My name is Andrew Carl Dolinsky and at the time of these events I worked for a large insurance company as part of a team dealing with claims over the telephone. I was twenty one.
I enjoyed the company of most of the people there and the work place had a very good atmosphere. There were only two members of staff that I had trouble with, one was Dave Adams from the accounts department and the other was Mister Harvester. Dave had stolen my girlfriend from me just before Christmas and so my dislike of him was deeply personal, but Mister Harvester was a different subject.
Everyone who worked for the company did not like him, none of us there could say anything good about him. He was sarcastic, often rude, difficult to talk with or ask the simplest questions of and believed himself more important than he really was. He could afford to be this way, he ran the office supplies room. No one could have company headed note paper for official letters, new chairs or tonner for the photocopier without his permission and for this we had to go two floors down to his room and be greeted with his sarcasm and the need to explain in great detail why we needed a new mouse for one of the computers.
When I first started working for the company I thought his first name was Boris, then someone showed me a picture of the actor Boris Karloff and I noticed they had a resemblance to each other with Mister Harvester being the fatter version.
Mister Harvester never attended any after work social functions, not even the Christmas parties. He never met anyone at the company outside of working hours. He had been there about twenty five years yet I could not see him in any of the staff photographs that filled the corridors, even I was in three of them and I had not even completed my first year at this place.
He was a cold, hard and distant man, but god help me I needed his help and this time it was not just for paper clips.
It was Friday evening and the rain was heavy and cold. I was so glad to have finished work and that I could be on my way home and if I was lucky perhaps sleep without those terrible nightmares.
I walked by a small cafe and I could see inside Mister Harvester sitting at a table. I looked through the window, the cold heavy rain hitting the glass distorting his image making him look ominous.
“Well its now or never.” I said to myself more anxious than I had ever been.
I entered the cafe and nervously went up to Mister Harvesters table. I could see him stirring his coffee and reading a letter with great intensity. I did not want to be here I was wishing I could just walk out and be on my way home.
I got from somewhere the courage to say to him, “Mister Harvester, I may need your help.”
Not an easy task as I saw his cold sharp eyes suddenly stare up at me, staring deep into me and then looking shocked whilst he quickly folded his letter and put it in his inside pocket. For a moment he looked offended that I had entered his little bubble of privacy.
“I have finished work for today,” he said as he stirred his coffee “It is way to late to open the stock room. Has Miss Natasha put you up to this? She usually sends the new boys to disturb me in my own time and in my own sanctuary.”
“I’ve been with the company almost a year,” I replied “and her name is Miss Nikita.”
He always knew that was her real name, she had worked there longer than he had,it used to drive her mad when he would send up office supplies marked “For the Attention of: Miss Natasha” leaving her going from office to office to see if they had received her items.
“Well pardon me for breathing.” He replied with sarcasm, still stirring his coffee.
“This has nothing to do with work as far as I know,” I said as best I could “this is more personal than that”
He stopped stirring his coffee and let go of the spoon then said to me in a calming voice “Sit down please.”
I sat down opposite him at the table he ordered another coffee for our table. He then rested his chin on his hand looked across at me and said, “Speak.”
I spoke to him of the dream. The one I had every single night for three weeks. In its duration not a dream, but an experience as lucid and real as anything created by the world we live in while awake.
I was at the local zoo and for some reason I was aware that it was two forty five in the afternoon. I was watching the elephants grooming each other with their trunks when I became aware of the time and that I had to rush.
I ran to the primate house as fast as I could. It was crowded with inside people, the families and their screaming children. The inner room was hexagonal each wall having a thick glass window behind which were various strange species of monkeys.
I could see Mister Harvester in the crowd, but not hear him with the noise of all the people within. He held by their string two balloons, one blue, one red in his left hand. I tried to make out what he was saying to me. He pointed to one of the windows and as I tried to read his lips I could make out the words “De Brazzas.”
Then darkness fell, everyone was gone, I was alone in the primate house. Behind each of the six windows on each wall there were instead of monkeys strange beasts. They had large orange red eyes in large scaly heads.
Their skin was green at first, but as they banged and banged upon their side of the windows in the hope that the glass would break their skin started to peel away and an even uglier red form came from the shedded skin.
Though they franticly hit the glass like wild animals I could tell by the nature of their movements they had intellect. All the windows had steamed up and I could only make theses forms out by their silhouettes. Almost human, but such narrow frames, such big heads, and long arms with long twig like fingers.
I could not hear them, but I could hear the banging on the window, my ears trying to make out whether the glass is about to crack and break. All the time I am saying to myself
“Please let me wake, please let me wake, please…”
Through the condensation on the window I was facing I could see the shape of a hand its finger pressed upon the glass and in the condensation of the glass it drew the primitive image of a flower as a child would draw. The flower looked as if it was wilting or dying.
The moment I made out the image, the window suddenly shatters and then I wake up. Just before I wake I saw at my feet what looked like dead skin.
During the time I had been telling him the dream Mister Harvester had been totally silent, he did not seem moved at all. He then asked “And you’ve had this dream ever night for three weeks.”
“Yes I have,” I replied “If you could call it a dream or nightmare. I would call it being there.”
“That explains why you look like shit”. He said laughingly.
There was a moments silence and then he said “De Brazza’s is a species of monkey, I believe most common in central Africa. They bear a scary resemblance to a hairy old man with a long white beard. You mentioned me saying or mouthing those words in your dream, but you could have found that out on the internet. I wonder what you really think I might know.”
Before I could say anything I heard Mister Harvester’s phone in his pocket. He pulled it out looking down at the message he said “That’s my eldest daughter on her way to pick me up. We’re going for a meal then onto a play. The gossip from the Admin department about me being gay is not true. Although if I was gay I would be able to tell you with greater sincerity what a real mess you look at the moment. Go home and get some sleep.”
“I want to sleep,” I said with deep emotion, “god knows how much I want to sleep. Night after night of seeing you open the doors to Hell and not knowing why and…”
Mister Harvester interrupted me “What was I wearing?”
“What your wearing now but a blue shirt not white.”
“light or dark blue”
“And the weather?”
“Bright sunshine. Does any of that mean anything?”
Mister Harvester looked at his watch then said “We have just under five minutes before my daughter gets here. In that time you will have to come to a decession.”
“You can help me!” I said astonished wondering what his next words would be.
“I am not sure,” he said like he was thinking aloud “this Sunday the weather is forecast as sunny and I do have pale blue shirt in my wardrobe. I can meet you at the zoo that day.”
I knew what he planning, but to afraid to think it let alone say it. I did my best by asking “What are going to do?”
He put his hands together and said “We are going to recreate the dream.”
He explained what was to happen. “I meet you at the zoo just after two,” he said “this will give us enough time to get acquainted with and enjoy the place. We buy a blue and red balloon I wait for you at the primate house, when you arrive I just say the words “De Brazza’s” and we see if anything happens.”
“That is a big thing your doing for me” I said in the hope that he would back down from this idea.
“It’s no trouble,” he said “the zoo is not far out of my way, but I can’t stay latter than three thirty I have to have dinner with my other daughter. When your older you’ll understand how jealous your children can get.”
“If you have arrangements we can always make it next weekend.” I said this time in the hope during the week he would forget his plan.
“Beginning next week and the week after I will be away on vacation it has to be this Sunday.” he said as he looked in the direction of the window.
I got up the courage to say to him “Perhaps this is not such a good idea.”
“It’s a very good idea I think,” he said in a strange kind of rhythm “to be awake inside your own dream is interesting, but to be awake in the dream of someone else that certainly would be something to see. Oh you will be there.”
I saw him wave at the figure of a young woman the other side of the cafe window. “Two o’clock, Sunday, the zoo.”
I watched as he left the cafe. I saw the him through the window kiss the young lady and the two of them walk across the street.
That night I slept until noon the next day. I did not have the dream, the first time in three weeks.
I enjoyed my Saturday in my local supermarket filling my trolley with ready meals and milk. Near the check out was pile of DVD’s all of them very old movies being sold two for a dollar and at the top was “The Man who changed his mind” starring Boris Karloff.
I did not buy the DVD the tittle was enough to set my mind racing.
Mister Harvester who hardly spoke to any of us at the company and only on work related matters. A man who kept himself apart from everyone else hiding himself in the supply room. Someone who by choice had no friends among those he had worked with more than twenty years pretending to get their names wrong. Suddenly this person offers to give up a big part of his day to me whom he hardly knew and the day before he was to set off for his vacation. This filled me with a kind of dread for the next day.
I would not have gone to the zoo were it not for the nightmare I had as I slept Saturday night through Sunday morning.
Not the dream I had previously but just as real, having a reality of its own. I saw dead skin decaying, I was looking to close to know what part of the body it was or if indeed it once was human. This skin had been ripped open and within the gap was a flower. The flower was a daisy and it was wilting, perhaps dying. At least this dream was brief.
When I woke it was eleven A.M. And I realized this was Sunday, the day of the zoo. As I made myself something to eat and a coffee I asked myself “What do I hope to achieve from all of this?”
As Mister Harvester had told me it was indeed a sunny day. As I walked the long path to the zoo I realized that within an hour or so all of this would be over and the two of us would part company, he would be away somewhere for two weeks and I would be able to get on with my life.
Mister Harvester was there waiting for me at the entrance to the zoo. He was holding in his hands two balloons, one red, one blue.
“I was a little early,” he said “so I went to the gift shop. Bye the way what is your name.”
“Andrew Dolisnsky” I replied shocked that we were doing this without him even asking my name.
He pointed to his shirt asking “Is this the right shade of blue?”
“Yes” I replied knowing it to be the exact shade of blue from the nightmare.
“I make it just after two o’clock,” he said “I have a couple of phone calls to make, I wont be long. I will meet you inside the zoo in five minutes or less.”
I did as I was told and joined the line of people waiting to go in. The queue was massive and filled with parents and their noisy loud brats. Not a good thing as this made me more aware of how sensitive I was becoming. Every “mommy, Mommy!” screech sounding like an explosion and a little voice in my head saying “Don’t look at your watch, don’t look at your watch!. There is plenty of time.”
Finally I got to the head of the line and bought my ticket. This to me was such a relief as I went in almost blinded by the bright sunshine on the other side of the doors. As my eyes adjusted to the light I made out the figure of Mister Harvester holding the balloons.”
“How did you get here?” I asked in stunned disbelief.
He held up in his hand a card saying “Membership card Mister Dolinsky, we use a different entrance well away from the red neck mob you’ve just rubbed shoulders with .”
“Why didn’t you tell me that on Friday!” I shouted to him.
“With the greatest of respect Mister Dolinsky,” he said with laughter “I don’t share my personal life with anybody within the company. What I do in my free time is no one’s business but my own.”
I calmed myself down and said, “I respect your privacy Mister Harvester, but you could have at least told me this.”
He took out of his pocket a leaflet and handed it to me saying, “On the back is a map of the zoo. As you can see there is only a short walk to the elephant house from here and from there the path takes you straight to the primate house. But first on the way there is a little coffee shop and it has great view of the flamingos.”
So I found myself sitting at a table drinking coffee in beautiful warm sunshine watching flamingos in an artificial lake. Any other day this would be bliss, but not this day.
I looked down at my watch and I heard Mister Harvester say “We have plenty of time yet.”
“Why are doing this for me?” I asked him “You hardly know me. I could be some madman.”
Mister Harvester started laughing uncontrollably and finally managed to say to me, “Early twenties, jilted by his girlfriend, has a boring office job and plagued by dark violent dreams, you could well be on the way to becoming a serial killer.”
He suddenly stopped laughing and said, “In a word, obligation. That is all I choose to share with you.”
“You are not who you appear to be.” I said to him. I knew not why I said this to him, but it struck him hard.
He held one of the red balloon in his hand and said to me “What would happen if I burst one of these balloons? There is not enough time to get to the gift shop and buy another. What would happen? The dream says there must be two balloons, one red, one blue.Would the dark visions return? Perhaps more so and with vengeance. Are you going to be good boy.”
“I will be a good boy.” I replied quickly to calm him down.
He rose from the table saying “Then lets set off to our destinations.”
As we walked he started talking angrily and fast, “I am the youngest of three brothers. My family is a mixture, my mothers parents Italian, my fathers English. My first job was as a waiter in New York. I have been married for twenty six years. My wife is called Kate and we have two grown up daughters, April and Ann. My hobbies are reading and collecting toy cars. I enjoy swimming. I don’t watch television, but sometimes go to the cinema. I like the color green. I was born in Dallas the day C.S. Lewis died so that makes me a Scorpio. Is that enough information for you?”
I could say nothing and just nodded not daring to say he might be Sagittarius.
“Here the path splits,” he said pointing “over there is the elephant house follow the path back to here and then take the next direction to the primate house were I will be waiting for you. It is only two minutes at the most.”
I made my way to the elephant house. It was exactly as the dream, a male elephant grooming a female with his trunk. They looked so graceful despite their huge size. All these wonders of nature around me, I could easily understand how someone like Mister Harvester would enjoy it here after a busy week of shouting and insulting everyone.
I looked at my watch it read two forty five “Jesus!” I thought. It had been so engrossing to watch the animals I had neglected the time.
I ran in the direction of the primate house, all the time seeing the people I had seen in my dream. The children the adults and the clothes they wore all from my dream.
I reached the primate house. It was filled with people,all the people from my dream and their children happily screaming and making monkey noises. I could not see Mister Harvester. At first I thought he had left the zoo in a fit of temper, but above the crowd I saw two balloons, one red, one blue.
I moved as best I could through the crowd trying to get my breath back, feeling my heart beat. As I caught my breath I saw Mister Harvester. I could not make out what he was saying to me, but pointing with great joy on his face to one of the windows. I looked in the direction of his pointing finger.
Between the heads of rushing children I could see this strange looking like an old man, like a religious old man with a long beard and above it on the wall a sign saying “De Brazza’s Monkey.”
I stood transfixed by this monkey as if in a trance. No more the sounds of screaming children, only silence. The room fell dark, there was only the monkey and myself here.
The monkey seemed to be as interested in me as I was in him. He put his palm flat on the glass and I did likewise on my side. I was close to the window and the monkey then spoke to me saying “Good boy, good boy.”
I stood back in shock. I began blinking rapidly and the monkeys movements looked as if they were still photographs shown in sequence. My head filled with many vivid colors. I could not move.
I regained myself at the sound of a man saying “Sir, Sir could you please move.”
“What’s the matter?” I asked what I assumed to be one of the zoo keepers.
“The electrician needs to put his ladder here” the man said to me.
The room was in darkness save the light from the windows. The lights must have fused and the crowds left no one else going into a dark place thinking it closed.
I left the primate house and in the daylight looked at my watch. Four o’clock! Over an hour I had stood there and Mister Harvester had not gone over to help me. “When he gets back from vacation I am so going to make his life miserable!” I thought.
To me all was rational, lack of sleep along with the stress, like the lights in the primate house I had blown a fuse.
Over two weeks had past, but Mister Harvester had not returned to the company, deep down I had the feeling I would never see him again.
All the other staff were furious “That is so like him!” I heard my boss saying “He ran the supply room his way, he used a system only he understood. It will take us weeks to fathom everything out.”
I remembered the time I met him in the cafe, the letter he had hidden from me. It was a job offer from another company and he took his daughter out for a meal to celebrate. He may have used some of his vacation time to see if he liked his new job, he liked it wherever he had gone as obviously he did not return.
For me this ment know more nightmares, it ment quality days after a good night’s sleep. However this was not yet over.
Three weeks after I last saw Mister Harvester I received an envelope, delivered to my work address. On the envelope it read “For the Attention of: Mister Andrew Dolinsky, Private and confidential.” It had a New York post mark.
Enclosed was an old photograph of an elderly man holding the hand of a small boy about five years old or less and in his free hand he held two balloons. I could not make out where the photo had been taken, there were to many people in the background to make out any landscape clues. On the back of the photograph was written in red ink “THE ZOO” in big letters and under that was written “Bravo Ragazzo” Italian for “good boy”.
I imagined Mister Harvester packing to move to New York. He finds the old photo albums and cannot resist looking through them before packing them up. Before he knows it he is well into the third and fourth albums the hours passing away in memory lane. He then strays upon this photograph and thinks “I will send this of to Mister Dolinsky, this will really mess with his mind.” And he would be right!
I held the photograph to the my desk light to get a better look. The words on the other side showed through onto the image, the last “O” in “ZOO” seemed to circle round two people in the background crowd.
“Oh sweet Jesus no!” I said out loud, “No this can’t be, it really can’t.”
I ran down to the supply room where Mister Harvester used to work to the the lady who thought she was just covering for his vacation and asked almost out of breath “Magnifying glass please. I need it for the small print.”
I took an early lunch break and went to the cafe across the street. Here at my table with my coffee and sandwich I could study the photograph. In magnification under the glass I saw the two men in this imaginary circle. One of the men looked a lot like me and the other man could have been the exact twin of Dave Adams from accounts, the man who stole my girlfriend from me just before Christmas day leaving me on my own through the holiday period.
“Mister Harvester has done something on a computer,” I thought “he has cut and pasted photos of Dave and I into the picture. I have to admire the workmanship though. His and my clothing looks a bit to modern. However come to think about it a zoo is the perfect place for a time traveler, the public of say the 1930′s would be so interested in the animal exhibits that they may not notice someone walking by wearing a Pink Floyd T shirt. This would unfortunately be limited to how long humanity has had zoos and not all cities have them. Nice try Mister Harvester.”
My moment of rediscovered sanity was interrupted by the sound of my name, “Andrew.”
I looked up and saw it was Dave Adams, he looked terrible like had not slept for nearly a month.
I quickly put the photograph in my inside pocket hopping he had not seen it.
“Dave, you look like death” I replied.
“I need your help.” He said looking at me with such sad empty eyes.
I thought, “No, don’t say it, please don’t say it!”
But he did.
He said ” It’s about a terrible dream I’ve been having.”
Credit To – A.J. Ward