All around me, a darkness engulfs me. As black as squid ink. Cavernous. Dark.
I must be dreaming.
Where was I before? What caused me to nod off?
One by one the espionage agents fall asleep in the auditorium. Sir Hugo Muffington continues the briefing, oblivious. 'Grimshawe excels as a marksman and makes a name for himself for his accuracy (i.e. being able to hit a playing card from around 2000 meters), extreme patience (being able to sit through whole Italian operas without yawning) and his ability to blend into his surroundings (like the geekly Wally from the 'Where's Wally?' books). A CIA recruiting officer thinks that young Grimshawe would make an ideal candidate for the Company and has him shipped for spy training after much haggling with Grimshawe's CO. This would be around,' he glances at the notes on hand, '....'63.'
I can almost hear what's happening in the waking world but it is still too distant to discern. It's like listening to a tape recording of an instruction in a foreign language with the volume turned right down. There's potentially some very important pieces of information that I'm missing out on. Must....wake....up....
' Although Grimshawe would never be known in the public eye, never become a Carlos Hathcock II, his legend in the world of espionage was about to grow incredibly. Mmmm-mmm. Like most snipers Grimshawe tends to avoid open areas, always thinking about where the enemy may be. Which is just perfect for a life in tradecraft. It turns out he has an almost natural gift for killing things as was tragically discovered by his late Unarmed Combat Instructor.'
I'd had a certain expertise in dream control. A deranged teacher from my school days had tried sleep experiments on some of us kids and he forced us to undergo many a nightmare. The Little Oneironauts, they used to call us. The trick was to take control of the sleeping state.
Sir Hugo Muffington takes a sip of water. There is audible snoring in the lecture hall now. 'Ahem. By 1968 Grimshawe is an instructor in torture techniques which, incidentally, is how he got the code name "Alchemist". Mmm-mmm. Because he could extract gold from lead you see? Showing young recruits the gentlemanly art of how to extract information from the enemy by simply removing a few fingernails and attaching electrodes to genitalia may have bored Grimshawe after a while since most people broke down and confessed sins or told secrets after a few minutes of being in the same room as him. They couldn't stand looking into his eyes you see. Like staring into the Abyss, they used to stay. Grey and empty. Hard. Like a Siberian prison camp crammed with condemned writers. Like a merciless older cousin that smashes your presents on Christmas Day and sets fire to cats. Reptilian, even, this look of his.'
Even as I gather my thoughts a restaurant builds itself around me. Poifect. Tables spring into existence, carpets rolled, candles bloom already lit. Diners melt into view to the sound of clinking glasses and dropped cutlery. It's like they have always been there. Amusing to note that my Calm Place is a venue that serves food. Now all I have to do is find an exit.
'It is in July of '73 that he gets shipped into our midst, the SIS, to teach some of our chaps a thing or two about interrogation in a friendly spy exchange we used to have. And it is also the time he was introduced to a....a....a.... another kind of society...'
I am sitting down at a table in this restaurant. Waiting for my meal to arrive. I notice after a while (who can tell how long it actually is in dream-time) that none of the other diners are talking. Couples, friends, families all making the motions of talking but no sound escaping from their mouths. It's like a feast for mimes. Or like being in a restaurant in Italo Calvino's 'Castle of Crossed Destinies'.
Just then a waiter approaches me. He is a rabbit in a little waistcoat. Cute and fuzzy. Bleagh. He places a single apple onto the table. Rippling underneath the surface of the flesh of the apple seems to be a worm, no, thousands of worms writhing inside, trying to get out. The apple, pulsating from the crawling within, resembles a human heart, rotten to the core. 'What the Hell is this?' I ask the rabbit waiter, 'I didn't order this!'
'It's a poisoned apple,' replies the bunny with a malevolent grin.
'...called Poisoned Apple.'
Do not feed after midnight,