The Dream Eater

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short piece telling the story of a man, who became employed as a part of the suspicious Dream Group LLC. The events, which soon followed, presented a difficult moral problem and a choice for him, perhaps, even forcing him to re-think his worldview.

Submitted: June 09, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 09, 2017

A A A

A A A


To Anna.

(cover image by Yurii Makovetskyi)

The man with the golden spectacles resting on his beak-like nose looked up from the job application form on his desk.

“Gordon Whitman,” he pronounced the name, as if doing this gave him some power over the man sitting across the desk, “Have you got any references?”

“Ahem, no,” he heard in response, “My only job as a night guard didn’t end well, when those kids got into the factory through the hole in the roof at night. My employer specifically mentioned,” he stressed the words, “That I’m not getting one even if I ask for it.”

“I see,” the man in spectacles looked down at the papers again, “Hm-m-m…”

“I was told that you specifically require a professional psychologist’s opinion, so I brought it with me,” the man reached for his bag and produced a small folder. The man in spectacles accepted it, and carefully read every page inside it.

“Good, good... Oh, excellent,” he nodded at certain points while reading.

“I didn’t find it flattering, to my eyes it looked quite bad, actually,” the other man put in.

“That is a very good result, compared to what I usually get,” the man in spectacles replied, “These reports are rarely flattering. Truth bites, I guess,” the man allowed himself a reserved smile.

“Perhaps,” the other man conceded, running a hand through his greasy-looking black hair.

“Okay, I think that is enough,” the man in spectacles finished reading the papers steepling his fingers in front of his face, and focused on the man sitting before him. He inquired, “Do you know what we, ‘Dream Group, LLC’ are really doing?”

“No idea,” the other man shook his head.

“Let me ask you a few more questions, then…” the man looked at the psychologist’s report again, and pointed with a finger. “Here, the question number twenty-one,” he said, “What is more important – to be happy, or to be productive? You answered ‘productive’,” the man gestured to him, “Could you elaborate why, please?”

“Well, because every man is essentially what he does. It’s what we do, that shapes our worldview, and if you’re productive – you have the capacity to be happy; that is, you can take pride in your work, it motivates you and gives your life a purpose,” the man was obviously proud of his reasoning, “The alternative, being of course, not productive – imagine for example a painter, who takes so long to finish the painting, that the world becomes tired of waiting for it. The work, however beautiful, becomes unappreciated.”

“That is quite a worldview,” the man in spectacles conceded, “You know, I think you’re actually made for this job.”

“Really?” the other man beamed.

“Why yes,” the man behind the desk nodded, and waved a hand, “We’re not going to put you through all this ‘We-will-call-you-back-later’ stuff; I think you have potential – please, go back to reception, and tell Nick to fill you up on the details.”

They shook hands, and the man, whose name apparently was Gordon did as he was told.

“I was told you could ‘fill me up on the details’.”

The receptionist, a young man with curly brown hair and widely set eyes raised his head to look at him, and smiled.

“About time we found someone,” he commented, getting up, “Please follow me.”

Gordon followed him to a huge meeting hall, with a small golden chest positioned in the middle of the table there. The receptionist opened the chest, fiddled with a couple weird-looking handles there and shut it closed again.

“This time, I’ll be doing it, you will be simply watching me,” he said, as he fished out something small and as shiny as the chest on the table. “This is called The Dream Eater. It consumes people’s dreams.”

Gordon, who furrowed his brows at first, now had to suppress a laugh. “Are you guys some kind of a sect or what?” he queried.

“No, not really,” the receptionist smiled politely in return, “We cleanse people’s minds of useless hopes.”

“You’ll have to do better than show me a couple trinkets and expect me to believe such things,” Gordon scoffed.

“I assure you, we’re in this for money,” the receptionist stared at him, unblinking, “Same as you are.”

Gordon landed in a big leather chair at the head of the table. “Fine, convince me,” he offered, spinning slowly in the chair. The receptionist came closer, his eyes fixed on the small object held in his palm, “Oh, look it’s an easy one this time. A child. Do you like children?”

“Only when they’re grown-ups,” snorted Gordon.

“Exactly,” the man nodded, and asked, “Could you please take me by the hand?”

“You mean?..” Gordon didn’t like where this was going, but the man swiftly came closer and Gordon felt a hand touching his shoulder. He heard a clicking sound – and the room vanished, with an image of clock on the wall lingering in his mind a second longer than everything else – it showed half past two.

The room was gone. He and receptionist stood on a tiny island of desert within the endless flower meadow, as far as eye could see. People, adults and children alike were running around together there, and their laugher filled the air.

“Where are we?” Gordon looked around wild-eyed, “What’s going on?”

“We’re in a dream, Mr.Whitman,” the receptionist explained, pointing at the sky, “See those little white lines above? These are called ‘seams’, following one is a sure way to find the owner of the dream, considering that usual directions and laws of physics do not apply to dreams. Now, would you be so kind, as to follow me…” he urged Gordon to follow, as he started along one of the ‘seams’.

It didn’t take too long to find the one, who apparently owned the dream - a little girl with a ponytail, who was running around laughing merrily, chasing butterflies.

“The job is quite simple,” the man spoke again, “All you have to do is to find the owner of a dream and give a signal to The Dream Eater. To do this, simply press this button…” He held up the golden object for Gordon to examine – it was like a small golden pendant on a chain; what he called a ‘button’ was in fact a crystal-like eye in the middle, where in a black void tinted slightly with red you could make out an image of a happy girl with a ponytail.

“And what happens then?” Gordon decided to go with the flow, “This whole dream is… consumed? Gone?”

“Pretty much,” the man nodded, “Such a dream of world peace is nothing special, really.”

“But it’s… harmless, no?” Gordon asked.

The man shook his head, and said, “It does the girl no good. The real world can be a cruel place, and when her dream crumbles, it will hurt much more, than if we remove it surgically right now.”

“So I will need just to find the owner and press the button, that simple?” Gordon summarized, looking at the girl. She stopped to sniff a flower, and laughed when a couple petals tore off and stuck to her nose.

“That simple. It will destroy the current Dream Eater along with a dream,” the man said, and reaching with his finger for the button, added, “Let’s go back.”

He pressed it. The dream around them trembled slightly, and the image started to distort. The girl’s happy smile turned into unrealistic grin, and in the next moment she was nothing more than a smudge of color amidst the green background.

And as suddenly as it was gone the first time, the world came back into focus again. The clock on the wall showed five minutes past four.

“We were gone… for so long?” Gordon looked around in astonishment.

“Another perk of the job,” the receptionist said beside, brushing his clothes, “Your working day can feel as long as one or two hours, but time passes slower for you – in fact, giving your life an extra couple years.”

“You expect me to believe all that?” Gordon inquired.

“I expect nothing,” the man replied in a tired voice, going back to his place at the reception area, with Gordon automatically following him, “You believe what you like. Now, do you want this job, or no?”

“What’s the pay?” Gordon asked the most important question of all.

The man smirked, took a scrap of paper and wrote down a figure, holding it up in Gordon’s face when he was finished.

“You’re joking? That’s monthly wage?” Gordon had trouble believing what he saw.

“Weekly,” the man responded shortly, “For the first week you’ll be paid half in advance.”

With such a pay, he could afford the tour around the world he planned since forever soon. Very soon, in fact.

#

“Good morning Mr. Whitman,” the receptionist nodded in recognition, when Gordon entered the office next day, “Are you ready to start?”

“Yes,” Gordon said. If this all was madness, he didn’t care, as long as he got the promised money.

“Right this way then,” he got up and led Gordon to the same meeting hall they were in yesterday. As they entered it, the man briskly went to a fax machine on the table near the leather chair, in which Gordon sat before they went into girl’s dream yesterday. “Come here, look,” he beckoned him, and as Gordon approached, pointed at the phone, “Just press the dial button to get your next assignment.”

Gordon did as he was told. The fax produced a paper with lots and lots of text as well as a small, weird looking graph.

“This is the data required for The Dream Eater to operate,” the man explained, “Now, just take this paper to the machine over there,” he pointed at the golden chest in the middle of the table, and Gordon spread his hands in a silent ‘What now?’ gesture, as he came closer to it. “Now, open it, and look for a paper slot,” the receptionist sat in the chair, and yawned, murmuring, “Dang, I should ask for a chair like that to be put at the reception area.”

Gordon inserted the paper into a fitting slot, and much the same as an ATM machine, the mechanism inside the chest ‘ate’ the offered document.

“Now just turn the long handle clockwise until it can move no more, and release,” the receptionist instructed and yawned again. Gordon obeyed, and when he released the thin piece of metal returned to its original position, at the same time opening a panel on the side, revealing a small compartment with something inside.

“Congratulations, you received your first Dream Eater,” the receptionist clapped theatrically.

Gordon grabbed the golden pendant, and looked at the crystal. Inside was an image of a man in a blue jumpsuit and wearing thick glasses; his expression was tired, but somehow happy.

“Who is it?” Gordon inquired.

“If I’m not mistaken, it’s a contract with a certain factory,” the man in the chair replied, “Their lead technological specialist started to perform poorly recently, so they contacted us. I think he wants to be a writer, but the man clearly doesn’t have what it takes; end his suffering quickly, will ya?”

Gordon adopted a doubtful expression. Ruin someone’s dream? But it’s harming his career, and if nothing good will come from this writing fancy of this man… He pressed a button; and again, the world around swirled in a kaleidoscope of colors, only the image of the clock embedding itself strongly in his mind.

He found himself in a TV studio. Two men were busy discussing something, and paid him no attention.

“…But the cultural value of his books can’t be denied!” one said.

“It is not about culture, the man is clearly a genius – only a genius could write something like that,” he waved a book with blurry cover in front of his opponent’s nose.

Gordon looked up, and saw a thin white line on the studio ceiling, and started following it.

“…You’re saying that he would be a genius writer in any age, then?”

To find the owner, one should simply follow the seam. And there he was.

“And the winner of the award in nomination…”

An ambitious dream. He forgot, however, that you’re supposed to wear a tuxedo or an equally presentable suit to such a ceremony – and definitely not your work clothes. But the man stood there on stage, a happy smile on his face, a golden trophy in his hands.

Gordon came closer; people in the crowd were somehow flat and didn’t offer much resistance, as if they were simply living stage props.

He sighed. And pressed the button.

#

Friday at the ‘Dream Group’ was an official meeting, presentation and council day; the shaky, balding manager showed them graphs and explained in detail how their exclusive services fetched quite a price on the market at the moment, but heavily stressed that Gordon was in fact their only worker.

A nerdy-looking guy in spectacles and white laboratory coat made a short report about the progress of replicating The Dream Eater. According to him, the core of the problem laid with the paradox - that in this world there could exist only one pendant at a time – the mechanism won’t eject a new one, until the old one was used, and its owner returned from the dream. Disassembling it could cause irreparable damage, and there was no guarantee that it would work after being reassembled.

“It seems to me,” the man in spectacles whispered, approaching Gordon from behind, “That you’re our most valuable asset, then.” It was the same person, who interviewed him when Gordon applied for the job. He nodded and inquired, “So how was your first day?”

“Well…” Gordon looked at the man near the blackboard, still listing the known facts about the machine; he was trying hard to explain things to the assembly, after all.

“Alexander! Is there a particular reason you’re bothering us with this?” the man in spectacles barked, and the speaker went silent and slouched a little.

“I thought it was important for everyone to know what we found out…” he tried, but the man in spectacles laughed.

“Let’s be honest,” he jeered, “If you’d found something of value, you’d be waving it in my face like a flag, hoping for a raise or some bonus.”

“I…” the man let his hands holding the papers drop.

“Mr. Whitman, just a few words in my office, if you don’t mind,” the man in spectacles nodded to Gordon, as he left the meeting hall, almost but not quite slamming the door behind him; a neat trick, requiring a perfectly measured and calculated use of force.

Gordon did his best to follow him, mostly because he had no idea where man’s office was – but he worried in vain, for it was apparently the same room he had used for the interviews.

“So, how was your first day?” the man asked again, looking thoughtfully at the bookshelf, as Gordon entered.

“Well, it is questionable, what we’re doing here I mean,” Gordon said, “That girl really loved the man, for example.”

“Oh, I remember that one. Her parents came and asked us to do it,” the man replied, looking at the ceiling now, remembering.

“Well yes, but maybe-” Gordon was stopped when the man started laughing.

“A real rich beauty like that, with a poor bugger of his caliber?” he laughed some more, “Not a chance.”

“But I mean, who gives us the moral right to do it?” Gordon lit up a match in a fireworks factory. The explosion followed.

“I don’t know how firm your beliefs are, Mr. Whitman,” the man said, “But I strongly believe that the world would be a better place if all of us were more honest, first of all – before ourselves. Like, take this first guy you cleansed yesterday,” he turned to face Gordon with a stern expression and pointed in the direction of the meeting hall, “You think he had a chance? A technician, writing poetry, or what, fiction? If he really had what it takes, he would obtain a degree and get in the whole writing business from start…” he laughed theatrically.

“But what if this was a mistake?” Gordon queried carefully.

“Okay, we follow your logic – if he was a genius writer like he dreams himself to be, and getting a technological specialty was a mistake – than he’d be spotted already,” he responded, “But his writing doesn’t really grab people’s attention; on the contrary, it’s quite awkward and boring. You did a good thing, when you burned that dream down,” he added, cooling down a little.

“Thank you, sir,” Gordon accepted the praise, but he didn’t feel like he deserved it.

“And don’t worry about rights – we got you covered in that department. There is no law about destroying dreams, and highly probably there never will be,” he allowed himself a smile, “Especially, if we get a say in the matter.”

#

Next month started as usual for Gordon now, but the moment he was about to delve into other people’s minds again, he heard a shout coming from the meeting hall.

“We did it!”

Alexander and a couple other agitated workers of his department stood next to The Dream Eater and had a very lively conversation.

“Next time you use the The Dream Eater, it will spit out two different pendants for two people, we are ninety-nine percent sure of that!” Alexander effused, as he saw Gordon approaching.

“Is that so?” he faked an interest, but the man took it for real.

“We couldn’t create new Eaters, so we took a different path, and simply multiplied the number of pendants ejected at the same time, turns out, there was a setting for that in the machine itself,” he explained in a patter.

Gordon grabbed the pendant from the chest. The crowd went silent, everyone watched him, as he pressed the button.

Another dream. A cold light of street lamps on an empty avenue. Not even a car, moving or parked anywhere. Gordon followed the seam, and couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of multiple Eaters in existence.

An empty village road. Nothing stops the ‘Dream Group’ from expanding across entire planet now. Parents now get a leverage to weed out the unwanted love interests of their growing children – and perfectly clean one at that – as the children will sabotage the relationships themselves. Technicians think about poetry instead of working on mechanisms? Why, get rid of that as well. Wanted to do something you were not meant to do? Here I come, ladies and gentleman, Gordon Whitman, the modern day inquisitor, the mind police, if you will. Dystopia. Now they finally have everything to create it. Gordon cringed, as he saw the man in golden spectacles laugh. He had won. Or had he?

A bridge, with a view on a beautiful sunset opening from it, a shadow at its end. There, under a lamplight, stood a person holding an apparition in its hands. This dream was about being loved.

“Hey,” Gordon called to it. The apparition vanished, and the person turned to look at him.

“Why did you come here?” it inquired in a ringing whisper. Its stare was piercing, menacing and curious.

“To destroy this dream,” Gordon said.

“Do it then,” it responded, looking, it seemed, at his very soul through his eyes. Gordon thought about his world tour. A useless way to spend money, someone might think; just how long will it take for others to visit him, to purge his dreams?

“I won’t,” Gordon shook his head, and produced the pendant, “But this thing can do it.”

“Give it to me.”

“What are you going to do with it?” Gordon asked, staring at the person as if transfixed.

“Throw it under the bridge,” the person said and pointed downwards with its index finger.

Leaning over the railing, Gordon saw that there was more than nothing – the inky blackness swirled, forming a black vortex, a tornado of pure void.

“It will help, trust me,” the person laid a hand on Gordon’s back. But he didn’t surrender the pendant. He extended the arm holding it over the abyss below, and let the accursed thing slip from between his fingers and into the heart of the volcano.

The whole world became a smudge of color and went black, as if the void suddenly expanded to fill everything with itself. Gordon disappeared.

#

“I was told that you specifically require a professional psychologist’s opinion, so I brought it with me,” the man reached for his bag and produced a small folder. The man in spectacles accepted it, and carefully read every page inside it.

“Good, good... Oh, excellent,” he nodded at certain points while reading.

“I didn’t find it flattering, to my eyes it looked quite bad, actually,” the other man put in.

“That is a very good result, compared to what I usually get,” the man in spectacles replied, “These reports are rarely flattering. Truth bites, I guess,” the man allowed himself a reserved smile.

“Perhaps,” the other man conceded, running a hand through his greasy-looking black hair.

“Okay, I think that is enough,” the man in spectacles finished reading the papers steepling his fingers in front of his face, and focused on the man sitting before him. He inquired, “Do you know what we, ‘Dream Group, LLC’ are really doing?”

“No idea,” the other man shook his head.

“We are working with children mostly,” the man with a beak-like nose and golden spectacles smiled, “And we need a cartoonist, even an unprofessional one will do for such a wage. Can you draw, Mr. Whitman?”

“Used to, when I was younger, wanted to become a painter, but it didn’t work out,” Gordon returned the smile.

“Well, if you plan to learn and improve in the field, we’d be more than happy to enlist you,” the man offered, “Of course, if you still want to follow your dream.”

“It will be my pleasure.”

THE END


© Copyright 2017 Robert Grey. All rights reserved.

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