I crouched down behind the dustbins against the brick wall, small weeds and plants scratching my legs. With an impatient tug I pulled Dr Waltham down beside me. "Keep down," I said. "And don't make a noise, whatever you do. If everything goes well they shouldn't find us here ... I hope."
He stared at me bug-eyed. Our breath puffed out of us into the air and mingled together, leaving me confused and dazed. But this was no time for dreaming, and definitely no time for losing concentration. I forced myself to focus again.
"How many are following?" I whispered, after a pause of about thirty seconds had elapsed. The tramping feet were getting closer, but they weren't slowing: I hoped that meant they'd walk straight past the turning and leave us be.
"I saw about fifty," the doctor replied. "But there were more coming out of the screens every minute. It must have been a teleport or something like that." A teleport? So they really existed. It was as though everything I'd ever daydreamed about was becoming real -- but it was more like a nightmare.
"I'm scared," I whispered. "Scared, angry, and seriously grossed out." Then everything exploded, and in a whisper that was nonetheless bitter and filled with emotion, I continued, "Why didn't you tell me everything? You knew -- you said that you did. But you never even mentioned the Management, let alone the fact that the Voices could be physical beings."
"I didn't know that bit, honest," he said wearily. "I lied to them. But the Management ... well, to be honest, I was just too much of a coward to risk my life so that you could know. They were following my every move. I couldn't do it."
"And did you know that this was what the Voices wanted from me? Did you know that this was why they had befriended me, why they wouldn't let me go?" If he had known -- if he had kept that from me...
"No," he said. "But I guessed. I looked at the records and found that there have been people like you going back for millenia. Well, centuries at least: the earliest records we have are from the 160o's. And all of them except one have been female. And without fail, every single one of them has disappeared for a year or two and then been found, dead. Mutilated. Torn apart from the inside."
I shuddered. I thought I was going to puke all over him, giving away our hiding place as clearly as though I'd jumped out and yelled, "We're here!"
"What can have done that?" I whispered. But Dr Waltham wouldn't answer me. He just looked away, back towards our pursuers. After all, one nightmare was enough.