Daniel led a dreary life, entering data into a computer at a small publishing company and coming home to a mother who suffered from a serious form of dementia, mostly unaware of her whereabouts and unable to communicate coherently. He would make his mum dinner in the evening and get her ready for bed at night, taking over from a solemn but well-meaning day carer – a middle-aged Nigerian woman with a round belly and swollen feet. During the reign of the old government, he and his mother would take their dream pills together and both slept well, lost in their own deep worlds of restful imagination. The dreams were always vivid and allowed them to sleep serenely.
Now though, Daniel had to face the prospect of his mother’s illness getting out of hand because a new government had seized power and banned the dream pills altogether. He had to find an alternative way to dream, and fast, because he didn’t want his mother to be taken to a home, where god knows what might happen to her under the new regime. His own state of mind was becoming strained too from night after night of restless, dreamless sleep. It seemed his mind had become too used to the pills and without them he couldn’t function. He was even beginning to have violent thoughts – towards his co-workers, his carer and even his helpless mother.
Daniel knew some people in the office were beginning to have ideas about obtaining some illegal drugs – pills that could perhaps give them some kind of peace of mind. Daniel was convinced phone numbers were being secretly exchanged, while a new recruit in the office, called Jeremy, seemed to lurk around every corner. Daniel suspected he could be a possible spy for the new government yet he knew he could just be entangled in paranoid thoughts created by his desperate state.
Daniel decided to confront Matt from the design area of the publishing company. He believed Matt knew where to get some pills. It was a hunch but it was based on something solid; since the dream pill ban came into effect, Matt had always maintained his poise, was never grouchy, had no tired eyes and was always productive at his job.
“Matt,” Daniel said, approaching him by the lift on the seventh floor, “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Yes?” Matt said, looking around to confirm they were alone.
“Well, it’s about dreams.”
“You know we can’t speak about that, Daniel.”
“I know, I know,” said Daniel, “but it’s my mother. She was already ill but now without the pills, she’s just…”
“Your mother?” said Matt, “What’s wrong with her?”
“Well…well she has dementia. It’s getting worse.”
“I don’t know what to say Daniel,” Matt said.
“Please help, Matt, for my mum if anything.”
Matt took a deep breath and waited a few seconds. He shook his head, and then jotted down a number rapidly on a crumpled piece of paper. “You didn’t get this from me.”
“Of course…thanks Matt, I really appreciate it.”
That night, after putting his mother to bed, he flopped onto the couch and turned on the television. The shows that had been made during the Dream Age had been taken off air and were now replaced by constant, intimidating adverts praising the new government and the new dream free times, labelling dreams as “Unnecessary” and “Dangerous.”
“Now people will experience reality as it really is,” one advert declared, “not life through rose-tinted spectacles. This can only be a good thing because who wants to live in a fake world where dreams cover up problems that should be dealt with directly?”
Daniel opened a bar of chocolate, bit off a chunk and laid the rest on his side table for later. He muted the television and he picked up the phone. Clutching the piece of paper Matt had given him, he dialled the number. The phone rang a few times and then finally a scratchy voice droned down the line.
“Yes?” the voice said.
“Hello,” Daniel said, nervously.
“What do you want?”
‘Well, I’ve been told to phone you if I want some dream pills.’
“Yes,” the man said after a beat, “I can do that for you but we can’t speak on the phone. Meet me in Willesden Green at the Fox and Hare tonight at eleven on the dot.”
“Yes, ok,” Daniel said.
“I have no time for messing around. Be there or I’ll never speak to you or deal with you again
“I won’t mess you around. I just need some pills, desperately.”
“Everyone’s desperate,” the voice said, “you’re not alone there.”
The Fox and Hare was a pub on the corner of two dead end streets, sheltered by overgrown oak trees that gently moved in the breeze, tapping against the tavern’s second floor windows. The pub was long and thin with a bar that could seat up to twenty people. Last orders had just been called and Daniel was seated at the far end of the bar drinking a diet coke with his shoulders hunched, betraying his desire to be unseen.
A tall man with a brown leather bomber jacket approached the front door of the establishment; he was South Asian and looked out of place amongst the older, white working-class crowd in the pub. It didn’t take him long for him to suss who Daniel was and with his eyes he directed Daniel to leave the building.
Underneath one of the drowsing oak trees the two men stood speechless.
“Well, I haven’t got all day,” said the dealer, breaking the silence. “I’m Anish and we’re going to need to trust each other because, if I’m not mistaken, this won’t be a short-term deal. You’re going to need drugs regularly, otherwise there’s no point. The pills I’ve got are different from the previous regime’s. My pills will provide dreams, but not always, I can’t give guarantees – but this is as good as it gets.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“That’s your problem. I suggest you take the pills and see for yourself.”
“Ok, ok,” Daniel said, “how many can I get now and how much will it cost?”
“It’s £200 for 10 pills. And remember these are underground drugs – you’ll have to get used to them. But you’ll be ok, don’t worry,” Anish said, revealing a winning, gold-toothed smile.
That night Daniel took an illegal dream pill and crushed it up into bits and put it in his mum’s food so she would eat it without protest. The pill was slightly smaller than the original legal dream pills and had a dark yellow colour. They had a bitter taste and dissolved fast, leaving a powdery mark on the tongue.
That night Daniel had a vivid dream only to be woken by his mother who was howling out of her bedroom window. Initially the yells were incorporated into his own dream, which was about Jeremy from his office. Jeremy was printing off some material from the photocopying machine, but at closer inspection the pages were blank sheets of A4 paper. Then Daniel felt the need to hide and he crawled under a desk; but he sensed Jeremy was looking for him and that’s when Daniel began to scream and then woke up to his mother’s noise. So, the first dreams the illegal pills had given him and his mother were nightmares, something that never happened under the old regime.
The next night Daniel decided to continue with the course of pills he had bought in the hope they would provide more positive dreams instead of the previous night’s horror. Maybe their potency would increase and more positive effects would manifest themselves, he thought.
That night he tucked his mum into bed and she was strangely peaceful. Daniel had crushed the pill up and sprinkled it into her food again. She rolled onto her side as Daniel left the room and began to snore softly. He drew the door to, leaving it slightly ajar and said a little prayer that she would be alright that night. Even though he wasn’t religious he did believe in the power of thought, a theory he had gained from his experience with dreams and how they could affect one’s psyche. And if anything was certain about dreams it was that they were a form of thought that could impact on someone’s state of mind and therefore the course of one’s life.
There were no howls from Daniel’s mother that night but no dreams for him either. Anish’s drugs seemed to have pacified his mother and covered Daniel with a toxic calm, the only side effect being a nasty taste on the tongue. Daniel caught his mother trying to rinse away the taste by gargling tap water in the morning, but of course she didn’t know why and accepted it as part of her disjointed reality.
The pills ran out in under a week. Daniel couldn’t deny they had an effect – his mother hadn’t been so stable in months, but they weren’t creating dreams, or nightmares for that matter, so he decided to arrange another meeting with Anish.
Anish turned up late and seemed shifty.
“You’re not happy with my product,” he said defensively.
“I don’t mean to disrespect you Anish. The pills have worked wonders for my mum. But it’s just I need to dream badly and your pills just aren’t doing it.”
“I don’t have to do this,” Anish said, “It’s my neck on the line.”
“I understand that,” Daniel said, “I really do. But do you have anything else I can try. I’ll pay.”
“I have another type of pill, yes. It’s new though and untested. You would be a guinea pig as it were. I’m not going to lie, it could be dangerous, but on the other hand it could be exactly what you’re looking for.”
“Ok,” Daniel said, “Ok, I’ll do it. I’ll take some of the old pills for my mum and the new ones for me.”
After putting his mother to bed that night he took the new pill and fell asleep in front of the TV, tiredness having crept over him unexpectedly. That night he dreamed. And it was good. In the dream he flew above the streets and houses of his neighbourhood and then he glided over unknown rivers and mountains. He felt elated and the dream seemed to last forever – a glorious time spent in the air.
For the next five days Daniel slept at night exploring the different backdrops of his dream worlds. In waking life, he was alert and fresh and found humour in existence again.
It was during this period that Jeremy asked Daniel where he could get some dream pills.
“I can tell you’re on something,” Jeremy said, “Everyone can. You’re in such a good mood and everyone else is tearing their hair out.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Daniel said, “I wouldn’t go against the new regime. I’m not that stupid.”
“Please,” Jeremy said, grabbing hold of Daniel’s shoulder. “I’m desperate to dream. Without dreaming I feel like I’m nobody. And not only that, my Dad is losing his mind. He’s getting old but that’s not the only reason. Please help me.”
Daniel took a second to think. “Ok. Ok, I’m going to give you a number, but keep it quiet, right?”
Daniel was placed inside a minimum-security prison, charged with buying illegal dream pills and the attempt to “dream at the expense of reality.” The prison housed over one hundred inmates, all in an agitated state of dreamlessness – unable to sleep, tortured by the light.
Daniel suffered as much as anyone. He felt the urge to dream keenly, and his imagination ran wild about what could have happened to his mother.
He’d gone three months without dreaming when he met Randall, a burly, bald-headed man, with a beefy chest and powerful arms. His commanding gaze marked him out as someone not to be messed with. He was fresh and composed and you could tell he was a dreamer. One day he drew Daniel aside and said,
“I have something I can see you need, something we all need in here. I’m here to tell you there’s help. The old regime is fighting back. There’s a strong army of soldiers who are turning against dreamlessness. We have our own spies and infiltrators. It’s a war and we’re going to win.”
Daniel stared out the window, unmoved by Randall’s rousing speech.
“Look,” Daniel said, feeling as if his skin was dropping off his body with tiredness, “I just need some pills, anything please.”
“I have some. But I warn you they’re strong. You have to take them with care. I’ll give you a few days’ worth and then we’ll take it from there. Who knows what the political situation will be like in that time.”
Later that night Daniel lay on his bed, a blue sickle moon illuminating the bed sheets, the folds creating thick shadows. He could hear the restless movements of the other inmates in his ward. They tossed and turned in their beds that creaked as the springs in their mattresses shifted.
Randall’s pills were as small as a lentil, red, with an imprint of the letter H on its surface, perhaps indicating the name of the opposition government leader – Hoffman.
Daniel emptied out all the pills from their bag and laid them on his lap. He swallowed them one by one, almost in tears so desperate was he to dream and keep dreaming. Each pill he took got stuck in his throat and he had to continuously gather more and more saliva in his mouth to keep on ingesting. He began to froth at the mouth and within minutes he passed out and began to dream. He was flying again. He escaped through the barred windows of the prison, soon finding himself floating in the night sky amongst the flashing stars.
The next morning Daniel was still dreaming, even though he had been woken by a warden for his breakfast. He was dreaming and yet was aware of everyday life. He was in an altered state of consciousness and despite being imprisoned, he now felt invigorated and free.
After weeks of constant dreaming, he was hauled in front of the governor of the prison – a tall gangly man clutching a fountain pen, jotting notes as he spoke, and bobbing his head from side to side as he made each entry into his pad.
“I see that you’ve found some sleeping pills,” the governor said, scribbling away. “I can see it in your eyes for god’s sake, man.”
Daniel could hear his governor’s voice but was surrounded in his mind by a soothing golden light that made him unafraid of his interlocutor.
“So, what can we do with you then?” the governor said, finally releasing his pen and standing, all six foot six of him. He began to pace. “I can only respond with the most severe action. You’re going to the hole and trust me you won’t find any pills there.”
Daniel was thrown into a one-man cell – hot and dark and teeming with cockroaches. But still he was sheltered by his persistent dreams and no amount of discomfort seemed to disturb him.
However, it wasn’t long before he was released. A riot had erupted in the main prison and someone from B Wing had found the keys to his cell and set him free. It was Randall.
“This is it,” said Randall, “the rebellion has started and it’s spreading across town and into the country. The current regime won’t be in power for long. Go home.”
In Daniel’s half-dreaming half-waking state, he found it hard to follow what Randall was saying but he knew he had to find his way back to his flat and discover what had happened to his mother. He exited through the front door of the prison, along with a stream of other inmates. He was dressed in rags but he felt clean and neat as if he’d taken a long bath filled with salts and perfumes.
When he reached home the key he’d placed under the flower pot by the window sill was still there and he entered his house unopposed. He searched hopefully for his mother, but to no avail. He flicked on the TV and switched it to the news channel. There were shots of helicopters ranging across the city showing looters ransacking shops and smashing cars. Police in army gear repelled angry crowds. It was really happening. The new regime would be toppled, Daniel thought to himself, and he felt his heart expand and his consciousness inflate into a gigantic force that enfolded the universe. All he needed now was to ensure the safety of his mother.
He phoned the local council but there was only a constant, dull engaged tone at the end of the line. He tried a few other numbers from the phone book, but he couldn’t get through. Finally, he got in contact with a secretary of the area’s MP.
“I’m sorry,” the secretary said, “everything’s gone haywire. I don’t know which way is what. It’s wild out there, we might have to evacuate the building. I really can’t help you.”
“Please, can you just look up a name for me or give me a number. It’s my mother I don’t know what’s happened to her. Please, please.”
The secretary gave an audible sigh, then said, “Quickly, what’s the surname?”
“Runyan. Margaret Runyan is her name.”
“I’m putting you through to the Brent home care service. It’s more than likely she’s been sent there, if anywhere.”
Daniel waited and waited, listening to the jangly sounds of the muzak being pumped down the line. Finally, a voice. After a brief interaction the person on the phone said, “I’m afraid Mrs Runyan died three weeks ago. She was very ill; the lack of dream pills really exacerbated her state of mind. In the end there was just no helping her. I’m terribly sorry but I have to go, there are people banging against the doors.”
Daniel was immediately snapped out of his dream state and was cast in darkness. He sat still, not moving a muscle for an hour – only the murmur of the 24-hour news service to comfort him. He then dragged himself into his mother’s room and took a seat on her bed. He felt the indentation marks her body had made on the mattress. He then opened the window and watched neighbours rushing into the street, savouring the victory of the old regime regaining power.
Instead of joining in with their jubilation he let out a guttural cry, straining his vocal cords, almost shaking the walls. No one noticed. He felt a surge of relief and then the urge to jump out of the window and end it all. But he couldn’t do it. Not this time.