The nature of a dream is to be a fantasy, and the nature of the dreamer is to not know it.
That was partly why the prospect of lucid dreaming frightened Lucas. When dreaming, anything could happen; rationality and continuity were freely flung out the window, and the dreamer neither knew nor cared. But lucid dreams were something else. Anyone who ever explained a lucid dream to him did so as if they were explaining sex or a great vacation: when one realized they were dreaming, the implication was that all their dreams could then come true, for then one could take control. But it was that last bit that was mistaken, the second bit being a false hope, and the first, bad news indeed—at least in Lucas's experience.
Dreams were usually rather unpredictable, and whether a pleasant fantasy or a nightmare, the dreamer never questions what's happening. For as much pleasure or pain as their dream may contain, they would simply accept it and do what they could. But lucid dreaming was when any subjective pain or pleasure became a truly objective nightmare. Knowing that one was dreaming was not the same thing as suddenly taking control. It simply added an unbearable pain: that this is not reality, that there is an alternative to what's going on, but until the body reawakened, the dreamer remained captive to whatever random thought might spring from their seemingly autonomous unconscious.
At the very least, that was his thought process when he found himself dreaming of that forgotten little church in Detroit. Suddenly under the dim stained-glass windows, with night beyond, it was once again 2010. He was once again on his knees. And, once again, he was surrounded by bodies, three of whom were those he loved most—his mother, his father, his little sister—and only his father was still breathing, though only barely. With his father's hand in his, Lucas, only twelve years of age, stared into his sincere though fading eyes, which were at once quaking in their sockets while remaining so transfixed upon him.
"It's okay," his father whispered to him from the chapel floor. His grip weakened with every word. "It's okay, Lucas... It's okay…"
Despite his father's words, no peace came to Lucas. Just like then, his mind was in a frenzy, and he found it hard to think straight. The lopsided and tossed pews were precisely where he remembered them, and other gnarled bodies—those who had taken his family from him—were scattered all around Lucas and the rest of the Weir family. Although the scene was familiar, it was one he had spent all his time since trying to avoid, to toss away, to bury. This was why lucid dreaming frightened him so much, because his mind could produce something like this, something so terrible, which he never wanted to remember.
Rising to his feet, his father's hand slipping from his as it had done all those years ago, Lucas rapidly aged. No longer twelve, he spun around, as if to look for an exit, as if such a dream might have one. And as he could remember from moments just before then, even after so much effort trying to forget, his heart pounded in his throat and his body felt entirely absent, as if his extremities had evaporated like smoke, his mind unsheathed from flesh and bone, helplessly suspended. Growing more unnerved, he felt as if the walls were closing in, the ceiling coming down, to trap his half-swallowed heart in this crypt in the back of his mind.
"What are you running from?" she asked him. With one last whirl, Lucas turned to find a young woman standing among his family's bodies, holding his gaze. She wore a white summer dress, which hung from her shoulders by thin straps and fell loose around her knees; and she stared into him with the same deep blue eyes as his father, as his sister, as himself. "You can't keep running," she intoned. "Not forever."
And with that, Lucas rocked backward, the floor crumbling beneath his feet, the chapel around him shattering into pieces. In an instant, one great spasm electrified his entire body and he raised himself out of bed.
The chapel gone, his chest heaving, his nose hissing as he sucked in one breath after another, Lucas realized he had awoken. It was no longer 2010, and he was no longer twelve, no longer in that forgotten little church in Detroit—progressively awakening, he reminded himself that seven years stood between him and that awful moment. Holding a handful of blanket to his gut, lengthening and deepening his breaths, he looked all around his room, as if to check for an intruder, yet finding only darkness. Even so, he could still hear her words in his head, the words of that woman with eyes like his own, as if she had whispered them into his ear.
Easing himself back down to his pillow, pulling the blanket over himself, Lucas tried to push the thought away. He hadn't dreamt up something like that in a while—and that, too, worried him. He had experienced lucid dreams before, but this was no dream, not entirely. And with the scene fresh in his mind, it didn't feel much like a random episode from the back of his head—it felt more like a movie someone else had forced him to watch.
Taking another drawn-out breath, he chalked up that gnawing feeling to the unfortunate event of realizing he was dreaming, and attempted to go back to sleep. Occasionally, however, his eyelids would flicker open, and he would scan over the dark room again, just to be certain it wasn't that church in disguise. And, every now and then, his eyes darting drowsily in random directions, he thought he saw a girl watching him with dark blue eyes—his father's eyes, his sister's eyes, his own eyes—reminding him of something that he did not remember, and something, it seemed, which he could not remember, try as he might.
Caught between the need for sleep and the fear of actually doing so, Lucas remained mostly awake until the sun peaked through his shutter-blinds. Giving up the fight, he lifted himself from his bed and slung his feet over the edge. With another deep breath, coasting his hands over his face and through his hair, he let his feet sink against the cool floor, enjoying the sensation. Mourning his lack of sleep, and wondering how long he had been awake, he stood up and made for the small dresser across the cramped room. On his way, however, he stopped and did a double-take, as if to look for someone he almost expected to be there. Despite the fleeting worry, there was no one, no woman watching him through familiarly-blue eyes. Only him, he told himself, his mind still waking. Only him. To clear his head, he opened the shutter-blinds partway; looking down at the street, he could see a few cars were already out, but there were mostly pedestrians below, all on their way to work—Chicago had begun to wake up long before he had.
Grabbing a fresh change of clothes, Lucas left his room and entered the proportionally cramped hallway, on his way to the bathroom. His home was old and small, but it had certainly grown cozy in the few years he had spent there. Tucked away above an old city library, he was hidden from the rest of south Chicago, much like a small book on a high shelf. He preferred it that way, to neither be bothered nor to bother anyone else. Keeping to himself had been his prerogative for some time now, since… Well, he tried not to revisit last night's dream.
The amenities of his upper-floor home were understandably sparse, though they were always enough for Lucas. He had lived with far less. Running water, regardless of its occasional frigidity, was good enough for him. And he had the proper instruments to even make a modest meal: an old mini-fridge sat next to an admittedly rickety table, upon which sat a plug-in griddle. Next to that was a countertop with a chipped surface, with two drawers, one occupied by a few pieces of silverware, another housing two bowls and a cup. And among all this, at the center of what he considered his kitchen, was another table, a little more stable than the one by the wall, with a single chair. There, every morning, just after sunrise, having finished a brief shower, Lucas would sit and eat a small breakfast; usually something like a slice of toast and some griddle-cooked eggs, with maybe a strip of bacon if he could swing it.
Overall, he was never entirely overcome with any grand feelings about the little makeshift apartment above the library. And it wasn't as if he hadn't been offered alternative arrangements. But Lucas appreciated the seclusion, and, more than that, he appreciated the location.
As he ate, he tugged at a lock of his growing hair, wondering if it was time for a haircut; he preferred to buzz most of it off, and long hair was lousy during the summer, especially when he spent most of his days outside. Checking an old clock on the wall, finding his time was almost up, he decided to hold off on a haircut for the time being. He quickly finished his meal, then tossed his dishes into an old sink, which hung from the wall by exposed pipes.
He strolled back into the tight corridor and to a stairwell at the end; puttering down a tightly-coiled staircase, he made his way to the lower level of the library. Moving out to the main floor, colonnades of shelves boxed him in everywhere he went. He found each window around the perimeter, ensuring they were covered by their blinds, doing so if they weren't, blocking out the world—or rather, concealing the library from the world outside. For good measure, he checked the front entrance, making sure the doors were locked. He then proceeded to the center of the sprawling floor.
In a slight opening amid the bookcases, towers of old books teetered, patiently waiting for Lucas. With a stereo in hand, he stood amid the towers, each needing to be sorted, and placed the stereo on the floor. Early the day before, while sorting old cassettes, one in particular had caught his attention; one with a number of jazz tracks from the 1960s, featuring Ella Fitzgerald, along with a few other singers he didn't recognize. Ever eclectic, or at least willfully eccentric, he took the tape, intending to listen to it as he worked. Popping the cassette into the stereo, he hit play and turned the volume up. The two aged speakers crackled, and the sound of a nightclub could be heard; fingers danced across piano keys, and the gentle tap of cymbals heralded Fitzgerald's gentle voice—the start of "Summertime."
Standing several feet from the stereo, with a flick of his wrist, Lucas dialed up the volume and let the music loose into the rest of the library. Carried by a soft voice, he raised both his hands, as if to dance. The books hovered from their towers, dividing into individual volumes, waiting in midair for his direction.
The piano became more playful, the cymbals more impassioned, and Ella Fitzgerald raised her voice. With them, Lucas moved his hands and spun his body, swinging his arms in smooth motions. By each of his remote commands, the books moved in ordered tracks, each to a specific location in the library, to be nestled between already-placed books or joining a few others on nearly-barren shelves. Each volume soared, moving just as smoothly as Lucas, urged by nothing the eye could see, compelled by no visible, causal effect. Tidily placing themselves, it seemed each book simply followed his directions, as if only sentient and agreeable. They darted from their spiral around Lucas, arced in the air, swirled gently down to their shelf, then rested.
Ella Fitzgerald's lively singing turned into playful banter and her audience chuckled along; and Lucas closed his eyes, succumbing to something like a second nature. He couldn't see where each of the books was headed among the cases, but he knew where they were, from a mix of memory and something he could never quite articulate, even to himself.
The minutes passed and the show continued unabated, without a single stutter or hiccup. He was in his element, practicing a genetic genius, and that brought some sort of peace to him. But the more he danced among the floating books, and the more the world around him faded to black, the more he felt he wasn't alone. He could see someone behind his eyelids, a figure, someone he had seen before. The back of his mind gave him a tired platitude, that it was just an idle recollection of his dream from the night before, but that sort of analysis belonged only to images and mental flickers he had only seen once—maybe twice—in his mind's eye. This was different; he wasn't thinking of—feeling—some simple thought. It was familiar, deep-seated, a cluster of neurotransmitters that reliably fired off at a single stimulus, which he was only now registering. He watched her grow from flickers and blurs into something defined, until, by some stroke of natural instinct, he came to a halt, his arms outstretched, his eyes open once more and raised yet not registering a thing. The books orbited him, decelerating. And in that continued trance, Lucas stood beneath her blue eyes. Then she disappeared…
"You're up early."
The baritone voice just over his shoulder gave Lucas a start, thrusting him back from his reverie; as the audience on his tape clapped to the end of the performance, he swung around on one heel to face the one to whom he knew that voice belonged. It wasn't a loud voice, by no means, perhaps something to do with the manners and social cues that were surely impressed upon him as a child in the UK, but his voice managed to carry. The mostly southern-UK accent, with a self-conscious hint of something cockney, was neither imposing nor arrogant. Yet, for as plainspoken as he considered himself, Harold Rosenberg had a unique presence.
With a chuckle, and feeling a bit exposed, Lucas tried not to look like the kid caught with his hands in the liquor cabinet. He paused the next track on the tape with a distant flick, and said, "Thought I'd get a head start."
"Well, I appreciate that," Harold said, carrying a cup of coffee as he sidestepped Lucas, on his way to the front of the library. His expressions twisted from mild intrigue to malaise, each chiseled onto his hard, stony face. "Noticed you locked the front doors; figured that meant you didn't want me coming in that way. Morning to you, by the by."
Lucas followed a couple feet behind him, trying to keep up both in pace and conversation. Harold spoke much like a professor, but try as he might to indulge the old man's past, Lucas still followed him more like a grade-schooler than a colleague.
"How long have you been here?" Lucas asked him.
"Long enough to hear the lovely Miss Fitzgerald pick up," Harold replied, flashing a mischievous smile. "You know, for someone who doesn't want anyone to know he's a psychic, you do a lot of things psychics would do—like levitating half my library, for one."
They emerged from the shelves and proceeded to a curved front desk, which bore a heavily aged desktop computer.
"It's not like I'm pulling parlor tricks on a street corner," Lucas said in only partial defense. "Besides, it's not like you can complain. You know it beats doing all this by hand."
"It certainly does," Harold said emphatically, resisting the urge to wag his finger with each word. He turned on the computer and pulled up a spreadsheet of inventoried books. "Consider it the cost for me not blathering about your 'little secret' to the rest of the city."
"You're a saint, Harold," Lucas nearly sang, rounding his way to the other side of the desk, leaning over folded arms to watch the old man work. He knew Harold was only joking, of course, though he played along. "They'd never believe you anyway." With a grin, he waited till Harold looked up before adding, "I could just say you're going senile."
With a halfhearted grimace, Harold could only reply, "I'm sure they'd believe you, too. That all aside, I've got quite a haul for you today."
"Are we talking 'way past due'?"
"No, no, nothing like that. But there are a number of people whose due dates have snuck up all at once. Are you up for a trek?"
"I'll manage. Just give me the info and I'll get it done before dinner."
Harold opened a drawer and pulled out a writing pad and an old pen, jotting down the information from the monitor, his eyes leaping like stones on a lake from the pad to the screen. He took down names, addresses, book titles, and dates before handing the double-sided list to Lucas. Turning the paper over, Lucas tried mapping the streets out in his head, deciding on a good sequence that wouldn't leave him bouncing like a billiard ball all over Chicago.
"I know it's quite a bit to ask," Harold admitted. "I imagine you'll need—"
"Nah, you don't have to help me carry all this," Lucas sighed, taking note of Harold's ever-aging frame.
With an almost apologetic smile, Harold finished his thought. "I was going to say: I imagine you'll need to take multiple trips. Drop a few off here, then go back out, you see."
Wagging the list in the air, sizing Harold up, Lucas just said, "Right… Right."
"I could help, if you like," Harold called after Lucas, who was already retreating to the spiral staircase at the back of the library.
"Oh no, no, don't trouble yourself," was all Lucas called back, leaving Harold to chuckle to himself with a mix of delight and sympathy.
By the foot of the stairs was an old, well-worn backpack. Slinging it over his shoulders, Lucas checked his pockets, making certain he had his wallet and pocket knife, before heading out the library's back exit. Out into the alleyway and then to the sidewalk, he stood at the front of the library, reviewing the list once more, mapping out the most efficient route.
Now and again, almost involuntarily, Lucas glanced up at the towering building at his shoulder. Appearing much larger from the outside than it actually was, the library's faded-red face stuck out from its beige and white neighbors, crowned with aged-bronze sculptures of owls. At one point in time, Harold's library had been a city library; in fact, it was to be much larger than it was now, but development on the building began just before April 1987—when the singularities appeared. Shortly thereafter, Chicago fell into violent unrest. Panicked citizens looted and robbed one another, gang affiliations were redefined and broadened, and the city was devastated. In the confusion, the staff of the library had all either abandoned their posts or become casualties. After about six months of trying to regain control from the outside, the state of Illinois dispatched a unique mix of county and state law enforcement into the city, and within a few months, some semblance of safety and order had been reestablished. However, that really only meant that people could walk around most areas without being shot on sight; public transit, government-run schools, and some private businesses were mostly revived, but anything past these essentials and basics, at the time, seemed superfluous.
However, after about five years of urban redevelopment, the federal government approached one of the city's residents in particular: an old British immigrant whose papers just so happened to indicate that he had been a professor of literary criticism at Cambridge. Apparently, Harold had been teaching at the university until 1987, when a singularity consumed the North Sea, part of the Netherlands, and the eastern coast of the United Kingdom. When the English universities went under, he found the nearest albatross and crossed the pond—his words—only to eventually land, of all places, in Chicago, only a hair more than a hundred kilometers from another bloody singularity—still his words. "Damn the luck," he would sometimes add. But that seemingly unfortunate fate was spun into something Harold wouldn't trade for the world.
After a singularity swallowed much of the American Midwest, its event horizon immediately gradually irradiated the surrounding territories; like Chicago, state after state fell into discord and ruin. While the states themselves forcibly retook control of the areas, hoping to render them more hospitable, the federal government turned its focus on building up each state's citizenry after order had been restored. One initiative was to encourage the humanities and arts, such as reviving museums and libraries.
They only needed to tell Harold the position was available. Since 1994, then, a modest check arrived for one Harold Rosenberg from a particular state department every month, which went to financing the library and paying the wages of its librarian. And, of course, eventually his assistant. In 2014, at the age of sixteen, Lucas had wandered into town; Harold had decided to take out the trash on the rainiest night of the season, only to find his new employee hiding in the dumpster in the alley outback. Ever since, in exchange for room and board which Lucas insisted were adequate, and a few extra bucks a week, Lucas had worked as Harold's assistant. Standing outside the library, having finalized in his mind the order in which he would visit the addresses on his list, he set out to do one of his more vital responsibilities.
Harold Rosenberg met his job with all the seriousness one might meet a brain tumor, though with far more zest. And as the city worked through the years, rebuilding itself from the inside out, the retired professor spent his time thinking of new ways to most effectively accomplish his goal of reinvigorating the people. One of his more recent schemes was born when he realized he had a spry young man to do his dirty work: in order to make things as convenient as possible for people, eliminating as many obstacles as possible between them and reading, Harold came up with a delivery and pickup service—which Lucas was immediately put in charge of. In order for the city to regenerate, the people needed to work, and random trips to the library were simply out of the question for most folks. So, rather than the people having to travel to and from the library, they could go so far as to make requests over the telephone, and to even call to have their books picked up directly from their homes and returned to the library for them. For a modest tip, of course, something Lucas made sure of.
Setting out from the library, Lucas made his way to the closest bus stop, which he would then take farther north, into the first residential area. Along his way, he pulled an old baseball cap from his backpack, putting it on to help shield his eyes from the blaring sun in the open sky. He pulled rapidly at his T-shirt as he walked, trying to cool himself as the heat quickly seeped into him. Many of the longtime locals in the city liked to tell him about how Illinois had not been nearly so hot before '87. After the singularities, however, countless ecosystems had been thrown off, causing permanent shifts in weather across the globe. Even the coastlines were affected. A large number of massive singularities had appeared throughout the oceans, displacing the seas themselves. Each anomaly emerged instantaneously, wholly, with forces ranging from fifty to several-hundred megatons of TNT; as a result, massive tidal waves swept every coast, raising mean sea levels globally by an average of nearly fifty feet, submerging entire cities in some cases. If the initial appearance of the singularities alone had spontaneously killed hundreds of millions of people, then the subsequent ecological chaos added tens of millions more to the toll.
Though, of course, Lucas knew little about that. He was born after the biosphere had mostly settled, and he had simply grown up with the singularities, so he couldn't relate when the older folks would tell him about how the sky to the south didn't used to be so ghastly red. He couldn't really miss places like Kansas or New Mexico if he had never been, Lucas always concluded halfheartedly; and with that the affair was usually settled for him. Besides, there wasn't much point in bemoaning what the world was like thirty years ago—if his admittedly short life had taught him anything, it was that neither the past nor the future ever mattered as much as what he was doing right where he was, right when he was there.
Boarding the bus, he found he was the only one besides the driver. Having worked for Harold nearly every day for about three years, the people along Lucas's normal routes could recognize him on the spot. With that notoriety, he was never wanting for conversation; catching up with the bus driver—a man he had met a few times before, named James Something-or-other—he passed the half-hour ride to the closest residential district.
The first few stops, as they usually were, were still in the city's south side. Even before '87 these areas had been relatively rundown, Lucas had been told, though he didn't see much difference between the south and the north sides of the city. On foot, he walked from one apartment complex to another, knocking on several units each. More often than not, someone would answer the door—maybe a kid playing hooky from school, or one of their parents who were off work—and for those who weren't home, Lucas would leave a note on the door. Because of the nature of the job, and the number of places he had to be, both Lucas and Harold had found it entirely impractical to try to make appointments for pickups—Lucas would either be too late or early and with time therefore wasted. They found that simply telling anyone who called in for a pickup that he would be in the area on a particular day was enough, and the people always seemed amenable enough.
The day's haul was as it usually was, a pastiche of mostly predictable and uninteresting novels, plus a few works that caught his eye. One woman, who worked on an assembly line northwest of the downtown area, returned a yellowed paperback of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past; one man who drove a dump truck for the city, and who was less than enthused about Lucas pounding on his door while he was sleeping off a morning pickup, had a hardback of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own; and one young woman, probably a sophomore at the nearby high school, had a copy, of all things, of Hermann Hesse's Demian, back when he was still publishing under the name Emil Sinclair. Lucas had not read any of these, but he made a mental note to do so as he stuffed them into his backpack among the serial romances and the 1980s sci-fi paperbacks. Though it was often hot and not everyone was as thrilled to see him as he sometimes hoped, he still derived a good deal of pleasure from the random selections he would collect through the day. All of that aside, however, the job wasn't any less boring, and south Chicago was not always hospitable, even to its own.
Though this wasn't entirely new, Lucas found himself stopped in the middle of a street between two complexes by three men in jeans and plain T-shirts. They knew him by name, and most of them he knew by name. Their ringleader, the alpha at the front, was Eddy; Lucas recognized him by his hastily greased-back hair, as well as a constant five-o'clock shadow, which contrasted against a self-assured though subtle smile. Eddy was always accompanied by a couple other guys with forgettable names, loyal stooges, some of whom would come and go. But they all had one thing in common: they all knew Lucas had more than just books on him. With the tips he would receive, Lucas was good for anywhere between five and fifteen dollars by this point in the day, but Eddy and his boys seemed convinced that he had more.
Normally, about three guys would come to meet Lucas, including Eddy—all of them just looking for some extra cash to add to the small earnings they were bringing in. This time around, though, there were not three but five. The three regulars were in front of Lucas, while two newcomers came up from behind, boxing him in.
"Lucas, my friend," Eddy chimed with false geniality, approaching at the head of his trio. "How are you this balmy summer day?"
"I was doing just fine," Lucas admitted, grabbing instinctively at the straps of his backpack. "I guess this isn't just you stopping to say hi."
"You know the drill, man," a stooge to Eddy's left said, someone Lucas remembered being called something like Sid whenever Eddy got to yelling at his crew. "Whatch'ya got for us?"
"Come on, fellas," Lucas nearly moaned. "I'm just passing through. Can't you just…?"
But explanations were never enough for passage. Even so, as often as Lucas found himself face-to-face with locals like these, he also found himself eluding their grasp. He sometimes wondered if this was becoming as much of a sport for them as it was for him. When there were only three, and they lined themselves up neatly in front of him, Lucas would keep his hands in his pockets and his eyes forward, then lift something quietly behind them and do something to force their attention away from him. Sometimes he might throw something at one of their backs; on one particularly heated occasion, he had picked up a small chunk of asphalt and sent it through the window of a nearby car, giving the impression that someone had taken a shot at them. While they scrambled to figure out what had happened, he would run. And, of course, if he had to, he would fight. Because, whether they realized it or not, though Lucas had not grown up in Chicago, he had indeed grown up much the same way these guys had—in a world that was fickle, at times cruel, and never really forgiving.
This time, two guys were behind him, and though they certainly didn't know exactly how, these five had definitely complicated things for Lucas. As per the usual ritual, one of them came from the front three—this time Eddy, brushing his loose-fitting shirt in such a way that Lucas could see the gun in his pants, while his friends played with a knife or two in the background. Lucas only took a quick look at the two men coming up behind him, but they were playing much the same roles. With the five of them closing in quickly, his mind raced and his heart started to pound. Though he had eluded them before, and as often as he had been through things like this, these experiences never ceased to fill Lucas with anxiety. Maybe it was the fear of what might happen, the possibility that they might do more than beat his ass; maybe it was that he just really wanted to keep the money, though it never totaled much more than about forty or fifty bucks every couple weeks. In any case, he was on edge now, and Eddy and his boys could see it—they smiled as they watched their prey turn, his eyes darting from one of them to the next.
"Come on, man," Eddy said, still keeping up his falsified cordiality as he watched Lucas through predatory, half-open eyes. "This doesn't gotta be messy, you know."
The street they were on was walled on one side by a high stack of apartments, and the two ends were clogged by the steadily approaching five. The only open way was on the other side of the street, behind him: a house with an open front yard, partitioned off by a short chain-link fence. Some of the men approaching noticed and they moved to circle him in, but Lucas beat them to the punch. Breaking into a sprint, he made for the fence as three of his five attackers came at him in a pincer-formation. He grabbed the fence and vaulted over, then raced through the yard of the random house, with all five guys on his heels. Running all the way to the fence that marked the house's backyard, he grabbed onto the corner, taking advantage of the fence's anchored beam, then wrenched himself up and over. He landed in a field of overgrown weeds and grass, but he didn't let the dense terrain slow him down. His chest heaving, his breath thinning, he could hear a few of his pursuers leaping the fence behind him as the rest revved up their car back at the curb.
Bounding through the field, Lucas could see an intersection up ahead. No one was around, only a couple parked cars, but that was exactly what he was hoping for. At the opposite corner, across the street, there was another apartment complex with a short alleyway segmenting its units. In that alley, lining one of the building's red-brick walls was a fire escape. The only reason that mattered to Lucas was because there was no ladder for the first fifteen feet from the ground to the fire escape, and no one could reach it on their own—he only needed to make it that far.
As he came up to the crosswalk, Eddy and two of his boys screeched up beside him in an old Chevy, trying in vain to cut him off in the street. Getting around them, Lucas didn't stop, not even to look back at the two other pursuers shouting at him. He knew where he was going, and he knew that if he wanted to keep what little cash he had, he had to pay more attention to his destination than the idiots trailing him.
The alley was short enough that a person would only take a few seconds to run through to the other side. With that in mind, two more guys took the Chevy to head him off at the other end of the alley while the rest continued on foot. By some stroke of luck, Lucas found he was just far enough ahead of everyone to make this work. He sprinted into the mouth of the alleyway and disappeared past a wall for only a second or two; in that moment, rather than running through the alley, he leapt into the air. Trying to get as much air as possible, he hit the wall of one of the buildings and turned his head to the opposite wall, to the fire escape. His hand outstretched, still rising from his jump, he focused on the lowest handrail of the fire escape; and, with the rail firmly in his mind's grasp, and with no one around to see, Lucas pulled himself upward.
Two guys in jeans and T-shirts sprinted through the alley as their friends in the car revved down the street on the other side. Darting from the alley, they decided that Lucas must have jumped another fence. And so they continued their pursuit. And, as they drove away from the alley, Lucas let out the breath he had been holding in. Wheezing and gasping for air after so much exertion, he rolled onto his shoulder as a metal grate pressed sharply against him. As he staggered for breath, he looked down through the gaps in the grate at the fifteen foot drop between him and the ground; his gasps turned into laughs, his grimace into an uncontrollable grin, and he rolled onto his back to savor the feeling. For a moment, he had been unsure if he could make the jump; he could have not seized the rail properly, or he could have been too heavy to pull himself up against the force of his own fall—hell, he could have ripped the fire escape right off the building. But he had made it up and over the railing, and for his trouble, he felt a surge of giddiness and euphoria knowing that not only had he stuck the landing, but that Eddy and his boys didn't have a chance of finding him now.
On his back, rolling in his own delight, Lucas opened his eyes enough to see the sun caught on the edge of a roof above. And only just eclipsing the blazing point of light, there stood a dark figure. Had the figure belonged to anyone else, he would not have discerned them at all, but he wasn't seeing her with his eyes only. Her jet black hair flailed in the breeze, and she watched him through dark blue eyes. And just as suddenly as she appeared to his senses, she was gone, leaving only the sun in her place. Lifting himself from the grate, Lucas lowered himself carefully through the opening in the escape, where the ladder would have been. When he landed firmly on the ground, bending his knees under his weight as he pushed back against the ground with his mind to lighten the fall, he stood up and looked back up at the roof—finding only the sun.
Considering it just a trick of the light, playing off the memory of his dream, he let the matter go and continued his route.