I flew backward, or downward, in a freefall, and then came to a thudding halt. The light was gone, and so were the two crowds. I was on my bed in the apartment, my arms and legs thrashing about. Rory was trying to restrain me, and yelling at me to wake up. When I realised where I was I calmed down enough that he let go of my wrists and stepped back from the bed. He was talking to me—he had a worried look on his face—but I couldn’t hear him. When I was certain I was really back in the apartment, I let my head sink into the pillow and I blacked out.
Two days later I woke up. Rory was relieved to see me alive and well. We sat down and had breakfast.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I’m okay.” We ate in silence for a few minutes, and then I said, “Listen, I know you’re probably wondering about the other night.”
“No,” he said. “It’s fine. You just eat some food and get your strength back.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I need to tell you. You see… I wasn’t sick, and I didn’t have a bad dream exactly. I was… taken somewhere.”
Rory put down his fork. “Taken? Where?”
“Well… I think I was at the Day of Judgment.”
I watched for his reaction. He leaned back in his chair and exhaled slowly. After a moment of thought he leaned forward again, picking a fish finger up off his plate. He took a bite and shook his head. “That’s heavy,” he said. “Explains a lot, too.”
He went on to tell me how that night he woke up to the sound of me screaming. When he came into my room I was going berserk and yelling out for someone to save me. He said I then started shaking my head and begging for someone to kill me. Rory said he couldn’t even get away to call an ambulance because he had to physically stop me from strangling myself. He reckoned it went on for about an hour before I woke up.
“Look, Rory,” I said, “that van Gogh painting—”
Rory stopped me there with a wave of his hand. He looked at me and sighed—disappointed, but understanding. “I suppose seeing the Last Day changes a man,” he said. “Do what you gotta do.”
Not many people would have been so cool about it.
That afternoon I went back to the Museum of Modern Art to return the genuine Starry Night. Some security guards took me into an office where I thought they were going to beat the snot out of me, but they just told me to wait for the Museum Director. Within five minutes he arrived, and I recognised him. He was old—in his eighties, at least. I had never met him, but I had seen his picture before in a newspaper article. He was Willy Candleberry. Apparently, in his younger days, Willy was a murderous mobster, but then he turned his life around and became a millionaire art collector and philanthropist. As he walked in the room, one of the security guards spoke up. “You want us to teach this punk a lesson, Mr Candleberry?”
“Well now, Tony,” replied the old man, “let’s just see what he has to say for himself.”
I was nervous. Though Willy was now known for his benevolence, I suspected he still had a ruthless streak; I was unsure which I would encounter. Then, for the first time, Willy looked at me. He froze. His eyes widened and his walking cane dropped and clacked on the floor. Tony, who appeared to be the head security guard, rushed to his boss.
“Are you okay, Mr Candleberry?” he asked as he picked up the cane and placed it back in Willy’s hand.
Willy didn’t respond.
“Mr Candleberry?” Tony said, louder this time.
“Huh?” Willy mumbled, returning to his senses.
“Are you alright sir?”
“Uh, yes. Fine, Tony, thank you,” said Willy. “You can leave us.”
His tone, while polite, was unmistakably that of a command. The guards left the room. As the door shut behind them, Willy shuffled toward me with a look of astonishment, until we stood face to face. Willy dropped his cane on the floor, deliberately this time. He put his hands on my cheeks, holding me still as he examined my face.
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