I Dream When I Wake Up

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

As his perception of reality blurs, a man makes the choice that will constitute what he believes to be the truth.

I Dream When I Wake Up


How do you define what’s real? I ask myself as I descend to suspended sleep. The chemicals kick in and I start seeing gray, then white, then black.

I wake up beside Alora, her long waves ruffling as she shifts in her bed to look at me. I gaze back at her huge round eyes, those eyes that swallow souls. She huddles close, and I slip my arm around her neck and shoulder as I pull her even closer, the bareness of our flesh connecting between the sheets.

“How was your sleep?” she asks, hand running through my chest, breath touching my neck.

It was all one big bad dream. I tuck her hair behind her ear; I want to see that face more. “I hated it.”

At least it’s over now.” She flutters her eyes.

I kiss her on the lips.

Cold sea breeze blows from the open glass windows, spreading the pristine silk curtains outward. Wind cools down the warmth on our face. The bed envelopes us in a smooth gentle hug. I pull her closer. I always like pulling her closer.

Does it feel amazing - the flesh, the human contact, the connection?

Damn right, it does.

Does it feel real?

With every fiber of my being, I could swear everything is.

But is it really?

In the dining table, a butler in a crisp suit and bowtie serves us the most expensive luxurious buffet money can buy. Behind him, four servers – actual human servers, not the machine ones - carry the trays: fresh cow’s milk, crisp burnt bacon, French toast, fresh orange juice, sausages, pancakes, perfectly poached eggs. After placing the trays down, the servers ask us what we want and fill our plates up by themselves.

Joetta and Nara giggled their way down the stairs, racing against each other in their little silk pajamas. They pull their chairs and plop down on it, both saying they are the first to sit. Joetta forks on a sausage and a piece of fried egg. It always has been her favorite. Nara drinks the cow’s milk first; so she can grow faster, she says.

We share stories as we ate. Nara, as usual, goes first, telling us about the field of unicorns she dreamt about. Joetta shares us about school, her high grades, and how her teachers always tell her she has a bright future. Alora tells hers, and I listen as though I haven’t just heard it an hour ago.

As I eat a piece of bacon, I think about how amazing this feels. I have – we have – all the tastiest food in the world in our fingertips. We’re laughing, smiling, sharing stories. We are happy. I am happy. This feels real, as real as it can get.

But in the back of my head, the question pops up: Is it really?

The question keeps floating on as we flit from ride to ride on our weekly Astro Land visit. On the centripetal wheel, on the antigrav rocket, on the magnet coaster, I feel everything. I feel the wind on my face, the way my guts wrench as our rides’ velocities change. I hear the giggles of my children and the screams of my wife. They’re happy. I’m happy.

But like seeing the end of a movie you’ve seen a dozen times, I brace myself for the predictable. It’s a question I know the answer very well.

Is it real?

No, of course not. I like dreaming, but I’m not stupid.

Nothing here is real. Not my beautiful wife eating greasy chips and licking the tips of her fingers. Not Joetta and Alora, both eating a whirl of puffy silk candy, pink for one and purple for the other. Not even the truffles I’m eating, nor the rides and the scores of people at them howling their lungs out.

Nothing here is real.



I wake up. My time is up, apparently.

My head swims. It’s hard to focus. Is this real?

A young nurse helps me up and hands me a red-coated pill. I swallow it. She removes the wires connected to my lucid cap, twisting and unplugging each. She’s new, she says, and I’m the first dreamer she’s ever unplugged.

I can tell that from the apparent incompetence with which she takes my wires out. Yeah. This is real.

“Good dream?” she asks as she lifts the apparatus from my head.

I don’t want to talk about it. I sigh. “Fine.”

I look around. Some three dozen other beds, arranged in rows of six, contain three dozen other bodies in slumber. They all wear the same light blue gown and lucid cap as mine, aluminum crowns covering their heads and scalps. Wires connect the caps to stout whirring white machines beside their beds. Humming from these apparatuses filled the air.

I dangle my feet beside my bed as the nurse checks on the machine for my vitals. When she sees all is well she says, “Well, you’re free to go Mr-” she checks on the machine’s screen again, “Mr. Zabins…uh… Mr. Zabinski,” she said slowly, like a kid learning how to read. “How’s your head?”

“Pill’s working.”

“Great! Take as much time as you need to recover, and thank you-”

Yeah. This is definitely real.

“-and thank you for dreaming with Scotus Corp. Until your next sweet dreams,” I interject. “I’ve heard that shit hundreds of times before. The other nurses don’t even tell me that.” I jump from my bed. “You don’t have to.”

The nurse looks surprised, maybe with my comment or maybe with the apparent speed I recovered from the sleep lag.



I walk the way home. Past the desolate cityscape I know like the back of my hand, half my mind walks through the night while the other half wanders.

I see, all at once, the neon signs of pharmacies and tattoo shops and convenience stores. I sense the dark outline of buildings tall and small, their paint all chipping and faded from disrepair. I see the people: the petty little insignificant people, going about their petty insignificant lives just like mine. I see all the trash and the dirt, all the scum and the derange. With all that come the waft of sewage and rot spreading from little rectangular holes carved into the pavement.

But all of that sensorium’s just background. What I’m thinking about, what my mind is focused on, is not here.

It’s there. In the dream. Just the dream.

I think about the smooth linen of my sleeping robe, the soft sheets, the cold air blowing from the sea. I think about the food, the delicious food; the mansion; the cars; the human servants, which come in low supply these days.

As I pass by the burnt ruins of an abandoned kindergarten, I think about Joetta and Nara, my wonderful and intelligent children. Joetta, my firstborn, wants to be a doctor. Nara wants to be a pilot. She wants Alora and I to be her first passengers, she says. Very sweet.

A burning fire inside a rusted metal barrel illuminates the inside of the building, highlighting the figures of the homeless, the tattered, and the damned. Some of them gather around the fire. Some of them sleep in makeshift sleeping bags. A few of them line up the sidewalks with cardboard signs saying “Please Spare Some Change.” I cross to the other side of the road.

I stop by the local Meringen diner. As I order cola and a slice of mushroom meat pizza for dinner, I think about the amazing food we ate for breakfast. I crave for the oily juiciness of the sausages and the bacon, the goodness of the syrup-coated pancakes, and the creamy lusciousness of fresh milk. If I focus hard enough, I could still taste everything in my tongue. Such good food imprints itself on your memory.

The cashier snaps his fingers; I snap back to being, too. Eighteen sixty-five, he says. I manage to scrape enough money from my wallet and my jean’s pockets to pay for it.

I think about dropping the remaining two dollars and change on my hand on the tipping jar, but decide otherwise.



I sleep a dreamless sleep and wake up at one in the morning to the jarring sound of my alarm. Needles prick my shivering flesh as I take an ice-cold shower, the water as cold as the chilly air outside. I get out of the shower wide awake. This is real.

I go to work, get my eye prints taken to clock in, and start. For three years I’ve sorted packages in Morsel’s, working with three people in a small humid room with nothing but an exhaust fan as ventilation. No AC, says management, because they want us to work, not relax in the cold. That’s just an excuse, of course. Like almost every company in this economy, ours is broke, too; everyone knows it. It’s bound to crumble any day now.

I start sorting my packages. Pick up, weigh, then enter the details on the tag. Then do the same again. And again. And again. Mobile phones. Cooking pans. Weightless fountain pens. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the left to Alviva. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the right to Jones. I wipe sweat on my eyebrows with the back of my hand. Gaming watch. Zooming glasses. Moving pictures. Just the same; pick up, weigh, enter; pick up, weigh, enter. I feel sweat dribbling down my chest and back, my cotton work shirt absorbing everything.

Thirty minutes pass and I let my mind drift again. I miss my wife. I miss her dreamy smile and the way she talks about the things that push her to get up in the morning.

Solar-powered computer. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the right.

I miss my daughters, my wonderful, delightful daughters.

Self-warming mug. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the left.

Is this even real?

I wipe my sweat with the back of my hand. I can feel the wetness of my shirt, the warmth of the air trapped between my skin and the fabric. How real can this get?

Two hours. Three hours. I think about the mansion and the sea and the cars. How I’d love to feel that cold breeze again.

Is this it? Mohinga console. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the left. Is this what real means?

I wipe my sweat, this time with the back of my forearm.

Four, five, six hours. I can feel my lungs getting suffocated from the stiffness of the air and the odor of three people in a five-by-five-meter room. My energy drains as I repeat, repeat, repeat the same thing over and over. I feel the soul getting sucked out of me.

Organic patties. Stem-cell fertilizer. Cotton T-shirts. Pick up, weigh, enter, pass to the left.

Seven. Eight. Nine. I feel numb. My brain feels numb. My shirt feels heavy from all the sweat.

This is it. This is what’s real. The packages and the boxes and the stuffiness of the air is real. The way my wet shirt clings onto my skin; that is real. This boring, underpaying, suffocating job is real. I like dreaming but I’m not stupid. This isn’t a dream. I know this is real, as real as it can get.

But the question now becomes: is this the reality I want?



The nurse secures the lucid cap on my head. It’s one of the more tenured nurses this time, a much older man with a balding peak. He connects the wires onto the plugs in the aluminum. I don’t even feel a thing.

As he finishes, I hand him the signed consent form I have in my hand. He shoots me a look, then smirks. “You didn’t even read it.”

“I already memorized what it says: I have no right to sue you if bad things happen, I will feel nauseous waking up, you’ll have to stimulate my brain to release hormones for the experience, and I might experience some problems in the long run after repetitive use.” I lay down. “There’s that part about user data and whatever, too, but I don’t really care what that says.”

“Very well,” says the nurse, a bit skeptical, but not giving additional burden on himself.

What is real?, I ask myself as I wait for the nurse to finish preparing. Is it things you can touch, or hear, or see? Is that all there is to it?

“Settings?” asks the nurse.

“I want a holiday on the beach. Cool day, not too sunny. Make the winds blow, alright? I want to feel them real good.”


“Start the usual way; the breakfast buffet and all that. Put a mall and an amusement park nearby.”

“How long?”

“A week.”

“And the characters?”

“The usual.”

The nurse clicks on more buttons and the stout machine starts whirring. “You’re good to go, Mr. Zabinski. We’ll keep watch over you for the next six hours. Sweet dreams.” He smiles and takes his leave.


I hear nothing but the whirring machines all around me. My body relaxes. Sleepiness sweeps over me.

I often wonder what being real means. I think I found the answer.

Reality is what I believe in.

I start seeing gray, then white, then black.

Reality is that which I make for myself.

Submitted: August 15, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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