him. “What if it didn’t happen at all.”
In a huge factory in the deadness of Oklahoma is a low console bearing the label DreamCatcher. Fluorescent light reflects off the many hundreds of tiny red bulbs waiting to be lighted when the Earth completes another revolution. Some are on already: the night workers, the unemployed mothers, those needing the aid of white noise in daylight hours. One more blinks on, and a small man in a large office prepares for his task.