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Psychological thriller with elements of a crime story

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or the life and dreams of Robert Blanche

Psychological thriller with elements of a crime story

Kyiv — 2021

Author: Oleksandr Dan (Danaikanych)

Watercolor by: Tasha Torba (Natalia Cheredniuk)

Translated by: Olena Lytvynenko


Idea: Oleksandr Dan (Danaikanych),

Design: Mykyta Mykhailov

Text copyright © 2020 by Oleksandr Danaikanych

Translation copyright © 2020 by Oleksandr Danaikanych

All rights reserved


Can you remember what you dreamt about today? Some people claim they do not dream at all, although in truth dreams occur every night. And sometimes when we wake up, we forget not only the dream, but also the fact that we had one. And then we ask: why?

This book tells a story of Robert Blanche, a lawyer with a life split in two – his own and the world of his dreams. Every night he sees the same dream – another life in another world. There, he is Trevor, a war correspondent, who doesn’t suspect about a life on the other side of the dream.

One day, Trevor visits a psychologist, who puts him under hypnosis. Suddenly his life is turned upside-down and both he and Robert are put through the ringer as they try to find their way back to ‘normal’.

Inspired by true events.


Part One

If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you…

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter 1


24 December 2011. 03:12

A lightly dressed man, shivering from cold, stood on a precipice high over a mountain river. He seemed neither concerned nor scared at being just a half step from the edge of an abyss, since one false move could cost him his life. Rather, his gloomy silence was filled with despair and a readiness to step into the darkness filled with the roaring of the river below.

The black silhouette of the man was set sharply against the blue snow. He stared into the depths of the turbulent steam, as if looking for answers in this black vein of the mountain river.

Suddenly he spread his arms and raised his face to the sky. His lips whispered words of a prayer. Shutting his eyes, he waited for a sign from above. Perhaps a minute passed, but the heavens remained silent. The man sighed deeply, opened his eyes and stared at the winter sky with the look of someone doomed to die. No answer was forthcoming, he realized. The man smiled sadly and let his arms fall to his sides.

Clusters of bright, twinkling stars were scattered across the heavens. Here, at nearly three thousand meters above sea level, far from the bustle of the city, they seemed close enough to pick like strawberries. The silence of the icy night was broken only by the river noisily carrying its waters from somewhere near the peaks of the High Tatras.

Dense spruces covered by the thick blanket of untouched snow loomed over the land, tops aimed at those very stars, like the cover of an old Christmas card. The moonless night concealed the beauty of the mountain slopes, although the grandeur of the raw alpine nature bled through with the light of the stars. It seemed as though modern civilization had never touched this place, and that all these crests of snow and centuries-old spruces stood the same as they had two, three hundred years ago.

«If there is no answer, then the question was wrong,» the voice of the philosophy professor sounded in the man’s mind like a flashback. «To every question, there is only one correct answer, which is the truth.»

«What if there are several answers and they are all correct, and they are essentially versions of the truth?» he had asked, trying to argue with the professor.

«Remember, young man, there can be only one truth, and its versions are mistakes that generate untruth,» the professor had said without even looking at him.

But how do you find it, if the path towards this truth is darker than the blackness of this night? Where do you search, how do you determine the starting point, the thread that will eventually lead you to the truth?

To some, it might have appeared that the man was preparing to commit suicide and was just about to leap. The desire to take a single step and throw himself off the cliff into the abyss of the roaring river was checked only by the instinct of self-preservation, inherent only to a sober mind and the irresistible thirst for life. In a fit of despair, his consciousness tore fragments of the past out of his memory, as if proving the need to continue the search for answers to questions that were rending his heart.

«Could this be a solution? Could one step be all I need to get the answer,» he asked himself while peering into the inky blackness of the ravine.

From the darkness of the night, his memory once again recalled the lecture hall at the university and the voice of his philosophy professor: «What can this last step towards Azrael and eternal slumber solve? Life in general is a directed movement from birth to death, avoided by nobody. The thought of ending one’s own life is driven by the desire to find some ultimate truth, but also doubt in achieving it. After all, the more you crave the ultimate, the more you realize its unattainability. It is these shifts between both extremes that lead to self-ruin.»

The professor paused, scanned the audience with unseeing eyes, took a book from his desk and, after shuffling through some pages, continued: «Sigmund Freud, the most renowned psychologist and psychiatrist of his time, even introduced the notion of the ’death drive’ or death instincts, since he could not otherwise explain many of the things a human being is capable of inflicting on themselves. The desire for self-destruction, it seems, is in our nature. While all living things struggle to survive, some humans, on the contrary, invest extraordinary energy into ruining their lives completely, sometimes ending them.»

The professor put the book aside and, crossing his hands across his chest, and after a small pause addressed the first row of students: «As to what pushes a certain individual to choose the path of self-destruction is a controversial issue that isn’t fully understood yet. After all, human beings have been observed and studied closely throughout the millennia, yet they remain underexplored, and something that is difficult to explore and analyze.»

The bell ending the lecture rang and the sound of whispering filled the hall. The professor, however, quickly glanced at his watch and monotonously and firmly continued in a raised voice: «In the paradigm of human history, the circumstances that have led to suicide were as different as the people who chose this path, or, more specifically, such an end to their life. This suggests that there are as many solutions in the classification of the circumstances that lead to suicide as there are people.

«However, could such a step change the circumstances that pushed a person to end their life this way? Could this change those who influenced the circumstances that caused the person to make this decision? Doubtful, as people don’t change, for the most part. They can mimic others or pretend to be better than they are under certain circumstances, and they can conceal their dominant identity, but it will inevitably surface over time, as the deception is short-lived.

«Can this step towards self-destruction change the world around us? Unlikely.» The professor paused again and glanced at the audience. «Life, my dear, will continue as before, but the person unfortunately is no longer its active participant, but most likely a passive observer.»

The man remembered this lecture by the philosophy professor at Charles University in Prague, where he studied law, and often thought about it, seeking the answer to his question when his mind was pushing him towards suicide.

There was one circumstance, however, that nullified this whole theory of a causal relationship with suicide.

What if a person is an outside observer to his own life? What if this person, even without having taken this step, is observing himself from somewhere inside his subconscious, with no power to change anything, supplement or alter himself? What if this observation, regardless of the person’s desire, is hanging over his mind like the Sword of Damocles throughout his entire conscious life? What would this last step change then? And could it change anything at all?

Not far away, a taxi with its engine running stood at the side of the road. The Indian behind the wheel was humming a simple folk melody to loud music and smiling.

«Quite the passenger I picked up today,» he mused. «He paid a thousand euro to get to this destitute, god forsaken mountain village.»

The taxi driver had not wanted to drive here, especially up the winding mountain serpentines on the icy road. But he agreed. And not only because the money was good. The taxi driver had seen how several other drivers rejected the customer’s offer and he felt genuinely sorry for this lonely, tired and lightly dressed man.

Yeah, not sensibly dressed at all, the driver thought, looking at his passenger, as he got in at the railway station.

Indeed, he was dressed strangely for this time of year. A thin cashmere coat, black, carefully ironed trousers, and autumn shoes. A thick, navy scarf twisted several times around his neck. His hair was disheveled and he had three-day stubble. And he carried no bag, which was odd for someone leaving a train station.

The road here was extremely slippery. Wet snow had fallen in the evening and turned the smooth asphalt into solid glass by midnight. The road services had not reached this area yet, and the Indian pondered for a while whether to take the trip, but the passenger paid triple the standard fare, including for the trip back, in advance.

Throughout the ride the passenger silently watched the road through the window. It was instantly clear that he did not want to talk, and the taxi driver shoved an old cassette into the player and switched it on.

A low-key, rhythmic melody to the accompaniment of a tabla poured from the speakers. The Indian with a wide snow-white smile on his tanned faced looked in the rearview mirror at the passenger, but the latter paid no attention to him, immersed as he was in his own thoughts and staring gloomily at the trees covered with a thick layer of snow like a soft blanket, which would appear in the headlights and swiftly disappear again into the solemn darkness of the winter night.

Several kilometers before reaching the village, the passenger asked to stop the car.

«Please, stop here, please,» he said hoarsely, looking around. «Right, right… just here. And wait for me, please.»

The passenger exited the vehicle and confidently surged through the untouched snow. It was clear that he wasn’t new to this area, because the visibility was no more than a few dozen meters in any direction. When he confidently stepped into deep snowdrifts, the Indian shivered — he hated the cold.

Almost twenty minutes had passed and the Indian decided to leave his taxi and see where the man went.

Fifty meters from the car, the passenger stood silently on the edge of the abyss, not moving, staring into the distance with his hands in his coat pockets.

The Indian returned to the warm car and slammed the door. He looked at the fuel gauge and shook his head, smacking his lips in dissatisfaction.

The passenger continued to stand like a statue over the river, listening to the loud torrent of its dark waters.

Some weirdo I’ve come across, pondered the taxi driver, shrinking from the cold. It’s night out, freezing and snow, and this guy doesn’t seem to care. What can anyone think about in this cold?

The dark figure of the man, like a pagan idol, towered over the ravine. He tried to understand where the first time ’this’ had happened to him. It was «where’, not «when’, because the exact time was embedded in his memory forever. He also remembered the exact place where ’this’ had happened, and a hundred times he had thought back to that day in the distant past, trying to understand where ’this’ was happening, because knowing the place where everything happened did not give him the answer to the question: in which one of his lives did ’this’ happen for the first time.

He had long become used to not having the answer to the question ’where’. He tried to recreate the situation WHERE EXACTLY everything began so many times, but as soon as it seemed that the answer was attainable and the situation was becoming clearer, everything would instantly recede and become even more confusing and incomprehensible. It seemed as if he was climbing barely visible stairs towards the answer, but the stairs never ended, flowing into more steps and then swerving into the opposite direction. Every next step only made things more confusing, the thread was lost, and everything would return to the beginning.

The man was reminded of the work of the paradoxical world of Maurits Cornelis Escher that hung in the hall of the first floor of Les Mondes Office on August Blanc Boulevard in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. Instead of the mannequins in the picture, where his memory took him, however, he saw himself mindlessly wandering up and down the ungodly stairs without handrails in a world where the laws of reality appeared not to work, just as in his own life. It seemed that the answer was obvious, but turn the picture ninety degrees and everything again becomes unclear and the answer to the question — further away from the truth.

No, he was not suffering from amnesia or some memory loss, or even its weakening. On the contrary, he extremely enjoyed sifting through his recollections. Sometimes a small memory from faraway childhood would surface as a result of the exercise, become supplemented with a plot, conversations, people and even feelings he had once experienced, and together serve to restore the past up to the smallest detail in his memory.

But this was something different. In his life, the laws of reality had gotten mixed up, and so in order to remain true to himself and not go crazy he had to cling to all the memories, clearly divide his life and control himself and everything that was happening to him. In time, he managed to do just that, although it was extremely hard to live in this kind of fragmented existence.

Far below, struggling through the jumble of boulders, the Vycha River streamed noisily. This small but turbulent river, this place, held many childhood memories. Some thirty years ago, here, he spent his childhood years in the like company of delinquents.


«Robert, time to go home!» the stern voice of his mother, who stood where the taxi now idled, calling for her son echoed as a memory in his ears and sent a warm wave to his heart. «How many times do I need to call you?! Hurry up! Let’s go home!»

His mother, a short woman with long, raven hair, dressed in a pink dress and white sandals, stood on top of the hill near the road holding a red bike and waited for her son to collect his belongings and come up to her. The wind ruffled her dark curls, while she vainly tried to cover her eyes from the sun and tame her hair disheveled by the rush of wind.

Robert… Said with the emphasis on the final syllable, as the French would pronounce it. Only his mother called him like that. For others he was simply Robbie or Bobba, which Robert really did not like.

Robert would reluctantly but quickly get ready, go to his mom, and together they would go home, carrying the bike together.

This river was almost the only joy in summer for local kids, where they could do something useful and fun: fishing and swimming in its tumultuous waters. In summer the huge boulders perched on both banks of Vycha became watercolor paintings from the dozens of big and small woolen carpets local villagers laundered, leaving them flat against the stones to dry under the scorching rays of midday sun.

The river was small. Some places could be forded by merely stepping on a string of slippery stones. In wider places, deep vortices formed, mostly behind lone boulders. And if the boulder was big, the vortex could run very deep.

In places, thick dry snags stuck out of the river, clinging to the rocks and growing into the brown silt. Bleached white, they resembled mammoth tusks rising over the water. Branches floating downstream from the mountain passes would often become their victims.

Despite the cold, ice had yet to form on the river, continuing to flow in a lively black stream between the thick, snowy white banks of the river.

Robert’s mind took him back to his childhood, when he first crossed the river as an eight-year old boy, wading, and then climbing to the top of a flat boulder warmed by the sun, where he felt very proud of his deed.

Robert pulled out a bottle of vodka from his coat and took a few gulps.

His thoughts slipped further back, immersing him in memories.

The first time it happened was on July 15, 1982.

On that day, Robert’s family gathered at a large table to celebrate his twelfth birthday.

It was a hot summer day and the air smelled of roasting bitumen. The scorching sun melted the road, turning the asphalt into a viscous mass that clung to the rubber of bicycle and car tires and to the soles of shoes. This odor was forever associated in Robert’s memory with the sensations of a hot summer.

There is a big, round, chocolate cake adorned with brown and red cream flowers on the kitchen table. On top of the cake, written in uneven letters, was the inscription: Happy Birthday — 12 years. Robert loved chocolate sponge cakes, but most of all he loved cream roll cakes, which were sold at the store near his house.

Little Robert always asked himself: why do people buy round cakes for a birthday? Why can’t they buy several roll cakes, place them on top of each other and present them to the birthday boy? And without inscriptions — the letters seemed silly, were not tasty for some reason and, in his opinion, totally unnecessary.

That day, Robert got a pair of oversized blue fabric sneakers as a gift. His parents bought almost all his clothes several sizes too large so that he could wear them longer, as his family’s income was low. His father worked from morning to night at a factory as a metal worker, while his mother was a nurse at the local hospital. To make ends meet, both parents had to take side jobs. Still, money was scarce and they lived very simply. Ice-cream and watermelon were the best desserts that were served for dinner on Sunday or for celebrations.

Robert invited only his school friend Jovan to his birthday party. His family usually did not have big, noisy parties to celebrate significant dates.

Quickly devouring the rest of the cake and washing it down with apple juice straight from a three-liter jar, the two friends climbed up into the barn that stood in the shadow of a huge old walnut tree. The roof of the barn was made of tin, and those places that were not protected by the shadow of the tree became as hot as a frying pan under the direct sun, making it impossible to sit there. Nevertheless, the roof was a place where nobody could keep the friends from idling away the hours, casually conversing, singing loudly and dreaming.

«Jovan, look, there are horses floating in the sky,» Robert said suddenly and laughed, pointing at some white clouds.

«Coooool!» Jovan said in languid surprise as he watched the clouds pass, but he suddenly perked up and said, «Let’s guess which animals they resemble. The one who finds the most animals, wins!»

There was, indeed, a huge white cloud in the shape of a floating horse. Its head turned slowly, but the thick mane transformed into the long wide tail of an enormous fish.

«Horse-fish or fish-horse?» said Robert. He squinted at the sun and…

That’s where it all happened.

The blinding sun abruptly caused his eyes to darken. Robert felt light-headed and his ears clogged. He blinked and then glanced around with a look of bewilderment. Next to him sat a stranger. He was telling him something, but Robert couldn’t understand a thing, whether from surprise or the constant ringing in his ears, he could not be certain. In fact, he did not even try to understand the language of the strange boy. It seemed as though he was seeing everything for the first time, everything was odd, unfamiliar and incomprehensible. Robert’s face exhibited genuine surprise.

He did not understand where he was, on whose roof he sat, or what he was doing there. Robert stood up and inspected his clothes. He was stunned — the clothes were new, as was the barn and, ultimately, the whole yard.

Robert could not understand what was happening to him. Everything around him was completely unfamiliar. With eyes wide from bewilderment, Robert looked up at the sky.

There, the horse with a fish tail was still floating proudly with his mane spread across the sky. Rays of sun broke like long threads through it and disappeared again. The horse appeared to be smiling.

The first thought that came to Robert was that he was delirious. He knew that sunstroke could cause a loss of consciousness, but he could not comprehend how such hallucinations could at once seem so real and unreal. His heart was threatening to burst from his chest. A primal fear was starting to overwhelm him.

The boy could not help but think that this was some mysterious, fantastic, but strikingly realistic dream. He kept looking around with an open mouth and wide eyes. He wanted to flee that roof to the ground, and without thinking he took a step. The hot roof burned his bare heel like when he was on the beach in Pattaya several days earlier, where his father had taken him and his mother to see the Gulf of Thailand. The sea had been teeming with jellyfish and Robert accidentally stepped on one.

«Jellyfish. It’s just jellyfish, nothing to worry about,» the doctor had said calmly at the local hospital where the boy was taken with the burning foot. To the child, the word jellyfish meant a sudden stinging pain. The throbbing foot was covered with bright red marks.

It lasted for just a moment. Feeling a sharp pain, Robert squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath.

«Jellyfish! It doesn’t look like a horse-fish at all!» Jovan sat next to him laughing loudly. «Look, Robbie, see — there’s the head and there’s some tentacles. Like the one in our biology textbook.»

The snapshots of a distant, hot country disappeared abruptly without a trace, like the surprise Robert’s face bore just a few minutes prior.

Robert smiled at Jovan and looked at the sky.

And yet, it was a horse that was floating in the sky, not a jellyfish, he thought.

Jovan and Robert, two inseparable friends, continued to enjoy looking at the clouds.

Meanwhile, the horse with a long fish tail continued to float across the sky, smiling.

Chapter 2

Geneva, Switzerland (Trevor)

17 December 2011. 09:03

Bright sunlight seeping through a crack in the curtains lit a narrow strip of a wide bed. The rest was covered in darkness. A cell phone on a glass nightstand was persistently ringing. Running water could be heard from the shower. Men’s socks, trousers and women’s underwear were scattered on the floor.

The phone went silent, but soon started ringing again. Trevor, in a bathrobe and with a towel draped over his head, approached the bed and picked it up.

«Good morning, Victor… Sure, in an hour… Thanks.»

The line went dead. Amanda’s assistant reminded Trevor about the time of the session.

Trevor dropped the phone and threw open the curtains. Light broke into the room. The windows of the Beau-Rivage Hotel on Lake Geneva revealed a fountain and the snowy mountain peaks of the Swiss Alps. On the bed, snoring softly, a young girl with long dark hair was sleeping. A gray, silk sheet enveloped her naked body like second skin. Breaking his gaze, Trevor recollected the previous evening at the nightclub he frequented whenever he was in Geneva.

Last night the club featured some band that was probably quite popular, judging by the two hundred young people who crowded the stage, singing loudly along with the vocalist to the deafening accompaniment of drums.

The thick blue and yellow beams of projectors caught the faces and hands of the fans in the crowd. Laser chasers were blinding Trevor, so he turned away from the stage and headed to the nearly deserted bar. The young bartender with short, bleached hair and a colorful tattoo took his order and poured a glass of whiskey. A girl sat alone at the other end of the bar, watching Trevor. When their eyes met she smiled and looked down. But then she looked at Trevor again with a tenacious, penetrating, somewhat inquisitive, even defiant look. Trevor slammed down his drink and confidently approached the girl.

In the morning, he could not remember her name, where she was from or what they had talked about at that club. The several glasses of whiskey he had consumed scorched his memories of that night, melting away all that was unnecessary and leaving only fragmented, disconnected shots of their embraces and kisses. Trevor could not remember how they left the nightclub, how they got to the hotel, to his room, but his memory shamelessly continued to show him moments of their lovemaking. Trevor remembered her as passionate, bathed in sweat in his arms, illuminated by a narrow ray of pale moonlight, and he smiled.

«Chloe!» The name of the stranger struck him like a bolt out of the blue. «I think that’s what she called herself? Right, it was Chloe.»

Trevor dressed and opened his wallet. A plastic window revealed an ID with PRESS written in big letters on it. He pulled out four hundred Swiss francs, placed them on the bedside table next to the girl and quickly left the room. Soon, he was outside the hotel on the street.

Christmas was fast approaching and the weather in Geneva was warm and autumnal. At night the temperature would fall to near freezing, which was unseasonably warm, but for Trevor, who had recently flown in from the Sahara, the weather was quite pleasant. The temperature in the desert at night also rarely rose above 3—4oC.

Beau-Rivage Hotel to Rue du Cendrier is about a twenty-minute walk along the city’s promenade.

Trevor felt very agitated before the second session. Until this point, he did not fully understand what had happened to him the day before. Over the past twenty hours, he kept thinking about the office of the psychologist Amanda, listening over and over to his own voice broadcast by the speakers of a small portable recorder, telling an incredible story of a part of his life that nobody knew about, hidden somewhere deep in his subconscious.

It had all started several days earlier, after an unexpected encounter and what he thought was an innocent proposal.


«Yes, Trevor, these are some fine rocks,» said an elderly jeweler, who was unable to roll his «r’ as he spoke, as he examined a round diamond the size of a hazelnut. «Take this one — pure perfection.»

A short gray-haired Jew with horn-rimmed glasses perched on his head had been inspecting the diamond for five minutes through a thick magnifying glass, holding it with fine tweezers in his white cotton gloves.

He carefully returned the stone and picked up another from the handful of nearly identical in size and shape diamonds scattered on a black lacquered table.

«Wonderful!» He was clearly admiring them. «The cut is amazing! The girdle on all of them is as sharp as a knife. The colors and purity are like dew from the sky…

Trevor was introduced to Lev Goldenberg, a jeweler and emigrant from the Soviet Union, by Rochefort, chief editor at Les Mondes, who often ordered jewelry from him.

Lev Goldenberg created remarkable copies of the best collections offered by the leading jewelry brands of Europe.

«Show me a photo of a masterpiece and I will make you one that is hundred times better at half the cost,» he loved to say every time potential clients approached him. Indeed, he was the finest craftsman.

«I have a client who can purchase all of these in one lot,» said the old jeweler as he eyed yet another rock. «If you negotiate well, he will pay five million right away, maybe more.»

«Lev, I wasn’t thinking of selling just yet. I just need a safe place to keep them for a while.»

«Teo, you don’t understand,» the jeweler said softly, prying his gaze from the diamond to give Trevor a piercing look. «Five million euros, not dollars. That’s a lot of money, my friend.»

«Lev, I need a safe place for a couple of days, until Christmas. I’m staying at a hotel and it would be extremely reckless of me to keep them in a safe there.»

— Tov, my friend, all right,» said the jeweler somewhat dejectedly. He gathered the stones in a green velvet bag. «You know you won’t find a safer place. But if you do decide to sell, just let me know and I will arrange everything within two-three hours.»

Shortly after the conversation with the jeweler, Trevor was sitting on the open terrace of a small restaurant in the heart of Geneva, sipping coffee and reading the latest newspapers.

Military service was in the past, the only reminder being a pale tattoo of a skull on his left shoulder, a device of the Reconnaissance Battalion of the Marine Brigade of the French Foreign Legion headquartered in Algeria. The department of the French Press Institute at Paris II Panthéon-Assas University was also in the past. Now, he was a special war correspondent for Les Mondes.

Trevor remembered only bits and pieces of his childhood, as the family moved around a lot. His father was from Carpathian Ruthenia (territory of modern Zakarpattia region in Ukraine), a Ukrainian Ruthenian (Rusyn).

However, at the beginning of the Second World War, when Zakarpattia, then a part of Czechoslovakia, was occupied by the Hungarian army, his family fled first to Prague and after the war to France, where Trevor was born in the early 1970s. His father would converse with him only in the Rusyn language so that he would remember his heritage. Trevor’s mother, a teacher of French and French literature, tried to instill in him a love for everything French.

His father, an expert in hotel construction, had traveled regularly for work to different countries, and he would often take his family with him. That was why Trevor’s childhood memories were reduced to faded color and black and white photographs against the backgrounds of public markets in India, islands and temples of Thailand, sands of the Middle East, and the endless construction sites of Hong Kong, Dubai and Bangkok. As a child, Trevor got so used to moving around and the constant changes that even when he entered adulthood, he could not imagine himself as an office employee, working at the same desk day after day. That was the reason behind his fascination with journalism.

But then the accident happened.

When the boy was twelve, his parents died in a car accident. Trevor spent nearly a month in a hospital until his mother’s older sister, Anne Frachon, became his legal guardian and took him to Paris.

Aunt Anne was unmarried and gave all his love to Trevor. She was the one who insisted that Trevor enlist and later study journalism at university.

Over the past fifteen years, Trevor had traveled to nearly all the world’s conflict zones.

He received the Prix Albert Londres war correspondent award.

His career as a journalist began in 1999 during the Yugoslav Wars. He was sent there as a young, promising reporter by the newspaper in place of an experienced correspondent, who had unexpectedly fallen ill. As a former soldier who served five years in the French Foreign Legion and had intimate knowledge of military matters, Trevor was more than ready for that kind of work.

During the assignment, he became embroiled in a scandal after he published a controversial investigation on the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Trevor was one of the first to reveal that the alliance had used cluster bombs prohibited by the Geneva Convention. Despite the pressure and criticism by military experts and politicians, the young journalist was noticed and recognized.

In the fall of 1999, Trevor was sent to West Africa together with a group from the BBC to prepare an investigative report on war crimes committed by Foday Sankoh, former leader of the Revolutionary United Front, who was appointed vice president of Sierra Leone in 1997, and his ties to another infamous war criminal, then president of Liberia Charles McArthur Taylor, who was later indicted for crimes against humanity thanks to the materials collected and published by Trevor. In 2000, Sankoh was also accused of being a war criminal and indicted, while Charles Taylor was apprehended and held at the International Criminal Court in 2006.

From then on, Trevor was the top journalist covering the majority of military conflicts. His insightful reports and uncompromising articles were published by most of the European press.

In 2007, Trevor was covering wars in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, and Sierra Leone, where he investigated Viktor Woud, an arms dealer from Russia, who was suspected of illegally selling arms and munitions to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and UN-embargoed countries.

Trevor’s colleagues from Russia had told him that Woud could be a secret dealer for the Russian state arms export agency and a big player in Russia. They warned Trevor about investigating this story, as Woud’s operations were directly linked to the newly emerging Russian mafia, which had global aspirations.

Nevertheless, he probed and published, and some of his reports were aired by top European channels.

Viktor Woud was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and extradited to the U.S. on November 16, 2010, where he was indicted. Finally, on November 2, 2011, a jury unanimously found him guilty of illegal arms dealing.

All these events were well covered by Trevor from the start of the investigation in 2007, although due to another trip to a collapsing Libya, he could only follow the trial of Woud online and through the reports of his colleagues.

His track record included reports from Baghdad during the Iraq War, Gaza Strip during the Gaza War and the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata, which were nearly leveled by NATO airstrikes.

That is why Trevor was considered to be one of the most experienced journalists, the lead expert on Africa and the Middle East.

Working in the most unstable countries, Trevor needed trustworthy and reliable friends and partners.

Kate, a twenty-eight-year old journalist from Australia, was one person Trevor fully trusted. Kate was a graceful and sweet blonde with short tousled hair, a cheerful smile full of even white teeth, beautiful, full lips, as if painted by a master artist, and big green eyes. Despite appearing delicate, she always wore a light uniform and a felt hat.

Kate was one of those women who, despite approaching the age of forty, remained cute and cheery, like a teenager in appearance and behavior.

They met in early 2007 in Afghanistan.

A few days earlier, Trevor was captured by the Taliban in Musa Qala, Helmand Province. The abduction had been planned, even though he was on his way to meet one of their leaders for a special story.

There was a young blonde woman and two men, tired by the heat and hunger, already in the house where the bound prisoners were brought. Trevor gathered from the conversations he overheard that they were all journalists and that they had been held there by the militants for over a month.

A local driver and an Afghani reporter were captured together with Trevor. The next day, to intimidate others, two Afghanis were publicly executed in front of the prisoners. The Taliban were planning to demand a ransom for him and the other journalists.

For three days Trevor was brutally beaten in an attempt to break his will, but on the fourth day Mullah Saddam, a prominent Taliban field commander, arrived at the camp.


Musa Qala, Helmand, Afghanistan

22 February 2007 15:35

«Well, well, well. The big infidel is on his knees before the little Afghani mujahedeen?» Mullah taunted in bad English as he approached Trevor, who was lying helplessly, tied up in the dust.

«I am not a soldier; I am a journalist. And I am French,» replied Trevor, despite the agony of the ropes.

«Press?» The militant said with unconcealed malice, grabbing Trevor by the shoulder with one hand and striking his face loudly with the other. «I not ask you, dog, who you are.»

He took Trevor’s plastic ID card in his hands and inspected it with a satisfied smirk.

«Press is good. We need press, very need.»

«What do you want from me?»

«Nothing from you. What can you? You are weak and sick. You can’t anything. Your master can! He pay me. Pay a lot.»

«Nobody will pay you a dime for me. I’m not important,» Trevor said quietly. He spat blood.

«Pay, pay a lot. You make video tomorrow. You ask him to pay,» hissed the Mullah, pressing his foot against Trevor’s face. «If not pay, you go home to Paris in pieces, we send to your office.»

The Mullah gave some instructions in Pashto to some militants. Trevor was lifted and dragged not to the pit, where he was held earlier, but to a clay shed, where the other prisoners were now being kept. It was at least dry there. He was thrown into a small room, separated from the rest of the prisoners by a double plank wall. They put shackles on his wrists and ankles, chained him to a wooden beam and gave him some food and a mug of water. To the militants, Trevor seemed broken and not dangerous.

And that was the opportunity he was waiting for. The Taliban were convinced that a chained, starved, exhausted, beaten prisoner would only dream about getting some sleep, so they carelessly left only one armed mujahedeen near the shed, who as soon as it turned dark smoked some local weed and fell asleep against the wall.

Trevor had learned how to escape from any restraints during his service in the Legion. When he was sure that the camp was settled for the night, he easily freed himself from the shackles and climbed outside through a hole in the roof.

After taking out the guard and grabbing his assault rifle and grenade pouch, Trevor opened the other door of the shed and quietly ordered: «Come on out! Quick!»

However, only the girl rose and resolutely headed towards the exit.

From the darkness of the stuffy room came a coarse voice of a man: «Kate, think about it, you will be caught and executed. Don’t do it.»

But Kate confidently took a step towards the opened door and took Trevor firmly by the arm.

«Can you drive?» Trevor asked as they left the shed. He pointed to a white pickup truck and whispered, «Usually they leave the keys in the armrest. Turn on the engine and wait for me. If something goes wrong, the road to freedom is just behind that wall.»

Kate ran to the truck while Trevor poured gasoline over the other two vehicles and ammunition boxes stacked near a small tent. Alerted by the sound of the running engine, two militants rushed from a building only to be met with the blast of a grenade Trevor had thrown at their feet. Chaotic shooting burst from the building’s windows. Trevor lobbed two grenades at the building and fired at the gasoline. In an instant, everything around him lit up. After unloading a full clip at the building, Trevor threw another grenade towards the ammo boxes, jumped into the open car door and shouted: «Go!»

«Where to?» Kate asked. Her hands were shaking as she grabbed the steering wheel.

«There!» Trevor yelled. He grabbed the wheel with one hand and pressed gas pedal with his left foot together with Kate’s foot, directing the vehicle at the clay fence. «Hold on tight!»

The vehicle tore through the wall and flew onto the sandy road to the deafening roar of detonating ammunition. A bright glow of fire rose over the village, lighting the way for the escapees.

«Now you can turn on the headlights,» Trevor said quietly after some time. The burning building disappeared behind the hill. «Sangin is maybe twenty-five kilometers from here, not more. Just drive to the river without stopping. There is a British base somewhere there… A patrol should see us.»

Trevor was slurring his words. Only then did Kate notice that he was pressing his hand to the left side of his chest. Blood was dripping through his fingers.

«Are you wounded? What’s wrong?» Kate asked.

But Trevor remained silent. He lost consciousness and his body went limp.

«Please, keep talking!» Kate shouted frantically, but she received no answer. Realizing that she was now essentially alone, Kate pressed her hand against Trevor’s wound and stepped on the gas pedal.

Trevor woke up in a bed of a military hospital. Kate was sitting next to him in a white coat draped over a military uniform, with an open book in her hands, dozing.

«Where am I?» asked Trevor faintly.

«We are in Kandahar, on the US base,» Kate answered sleepily. She smiled.

«How long was I out for?»

«Almost three days. You had to have surgery, but it’s all over now.»

Trevor looked around, then glanced at Kate with a barely noticeable smile:

«I believe we haven’t had the chance to be introduced. I am Trevor Blanche.»

«I’m Kate, Kate Larsen. From Australia. I wanted to thank you for saving me.»

«No need, Kate. I am here thanks to you, so we are even.»

The next day, Trevor and Kate were transported from Afghanistan to Switzerland. In Zurich, Trevor continued to undergo treatment and spent all his free time with Kate. Trevor even tried to romance her, but after a few nights spent together Kate made it clear that she had no intention of starting a serious relationship with him, to avoid disappointment, she said, and thought it best to keep what they had uncomplicated. In truth, Kate was testing Trevor. She liked him a lot, but her female intuition told her he wasn’t into committed relationships, so she tried to instill a keeper’s instinct in him.

Trevor, however, easily accepted her terms and continued to regard Kate only as a colleague.

Initially, this irritated Kate, but she hid it well and always seemed happy to see him whenever they were set to work together.

In fact, this kind of relationship between a man and a woman should have ended once and for all after some time, but they were doing the same job. So, after two-, three-week trips, they would part and return to their respective homes, friends and families — to their own worlds.

Trevor had known Etienne, a cameraman, for more than a decade, ever since he worked in Sierra Leone. Etienne was French, but with some Scottish blood flowing in his veins, from this mother. He spent most of his childhood and adolescence at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, on the shore of Loch Linnhe, in the town of Fort William, where his mother was born and where her family still lived.

Etienne absorbed Scottish traditions into every cell in his body. He was extremely proud of the history of Scotland, which he deeply respected and considered his own. That was why, at the age of 35, his French heritage could only be found in a few traits on his slender face. Even the tattoo on his left shoulder bore the words of Scotland’s motto in Latin: «Nemo me impune lacessit».

Etienne was not a talkative sort, or showed feelings at the drop of a hat. In fact, he was careful to hide all emotion. He even joked with a stony face, while his highest praise was a curt «Not bad».

Trevor valued his friendship with Etienne. They had worked side by side for many years. Etienne accompanied Trevor on almost all of his journeys.

In addition, Etienne has been seeing Kate for over a year; they spent a lot of time together. Trevor thought it odd to see the tall, lean Frenchman with an aquiline nose and long hands tenderly treat the small Kate, who was a foot shorter than him. Trevor had been observing them with a smile, comparing their relationship to a dance of fire and ice. It was clear that Kate’s hot heart was melting the ice that covered Etienne’s heart.

Trevor began working with Dan eighteen month ago. Dan was a short, open-hearted young man, a pacifist and a bit of a ladies man. Only twenty-five, he was accepted to Les Mondes as a promising, young and ambitious reporter immediately upon graduating from Tampere University. Rochefort, chief editor of Les Mondes, took the young reporter under his wing. Rochefort appointed Dan as Trevor’s assistant, and Dan ended up accompanying Trevor and Etienne on several trips to the Middle East. A rumor went around that Dan was a distant relative of Rochefort, or even a love child from a long abandoned liaison. Be that as it may, Rochefort was clearly concerned about the future of this young man and he was helping him to find his own place in journalism.

After Etienne and Kate made their relationship official and Kate had moved to Paris to live with him, Dan became Trevor’s buddy during his sojourns to the nightlife of Paris and Zurich.

Dan, too, was secretive about his past. He never spoke about it, but he was happy to be useful to his more experienced colleagues and closely watched Trevor, acquiring the essential skills of a hardened war correspondent. It was Dan, as Trevor’s assistant, who was lately covering the USA v. Woud trial, the scandalous case of the biggest illegal arms dealer in history, tried by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Chapter 3

Geneva, Switzerland

15 December 2011. 15:45

Trevor was sitting on the veranda of a busy restaurant watching an elderly couple talking quietly at the table near the entrance. He was amused by how the man was stealthily feeding a small dog that was sitting under the table.

Trevor flipped through a fresh newspaper, trying to find the latest news on the Woud trial, but seeing nothing asked the waiter for the bill. That was when the encounter happened that turned his life upside down, inadvertently exposing that part of him which he had not even guessed existed.

Trevor was surprised to hear someone speak in Serbian. A man and a woman, clearly tourists, were talking to one another. They had two children with them, close to the age of seven. The man’s voice sounded familiar. Trevor was ready to swear that he knew the man well. He shoved the newspaper aside and stared at the retreating silhouettes of the family. The woman was walking ahead, holding the children by their hands. The man was inspecting the cobblestones engraved with the names of cities, incidentally turning towards Trevor. He was a short, stout man, about fifty, balding, with thick glasses, and dressed in a well-worn but clean suit and an oversized navy raincoat.

Suddenly it dawned on Trevor that he knew the man. He got up and shouted in Serbian: «Jovan? My friend, Jovan, it is you!»

The man glanced back. His wife also noticed the stranger who was loudly calling after her husband. Both children immediately clutched their mother.

«Jovan, hey! It’s me, Trevor. Don’t you recognize me, old man?»

«Teo?!» the man responded, throwing open his arms. «Trevor! Well, I didn’t expect to see you here! It’s been a while! It is a small world, I guess!»

The friends hugged tightly.

«I thought I’d never see you again,» said Trevor. «How long has it been? Ten? Twelve years?»

«Teo, fifteen years at least! You were serving in the Legion back then,» Jovan responded slowly, tears of sincere joy fogging his glasses. «I forgot how you look. Let me see you!»

Jovan wiped his glasses and after putting them back, he scanned Trevor. Grabbing his shoulders, he joyfully exclaimed: «You are a real badass, and you still look cool. Haven’t changed a bit! Right, Anna? This is Trevor… Teo, a friend I once told you about.»

Jovan’s wife held out her hand and gave Trevor an appraising look.

Anna was a tall, slim, conventionally attractive woman with no makeup, dressed in a cheap grey coat and long black skirt, which could not hide her aristocratic posture. Trevor took immediate notice of her wonderfully manicured and well-cared-for hands, although he was taken aback by her contrasting appearance.

«Well, you were also once a tall, handsome guy with green eyes and thick dark hair,» she joked, lightly stroking Jovan’s bald spot. «As far as I know from what my husband told me, you are the same age, and were thick as thieves many years ago.»

Anna spoke Serbian well, but with a slight Russian accent. She looked, maybe, ten years younger than Jovan and seemed unnaturally guarded; even her joke sounded forced to Trevor.

«Jovan, you talked about me?» Trevor said, and immediately offered: «Friends, let’s sit on the terrace. My table is free, as if it was waiting for you.

«Yes, I spoke a lot about us, my friend,» answered Jovan as he sat down at the table. He turned to his wife and continued: «Honey, we have been friends since we were twelve. Oh, the trouble we got into! We even planned to serve in the Legion together. Right, Teo? I didn’t pass the medical then, but we did dream to be together always. By the way, how long are you here for?»

«A couple of days. I wanted to spend Christmas somewhere in the mountains, close to the snow, because I don’t think we’ll have snow here this year.»

«Yeah, it’s pretty warm for December. Well, Trevor, tell me what you are up to these days?» Jovan smiled.

But Anna took Jovan’s hand and said: «Honey, you stay and catch up with your friend and the boys and I will take a walk along the waterfront. I’m sure you will have fun without us.» She stood up.

As Trevor was helping Anna with her coat, he noticed a small piece of paper stapled to the inside of the collar. It was a receipt with a drycleaner’s number. Jovan had the same receipt stapled to his coat. Trevor thought about it for a moment, but Jovan’s voice distracted him.

«A fine woman, isn’t she?!»

«Yeah…» he replied hollowly and glanced at Anna’s retreating form. Both kids dragged their feet after her and soon all three were lost in the crowd on the square.

«You can’t imagine how lucky I am with her. We’ve been together for ten years.

«Is she Russian?»

«No, Serbian, but lived all her life in Catalonia. Ok, enough about me. How are you? Married? What about work?»

It really had been a long time and they did have a lot to talk about.

Trevor met Jovan in the early 1980s, at school in Paris, where Jovan’s Serbian family had moved from Yugoslavia, having fled Kosovo after the 1981 clashes. As a kid, Jovan would often tell Trevor about those events, when crowds of refugees traveled from Kosovo to Serbia, leaving behind their houses and villages because of Albanian nationalists. Albanians had burned the village where Jovan’s family lived to the ground, turning hundreds of people into refugees.

Trevor befriended Jovan the moment he crossed the school’s threshold. At first, Trevor felt sorry for the modest, quiet and always hungry boy, who spoke very poor French. After some time, however, they became the closest of friends. Jovan was a frequent guest at the house of Aunt Anne Frachon.

After graduating from high school, the friends decided to enlist together in the Legion, but Jovan, who was a tough-looking young man, unexpectedly failed his medical exam and got the «unfit for military service» stamp because of flat feet. Their paths diverged shortly thereafter.

They stayed at the restaurant till late and then went to a small hotel on the other side of Leman, where Jovan was staying with his family. They stopped on Mont Blanc Bridge, which connected the two halves of the city, admiring the restless surface of Lake Geneva.

The night city sparkled with colorful lights that were reflected in the iridescent water, like in a Van Gogh painting. The fountain that pushed a thick 40-meter stream of water into the sky proudly stood over a small man-made cape.

«Teo, you know, we are not here on vacation,» Jovan said after a moment of silence. He shifted his gaze away from Trevor as he spoke, pretending to stare at the dark waters of the lake. «I’m here for psychological adaptation after treatment for alcoholism.»

The roar of the fountain muffled Jovan’s words, but he continued, a bit louder: «This is the third time I’ve been in treatment, Teo. The third time! But today is 94 days that I’ve been sober. There is a very good psychologist here in Geneva who is helping me. I come here once every three months for a week. I have a session every morning.»

Trevor stared at him in silence.

«Life is not an easy thing, Teo! You dream about one thing and get something totally different,» Jovan continued bitterly. «I got somehow sucked into it. But now I hope that I’m done for good. There is this young woman, a great psychologist, who can induce a state of hypnosis, and she helped me. I was referred to her after I had lost almost everything. I was living alone by that time and practically homeless. Now, things are looking up again.»

Trevor decided to change the subject, as he could tell how hard it was for Jovan to open his heart to him. Yet Trevor felt uneasy.

«Jovan, do you recall how we went to see that touring hypnotist? Remember, we were the only ones he was unable to hypnotize and we were asked to leave the club?» Trevor smiled and continued: «Ever since then I have been convinced that I am immune to hypnosis and other such types of suggestion.»

«Trevor, you don’t understand. She’s got incredible skills! And her looks…» Jovan winked at Trevor and continued: «I can introduce her to you, if you want. She’s an incredible woman in every sense. I have my last session with her tomorrow morning. By the way, she is classy and she is single.» Jovan pronounced the last word with a knowing tone and winked.

A real hypnotist, thought Trevor. A classy woman and a good psychologist. Seems like too many praises for one person.

«How about your job? I think I remember you wanted to be in politics,» Trevor said, again trying to change the subject. Then he seemed to remember something: «I think you went to Moscow State Institute of International Relations?»

«Yes, I graduated with honors». Jovan nodded. «You have a great memory, my friend. After I graduated, I worked, got married, had two children, and joined a small law firm in the center of Prague. The calm, measured life relaxed me and I almost ended up losing everything. But I hope that’s all in the past now.»

«Yes, Jovan, life has a tendency to adjust our plans. Sometimes it seems we are simply watching life go by. So, you are saying you leave tomorrow? When?»

«We leave by train at midday, right after the session. We’ve rested, fortified our constitutions, so enough, duty calls. This time tomorrow, I’ll be in Prague, but don’t worry, we will speak tomorrow. The most important thing is that we found each other,» replied Jovan, patting Trevor on his shoulder.

«Right, and I am really happy we did. It’s kinda weird that we so unexpectedly…»

«You have some business in Geneva?» Jovan asked. «Are you here alone or with somebody?»

«No, Jovan. I’m done with business for the year. I’m vacationing here. By the way, now’s a good time for some decent brandy.» Trevor pointed towards the downtown. «Let’s go, I know a great place here. You won’t drink, I know, but you can keep me company.»

«No, Teo,» Jovan protested. «I’d love to, but I keep a strict schedule. I must be in bed in 30 minutes, and preferably on an empty stomach.»

«Well, if you have to, I won’t keep you.» Trevor smiled. «I wanna hang out a bit longer. I like the liveliness of the city. Besides, I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately.»

«That’s another reason to speak to a good psychologist,» Jovan said happily. «You just need to reboot your brain. You will sleep like a baby after the first session with her. What have you got to lose? An hour of relaxation and you will feel better right away.»

«Fine, Jovan,» Trevor answered after a moment’s thought. «Have it your way. I’ve got time anyways. Let’s go to her tomorrow. When is your session?»

«Okay, look, it starts at 9am and lasts not more than 40 minutes. I will schedule you for 10 am and wait for you there. Sound good?»

«Sounds good,» agreed Trevor and hugged his friend goodbye. «Let’s see your «classy woman’. By the way, Jovan, what’s her name?»

«Amanda. Her name is Amanda.»

The two friends bid each other farewell and agreed to meet the next morning at Rue du Cendrier 19.

Chapter 4

Prague, Czech Republic (Robert)

16 December 2011. 17:15

«Insomvita? A life in dreams? Right… Interesting… Very interesting… Ahem… Insomvita… Is this your own idea or did somebody put you up to it?» a man in his sixties in a white coat and a thin gray beard said as he examined Robert. He paused and stared into Robert’s eyes, half-smiling in distrust. «Mr. Blanche, if everything you are saying here is true and there is not a hint of deceit, then you are a true discovery for a psychiatrist!»

Dr. Alexander Friedman did not look one bit like a psychiatrist. To Robert, a psychiatrist was a serious, stout man in an expensive suit, with the neat hands of a piano player, high forehead and wide, neatly trimmed beard up to the ears. But the man standing before Robert was short, skinny, and elderly, with a small, carefully trimmed beard and a closely clipped moustache. His face, streaked with a web of thin wrinkles, was well cared for, small and feminine by most metrics. His gray hair was neatly cut and combed back in long streaks.

The doctor was very nimble. When he spoke, and he spoke very quickly, his hands flew in a flock of gestures. At the same time, his enunciation was precise and he spoke every word very clearly.

The psychiatrist followed his examination ritual, going from eyes to tongue and throat, massaging hands and lightly swinging the reflex hammer against the knees.

«Everything seems to be in order! Do you take antidepressants? Do you suffer from migraines?»

«No. I’ve never needed antidepressants and I hardly ever take pills,» Robert answered. «For a migraine, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t remember the last time I had one.»

«What about your sleep? Maybe you suffer from insomnia?» The doctor was clearly confused and did not try to conceal it. «You look a bit fatigued.»

«Doctor, I sleep like a baby. I can sleep anywhere and in any position.» Robert smiled. «I just got back from a business trip. Haven’t slept for nearly 24 hours — different city, the flight.»

«Exhaustion? Sleep deprivation? You work a lot?»

«No, doctor. I’m fine. The question is totally different. I want to know if you’ve seen anything like this before?»

«Did you use to take drugs? Smoke pot?» the doctor continued his interrogation, ignoring Robert’s question.

«Doc, nothing like that. I even have alcohol intolerance. So, I almost don’t drink and I’ve never smoked.»

Robert tried to speak in a steady, calm voice to convince the psychiatrist as his eyes bore into Robert during this interrogation.

«Right… right… right… Oh, got it! Have you been to a doctor with this issue before?

«I’ve already told you that I’ve never been here. Amanda recommended that I see you. She was the one who suggested it.»

«Right… right… right… Amanda,» the doctor drew out, ignoring Robert’s last words. He got up and began to examine his head again. «You say that you’ve not had any head trauma. What about when you were a child? Maybe intense stress, mental disorders, phobias, some juvenile anxiety?»

«No, doctor, nothing like that. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been seriously ill.»

The psychiatrist looked at Robert in the eyes and resumed feeling around his head. His fingers, like a massage device, slid pleasantly through his hair, leaving no inch of the patient’s skull unexamined.

«If this helps, doc… I don’t know whether it’s a phobia, but I feel really uneasy on a train.»

The doctor continued to ignore Robert and probe his head.

«Why is that, do you think? As far as I know, trains are the safest mode of transport.»

He suddenly stopped, still leaving his hands partially buried in Robert’s skull, leaned in close and quickly asked: «Why are you so scared of the trains?»

«It’s because of the rail crash at Ladbroke Grove in London.»

«Ok, tell me about it,» the psychiatrist said.

«This was a long time ago, in October 1999, I think. In the morning, right before getting on the train in Reading, I suddenly felt very sick, right on the platform. I experienced severe dizziness and I thought I was about to lose consciousness. And then I had a vision. I saw myself lying among the dead in the wreckage of a train carriage filled with mangled corpses. I could even feel the heat of the fire on my face that engulfed the carriage. Then suddenly I heard a clear voice in my head instructing me not to get on that train. In the evening, I was watching the news and saw the horrifying rail crash that happened at the fourth kilometer from Paddington Station. Two trains had collided, killing over thirty people and leaving more than five hundred injured. And the first car, which I was supposed to board, suffered the worst.»

«Paddington rail crash,» Dr. Friedman said. «I remember reading about it.»

«Right. So, I’ve avoided trains ever since. I think that was a warning from above, a sign. Even now I can see that railway carriage before my eyes — a pile of crumpled metal and charred bodies. It was unspeakably awful.»

Dr. Friedman listened to Robert’s story while continuing to examine his head.

«A vision, you say,» the doctor said after Robert finished. «I think the crash was the result of a faulty signal light, yes? Okay… Have you had other visions?»

«No, doctor,» answered Robert uncertainly. «Just the dreams…»

Meanwhile, having thoroughly examined the head, the psychiatrist returned to the patient’s eyes and tongue.

«Open your mouth again, please… Wider, stick out your tongue, please.»

It seemed he was searching for a diagnosis written somewhere inside his mouth.

«Well, well… So, what were you saying? Never been seriously sick?» the doctor asked Robert while still inspecting his throat. It was clear he wasn’t expecting an answer, as Robert’s mouth remained open.

Robert noticed that the doctor’s eyes were shining with youth and vigor, although he was no longer a young man. Those were the eyes of a child when dragged away from playing.

«What about Amanda?» the doctor suddenly asked, motioning to Robert that he could close his mouth. «Have you known her long?»

«Amanda? No. I, well, Trevor… I… eh… met her only last night.»

«Trevor…» said the doctor thoughtfully. «I’m sorry, how does this Amanda look? How old is she?»

«I haven’t seen her, but I clearly felt and heard her… But somehow now, I realize that I know how she looks. She looks about 30, maybe less. Dark skin, tall, very attractive. And there are… her eyes…» Robert though for a bit and then looked at the doctor. «She has incredible eyes, green and blue, like from a fairytale. They…»

«Do you realize that it is, possibly, your alter ego?» asked the doctor impatiently, cutting Robert off. «And that it was she who advised you to come see me?»

«Well, not you, exactly. She insisted that I see a good psychiatrist here, in my world, or, at least, a psychologist and tell him everything. She said she would need assistance from this side to try and figure out what was happening to me there. Well, to Trevor…»

«This is all very strange, don’t you think?»

«I agree, which is why I am here now. I’ve had a long-lasting interest in dissociative disorders and I want to understand it all more than anyone else.»

«You read medical journals?» said the doctor, raising his eyebrows in surprise. «You see, dear, many psychiatrists, me included, by the way, view disassociation as a symptomatic response to trauma, critical emotional stress; it is connected to emotion dysregulation. However, it seems to me that nothing like that has happened to you, except maybe in the case of the first relapse and your reaction to it.»

«You are right, doctor, in that many scientists believe that dissociative disorder is contrived in nature.»

«Yes, dear, you are absolutely right. Latrogenic in nature or, as you put it, contrived. I am also convinced of that!»

The room fell silent. Dr. Friedman intently pondered the situation. This was the first time he had seen such symptoms and the course of, what he believed, the disease.

«You, Robert, are talking about dissociative disorders. I believe your condition is something else. You see, in order to diagnose multiple personality disorder, or in other words, dissociative identity disorder, you would need memory loss beyond normal forgetfulness in addition to the presence of at least two personalities that would regularly and in turn control your behavior. In this case, memory loss usually occurs when the channels are switched. You, on the other hand, manifest totally different symptoms. And then again, this Trevor…» The doctor paused to think. «You see, your memory clearly relays everything that is happening to you here and there. There are no manifestations of your other personality — Trevor. Only you control your actions, and I don’t see any interference from your alter ego. That’s what puzzles me. I’ve never seen anything like that described in medical texts.»

He squeezed his fingers and touched his chin. The knuckles turned white from visible tension.

«By the way, have you taken notice of the name Trevor?» The doctor looked at Robert curiously, as if he just uncovered a secret and was about to reveal it.

«What’s wrong with it?»

«What do you mean what’s wrong? It is a palindrome, a word that reads the same backward as forward. Look!» The doctor took a sheet of paper and wrote several big letters. «Here, this is how it looks. Trevor is the mirror image of your name, Robert.»

«Indeed. I’ve never thought about it, but you’re right,» Robert said in surprise.

«Yes, Robert, mirror image! Palindrome. By the way, what’s your feeling of time? It is synchronous?»

«For the most part it almost coincides. Life there runs strictly by the rules, even if I don’t sleep here for, like, two days. But usually, in my dream, it’s like I return to the last starting position. Sometimes, it seems as though I enter while it’s in progress, but my memory instantly fills with information. I realize that’s what happened only later, when I wake up.»

«So, there are moments you can’t remember?»

«Just as there are in this life, doctor. All feelings are identical. Usually, when I fall asleep, I find myself in the exact moment as before. It’s as if I just push play on a track that was paused. Well, except for the case with Amanda. That was different.»

Dr. Friedman was looking at Robert, contemplating something. He was tormented by doubt and he seemed to be trying to explain to himself what was going on, shuffling through all the cases of multiple personality disorder known to him, comparing them with this unclear condition of his new patient.

After a long silence, the doctor sighed, crossed his arms over his chest and said: «You know, Robert, your condition, even considering your fantasies about night journeys in your dreams, raises no concerns for me. This all falls within the generally accepted standards of psychological deviance. Here’s what does concern me though…» The doctor paused, looking intently at Robert. «Your suicidal thoughts, I believe, are the result of depression, but you seem to be coping with that on your own. And that’s a very good decision, because staying in depression passively is like sitting on the bank of a river waiting for the body of your enemy to float by. I am happy that you are not waiting, but instead trying to find a way out. Seek ways and analyze.»

«You’ve got it a bit wrong, doctor. I have suicidal thoughts not because I don’t see a way out, and they are not the result of some depression. I am fully content with my life here, beyond the dream. I have a good job, successful career, and a woman I love. But…» Robert sighed deeply. «Sometimes all of this does not seem real to me. I’ve thought a lot about it, comparing this world and that one. What if all this is just somebody’s dream? What if you and I and this entire world is just my dream, my imagination, and nothing more? In that case, suicide seems to be a radical way to solve the problem. Do you understand?»

«So, you believe that by killing yourself in this life, you will simply wake up in the other, like in a dream? Right?» the doctor asked. «If that is so, and if we are, as you believe, in a dream right now, what will stop you from coming back here the next time? It’s just a dream, after all. And if we were to assume that you are right and this world is your dream, how can you be sure that you haven’t killed yourself before in this life, which you’ve just called a dream?»

«That is only my assumption. As for a suicide, I would probably remember it. I do remember everything that happened to me yesterday, a month or several years ago. I remember everything, starting with my childhood.»

«Probably you would…» The doctor again looked at Robert and continued in a serious tone: «Let’s assume this world is your dream. So, what is to prevent the brain of the sleeping Trevor from simulating unrealistic details of your life, the ones you would see as given, undeniable facts, because here they are implanted in your memory. Do you understand the absurdity of the situation? By the way, how long have you had suicidal thoughts?»

«Maybe five-six years. Right after I finally realized that I could not find a way out or understand the situation. I’ve often thought about it and I clearly remember when I was very close to taking that last step, but I’ve never been able to go through with it.»

Robert fell silent. The doctor continued to stare at him, thinking about something. A silence fell upon the room. There was a mix of doubt and interest in the doctor’s eyes.

«Well, dear,» he said at last. «I will take on your case. Tomorrow’s a day off, so we will have a session at my home office. Drug therapy won’t work here. We will dig into your brain, into your consciousness. We will start from the beginning. We do use clinical hypnosis as a form of psychotherapy, as your Amanda said, but first I will ask you to remember some more details and share them with me. I will be expecting you tomorrow at this address.»

The doctor wrote his home address neatly on his business card, which was atypical for members of his profession, and handed it to Robert.

«I will not keep you in suspense. I’m expecting you tomorrow at 10 am. And pass on the warmest greetings to Amanda for me.»

The doctor escorted Robert to the exit, but at the door he suddenly looked into his eyes and said in a cold voice: «I don’t believe you, my dear. I don’t believe a word you’ve said for a second, and you will have to really try hard to prove otherwise. I am, however, intrigued, as your lie is totally implausible. In fact, so implausible that it could turn out to be true!»

Chapter 5


24 December 2011. 03:23

Robert stood quietly over the abyss, listening to steady sound of the river. He watched the black streams break between the large boulders, which brought back to him fragments of his childhood and youth. The faces of people, his family, close friends or simply acquaintances appeared and disappeared in his head. Some were laughing, others were giving disapproving looks. Meanwhile, the water kept rushing, swirling and roaring, almost helplessness to overcome the flat, snow-covered stones that stood on its path to freedom.

But Robert didn’t notice this. His mind was far away from the river and from this wintry place.

Who is he? Trevor from his dreams, who became a part of his thoughts, memories and his body, it seemed, or Robert, who was closer and more distinct just a couple days ago, but no longer. In this moment, the memories blended and everything in his head raged and seethed like the waters at the base of the cliff. The memories of Trevor’s life and reality intertwined, throwing up and dragging back images and scenes from one and the other.

Suddenly Robert’s mind took him back to the day when it first happened. Everything stopped, fell silent, and the memory of that years-old condition enveloped Robert in a warm and powerful feeling of something that had been long forgotten and nearly lost.


…It was Christmas Eve. Children’s room. A big table in the middle with a small, decorated Christmas tree on top. Gold and silver tinsel drooped from its branches, while big cotton snowflakes filled the spaces in between. The tree shone with garlands of lights in many shapes and colors, creating fairy-like reflections that made the holiday even more magical.

Under the tree were several oranges and a white papier-mâché Santa Claus holding a staff and a red sack full of gifts over his shoulder. Every year he appeared under a new Christmas tree, having been taken out of an old faded cardboard box, where he was stored together with the ornaments, garlands, faded yellow cotton and long tinsel made of multicolored tinfoil.

The smell of the fresh spruce filled the room, with the scents of vanilla and fresh pastries breaking through from the kitchen.

Robert did not understand why he had woken up. He was simply looking sleepily at the Christmas tree with its glittering lights. He could hear bells ringing, an accordion playing and Christmas carols being sung outside in the distance.

Christmas celebrations were in full swing. People, dressed in the costumes of vertep, were performing the show in the middle of the snow-covered street. They were clad in leather, fur-lined jackets, girded with belts around their waists and crosswise on their chests, rough trousers tucked into felt boots and large and small iron bells attached to their belts. The bells chimed with many tones, timbre and duration as the players ran around or stomped their feet. Crude black masks with slits for eyes covered their faces; they wore black turbans with red ribbons and held curved wooden sticks or brooms. According to tradition, they were forbidden to speak; they only growled and barked like dogs, frightening passers-by and amusing children. Other participants in the nativity scene — carolers — were dressed in Hutsul folk costumes — keptars, sardaks or goatskin kozhukhs. They carried a long pole topped by a large star in front of them and sang traditional kolyadky.

The shows were performed at nearly every door. Four deacons carried a model of the village church and a donation box from one household to the other. The families would listen to the carols and psalms, give gifts to carolers and make donations to the church.

Joy and laughter abounded. Despite the cold, the accordionists played with bare hands, pressing the keys and buttons in time with the carolers. For three days the festivities would fade away near dawn only to start up again at dusk.

It was dark on the streets of Harsfolvo, a little village on the outskirts of the resort town of Solva, stranded between the mountains where Robert’s family lived. But thanks to the abundant snow that fell just before the New Year’s and bright light of the stars, the world looked magical.

The houses along the street were pressed together by narrow courtyards. Anyone passing could see Christmas trees with colorful lights, ornaments and garlands sparkling through the windows.

Robert had a hard time keeping his eyes open; he was tired and sleep overcame him, trying to break his will and yield to the intoxicating spirit of Morpheus. It was always nice and sweet to fall asleep.

Robert dropped his head onto the soft pillow and sank into fantasies that smoothly transitioned into dreams.

«Trevor! Hello! Wakey-wakey! You’ve slept long enough!»

The cheerful female voice came from the kitchen, followed by the chiming of glasses, plates, and cutlery, which the woman was setting on the breakfast table.

«Wake up, Trevor!»

Robert opened his eyes only after somebody pulled his comforter off.

«Auntie, let me sleep a while longer. Five more minutes,» he groaned sleepily and tried to pull the comforter back, but it slid to the floor.

Robert reached for the quilt, but he could not grab it on his first try, so he moved closed to the edge. At that moment, something incredible happened. It was as if he found himself in a world behind a looking-glass. In the middle of a huge room with a high ceiling stood a magnificent Christmas tree, lusciously decorated with round ornaments, animal figurines, glowing garlands of different colors, and great golden and red bows. A bright red star was perched on the very tip of the tree, which lit up in all the colors of the rainbow. The big red and blue ornaments, smaller white and green ones, candies wrapped in white napkins, all hung by multicolored threads, together creating an aura of something magical and ethereal.

Robert could not tear his surprised and enthralled gaze off the Christmas tree. This was the first time in his life that he had seen such a wonder.

Robert could not tell if what he was seeing was real. He looked around and to his surprise saw that he was in a different, tidy, foreign room. It was light and spacious, with walls painted bright yellow and a blue ceiling blazoned with tiny, skillfully painted stars. New furniture clung to the walls, which were adorned with an entire library of the most varied of books.

On the other side of the room stood a black lacquered piano, ready to be played. And toys — dozens, maybe even hundreds of toys. The sheer abundance of playthings made him dizzy. There were small and big model cars, leather balls for football and basketball, but most importantly there was a huge model railway set. Its tracks wound around the Christmas tree and throughout the room. There were tunnels, lights, bridges, and other incredible details beyond Robert’s wildest dreams. Above his bed a model of a real aircraft hung on invisible threads. Everything was astounding and incomprehensible.

Robert sat on the bed, his eyes wide open with bewilderment and fascination. This was the first time he had experienced such a vivid dream and he did not want this fairytale to end. Robert shut his eyes dreamily…

«Robert, get up! How many times do I have to call you?!» his mom called from the kitchen. She approached Robert’s bed and shook his shoulder.

Robert opened his eyes and got up. He was still in his old room. There was the small Christmas tree on the table in the middle of the floor. The bright colors had vanished, as did all the toys. On the wall next to Robert’s bed hung a photo of a new car from an automobile magazine, pinned wall with blue plasticine at the four corners.

His mother was making a ruckus in the kitchen.

Sitting on his bed, Robert tried to comprehend what had just happened to him. Suddenly he realized what had startled and flustered him the most. In his dream the woman had called him Trevor, and it sounded normal to him, not surprising at all, although he had never heard the name in his life. Why Trevor? Where was he just now? What kind of dream was it, why was it so vivid, real, almost genuine? And why auntie?

But the dream had vanished like a fairytale.

Chapter 6

Geneva, Switzerland

16 December 2011. 09:58

Amanda’s office was on the third floor of a seven-story building on Rue du Cendrier 19, in the very heart of Geneva. Jovan was waiting for Trevor at the front entrance after his session. Trevor greeted his friend with a warm hug and a slap on the shoulder. They quickly ascended the wide stairs and stopped at the door. Under the intercom button, the plaque read “Amanda Fabian — Psychologue”.

«Is she Belgian?» asked Trevor, but Jovan had already pressed the button.

A tall young man in this thirties dressed in a black suit and tie with smoothly combed dark hair opened the door.

«Please, come in, Mr. Jovan, Amanda is expecting you,» he said and looked at Trevor. «You must be Mr. Blanche. Hello. Let me take down your details. I need to enter them into our system.»

Victor started entering the information, while Trevor listened to the music that played on the computer. It seemed very familiar, but he couldn’t pinpoint it.

«This is…» Trevor said, pointing at the speakers, but Victor was ahead of him.

«Yes, that’s Parisienne Walkways. Do you like it? Here are your documents. Please, go in,» he said seriously and indicated the door.

«Hello again, Amanda. I’d like to introduce my friend, Trevor Blanche,» said Jovan and looked back to see Trevor entering the doctor’s office. «Trevor, this is Amanda, my guardian angel.»

Trevor and Amanda looked at each other and shook hands. Usually Trevor did not like it when a woman offered her hand to a man, believing handshakes to be solely a guy thing. But now, pressing Amanda’s hand, he did not take notice of it, and he could not tear his eyes away from her wonderfully blue, even turquoise eyes against the dark complexion of her face. Indeed, Amanda’s eyes were of a rare kind of bluish green; they seemed to absorb whoever dared to look into them. Trevor had never been drawn in by such a stare. At the same time, it was a look of puzzlement, a look of frank amazement. In an instant, however, Amanda regained her composure, cast a glance at Jovan and turned back to look defiantly at Trevor.

Blood rushed to his face, but he held her stare.

«Hello, Mr. Blanche. So, you are the one who doubts the power of hypnosis and believes that all hypnotists are charlatans?» Amanda smirked.

Jovan probably had told her about his attitude, Trevor mused.

Amanda pointed to two leather chairs and continued: «Hypnosis is not a means to an end for a psychologist. Hypnosis is a set of instruments for effective work with our consciousness and subconscious, a way to fight fears, treat addictions and resolve psychological issues.»

«It’s not about whether I believe in the power of hypnosis,» answered Trevor as he sunk into the soft chair. «I highly doubt that hypnosis is an effective method of treatment. After all, a state of hypnosis is essentially a state of forced sleep. And what can you cure with sleep, except fatigue?»

Amanda sat down at the table, folding her fingers in the shape of a pyramid. She listened intently to Trevor, eyes piercing him.

«Whether you believe in hypnosis or not is not what is most important. You may or may not believe in the surgeon’s scalpel or dentist’s drill. Those things are merely medical instruments. However, in the hands of an experienced doctor, they become a means for obtaining information or achieving a goal.»

Trevor watched Amanda. He was in no hurry and he caught himself thinking that he was enjoying her company. Yet Trevor felt uneasy. He saw compassion in Amanda’s eyes, the look a doctor would give their patients before telling them positive test results or notifying them of a serious disease. There was no doubt that Amanda was prepared for this conversation and the ultimate goal of her speech was to demonstrate the necessity of holding a hypnotherapy session with him. What was it? Professional interest, the desire to attract a new client, or something else hidden behind the easy conversation between psychologist and patient?

Whatever it was, on that day, Amanda flipped an invisible, hidden switch in Trevor’s head that was to lead to unexpected, unpredictable and fatal consequences for the both of them.


«What’s bothering you, Trevor?» Amanda asked after seeing Jovan to the door and giving Trevor all her attention.

«Insomnia. I’ve accumulated some real fatigue, plus all the trips and flights. For about ten days now.»

«Many psychologists treat insomnia with different techniques of hypnosis. Indeed, quick results can be achieved only with the help of suggestion. I use hypnotic regression, find the hidden reason behind the insomnia, treat and remove it. This method leads to positive results in most cases, while the client may get some relief right after the first session.

«Do you think insomnia can be treated in one session?»

«I am sure of it,» said Amanda. «You will immediately feel better. Have you ever had a session of hypnosis?

Trevor recalled street magicians he had seen, hypnotists with their «fake» people from «the crowd» and smiled.

«No, Amanda. I’ve never been into this sort of thing. These tricks don’t interest me.»

Amanda was also watching Trevor curiously. She liked men like Trevor, but her clients were mostly people with serious issues, bad habits and mental illness. In the case with Trevor, she realized that confident men suffered from almost the same insecurities and issues as the others, but they are able to skillfully conceal them from prying eyes. She also realized that in order for the session to proceed successfully, she needed to know more about the patient.

«You see, Trevor, hypnosis is not just some phenomenon,» she continued. «It is a state of mind caused artificially by suggestion. There is no miracle or deception here. After all, this is a technique, or, as professionals say, a method of preparing the patient for diagnosing their condition using external influence on the subconscious. That’s not a God-given gift or a trick.»

«To me, it all does seem like a kind of trick that attracts gullible people with an increased level of self-suggestion and nothing more.» Trevor smiled condescendingly. «I wouldn’t want to think that I am one of those people.»

Amanda smiled. «It might seem that way at first glance, but, tell me, Trevor, do you read books?» Without waiting for an answer she continued. «Fiction, for example. Have you ever thought that, when you read a book, you see not the letters, the lines, the color of the atrament, the texture of the paper, something that is literally before your eyes, but something entirely different? When you read, sentence after sentence, you clearly imagine the characters of the story, the way they look, the world that surrounds them, their personality, impressions, and experiences. You are essentially an outside observer of everything that is happening to them. A reader mostly feels like a direct participant of the events. Am I right?» Amanda spoke unhurriedly, in an even, pleasant low voice, as if she were a TV anchor explaining the essence of the universe. «That is suggestion. The process of reading fiction in general, especially ’about the self’, is very close to the state of hypnosis. Therefore, a love of reading accurately testifies to the high suggestiveness of the patient.»

Amanda stopped and glanced at Trevor.

«So, do you like to read? What do you read in your free time?»

«You know, I read a lot when I was a kid and as a teenager. I even found something beautiful in Walter Scott’s boring descriptions of landscapes and nature, if I remember correctly. Now, I am mostly into historical research. Unfortunately, I don’t have too much time to read books.»

«If you like to read,» Amanda continued, «then you have developed the ability to think figuratively and the desire to perceive information. Avid readers are very high up on the hypnotic susceptibility scale. Some of them not only visually imagine everything they read, but also can anticipate dialog, scenes and even plot lines. All of this is also visual.»

«Well, I am not so susceptible as to be able to predict future scenes when I read,» retorted Trevor. «Although, you are right; when you read, your mind does form certain images. And I agree that a writer can inspire a reader to experience certain feelings. It is normal and natural, for the most part. But I still think a hypnotist suggesting certain actions or non-existent situations is an outright fraud.»

«Why? I will also tell you that experienced psychologists can provoke not only certain thoughts, but also images during a hypnosis session. In some cases, implantation of invented real-life situations is possible in order to block or replace some painful memories that affect a person’s psychological condition.»

«So, you are saying that a hypnotherapist provokes dreams and can implant artificial memories about the past?»

«Exactly! Moreover, during a hypnosis session, the patient does not perceive them as the past, but as reality. It is also possible to implant a wholly invented life-line, and the hypnotized person will also perceive it as reality. I’ve had extensive experience with such hypnotic manipulations, resulting in a positive trend of psychological recovery of the patient. This, however, is possible, as I’ve already told you, only with those who are highly susceptible to suggestion. By the way, based on my experience, they have the most vivid, colorful and very detailed dreams, regardless of whether they are their own or suggested.»

Amanda paused and suddenly asked: «What kind of dreams do you have, Trevor — black and white or color?»

Trevor thought about it. He hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Amanda’s question forced Trevor to look back to his childhood, and his memory created a small puzzle from the distant past out of several pieces of long-forgotten childhood impressions.

It happened on the day he turned twelve.

Trevor’s father, a well-known architect, was designing one of the tallest hotels in Thailand. His wife and son had moved to live in Hong Kong. It was the day Trevor’s family celebrated his birthday. The celebration ended with an evening gondola ride along Bangkok’s canals.

The boat was long and narrow and big enough only for a few people. A yellow cloth stretched over it to protect passengers from the sun. A kerosene lamp sat in the rear of the gondola while another dangled from a long pole at the bow, lighting the way ahead.

It was close to midnight, but nobody wanted to return to the sweltering heat of the hotel. More lamps were lit on the boat; the conversation flowed. Trevor had been placed on the bottom of the hull next to his father and had fallen asleep. He dreamed that he was sailing on a large pirate ship on a stormy sea. The periodic splashes of water on his face made his dream seem more real. He was smiling in his slumber. Trevor remembered the day, full of fun, gifts and games.

His father’s colleagues usually took their families with them on long business trips, so Trevor found plenty of friends. On this day, however, he received all the attention. He was given sweets and gifts wrapped in colorful boxes. His father gave him the best present — a model kit of a huge white aircraft. The color image on the lid astounded Trevor, and he couldn’t wait to open the box and start putting it together.

After the party, his parents had decided on the gondola ride along the canals of Bangkok. Trevor held the model kit tightly against his chest, leaning against his father and quietly falling asleep. Trevor heard the casual banter of his parents, splashing of the water and rocking of the boat, the salty smell of algae and fried rice filled his nostrils, and then suddenly everything disappeared, and he found himself on the roof of a barn, like in a fairytale. Everything went still, but the picture was too realistic and clear. The roof of the barn was made of rusty tin. Trevor was squatting barefoot and staring at the clouds.

Shocked by the abrupt transition, Trevor stood up and looked around. Next to him was a boy he didn’t know chatting in a strange language. Trevor looked at the boy with undisguised fear and astonishment, trying to figure out who he was and what was happening to him.

Not far from the barn stood an old log house with a red tile roof. The cracks in its walls were visible. Chickens were scampering around a yard and a big shaggy dog was sleeping, chained to a wooden fence.

The barn looked over a series of vegetable gardens, small houses with red roofs and farther — the mountain slopes densely covered by green forests. The day was very hot and smelled like burning bitumen, like at his father’s construction sites.

In contrast with bustling Bangkok, everything seemed to have stopped here. There wasn’t even a perceptible gust of wind; the total silence accentuated the tranquility of the place.

«Where is the boat, mom? Where has everything gone?» Trevor asked, terrified, not able to grasp what had happened and how he ended up here.

Trevor looked down at his clothes. He was dressed in blue woolen joggers that bagged oddly at the knees and a white t-shirt with the letter «R» embroidered in black near the hem. Both the t-shirt and the joggers were too big for him, as if they belonged to somebody else.

Everything around him looked vividly realistic. That terrified Trevor. He tried to pinch himself, but nothing happened. Trevor squeezed his eyes shut, held his breath and clenched his hands. Then he cautiously opened one eye, then the other, but it all remained unchanged — the barn, the red roofs and the stranger.

Trevor decided he needed to leave this place quickly and took a step. The red-hot tin of the roof scorched his heels. He shuddered from the sharp pain… and opened his eyes.

«Get the lamp, now!» Trevor heard his father yelling. He grabbed the lamp and quickly passed it forward.

A shot of pain jolted Trevor awake. His heel had touched the glass of the kerosene lamp while he was sleeping, which then fell and nearly broke.

«Are you burned?» his mother asked, inspecting the heel. «Thank God, he seems fine. You scared us. Wake up, honey, we’re about to get off.»

The odd dream and strange transition haunted him, but something was about to happen that made him forget about everything.

The next day tragedy struck. There was a car accident. His parents were killed and he spent a month in hospital hovering between life and death.

Much later, the strange transition and the eerie feeling of reality gnawed at him for a long time and he began to see it all as a sign of the impending tragedy, a warning, which he fatally did not understand and so could not warn anybody. He felt guilty for not telling his parents about the dream for a long time. Maybe they would have understood the warning and that horrible accident could have been prevented. The hard feeling of guilt settled deep in Trevor’s heart.

The fears eventually faded, the tragic memories replaced by new one, and the boy’s memory erased everything he had experienced at the time of the accident.

And now, Trevor was taken aback by a simple question about dreams. It made him think and return to that distant past. In fact, it was after the crash that he stopped dreaming. Trevor usually went to sleep and couldn’t remember anything when he woke up. He could not tell whether he had had a dream or not. He did not remember his dreams, as often happens to many people after an exhausting day.

At first, he paid no attention to it. Later, as he grew up, at about the age of twenty he believed that he really did not dream. It was natural for him.

«You know, Amanda, it’s been a very long time since I’ve had a dream. I don’t dream when I sleep, like at all. Ever since I was a child, I think,» answered Trevor, and then remembering something important, exclaimed, «Color. Probably color. This was a very long time ago. But I do remember that those dreams were in color.»

Amanda looked at Trevor with surprise.

«It is impossible not to dream at all. Even those who are born blind experience dreams, although specific visual images are rarely present in them, because other sensations are involved. Maybe you just don’t remember them?»

«No, Amanda. I don’t dream when I sleep. I tried to remember something just now, but only one thing came to mind. A dream from my childhood. It is actually hard to tell what it really was. I don’t think it was a dream per se, but I cannot remember anything except for that.»

Trevor looked at Amanda and realized that it surprised him too. It would seem that everybody had dreams and there was something wrong with him. It hadn’t bothered him until now. In the mornings, he would feel the same way as those who had just woken up and could not remember their dreams, but never stopped to think about it. However, later those people sometimes could remember what they had dreamed, while Trevor would never give it another thought. He also did not feel like sharing with Amanda his family tragedy.

«Alright, let’s try to figure out the reason behind this strange phenomenon. You see, a person needs to have dreams in order to relax their mind from the impressions of reality. A dream is a sort of a relaxation and protection program,» Amanda said, smiling and set a metronome. «Although the events that happen in a dream do leave indelible experiences on a person’s memory and heart, they are still just dreams created to protect your brain from overload. You may forget everything in the future.»

The rhythm of the swaying pendulum filled the room. Despite its monotony, the sound was pleasant and after some time Trevor felt his heart beat in time.

«Well, Trevor, let’s begin. Lie down on that couch.»

Trevor felt slightly awkward, but he was interested in what Amanda had to say now, so he did as he was told.

«Sometimes, people think they don’t dream, but in reality they experience dreams every night,» continued Amanda. «It’s just when we wake up, we forget not only the dream itself, but the very fact of it happening. The human brain is very complex and we know little about it. Let us now try to comprehend everything, and I’ll also work on your insomnia while we’re at it.»

Trevor settled on the couch as Amanda instructed and tried to observe her. He did not believe that someone who considered themselves a hypnotherapist or psychologist could force another person to fall asleep, as if it was some kind of a game, and then under the hypnosis perform some actions, make some suggestions or provoke something from the distant past. He always believed it to be pure fraud, and those who did manage to suggest something to a person, using their gullibility, to be just talented charlatans.

Amanda took a small pillow and placed it under Trevor’s head. She moved her chair closer to the couch, sat down and turned on a voice recorder.

«Relax, Trevor. Close your eyes and listen carefully to what I’m saying.»

After an easy pause, Amanda continued slowly in a steady voice: «You feel the pressure of the pillow against the back of your head and your shoulders. You feel the couch under your entire back. Now, focus on your thighs and feel the couch support your entire body. You are very relaxed, as if your whole body has sunk fully into the soft couch… completely immersed in it.»

Trevor listened to her pleasant, low voice and the steady beats of the metronome.

«Imagine yourself at home or in another cozy place, where you’d like to fall asleep. It could be a sea shore or a forest, or a cool, dewy meadow by a river on a hot summer day.»

Trevor suddenly remembered that night on the canal in Bangkok. He is lying on the bottom of the gondola and somewhere above him a voice grows quieter and quieter, following him to the dream world.

«You are breathing steadily and deeply. Your body is soft and relaxed… You are calm and very relaxed… Your whole body is relaxed… And now you fall asleep… Sleep, sleep peacefully, deeply, calmly and deeply… sleep… You are falling asleep deeper, and deeper, and deeper… Sleep and listen to my voice.» Amanda’s voice grew quieter and quieter, then increasingly distant until it disappeared completely…

Trevor came to upon hearing Amanda shout «Wake up!»

Trevor opened his eyes. Everything in the room was the same as it was just a few minutes ago; the metronome continued its steady rhythm.

Amanda looked concerned and confused.

«Well? Did you manage to dig something out of my head?» Trevor joked.

«What did you dream about? Did you have a dream?» she asked instead of answering.

«Amanda, I told you I don’t have dreams,» Trevor sighed and tried to say something else, but Amanda interrupted him.

«Well, you just spent a good hour trying to convince me otherwise.» Amanda looked at Trevor anxiously, prompting Trevor to feel anxious as well.

«Here, listen to this. I think you will find it very interesting.» Amanda placed the voice recorder before Trevor and turned it on.

Chapter 7

London, UK.

14 December 2011. 18:35

Robert was in his hotel room looking through materials related to a contract. In an hour he was to meet Mr. Zimme, a gemologist, for dinner at a restaurant, and so he wanted to examine the details of the deal one more time.

Morgan Lawyer & Co. was acting as intermediary in the acquisition of a large lot of diamonds and had provided documentation and legal support for the deal. The seller was a billionaire from Russia living at One Hyde Park, a luxury residential complex in London, and the buyer — a sheikh from Saudi Arabia. The Russians wanted to remain in the shadows, so he involved an offshore company from the Virgin Islands for the sale and acted through representatives. All negotiations between buyer and seller, without exception, however, involved Robert.

The firm usually had him support these kinds of deals worth hundreds of millions of euros. So, this wasn’t the first transaction of this sort for Robert.

The day before, there had been a meeting at the office of the firm’s director, where Roland said to Robert: «I understand your concerns about the rush. I know Christmas is just days away, but the buyer wants to spend the money before the year’s end. You know, for tax purposes. Besides, the buyer is a Sunni, and for them our Christmas doesn’t really exist. Everything will be ready by December 16. No later. Brink’s Incorporated, the shipping company, has already delivered the diamonds to the bank, and I was notified today that the buyer’s money has been transferred there too. Here’s the SWIFT transfer confirmation.»

«Roland, the rush is not a problem. Rather, I’m concerned about insurance liability and possible consequences. I told you the diamonds’ sales contract clearly specifies a strict deadline for completion of the deal. If the deal falls through, the default party will have to pay a penalty of five percent of the value of the deal.»

«Well, what’s bothering you there?» asked Roland, surprised. «The bank already blocked this amount on the accounts of the parties to the contract.»

«That’s not what I mean. I am suspicious that the payment of the penalty and insurance indemnity to the seller under the preliminary agreement and at the request of his representative are transferred not to the account, where the funds from the sale of the diamonds are transferred, but to an offshore account. The buyer, meanwhile, makes the payment through a top bank, and the possible penalties and insurance indemnities are also transferred there.» Robert paused and took the contract in his hands. «The fact that the buyer agreed to that is what is most suspect. These kinds of contracts take at least a month to prepare and we have only slightly over a week. By the way, December 16 is the last day. I’m not used to being so pressed for time. What if the deal does not go through on the 16th? We are really short on time,» he said.

«Listen, if the buyer does not object, what can we do? I offered, but the Arabs did not focus on this at all. Also, Robert, why do you think that the agreement will fall through? After all, the insurance indemnity is paid only if nothing happens. I think your suspicions are groundless. Both parties are serious about this and nobody will risk their image for some five percent. No, that’s just silly.»

«Roland, the penalty is nearly fifty million dollars! You think that’s silly?»

«Robert, maybe the seller wants to evade taxes this way.»

«You mean the taxes he would pay on the principal bothers him less than a possible loss from the penalty?»

«Well, that’s why we are sending you, Robert. You have to make this deal happen, so that nobody has to pay any fines.»

In the evening, Robert and Kenan Zimme, who worked at the laboratory of HRD Antwerp, were dining at one of London’s oldest restaurants.

Mr. Zimme was an active, sociable and nice seventy-year old Jew, a native of Odesa. At the beginning of the Second World War and German occupation of the city, his family fled to Palestine. Shortly afterwards, due to the constant conflicts inside the newly created Israel, the Zimme family moved to the United States, where his father opened a jewelry store and a pawnshop.

That’s what he told Robert during dinner. Mr. Zimme joked a lot, and he shared funny stories from his life. During the conversation, he remarked several times that a smile made him feel like a twenty-year old young man and that as luck would have it, he was sick only once in his life — he contracted epidemic parotitis, the mumps, at the age of four.

Zimme was reciting all this with great humor, typical of those who are fully content with their life and fate.

Robert was noticeably concerned about the contract, but Mr. Zimme cheerfully reassured him: «Young man, believe me, from an old perch that’s swum in different waters in this life, you need not worry. Everything that is bound to happen will happen, and everything that is not meant to happen will not happen, regardless of your concerns and your actions. So, is it worth being nervous or anxious then? Today, when you go back to your hotel, don’t worry about anything. Just lie down and sleep tight. Trust the rest to God. He will take care of everything. As for our object, I must tell you that it is wonderful. It’s been some years since I’ve seen something like that. I reviewed everything thoroughly and I am confident there won’t be any trouble.»

But Robert was still concerned. He could not understand the reason behind his doubts and anxiety. To distract himself a bit, he decided to call Chloe.

It was just after 9 pm. Chloe did not answer. Robert dialed several more times, but got the same result. A waiter approached him and asked Robert to take a call from the restaurant’s phone. Robert immediately thought about Chloe, but how could she know the phone number of the restaurant?

«Right,» remembered Robert. «I left the details at the hotel’s reception.»

«I suspect, young man, that a certain young woman is tired of waiting for you in your room while you entertain an old man here.» Zimme smiled. «Go, because as a talented fellow countryman of mine once wisely wrote:

Love, love, because time does not wait for you.

It takes away your days and nights.

Love for as long as your body is young and thirsty.

Because when you are old, you will only love with the eyes.

«No, my girlfriend is very far away now, but it could be her calling.» Robert smiled at Zimme’s wit and headed to the bar.

When Robert picked up the phone, he could only hear short beeps. Robert replaced the receiver and waited for a couple of minutes, but nobody called back.

As he was returning to his table, Robert noticed from afar an unknown man of Middle Eastern appearance stop near the gemologist. As soon as Robert approached, the man excused himself and went to another room of the restaurant.

Zimme was still in a good mood and joked: «Well, Mr. Blanche, it seems like we keep getting interrupted.»

«Was that someone you know?» Robert asked, disregarding Mr. Zimme’s comment.

«You mean that guy? God forbid, Robert, he had me mistaken for somebody else,» Zimme said indifferently and continued to thinly slice the large piece of meat on his plate. «I’ve been mistaken for others many times. Once, I was even mistaken for Sir Anthony Hopkins and asked for an autograph. What do you think I did? I gave the autograph! And this one time in Israel…»

He continued to tell funny stories, and from time to time the old man would laugh so hard tears came to his eyes. Robert thought he had never met a more cheerful person in his life.

In the morning, Robert was awoken by a call from Mehmet, the sheikh’s aide. In a troubled voice he informed Robert that Mr. Zimme had had a heart attack and been taken to the ER, and so they had to quickly find a new gemologist. He also said that all the documents where Mr. Zimme was mentioned as an expert needed to be revised.

At that moment, Robert felt a suspicion that someone wanted to disrupt the deal. He immediately called his boss and reported the incident.

To keep the deal on track, the Arab side tried to get a gemologist from Israel. However, he was too busy and had to decline. The same happened with a gemologist from Belgium. Unexpectedly, the Israeli Diamond Exchange offered a professional gemologist from Guinea, who was in the UK at the moment.

The sheikh’s security quickly screened the gemologist’s documents and confirmed that Mr. Kone, a citizen of Guinea, was indeed an excellent expert, who had been in the business for thirty years, providing his services in West Africa, Angola and South Africa. Mr. Kone was immediately summoned to London and introduced to the sheikh.

It turned out that Mr. Kone was short, sturdy, black, and sixty years old. He was very polite and spoke French and English fluently.

That same morning, a white Maybach Landaulet drove up to the bank with the sheikh and his aide. The sheikh’s security detail and partners were already standing at the entrance and politely greeted him.

After all the formalities were observed, the representatives of both parties entered the conference room.

The sheikh was the first to enter, followed by his two strong bodyguards and three Arabs, the sheikh’s partners. Everybody, except the bodyguards, were dressed in long white robes of thin cotton and a keffiyeh affixed with a black head ring. The bodyguards, dressed in black suits, white shirts and colored ties, stood with stony faces in the corners of the room. It was clear from their appearance that they were American. Their conduct, hair and square chins gave away that they were former US special forces, likely Navy Seals.

Then the representatives of the seller, both from Eastern Europe, Czechs or Slovaks, entered the room. Everybody, except the bodyguards, sat down at the big round table, greeted each other and waited. One of the sheikh’s aides, upon his order, opened a grey MacBook and launched the bank’s app to access the account.

Several minutes later, Robert, gemologist Kone and two bank representatives with a metal box entered the room.

Robert placed two packages of documents before the buyer and the seller. All these documents had been examined by the parties a long time ago, but official procedure required it. The diamonds had also been already examined by the bank’s experts. Mr. Zimme personally had checked the quality of each diamond in the presence of bank employees. However, before transferring the money to the buyer and the diamonds to the seller, the procedure required another formal examination.

The metal box was opened, revealing neatly folded plastic bags with big, the size of a hazelnut, diamonds. A gemological certificate was attached to each stone.

Everything was removed from the metal box and placed on a separate table for inspection.

Mr. Kone, in white gloves, approached the table and selected several bags. He took out one stone and looked at it through a special loupe set on a tripod. He compared his examination result with the gemological certificate. Satisfied, he handed the stone to the sheikh, who examined it carefully with his own handheld loupe. Also satisfied, the sheikh nodded.

Kone repeated the procedure with several more diamonds. The Arabs again nodded in approval; they were getting exactly what they expected.

The diamonds were, indeed, wonderful; it was hard to find something of such quality at the price offered by the Russians, and in such quantity.

Finally, the gemologist, having examined yet another stone, looked at the sheikh, but he just made a barely noticeable hand gesture for Kone to continue working. The gemologist nodded, carefully packed the diamond into the bag and placed it back in the box together with the certificate. He then took another diamond from the table and continued to examine it closer through the special loupe.

Robert carefully watched the gemologist.

Thirty minutes passed, but Kone had yet to examine half the stones. He was very thoroughly checking their conformity with the certificates and even more thoroughly packing them into the bags and back in the metal box.

Despite the official nature of the meeting, there was no tension in the room. The Czechs were talking quietly with the sheikh about something through an Arab interpreter.

Robert approached the gemologist and asked quietly in French, «Mr. Kone, do you live in Conakry?»

«No, Mr. Blanche,» Kone answered without pausing his work. «When my great friend Mr. Lansana Conte passed, I had to leave. I moved to South Africa in early 2009. That’s where I live now. That’s where my family lives.»

Kone spoke calmly, peering intently at another piece of treated carbon.

The next moment, a bank officer entered the room and addressed Robert.

«Mr. Blanche. There is a phone call for you.»

Robert picked up the phone and heard the agitated voice of Jovan, his friend and head of the firm’s security.

«Robbie, we’ve got a problem. I just received news from the hospital. Zimme did not suffer a heart attack. They discovered some powerful toxin in his blood.» Jovan fell silent, then whispered, «Poison.»

Robert said nothing. He was stunned.

Jovan quietly continued: «I don’t know where to start digging, but we need to figure out what the deal here is and who benefits. I believe somebody wanted to sideline the gemologist.»

«Did you tell the boss?»

«Roland? Of course, I did. He’s already dropped everything and is coming to the office. But I wanted to tell you personally.»

Robert realized he had to do something and do it now. Before the main contract was signed and the transactions begun. He smelled fraud. The reputation of the firm was at stake.

When Robert returned to the conference room, all appeared normal.

Who would benefit if the deal falls through, he thought, looking around at each man in turn. The Arabs? No. They transferred the money to the bank, the account has been checked, so everything is good there. They rejected the idea of cash right away. Everything is clean there. The Russians? The diamonds are here. Everything was thoroughly checked in advance, and double-checked for compliance of the stones with the certificates. Mr. Zimme praised the quality of the diamonds yesterday at the restaurant. He said that every stone was worth at least fifty percent more than what the Russians were asking. This gemologist, Kone, is also a reliable expert. It was the Arabs who found and vetted him. Seems like everything is clean here too.

Robert, however, knew that if Mr. Zimme had been poisoned, then his illness and replacement with another gemologist were links in a single chain. It all looked very suspicious. The 5% penalty clause for breaking the deadline was a demand of the Russians, the seller.

Robert looked around the room again. Everybody was talking quietly and waiting for the gemologist to finish. He looked intently at the gemologist and was suddenly struck by a strange idea. He had to test it, but not raise suspicion.

He approached Kone and asked in Bambara: «E be moun fo, a kani?” Robert decided to ask a question in the language Trevor from his dreams was fluent in. He had never used this language, but if Kone was who he said he was, then he must understand him. Almost everybody in Conakry speaks Bambara, as well as French.

However, Kone did not reply. He held a big round diamond in his hands and acted as if he hadn’t heard Robert.

«A be dioli soro sissan?” Robert asked and drew closer to Kone.

The gemologist remained silent, looking intently at the diamond through his loupe, as if nothing had happened.

The Arabs noticed the gemologist’s unresponsiveness and fell silent. The Czechs, it seemed, grew nervous and one of them picked up his phone and quickly exited the room.

A bank officer entered and asked Robert what had happened.

Robert stared at Kone, still waiting for answers to his questions, but Kone remained silent. He was still examining the same diamond. Rather, he was not so much examining is as simply staring at it. And he seemed to have stopped breathing.

One of the Czech men broke the silence. With a common Czech accent he said hesitantly: «Everything is fine. Some just can’t take it they see those diamonds. Big money, big anxiety.»

Mehmet approached Robert and asked what happened.

Robert looked at the sheikh, then at Mehmet, and answered in Arabic: «No, not alright, gentlemen. This man is not who he says he is. He is not Guinean. And most likely his name is not Kone. I was just informed that our gemologist, Mr. Zimme, was poisoned.»

The sheikh nodded and one of his bodyguards approached the Czech and the other — the gemologist. The bank officer called the bank’s security.

Dumbfounded and sweating profusely, Kone looked around and with trembling hands lowered the stone into the metal box, as though defeated.

The scam was simple, but daring and craftily elegant.

Mr. Zimme, whom the Arabs trusted fully, had performed the first examination of the diamonds. Then he was sidelined. Poison was the simplest way to go and, seeing as Zimme was polite and friendly, did not require additional preparation. While he was distracted by conversation, someone slipped a small dose of poison into the gemologist’s food.

If the Arabs were to go back on the deal in the absence of the gemologist, they would have been forced to pay the fifty-million-dollar penalty. Nobody wants to lose this kind of money on an almost closed deal. Naturally, the buyer would approach top gemologists in Antwerp or Israel in search of an experienced professional. On their side, upon getting the information about the gemologist chosen by the buyer, the scammers took steps to ensure that he was unavailable by offering him a better job which he could not refuse.

Then using an employee of the Israel exchange, who suspected nothing, the scammers offered Mr. Kone, who was known and respected there. To replace Kone with their own person, a gemologist, was just a technicality. Nobody really cared where the real Mr. Kone was at the moment, as a beneficial contract worth over a billion dollars or a huge penalty for disruption of the deal was at stake.

When the switch was made, the new «Kone» was presented to the parties as a person of the buyer, i.e. the Arabs. The only thing he needed to do was to confirm that all the stones complied with the gemological certificates and that Mr. Zimme did all the work regarding their examination.

After «Mr. Kone» confirmed to the buyer that everything was good, the box with fake stones would be passed to the buyer and the buyer would transfer all the money to the seller’s offshore account. To make it more convincing, several of the stones were authentic and «Kone» showed them to the sheikh, as the latter could easily tell a fake just by looking at it. The rest of the stones were excellent fakes from wonderfully cut cubic zirconia.

Nobody would have thought to examine the diamonds immediately thereafter. So, the scammer had a huge time advantage to tie up any loose ends.

Because the seller did not act directly, but through representatives, he might not have had any idea about the scam. His own people might even be using him, taking advantage of the trust. After the scam was complete, the scammers would have had the real diamonds, which they could leave in a safe deposit box in the same bank.

The scam was win-win. The scammers would benefit in any case — the fifty million dollar penalty if the deal fell through at the least or a lot with high quality diamonds worth over one billion dollars at the most.

The police arrested the gemologist and one of the Czechs. The one who had left the conference room disappeared.

After Robert spoke to an officer of Interpol, Mehmet, the sheikh’s aide, approached him.

«Mr. Blanche,» he said politely. «His Highness would like to discuss with you some of the details of what happened here and invites you to his suite at the Savoy.»

Robert was in a rush to get to his hotel. He looked at his watch; it was close to five. All his thoughts were with Chloe now; she hadn’t answered his calls for three days. He also needed to pack his things. His flight to Prague was the next morning. Still, Robert agreed to the meeting.

«Please tell His Highness that I will be there at nine.»

«No, no, Mr. Blanche. His Highness kindly offers his limo and security men. He is already waiting for you at the hotel. If you don’t mind, we can leave now.»

«Ok, let me collect my things here and I’ll be ready in ten minutes.»

«Very well, Mr. Blanche. I’ll be waiting at the hotel for you. John and Jake are at your disposal.» Mehmet pointed at the two bodyguards in black suits, who gave short, almost imperceptible, nods to Robert. «They will accompany you.»

Mehmet politely said goodbye and left the bank. The two strong bodyguards with unmoving faces, equal in height and build, looked like twins. They never let Robert out of their sight.

On the way to the hotel, Robert tried reaching Chloe a couple of more times, but was unsuccessful.

Mehmet was waiting for him at the hotel’s reception desk. He nodded at Robert and said to follow him.

The sheikh’s suite was huge with several spacious rooms in the elegant Edwardian style with a view of the Thames. In the distance, on the south bank, Robert could see the flickering lights of the 135-meter London Eye, one of the London’s main attractions.

The sheikh came up to Robert, greeted him and asked him to sit at a small table.

«People, Mr. Blanche, always desire to see more than they can,» he began in Arabic, pointing at the Ferris wheel. «But what they want most is to enjoy what they see. Isn’t that so? What do you think?»

“That is human nature, and there is nothing you can do about it. The desire to enjoy is the driver of progress, to some extent.”

“Robert… May I call you that? I call all my friends by their given name.”

«Of course, I’m humbled that you are calling me your friend.»

“You speak Arabic well. Not many Europeans speak Arabic as fluently as you do. These days, everybody wishes to speak only English.” The sheikh paused and then asked, “Would you like tea or coffee?”

«Thank you. Well, we are in England, so tea, only tea.» Robert smiled.

The sheikh poured tea into two porcelain cups and handed one to Robert.

«Did you know, Robert, that nearly three hundred million people speak Arabic,» the sheikh continued proudly. «That’s the size of the population of the United States. By the way, Arabic is one of the oldest languages in the world. And it is the language of the Holy Quran. Did you study it somewhere?»

“No, Your Highness. I had a very good teacher. We studied different languages every night, including Arabic. Ever since I was a child.”

«Well, let’s switch to English. After all, as you rightly said, we are in England and we are drinking English tea. So, it would be unfair not to use this opportunity and practice a bit, maybe improve my English,» offered the sheikh and continued in English. «What about African languages? Your teacher must have been a polyglot.»

«Bambara, that’s different,» Robert answered. «There is a story there, which, by the way, is related to the diamonds from Guinea and Sierra Leone.»

«Well, I hope you will share this exciting story with me one day, but now I would like to ask you, Robert: when did you suspect or guess that they were scammers? My aide, the former chief of security, is a very experienced and cautious man, yet he was caught with his pants down, as they say.» He stressed «former’.

«It wasn’t just a guess. I don’t know much about gemology, but I do have pretty extensive experience in law and I do not rely on chance. The first time I had a suspicion was when Mr. Zimme suddenly had a heart attack. We had dinner at a restaurant the night before and he looked very healthy. Then, when we were in the conference room, I got a call from my law firm’s security service, which said that the heart attack was caused by some strong toxin. Comparing these facts, I realized that the gemologist was the weakest link. And the fact that he was introduced to us as a Guinean and my modest knowledge of Bambara — those are pure coincidences.» Robert smiled and placed his cup on the table.

«I do not believe in coincidences; everything happens at the will of Allah. The bad and the good. You saved me a lot of money, Robert, and you helped preserved my authority. That is more important than the money. So, how can I thank you?»

«You’ve already done that, Your Highness. You have generously paid for the work of my firm as agreed, even though the deal was a bust.»

«No, Robert. I’d like to thank you personally. It is the right thing to do. Thanks to your perceptiveness, you have replaced the whole security department for me.»

The sheikh opened his checkbook, which was lying on a table nearby, wrote down a sum, tore out the check and handed to Robert.

«Please accept this gift from me as a sign of my gratitude.»

«Your Highness, there is no need,» Robert began, but the sheikh interrupted him.

«Any work must be properly rewarded. This is just a number on a nice piece of paper, but what I value most are human relationships.» The sheikh looked at Robert as he began to fondle a string of prayer beads and continued. «Robert, can I count on you should I require your legal services again?»

«Of course. It would be an honor to be useful to you.»

«Well, my dear friend. You know what they say in the East — a good meeting is a short meeting,» summed up the sheikh, making it clear that the audience was over. «It was very nice getting to know you better. I hope this is not our last meeting.»

Robert unfolded the check only when he was in the car returning to his hotel. He saw «Five million dollars» written in a neat, calligraphic handwriting. And there was a long signature in Arabic ligature — the first and last name of the sheikh without abbreviations.

Back at the hotel, Robert relaxed a bit. He poured a glass of whiskey, opened the curtains and fell deep in thought while watching the night city. Not everything was clear in this case and he could not figure out who was behind it all.

His phone started ringing.


«Robert, good evening,» said Roland, the firm’s director. His voice was very agitated. «I’ve been informed about everything. Are you alright?»

«Yes, boss, everything is fine. I’ll be in Prague tomorrow morning.»

«Well, I am expecting you in the office tomorrow at 11:30 am. We’ll talk then. Now, just rest. Jovan will pick you up at the airport tomorrow.» Roland rang off.

The flight was early, but Chloe still was not picking up her phone. He glanced at his watch and called once again, but all he got was the answering machine — again.

The watch showed 1:30 am.

The flight from London is at 7:15 am, Robert thought. The flight is three hours. Then a couple more hours and I’m home, and then we’ll see. It is a good thing Jovan is picking me up.

Robert trusted Jovan completely and unconditionally.

They had been friends since childhood. Both had applied to Charles University and planned on becoming lawyers. But Jovan failed his entrance exams, which did not stop him from applying to the Police Academy of the Czech Republic right away. After graduating magna cum laude, he became the youngest police detective in Prague.

Jovan served on the police force for nearly 15 years and rose from inspector in the serious crimes department to colonel in the post of senior advisor. However, during the corruption scandal that erupted during the government of Stanislav Gross, who had been an interior minister before becoming prime minister and was a close friend and boss of Jovan, he resigned, having become disappointed in his friend and boss. Four years ago, with Robert’s help, he became the head of the firm’s security.

Jovan was short, sturdy, bald, and in his early forties, with a carefully trimmed long moustache. He came across as a very nice and pleasant man. Those who didn’t know him would never have guessed that he was the head of security somewhere and had been a high-ranking cop. He once told Robert: «There are two types of policemen: good and bad. Well, I am the vicar of good policemen. In the firm, he was called «our Poirot», and that was indeed so. In addition to having been a genuine detective, he was the soul of any company, was always witty, threw jokes around and shared interesting facts about the lives of fellow police officers.

He always got on with those around him, never raised his voice when speaking to subordinates and nobody ever saw him in a foul mood.

He was very secretive about his personal life, but everybody in the firm knew that Jovan was single, his wife had left him a year into their marriage, unable to handle the burden of being a policeman’s wife, especially the fact that he was rarely home. Only Robert knew that somewhere on the outskirts of the city Jovan was seeing a young woman who had come into his life about two years prior. That was why Robert and Chloe were waiting excitedly for Jovan to introduce her to them. Instead, he would dismiss the relationship with a joke.

When speaking with colleagues, Jovan was always amiable, but Robert was his only true friend and someone he trusted. Like old friends, they often spent time at Robert’s home or at a pub drinking beer, which Jovan loved. Chloe liked the funny and cheerful man, and the door of their home was always open to him.

Robert was lying on his hotel bed trying to reach Chloe for the umpteenth time. Her phone was off. When he felt he was falling asleep, Robert put the phone aside and closed his eyes.

Suddenly he felt dizzy, followed by an incredible force that pinned him to the bed. Robert opened his eyes; he could see everything around him, but he did not have control over the rest of his body. An unknown force kept pressing him to the bed.

Robert gasped. He tried to flex his muscles or at least scream, but his body remained beyond his control. Suddenly all went black. Robert found himself in complete darkness, with no feeling in his body, no smell, no hearing. It seemed like he was suspended in air, although his brain continued to frantically seek a way out of this chilling captivity. Robert could not understand what was happening to him. He was still conscious. And then he heard a steady sound coming from somewhere inside his subconscious, gradually filling the space around him. In an instant, it seemed to be pulsing even in his veins. It was like the pendulum of the clock, swinging back and forth, but purer, sharper, clearer. He had neither the strength nor the senses to resist the sudden numbness. Robert mentally groped to understand what was happening to him.

Then he heard a woman’s voice…

«Sleep peacefully, deeply… You are falling into deep sleep… deeper… even deeper.» Someone’s powerful voice became increasingly loud in Robert’s head.

Suddenly he realized that the voice was coming from inside his dream, and he could hear it, even though his memory and his being remained on this side of the dream.

The sensation was wholly new to him and Robert could not believe in the reality of what was happening, so he listened. There were voices all around, but the woman’s voice was distinct. Another voice, male, echoed in his head, but his words were muffled. So, Robert decided to relax fully and try to understand what was really happening to him.

Eventually, the fog began to lift and the voices became discernible. For a moment, Robert thought he himself was participating in the dialog.

Then everything became clear to him…

Chapter 8

Amanda’s soft voice was coming from the portable voice recorder standing alone on the table in front of Trevor.

«Sleep peacefully, deeply… You are falling into a deep sleep… deeper… even deeper.»

After a small pause, Amanda continued: «Trevor, you can speak now. Tell me, how old are you?»

«Forty… one…» Trevor mumbled.

«Good… Good…» said Amanda steadily. «What is your name?»

«Trevor.» His speech was slurred and barely audible.

«Good, Trevor. Let’s go back two days. Where are you?»

«Geneva,» Trevor replied quietly. «Hotel… Big room…»

«What do you see,» asked Amanda.

«Diamonds… Safe…» Trevor said, barely moving his lips.

There was a click in the recording. It was a tape defect or the recording had stopped there, but it swiftly resumed.

«Okay, Trevor. Now, let’s go back to yesterday. Morning…» Amanda said firmly with confidence.

Suddenly Trevor’s voice became clear: «Amanda?! I can’t see anything… What happened? How did she do that?» the voice cried out.

«Trevor, I induced sleep hypnosis. You are under the influence of my suggestion,» Amanda’s voice was firm and slow. «I want you to go back to yesterday…»

«Amanda, Amanda, it’s alright! To hell with yesterday! I can’t see anything… I am here… Is this a dream? You are my dream? I guess…» Trevor was agitated.

Amanda induced sleep hypnosis, but for some reason Trevor did not act the way her patients usually did. His body tensed, his eyelids began to throb, and so she decided to cut the session short.

«Trevor, you are in a state of sleep hypnosis. Try to calm down. Everything is fine.» Amanda’s voice was also agitated, but it remained firm. «I will start the countdown now and you will wake up.»

«Stop, Amanda. Stop! Don’t do it! How do I explain this?… This is the one chance in a thousand for me! Even if he wakes up, convince him to have another session.»

«Who wakes up?» Amanda asked. The session clearly was not going as planned and something had to be done about it.

«Trevor… I mean me… I mean… I need to explain something to you.»

«Okay, Trevor, don’t worry so much. Calm down. Your body is very tense. It is very hard to maintain control like that. Relax.» Amanda passed a hand over Trevor’s eyes. «What do you see?»

«I told you, nothing. I see nothing, my eyes are closed… You are good, you know! We need to speak calmly about this, now. I can hear you so clearly!»

Amanda looked at Trevor. He was lying on the couch, relaxed, without an emotion showing on his face. She was very confused. Trevor from the sleep hypnosis spoke with her surprisingly loudly and clearly. Most importantly, it was as though he was not under her suggestive power at all. Rather, she got the impression that he was trying to communicate on his own, not just answer questions, as what usually happens when a hypnotherapist works with a patient.

She contemplated the situation. This was the first time something like this had happened in all her years as a psychologist.

Meanwhile, Trevor continued: «Amanda, you and I need to figure out what is happening to me. Or to him… Well, we need to figure out who is who.»

Amanda listened, growing even more confused. Her eyes were wide open and she did not understand what she was hearing.

«Well, and who might you be then?» she finally asked.

The idea of a split personality came to mind and she tried to recall the symptoms of the disorder. The thought calmed her a bit, since she could rationally explain what was happening.

«I am Robert,» the voice answered, «Robert from the other life of Trevor.»

«Robert?» Amanda asked again. «What other life?»

«A very real one, but another. At least, that’s what I think. Although sometimes I am not so sure. But right now, you are my dream. And everything that is happening to Trevor — that is my dream, do you understand? And you are also my dream. Oh my God, I am talking to my dream! Unbelievable!»

«You are talking to your dream?» Amanda asked, confused. «How long has this been going on for?»

«This is all very strange and complicated. For so long that I can no longer understand who is who.»

«Trevor, I don’t think I quite understand.»

«Amanda, I am Robert, I am, like, inside Trevor’s consciousness, I mean, he is inside mine. Well, not exactly inside me. He exists in my dreams. Well, how do I explain this… But this is the first time this has happened! I’ve never experienced this before.»

«Ok, fine. You are Robert. But you say everything is very complicated. Can you explain to me clearly from which dream you are talking to me?»

Amanda regained her composure and decided to end the session.

«I only have one dream and one dream only, and that is the life of Trevor. Please, just listen to me without interrupting and, maybe, you will understand.»

The voice from the recorder told the incredible story of Robert’s life on the other side of the dream, the diaries he kept, recording everything that was happening to Trevor, the feelings and doubts of the reality of his world.

This was the second time Amanda had listened to the story, but now she was looking intently at Trevor. She was confused, excited and intrigued by what she heard. A completely different person was living inside Trevor, about whom he had no idea and who had been observing this from inside his dream for nearly thirty years. Robert truly believed that he was sleeping at the moment and dreaming. He could not influence Trevor’s life and actions in any way, couldn’t reveal himself in any way, as what usually happens in split personalities, but he wanted to figure out for himself what the reality was and what the dream was.

«… My world is almost the same as how I see Trevor’s world in my dreams,» continued Robert. «But we are so different, living in different countries, having different circles of friends and acquaintances, different professions, jobs, and at the same time I see my world as reality every second and every minute. I haven’t seen any other dreams in my life. Only one — about Trevor.»

Amanda was so captivated by the conversation that she completely lost any sense of time, while the voice kept talking. There was something fascinating in his story, but it was a story of a healthy, it would seem, person, who objectively evaluates everything around him, a person, seeking a way out of the situation he is in.

Amanda tried to stop the session, but the voice kept asking her not to. He needed to speak; he was seeking answers to his questions. Amanda was encountering this phenomenon for the first time, which was why her only guess was split personality. She could not think of any other explanation for the moment.

Right, it must be dissociative identity disorder, but in some weird, incredible form, thought Amanda, while the voice inside Trevor told about the other side of his life.

Suddenly Amanda said: «Robert, if your life is so realistic, are there psychologists or psychiatrists in your world?»

«Of course, there are… I guess. I hope there are,» Robert answered unconvincingly. «Do you think I’m crazy?»

«No, Robert, of course not,» Amanda replied quickly. «Here’s what I thought… I’d like to propose something to you… in the other, your life. But you have to treat this very seriously. I have an idea here. Let’s conduct an experiment, but I will need your help for this… and the help of a professional…»

Amanda had no doubt that she was seeing dissociative identity disorder and she wanted to check if there were any other personalities inside Trevor’s subconscious. In some people, different, sometimes diametrically opposed personalities co-existed, including those that consider themselves experts in psychology, and they were usually the ones who helped establish and identify other personalities existing in the patient’s subconscious. Amanda decided to summon this personality from Trevor’s subconscious. She explained the experiment to Robert. However, she also believed that there could be another, negative consequence of this experiment. The situation could swiftly deteriorate, and then it would be very difficult to go back, even impossible.

«Robert, you must understand that during such a session everything could get out of your… your psychologist’s control. If your condition is what I think it is, there is a risk that you will disappear as a personality from Trevor’s subconscious for some time.»

«What do you mean disappear? I don’t understand. Disappear where?»

«You see, as a result of direct interference, a kind of replacement could happen in Trevor’s subconscious, where one personality will replace another. Maybe that is when we will find the answers to your questions. But you, Robert, could disappear for a while.»

«You believe this is dissociative identity disorder?»

«I don’t believe anything right now. I am only dealing with the facts as I see them: I have a patient on my couch in a state of hypnosis, while somebody, who does not identify himself with my patient, never manifested himself in his life, but only observed him throughout his life from somewhere inside his subconscious, is talking to me.»

«Can separate personalities of one and the same person really live separate lives beyond their consciousness, have their own history, separate worlds?»

«Well, that’s what we need to figure out. You, as someone who identifies himself separately, should understand that if there are other personalities in Trevor’s subconscious, you could disappear for a while with your world, history and life, which you feel is real. Somebody else could replace you. It is totally possible.»

«You think that my life in this… in my world is not real? Just Trevor’s imagination?»

«If I think otherwise, then all my answers and your communication with me are just a creation of your brain. This would mean that me and this world and our conversation exist merely in your imagination.»

«How will a psychologist help us?» Robert asked after doing something thinking.

«With his help we will try to at least identify you and identify other personalities in Trevor’s subconscious, if any. You see, no matter how you identify yourself, for me you are the one living in Trevor’s subconscious. I’d like to experiment with your psychologist. Maybe, you won’t even find him. But if he does exist, maybe, that is just another personality. There may be many personalities. We need to define their number and then we will be able understand what, or, most likely, who we are dealing with.»

«That just doesn’t make sense, Amanda. I have a completely different memory than Trevor. I live my own life here and up until today I could not manifest myself in Trevor’s life in any way. I have a job here, fiancée, friends, circumstances, ultimately… Trevor’s life is my permanent dream, and nothing more. As for his life, I am just a bystander in it.»

«I understand that, Robert. The capabilities of our brain have not been studied enough, and some of its functions haven’t been studied at all, remaining a mystery for scientists. It’s psychology 101.»

«Amanda, you must understand that now, when you complete this session, I will wake up and go about my business. Right now, at this very moment, I am at a hotel in London, and in a few hours I have a flight to catch to Prague, where my colleagues and my girlfriend are waiting for me. And at night, when I fall asleep, I will dream again, and see the world through Trevor’s eyes. It has always been like this.»

«Well, let’s at least try to do that, Robert. We have to start somewhere. A brain is a very complicated thing to study. We will try to find the truth through the subconscious. This is important, especially for you, because you are the one who is seeking it. Right?»

«Alright,» agreed Robert after a while. «We will do it. I fly to Prague tomorrow and I will try to find a psychiatrist. But what do I say to him? How do I explain everything?»

«You don’t need to explain anything to him. Just tell him everything you know about yourself and he will decide what to do. I am sure he will agree to the experiment.»

«How much time do we have?»

«I don’t know. If we stick to your convictions, you are the one in control and we are merely a part of your dream. But seriously speaking, I think we have a day, two at the most. I will try to schedule another appointment with Trevor for tomorrow.»

Amanda ended the conversation and woke Trevor.

The voice recorder stopped.

Trevor and Amanda sat opposite each other and were silent.

Finally, Amanda spoke. This time, her voice was not as steady as at the start of the session.

«Trevor, psychology can ultimately explain a lot. It seems to me that we’ve got a lot of work to do. It is complicated because this is a unique case in my practice. I have never seen anything like it.»

Trevor looked at Amanda, but couldn’t say a word. He could not understand what had just happened. It did not fit into the limits of ordinary concepts and his perception of things.

«That was me?» He finally forced himself to speak.

«It is totally possible that was you. Or one of your personalities.»

«How is this possible?» asked Trevor. He was in a state of shock.

«The human brain is a mystery even for us psychologists. I only wanted to take you back to yesterday, two days ago and then dig a bit into your past. But you heard it all.»

«Amanda, is this really possible? Is this a disease?»

«What is possible? Multiple personalities? It is possible. There is a scientific term for it too — dissociative identity disorder. I wouldn’t call it a disease, though. It’s something else…»

«What happens to me now?»

«Nothing, I think… I hope… If you’ve lived with this up until now, without suspecting anything, it is possible that everything will go back to the way it was before today.»

Amanda then tried to explain to Trevor that some psychologists, and also individuals who identify themselves as having a split personality, believe that this condition is not a disorder, but rather a natural variation of human consciousness that has nothing to do with dissociation. She herself could not understand what she was dealing with, and so what she was saying was as much for herself as for Trevor.

Trevor, however, was uncertain. He thought Amanda was just trying to calm him down.

«You see, Trevor, many psychiatrists do not agree with the definition of multiple personality syndrome as a definitive disorder, but consider multiple personalities as mental disorder, that is, not a disease. Here, for example…» She looked around, went to a bookshelf, and came back with a big medical encyclopedia.

«Here.» She flipped through several pages, found what she was looking for, and read: «Anthropologists Suryani and Gordon Jensen are convinced that the phenomenon of vivid trance in the community of Bali has the same phenomenological nature as the multiple personality phenomenon in the West. It is claimed that the people in shamanic cultures who experience multiple personalities do not define these personalities as a part of themselves, but as independent souls or spirits. There is no evidence of a link between multiple personalities, disassociation and the recovery of memories or sexual abuse in these cultures. In traditional cultures, multiple personalities shown, for example, by shamans or African sorcerers, are not considered a disorder or a disease.»

«I don’t know anything about that, Amanda. I don’t understand a thing,» Trevor said dejectedly. He looked at Amanda and asked hopefully: «This is not a joke?»

«At first, I thought so too… And to say that I am very confused about what happened is to say nothing. Let’s see tomorrow, if you don’t mind. We will prepare for the conversation more thoroughly tomorrow and try to understand what your subconscious has in store for us.»

«So, that’s it for today?» he asked, confused.

«Yes. I say we meet tomorrow at the same time and have another session. I recommend you rest today. Set aside all your business and thoughts. Just relax emotionally and psychologically. Go to a night club. That might work. Try not to think about what happened. Okay?»

«Relaxing is all I’ve been doing lately,» Trevor grumbled.


Robert opened his eyes. He woke up as suddenly as he had fallen asleep. It seemed as though the bed simply spit him out from somewhere inside the thick mattress. He was still very confused, as if he had been startled awake from a nightmare, and tried to concentrate. His heart was racing and his brain felt as though it was about to explode.

Robert was not simply confused; he was surprised, shocked, stunned, because he just went from being a passive bystander to an active participant in his dream. That was something he had not expected.

It was clear that Amanda could hear him and answer his questions. This was the first time in Robert’s life that he had had direct conscious contact and even a dialog with the world of his dream. Robert had often thought about this, but when it finally happened, he was not ready and did not know where to start. He decided that it was his only chance to find the truth and wanted to remain in that state for as long as he could.

He needed answers, but for that he had to convince Amanda that his existence here, in this world, separately from Trevor, was real. She had asked him to speak about himself, and Robert excitedly shared the story of his life on this side of the dream with her.

But then everything disappeared just as fast as it had appeared, leaving Robert alone with his thoughts and doubts.

What had happened to him further complicated Robert’s already difficult situation, plunging him greater into uncertainty and hardly helping him to find the thread that could lead him to unravel his psychological state.

Robert slowly got up, took out a red-bound diary from his suitcase, sat down at the table and began writing in detail everything that happened to him in the dream. As he was finishing, he wrote «PSYCHIATRIST. URGENTLY!!!» in big letters at the bottom of the page and underlined the words three times.

Just three hours remained before his flight and Robert hurriedly left the hotel room. He decided he would find a psychiatrist as soon as he returned to Prague to conduct the experiment proposed by Amanda. This had to be done as soon as possible.

Chapter 9

Geneva, Switzerland

16 December 2011. 11:25

Trevor, conflicted with emotion, left Amanda’s office and headed towards his hotel, thinking about what just happened. He was deeply confused about what the psychologist had told him.

There was another person living inside him!

I have a split personality, he thought. I’m demented. I guess I’m demented! I am a mentally ill person and I will probably have to get some sort of treatment.

Trevor tried to think about what he knew about mental illnesses. Shots of some black and white films came to mind: insane people in straitjackets with wide straps buckled behind their backs, bloodshot eyes, crazy looks, desperate screams, wild laughter, convulsions, and shock therapy.

Trevor’s knowledge in this field was extremely poor, but it was enough to provoke panic. He trembled as he walked along the street.

Amanda watched him from behind a slightly opened curtain with concern. The phone started ringing. She picked up and after a brief pause answered: «Yes, I found out, but it’s not so simple… Something’s changed, and I will need a little more time. I’d like to reschedule everything for tomorrow.» She listened to a man’s voice and quietly replied, «Yes, this is very important… to me.»

Trevor crossed the street and, having forgotten about his meeting with Jovan, continued to walk uncertainly along the paved road.

Amanda’s words were throbbing in his head: «Shamans, African sorcerers.»

He recalled driving with a BBC crew and Etienne on a bumpy dirt road in the jungles of Sierra Leone at the end of the 1990s.


In a village, sixty miles northeast of Freetown, where they stopped for the night, the reporters stumbled upon some festival of the local Yoruba people.

The locals treated the foreigners with cameras surprisingly peacefully, allowed them to spend the night and even invited them to participate in the festivities under the condition that all cameras remained in the car.

In the evening, the whole village gathered near the round reed hut of the chief.

Trevor was treated to some local drink made of the fruits of a marula that had a very unpleasant sour taste and affected the brain like a «blow from a mule’s hoof», as the locals joked. Sometime later, when Trevor began to recover, he realized that he almost could not feel his body and only his brain was clearly showing «signs of life». In addition, as it turned out later, the drink accelerated perception of his surroundings.

Everyone was dancing to the beat of a sad song and rhythm of special, ritual drums carved from a tree trunk called a Bata. Later, the intensity of the drums increased so much that the movements of the dancers resembled convulsions. The volume of the chanting would sometimes muffle even the sounds of the Bata.

One of the men set fire to a wide ring on the ground, evoking ominous shadows and reflections. The drums died down and everybody stopped to watch the circle of fire.

An enchanter with a long staff, to which a dozen small white monkey skulls were attached, knocking loudly against each other in time with his movements, entered the circle through a narrow passage.

The drums resumed their beat and the men and women began to dance synchronously.

Not feeling his body, Trevor moved to the rhythm of the drums together with the rest.

The enchanter was dressed in bright sheet that loosely fit his body.

As thin as a skeleton, he bent over and began to spin inside the circle of fire. His face grew calm in the flashes of fire but it soon transformed into menacing grimaces. He gritted his thin, uneven, yellow teeth and shouted something in an unfamiliar language.

Then suddenly he fell silent, stood up and raised his hand to the sky. Several small grey bones flew from his palm before scattering around him inside the circle of fire. The enchanter leaned forward and looked intently at the bones. Then he straightened up, stretched out his arms and began to whisper some spells while staring at the sky. His eyes, covered by a white fog, looked unnerving.

The drumming grew faster, louder.

The sorcerer, with his arms still spread wide, began to rise.

When he reached a meter and a half above the ground, he dropped his staff.

The dancing became more frenetic, and the volume of the singing increased, reaching its climax. Robert was reminded of a Witches’ Sabbath.

The enchanter slowly began to descend, nodding his head sharply and staring with his blind eyes into the crowd around him, as if searching for prey. When his bare feet touched the ground, the sounds were dispersed by an abrupt silence.

The old sorcerer kept his blind eyes on Trevor. He moved his arms forward and slowly approached through the circle of fire. Trevor stood frozen, deprived of any control over his own body. The enchanter touched his forehead with his palm. At that moment, the enchanter’s body bent back unnaturally and began to shake, his hand still glued to Trevor’s forehead. His cloudy eyes were directed somewhere in the distance, where a full, inverted moon shone as a pale witness to the Devil’s Sabbath.

The convulsions stopped and the hand on Trevor’s forehead became incredibly hot. He tried to pull back, but his body remained beyond his control.

Suddenly a terrifying picture appeared before Trevor’s eyes: an overturned railway car with the torn bodies of dozens of people. Charred human remains lay mixed up with broken seats, twisted handrails, scorched pieces of metal, and other ruined detritus. Fire began to roll down the car like a growing ball, as if in slow motion. It was unnerving and extremely realistic. Trevor even felt the furious flame that was about to engulf him on his face and the unbearable smell of burnt flesh all around.

The ominous picture of the horrible crash held him captive. Trevor looked at everything, horrified, knowing that all these people were dead and that he was probably dead too, because he did not have the strength or the will to move, while the ball of fire was about to swallow him.

At that moment, the enchanter pushed Trevor hard and he crumpled to the ground. The last words he heard before he blacked out were the enchanter’s: «Ṣọra!.. Duro

Trevor came to at dawn, when his group was already packed and ready to go. He had a splitting headache, something several degrees worse than a hangover, and wondered if there had been something devilishly narcotic in that drink he had been given.

«Guys, does anybody have anything for a migraine?» he asked weakly.


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