“Any major stress in your life?” The question comes from a middle aged doctor, balding slightly and grey at his temples. He’s wearing a long white coat, stethoscope draped around his neck.
“No.” My response. I can almost predict his next question.
“No.” Another mark in the folder that contains my medical history. I’ve always wondered what’s in there? Does it mention the time when I was four and broke my jaw?
“Change in diet or lifestyle?”
“No.” His pen scratches another mark on what I assume is some sort of checklist.
Doctor Banton looks up, staring directly into my black ringed eyes. I probably look like I got the crap beaten out of me.
“Are you taking any drugs?” He’s completely serious.
“No.” Another checkmark. Hmm. Doesn’t seem to believe me.
“How long since you last slept?”
I think for a moment. I count the days mentally. It’s slightly difficult. When you don’t sleep, days blend together, your mind doesn’t seem to want to work properly.
“Four days? No fatigue? Exhaustion?”
“No, not at all. Just… annoyed, I guess, that I stopped sleeping.”
“What about hallucinations?”
“Hallucinations? No, why?” That got my attention. I wasn’t expecting that question.
“After three days without R.E.M. sleep, your brain will basically ‘force’ you to dream, whether you’re asleep or not.”
“Geez. No, nothing.”
“Be careful. You probably shouldn’t drive until you’ve slept.”
I nod, mildly disturbed by what I’ve just been told. Then the barrage resumes.
“Was it a sudden stoppage?”
I shake my head and answer.
“At first, I just had trouble falling asleep. Nothing new, I’ve never gotten to sleep well. Then, I started waking up earlier and earlier
each day. It’s been weeks since I got more than an hour or two of sleep.”
Banton nods, making a few notes.
“I can prescribe something.” Here comes the ‘but.’ “But, that’s temporary. Eventually, you’ll build up a tolerance and need a stronger dose. It’ll continue until you’re completely dependant on the pills.”
Great. No sleep or I’m addicted to sleeping pills. Some choice.
“What do you recommend?”
“I’ll prescribe a light dosage of a sleeping aid. We’ll try to establish a pattern for your body, train it. Also, cut back on caffeine; coffee, soda. That’s not helping.”
No coffee? I’m in Hell. I nod, take the illegible prescription he’s scribbled for me and walk out into the parking lot.
The pills didn’t work. Twelve days. I haven’t slept in twelve days. I’m sitting in my apartment, in the dark. I don’t need light, I can make out almost the tiniest details. I have pretty good eyesight. Maybe I’m some sort of mutant and the lack of sleep is a side effect of some as yet unseen super power. Oh my God. I’ve been reading too many comics. I flip on the computer, knowing full well I’ll be bored of it inside fifteen minutes. I think I’ve seen all there is to see on-line. Most of it anyway. The Internet’s a creepy place. I don’t think I ever want to see porn again. Not after seeing some of the crap that’s on there. I’ll be lucky if I can have sex again before I die. It’s the same with TV. Do you know what’s on TV after one a.m.? Infomercials (for those Girls Gone Wild videos… Jesus, you need more than fifteen seconds to sell tapes of naked girls?) and really bad movies. I’ve watched my entire DVD collection. Including the commentray tracks and all of the special features. I spent two nights searching for Easter Eggs. I’m bored out of my skull and I’m still not tired. I haven’t had coffee since I went to the doctor. I would kill for a cup right now. No. No caffeine. Maybe I should take another pill. I walk into the cramped bathroom and pick up the bottle. The label says not to exceed two per day. This would be my third in four hours. I’m desperate. I just want something other than this. I’m not tired. I’m just bored. I roll the bottle of pills in my hand. Toss it in the air and catch it before it hits the floor and spills everywhere. Back into the medecine cabinet. In the morning. Maybe I can get a stronger dose.
I’ve actually been laying in bed a lot. Usually after I take the medication. It’s supposed to help me relax. Usually I just stare at the ceiling, thinking things you usually only come up with after having way too much to drink.
“What the–? Jesus!” I scramble a bit and hit the light, standing on the balls of my feet, ready to run. I see the thirtyish man on the other side of my bed. He’s close to six feet tall, slim, and in a dark blue suit. I feel calm slightly, I just get this vibe, I guess. He seems avuncular. Don’t know what it means? Go look it up, I’ll wait. Not going to do it? Oh, later. You’re not going to understand it until then, the line won’t make sense. Fine, I’ll tell you. It means ‘uncle-like.’ Lord.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You’re Kyle, right? I’m Ray, nice to meet you.” He extends his hand. I grasp it in mine. It’s warm.
“Not to be rude or anything…”
“But how the fuck did you get into my house?!”
Ray smirks, maybe I’m not getting the joke.
“Easy, kid. Take it down a notch.”
“To answer: I didn’t break in or anything. You can check, if you’d like.”
For some reason, I believe him. I sprint around my apartment anyway, checking the door and windows. All locked and in one piece.
“So, how’d you get in?”
“That’s the thing. I’m not here here,” Ray gestures to the room “I’m here.” His hand reaches out again and a fingertip taps my forehead.
“I’m dreaming…?” I don’t know why I say it. Have you ever said that in a dream?
“‘Fraid no, kiddo.”
“Hallucinations aren’t listed on the side effects…” My voice trails off as my mind tries to make sense of the situation.
“The pills didn’t bring me here. You did.
“Wait. Hold on. I brought you here?”
“You should probably sit down.”
Ray, with a smirk on his face, shrugs.
“Suit yourself. Do you know what happens when you sleep? More specifically, when you dream?”
“My guess is whatever I think, it’s wrong.”
“Pretty much. Dreams aren’t just things your sleeping mind makes up.”
“What are they?”
I laugh. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. Cliff’s Notes version? When you sleep, your mind, your consciousness, goes to the ‘Dreamworld.’ From there, you go about your business until you wake up and come back here.”
For some reason, I believe him. I just accept what he’s saying and it makes sense.
“So wait… that dream I had about Angelina Jolie and the vat of pudding actually happened?”
“Of course, by the same note, that dream Eminem had about you and that gerbil–”
“Okay, stop right there.”
It’s Ray’s turn to laugh now.
“What about when people die or get hurt in dreams? What happens to their…” I can’t think of the word. “…Dreamself?”
“Depends on the person.”
“What do you mean?”
“Depends on the person’s willpower, self esteem, state of mind, etc. A strong mind can survive and regenerate from nothing.”
I pause for a moment, dozens of questions running through my brain.
“And if you’re not that strong?”
“You stop dreaming, if you’re lucky. If not… basically, you go to Hell. Nothing but nightmares until your physical body dies.”
I have to ask.
“Ray, where’s your body?”
“I don’t have one.”
His hand comes up, cutting me off.
“It’s a long story, maybe later.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because, human beings aren’t the only ones who travel to the Dreamworld. And that’s where you fit in.”
I’m confused beyond belief at this point.
“You’ve heard of people who can affect their dreams? Not just watch them?”
“Yeah, lucid dreaming.”
“Exactly. There’s always at least one of these dreamers who can actually control and manipulate the Dreamworld.”
I think I see where this is going. Why do I get the feeling he’s going to pull out a red pill and a blue one?
“That’s why you’ve stopped sleeping. Your mind isn’t ready to handle it. At least, subconsciously, it believes so. I know, on the other hand, that you’re ready.”
“Ready? Ready to what?”