Oliver is walking through a dream.
He is always within a dream nowadays, a dream that should be a nightmare (yet isn’t), and the only thing that differentiates sleep from wakefulness is whether Oliver is drifting or walking.
Oliver is walking through a dream, so he is awake.
He supposes he could take comfort in the idea that at least the fleshy veins of his subconscious don’t seem to rule over the landscape before him like they do after dark, within his own mind. It isn’t comforting, though, because he knows the veins are there – all of them –, and a part of his psyche lowly mutters that perhaps it’s only a matter of time before he can see their full scope with his eyes open.
Shaking off that thought, which scares him more with the shocking thrill of excitement it sends through his core than it does with the image of the grotesque tendrils themselves, Oliver gently pushes open the door to the building which has haunted him for several nights past. The Magnus Institute.
A middle-aged woman greets him with a smile at the receptionist’s desk and motions for him to take a seat in the lobby, effortlessly keeping her attention both on Oliver and on whoever she’s speaking to on the Institute’s landline. There are threads of silver crisscrossed through her silky brown hair. A plaque sitting atop her desk reads “Rosie.”
When she finishes her phone call and turns her full attention towards him, Oliver cannot shake the feeling that more than one set of eyes has focused in on him.
“I’m here to make a statement,” he says, trying to keep his voice level and impassive.
“Oh, with the Archivist? She’s not available right now, I’m afraid, but I can give you a pen and paper to write down your account.”
Oliver shudders at the idea. “I’m not much of a writer. My…words don’t flow very freely.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Rosie responds in a reassuring tone. “Stories that want to be told weave themselves well under this roof.”
It only takes Oliver half an hour to transcribe his story from memory to the blank sheet of notebook paper Rosie hands him, and he’s made up his mind to ask Rosie to pass along his statement instead of sticking around when the sound of two voices engaged in what sounds like playful bantering echo to him from the general direction of the archives. They get closer and closer, until he can see the people they stem from.
One is a resolute-looking elderly woman, steel-gray hair pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck as she quirks a faintly amused eyebrow at her companion. Despite the relative relaxedness of her face, Oliver recognizes Gertrude Robinson immediately. As she passes into the lobby, she doesn’t seem to even acknowledge Rosie; instead, she is focused on the person walking beside her: a young man with inky black hair and multiple piercings who seems to be alternating between telling jokes and giving elucidations.
The first thing that makes Oliver consider approaching Gertrude’s younger colleague is how intently she seems to be listening to his words. She trusts this man, or at least grants his words enough merit to take them into consideration. If he can be convinced to deliver Oliver’s statement to Gertrude, she might be inclined to take the warnings written therein seriously.
The second thing that makes him consider approaching the man, who is dressed in head-to-toe gothic attire, is the muffled, sarcasm-tinged hope that seems to flow from his body. It is refreshing without being naïve, and Oliver could stand to talk to a hopeful soul again. To simply be around a hopeful soul again.
The third thing is less something that makes Oliver consider approaching and more something that Oliver takes as a sign that he can’t just turn and walk away. As Gertrude heads back down the hallway to the archive and Oliver’s attention shifts fully to her erstwhile conversation partner, his blood runs cold at the sight of a web of dark, pulsing veins curling up the side of the man’s neck, and seemingly into his brain.