IT began, as always, with a terrible Dream.
Ia-ai laaa ia.
There stood alone in a vast, glassy sea a great city, an island in colossal desolation, dark, cyclopean spires of glass and steel rising to disappear into a grayish haze. Below the pall, a great horde of people cavorted, packed and pressed so tightly as to resemble a singular squirming and undulating organism, mewling in a sickening chorus that echoed to the distant horizons.
Ia-ai laaa ia.
Parts of the constructs crumbled, ill constructed pieces falling away into the crowd. But with each collapse the swarm surged, lapping against the spires, pushing them up out of the very earth to rise higher and higher.
Ia-ai laaa ia.
At once, the pall fell away and the spires resolved into the massive limbs of grotesque giants. They were, as is only possible in a dream, titanic men, decadent and sinister-browed, and at the same time, horrible, sanity-blasting abominations. Smoke bellowed from them as they laughed, and the earth shook. Tiny, piggy eyes scanned the writhing throng underfoot. Thick hands with fingers fat like tentacles, reached down to scoop handfuls of victims from the mass, and drop them screaming and flailing into the giants’ gaping maws.
Ia-ai laaa ia…
A singular beast congealed from the ring of horrors, sweeping around in a great circle. As it curved around and around, it scoured the earth barren beneath it. It came to an abrupt, perfect stillness– no motion was wasted or lingered– the wind and distant thunder dying with its quietude.
Its awful, bobbing head turned suddenly, luminous eyes fell upon <i>him</i>, and it spoke in the voice of a crowd:
“Brother… We have been waiting.”
Wesley Dodds greeted the morning gasping, in a cold sweat.
“THANK you Humphries, but I seem to have misplaced my appetite.” Wesley leaned back, pushing away from his morning repast. The sweet-scented exotic tea had been drained, but the meal was otherwise untouched. It was just as well. A cold knot firmly occupied the volume of his stomach.
That the dreams had again returned was distressing enough. The most recent though, had been so vividly disturbing, and Wesley puzzled at what it might herald. To his further dismay, there had been the curious note discovered by Humphries lying under the newspaper that morning.
The outside read only “For: The Sandman”. Inside there was a New York phone number, and what appeared to be a stylized or monogramed “O”. It reminded him vaguely of something he’d seen in the Orient. The message was cryptic.
“You are invited into the Circle. – Burbank.”
Wesley slipped it into his pocket. He would have to look into this later.
The Daily Star morning edition sat unread at an arm’s length away. Earlier, disinterested, he had unceremonious pushed it aside with it facing up below the crease. He turned his attention to it, scanning the columned text, his eyes resting on a grainy image. Gingerly, with one finger, he slid the paper closer, examining the photograph that had caught his eye.
He entirely expected to find the preening, painted facade of the latest scandalized starlet, or perhaps some mug shot of one of the grim faced, off-the-floor crowd. This one was different. Certainly, there was the coat and top hat, the distracting walking stick of a practiced charlatan, but those were merely a misdirection. A strength, hidden in plain sight, had caught his attention.
Suddenly intrigued, he unfolded the paper to reveal the column headline staring back at him:
GIANTS OF INDUSTRY TO GATHER FOR CHARITY PERFORMANCE.
In a flourish, he was up, out of the chair, moving deliberately toward the hallway to his study. Many times had he resisted the perquisites of a privileged life; here now was a chance to capitalize on the opportunities they provided.
“Humphies!” Wesley’s voice trailed off slightly as he disappeared into the den. “I’ll be needing my dinner coat tonight.” He reemerged to discover his manservant had trailed him down the hallway.
“Both of them.”
“Of course Sir.” Humphries nodded diligently.
Retiring again to the study, Wesley swung around his impeccably maintained desk to the chair and grabbed for the phone. He paused for the operator, and then requested the Belmont residence, home to the District Attorney, and his daughter Dian. A firm, feminine voice greeted him from the other end.
“Dian, wonderful to have gotten a hold of you! Now, I realize it’s rather short notice, but I was given these two tickets for a charity performance tonight. I thought you might–“ an excited reply interrupted, warbling through the receiver.
“Wonderful,” continued Wesley, brightening, “eight o’clock then?” Again, the reply came noisily across the line. “Actually, this one’s a little… unusual.”
Wesley smiled wryly. “How do you feel about magic shows?”