He darted across the lawn, fleeing along the lake’s shore. Treetops lashed the sky and leaves tumbled past him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the towers of his home stark against the thunderheads. Something was after him. He couldn’t see it, but knew it wanted to destroy him.
He felt the wind blowing off the lake the way it did when he was a child. The piercing cold left him shivering and weak. He heard his father’s voice,
bellowing from within their stone mansion.
Then he was inside, moving through the great hall. Gothic arches admitted slashes of light. People and things seemed to pop into existence out of the shadows. “Hello, Master Will.” A servant fawned. “Good show on winning the Championship!” Win more! Win more!
He ran along the lakefront, his soul tossed like the treetops. Something was trying to get him—he dodged this way and that, searching for a way out. Tears stung his eyes and his legs ached.
Will sat up in bed, heart pounding, sweat running down his cheeks. He looked around frantically, before realizing it had been one of his . . .
Had anyone seen him like that? His eyes searched the room until he was satisfied that he was alone.
He didn’t try to go back to sleep. Will got up and put on his jogging clothes. He would run in the gym until he was so exhausted that the nightmare couldn’t return. As he left his room, he glanced at the book by his bed. He seldom read psychology, considering it self-indulgent. But someone had written a book supported by decent research, a book that gave him answers.
People called him a genius. The label didn’t matter to him, but he knew it was true. Only a genius could do what he had done. That book explained the rest of it: The flashes of insight, the vision of what life could be, and the drive to create it formed the sunny side of his brilliance. The nightmares and horrors were its other side, the negative perks that came with his gifts.
Will snorted bitterly. His dark side was as big as the light. He made his way to the gym on the lower level of his home. The house was shuttered for the night. Bulletproof metal shades covered every window. He placed his palm on the sensor by the elevator. The door opened.
“Is that you, Mr. Duane?” A voice came from a speaker. An operative. “Yes. The sun will rise again.” He carefully enunciated that night’s passwords for the voice recognition system.
He knew he had been monitored from the moment he stepped outside his bedroom. “No surveillance while I’m running,” he ordered.
Lights went on when he entered the gym, rippling across the equipment-filled expanse like the surf rolling across a rocky beach. The house’s lower level was dug into the hillside to allow it a larger footprint than the fifteen thousand square foot residence above. Every conceivable training device found its place on the floor. An indoor track circled the workout area. Handball courts were beyond the far wall; outside, past steel-clad windows, the pool awaited.
Will was a runner. He didn’t warm up, simply launched himself onto the track. He’d run until the sound of rough breathing, the smell of his father’s cigars, his gravely voice, and the revulsion at what happened disappeared. He’d run until his chest ached and he couldn’t think. If he was lucky, the joy that came from running would set him free. His legs moved easily as he began. His breathing expanded and became rhythmic. He’d hit a groove in a few minutes. Until then, his mind roved.
He’d had the nightmares as long as he could remember. He thought of them as spells. He had no idea what anyone else would call them. Once past childhood, he’d never told anyone about them. They were deeper than dreams; sometimes he’d come out of one to find that the world seemed dangerous and unreal. He had a hard time shaking the feeling.
They all began the same way. The world became silent and empty, a colorless, foreign landscape. He could feel the malice behind everything. And then he was running along the North Shore of Lake Michigan where he had been raised. His father bought a mansion built by one of the old Robber Barons the moment he could afford it. He manufactured a family tree to go with his new wealth. Will scowled. They were not American royalty. They didn’t have a fancy pedigree. Will hated pre-tense. He’d seen enough.
He could recall the whiskey-roughened voices in the library when his father and his friends played poker. Cigar smoke penetrated the walls. They joked about fancy women and what they’d do with them later. His mother was in the house, awake—how could his father talk about that with her there? They spoke of Micks and WOPs and kikes. These were good Christians who praised Jesus on Christmas Day and screwed anyone they could the rest of the time. They got country clubs, while their workers got union busters and substandard wages.
During the day, he was the perfect son. But in his sleep, he found himself running along the lake. As a child, the nightmare came almost every night. A river of darkness sucked him down. The evil in that darkness was so absolute that no terror could express it. He fought the murk and filth as something toyed with him; a malignant something hid behind the opacity of daytime life. If he made a mistake, it would capture him. He would have to crawl for it forever, doing its will.
He’d awaken, screaming and sobbing. His mother would come. “Will, Will—what’s the matter, darling?” He’d rave about something terrible that was going to get him. She’d sit up stiffly and pull the bell cord for his nanny. “Will, I don’t know where you get these stories. I simply don’t understand you.” She’d finger an amulet she had, a jade piece, as she left the room. Her quick steps and averted eyes told him that his mother was afraid of him.
What happened next depended on his nanny. They changed all the time. A few held him and petted him until he went back to sleep. Most caned him for his wild imagination and refusal to shut up. That was at his father’s orders: “Make a man of him.”
The beatings taught him to bury his screams in his pillows and never tell a soul about the night visions. With good reason—they took him to realms that separated him from everything good.
They say I’m the Prince of Darkness, Will thought, pausing to tie his shoelace. I am. You can’t be a good person and know what I know. He had seen things about human nature that revolted him in his spells, but he knew what he saw was true. His reality wasn’t for ordinary people; it was his special gift. Will’s mouth tightened.
All his life, his father had told him what he thought of him: “You’ll never be the man I am.” He bellowed the words when he was drunk, and said them silently when he was sober. No matter what Will won, or what team he captained, or how good his grades were, they were never good enough. His nightmares ended the same way: A vortex dragged him toward the malevolence at the core. The stalker. He clawed against the whirlpool. His father appeared
above him, grabbing his arms and hauling him to safety. Will looked into his father’s eyes with sobbing gratitude, and saw the stalker’s hatred blasting back.
His father was the demon, as evil as hell.
The old man bent to Will’s ear, drawing in a breath to say something
. . .
And the dream ended. Wherever he was sleeping—at school as a youngster, or later, in some woman’s bed or his own—he woke up, sweating and gasping. If he wasn’t alone, he’d hide his panic, jumping out of bed and throwing on his clothes.
“Is there anything wrong?” the woman he was with would say, confused.
“No, no. No problem.” He’d leave no matter what time it was; he couldn’t let any of them see his terror. They’d be afraid of him if they knew what he saw. They’d leave him.
Of course, he would never go back to any of them anyway—they’d seen him like that. He stopped bringing women home, and never took them anyplace he couldn’t make a fast exit.
Will took off, flying along the track. Unaware of the pounding of his feet on the gym floor, the sweat flying from him, or how long he’d run.
He would forget. He would forget. He couldn’t forget.
The funny part was, even if he wanted to tell someone how much he suffered, who would care? His father had been a millionaire, and he was the richest man in the world. No one cared about the rich kid— Will knew that better than anything.
He knew what his father was going to say when the dream stopped: “It will get you in the end, no matter how hard you run.”
Will ran faster. His torso was erect and his mind clear. His breath moved in and out without effort. His legs fired away like steel shafts. He could go forever. He was so strong, he would go on forever. He tore around the track.
When he ran, nothing but his power existed. Will didn’t feel the ache in his heart that whispered on quiet nights. He had no longing for a childhood that didn’t happen or anger over the one that did. He never noticed the little boy inside him that still hoped everything would turn out fine. When Will ran, only running existed.
Tonight he wanted more than relief from pain. Will pushed his limits, hoping that it would happen.
It did. When he’d run himself close to oblivion, the light burst from the base of his spine and traveled upward. His back arched and his chest expanded. The force moving through his body was so powerful that he couldn’t run. He stopped abruptly, bouncing along the track. He slammed into the side of the gym, sliding for a yard or two. He stayed on his feet and swung to face the wall, pressing his chest against it. The column of light rose up his back. Groans escaped him. He put his arms out, palms hugging the wooden surface. His head twisted to the right, as though he were trying to face the center of the room. His face contorted as the energy moved upward. He couldn’t stop what was happening, and didn’t want to.
The pillar of light rose up his back. When it climbed above his head, it exploded into a brilliant golden fountain, brighter than the sun. He rose onto his toes. The energy unfurled around him, spreading and spreading, moving everywhere. It felt like it reached the edges of the universe. Will was its center. He knew things when the light surrounded him; he could see relationships between ideas, organizations, and people that were hidden from him before. The worst business problems became simple.
The bliss that came with the light was hard to accept. He felt so much pleasure that it shocked him. He had chased pleasure all his life, but this was beyond that. Sex paled in comparison. He pushed off the wall and walked down the track, his hands reaching up, enraptured. He talked to it, the Light.
“I love you. I love you. Oh, stay with me. I love you.” On like that, words he’d never spoken to anyone. The Light could understand what he said, he knew that. It heard his dreams and desires, his sadness and pain. And it fixed him; it healed him, at least for a while. With it, he could keep going. The Light was the most precious thing in his life.
Will had no idea what it was. The closest he could come to an explanation was that column was his soul. Or maybe God. He thought it might be God, except that he didn’t believe in God.
The bliss played with him, flowing upward in a torrent. He moaned in delight, walking around the track, face alight. He held his hands high, reaching for something unseen. “I love you!” he shouted. “Oh, I love you so much.” He danced, filled with joy. Tears of gratitude splattered the floor. The gym was magic, enchanted. He skipped and laughed like a child.
The Light had come to him years before. After being whipped because he had a nightmare, Will crawled into his bed and pulled his quilt over his head. He shook with a child’s shuddering sobs—and the Light came to him. Delight traveled up his spine, erasing his pain. Will found himself lifted to a place as wonderful as his nightmares were horrible.
The Light showed him a world he never dreamed existed. In it, he found creatures—people and animals and things he’d never seen—moving between luminous hangings across a mythical landscape inside him. Every touch was ecstasy; every sound, a chorus.
The dazzling column had no physical characteristics, but he felt it was a person. It could understand like a person. It had different parts. One was female. She was like a mother or angel. Her presence suffused the good place, and she enfolded him, making everything that happened all right. He called her Beloved. She and the Light kept him alive.
If the dark torrent yanked him down, the ones who lived in the bright place brought him back. They brought him back, regardless of what he did in the ordinary world or the dark dreams. They loved him no matter what he did.
One day, they showed him a world where people cooperated, where commerce served everyone, and the good that everyone said they wanted came to be. They told him that his job was to make it real. It was real; he had touched it . . . Reality, the numenon. The thing as it exists. He named his corporation after it.
The world of Light was his deepest secret. He couldn’t explain the beauty of that realm; words would defile it.
Besides, if they thought he was crazy because of his nightmares, what would they say if he told them about a Light that gave him answers and protected him? Or an angel called Beloved?
Will didn’t trust his experiences: He thought he was crazy.
He’d never heard of anyone who had such encounters. They didn’t talk about them at Stanford or its Graduate School of Business, where he went to school. No one talked about such things at meetings of the Numenon Board or any other corporate venue. He wished he could ask someone, “Does a brilliant light surge up your from ass and give you unbelievable pleasure—then tell you how to solve that merger problem?”
He knew how that one would go over, so kept his mouth shut.
Will felt the rapture drifting away. “Don’t go . . .” he cried. It always left. He knew it would come back—when he needed it. Running as hard as he could was a good way of getting it to return, but he couldn’t make it do anything. It came tonight because he needed it––after
Marina kicked him out, after everything else, he needed it.
When the light had gone, Will threw a towel around his shoulders. His legs shook as he walked to the elevator. He was so exhausted that he could barely place his palm against the sensor. “The sun will rise again.”
He got into the elevator and became aware of something. He punched a button on the wall and spoke into a microphone.