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Short Story - What is Real?

Discussion in 'Creative Archive' started by Chadwyck, Feb 23, 2011.

  1. They say that you don’t remember the beginning of your dreams. They say that when you start to dream, you are placed into the middle of what’s happening, no recollection of how you got there or what you are doing. At the time it feels normal, you don’t really notice that there’s anything wrong with it. Beginning in the middle is normal when you’re in the realm of a dream.

    I remember the beginnings of my dreams. They always start out the same way. They always have a beginning; my problem is making it to the end.

    My dream begins with waking up in a room that isn’t really mine. It looks like mine. It even feels like mine. But it’s not. Not really. I wake up and at the time I don’t realize that the walls are all empty, no paint or wallpaper to decorate, I admire them as if they were always like that. Next I sit up and rub the sleep from my eyes and place my feet over the edge of the bed onto the ground. It’s cold at first, but after a few seconds the stone warms under my feet.

    I stand up and put on a long sleeved shirt; it’s threadbare and there are several loose strands that may unravel the garment at any time. It’s still chilly with the shirt on, but at least I feel less exposed. I don’t bother to change my trousers, the ones I’m wearing are warm and I only have one more pair; and I’m saving them for something important. No matter how hard I try I can’t remember what.

    Next I stand tall and still in front of a heavy, iron door. My arms hang at my sides and I never move until the door is opened for me. I step out into a long hallway and I start to walk toward a door at the other end. I walk and walk for as long as I can, but I don’t seem to get any closer to the door. I can’t stand it and I start to run. The door still looks as far away as before.

    I turn my head and look out the long, barred window to my right. I can’t see anything beyond it; the fog is so thick and the world I see is white and gray. I start to panic, I start to wonder where I am, but I know where I am; I’m at home. The door I’m trying to reach leads to the roof of my apartment complex; someone there is waiting for me and I have to meet them.

    I run faster, until my lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest. I scream to fight off the pain of suffocation.

    And then I wake up for the second time.

    I’m in my room. My real room. The walls are painted a light blue and the floor is hardwood. My bed is comfortable and I stretch, remembering my dream and how real it felt. I get up and get ready for the day. I shower, and I dress. Then I go to breakfast with my parents.

    They’re worried about me. “Did you have another nightmare?” They ask, as if they don’t already know that I did. I nod slowly as the details of the dream play themselves over in my mind. Dreams usually fade as you become more awake, but not mine. Never mine.

    “You have an appointment in an hour.” They say after a few moments of silence. I always have an appointment at the same time every day. It isn’t anything unusual for me. I know that they believe me to be strange. It is strange to dream the same dream every night, I know, so I do not disagree.

    I hope that the doctors can find out why I have the dream. I hope that they can tell me how to make it go away for good.

    Again I nod and I push away my plate. I’ve never been prone to eat breakfast heartily; I’m never very hungry in the mornings. I excuse myself and I go back to my room.

    I wonder, not for the first time, how I can ever mistake the other room for this one. My room is nothing like the other room, yet it feels so very real. How can something my mind creates feel so real to me? How do we know what’s real and what’s not based solely on our meager ideas and thoughts. Surely the phrase “I think therefore I am,” means nothing in the realm of reality. Implications of the statement are that anything that doesn’t think isn’t. Can anything outside of myself be considered real, or am I the fabrication of someone else’s mind?

    Perhaps dreams are not wild imaginings of the mind, but windows through which we can see other worlds. Perhaps they are parallel dimensions that we can enter while in the ethereal realm of dreams.

    I decide to ask the doctor when I arrive at his office. He has studied the mind and its workings. He knows the psychological cases that will clarify whether I am truly mad, or simply a visionary. Perhaps those two things cannot be classified as separate. Maybe they must go hand in hand.

    After all; at one point was it not considered mad to believe that man would fly? Yet someone found a way for humanity to sore with the birds in the air.

    My parents call my name, jarring me from my thoughts. I’ve spent longer than I imagined thinking of such ideas, and it is already time to depart for the doctor’s office. Time has a way of tricking us in such ways. I do not think it coincidence that a clock’s hands always seem to move after you’ve removed your gaze from them. It’s after you stop looking that time decides to move forward.

    Again my name is called, more urgently; I realize that again I’ve allowed my mind to wander. I leave my room and grab a coat; my mother assures me that it is cold outside. As we enter the hallway I stare out the windows before me; there is no white world beyond the glass, the fog is not rolling in. Only the bright morning Sun rising in the East and the urban metropolis of Chicago spreading out before me.

    I glace back down the hallway, the opposite direction as we are going, and see the doorway that leads up to the rooftop. The door that I can never reach in my dream. I begin to wonder what would happen if I tried to reach the door here, in this reality that I had found myself. Would the hallway continue to stretch before me infinitely? Or would I reach the rooftop to find that no one was there waiting for me?

    Within seconds we were at the elevator and heading down toward the lobby of our building. The tune that played through the elevator’s speakers sounded odd to me, it always had. Simply chords playing repeatedly in a half-hearted attempt at providing some sort of ambiance to the short trip in the lift. After a few moments of listening to the same tune loop itself tirelessly in a sort of metric dance that only the participants recognized, the doors slid open and I found myself in a tiny lobby. The door man stood behind a window, bars covered the glass. I wondered what he had to be afraid of. What he needed the bars to keep out. With a sideways glance toward the small booth we step out into the morning air and head toward the psychiatrists office.

    In what feels like an instant, I’m sitting in the same seat that I find myself three times a week. The office is lavishly furnished; the seats are all leather, the desk carved from mahogany. The walls are lined with paintings and various ink blots; and along the far wall is a bookshelf that is filled entirely with heavy looking texts on various topics of psychological study.

    “And how are you today, young man?” He asks me with a kind grin. He doesn’t feel me, though; I’m much too smart for that. He wears the same grin with all his patients. He cares no more for me than for any of them, and if I were to guess, I would say that he has become annoyed with my apparent lack of a breakthrough.

    “I’m fine.” I tell him curtly. I’ve grown weary of such discussions, and if there is anything predictable in this world it is the pattern that had developed in my sessions with the doctor sitting across the desk from me.

    He smiles again, he too seems to have predicted the pattern that would soon present itself. The only difference being that he saw things from his own point-of-view, meaning that he predicted my answers the same way that I foresaw his questions. I realize then and there that if we were more concerned with actually conversing with one another, we may be able to point out the pattern and address the problems that come with it. I smirk to myself at the revelation and decide to stay quiet.

    He stands and begins the usual trek around the room; looking at various paintings as if he isn’t aware of the reason I had come that day. “You are still having that dream, then?” He asks me the question though he knows the answer. I simply nod in reply. “Why do you think that is?”

    I scoff inwardly. My parents pay for his counsel, yet he asks me to answer my own questions. “I don’t know,” I reply, “I was hoping that maybe you could tell me.” He realizes that it was a roundabout way of telling him I don’t care for his games, but still the smile plays across his lips. Heaven forbid that he should ever frown.

    “I would say that you are looking for something, obviously. You aren’t aware of what it is, which is why you can’t seem to reach the door.” He tells me this news as if it is a sufficient answer, but it is far from being sufficient.

    I clear my throat slightly, “how can I search for something if I’m not aware it’s missing?” I ask him, “and what of the other aspects of the dream?”

    “Do you have a better solution?” His question infuriates me. Again he tries to bait me into answering my own question. My mind was not a fill in the blank puzzle; I couldn’t possibly know the answer. Then again, maybe I did have a better solution. I tell him of my questions from the morning. The doubts as to whether or not anything I see or feel is real. His ears perk up slightly at this new discussion; despite himself he gets excited by this break in the pattern.

    “How can you define what is real, doctor?” I ask, hoping that I’ve poised a question to which he has no answer.

    “You are beginning to feel that this dream is your reality? Then what do you make of this? Is this world, your mother and father, myself; are we all fabrications of your imaginations while you dream within your dream?” He responds. He raises a valid point, I suppose. But I take solace in the fact that he has no answer for my query.

    I decide that I don’t feel like answering his question directly and instead imitate him; deciding to answer with a question of my own. “Was it not Poe who said: ‘everything that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream’?”

    He seems to enjoy this answer, taking his seat across from me once again. “There are some who would argue Poe’s state of mind. You also speak of the man who questioned whether madness was the sublimity of intellect.” He responds with a thoughtful smirk.

    “And he is yet to be disproven,” I point out. “If you believe me to be losing my grip with reality, then what do you suggest I do about it?” I ask, abandoning the hopeless battle that would soon begin between him and I on the subject of madness.

    He thinks for a moment. “How did you get here?” He asks me, rather abruptly.

    Slightly taken aback I respond, “we walked, as per usual.”

    He smiles thoughtfully, “and do you remember this walk?”

    For a moment I cannot answer. Then, after a moment, I reply, “nothing much to remember.” It’s an obvious enough answer; but I don’t want to openly admit that I’d forgotten.

    “I would like you to do two things for me. Firstly: I would like you to journal every hour of your days. Tell me, in detail, what happens from one hour to the next.” I nod, still perturbed by my lapse of memory, “Secondly: I would like you to find what you are looking for in your dream. It may help you re-enter reality. People who’ve gone through what you’ve gone through often have trouble keeping touch with reality; this is normal.”

    It is my turn to perk up my ears, “what I’ve gone through?” For a moment his eyes look guilty, as if he’s revealed something that he had sworn to secrecy. He quickly glances around for an escape, and he finds one easy enough.

    “Ah, here.” He grabs a piece of paper and scribbles vigorously upon its surface, he hands me a prescription for some medication. “I would like you to take one of these before you go to sleep.” I nod and take the paper as he hurries me out the door before I can bring up the topic again.

    That night was the first time my dream was different.

    I wake up in the room that isn’t mine, I stretch and dress and go through the usual routines of waking up in the dream world. My shirt is still threadbare, still lacking any warmth that would be so welcomed in the stone room. I wait patiently for the door to open, as I always do, only this time I can hear footsteps in the hallway.

    This isn’t normal; I think to myself, I am always alone in this place. The door opens when the footsteps stop, right outside of my door. Standing at the threshold is a man I’ve never seen before, wearing a gray, military uniform. He takes me roughly by the arm and toward the door that leads to the roof. I immediately notice that the door is getting closer, and for a moment I believe that this man is who I am supposed to meet; fed up of waiting for me to come to him, and so instead he comes to me.

    Only when he turns me sharply into a door on the left and slams it shut behind me do I realize that this meeting isn’t the one I am scheduled to have. I turn toward the door and wait for it to open, patiently, but I quickly notice the sound of another’s breath in the room. I turn around and see a man sitting at a table. A steel table set in the middle of the room with two chairs on either side of it. The room itself is another stone room without any windows. The only source of light in the room was a single, naked bulb that hung from the ceiling.

    “Please, have a seat, son.” The man is dressed similarly to the other, only his uniform is gaudier, more elaborate. I deduce the man is of higher standing than the one who brought me here. I listen to him and sit down, not wanting to upset his apparent good mood.

    He stares at me for a few moments, tearing into me with his gaze as he tries to sum me up. I don’t think that it is as easy as he assumed it would be. Finally he speaks, causing me to jump slightly in my cold, steel chair.

    “Can you tell me your name, boy?” He asks me with a tone that suggests he knows the answer already.

    I open my mouth and inhale to reply, when the words die on my tongue. It had been so clear a moment ago, hadn’t it? My name was floating around my memories somewhere, I was sure, but I couldn’t call it to my mouth, couldn’t form the sounds to relay to the man. Instead I tell him, “no, I cannot.”

    “I didn’t think so,” is all he replies for a second or two while he scribbles notes onto a yellow pad in front of him. “Your name is Lawrence T. Redding. Do you remember that, now?”

    The words are foreign to me, the name utterly unfamiliar. If that is my name, it is the first time I have ever heard it spoken aloud. I shake my head, deciding that the truth is a better choice than an obvious lie. He undoubtedly could see on my face that there is no recognition for the name he has spoken.

    He leans back in his chair; to me it appears that he’s debating whether continuing the questioning would be a waste of time. Though I am only half paying attention, the other half of my mind wondering, frantically, how this stranger could know my name when I myself had no recollection of it at all.

    “The last several nights,” he begins slowly, calculatingly, to see my reactions, “we have found you lying asleep in the hallway. Can you tell me what you are doing out of your room?” He waits patiently for an answer while I wrap my head around what he means.

    I sit stupefied for a moment; the logic of reality forcing itself into my dream. I realize that this is the same dream, but simultaneously, I doubt that this really is a dream. After all, now there are other people here, in this place. They know about the previous nights that I was trying to get to the roof. “I was trying to reach the roof.” I answer in synchronization with my thoughts.

    The man across from me leans forward, “for what purpose?” He is close enough now that I can feel his breath on my face.

    “There’s someone I have to meet.”

    “Who is waiting for you?”

    “I don’t know.” Despite the fact that it sounds like a lie, it is the truth. I hope that the man across from me knows that I’m not deceiving him.

    He leans back in his seat, considering for a moment. Apparently he decides that I’m not lying, or he figures that I won’t tell him the truth. Instead he asks a new question, “then who opens your door for you each night?”

    I think back to the previous nights. I stop and correct myself; the previous dreams. “This is the first time I’ve seen anyone else.” I realize now that he isn’t going to believe my answers for long; not when they all seem like lies, even to me.

    “Mister Redding,” he begins with a deep breath, “you don’t seem to understand. Whoever is helping you out of your room isn’t doing you any good. Someone in your situation is a danger to themselves and others; you need time to heal after what you’ve been through. Now who is waiting for you?” He begins to get frustrated, but my mind is stuck fast to his words.

    “What I’ve been through?” I ask aloud, my mind snapping back to my appointment with my psychiatrist, in the other world. The real world, I correct myself again. For the first time I really look at the man’s face. Why does it look so familiar? I begin breathing heavily; I can’t seem to focus my eyes on anything. The light feels cold and seems to grow brighter. The man across from me starts to shout out the door, but I don’t hear him.

    My eyes close, I need to block the light from the naked bulb; when I open them again I’m sitting in the psychiatrist’s office. The walls covered by the same pictures and Rorschach tests as always.

    “This is most troubling,” he begins, as if I have been sitting in his office all along. I don’t understand what’s happening, my eyes dart around the room. I notice that he’s holding something in his hands; it appears to be a journal of some kind. “Your memory lapses are worse than I could have imagined.” He shakes his hand and sets the book down on his desk, still open. I look at the pages; each one is clearly labeled for dates and times, but most of them are completely blank or filled in with a single sentence. I know that this is the journal he asked me to keep of my hourly activities.

    For the first time he actually looks at me, and he sees my perplexed look. He sits down quickly, on his desk directly in front of me. “Lawrence,” he says trying to get me to focus on his face, I look and see a glint of familiarity in his eyes for a moment, “Lawrence,” he repeats, “how did you get here?” He asks me though he knows the answer already.

    “I don’t know,” my voice sounds shallow and distant, my throat is dry and the words seem to catch before they can come out of my mouth. I continue to look around, I try to stand up and remain seated at the same time.

    “It’s getting worse,” he says to himself as he tries to calm me down. He grabs a syringe on his desk and holds my arm still as he injects the fluid into my bloodstream. “Lawrence, focus, look at me.”

    I see his face and it becomes distorted momentarily. My eyes are struggling with the added strain of the drugs in my system. My brain functions begin to slow, as does my heart rate. I am calm once again. The doctor’s face is familiar to me, but not simply because it is the face of my doctor. It’s his face; the man in the military uniform from the other world. The dream world, I tell myself again; only this time I am unsure whether I have corrected myself or deluded myself.

    “You are,” I start to say, looking into his eyes, “you are the man from my dream. But if you’re here,” my brain strains to think clearly with the sedative trying to sap my consciousness away, “are you real and he is the dream? Or are you the dream and he is real?”

    Consciousness is quickly fading, and for a brief second before I lose it completely, I see double. Two of him stand over me. And just as I can’t decide whether the doctor or the soldier are real, I can’t be sure which of the two I see are real. Then darkness takes me in its embrace.
    I wake up on a cold steel table in the other world. My mind strains to make sense of everything that’s happening. Will I never have a restful sleep again? Will I forever be tossed between one world and the next?

    The same naked bulb shines brightly in my face, hanging above where I’m lying. I take a deep breath and try to rub my eyes; it’s then that I notice my arms are strapped down. I try to move my legs and discover the same has been done to them.

    “Where am I!?” I shout to get someone’s attention. “I just want to wake up! Let me wake up!” I scream as loud as I can, my voice resonating off of the stone walls. “Whether it’s one dream or another, I can’t wake up.” It comes out as hardly more than a whisper, I try to fight back sobs with little success.

    “I see you’re awake now, Mister Redding.” The man from before speaks, but he stands out of my line of sight. He sounds weary and downtrodden, “are we going to go through this again?” He asks me as if we’ve spoken dozens of times.

    “Why am I strapped down?”

    “You get too excited, Mister Redding, too excited. We’ve been through this many times.”

    “What are you talking about!? I’ve only spoken with you once before! Once!” I feel my chest rise and fall with hurried breaths; claustrophobia begins to set in from my confinement. I need to be able to move.

    He enters my line of sight and stands above me, “how could you forget our previous sessions? We’ve spoken many times, Mister Redding. Every time you’ve acted out, so now we are taking precautionary measures.”

    This settles it, I decide. This world is the dream, it has to be. I’ve arrived in the middle of it, but for me it’s the beginning. I remember the room with the psychiatrist. Sitting in his office but not remembering how I arrived. I had arrived in the middle of that world too. My memory is groggy and my mind is reeling. A few minutes in one world is days in the other?

    “But which one is real?” I ask aloud. Looking up at the man, I see my psychiatrist standing above me. No, not my psychiatrist, they just share the same face. But who is real and who is the imposter?

    He sighs and sits down, out of my sight again, but I feel him nearby. “Are you still so deluded to reality?” It’s a question that he doesn’t expect me to answer. “Has it really fractured your mind this much?”

    “What? What happened? Tell me where I am!” I have moved beyond asking and start to demand answers. He seems inclined to give them.

    “Mister Redding, six months ago you were driving home with your sister after a party. You swerved off the road and crashed. She didn’t make it.” He pauses for a moment while I absorb his words, “you didn’t take it very well.”

    “It,” I begin, but I find myself unsure that the next words from my mouth are true, “it’s a lie! I… I’m still living at home, with my parents. I go to a psychiatrist because of… something that happened to me.”

    Suddenly he’s there again, in my line of sight, but he’s not dressed in military garb any longer. Now he appears exactly as my psychiatrist does; the same inviting smile on his face. “Are you positive?”

    I jerk awake, covered in a cold sweat. It was nothing, nothing but a dream. I get out of bed and move into the kitchen; my parents are out of bed and waiting for me. “I had the most bizarre-“ my words die on my tongue. Mother and father both are dressed in military uniforms, gray as the walls that surround them.

    “Son, you’re late for your appointment.” They say the words in unison and I turn, screaming and running as fast as I possibly can. Nothing feels real anymore, and I know that nothing ever will until I meet the person waiting for me on the roof.

    I see the door; my psychiatrist and the military man both beckon me toward it. They know that I need to face what’s on the other side of the door. They know I need to climb the stairs. I hear their voices in my ears, but they speak gibberish and it hurts my brain to listen.

    I shove through the door and all at once it becomes nearly silent, nothing but the sound of the breeze. There’s a girl standing on the ledge, looking at me with yellow hair and a smile.

    “Hello, Lawrence.” She says as if speaking to an old friend.

    “I know your face,” I say, dumbfounded, “but I don’t remember you.”

    “I’m your sister, Lawrence, it’s me. It’s Silvia.” At the mention of her name I remember her all at once.

    “Silvia, are you,” I hesitate, “are you real?” The question sounds stupid to me, but she only smiles sadly.

    “I don’t know. I think I’m dead, Lawrence. I don’t remember anything. But that’s not important, I’m here to help you.”

    “I don’t know where I am, or how I got here. I don’t even know if this is really happening. I don’t know what’s real anymore, Silvia. Maybe I never did.”

    “That’s why I’m here to help you, Lawrence. You need to wake up.”



    Suddenly I’m standing on the ledge with her, holding her hand and looking down several stories. I should be frightened, but I’m more afraid of what lies behind me, back down the stairs.

    I hear sirens all around me. “They’re coming to stop you, Lawrence. You need to hurry.”

    Without hesitation I leap off the building, and all at once the fall becomes my reality. Soon it’ll all be over and everything will be clear once again. Soon I’ll either be awake, or my eyes will never open again.
    #1 Chadwyck, Feb 23, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 19, 2013
  2. I have a theory that this Lawrence has the ability to travel through different worlds, different multiverses. That is why everything seems to clear to the members in those 'dreams,' but everything is fuzzy to Lawrence because of his travels.

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