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It’s raining this time. I can tell through the window. Down below I see the same trees and cars as last time. Sitting in the couch opposite my own is Master. My first instinct is to stand and charge him, then beat his ass to a pulp. But I can’t move any body part lower than my jaw – this dream belongs to Master. He scribbles in his notepad.
“Ever had your heart broken, Mr. Gordon?”
“Where are they?”
“Some say the emotional wrench of lost love far surpasses any harm that can be inflicted physically.”
“You have them, don’t you?”
Master stops writing. He folds his hands and sets his heel over his opposite knee. “Your wife and daughter have been kidnapped. They will be returned, alive and well, as long as you observe my instructions.”
“What are you? Who are you?”
“We discussed this already. I am Master.” He sets the notepad aside, then adjusts the square box glasses sitting over his nose. “Our meetings will take place in your subconscious, though the threats and demands I will make pertain to the real world. Your wife and child are mine, I told you this during our previous session together.” He rubs the tip of his index finger against his temple. “Tell me, Phillip, how would you react if the love of your life left you for another man?”
My teeth clench shut.
I breathe through my nostrils. “Return. My. Family.”
Master sighs, then traces his finger along his chin. “You are important to me, you know. If I am Morpheus, you are Neo.”
“You touch Loretta, I’ll end you.”
“Loretta and Avery will be returned to you, unharmed and intact, so long as you comply.”
“Lay a finger on either of them I’ll slit your god-damned throat.”
I breathe. I stare.
Master rises from his seat, then strolls around the room. His wrist swoops up imaginary snow as he talks.
“I don’t think you’re capable of saving your family, Phillip. That’s just me being honest, man to man. You might be big and strong, but underneath all that meat you’re nothing but a coward.”
My head rattles in place. He stands still and faces me.
“I’m inside of your mind, and all that surrounds us are your countless fears, troubles, and anxieties. You do not think you can save your family, not even for a moment. You plan to try, yes, but you don’t plan on succeeding. Oh, no, no, no. And it’s not the first time, either.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Football, Phillip. You quit. For so long you persevered, for so long you improved. But at some point along the journey, a realization occurred to you – you’re just not good enough, and never will be. The thought of failure doesn’t bother you; not in the slightest. You’re happy to walk around town as the loser you are. You hate success because it doesn’t match your personality. Failure, yes, that’s your comfort zone. And after your family is killed, and everybody is telling you how sorry they feel, you’ll be ecstatic deep down, your little secret between you and yourself – you lost; the side on which your personal preference resides during competition. You’ll be relieved to no longer concern yourself with providing financially for other humans beings. Gleeful that Loretta didn’t live long enough to leave you – and yes, she would have anyway. A woman like that deserves better than a failure like you.”
Master grins, then continues. “Loretta will be murdered before she can divorce you. Remind you of anything?”
I don’t respond.
“You quit before you had a chance to enter the NFL and become the wasted draft pick you knew you were bound to become. Just as comfortable as you are with that decision, so shall you one day be with the death of your family – with your inability to save them in time.”
He clicks his teeth together so I can hear them, half a dozen times, then speaks.
“I don’t understand why you failed to properly warn Loretta about our last therapy session. I told you I was going to abduct her.” He balls his hand into a fist, advances forward, then knocks his knuckles against the side of my head. “You could have prevented all of this, you know.” Master returns to his seat, crosses his legs, and taps his fingers on his kneecap. “Sheep would sooner follow the herd off the cliff then risk communal castration by reversing their direction.”
“I don’t care what anybody else thinks.”
“Of course not, you’re a loser. That’s what losers do; they accept their inability to contribute to the rest of mankind. You’re dead weight, lying down and covering your ears is what you do best. Allow others to step all over you, allow others to take the little you have. You don’t care, after all you’re content with just being ignored. You don’t care what others think because you know what they think: You’re an embarrassment – your entire town is ashamed of you. You, more than anybody, should have escaped this dung-ho community and made millions of dollars with all the fame and fortune a celebrated life entails.” Master breathes a laugh. “Pathetic. A miserable wash-up. Why did I pick you?”
“Why did you pick me?”
“Oh, oh-oh oh.” Master points his index finger at me, then stands again. “Now you’re asking the right question.”
- Thomas M. Watt