Ben made his way through the crowded bus with his eye on the only free seat left. It was not until he reached the sit, about to sit down, that he noticed the sleeping old man. The frail, wrinkled man rested his mostly-bald head on a bundled up jacket against the window.
“Didn’t know eyelids could get wrinkled,” Ben chuckled mentally as he sat down. He took another look around the bus to see if he could spot anyone else sleeping; but, everyone else seemed wide awake. One of the first things he learned about his ability was: the fewer targets he had, the easier it was to control. He learned about his gift at about nine years old. After that, he was eager to set up a sleepover to try it out; it was a nightmare. He felt like he was in all his friend’s dreams at the same time. Five different dreamscapes seemed to overlap on his senses giving him five times the input. The sleepover was canceled shortly after he puked on them. He spent the next few days in a hospital room in a near-comatose state.
Even if he missed one or two napping commuters, Ben had learned to stop the moment anything seemed off. He did not make a habit of using his powers on any sleeping stranger, but he’d never explored the dreams of anyone as old as the man next to him. He let his curiosity win and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply and imagined himself falling into the old man’s mind.
A familiar warm tingle in his chest confirmed the connection; suddenly, Ben felt a plume of hot air hit his face. He stood inside an apartment building inferno. He seemed to be in the lobby surrounded by bright orange flames. The doors of both elevators were noticeably warped. Cries drew Ben’s attention to the stairwell; A younger version of the sleeping man dashed out of stair-door carrying a little girl. Behind him, a woman in a navy blue business suit with sandy blond hair followed while taking notes with pen and pad.
The sleeping hero ran toward the door and Ben made sure to step out of his way. It was more habit than necessity; he never managed to interact with any dreamers. He could not do much to affect the dream itself either; for the most part, all he could do was spectate. Luckily, seeing their dreams was enough to tease his friends. After he ran by and out the door, the crying faded.
“Benjamin Benson?” The blond woman did not follow the old dreamer out of the burning building. She stopped, looked straight into Ben’s eyes and spoke his name. “What are you do-.” Ben forced himself out of the dream and opened his eyes; then, he screamed.
“AAAHH!” The same navy-suited blond woman stood in the bus aisle directly next to him. Despite Ben’s scream, no one turned around to learn the cause. “HELP!” Ben yelled again but no one so much as flinched in his direction.
“Why are you screaming?” the woman asked. Instead of answering, Ben turned around and started shaking the old man. He felt stiff enough to deter Ben from doing it more than twice. On closer inspection, he was not breathing.
“AAHH!” Ben screamed again and tried to put distance between him and the corpse. His mind had not yet caught up with everything happening and he forgot about the woman long enough to slam his back into her front. She stumbled out of the way and Ben fell backward. He closed his eyes to bear the impact, but it never came.
“Why are you screaming?” the woman repeated the question. She looked down on Ben. He was half out of his seat with his legs higher in the air than his head; but, he felt no weight at all. It was as if the rest of his body did not exist.
“What’s going on? Who are you? Did you kill the old man?” Ben fired off his questions; the woman sighed.
“Well, at least you’re not screaming anymore,” she said. “Now that I have your attention; you’re going to land. Careful.”
“Huh? Oh.” Ben had just enough time to piece together the part about landing and shut his eyes. The moment he did, he hit the ground on his back, followed by his legs and head.
“My name is Oasis,” the woman reached out her left hand to help Ben up. He accepted it and noticed a small hourglass tattooed on her wrist with a 14 on it in golden numbers as he stood up. “I didn’t kill him, time is stopped for everyone except you right now. As for what’s going on,…” Oasis shrugged. “That’s what I’m here to find out. How did you get there?”
“I…,” Ben hesitated. He’d never told anyone about his gift, but she was in the old man’s dream too. And she seemingly had the ability to stop time and she could have killed Ben if she wanted to. He took a moment to breathe, then nodded. “I can enter people’s dreams,” he said. “If they’re close enough.” Oasis crossed her arms, shifted her weight to one leg and looked Ben up and down. He wore a ratty, hole-filled orange t-shirt with a pair of blue jeans. His black hair was arranged as carefully as a bird’s nest.
“Wait here,” she said. She made a dismissive gesture at the empty aisle behind her and a hole opened in the air. It grew into a tall black portal then Oasis walked into it and disappeared. Ben had enough time to blink once before she walked out again holding a navy-blue blazer that matched her own.
“Congratulations,” she said. “You’ve been drafted into the Middlemen.”