"Evening, Todd." Jim said, slipping by him to the complex of elevators behind him, going to the second floor.The security guard who worked at the front desk nodded.Jim worked at Telford Industrial. They made security and communication devices, many of which were classified government projects. They hired engineers, security guards , technical writers, chefs, and various other staff. He was simply the janitor. He wandered the halls late at night when the sun was down and everyone was home, scrubbing floors and emptying wastebaskets. On occasion, he would run into someone like the security guard; he knew their name, but nothing more. He was lucky if they knew that much.It was not that he was unintelligent; he could hold a conversation on the rare times he got the chance. He had even attended some college when he had the time and money. It was not that he was completely hideous either. People could look at him; he was just incredibly plain. He would actually rather be unattractive; at least then he would have left some kind of impression; but he was just enough: shaggy brown hair, slightly big ears, an oversized nose, and hazel eyes beneath a large, bushy unibrow: just enough.When he was done, he went home to a small apartment in a dingy building in the bad part of town. He walked along familiar streets where the homeless seemed to congregate, up the stone steps to a set of glass doors that led to a shabby waiting room lit by fluorescent lights with yellowing plastic covers and containing a tile ceiling with missing tiles pair of worn couches. An indifferent landlord with a halo of grey hair looked up from his magazine, reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, and glanced through the bars of his office; upon seeing who it was, he went back to reading.Walking past him, he mounted the worn, slightly bowed, squeaky wooden steps to the upper floor, walking down a hallway lined with doors before stopping at one and reaching into his pocket, rustling a moment for his keys before pulling them out and flipping through them to slide one into the lock.It was a studio apartment with a tiny bathroom attached. His bed was a mattress on the floor beneath the two tall windows and a pile of blankets in the center, across from an old vacuum-tube television on a small table. In a corner was a table with a microwave and a mini-fridge that he had dubbed the kitchen. He went to the fridge, opening it. Within was the leftovers of last nights feast; a half-eaten hamburger and some soggy fries within a Styrofoam container, which he snatched out and put into the microwave, setting the timer to cook a little too long so it would be a little overdone, and reached back in to pull the last of the cheap six pack away from its plastic ring and throwing it in the trash-bag that migrated throughout the room.He grabbed his food out of the microwave, taking it and his beer to sit on the edge of the mattress, putting it on the floor and reaching forward to push the button that turned on the television. He watched it as he ate without actually paying attention to what was on; it was just noise, and a slight distraction. When he finished, he through away the container and the can, and laid down on the bed, thinking as his eyes slowly closed, still fully clothed. When he opened his eyes again, the moon was full and bright overhead, broken by the leafless branches of a tree reaching for the sky like claws. He sat up, looking around, trying to get his bearing. He was on a grassy hill, rising up from a sea of fog that undulated and wavered.He had a feeling there was more to that fog than was natural or even sane. He knew he didn't want to find out.Standing up, he looked for something, anything to get him away from here; but all he found was a statue: an ivory woman, her hair long and loose as her dress, gesturing with one hand toward the moon and the other holding glass flask full of fluorescent green liquid. She turned to him. It was such a sudden movement that he thought he was hallucinating, but she brought down her arms and stepped down off her dais towards him, sent him stumbling backward until he was inches from the shore and crawling backwards as she walked slowly down the hill toward him, stopped halfway between him and the tree and stood there looking at him as him.A step back and his foot was lost in insubstantial fog. Almost instantly, something slimy wrapped around his ankle. He jerked back instinctively, pulling whatever it was up; but as it emerged, it faded away as quickly as it had formed."Jim Stock." she said simply. "You are haunted by nightmares of what could have been."He didn't reply, starting at her, noting that her lips did not move when she spoke and that the stone of her dress and hair flowed naturally, and her eyes had a slight glow. He was still deciding who was the more dangerous: the mystery that lay beneath the fog or the living stone being standing in front of him."I can bring you out of those nightmare, Jim Stock." she continued, her voice coming from nowhere in particular. "Or you can sink back into those waves and get lost among them once more.""What do you mean?" he replied, looking backwards over his shoulder. "Is that what that is?""It is." she was coming closer now, one step at a time, her feet hidden beneath her dress. "I can give you everything you ever dreamed of, Jim Stock.""How do you know what I want?" he replied angrily, without moving from his spot."I know many things about you, Jim Stock." she replied, her movements graceful as she slid up next to him. "I know that you drink yourself to sleep every night, that you live in a dreary apartment in a dreary building, that you never have a reason to leave the house because no one invites you anywhere. I know that you want to change. I can make you beautiful, Jim Stock.""Who are you?"She didn't reply, only looked at him. "I can make you beautiful, Jim Stock. I can make you memorable. That is what you want."He shook his head."Then all you need to do is go back to the nightmares. They're right there, waiting for you." she pointed, and he looked to see the fog clear momentarily, revealing images of silence and loneliness, some at work and others throughout his young life. "Is that what you want?""No." he said slowly."Then take what I offer."He thought for a moment. "What's the catch?"She smiled; the first sign of emotion he had seen her make, and even that was cold and empty. "I can't tell you what I do not know, Jim Stock.""How can you not know?" he replied, incredulous."The magic takes what the magic needs." she answered. "It will give you what you want. That is all I know."He thought about it. Of course, this was only a dream; he did not know what he was so frightened of, but it felt so real. Still, this was the first time he had ever had such a dream; to be honest, this was the longest conversation he had had with anyone, much less a lovely woman (granted, stone) in a dream or otherwise who was not close family.And what she offered was tempting."Yes." he replied, finally. After all, it was just a dream; even if something happened, it would only happen here. What harm would it do?Then she leaned forward and kissed him. Her hand wrapped around the back of his neck, the claws digging gently into it and pulled him forward, thrusting her tongue into his mouth. He was so startled he tried to push her away. He struggled against her, pushing against her stone body as he felt liquid filling his mouth: a sweet taste that flowed across his tongue, and finally down his throat.He awoke on his bed, the evening sun slanting down the alleyway outside. His head hurt as much as his back always did from the lumpy mattress. He stood up, interlaced his fingers and arched his back, feeling each vertebrae pop as he gasped and yawned. He scratched gently, walked to the small adjoining bathroom, stripped, and turned on the water. It came out freezing and it didn't heat up. He grimaced, stepped into the shower and felt the frigid water hit his skin. Quickly soaking down, he grabbed the bar of soap off the shower hanger, soaped off, rinsed off, and stepped out as quickly as possible, dripping on the floor as he grabbed a once-white towel off the rack and, suppressing the urge to shiver, he quickly dried off his hair and face. When he was done, he put the towel aside, grabbed a can of shaving cream, sprayed some out onto the palm of his hand, and looked in the mirror.The person looking back at him was not himself. He was far too... perfect, to be who logic said he was. The nose was average and well placed on a tanned, smooth face with high cheekbones, under deep eyes of a deep blue."I must still be dreaming." he said to himself, watching as the lips moved and a smooth baritone voice emerged from it, foreign to his ears.He stared for a moment and did the only thing he could think of: he pinched himself, hard, on his thigh: a perfectly toned thigh, something he had not noticed in the shower. Pain shot up his leg and contorted his face.The next thing he did was whoop so loud the neighbors stopped fighting for a moment to wonder what that racket was.He quickly shaved and dressed in what he considered his best: a white shirt with vertical pen-stripes, a pair dusty slacks (he only had for funerals he could not avoid) belted with black pleather, and a pair of black tennis shoes.He stood at the door for a moment, taking long, slow breathes, and opened the door. Strolling down the dusty hallway, he looked at the broken tiles and the flickering lights, the squeaky stairs and the missing ceiling tiles, and the landlord who didn't even bother looking up when he came down the stairs.He stepped out the door, the sun slanting outside casting ribbons of red and orange across the evening sky as the stars, as few as there were, began to peak out of the dark fringe. The hues brought out the red in the old brick and brought all the cracks in the old sidewalks into stark relief, and the paper and trash trapped against the walls of the building was even darker by comparison.As he walked, he noticed something he had never seen before: people were looking at him. For the first time in his life, he was noticed; and by extension, he felt like he had finally become part of society. This put more spring in his step as his nervousness was replaced with adrenaline."Morning, Todd!" he said cheerfully as he arrived at work."Morning..." he started; then, after a moments pause, "What happened to you?""It's a long story." replied the janitor cheerfully. "Is Michael in?"Michael was his boss. An older man with red hair and a belly that had seen too many cases, he was the head of the cleaning crew that Jim worked on, and was rarely seen anytime but the beginning or end of shift."I'm sure he's somewhere." replied the guard, bemused as the reborn man walked past him into the structure.It took about a half hour to find his boss. He was hiding in one of the storage rooms on a higher level, where he sat on a bucket with a can in one hand and a book in the other. Jim often wondered how he had gotten the job; but, standards were not the highest when your job was to scrub floors and keep your mouth shut."Whatta you want?" Michael started, as the door opened. "You get yerself fixed up? How'd ya do that?""I quit." was all he got in reply as the door closed.The first order of business complete, Jim left, walking by the guard without so much as a word. The second order, and the more fun one, was to find the bar he use to go to when he was feeling social.The Blind Tiger was a bar three blocks from where he worked. The crew use to go there for drinks when they could afford it, inviting him along as a matter of politeness rather than any connection besides work. Now he was going to put himself to the test.He walked through the glass doors into the dimly-lit room, where smoke curled out from cigarettes and gathered on the ceiling to make the air barely-breathable. A few people played pool, the balls clacking with every shot, and low country music played from an old jukebox that had seen more drunken brawls and arrests than anyone in the room. It was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else and every new face was noticed. His was no exception, as everyone turned to look, saw him, and turned back to their various activities.He went and sat at the bar and waited. There was no reaction; no probing visits, no conversation. Not even from the bartender, who had seemed to be a talkative man.He shrugged, looking around the room. Off in a distant corner table, his former coworkers sat and drank. He decided to join them. He got up, crossed the room (narrowly dodging a waitress who didn't see him) and sat down at the table in the only empty chair."Hey guys." he greeted them. "What's up?"They didn't look. They didn't even acknowledge him. He raised up his hand and waved it in front of one of their faces."Did you hear about Jim?""Ya, he quit. Boss says he got some money or something. Made himself a prettyboy.""Guys?" he started. "I'm right here.""Good thing." another replied, taking a drink from a half-full cup, a cigarette trapped between two fingers. "He was an ugly cuss."Reaching forward, Jim tipped the cup into his lap."Shit!" The man yelled, standing up suddenly, his chair falling to the floor with a thock. "How the Hell did that happen?" He wiped off with a small stack of napkins from the piled on the table and then headed off to the bathroom as the others watched, then resumed their conversation."That was odd." said one, thoughtfully, before turning back to his comrades. "So, as I was saying... Jim. Boring, too. Has anyone seen him do anything?"Then the entire table flipped. There was sudden silence as it landed on one of them, then a gesture of assurance later, the table was back up and it was business as usual.Jim stood, perplexed, having just flipped the table. He turned, feeling eyes on him.An old woman in a black hood, with eyes like emeralds on either side of a nose too long for her face, framed by wisps of black hair, smiled back. Her lips mouthed a few words: words that had been forgotten, but he now heard echoing back from the dream."There will be a price." she had said.That night, there was a wail of misery that echoed through the bar, but no one noticed.