The Drawing of Three
Sometimes, Jake Chambers dreams. He doesn’t dream like the rest of us, about our petty lives and insignificant worries, of jobs as wageslaves in megacorps, or as paid butchers of men. He dreams of another life, one not his own, something fabricated by a different person and pushed into his mind. He wakes from these dreams in a cold sweat: his hands, normally so calm and steady, shake and twitch and he clasps them together in the sign of the evil eye until the fevers pass.
In the dreams, he is a little child, walking through forests, or fields, or old clapboard towns. These landscapes pass in a haze, inconstant, but there is one reliable feature: three others always accompany him: a white man bent over with sin, a black woman in a chair, and a tall man, whose very name is power and whose steps shape the world as he walks. The four of them move through each landscape and there is an urgency in their dream-travels, as if racing against time to some unseen destination, except they know not the next step to take. The dreams end before they find their way, and inevitably Jake wakes in his dark room in Manhattan, alone.
He doesn’t really know how he got to be here in New York; he’s always been here, and that’s the truth. He remembers being a child and seeing the statue of liberty and the tall buildings and yellow taxis. He remembers going to school, and his mother and father, vacations to the mountains and the desert. He even remembers when the goblinization seized downtown Brooklyn, the riots and crime waves. To his knowledge, he has never left New York—but, strangely, he also has no real memory of living here. Vague ghosts of people and old apartments and jobs drift through his head, but they are even less real to him than the dreams of the clapboard towns and the three strangers.
Thus far, he has chalked his loss of memory up to a life idly spent, each day simply blending into the last. His real memories—the ones that jerked him from his hypnotic half-existence into this one—began four weeks ago.
This dream starts in darkness. Unlike the others, he is only with the third man, the man of power. Unlike the others, they are running for their lives.
A slender silver rail track descends into darkness. They fly down it, and come to a place where the passage is blocked by fallen rocks. They have not glimpsed the enemy yet, but the unseen gasps of dogged pursuit ring loud in the tight tunnel under the mountain, chilling their blood. Jake works quickly to clear the track, his child’s hands unequal to the task in that frustrating way which dreams sometimes have. The first gunshot shatters his hearing, lighting the place for a moment to reveal the powerful man, a massive, dull-silver revolver in his left hand, pointed back the way they had come. Jake hurries in his task.
They soar on, and come to a place where the rail extends over a massive black chasm. That yawning hole in the earth sends a primal shiver down Jake’s spine, but his companion gestures forward, and they move carefully out onto the track on foot. The terror of the deep pit beneath him buckles Jake’s knees, but he holds on and walks forward nonetheless.
Suddenly, there is evil with them. They cast about, and it takes the shape of a man, clad in black and grinning wickedly. He cackles and bursts into crows which fly, cawing and scraping, towards Jake, balanced so precariously out on the thin metal line. The crows crash into him and his footing is lost—but he saves himself, gripping the rail with his hands while his feet dangle over the nothing at the bottom of the world.
The gunslinger jumps forward and grabs him just as the railing he is holding collapses. Jake looks up at the face of his savior and sees nothing but a shadow beneath a wide-brimmed hat. A light opens in the darkness before them: freedom, sweet fresh air and the out-of-doors. The man holding him looks up at it, then down at Jake, and his hand lets go.
Falling in a dream is sometimes a precursor to the end of the dream itself. Unfortunately for the dreaming Jake Chambers, he plummets long and fast into the dark, screaming, every nerve in his body locked in sudden remembrance: this has happened before. This is real.
That thought jerks him awake, and his screams are loud, and quite real. Somehow, he knows that waking from that dream is like being born again. He has been given a second chance by the whims of the wheel of fate, and it begins today.
It is as if a fog lifts from his soul. His breakfast the next day is the first breakfast he has ever eaten, eggs and steak. He looks in the mirror and is surprised to see a forty year old man, blond hair cut short to the temples and a dark growth of stubble on his jaw. His pale blue eyes look out at the world with knowing confidence, and his mouth curves downward in a slight frown when his face is relaxed.
He moves to the closet where his old “life” is kept. Digging through objects that he has never seen before, he reaches the bottom, old family heirlooms, and brings out an old tin lockbox secured with a combination lock. He enters the code, 1919, and opens the box to reveal his father’s revolver, a pre-Awakening era Ruger Old Army, chambered in .45 Long Colt. Its dull gunmetal barrel and rich lacquered handle gleam up at him as if the gun were waiting for him to remember it. He takes it in his hands and finds that he knows its every operation, the balance and weight of it, how to clean and oil it, how to take apart the action and, most importantly, how to shoot it. He takes a box of the heavy magnum rounds from the lockbox, along with a leather belt and holster, low slung across the front of the hip with a space for another gun to form an ‘X’ across the waist. He buckles it on and feels complete. He draws and the hammer clicks over an empty chamber, swift and sweet.
The next days and weeks are a trial of remembrance, errors and hardship, as he tries to recall all that he has forgotten. Whatever life he was leading before this is abandoned; no matter, he is not sure he could have remembered it if he tried. He finds that he knows the manners and customs of this place, even though he could not pinpoint from where he has learned them. Feeling an unnatural bond to his father’s gun, he spends his days practicing his marksmanship at a local gun range. When shooting, he finds his off-hand wont to shoot as well, so he buys a modern Ruger Super Warhawk for the second holster and quickly learns that he is as good a shot with the left as the right.
He also finds he is sensitive to the world in ways which others are not. Ghosts are real in this place; of that he is quite certain, although he remains ignorant of their true nature. He can feel their presence in the bad places of New York, where the evil of men is strong. Some people have many ghosts about them, mages and shamans in particular, and he tries to stay away from them, not trusting the spirits of the city.
His days pass. He buys a brown leather duster with armored panels, bulky but protective. Remembering the man in his dream, he buys a wide-brimmed hat with curled edges and wears it rain or shine. Jeans and old shirts are what he finds in his dresser, so he wears them too. He buys armored, steel-toed leather boots and walks the streets each day, pondering his purpose. When he sleeps, his guns lie at his side, loaded and loose in their holsters.
Jake Chambers waits. He expects ka to draw him to wherever he needs to go next: when the puppetmaster pulls the strings of his marionettes, do they question his discretion? Does a pawn in chess know its purpose in every motion of the board? He expects his purpose will be revealed to him, soon enough.