Dan Kang

Dream

Dream, a short story for my creative writing class

John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.

“Ow!”

He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.

When John woke up, he blinked several times and couldn’t believe his eyes. He was still in his own bed in his room. He sat up and cycled through endless possible explanations. Was it a problem with the hardware? No way — the error rate was less than one in a trillion. A bug in the latest SimChip firmware upgrade? But he had been dreaming without any problems for the past couple months. He racked his brain but no satisfactory answer came to mind. For a second, he considered submitting a support request, but immediately dropped the idea. A Sim Technologies support representative unable to solve a problem with his own SimChip? He’d never hear the end of it.

The annoyance of missing out on a dream lingered in the back of John’s mind as he headed into the bathroom. He splashed water onto his face, squeezed exactly enough toothpaste to cover half of the toothbrush, and proceeded to count to sixty in his head. Twenty brush strokes for the left side of his mouth, twenty for the middle, and twenty for the right. After showering, he neatly combed his dark brown hair to the side and headed to his closet to put on a crisply pressed white dress shirt, a black silk tie, black trousers, and a black jacket — the same outfit he wore to work every day. Only the business department of Sim Technologies, not the support department he was in, had a dress code, but he found it much too cumbersome to select a different outfit every day.

In the kitchen, John removed the two perfectly toasted slices of white bread from the toaster and set them down on a plate. As he reached to grab the peanut butter jar from the cabinet above, he stopped short. He had forgotten to buy more peanut butter after it had run out yesterday. John unscrewed the lid of the jar and saw that there was more left than he had expected, just barely enough for one more sandwich. He scraped the remaining peanut butter onto a slice of toast and glanced at his watch as he twisted the lid back onto the jar. It was 10:15 A.M., which meant that he had to leave now in order to catch the subway. After tossing the used knife into the sink, John absentmindedly shoved the peanut butter jar back into the cabinet and grabbed his briefcase and sandwich. Before the SimChip came along, he used to eat two sandwiches for breakfast. Now, since he and everyone else he knew stayed awake for only 12 hours, his two sandwiches had become one, and his lunch and dinner had also been reduced accordingly. More time dreaming meant less time awake. Less time awake meant less energy needed.

Making sure that he had his wallet and keys in his left pocket and his Sim Technologies badge clipped on the right side of his trousers, John locked his apartment door and jiggled the door two times before calling the elevator. As he stepped out of his apartment complex, John quickly merged into the stream of people on the sidewalk. He walked one block south and two blocks east, keeping his gaze fixed on the sidewalk below him the entire time while taking quick bites out of his sandwich. As he walked into the subway station, someone bumped into him from behind. “Sorry,” John muttered. He stood sideways against the wall to let the person pass, deliberately looking away to avoid eye contact. On the subway car, John sat with his eyes closed and head tilted back. He usually spent his commute thinking about his dream from the night before, but this time he had nothing.

John had been in college when Sim Technologies took the world by storm with their upgraded SimChip. A few years prior, they had released the initial version of the SimChip — a chip, installed using a minimally invasive surgical procedure through the skull, that could measure and record all the signals being passed between nerve cells in the brain. Effectively, this meant that everything a person experienced — their thoughts, their feelings, their sensory stimuli — would be captured by the chip. It was a mind-blowing feat; the chip allowed people to capture the raw data of their existence. Despite great excitement in the scientific community, the product had resulted in poor adoption. Although some of the personal analytics applications that built on the data were quite impressive, most people didn’t want to have the SimChip installed just to see some pretty graphs.

All that changed when Sim Technologies added replay functionality to the SimChip. Sim Technologies had devised a method for replaying a select portion of the data — the signals created by sensory stimuli — back on the brain when it was dormant in sleep. The amazing part was that the signals could be replayed not just on the person whose recording it was, but on anyone with a SimChip installed. For the first time in history, people could see, hear, touch, smell, and taste as someone else entirely. With that breakthrough, SimChip adoption caught on like wildfire, and after enviously hearing his college roommates trade stories about their SimChip-created dreams, John had finally scheduled an appointment to have a SimChip installed.

Before the installation, a Sim Technologies support representative had met with John to explain what life would be like with the SimChip. “Every night, your SimChip is first going to upload a recording of your day before downloading a recording to replay as a dream. This means that someone, somewhere, will replay a day in your life as a dream. Do you still want to get the SimChip installed?”

John quickly nodded, embracing the tradeoff. Everyone else was doing it, and his life wasn’t interesting enough to make him worry about any important secrets being revealed.

She continued, “The recording used for your dream is selected randomly from the pool of all recordings uploaded in the past day, so you’re going to experience the most recent day of a SimChip user. When you fall asleep in real life, you’ll wake up as that person, go through their day, fall asleep as them, then finally wake up as yourself. The most important thing is to not panic. Dreaming is rather shocking at first, but you’ll get used to it after a couple minutes. It’s like a first-person movie, except that it’s more realistic than you can imagine. Like a dream, except that you’ll remember it clearly afterward.”

And remember he did. When John had initially woken up in that first dream, he tried to brush the wavy blonde hair away from the front of his eyes. When his body sat up instead of brushing the hair aside, he understood what the support representative had meant about not panicking. He had no control over his own movements. Everything was already predetermined by the recording that John was simply replaying — all that John could really call his own were his thoughts and feelings.

As John walked into the bathroom, he wanted, with every fiber of his being, to go back into the bedroom and make the bed. It wouldn’t help make the room appear any cleaner, what with the piles of socks and shirts everywhere on the bedroom floor, but it was a personal ritual that he had performed every morning without fail since he was a child.

I shouldn’t care; it’s not my bed after all, he thought, trying to quell his irritation. His displeasure was swallowed up by the surprise of seeing himself in the bathroom mirror. I must be at least six-foot three. He wanted to examine himself more, but he involuntarily proceeded to close his eyes and splash water on his face. He cringed as he haphazardly moved a toothbrush around in his mouth without any clear pattern or direction. He caught a glimpse of himself again as he left the bathroom, getting a better look at his sturdy, broad shoulders and the long hair that rested on them.

John found himself driving for a good while before getting out of a jeep in front of a beach. He had never been to a beach before, having always lived in landlocked regions, and he immensely enjoyed the sensation of the cold, smooth sand weaving in and out between his toes as he walked toward the water in his wetsuit. He felt the hefty weight of his surfboard under his arm, and he knew that he would never have been able to carry it with such ease in his real body.

There was a tall figure up ahead also in a wetsuit, who raised his hand and called out to him. “Hey AJ!”

John felt his free hand shoot up and mouth spread into a grin. “Mornin’, Brad!” John enjoyed hearing his own voice; it felt strong with rough edges, like the sound of a double bass mixed with sandpaper being rubbed.

When John walked up to Brad, they performed a highly practiced handshake that ended with a smack on the side of each others’ head. “Have a good dream last night?” Brad asked.

John’s mouth opened. “Nah, it was crazy. I was some grandma in a senior center. Didn’t understand a word she said, but I think it was Spanish.”

Brad laughed. “That’s wild! Anything exciting happen besides using the bathroom every ten minutes?”

“That was pretty much it. I don’t wanna get old, man. You really end up sitting around doing nothing.”

“Don’t sweat it dude, we’ve got some time.”

John and Brad paddled out into the sea, and John felt more panic the further away he got from shore. By the time John stopped paddling to turn his board toward the distant shore, his mind was racing with questions. What if I get attacked by a shark? What if I get swallowed up by a wave and drown? John wondered if he had made a mistake but told himself that AJ couldn’t have died surfing, or else his dream wouldn’t have been uploaded for John to replay. Maybe AJ went to sleep in the hospital after having his arm bitten off, though.

Just then, John felt his chest lower onto the surfboard and his arm paddling hard against the water. As his head jerked forward, he caught a glimpse of a massive wave rising behind him. This is it, I’m going to drown, he thought. As the wave caught up to him, he felt his arms push him off the surfboard and his right leg slide up toward his torso as he stood up in one fluid motion. John tried his hardest to close his eyes, but his eyes remained wide open and his body shifted with movements sturdy and sure. He smoothly rode down the foot of the wave as it rose up, gigantic, behind him. The crest of the wave started crashing in front of him, and he spread his arms and lightly grazed the wall of water with his forefinger as he continuously taunted death by speeding sideways toward the hole at the end of the tunnel of water around him. As he sped through the opening with the wave dying behind him, John felt complete unison between mind and body as he grinned and waved at a barely visible Brad flashing him a thumbs up.

When John had woken from that first dream, he had laid in perfect silence on his bed for an hour, simply absorbing all that he experienced. After that initial wave, John had gone on to surf for a couple more hours before devouring fish tacos with Brad and ending the night making s’mores over a bonfire with a group of friends at the beach. Dreaming was far more fun and exciting than anything he had ever done. John had excitedly gone back to sleep in the middle of the day, only to find himself jolted awake after a few, short hours replaying a day of a school janitor. Cleaning high school bathrooms wasn’t quite like surfing, but the experience, seemingly mundane, was new and fascinating. Confused about the dream’s abrupt interruption, John had contacted a support representative to learn that the SimChip replays a downloaded recording only for the duration of the length of the most recently uploaded recording. That day, John had decided to adopt the SimChip lifestyle; from then on, he would stay awake for exactly 12 hours every day in order to maximize time spent dreaming.

Now out of the subway station, John headed through the sliding glass doors into Sim Technologies. He looked straight ahead, purposefully avoiding eye contact with the guard at the front desk, and tapped his badge on the turnstile. He recalled how he had once felt immensely proud to be working there, a company that was pushing the frontier of shared human experience. He had been the envy of his college friends, who had all become SimChip fanatics, when he was hired by Sim Technologies. Little did they, nor he initially, know that his role as a support representative would be little more than a glorified question and answer database.

When he stepped into the elevator, he pressed the button for the fifteenth floor and shifted his eyes to the floor. There was someone in the elevator to his right, someone with sleek, black pumps. He turned his head ever so slightly and peered out of the corner of his eye to just barely make out her basic features. He shifted his gaze back to the floor. He hadn’t looked at her directly, but he had seen enough. Curly dark brown hair. Thin, glossy lips. Green eyes. Maybe slightly blue. Gorgeous. She looked slightly familiar too, but he couldn’t figure out where he’d seen her before. He thought about what it’d be like to get to know her, and the mere thought of talking to her made his pulse quicken.

He looked back at the elevator buttons and noticed that the only other lit button was for a floor somewhere in the thirties. He would have the entire trip to his floor to start the conversation. He could compliment her shoes. No, that could come off as creepy and even inappropriate. He could bring up the latest Sim Technologies metrics. The billionth SimChip installation had occurred a week ago, and the company was still abuzz from the announcement. No, she was probably sick to death of hearing about it. He could ask her about her dream last night. Outside of work, it was considered rude to ask a stranger about their dreams, but inside Sim Technologies it was somewhat of a norm. No, he didn’t have a dream to share.

The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open. John surprised himself with how quickly he bolted out of the elevator. He hadn’t planned on practically running out, but maybe he hadn’t realized how nervous he had been. She probably wouldn’t have been interested in talking with him anyway. He was just a support representative after all.

John walked past a dozen cubicles before reaching his own. He sat down, turned on his computer, and began answering support questions. The first one was from a woman in Wyoming who wanted to know if she could replay her husband’s recordings. John found the script explaining that no, you can’t select whose recordings you replay, and sent the reply. The second one was from a man from London who wanted to save the recording he downloaded last night so that he can have the same dream over and over. John found the script explaining that this too was not possible and sent it along. During his first couple weeks as a support representative, John used to feel guilty when dashing people’s hopes by telling them that they couldn’t do what they wanted. Now, he just copied and pasted the standard responses and didn’t give a second thought. All the questions he saw every day were exactly the same, just worded differently and signed by different names from different places. Once in a while, he would get a unique question that would make him actually look things up and type out a non-scripted response. He enjoyed those. He couldn’t remember the last time he got one.

A couple hours in, John heard a light tap on his cubicle wall. It was his direct supervisor. He came in, and placed one hand firmly on John’s desk. “John, are you available to talk?”

“Sure.” John turned his chair towards his supervisor.

“Listen, your customer reviews this week are hovering around a 7. We need you to get to an 8.5 by the end of next week. Think you can do that?”

“Sure.” His supervisor was repeating the same exact thing that he had told John yesterday.

“Thanks, John. Also, try to speed up your responses. You’re answering fewer queries than you usually do.” He patted John on the back and walked away.

John turned to the clock on his monitor and watched the seconds crawl by. He often fantasized about quitting his lifeless job and trying something new, but then again he got to try something new every night when he went to sleep. Maybe one day he’d actually move next to the beach and learn how to ride the waves.

When John got home, he changed out of his suit and slumped into his couch in front of the television. He hoped there was a good show on to justify declining to go out for a quick drink with some of the other support representatives. He hadn’t felt like it. He hadn’t felt like it yesterday either, or the day before that, and he knew they were already thinking of no longer asking him to go out with them. John turned on the television and flipped through some channels. Nothing exciting. He thought about just turning off the set, but sat through a rerun of a movie he had watched yesterday since he had nothing better to do anyway until his 12 hours were up. When it finally ended, he walked to his room and hoped that his SimChip would work tonight.

John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.

“Ow!”

He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.