LACED WITH TERROR
Dreamed 5/3/1999 by Chris Wayan
My friend J is going through a bizarre catharsis: her husband was murdered twenty years ago, and no one was ever convicted. But now his business partner's wife has finally ratted on him. Murder trial! Evidently the guy talked J's husband into rewriting his insurance, so the beneficiary was no longer his family but their shared business. Then he borrowed money from J's husband and used it to pay a hit man! The victim paid for his own assassin. Worse, the insurance agent was in on it--found the hit man, and even borrowed a bunch of stuff from J's husband "for a few days" knowing he'd be dead by then. So J was left a penniless widow with two kids in a looted house, pretty sure who did it but unable to prove it. Years of struggle just to survive...
The cruelest, coldest scam that's happened to anyone I know. Hard even to believe in people that evil. But they are--and they got away with it for 20 years. Did his wife know all that time?
My friends think J's chronic health problems may stem partly from this gnawing injustice, and she may finally heal now. I'm shaken by J's story, keeps haunting me all evening. My troubles seem trivial.
If America must insist on executions, it should be for cold-blooded middle-class killers like these, rather than the poor guys with no lawyers who do get it. But I still can't really support the death penalty--it's irreversibile. Even monsters like these guys--can I be sure of the truth? Suppose his angry wife framed them, or exaggerated their involvement? The hit man's turned states' evidence, the insurance agent too. Who knows who really instigated it?
I mustn't let my sympathy for my friend carry me away. I can't be sure what really happened.
I'm on a jury or test panel. Researchers are exposing us, one by one, to alien artifacts. They get us together and explain the protocol. I sit next to a tall, thirtyish blonde with wild hair. We're asked to move over a few seats, make room for a couple of VIPS. When I do, I lose my comfortable chair, end up in a backless one, but I'm squeezed up next to this girl I like, so I don't mind.
After the briefing, we're free to hang out on the terrace or get a snack, just so we're quickly available: we view the objects one by one in fixed rotation. I go on the terrace, down stairs... notice the person before me is gone, probably inside viewing now, so I hurry back up. Don't want to miss my turn! Though we were warned most viewers get confused, even upset, I'm strangely eager.
They take me to my parents' home, to the yard of the house across the street, and roll up... something. An artifact. I get uncomfortable, see it only blurrily--a cart of blonde wood, like a TV table, with something plate-sized on it. The artifact is indescribable. They quiz me, I flounder for a minute, but give up. I ask what others see.
To my astonishment, they say my blurry vision is one of the clearest so far! The objects seem to have emotional fields locked in, since each one triggers similar moods in all viewers, but what they see, or think they see, appear to be things that embody that mood for that person. Memories, often. My bare, confused description, "a flat thing on a wood TV cart" is the most detailed they got! Probably all that dream work--where you have to set aside knee-jerk feelings, or you can't integrate shadows--let me get at least a little sensory data.
Excited, the researchers decide to show me a second artifact out of turn. This one's a container whose shape and color echo the many small objects it holds. Looks like a set of brown shoelaces tied up in a bow for sale, with a paper ring at the waist. This container's not much bigger than a shoelace either; the laces inside must be tiny. Yet they tell me this artifact triggers stark and universal terror! Strange, I only feel mild unease. I show my discomfort, just to be polite, but I just can't find real fear in me, not of this.
They have a whole shipload of artifacts to study! Secret, but after I describe the Shoelaces of Horror so calmly, they really unbend. Show me a whole rack of giant test tubes--like fluorescent light tubes, full of fish eggs. Labeled Aa Ab Ac etc or A1 A2 A3, B1, B2... Various egg-sizes, but pretty similar. Yet viewers' descriptions have varied wildly, based on the memories its mood-field invokes. The tubes have gotten out of order, and the librarian in me just has to pull them out and sort them alphabetically.
There's a whole library of boxed artifacts carefully sorted. It reminds me of own database of dreams! I discover one link the researchers overlooked, from an egg-tube to an artifact filed under a common name like John Smith... Eagerly I look it up--and they don't stop me. Start to wonder... why are they letting me, if all this is secret? They're screwing up their nice blind panel...
They're treating me more like an amnesia victim than a panelist--trying to REMIND me of something by showing me all this. Hazy memories start to jell. Wonder if the charade is just for me, or if other jurors are also amnesic.
Are we fellow researchers who encountered artifact-fields that wiped our memories and left us phobic?
Or could these terrifying artifacts be... ours? Are we "jurors" really the crew of an alien starship that crashed?
NOTES NEXT MORNING
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