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Chapter 1: Caffeine
The ceaseless dripping sound of the coffee pot unnerved him. It grated at his soul, etching away bit by bit until there was nothing left but a raw, hollow, drowsy lump of flesh. It was not so much the noise which annoyed him, but the implications of that noise. There was a little bit of caffeine in each one of those drops. It was the same caffeine which had coursed through his veins, had sustained and deranged him for the past five days, and which had, through its measly and occasional stimulation, kept him half-awake, a zombie during that entire epoch.
The buzz of the overhead fluorescent lights soothed him, if anything could soothe a man as brainless as he. Soon, even the dripping of the coffee pot ceased, and his vision slowly blurred. He could feel himself relaxing, his head tilting back. Something inside of him prodded for him to stand, wring his hands, jog in place, anything but sleep--- but he did not, could not listen. Uncaring, he lost himself.
Colors began to flash across his eyes. A blue square appeared in the corner of his right eye. He studied it vaguely, gazing passively at its fuzzy features, and it grew and grew until…
The blue square disappeared, and he was suddenly aware of his surroundings. The coffee pot, the fluorescent lights, and now a bearded man in a blue, button-up shirt with a ghastly orange tie and wide, ungainly glasses became visible to him.
“You were sleeping, Mr. Miller,” The bearded man said matter-of-factly, “with your eyes open.”
“Ugh…” he grunted, rubbing his forehead and grabbing the powder-blue mug of coffee in front of him, which had long since cooled to a sickly lukewarm temperature.
Before he could bring the mug to his lips, the bearded man stopped him, “No, no, Mr. Miller—you shan’t have any more caffeine. The incubation period is over and we can finally begin trials.”
He put the mug down, staring at the rippling brown surface of the coffee with mixed feelings of envy and regret. The bearded man sat down at the long, white table at which Mr. Miller was seated, and pulled a black pen from his breast pocket. Removing the cap from his pen, the man remarked, “You look like hell. Frankly I don’t blame you for dozing off today. Five days without any sleep and an excess of caffeine can do a number on anyone, and I admire your steadfast commitment to the project. Three other subjects were already expelled for, shall I say, artificial narcolepsy, and not of your five-minute sort, but five hours! You could imagine my surprise when I entered the waiting room this morning to find three of them asleep at a table. I imagine they all congregated there some time last night to complain about the procedure, and fell asleep mid-conversation!”
The man droned on and on, but his addressee was not listening. He could feel himself teetering back and forth, still staring at the rippling surface of the coffee mug. The blue square re-appeared.
“Mr. Miller, are you listening to me!?” The man asked, clapping his hands and eliciting a slight response in his participant. “Look, we’ll start with a few survey questions and move on to cognitive tests. Then,” he ended, with a sigh, “You’ll get your sleep.”
“Okay,” Miller mumbled, rubbing his forehead yet again, and scooting forward in his chair. He only had to stay awake for a few more moments, and he would receive his coveted rest. The bearded man scribbled something on a clipboard, and began.
“Your first name, Mr. Miller?”
“Do you know who I am, Jacob?”
“Is this part of the test?”
“Of course not, I just want to know if I’ve examined you before.”
“Don’t recognize you, sorry.”
“That’s fine. I’m Dr. Raymond West. I’m the lead psychologist on this project.”
“Your age, Mr. Miller?”
“Mr. Miller, you reported earlier that you had no allergic reactions to any drug of any sort before this test, including caffeine and aspartame, is this correct?”
“You signed the release form allowing your personal information to be published in any future references to this experiment, yes?”
“I think so.”
“Good. I’m going to begin the test now. On a scale of one to ten, how do you rate your alertness?”
“Now, Mr. Miller, how could you possibly be more fatigued than you are right now?”
“I don’t know. I guess I could be dead, or running a marathon.”
“Can you recall the date, Mr. Miller?”
“February…uh… sixteenth, 2015?”
“That was yesterday, Mr. Miller. But I can forgive you for that. Mr. Miller, you stated prior to this test that to your knowledge, you did not dream at all. Is this true?”
“I don’t know. I guess everybody dreams. I just don’t remember them.”
“That’s correct Jacob. On your first night here you were recorded with sixty-three minutes of REM sleep, entirely characteristic of healthy dreaming. You were probably even dreaming during those few minutes that you dozed just a moment ago. As deprived as your body is of REM sleep, it needs to “pay the debt”, so to say. Do you know what this test is for, Mr. Miller?”
“No. I just heard it was about sleep.”
“That’s correct Mr. Miller. Our study concerns the effects of sleep deprivation and caffeine use on the sustainability and content of lucid dreams. As you go to sleep this afternoon, we will be closely monitoring you.”
“Lucid dreams, doctor?”
“Yes, lucid dreams. They are dreams in which the person experiencing has awareness, consciousness, you might say, of the dream, and can even exhibit a certain amount of control over them. As you sleep, we will monitor you for the first signs of an REM cycle, and we will then take certain measures to ensure that you become aware of your dream. We may, if the situation becomes too distressing for you, alter the content of the dreams themselves or else wake you. Our goal is to fully record a maximally sustained lucid dream for further study, so we’ll need to have you in REM for as long as possible.”
“So, you’re recording my dreams? How is that even possible?”
The thought of psychologists in lab coats prodding at his thoughts while he slept unnerved him a bit. Suppose he dreamt of something embarrassing?
“Now Mr. Miller, we’re simply going to analyze the impulses in your visual cortex and use an artificial neural network to analyze them and make meaning of them. We’ll probably only see flashes of color, a hint of an emotion, perhaps a disjointed scene or two, certainly not a full dream. Our neural networks are not quite as good as the human brain in interpreting random flashes of visual information, if you can forgive us for that.”
He didn’t understand. He was tired.
“Okay…” he managed, shaking his head. Dr. West continued on with the survey questions, gave him a familiar cognitive test involving assembling shapes out of multicolored blocks. He scored half what he had gotten before the test began. Then a nurse came in and took his blood pressure, measured his breathing, his eye responses, and left.
“Alright, Mr. Miller, all of your scores are within the expected ranges.” Dr. West chimed cheerily, now sipping at a cup of coffee, “Your cognitive scores are exactly where we expected them to be, but your blood pressure is a bit high, which should be expected from the amount of caffeine you recently consumed! I think we might be able to begin the procedure… I just--”
Why was he still talking? Why couldn’t they just get on with it? He just wanted some sleep damn it!
“So I’m done? Can I go now?” He snarled.
“Oh dear, irritability and impatience… classic signs of sleep deprivation. Yes I was just about to say that we could begin the procedure shortly. Please, follow me.”
Dr. West capped his pen, straightened his sickly orange tie, and stood up, his clipboard still in hand. Jacob Miller stood up as well, stretching and yawning as he did so, and followed west into the next room. It was fluorescently lit, exactly as the previous room was, with the same white tile floors and dirty plaster walls. There was another powder-blue table covered in coffee cups of the same color in one corner of the room. In front of the table stood a bank of LCD computer monitors, connected to a purple, cubic mainframe computer in the center of the room. His eyes followed a mesh of black cables from the computer to their endpoint at the other end of the room: a bed.
That bed might as well have been a million dollar check, an Italian supermodel, and God himself all in one. He lumbered towards it, like a deformed moth towards a flame, his legs not quite catching up to his yearning desire. But then, Dr. West stopped him.
“Hold on now, Jacob. I want you to take a look at the equipment. I want to make sure that all I my volunteers fully understand the procedures, to avoid any…complications. I hope you understand.”
No, he did not understand, damn it! He craned towards the bed once again, but then stifled himself, and stood passively, listening. The doctor glided over to the monitors, sipping his coffee along the way.
“These monitors will display the raw data from your visual cortex, along with the interpreted data from the neural network on the mainframe computer there. We’ll be able to send you auditory and visual signals through this interface. We can even relay pre-recorded stimuli from other patients (to a limited extent) to suggest other dream settings for you. Someone will always be on staff to monitor your dreams to ensure that you stay in an REM state for as long as possible. Now, over to the inputs…”
He moved over to the bed. It was a pale green, standard hospital bed, complete with metal bars on the sides and hypo-allergenic pillows and sheets. “This is the primary input electrode,” Dr. West explained, holding up a tiny, black wired device in his pudgy fingers. “We will attach this to the back of your ear, like this,” he clipped it behind his ear, “and it will measure the activity in your visual cortex and relay it back to the mainframe computer.” He pointed to a small silver node on the device, “this is a small speaker we will use to prompt you audibly. We will use this as our primary means of suggestion and communication, but if that should fail, we have this…” He held up another small device, “the NIMID, Non-Invasive Mental Input Device. We will clip this to your other ear, and it will stimulate neurons in your spinal cord, which your brain will interpret as sensory input. With this, we’ll be able to send you auditory, visual, even tactile sensations to communicate with you. It’s a brand new piece of technology, and it’s going through its trial phase right now. Something could potentially go wrong, so if you start getting weird inputs that aren’t making much sense to you, just do this.” Dr. West tapped the back of his left ear three times. “This will kill the program and prompt whoever is monitoring you to immediately wake you. But never fear, the system has so far been foolproof.”
Jacob Miller was hardly listening, simply rubbing the five-day-old stubble on his chin and staring longingly at the bed. He didn’t quite understand what was going on, but he gathered that something odd would be going on in his head shortly. It didn’t really matter, he only wanted sleep.
“Alright, I think I’m done here, Mr. Miller. Why don’t you lie down here and I’ll attach the device.”
Such a prompt could not have come sooner. He felt his muscles relax and his whole outlook change to one of great relief as he limped towards the bed and climbed into its soft, warm, pale green sheets and placed his aching head onto the itchy, paper-like pillow.
“I’m attaching the NIMID now, and the primary input electrode.”
He felt first a sharp bite as the device clipped to his ear, and then a cold, wet sensation as the doctor applied adhesive to his neck to keep it in place. Doctor West made him roll over and he again experienced those same sensations as the other piece of equipment was pinned to his ear. He imagined that he must look quite strange, like a miserable, restless cyborg. His thoughts began to run together as he imagined himself lying there, and then he felt a sharp stab on his right arm. He looked down at his pale blue hospital gown and saw the doctor placing a tube in his arm.
“Relax, Mr. Miller. I’m applying an I.V. We’re going to administer a light sedative to ensure that you fall asleep. Not that you needed any help… but we are a bit short on time here. You should feel a slight pressure on your wrist; I’m putting something on it which will monitor your pulse. There we go… all done.”
Doctor West backed away from the bed, and Miller had the strange sensation that he was a child, being tucked in by his father. The doctor’s glasses glowed slightly in the fluorescent light, just as his father’s had years ago as he tucked the child in during the long, cold winter.
“Sleep tight, Jacob.” Doctor west said, dreamily, “Don’t let the bad dreams get to you. Sleep deprived subjects almost always have nightmares.”
“Good night.” Miller said, his eyes coming to a close.
“It’s nine o’clock in the morning, Mr. Miller.” He walked away, and the lights went off.
Chapter 2: Lake
The wind blew through his hair, whipping its long, dark strands across his face and into his eyes, obscuring his vision. He brushed the hair away, revealing the glorious vista of the sun slowly rising over the surface of the lake, making its muddy green waters glow like liquid fire. He felt a deep sense of meaning, that there was a reason for everything, and that the reason was him. The wind blew his hair back into his eyes and he brushed it away.
Above the rushing of the wind through the sails, he could hear the strum of an acoustic guitar, playing a familiar tune with a soft, sad melody. Slowly he moved his gaze about the tiny boat to see his brother sitting there, a light brown, rustic guitar in his hands, strumming at it with his grizzled fingers. He felt young, unworthy, miniscule in the presence of his brother.
Freddy, his older sibling, was the ‘cool’ kid of the family. He was too cool to play baseball with his younger brother, too cool to go on bike rides with him to the park anymore. Heck, he was too cool to do anything. He just sat in his room, smoked, and played the guitar.
Jacob felt like going over to his older brother and sitting there with him for a while, listening to the melodies. But no, he could never be accepted, not even here on the lake with the sun leisurely rising into the sky and the waves lapping up against the bow of the sailboat.
He looked away from his indifferent brother, and saw his father at the stern, a tack line in one hand and the handle of the rudder in the other. He was crouching there, keeping his balance and maneuvering the boat so that it stayed with its back to the wind. His father was a master sailor. A boating champion in youth, Dr. James Miller was now a successful heart surgeon and the father of two dashing boys, one eighteen, and the other twelve. The boatman kept his dark eyes on the horizon, his gray-whiskered chin firmly planted in the collar of his bright yellow windbreaker.
“Hey Dad,” Jacob said, his voice high and girlish, “Do you think I could have a try at sailing?”
His father acted as if he had not heard the poor boy, and kept his face expressionless.
Jacob repeated his request, “Dad, gi’ me a try! Come on!”
The man remained unmoved.
The boy dashed towards his father. He did not enjoy being ignored. He reached towards the handle of the rudder, and suddenly his father’s expression turned from one of indifference to one of terror.
“Jacob! Get out of the way!” He yelled above the wind. Abruptly, Freddy’s music ended.
“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.
“You’re dreaming Jacob! You’re dreaming! You’re dreaming!” He kept repeating this over and over, his voice escalating into a scream.
“What are you talking about?” The boy tried to yell, yet elicited only a whisper.
He suddenly felt a sharp pain behind both ears. The sail had swung around and hit him in the back of the head. He tried to catch his balance but slipped and stumbled on the slick surface of the sailboat, and careened, screaming, into the muddy waters.
The frigid waters muffled his scream and left him spitting bubbles beneath the surface of the lake. Terrified, he craned his neck upward to see the silhouette of the sailboat glittering in the sunlight, the distorted faces of his brother and father grotesquely deformed over the edge.
He gasped for air, realized that he was under water, and was gripped by an indescribable sense of dread. He was drowning. He thrashed about, swirling the water around him, but he felt that he was being sucked downward by a strange force from the bottom of the lake. He quickly became exhausted, and let the phantom suck him downwards, the faces of his father and brother slowly evaporating into the green-black waters.
He saw a splash at the surface. His brother was jumping in to save him. Freddy’s guitar floated at the surface as he swam desperately downward. But it was too late now. Nobody could save him. He was going to die. He was going to sink forever to a place where no one could reach him, and where no one would care to find his corpse.
Gradually, it all faded away, and he was left alone, alive in the darkness.
A perfectly straight, red line vibrated on an endless black plane, resonating at a low frequency and emitting a low buzzing sound. Oddly, it began to rotate in place, or was it he who was rotating?
More lines began to appear, crossing one another in a rainbow-colored grid, filling each other, becoming each other. It was beautiful, or at least he thought it was. He felt calm, at peace. He became the lines, and they became part of his body, and he vibrated with them, humming.
“Mr. Miller?” A distant voice echoed, destroying the humming, destroying his peace, and leaving him bewildered and confused.
“Mr. Miller, we’re communicating with you through the NIMID now.” It was the voice of Dr. West, now loud and clear, filling him, grating on his nerves.
“I know that you cannot confirm anything I say, or communicate back to me at this moment, but if you can hear me I would just like you to know that the experiment has thus far been a success. After ninety minutes of deep sleep you experienced an REM episode, which was caught after thirty-five seconds by my lab assistant. We attempted to communicate with you through the speaker system, but you appeared unresponsive. You then entered a period of delta-wave sleep for fifteen minutes, at which point we administered an REM-inducing drug and began direct stimulation of your spinal cord with the NIMID. You are now experiencing pre-recorded hypnagogic imagery, and are in a stable REM state. I’m going to have to ask you to wait for a few more moments as we calibrate the primary electrode. We should also have access to your auditory cortex shortly, which should allow you to communicate with us directly. Hang in there, Mr. Miller!”
He heard a crackle, and the voice disappeared, echoing upon the virtual walls in his mind. What the hell was going on? He watched the dazzling, colorful lines for a few moments and then came to a sudden realization: he was dreaming.
How could this be possible? He ran over the details silently. Yes, he had been in an experiment. He had gone to sleep. People were monitoring him. Why hadn’t he realized this before?
Many questions raged through his head as he sat--- or, floated, or… he didn’t know what he was doing there. The lines continued to glow and swirl in the darkness, humming, making him calm. Was this what it was like to dream? Were there just pretty swirling colors, soothing noises and darkness? He suddenly felt cheated, angry.
“What am I doing here!?” He groaned. The sound of his voice pierced his ears. It was abnormally loud, as if it were being projected from a megaphone. He reached to cover his ears but found that he had no arms. He was nothing but a floating observer.
“Ooh, we heard you that time! As I said before, Mr. Miller, you are experiencing hypnagogic imagery, random auditory and visual stimulation. It’s sort of like a proto-dream if you will the precursor to a lucid dream. Mr. Miller, did you hear what I said before?” The voice of the doctor crackled off again, and he was left alone, hanging with the question in mind.
“I think so. I feel…fuzzy though. Am I really dreaming? I don’t feel like I’m dreaming.” He tried to move, tried to close his eyes and make the lines go away, tried to do anything, but could not.
Doctor West replied, “Yes, Mr. Miller. I’m glad that we’re finally in communication. We’re going to start a series of tests to make sure that our inputs are fully calibrated, and then we’ll let you go along your way, only intervening when we feel you are losing control. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, more tests, I understand.” He felt a twinge of excitement as he said this. He had never done this before. It was making him nervous.
“Excellent, Mr. Miller, we’re going to load some geometric shapes now.” The doctor’s voice was cheery, pleasant.
Instantly, the lines and the humming disappeared, leaving only a certain afterglow like a memory, and were replaced by a green, pixilated triangle, moving from left to right. He followed it with his gaze. It was not like the buzzing lines. It felt unnatural, unkind.
“Do you see a purple triangle, moving from right to left, Mr. Miller?” The doctor asked urgently.
“No,” he replied cautiously, “it’s green and moving from left to right.”
He heard a grumble, “But it is a triangle, correct?” The doctor asked.
“I’m calibrating now. Yes, the neural network is interpreting a green triangle now. We’re going to run a few more shapes.”
Miller then saw a parade of shapes and colors, from red squares to bouncing orange spheres, until the researchers were satisfied with their readings. He began to become impatient, the colors began to fade.
“Say doc, how long is this going to take?” He snarled.
There was a rush of activity, “Mr. Miller you’re starting to fade back into delta sleep. You need to keep your emotions in check. It can be difficult, I understand, but you must remain calm and alert, or we will have to administer more drugs. Emotions can be strong, nearly uncontrollable while you are in a dream state. You simply must learn to control them. We’re completely done with the calibrations now, and we’ll let you sleep naturally in just a few moments. Stand by.”
His impatience grew as the doctor droned on, but it soon subsided and gave way to dull anticipation.
A fuzzy blue square appeared in his center of vision. It grew, swirling.
It encompassed his entire field of view, spinning, glowing. It filled him, exploding all of his senses at once like a nuclear bomb.
Chapter 3: Lucid
The demagogue’s voice boomed above the cheering of the crowd below, “These are the times that try men’s souls. Ask not, what dreams our country can have for a better life, but what dreams you are dreaming. For this day is living in infamy. We are infamous. There is a certain expulsion in that. Should the fluoridation of the nation’s water supply determine how we treat one another?”
There was another resounding cheer from the monstrous crowd. The eloquence of the handsome, wholesome man on the podium was almost unbelievable. It made Jacob Miller feel empowered, that political efficacy was in his hands, and that the future was bright. He bumped elbows with the rest of the faceless masses around him and jumped up and down to get a better glimpse of the podium-mounted politician, who was illuminated by radiant green spotlights.
“Five score and eight years ago, our forefathers wrote: ‘We the people, under the current circumstances, say no!’”
The crowd roared. Jacob roared. He became one with the crowd. He felt powerful, strong, and wonderful. He pushed through the multitude, knocking unsuspecting people down as he went through it, eliciting laughs and giggles. Everyone seemed to have a glass of champagne or a bottle of cognac in hand, and they were all wearing gleaming silver monocles and top hats.
“Do you, sir, agree with the current tax upon all outgoing and incoming produce? Should the tariff by determined by men other than you, and your fellow countrymen?” The demagogue pointed down from his high podium at Miller.
“Are you asking me?” Jacob asked, pointing to himself and feeling quite prideful. Suddenly, a camera appeared in front of his face, gleaming, and a beautiful TV personality pointed a novelty-sized purple microphone at his mouth, awaiting a sound bite.
“Well...Uh...I don’t know. Now that I think about it that really doesn’t make much sense. I’m not sure what you’re asking.” He stammered into the microphone, his voice booming over the PA system and echoing again and again above the crowd.
Everyone began to laugh. The champagne and the cognac were spilled from every glass and fell like rain. The TV personality began to straighten her hair. The politician smiled, winked, and pointed at the poor Mr. Miller.
“Are you suggesting, Mr. Miller, that you are dreaming?” The politician asked, his voice suddenly becoming impossibly deep.
“No. No. I’m not dreaming! What you’re saying just doesn’t make any sense!” Jacob exclaimed. The crowd roared with riotous laughter.
“You are dreaming Mr. Miller. You are dreaming Mr. Miller. You have lost lucidity Mr. Miller. You are dreaming Mr. Miller. Please realize that you are dreaming,” the politician repeated with robotic intonations, his face slowly transforming into that of Dr. West’s, with a dark beard and circular, glowing glasses.
Jacob shook his head. This was just too weird. He had to get out of there… the crowd was getting to him, he had to find some air. He had to go home. He turned around and tried to run away from the transforming politician and was greeted with a thousand other faces. It was the crowd. They were blocking his path. Their faces were all bearded. They were all wearing glasses. No! He had to escape or he would become one of them. He couldn’t stand being one of them! He had to save himself!
Gripped by terror, Jacob Miller jumped. He jumped up above the crowd, floated into the air, and did not come back down. He felt safe now, floating above the heads of those zombies, looking down. He saw their faces grow further and further away.
Wait a minute. What the hell was going on here? Where was he? How could he be floating?
Then it hit him, “I’m dreaming,” he yelled, his entire existence coming to life, the fog lifted from his drowsy brain, “I’m dreaming!”
And then he fell. Realizing the existence of gravity, he accelerated towards the ground at incredible, impossible speeds. Oh god, he was going to die! He began to cry, the tears distorting the image of the crowd below. It was beautiful. His life was going to end right here, right now, and it was amazing.
Then he hit the smooth concrete ground, and it was all over.
“Damn it Mr. Miller! The test was a failure! We had such hope for you, and you blew it!”
The doctor was livid, balling his fists and stamping on the floor, his orange tie swaying back and forth. A young female lab assistant tried to comfort him, placing her hand on his shoulder and reassuring, “It’s alright, Dr. West. We’ll just have to try with the next patient, and the next. We’re bound to find someone who can help us eventually.”
“What…. What’s going on?” Jacob Miller groaned blearily, blinking and rubbing his sleep-encrusted eyes. He was lying in the pale green hospital bed, an I.V. tube in his arm and wires running out form the back of his head.
“You’ve woken up, Mr. Miller.” The doctor said, rolling his eyes and turning off the mainframe computer. “We can no longer continue the test. We gave you the maximum sedative dose, but it was no use. You simply started thrashing about and woke up. You are no longer of any use to this experiment. I’m sorry.”
“Ugh…” he yawned, and sat up. “So I can’t just go back to sleep?”
“No, Mr. Miller. The experiment is over.” The doctor crossed his arms impatiently.
Jacob began to feel trapped. He unclipped the devices from the backs of his ears, ripping off some of his hair painfully. He had to get it all off. He ripped the I.V. tube out of his arm with his left hand, and felt searing pain. He was bleeding badly. Deep red blood was flowing from his wrist and pooling in the sheets.
“Good heavens, Mr. Miller!” Doctor West exclaimed, “You shouldn’t have done that! Nurse! Nurse! Get this man some antiseptic and a bandage; he’s pulled out his I.V!”
The blood continued to pool as a nurse ran in from the other room, carrying gauze and antiseptic. Jacob rolled out of bed, applying pressure to his wound as the nurse grabbed onto his wrist and rubbed an alcohol-smelling substance onto it. It stung badly. She applied a bandage and left the room.
“God, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, embarrassed. He began to feel nauseous, “I need to go to the bathroom,” he declared, stumbling about.
“It’s right over there,” sighed the doctor, pointing to a door labeled ‘GENTELMEN’.
He padded his way, barefoot, to the door. He felt like he was going to vomit. He shoved open the door and came to the sink. He turned on the water and began pooling the cool, brownish liquid into his hands and rubbing it on his face. It didn’t make him feel any better.
He began to have a gnawing, searing pain in his mouth. He spit and felt something hard leave his mouth and clank in the sink. Oh god, he was losing teeth. He spat out another, and another. Bloody white teeth were pouring out of his mouth and into the drain of the sink, mixing with the brown waters. His mouth burned.
Confused, Jacob looked into the mirror above the sink. He saw not his own face, but the familiar bearded face of Dr. West staring back at him. What the hell? What was going on? Teeth continued to pour from his mouth.
“Mr. Miller!” The face in the mirror exclaimed, “You’ve had a false awakening Mr. Miller! You are still dreaming. Your brain has tricked you into thinking you’ve woken up. No, Mr. Miller, do not back away. Remain calm. Mr. Miller!”
“Jesus Christ!” the poor, toothless man exclaimed, backing away from the mirror. What was happening to him?
“Mr. Miller, you need to listen to me! It can be difficult for people to become lucid the first time. We registered that you became lucid in the last dream you had. Do you remember? You were floating above a crowd. You yelled ‘I’m dreaming’. Do you recall that Mr. Miller?” The doctor’s voice was sincere, pleading.
Jacob began to remember. Yes, yes he had been dreaming before. But was he dreaming now, or did they just drug him? Maybe that was what the I.V. was for, to dope him up and confuse him. But why would they want to do that?
The doctor continued, “Mr. Miller, if you don’t believe me, please, do a reality check. You need to do something to prove that you are in fact dreaming. Look at your right hand, is it still bleeding?”
Jacob looked at his hand. There wasn’t a bandage on it any more. It looked normal, real.
“Count the fingers, Mr. Miller,” the doctor said.
“What do you mean count the fingers? I have five, just like everybody else!” he exclaimed skeptically.
“Just do it,” the doctor insisted.
Jacob Miller counted the fingers on his right hand. “One, two, three, four, and five…six…seven… what the…” He counted again. He came out to eleven. He counted again, came out to six.
“What the hell is going on? Why does my hand keep changing?” He was confused, afraid.
“It changes because you are dreaming Mr. Miller,” the man in the mirror explained. “Look around you Mr. Miller. Take it all in. This is your dream. This is your creation. It is all in your head.”
Hands shaking, he looked around the bathroom. “It’s all in my head…” he whispered, gazing. How could this be possible? It seemed so real, so wonderfully, impossibly real. He could make out the fine details, the grit, the dirt, the minute hairs and dust on every surface. He felt the smoothness of the sink, let the brown water flow over his hand, and let it run down his arm. He smelled the dankness of the air, tasted it on his tongue. “It’s all in my head…”
Opening the door, he left the bathroom. He came out not into the harsh, fluorescent hospital room, but into the familiar, warm interior of his apartment. Sunlight streamed through the pane-glass windows, lighting every corner and bringing warmth into every crevice. Dust hung in the air, whirling about in front of his television set, on top of his kitchen sink, and around the ceiling fan. Every detail was perfect, natural, precisely as he remembered.
His TV flickered on, Dr. West peering out of it as a massive color image. “Fantastic, isn’t it, Mr. Miller? You’re having a lucid dream. Please take care to remember that you are dreaming,” his voice was muffled, precisely as if it were coming out of the speakers of the television set, not as if it were simply in Miller’s head.
He could see it now. This is why nobody ever realized that they were dreaming. This is why he had lived a double life every night, and never realized he was living it, never remembered its beauty or its incredible realism. He had always imagined dreams to be fuzzy, vague and nonsensical. But here he was, gazing at the most detailed, the most hyper-real scene he had ever come across in his life.
He moved through his apartment like a living sponge, touching, feeling, looking, seeing, listening, hearing, absorbing, and knowing. Dumbstruck, he gazed out of his apartment window out onto Lake Michigan. It was the most beautiful day he could have imagined. There was no fog; there were no clouds, no raindrops, simply a sunny blue sky over a gleaming Chicago beside a crystal-clear lake. It was all the more beautiful, he realized, because it was created by his own mind. He was the architect of his own reality, and he wanted to live in it.
“I wish you luck, Mr. Miller,” the TV set chimed, “remember to occasionally reality-check. You must never forget that you are dreaming. Don’t let your emotions get to you, and if you feel that you’re losing control, remember the procedure I told you before, and we’ll pull you out. Now go, and explore!” The TV turned off, and Jacob Miller was left alone in his own apartment, alone inside his own head.
“Wow,” was all he could manage. “I guess I’ll just have a look around then.”
He realized that he must have been wearing hospital clothes, no good for going out into the cold… but what did it matter? He looked down and noticed that he was now wearing normal clothing: a T-shirt, jeans and a brown jacket… or was it a button-down shirt, a tie, and khakis? It didn’t matter, it kept changing, and he was fine with that.
He unlocked the door to his apartment, smelled the fresh air, and stepped out to explore the fine world out there, the world of his own creation.
Chapter 4: Machine
Jacob Miller opened his apartment door and set foot on a Chicago sidewalk that existed solely in his mind, which was odd, because his apartment was on the 13th floor of his building. His front door was supposed to open into the hallway, not the street. He shook off the ridiculousness of this fact. It was, after all, only a dream.
“It’s only a dream…” He whispered. He would have to keep reminding himself of that fact. Eager to see what strange things his brain would come up with, Miller scanned his immediate area slowly, taking in every detail.
It was a wonderfully sunny day. When he noted this, he felt sudden warmth all over his skin. The warmth hadn’t even existed before he thought about it. Maybe the rest of the world was like that too. It was, after all, only in his head, so it seemed reasonable that anything he thought about would come into being. Trees planted in little dirt plots on the sidewalk swayed in the wind and dazzled his eyes as they filtered the sunlight through their impossibly green leaves. Or were the leaves yellow, red, or orange? As each new color came to his mind, the colors of the leaves changed. He decided that the leaves must be green, and they remained so.
Cars were parked all along the sides of the road. He couldn’t recognize their makes or models. They seemed generic. They could have been made by any car company. It didn’t matter. He began to walk down the sidewalk. It wasn’t sunny any more, but cold and red leaves were blowing about in the breeze.
“Damn it, I wanted green leaves!” He cursed under his breath, and walked through the blowing red leaves, sheltering himself from the cold. He noticed that he was wearing a black leather jacket. He wasn’t wearing one before. He forgot about it. It didn’t matter.
After what should have been hours, but which was actually only a few seconds of walking, he found himself in downtown Chicago. He looked upwards, and noticed that he was standing next to the John Hancock Center… or was it the Sears Tower? It changed too much for him to tell the difference. It was just one huge angular black mass, ridiculously tall and daunting, with an ever-changing number of sharp white spires at the top.
“This is really weird…” he managed, his gaze shifting back to street level. He noticed he was now surrounded by John Hancock Centers and Sears Towers. Perhaps that was all his brain could manage in a simulated Chicago, which was odd, because he spent just about every day in downtown Chicago.
Instantly, as he thought about his morning commute, the scenery changed and he recognized where he was. He was standing outside the retail store in which he worked. It was all glass, modern. Its gleaming glass storefront poked out from the drab brown bricks of an old converted apartment building. A massive, gleaming aluminum apple shined from where it was plastered on the front door. He worked for Apple, the consumer electronics giant.
“You’re going to be late for work, pal!” A young, suited man said in a heavy New York accent, or was it a Boston accent? Miller glanced at his face, and instantaneously he recognized the man as his co-worker, Brad Morrison. Why did Brad Morrison have a New York accent? Miller knew the man to be a Texan the entire time that he had worked with him.
“I said you’re going to be late for work!” Brad repeated, his New York accent gone and replaced with a light Texan one. He was also no longer wearing a suit, but a black button-down shirt. He ran past Miller and across the street, practically ignoring him.
“I’m really late?” Jacob asked, genuinely concerned.
“Yeah,” Brad yelled back at him, “it’s like, 9:30 already! Come on, we’re about to open!”
Jacob felt a wave of panic come over him. Had he slept in? He shouldn’t have participated in that experiment. All that sleeping had made him late for work. Now he would only have a few minutes to prepare before the store opened. He could already see a line of customers beginning to form.
He instantly found himself across the street, opening the door into the Apple store to begin his day at work. His boss appeared, his bushy gray eyebrows constrained in annoyance.
“Miller, that’s the third time this week!” He scolded, putting his hands on his hips, “You’ve got to get control of yourself, son! What’s going to happen when I’m gone and you’re made manager of this place, huh? These customers aren’t going to open the store themselves!” He sighed, shaking his head.
“You were going to make me manager, sir?” Miller replied timidly. He was in trouble, for sure.
“Yeah, smart ass, I was going to make you manager! But you’ve screwed that up pretty bad, haven’t you?” He walked away.
“I’m sorry sir!” Miller practically shrieked, begging for mercy. His day was not starting off very well.
“Hey Jake, why don’t you unlock the stuff in the back and get ready for the customers?” Brad suggested, placing his hand awkwardly on Miller’s shoulder. Jacob looked out at the front windows and saw the growing crowd out on the streets.
“What’s going on here, why are there so many people out there?” Miller asked, shaking off Brad’s hand from his shoulder.
Brad chuckled, “What, you mean you forgot? The new I-Phone came out today! This is going to be the biggest retail day of the year!” He spread his arms out, spinning around about the various Apple products on display. Brad was acting very unusual.
“What do you mean the new I-Phone? Those came out four days ago,” miller responded skeptically, confusedly. Brad was still spinning. He tripped over a display case, knocking a laptop to the ground. He was rolling around on the carpet, laughing.
“What’s wrong with you?” Miller asked, staring at the hysterical man.
It hit him. “Right, I’m dreaming!”
The world became a hundred fold clearer to him. How could he have missed it? He looked at his right hand, just to make sure. He counted the fingers. Five… no, twelve…fifteen… He was dreaming alright. When he looked up from his hand, he marveled at the realism of the scene before him.
Every detail was exactly correct, from the display cases to the color of the carpet to the glasses on Brad’s smiling face. Come to think of it, Brad didn’t really look like that. He didn’t normally wear glasses. Brad’s glasses disappeared.
“What’s wrong, pal?” Brad asked, the smile disappearing from his face as he scrambled up from the ground, leaning on the white, angular display case from which the laptop had fallen. He didn’t really seem very realistic anymore.
“I’m not your ‘pal’.” Jacob said, shaking his head, “this is a dream. You’re not real. I have to remind myself of that. You may have fooled me before, but not right now.”
Miller began to turn away when he heard Brad wail, “Aw, come on. You don’t really think that do you? You think all the time we spent together was for nothing? Are you going to walk out on me now?”
Jacob was tempted to console the poor fellow. Perhaps he wasn’t dreaming after all. Perhaps Brad really was his friend of many years, and he was being irrational. Miller looked at his hand and counted seven fingers. No, he was the only rational person here. He was dreaming, and Brad was nothing but a mindless, senseless machine. But then, the flight of fancy gripped him that perhaps, Brad was as real as he was, and that he was the character in Brad’s dream. He shook the thought off. This was getting ridiculous.
“I’ve got to go now Brad. Why don’t you just stay here and sell the phones to the customers?” Jacob said, beginning to walk away.
“What are you, sick or something?” Brad asked, following the dreamer.
“Sure Brad. I’m real sick and I need to go home. You stay here, alright?” he responded, annoyed.
“No. If you’re sick, I’m coming with you.” Brad was being irrational, Jacob thought. Wait, what was he thinking? Brad was a creation of Jacob’s brain, an amalgamation of distant and distinct memories. He was nothing more than a puppet, an automaton, a machine.
“Okay, whatever. Just keep quiet, okay?” Miller surrendered, turning away from brad and practically running for the door.
As he reached for the aluminum handle of the pristine glass door, he came face to face with an angry customer on the other side. The scene started him, and he felt his heart rate begin to race. The customer had blood shot, yellow eyes, matted, frizzled hair, and she was screaming, beating on the glass.
“Jesus…” Jacob exclaimed, his hand shooting back as if he had just touched a hot stove.
“They’re trying to get in! They want the phones!” Brad proclaimed, shoving a display case in front of the door and blocking it from the intrusions of the frenetic customers. They were all beating on the glass now, shrieking. Miller could feel the tension rising in his veins. He had to find a way out. He had to escape.
From somewhere in the seething crowd, a stone careened into the glass storefront, shattering a pane and allowing a flood of customers to reach their frenzied, bleeding hands into the shattered glass. Brad shoved a ridiculously tall display case in front of this hole and began to hold back the crowd with his own body weight.
“Go, Jake! Get out of here! I’ll hold them off while you get help! Go!” Brad screamed, beating back the hands reaching out from behind the display case. More rocks began to sail from the crowd towards the store front.
No. Jacob couldn’t just leave his friend behind. He had to help Brad. He jogged over to another display case and began to drag it towards the window. His heart was racing. He could feel himself beginning to sweat. The glass was shattering. People were climbing into the store. He couldn’t let them get in.
Unexpectedly, every computer monitor, phone, and small electronic device in the store turned on simultaneously, all bearing Dr. West’s distorted face. “Mr. Miller! Your heart is racing! If you don’t calm down right away you’re going to wake up! Mr. Miller, you need to stop what you are doing immediately and pick up one of the small devices in your vicinity. I will instruct you further.” The faces all urged through raspy electronic speakers.
Jacob let go of the display case. What the hell was he doing? Of course he was dreaming. Of course he was still in the experiment. Nothing was going to happen to him. Nothing was going to hurt him. Still, the customers crashed into the store alarmingly.
He dashed to another display case and picked up a phone. Dr. West’s face was still on it.
“Very good Mr. Miller, don’t ask any questions, just move towards the back of the store. You will find a door on the wall to your left,” the doctor urged.
What was he on about? How should Dr. West, who had never met Jacob before, know anything about his workplace? A wild, livid customer ran towards Jacob. He wanted Jacob’s phone.
“Don’t hesitate, Mr. Miller! Get to the door as quickly as possible, you will be safe there!” The doctor insisted, his voice coming loud and clear over the speakers of the phone. Above the roar of the crowd, Miller could hear Brad crying. He decided to follow the doctor’s instructions.
He ran towards the back of the room, and indeed found a gray metal door in the back left corner.
“Open it. On the other side you will find a stairway. Follow it to the roof. You will be safe there.” Dr. West suggested.
Jacob complied. Opening the door, he found himself in a drab concrete stairwell—a stairwell which had not existed before. He sprinted up it, going up what seemed like an infinite number of flights until he found himself at another gray metal door.
“This door leads to the roof. Open it. It will lock behind you,” Dr. West commanded.
Jacob opened the door and was immediately greeted with a blinding light and a rush of cold air. Behind him, he could hear the clunking steps of following customers. Looking behind him to see the bleary faces of hundreds of people following him up the stairs, Miller leaped through the door and slammed it behind him.
“Excellent. You are now safe, Mr. Miller. Relax.” The doctor was smiling, apparently pleased with Miller’s progress.
He looked out at the vista before him. He was in the middle of a featureless, gray rooftop, looking out onto downtown Chicago. When he looked behind him, the door had disappeared. In fact, there didn’t appear to be any way to get up to the roof anymore. It made him feel safe, comfortable. He could feel his heart rate beginning to fall.
“How did you do that, Dr. West?” He asked, looking down at the millimeter-thick glass panel on which the psychologist’s wizened face was projected. “How did you know about that door, and the stairs, and the roof?”
The doctor chuckled, “Mr. Miller, I didn’t ‘know’ any of this. I made it up. You’re the one who creates these worlds in your head. By using an authoritative tone, I was able to convince you of what must be true, and your brain simply followed along. It’s a form of dream control, which is something that you’ll have to learn fairly quickly if you want to be a successful lucid dreamer during this experiment,” West adjusted his glasses.
“Mr. Miller,” he continued, “you will look up from this phone in exactly three seconds. After that, you will turn 180 degrees to find me standing in front of you on the roof, no longer simply projected on this screen. Are you ready? Turn around.”
He complied, looking up from the phone and turning about in place. As he did so, the entire world seemed to blur, making him confused—but as he stopped, he saw--plain as day—Dr. West standing there on the roof in a ridiculously stereotypical lab coat.
“How did you do that?” Miller asked skeptically, walking up to the doctor to get a better look at him. The psychologist’s body was rather vague and cartoonish, but his face was extremely realistic, like a photograph.
“It’s fairly simple,” the physical Dr. West explained, eliciting a slight smile – or was it a smirk? “We call it ‘rational suggestion’. It differs from conscious suggestion and hypnotic suggestion in that the things I tell you are constructed in your brain, as if you were reading a novel, rather than being acted out or perceived by your senses. All I have to do is tell you something that you see to be reasonable in a forceful matter and you will produce such a thing or event in your mind. It’s a very effective method of controlling dreams. Even you can do it. Look down; you’ll notice that you’re not holding a phone anymore.”
He looked. He wasn’t holding anything. “But I was holding a phone, Dr. West. How did you make it disappear?” Miller asked, perplexed.
“I made it disappear in the same way that I made the door and the stairwell appear, Mr. Miller, through rational suggestion. Or rather, I merely suggested to you that the phone would not be there, and since the phone is purely a construct of your imagination, it disappeared. Mr. Miller, I am going to try to teach you this trick. Thus far, you have only been a passive observer in your dreams. You’ve had no real control over anything. This is fine for the sake of a good night’s sleep, but for this experiment we’d prefer that you had some level of control over your dreams, so that you don’t run into anything nasty that might wake you up. I am going to warn you, however, that you probably will not find controlling your dreams very easy. Almost no one is able to control his or her dreams in the first few weeks of lucidity, yet with this open line of communication we have, I feel that I can give you a fair amount of control in the time allotted,” the psychologist walked away, still facing Miller, towards the middeof the rooftop.
“And how can I control my dreams myself? It seems like everything is happening regardless of what I want to happen. It’s really easy to get distracted, in case you haven’t noticed,” Miller pleaded, “it’s like a big machine.”
“That’s precisely it!” Dr. West exclaimed brightly, “it’s a machine that you control. You have access to the inputs, and you can predict the outputs. That’s the beauty of lucid dreaming, Mr. Miller, it’s like watching a movie in which you not only write the script, but pick the actors, design the sets…no, you are the actors, you are the sets. Like any machine, your mind is controllable; you can harness it. Mr. Miller, do you see that cloud up there? I want you to fly to it.” West pointed skyward. Miller’s eyes followed the doctor’s finger, and his gaze landed upon a bright, solid cumulus cloud high in the steel-blue sky.
“You want me to fly?” Miller asked almost sarcastically, his voice flat. “That’s impossible.”
“No it isn’t!” West disputed, explaining, “You’ve suddenly developed superpowers, Mr. Miller. You ate a radioactive pill five minutes ago which will allow you to fly, just like Super Man!” The doctor began to flap his arms, and rose a few feet off the surface of the roof, then fell again.
“That’s stupid,” Jacob insisted, “just because I ate a radioactive pill doesn’t mean I can fly. That’s impossible.” He was starting to get tired of this.
“Oh well.” Dr. West sighed, “Then I suppose I’ll have to prepare the skyhooks.”
“Of course, they’re neat little ropes that you can swing on. Haven’t you heard of them? Look, one’s come down from the sky right in front of you. Grab on to it!” The doctor seemed whimsical. This was childish, inane.
But then, a brown hemp rope with a shiny silver fishhook attached to the end appeared directly in front of Jacob Miller, supported by nothing but the firmament above. He shrugged, and grabbed on to it.
“I think you’ve got the hang of it! With the rope in hand, run towards the edge of the roof, and it will swing you up into the clouds. Come on, don’t delay!” The doctor ran to the edge of the roof, floated up towards the sky, and disappeared.
Jacob stood holding the rope in his right hand, sweating. This was too surreal… he didn’t really understand why he was doing this but he might as well—
He immediately found himself running, the skyhook in hand, towards the edge of the roof. The skyline suddenly appeared huge, daunting. He bellowed, and hurled himself off the edge, his heart racing.
He was floating, swinging in a great arc over the city streets on a celestial hook, upwards and onwards towards the ethereal blue sky. He roared, his voice echoing off the rooftops of every skyscraper in Chicago. Far beneath his feet, he saw the angry customers scurrying like ants, and in the distance he saw Lake Michigan, a sapphire jellybean reflecting the sunlight like a great mirror.
He careened ever upwards, the city becoming a mere pinprick below him, the rope creaking under the great stress of his swinging mass. Immediately, Doctor West appeared next to him, floating like some kind of lab coat-clad genie.
West yelled over the sound of the wind, “You’re flying Mr. Miller! You’re no longer holding on to the skyhook, you’re simply flying out of your own free will. All you have to do is make a rational excuse. Need to fly? Invent a skyhook! Need to get to a new place? Step into a teleporter! Your mind is capable of anything, Mr. Miller; you simply need to give it the rational basis for doing so!”
Indeed, he was no longer holding the rope, simply floating in space. He put out his arms like great clumsy wings, and looked down at the world below. He could see the curvature of the earth. He was in orbit. He felt invigorated, renewed, powerful. That world below him was his own world, his own sandbox and microcosm to explore and conquer.
“Mr. Miller,” Dr. West continued, “Have you ever been to the Sahara Desert?”
Chapter 5: Control