Chapter One: The First Encounter
or, the beginning of the end of the world as we all know it
When I arrive at the prison, I'm not allowed to see the Dreamer immediately. Instead they search me, remove each and every item from my pockets, patting me down as thoroughly as if they’re expecting an assassination attempt.
But, then again, that isn't exactly far-fetched. There are an awful lot of people out there who would gladly put a bullet in his head. I'm not one of those people, so for me this is just a pain in the ass. I have to hand over my cell phone, wallet, pocket-sized video recorder -- essentially, everything I carry except for the clothes on my back. I'm allowed to keep a small pad and a pen with me, nostalgically old-school journalism tools, though they warn me that I'm not allowed to record anything without the Dreamer's permission. He's very strict about that, apparently. I wonder if it’s customary for prisoners to call the shots about interviews.
Once they’re convinced I’m not carrying anything deadly, they have a whole lot of questions that I don't know how to answer. Asking me if I know the Dreamer personally -- I don't, I've never met him -- and all sorts of things. Eventually, after skirting around the question numerous times and never vocalizing it, they finally work up the nerve to ask what they really want to know.
"Why did the Dreamer request you?" the man asks, hand hovering over the document he's filling out. I can only shrug.
"No idea. I haven't had the chance to ask yet, sorry."
He is unwilling to accept my response, and stares at me as if he can force out a better answer with his gaze alone. I shift uncomfortably. I can feel him sizing me up, and I know what he sees isn’t much: some scrawny kid right out of college, wannabe-journalist without a story to his name, mop of curly hair that badly needs a cut, wearing a wrinkled dress shirt and a too-long tie because he didn’t know what would be appropriate.
"But why you, of all people?" The judgement is obvious in his tone. He finally looks away, and instead pulls out a file to inspect. I can make out my name written on the top, but the rest of the text is too small. I'm tempted to peer over and sneak a look, but they'd probably have me arrested for it. "You're not the big-shot journalist we wanted. You’re not well-known… you’re not known at all. Frankly, kid, you’re nobody. And yet the Dreamer asks for you by name?"
I nod my agreement, unable to do much else. I’m well aware of my insignificance, so the reminder doesn’t particularly bother me.
He asks me a few more questions, mostly probing whether or not I believe the Dreamer is the messiah, as some think, or the antichrist, as others think, or any of the other various rumors. My answers are no, no, and no. Truthfully, I don't know what I believe, but I don't want them to label me as some sort of fanatic.
Finally they relent and decide that, yes, I’m able to speak with him now. They once again tell me everything that I already know -- that I'm supposed to gather and record an unbiased account of his life, figure out his past, his motives, anything I can.
I agree enthusiastically. This is the story I’ve been waiting for. It’s not the fame I care about, though I’m sure this will accrue a lot of attention; the idea of my name on the lips of millions is more daunting than encouraging. But the story – the story is what drives me.
The guards escort me through the prison. First are the group cells, the unimportant, the not-particularly-dangerous prisoners. Still, they frighten me – and they reek of piss and sweat. I hear catcalls and jeers from the cells lining the walls. Hands reach for me, grabbing at air; I imagine them clutching at my ankles and shiver, pressing closer to the guards’ heels. I accidentally step on the back of one’s shoe, and he pauses to shoot me a withering look.