LJ Idol Exhibit B | week eleven, 2 | 1173 words
In The Bag
To say that Edgar Broussard was a thief would have been to say that Einstein was a scientist. Both were oversimplifications of a more elegant truth.
Broussard stole the unstealable, and not for the reasons of wealth or notoriety but because he coveted and because he could. He would have been buried under his own acquisitions had they been ordinary things like jewels or art, but Broussard was interested in none of those things.
Broussard was a stealer of dreams.
He discovered the secret at sleep-away camp, when he was a boy. During long, wakeful nights of watching the moon pass from one side of the cabin to the other, he found random thoughts creeping into his head—thoughts of places he'd never been, brothers and sisters he'd never had. Eventually, he recognized some of the people in those thoughts as the parents of the boy in the bunk overhead.
Images shifted and flickered inside his mind, mutating into other ideas, other threads of a different story. When monsters began to crowd his thoughts and the boy above him thrashed and moaned, Broussard realized he was witnessing a nightmare. He imagined himself scooping up the monsters in a giant net and tossing them out the window, and his bunkmate quieted. There were no further images for a few minutes, and then the faintest thread of a summer's day spent running through the sprinklers came Broussard's way from some other boy. Broussard liked that one very much, and he tried to grab hold of it as well, just to see if he could. He imagined himself pulling the dream into his own head, and it suddenly became stronger and then stopped. He was left with the feeling of the dream, like a still photograph frozen in time. He held onto it for the rest of the night.
Every evening, he practiced what he'd learned. By the time camp was over, he figured out how to save an entire dream like a fluid thing. The dream still ended as soon as he took it from its creator, but while he could not make the thread of it continue on, he could still repeat it. He replayed the best dreams over and over again inside his head, with a few humdrum and even scary ones thrown in now and then for novelty.
Over the years, Broussard worked out a way to download the stolen dreams from his head and save them in a Dream Vault of his own devising. Appropriating his parents' dreams didn't satisfy him for long. He took to wandering the halls of his apartment building in late-night forays of dream-collecting every week or two, and by the time he was thirty he had graduated to prowling neighborhoods and motels all over the city in an ongoing search for new treasures.
That was exactly what he was doing at the moment—slipping through the shadows along the side of a Marriot Hotel, his Dream Vault hidden in his satchel. He'd already found several worthy prizes among the first-floor dreamers, including an extended panorama of bronco-riding and the vivid and exotic outpourings of a Chinese National. To make room for those, he had purged an entry involving endlessly knitting a scarf that became a waterfall, and someone's nightmare encounter with Godzilla (reasoning that the first was too played-out to keep any longer and the second too bizarre to fully forget).
He moved around toward the back of the hotel, tuning in to the reveries leaking through each of the walls in turn. Almost… there, a small-town parade with—damn it, the guy's naked, it's an anxiety retread. Skip that one. Broussard caught wind of another thread: Rocky surface below the feet, rising up ahead as the guy climbs from one handhold to another and the crest of the—
Someone grabbed Broussard from behind.
"Hand over the wallet and the bag, and you won't get hurt."
Aw, crap! Broussard had been so intent on exploring that last dream that he'd forgotten to monitor his surroundings. Well, at least it wasn't the cops.
"I can give you my wallet, but the bag would be worthless to you," he said.
"I'll be the judge of that." The man behind him tightened his arm around Broussard's neck. "Hurry up, before I lose my patience."
Broussard fished out his wallet, and the man snatched it away. Then he opened the top of the satchel so the man could see its unremarkable contents, but the robber's greed was stronger. With a swift pull, he took both wallet and satchel and ran off down the street.
Broussard stood there forlornly, half-lit by the sickly emanations of the cheap light bulb overhead. It was gone, all of it—an entire collection representing years of careful hunting and selection. Flying dreams, fantastical machines, mutating houses, and miscellaneous real and imagined journeys. The sheer loss of it was so overwhelming that it was minutes before he could force himself to move again. He stumbled blindly down the street, where his car parked just one block over seemed interminably far away.
How? he thought. How will I ever rebuild it? He drove home in a daze, falling into bed still dressed and pulling the sheets over himself like an animal burrowing in for the winter.
He dreamed that night, of ships lost on dark and lonely seas drifting toward islands of such incredible beauty that one could die of happiness simply by looking at them. He wandered the nearest island, where the colors were so bright and the breezes so sweet-smelling and pleasant that he marveled at his fortune and vowed he would never leave. This place, this feeling, he realized, was what he had spent a lifetime searching for.
A car alarm went off on the street below, and he woke, the haze of the dream still surrounding him. Oh, he would have given anything to hold onto that dream and relive it again and again. It was better than anything he'd ever experienced before, whether his own subconscious creation or one of the stolen renderings he'd taken from someone else.
He rewound that thought, slowly examining the layers beneath it. Imagine if someone else had pulled that dream out of his head mid-stream, the way he'd taken so many others he'd found beautiful or fascinating or emotionally compelling. What then?
Broussard looked at the chair where his satchel would have lain after a typical night's procurement, with its Dream Vault repository of images and experiences selfishly gathered for his personal use.
I could rebuild it, he thought, though it wouldn't be the same. But his conscience nagged at him, for the wrongness now realized could never again be ignored. He lay there in the dark, watching as the patterns of taillights projected from the street ghosted softly across his walls and ceiling.
Maybe, he thought, I could build something different.
After a lifetime of stealing and storing away other people's dreams, surely he could find a way to do the same for his own?
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