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The Dream Slaves

by Julie Wornan

The forgotten dream followed him about all day like an aroma. This was not unusual. James seldom remembered his dreams, but their elusive “fragrance,” or atmosphere, would often linger just below memory’s radar, a source of comfort and calm.

However, what happened at 3:12 pm that day was unusual. Strolling past an alleyway in the remote, time-forgotten village he had chosen for this much-needed vacation, James was overtaken by a sudden recurrence of his dream, like dèjà vu. It faded as he walked on. On a hunch, he turned and retraced his steps. There at the mouth of the narrow street, the dream settled on him again; something between a memory and an illusion, it was mystical, exhilarating — and unmistakably his.

“Atlast Dream Commerce & Fabrik” read a hand-painted sign over a door several houses down. The house was a faded pinkish color, its dark green shutters closed. The bell was marked simply “G. Atlast.” The man who answered it, squinting in the sunlight, had a bushy moustache and a warm smile. He spoke in quaint, accented English as he held out his hand: “George Atlast, at your service.”

“I think you’ve taken my dream,” stammered James. “That is... this morning I lost a dream... but I found it again here...”

“Was that dream yours, then?” smiled Mr Atlast. “So lovely! With a scent of lilac. If I deprived you, I am sorry.” He sounded sympathetic but not contrite. The dream had vanished.

“If you please, I would like my dream back,” James murmured.

“I am so sorry,” said Mr Atlast softly, “but it is mine now. No, do not protest! Please reflect that no statute of intellectual property applies to dreams. And even so” — his blue eyes twinkled — “can you prove that you are the dream’s author? Never did you lose a dream before?”

“Often,” admitted James. “But I never found them again. Until now. Are you saying ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’?”

“Oh please don’t take it harshly! You did well to come here. Please, sit down. Do you like lemonade?”

A small barefoot child appeared with a pitcher and two glasses, set them down and hurried off again without looking up. The drink was refreshing. James looked about. The room was simple but imaginatively decorated with local artifacts. Light filtered through the slatted wooden shutters. On an oak table against a wall stood a laptop computer and several things that may have been cameras, scanners, a stereogram; a 3D model of a medieval city shone from a glass cube, and from another stared a blue fish foetus with bulging eyes. Otherwise, the room was homey.

James relaxed. Atlast was explaining: “I deal in dreams. No illegal thing. Just pleasure. Look — here is our catalogue.”

Dreams, by the thousands, were classified by subject, emotion, intensity, anxiety coefficient, color theme, and length. There was a Nightmare category. “Some people do ask for these,” assured Atlast, “you would be surprised. The illustrations are only to give you an idea.” The images were enticing; the variety, impressive.

“Where do you get your — merchandise?” wondered James. “Do you steal it all?”

Atlast chuckled evasively. “You are a good dreamer. Maybe you work with me? No, I joke. You have already well-paid work. Don’t you?”

The question made James uncomfortable and he changed the subject. “And... the price?”

“Would you like to try one?” asked the merchant. “Just choose. I give you one minute free. You are romantic. That one, the cherry forest?”

Was it Atlast’s soft voice? James’ lids drooped. The dim room became a wood. A fairy emerged from behind a flowering tree and floated toward him — no, not a fairy but a beautiful young woman, warm, fragrant... And then he was awake. Atlast was smiling. “You liked that. Want the whole dream? Tonight? The price is marked here. It is not so much.”

James looked at the price sheet where Atlast’s finger pointed. Well... he needed some cheering up just now. Indulge, or regret? He signed.

The dream was not disappointing. And its memory lingered on. James felt much better than he had in a long time.

Until he got the bill. It was larger than expected by a factor of ten thousand.

Mr Atlast was sympathetic, but firm. “I am so sorry. But here you see the price list. You saw it already, it is the same. See, here it is marked ‘All prices are in tens of thousands’.

“Never mind,” Atlast murmured. “You can work for me. You are losing your job — no, don’t protest! You see, I know some things about you. I already employ several dreamers. Most are children. They live here. Children dream so vividly! and they do not require much. But I need a supply of adult dreams.

“Now, if you can give me, let us say, five dreams a week, you can make up your debt to me in, let’s see, nine years and seven months. You can dream here or in your home. Delivery immediate at source. Don’t worry, I will take care of that.” Atlast’s voice was soothing. The contract was ready. James sighed, and signed.

But he had not foreseen life without dreams — even the sort you forget in the morning. Life was all highways and supermarkets now, brutality and indifference, food without taste, light without color, night without relief. James was not sure he would survive the nearly ten-year sentence.

Only in rare moments did his starved imagination reach out in sympathy toward the barefoot little dream slaves...

Copyright © 2010 by Julie Wornan

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