Once Connor had gone, Elicott sat back down and immediately began to type a memo on the computer at his desk.
To: Hans Reicha, M.D.
From: Casper Elicott, Ph.D.
Subject: New Project Participant
I wish to advise you that I today met with an individual I believe will be an excellent addition to our current project. His name is Michael Connor, age 42, a university graduate who is currently unemployed. The screening tests administered prior to the interview show him to be not only extremely intelligent (a measured I.Q. of 165) but to possess verifiable psychic abilities as well. More specifically, he is the only applicant to have achieved a perfect score when tested with Zener Cards; in other strictly controlled examination procedures he demonstrated an acute sensitivity to various Fortean phenomena. You will recall that it was you yourself who suggested adding these tests to the screening process as favorable results would imply the presence of telepathic capabilities in those participants who scored highly. As you noted, that might very well enable them, more easily than most, to achieve success at the tasks given them once they become adept at lucid dreaming.
In spite of the above, I have a number of reservations regarding Mr. Connor’s fitness as an experimental subject. In his conversation with me he displayed a deep and pervasive distrust of the methods to be employed in achieving the project’s goals. For that reason, I refrained from discussing with him his own psychic abilities lest he wrongly assume the experiment dealt in any way with paranormal manifestations.
In addition, Mr. Connor clearly was not forthcoming with full information regarding his current situation. I have not at this time been able to determine if there exists any external cause for this unwillingness to communicate or if the man is simply distrustful by nature. At any rate, while he is obviously defensive and high strung, there are no obvious indications of paranoia in the clinical sense of the term.
Conclusion: In light of this individual’s proven abilities, I strongly believe Mr. Connor should be given a place in the program. At the same time, I feel he should be closely monitored for any signs of impairment that might result from his participation in an experiment that necessarily involves taking an active role in dreams whose content may at times prove stressful and even alarming.
After he had finished the memo and sent it off by email to his colleague, Elicott continued to sit at his desk lost in thought. Belatedly, he realized he had not wanted to admit to Reicha, or even to himself for that matter, how deeply his meeting with Connor had disturbed him. He had felt a vague unease stirring within him the whole time the two had sat talking but had been unable to put his finger on the exact cause. The misgivings he had expressed to the psychiatrist, while true enough, did not represent the whole story. Elicott understood he was using them, more than for any other reason, as an excuse to put Connor under closer supervision than would otherwise have been the case. “There’s a good deal more here than meets the eye,” he told himself, embarrassed at using such an obvious cliché.
Then Elicott shrugged his shoulders. He decided it would make more sense to leave the matter to Reicha, who was after all the psychiatrist, and have nothing further to do with it himself. It would be enough if he were to deal with Connor on the same professional level he intended to employ with the other participants. It would be best to put whatever troubling thoughts he had entertained entirely out of his mind. Otherwise, he feared, he might end up as one of Reicha’s patients himself. Having decided this much, Elicott breathed a sigh of relief. He made up his mind to go home and forget the matter.
Before leaving for the day, Elicott glanced at the blank spot on the far wall opposite him. He reminded himself that he would soon have to stop by the poster shop where he had left the Braque print to have the glass in its frame replaced. He didn’t think to ask himself why he had even bothered since it wasn’t a very good reproduction anyway.
After having left Elicott’s office, Connor made his way to the parade ground at the center of campus. It was empty except for a pair of undergraduates tossing a football back and forth to one another without any display of enthusiasm. There were benches placed at regular intervals around the lawn’s perimeter. Connor chose one at random and took a seat on it. He looked about himself while pulling a sandwich and crumpled newspaper from his backpack. The campus hadn’t changed very much from his undergraduate days; the old library and chemistry building had been rebuilt, but the rest was as he remembered it.
There was nothing in the newspaper’s front pages of interest, only the usual assortment of crime stories that recounted in outraged detail the latest murders and robberies to have plagued the city. Connor flipped hurriedly past these until he came to the employment ads in the classifieds section. There was almost nothing there. Once, when the economy had been doing better, there had regularly been several pages of job listings for all levels of skills. Now there were only two or three minimum wage positions available. These same offerings were there every day, and Connor shuddered to think how awful these jobs must be if they had no takers even in times as harsh as this.
A uniformed security guard making his rounds strolled by. Connor stiffened reflexively. He clutched his backpack in his hand and made ready to move on. The guard, however, seemed to take no particular notice of him, only nodded his head in a friendly fashion. “Nice day we’re having, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Sure is.” Connor gave the man his brightest smile. He didn’t relax, though, until the guard had walked a dozen yards further away without having taken the time to look back at him even once. Only then did Connor return to reading the newspaper as he unwrapped his sandwich.
Inside the tinfoil, the sandwich was ham and cheese on rye bread. So hastily had Connor slapped it together that morning in his kitchen that he had forgotten to put salt and pepper on it. He remembered how anxious he had been not to be late for his meeting with Elicott. “Always in too much of a hurry,” Connor muttered to himself. As he began to eat, he realized how dry the sandwich was and wished then he had thought to bring along a can of soda. He was too hungry not to finish eating though.
At last Connor, having neatly thrown the newspaper and the sandwich wrapping in the trash, pulled from his pack a dog eared copy of Crime and Punishment and sat back on the bench to read. Soon he was lost to the world just as he always was when reading any novel. His mind was far from New York as in his imagination he roamed with Dostoevsky’s characters through the streets of St. Petersburg.
Now and then students on their way to class passed by him, but Connor took no notice. Even in his own university days he had been too much the loner to join the throngs constantly milling about him or to pay them any serious attention. Now he was too absorbed in his reading to even bother looking up from his book. Perhaps that was why he failed to see the young blonde woman who suddenly stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of him and then leaned attentively toward him to better study his appearance. After a moment’s scrutiny, she first started eagerly toward him but then apparently thought better of it and instead moved slowly away even while pausing at every other step to glance back at him over her shoulder.