Chapter 6 - I Think It’s Real.
Following Justin’s detention dream episode, the ensuing visions became much more focused. They were still penumbral and hazy, as a dream should be, but amid the visual chaos there was a growing determination on the part of whomever Justin was channeling. The offender’s thoughts were becoming more organized and specific. The blind hate of earlier visions was morphing into concerted plans. And what really scared Justin was that he was getting glimpses of the evil those plans entailed.
This transformation started off small. The thought processes of whomever it was gradually changed from general complaints of ‘it isn’t fair’, to encompass a more detailed listing of grievances: ‘they treat the brat like a fucking prince’, ‘look at all the money they’re just wasting on him’, ‘with that much money to burn, there’s no excuse for being so stingy’, and, eventually, ‘if only I could get in on this fucking gravy train somehow . . .’. At which point, Justin’s dream guide began to plan.
If anything, the baby encounters got more frequent. It was like whomever was transmitting these dreams had stepped up their stalking. Justin was getting glimpses of the baby multiple times a day. And all these intrusive visions were really taking a toll on his sanity. Justin was so distracted that he was falling behind in classes, getting into trouble with his parents for not paying attention, and even getting called out by his friends for seemingly blowing them off. It didn’t help that his sleep was still being interrupted by the other dreams - the ones showing Brian’s nightly antics. Altogether, Justin felt like he was being run ragged. He was turning into an exhausted, scatterbrained, mess, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do to stop it.
“Justin? Justin! Snap out of it already, Jus,” Daphne insisted, snapping her fingers in front of his face to get his attention.
“Sorry, Daph,” Justin replied, shaking his head to try and clear away the cobwebs of the last baby sighting so he could focus on the calc homework they were supposed to be concentrating on. “I’m just a little out of it, I guess.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Daphne complained before pushing the calc textbook aside and skewering her best friend with a penetrating glance. “What’s up with you lately, Jus? You’re becoming a total space cadet. And, if I may say, it’s not a good look on you.”
Justin sighed and slammed his own book closed. “You’re not wrong.”
“Hey, what exactly is going on with you, huh?” Daphne pressed. When Justin hesitated before answering, she continued, “I’ve never seen you this distracted before. But whatever it is, Justin, you know I just want to help, right? I can see you’re really stressing about something and I hate to see my friend this messed up. Maybe talking about it might help, you know?”
Justin chewed on his bottom lip, contemplating how much he should reveal to Daphne. She WAS his best friend, but he’d never told her - or anyone, for that matter - about his gift. However, if he told her more about these dreams he was having, the other part of his secret life was bound to come out as well, and he’d always tried to keep that part of himself hidden. He sensed that most people would probably dismiss his claims as a bunch of bunk. They’d laugh at him. And those who actually took him seriously were likely to take advantage of him in some way. So it was a huge risk to let anyone in on the secret.
But this was Daphne . . .
Justin carefully probed his friend’s emotions and sensed nothing but concern and caring from her. She was honestly worried about him. He felt nothing duplicitous or conniving about her interest. And he really could use someone to talk to about all the crazy shit that was going on in his head. If he was going to confide in anyone, his oldest and closest friend seemed like the safest bet.
“I’m still having those strange dreams about the baby,” Justin confessed. “Only . . . I don’t think they’re dreams, exactly.”
“I thought it was probably something like that.” Daphne didn’t seem surprised. “Ever since New Year’s you’ve been acting upset and distracted. So, what is it you think you’re seeing? More baby killing shit?”
“Not exactly.” Justin paused as he struggled to put his experiences into words. “You know how, that night, you suggested I was maybe channeling someone else’s thoughts in that dream? Well, I think you were right about that. I think I’m seeing and hearing someone else’s thoughts. But it’s not just dreams. I think it’s real. I mean, I know I sound crazy, but I think, somehow, I’m keyed into another person’s brain or something.”
Justin was gratified that his reading of Daphne had been so spot on; she didn’t immediately call him nuts or dismiss his assertion, and the outpouring of concern he’d been sensing didn’t change either. Maybe, just maybe, she actually believed him?
“Okay. That’s a little freaky, I guess, but it makes more sense than you - Justin Taylor - having ongoing fantasies about killing a baby,” Daphne replied. “So, why do you think you’re seeing this shit? And who is it you’re channeling anyway?”
“I wish I knew why . . .” Justin answered, giving voice to his own confusion for a moment, before adding, “but I think I may know who it is.” Daphne looked at him inquiringly. “You remember the guy I was with at the start of the school year. Brian Kinney?”
“You mean, ‘The Face Of God!’,” Daph answered, speaking the phrase with an awestruck and majestic tone that caused them both to giggle a little. “How could I forget him? You only bragged on him and all your exploits for, like, months afterwards.”
“Yeah, well, Brian is pretty brag-worthy,” Justin confirmed before getting serious again. “But I think all of this has something to do with him. I think . . . I think the baby I’m seeing in these dreams - or whatever they are - is Brian’s son, Gus. And, maybe, it’s Brian’s thoughts I’m hearing?”
“Wow! You think . . . Okay, that’s a stretch for me but . . . Wow!” Daphne fell silent for several long minutes as she apparently worked through this latest revelation. Justin waited for her to catch up as patiently as he could, playing with his pencil and trying not to stare as he plumbed into his friend’s cascade of emotions. Eventually she seemed to have worked through her confusion enough to ask a couple more questions. “So, two thoughts . . . First, it makes sense that it’s Brian that you’re channeling since, from everything you told me, you obviously made some kind of connection to him that night. I mean, if you’re going to be reading someone’s thoughts like that, of course it’s going to be someone you had a personal affinity for, right? Is that what you’re thinking too?”
“Yeah, something like that. Like you said, I really did feel like we made some connection that night. Although, it was weird . . .” Justin again hesitated about how much he should tell his friend until, impulsively, he decided to go ahead and edge into the forbidden topic. “So, you know how, with most people, you just sorta get a feeling for them right from the start? You sort of read them? Well, I’m usually pretty good at that. I can almost always tell what someone’s feeling - how they feel about me, at least - right from the start. Only, it was different with Brian. I couldn’t sense anything from him. Nothing. It was like he was closed off or something. And yet . . . I don’t know. How can it be that I’ve never felt more connected to anyone else I’ve ever met and at the same time feel like he was trying to block me out? It makes no sense. Then again, none of this has made sense from the start.”
“Actually, that makes perfect sense. It kinda explains how he acted to you later, even. See, if you guys really did have some kind of instant bond, but that much of a connection scared Brian, I can see him trying to distance himself from you. Trying to fight the link between the two of you. So, why is that block failing now? What’s happening right now to bring all this to a head?”
Justin answered with a shrug, because he’d been wondering the same thing.
“And, going back to the second point I was trying to make,” Daphne continued, “I can understand you and Brian having this kind of connection, but I just can’t reconcile the man you told me about with some sicko who would fantasize about killing his own son. I mean, everything you said about Brian made me think he was this kind, caring, sensitive guy who took his time and made sure your first time was amazing. A guy like that isn’t going to turn around, a few months later, and start imagining ways to kill his own son. Didn’t you tell me he took you to the hospital when the kid was born and you were impressed with how proud and gentle he was with the baby?” Justin nodded. “Well, how does he go from that happy, proud papa, to a baby killer, in less than six months then? It doesn't track.”
“I know, right? It makes no sense at all. Especially since, when he was holding Gus for the first time, it was practically the only time I felt any overt emotion from Brian. He ADORED that little boy from the moment he laid eyes on him. It was like it was radiating off him. It was impossible to miss how much he loved his son.”
“So, then, why do you think these dreams about harming Gus are coming from Brian?” Daphne asked.
Justin launched into an explanation of the vision he’d had while in detention the week before, relating how, at one point, he’d clearly been seeing the restaurant through Brian’s eyes.
“Wait. Go back,” Daphne interrupted Justin in the middle of the story. “You said you were looking at the baby from one direction and then, after Brian arrived, your perspective changed so you were looking at the baby through Brian’s eyes, but then it changed back? That makes it seem like there’s more than one person involved. Or, at least, more than one point of view. Could you be channeling more than one person and it’s the other guy who’s got all the negative thoughts?”
“Shit!” Justin exclaimed, sitting up straighter in his chair, alarmed at this new possibility. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“It makes sense,” Daphne expounded in her usual, logical fashion. “It would be completely out of character for the Brian you think you know to hate his own child, so it has to be someone else. Plus, you said you could barely read Brian at all, so why would you be hearing his thoughts all the time now? Maybe, like before, you’re only connecting to Brian when he’s looking at his son, but the rest of these images are coming from someone else. Someone who has it in for both Brian and the baby?” Daphne paused, looking at Justin with even more concern than before as they both came to the same conclusion. “But what really worries me is, if this stuff you’re seeing is real - not just dreams - then there’s someone out there who’s seriously considering hurting the son of your former lover . . .”
Justin and Daphne spent the rest of the week trying to figure out what to do next. Daphne was adamant that they needed to tell somebody about the threat to Gus’ safety. Justin, on the other hand, was reluctant to go to Brian with only his unsubstantiated ‘visions’. He could imagine Brian laughing him out of the room if he tried to say anything about what he was seeing. It didn’t help that they still hadn’t figured out who the second person in these visions was.
In the meantime, Justin continued to see things from the POV of the bad guy. He’d get these microbursts of images all throughout the day. Daphne had made him promise not to keep anything more back, so every time he saw anything, Justin quickly texted his friend with whatever details he could remember. The hope was that, after they compiled more data, some kind of pattern would emerge from all the various dream images Justin was getting. Perhaps this would help them figure out who was responsible and what he was planning. Until then, though, Justin refused to tell anyone else about what was happening with him.
‘Another one. In the park again. The stroller was covered with a plastic cover to keep off the snow. The guy was pretty far away from the baby this time - looking across a field maybe?’ Justin texted Daph with the latest mental image he’d received while in the middle of his Physics midterm exam.
‘Grocery store. Produce section.’ This one came while Justin was on the bus on his way home from school.
The next morning, while Justin was eating breakfast: ‘Again in that restaurant I saw when I was in detention. Didn’t see Brian this time. Just the baby and some of Brian’s friends.’
And that afternoon while Justin was in art class: ‘I think this time it was a museum or maybe an art gallery? Good art on the walls but none I recognized. For half a second I was confused about where I was and thought the watercolor I was working on for Ms. Hardin’s class had turned into a J.M.W. Turner piece. LOLz!’
Daphne immediately texted back from her Psychology class. ‘This kid sure gets around. Where are his moms all the time though? You never see them in these visions? What’s up with that?’
‘IKR? I’m assuming they’re around, but all I ever see clearly is the baby and it’s immediate surroundings. The other people and most of the environs are always blurred out.’
It wasn’t till late on Thursday night that Justin got worried enough that he contemplated breaking his silence. This time, the vision invaded his nightly YouTube Cartoon-fest right in the middle of an episode of ‘Bravest Warriors’. And the vision he got was even odder than usual - instead of a glimpse of the baby, this time all he saw was a darkened room, a beat up kitchen table covered with piles of paperwork and bills, and a highball tumbler sitting next to a bottle of cranberry juice and a box of cheap white wine. In his head, though, he could hear the unhappy thoughts of the perpetrator, and they were NOT pretty.
‘I can’t do this anymore. What’s the fucking point,’ Justin’s connection mused as the scene in his head showed hands throwing a pile of bills across the table. ‘I’m fucking drowning here while HE wastes more money in one night than I earn in a week. And what’s worse, that brat of his gets treated like a damned prince while he ignores the rest of us. Maybe if the brat wasn’t around, he’d be a little looser with his cash . . .’ The hands lifted the box of wine and pushed in the spout to dispense another glass full of wine before adding a splash of juice to mute the cheap flavor. ‘Fuck this!’ The hands shoved at the piles of paper on the table, knocking all of it to the floor. ‘He’s got MORE than he deserves. If he wasn’t so fucking selfish, he’d share some of the bounty. And I’m tired of waiting; I’m gonna MAKE him share whether he wants to or not. I’m done being pushed aside and treated as an afterthought. It’s time to make him pay attention! Fuck him and his damned brat!’
The malevolence that accompanied that final thought was enough to startle Justin out of his vision. He gasped for breath, trying to reorient himself to the present moment. Whomever he was channeling was obviously getting more angry and more dangerous. If he could only see who was sending these thoughts or divine what he planned . . .
Justin immediately texted Daphne with the details of his most recent vision. She was just as concerned as he was by the tenor of this latest apparition. It seemed like Justin’s vision-connection was becoming more and more unhinged. Daphne was insistent that Justin needed to finally step up and say something, regardless of whether he was believed or not. They just couldn’t take the chance that these threats were serious.
‘Fine. I’ll go see Brian tomorrow,’ Justin texted back. ‘You’re right about needing to warn him, but I have no idea how I’ll convince him I’m not a nutjob.’
‘It doesn’t matter. As long as you warn him, your conscience will be clear. After that, it’ll be up to him to take whatever steps he sees fit to protect his son,’ Daphne surmised with full force and appropriate moral rectitude.
‘Yeah . . .’ Justin typed back, still unsure how, exactly, this was going to play out.
Justin never got a chance to give Brian that warning though.
He was blasted out of a deep sleep just after 7:30 am by the repetitive blaring of an Amber Alert text coming through on his phone. Normally he didn't pay those things much mind. What was the likelihood a teenager in the suburbs would have any connection to some kidnapping in the city? This time, however, some nagging worry made him pick up the phone and look at the information on the screen.
*PITTSBURGH, PA AMBER ALERT: Missing 5 mo old boy. Brown hair/eyes. Blue/black Ford Fiesta. Last seen in Lawrenceville area.*
“Shit!” Justin muttered under his breath as he opened a browser and searched for more information.
As expected, the local news station was reporting that a five month old boy had been abducted from a park that morning. The child’s mother had been out for a morning run near the Ft. Pitt Playground with her son in a jogging stroller. When the mother stopped at a drinking fountain, someone had come up from behind a clump of bushes, assaulted the mother, removed the child from the stroller, and run off with the baby. The mother had only got a brief glimpse of the car the abductor drove. Police were actively looking for the perpetrator and were asking the public to come forward with any information they might have about the incident.
And, as Justin had dreaded, the name of the infant who had been abducted was given as Gus Peterson-Marcus.
‘I’m too late!’ Justin texted to Daphne.
‘Huh?’ came the reply.
‘Did you see the Amber Alert this morning?’
A couple minutes ticked by before Daphne responded. ‘Shit! Is it Gus?’
Justin shared that sentiment.
Having had enough of the slow speed of texting though, he tapped at the icon on his phone to call Daphne. She picked up immediately, and without any greeting, immediately demanded, “what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Is there anything I CAN do? Isn’t it too late?”
“You can tell Brian what you saw.”
“What good will that do? Whoever it is has already taken Gus.”
“Yeah, but maybe you can help the police catch the guy,” Daphne insisted, hurrying on before Justin even had time to fully voice the protest she obviously knew was coming. “I know we were never able to figure out who the guy was, but maybe there’s a clue somewhere in what you saw that’ll help. Something you didn’t pick up on but that might be important to someone else. You never know what might help,” she reasoned.
“Assuming, that is, that Brian will even listen to my crazy story . . .”
“He’ll listen,” Daphne assured her worried friend. “His kid is missing. He’ll do anything he can that might help find Gus. I know I would in that situation.”
“You’re right . . .” Justin admitted with a sigh. “I just wish I’d had the balls to speak up earlier. Before it was too late. I feel so fucking guilty now.”
“It’s not too late. It can’t be.”
“Okay. I’ll go over there first thing this morning and tell him . . . I don’t know what . . .” Justin vowed.
“Good. And I’ll make sure to keep extra good notes in Ms. Keaton’s class so you won’t feel bad about skipping,” Daph promised. “Keep me updated.”
“Will do. Thanks, Daph.”
Justin terminated the call and then reluctantly rolled out of bed. He didn’t relish the task ahead of him. He had no idea what he was going to say to Brian - how to explain the nebulous visions he’d seen - let alone how it would help. He was afraid Brian was either going to think he was a total crackpot or, if he did believe Justin’s wild story, he’d be pissed off that Justin hadn’t told him sooner. Either way, it would be an uncomfortable conversation. But Daphne was right; he had to come forward now or he’d hate himself for the rest of his life.
So Justin got dressed, grabbed a toaster waffle as he ran past his mother, and hopped aboard the bus with a determined purposefulness. And, when the rest of the kids got off at the regular stop just down the block from the school, Justin stayed in his seat, riding all the way downtown. He still hadn’t worked out what he was going to say by the time he hopped off the bus at the last stop on Liberty Avenue, but since it was only a few blocks walk to Brian’s loft, he figured he’d just have to wing it and hope for the best.
Justin slipped into the building on the corner of Fuller and Tremont just as someone else was leaving and ran up the stairs. He approached the large metallic loft door on the top floor with trepidation. He knew he had to do this thing and if he didn’t just get it over with he’d chicken out. So, with his heart beating wildly, he rapped against the metal with his knuckles and waited for a response.
“What?!?” Brian screamed before he even knew who it was standing at his door.
“Hey . . .” Justin replied, adding in a totally lame wave.
Brian looked at him with surprise morphing into disdain. “Listen, Jared . . .”
“It’s Justin,” he corrected.
“Justin. Whatever. I thought I had already made it clear that I don’t do repeats,” Brian snarled, moving as if to slide the door closed. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m a little busy this morning . . .”
“I know about Gus. That’s why I’m here. I want to help.”
Brian openly scoffed. “Yeah. Of course you do. And if I ever need a clingy high school stalker’s help, I’ll call you.”
Once again, Brian began to close the door, but Justin managed to grab hold of the edge of the slab of metal and stop the door’s slide.
“I think I know who took him.”
That got Brian’s immediate attention.