The ageing bartender set down the glass he had been polishing. He was sure he'd said that his name was Mutton. He couldn't see beyond his sunglasses, but Vincent knew that he was looking at him.
"Did you say something just now?" he asked quietly.
Vincent swallowed. "Catherine. You've seen her, haven't you?"
The only people who could confirm having specifically seen Catherine were the men whom she had seduced. And yet...
"Begging your pardon, but..."
"I remember it perfectly. That first night, I know you were talking to her. It didn't look like you were being seduced, though. Of course not... She made a pass at me right here, in front of you. If she'd been seducing you, too, you wouldn't have just shut up and looked on."
As he talked, he became excited. He realised that he was holding onto Mutton's collar.
"Which means that either the rules are wrong, or they don't apply to you!"
He heard Erica's screech, followed by the sound of rapid footsteps. But he didn't care. An unfamiliar face was reflected in Mutton's sunglasses. It was the face of a man possessed. It took a couple of seconds for him to realise that the face was his.
"Steve told me that there's a guy making people have the nightmares - that she's involved." He gripped his clothes tighter. "It's you, isn't it? Answer me. I'm serious about this!"
"Just stop it!"
Erica grabbed his wrist. She was much stronger than she looked.
He let go as if pushing him away. Mutton doubled over, coughing. "Goodness. I suppose I have no choice," he said as if to himself as he caught his breath. "You are correct that such a being exists..."
Even though he had asked it himself, he was taken aback by the answer. It was realistically impossible. An inhuman being? That could make people have nightmares? But Mutton hadn't refuted this absurd tale. In fact, he had readily admitted it.
"You never cease to amaze me, truly. Not only have you survived for so long, but to remember what happened there and attempt to expose the truth..."
"So you... really aren't human...?"
He hallucinated the floor collapsing, vanishing from under his feet.
"Who the hell are you? What are you up to? What's going on...?"
"And what good will it do you to know?" Mutton asked in reply. "It is a fact that you will have the dream tonight. Until you overcome this trial, you will have no future either way."
"Are you seriously making me have those dreams?"
Perhaps Mutton was simply telling him what he wanted to hear. Maybe he was simply dodging Vincent carefully using information gleaned from rumours or the TV. The possibility existed - but he didn't think this was the case.
"Hey. Did something happen?"
Jonny walked over. Orlando and Toby were behind him. It looked like they'd all got up from their seats and come to see what was going on.
"You guys, Vincent and the owner just..." Erica began, and Vincent shut her up with, "It's fine."
"It's one thing to do it around us, but you can't go around getting plastered and fighting with the owner. Just cool it," Orlando said in irritation.
"We're not fighting."
They must think that Vincent was getting crazier and crazier, and that the owner was simply a poor bystander who got caught up in his delusions and dragged into the trouble. But he wasn't. It was the other way around.
"It's more like I'm the target of a bad joke by this guy. Right?"
Mutton's eerie smile deepened in response.
"All you can do is try your best and survive in the dream."
"What? What are you talking about?" Orlando said, looking between Vincent and Mutton. Ignoring him, Mutton continued one-sidedly.
"If you can overcome the nightmares, your wish will most likely be granted. You may even learn the truth. It may not be to the extent of what is circulating in the rumours, but it should be to your satisfaction, at least."
Come to think of it, he had heard such a rumour: anyone who made it to the end of the nightmare world would have any wish of their choice granted.
"For what do you wish? To be perfectly honest, however, I do not think that you will make it back alive. Only one man manages to conquer the trials each century, after all."
Was what he had just said true? Could he simply be giving false hope to the pathetic humans and toying with them? Even if this were the case, he had no choice but to gamble on that hope.
"Don't worry about it," Vincent said to his friends for now. "He's just telling me about something like the rumours about the nightmares."
"Oh... I hope so..."
"The owner is such a weirdo."
Orlando and Toby seemed to be bewildered by Mutton's behaviour. Jonny alone wore a grave look on his face as he listened to their conversation.
"Fine," Vincent said, addressing Mutton once more. "Sounds like fun."
His wish. What was a simple enough wish that it could be granted within the boundaries that Mutton said weren't "as much as the rumours say"? He didn't even need to think about it.
"I want to see her again. You can make that happen, right?"
"Even if you do see her again, nothing will come of it."
"Shut up. I know that."
He didn't think that she would forgive him. Even still, he wanted to meet her in person, apologise properly and tell her that he loved her - then ask her for one more chance.
"And I want you to stop the nightmares."
"Whether you win or lose, this will be the last either way."
"I'm not talking about just mine." Vincent jerked his chin in the direction of his friends. "Theirs, too - everyone's."
Mutton shrugged his shoulders. "What a kind-hearted soul."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
Orlando tilted his head.