A little creepy story just in time for Halloween. Are you dreaming?
This is also a follow-up to The Ministry of Dreams, but it should be self-contained enough that you don’t need to read that one first. (And I know I said the next story was going to be called “Fill in the Blanks”, but that one’s going to take a bit longer because I want to properly polish it. This should be a fun little thing in the mean time.)
Header artwork by Matty Savidis.
I’ve had a recurring nightmare for several months now. It’s not going to sound like much, but it just coming back and keeps going. I didn’t even think much of it at first, but then it kept coming, and it got unsettling. Now it terrifies me. Every night that I can remember, I have the same dream.
It’s always as if I woke up in the middle of the night, except I was still asleep. I never realise that I’m still asleep, though. I think I’m awake.
In reality, I have a dim light setting in my cubicle while I sleep, but when I wake up in the dream, the light is gone. I can barely see anything at all. But I get up anyway, and I don’t know how I know, but I always know where to go in the dream. There’s just a natural path to take, and I never question why I take that path or whether I could do something else.
I’ve tried everything to stop these dreams. I’ve tried staying up, but I couldn’t. I’m always too tired from work. I tried setting an alarm in the middle of the night, but it wouldn’t let me do that. Nothing works, and I keep going to sleep and following the same routine.
When I’m awake, there’s no exit from my cubicle after I get home from work. Same as everyone. The blank walls are solid and closed. Yet in the dream, when there’s no light, there’s always a hole in the wall. It’s not the same place that I exit from in the real morning. It’s on the other side. And it doesn’t look like the sharp, clean opening that opens up when I’m awake. It looks more like someone took hold of the soft fabric of the wall, and pulled at it until they tore a huge chunk out of it. In fact, a few times, I think I’ve seen a piece of the wall in the corner of my eye. Lying on the street. I never get to have a good look because my mind knows I have to go somewhere else.
It starts that way every time. I get up and go through the broken wall. Then I start walking down the street – which looks the same as my normal street, except it’s as devoid of life as it is devoid of colour. I’m always the only one there. I start on the same street every time, but I often go to different places. So I suppose it’s not the same dream each night, but they all start the same way and they’re all similar enough, so it counts as recurring, right? It’s enough to be unusual, enough to be troubling.
So I walk down the street¸ and sometimes I turn left, and sometimes I turn right, and sometimes I turn around and go back, following a different street that goes around my cubicle. I stop in the same place every time. I’m like one of those new drones you see cleaning public buildings. I go a certain distance, stop, and decide where to go next. I say “decide”, but it’s more like… I wait to be told where to go next. I don’t think about it, I just choose. It never even occurs to me that I could consider what to do. I just go along with it.
Usually I don’t go anywhere in particular. I often just go to another cubicle and stand outside it. I wait there for a while, and then go back home, and back to “sleep”. I don’t think it’s ever the same cubicle twice, but they all look the same, so it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I do go into a building, and there’s another opening in it like the one in my cubicle. The path is always already clear for me. I’ve been into a few factories – ones that I’ve never seen before in real life, but they’re in intricate detail in the dream. One time I actually did go inside a cubicle, and there was a dead body in the bed. There was some part of me that wanted to wake up, screaming, but I couldn’t. I had to finish the dream.
And sometimes I go here, into the Government building. I go up the stairs – the lifts probably don’t work at night – and find the Ministry of Dreams, where we are now. It’s never anywhere else in the Government, always here. That’s how I knew how to get here today. I didn’t even ask the receptionist, I just went up the stairs and, sure enough, here it is. The same place as in the dream.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to stop you there. You’ve never been here before? Not in real life?
No. Only while in the dream, and this is the first time I’ve actually been inside it. When I’m asleep, I always just stand outside the door – because there’s no opening – and watch what you’re doing inside.
Why did you come here today, then? We’ve checked the system and you haven’t been instructed to meet with anyone here.
If you’re the Ministry of Dreams, then you can probably help me with this dream, can’t you?
Did you say you watch what we’re doing in here? At night? Have you seen me before?
Yes, in the dream. I can hear bits of what you’re saying, too. Your name is Matthew, right? Matthew Stin-
So is it not a dream?
Do you actually know what the Ministry of Dreams is for?
For helping people with their dreams?
In a sense, but probably not the sense you want. We control dreams. We remove dreams that are inappropriate for people living in Dissland, and nowadays we can even replace them with uninteresting dreams that still seem natural.
Did you create this dream? Can you make it stop? What is it replacing? I’ve never had any problem with the Government. Why would I have an inappropriate dream?
Let me check what the details were.
You keep records of dreams?
Your Government keeps records of everything. Do you remember your last conversation with Lana, two years ago? We have a video of it.
Ah, here. Yes, it does seem as if this dream was orchestrated, but perhaps there was a problem that caused it to linger.
Why would that happen? Can you get rid of it?
I’m afraid we cannot speak further about this. Please try to move on.
It’s affecting my real life, Matthew. It weighs on my mind all day. That’s not normal, is it? That’s not what anyone’s ever taught me about Dissland. We should all be free from worry.
Again, any further information is confidential. Please wake up.
I can’t- what?
You’re dreaming. Wake up. Here, I’ll do it for you.
Matthew, please! I have to have answers! You have to explain! I have to know which is real and which
He sighs as he cuts off contact and shuts down the system. He doesn’t like having to talk to clients through dreams, but sometimes it’s the only way to be safe.
“Your experiments have to stop, Matthew. You’ve affected that citizen very negatively. The Ministry is only supposed to remove dangerous dreams, not create recurring nightmares.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“I know you’ve tried a few different cover-up methods in the past and we’ve allowed you those opportunities. But this is different. Have you done anything else like this? Because we may have to terminate you if so.”
“Anna, I didn’t create that dream.”
“Then who did? It certainly wasn’t anyone else in this office.”
“There’s nothing even close to that on the record. I organised this session to try to work out what’s going on. Look at this footage.”
The security recording clearly showed the same citizen he had just been talking to wandering the streets at night.
“So it’s just real? Why is this an issue?”
“The monitoring suggests that the citizen is still asleep in this footage. Sleepwalking. Someone else must have our technology and is using it not just to affect people’s dreams, but to control where they go. Human drones. I don’t know if it’s someone higher up in the Government or if-”
“Couldn’t it just be natural?”
He continues his explanation in a whisper, barely loud enough for Anna to still hear him.
“That citizen really has been watching us at night a few times. Wouldn’t you think we’d have noticed? So I checked the footage, and… that wall over there is transparent from the other side.”
She tries and fails to be as quiet as he is.
“We’ve been watched carefully this whole time, Anna. I don’t think the Ministry of Dreams is the only one working in this field. Someone wants to make sure we don’t get out of hand. That means our research is more important than we realised. We have power.”
“Matthew! We can’t go against what the Government orders us to do. It’s far, far too dangerous.”
“Sure, it’s dangerous. But not as much as you think it is. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to manipulate people through their dreams. We can even take control of them, make them investigate restricted areas for us, and blame it on the natural course of sleep if they’re discovered.”
“I don’t think I would be amazed. I know it’s powerful, but there’s a limit to what you can do with dreams.”
“Wouldn’t you? Isn’t there?”
“They always know they’re not real.”
“Only after they wake up. And when you wake up, you won’t remember a thing.”