Without his noticing it, rain had begun to fall. He walked absently around town, searching for traces of Catherine. Several times he stopped by his own house, wondering if perhaps she had gone back there. It was all in vain. He couldn't find a single thing.
Vincent looked up at his cheap apartment. He had lived in this building for more than a decade. The outer walls were made of brick, black soot and trickles of rain clinging to their surface.
"It's filthy, huh..." His throat constricted, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. "Shit. What am I supposed to do...?"
The phone inside his pocket emitted a shrill noise. He reflexively took it out and pressed the call button.
"Catherine!" he heard himself shout.
After a moment of silence, he was answered by a voice brimming with fury. It was his boss from work. Vincent apologised for skipping work without permission, then hung up without having paid much attention.
He sneezed. His hair and clothes were soaked through, chilling him to the bone. Pedestrians shot glances at Vincent. Feeling as though all of this were happening to someone else, he went back to circling the town.
Unconsciously, he had come to the bar he frequented. He couldn't think of any other place where Catherine was likely to show up.
Vincent took his usual seat at the booth. The bar had only just opened, but his friends soon showed up. It looked like Orlando had been concerned and called them all.
"Did you really break up with Katherine?" Jonny asked from opposite.
Vincent told them the gist of the morning's events. He told them that his girlfriend had broken up with him after he admitted to cheating; that she hadn't been pregnant; and that his dear partner - the Catherine who wasn't his girlfriend - had vanished without a trace.
"You're awful," Erica said from the aisle, letting out a long breath. She had listened with disgust to Vincent's tale that he had no reason to marry his girlfriend if she wasn't pregnant, and that this time he wanted to date Catherine properly.
"I told you not to say that," Orlando soothed. "It was Katherine who wanted to break up with him. All he did was give her a reason for it. Isn't this great? Now he can run off with the other girl."
"Hey, did you really not see her?" Vincent asked Erica. "Think hard."
The night he broke up with Catherine, she must have been on duty. Erica held the tray to her chest and let out a deep sigh.
"I would tell you if I remembered, but... honestly, I can't. She didn't order anything, did she? Then I wouldn't have taken her any drinks. I must have been behind the counter or talking at another table."
"You didn't even run into each other?"
"If we did, I have no memory of it. I noticed that you were gone and wondered what had happened, and that's when I heard moaning from the bathroom. I think everyone knows what happened after that."
"Maybe you're goin' crazy, Vincent?" Toby said as he reached for the ketchup bottle. "What with the lack of sleep and getting kicked around too much."
Vincent, taken aback, touched his lip.
"Yeah. I guess I did get beat up... You all know that, right? No way would I have hit myself. That is the proof that she exists!"
His words were full of excitement, but his friends' reactions were unenthusiastic. They exchanged awkward looks with him.
"You were acting pretty crazy," Orlando said.
Toby, holding a french fry in one hand, agreed. "You coulda just been so freaked out that you slammed yourself into the sink, right? No one actually saw you getting hurt..."
"You were the one who said I got kicked around too much, weren't you?" Vincent objected instantly. "So you're saying I was dreaming here, too? The ones I have at night are more than enough!" His words quickened in pace. He sank back into his chair, scratching his head. "Actually, where did it start being a dream? I can't believe this shit!"
"Take it easy," Jonny soothed in a controlled voice, but at this point his calmness did nothing but piss him off.
"How the hell am I supposed to take it easy!?" He glared at each of them. "Come on, someone tell me. Where is she!?"
"I dunno..." Toby said, throwing his head back as if to distance himself from Vincent.
It was no good. The more fired up he got, the more people treated him like a madman.
Vincent drained the last of his rum and coke in a single gulp. His head hurt, like it was full of iron.
His eyes casually came to a stop on the wall-mounted TV. On the screen was a suit-wearing female newscaster. The news was about to start.
"Today, a new body was discovered as the number of incidents involving unexplained deaths of men continues to grow."
"Another one?" Orlando groaned.
"The deceased is Steve Delhomme, 42, a dentist."
As the announcer read out his name, a photo of the victim's face was shown. Someone gasped nearby. He couldn't look over. Vincent too was enthralled, his knees suddenly weak. He stared at the screen intently. For a moment, he even forgot to breathe.
The upright sheep.
It was so stupid, he thought it had to be a joke. A totally out-of-place image surfaced in his head. It began to move in his vision. A new scenery, tinged with vivid colours, began to emerge and blot out the one before him.
I know him, he knew instinctively.
"His wife discovered the body upon entering the bedroom to check on him. Like in the other cases, the body was severely malnourished in a way that could not have taken place overnight, and the police..."
The memory thawed and began to melt into his consciousness. The upright sheep. That was Steve.
No; there were many sheep. He was but one of them. Vincent was in the same position. He had helped him out in the nightmare...
"Oh, that guy on the news. That's him," said a customer sitting at the bar, looking up at the screen. "The one the police came for in the neighbourhood this morning. They were so loud."
"You seem upset again."
"The one who died was a well-known cheater. He tossed aside his wife and was messing around with a young girl. Not only that, but he boasted about it to everyone. What a man."
"Never mind the wife - it's the kids I feel sorry for."
"I don't think he had any, though. In any case, he's a monster."
Vincent placed his cocktail glass roughly back on the table with a thud, the other glasses and tableware leaping from the table. The mustard bottle fell over, rolling over the edge of the table and being caught by Jonny before it could fall onto the floor.
Vincent remembered all of it - everything that had happened in the nightmares. The mysterious cubes. Their weight. Their resistance when pushed. Their cold, coarse texture. The monsters chasing after him from the depths of the earth.
"Hey. What's wrong?" Jonny asked.
Beside him, Tobi sat wide-eyed. Even Orlando seemed shocked. He wondered why, but quickly reasoned that it was because he had slammed his glass onto the table. The nearby customers ceased their conversations, stopped eating, and looked to see what was going on at Vincent's table. They must have sensed unrest in the air.
"It's him," Vincent muttered, not caring how they reacted. "I met him in my dream yesterday."
Steve must have died afterwards. Vincent bit his lip. The things he'd talked about in the dream echoed in his ears. He didn't know why he had forgotten them.
"You met him in a dream?" Orlando asked. "You mean the guy on the news just now?"
Orlando must be having the dreams, too, but he didn't seem to have recalled the specifics yet.
"It's true - the rumour that guys who cheat have nightmares. The rumour that you die in real life if you die in the nightmare, too."
And then, Vincent realised something else. The only people in the real world who acknowledged that they had specifically met Catherine herself were the men who had been seduced by her. Or was that really the case?
"What the hell're you talkin' about?" Orlando said uncomfortably. "I get that you're in shock after the break-up, but dreams coming true is way too freaky."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
Erica placed her hands on the table, peering into Vincent's face from close by. Her proximity and voice stimulated his brain once more. He closed his eyes, remembering the scenery of the night when he'd first met Catherine. The sound of heels approached...
"Um... It's really packed in here. Is it okay if I sit here?"
She slid into the seat opposite... Oh, that was it. Right before that.
"Sorry. Could you move?"
Vincent stood up, forcing his way past Erica and into the aisle.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
His friends questioned him in their surprise, but he ignored them all. Leaving them behind, he headed for the bar.
There was a row of empty stools. The customers who were watching the TV earlier seemed to have left. Perfect.
Vincent faced the bartender standing on the other side.
"Tell me everything. And let me see her... let me see Catherine."