You sit on a large rock as the sea churns around you. The tips of your long, dark hair are immersed in the water. Your white dress is perfectly arranged. There is a small, round box placed in front of you. Hearing footsteps approaching the water’s edge, you utter your line just loudly enough to be heard.
‘So you have come to change your fate.’
The footsteps stop. You stand up, picking up the box as you do so. Slowly, you make your way through the water towards the shore. Your pace and posture have to be perfect. Your client, a man in his thirties, stares as you reach him. You hold out the box and he hesitates before taking it. It’s only then that you begin to fade away until all that remains is a man standing barefoot on the sand with the possibility of a new future in his hands.
You wake up feeling a little light-headed. The previous night’s job was your first and you wonder if you did well. Whether or not the client ends up changing something in his life when he wakes up is up to him. Your job last night was simply to provide all the necessary signs. It was a simple task meant to ease you into the business.
The light-headedness persists and your fingertips tingle slightly.
I should probably ask about it at the next briefing.
Part of you finds it difficult to adjust to your surroundings despite their familiarity. The dream world felt more real than any dream you’d ever experienced. Perhaps it was because it belonged to someone else. After several minutes you feel stable enough to get out of bed and prepare for your meeting.
You still remember the strange flyer that found its way to your table, tucked beneath a bowl of instant noodles. You never figured out how it got there. Sometimes you found yourself thinking that it was fate. It was typed on pale grey paper with a few illustrations of clouds on it. The simple, bold text caught your attention.
‘Dreamcast: Bringing life to dreams.’
Beneath it was a call for new hires, and a phone number. You sighed.
It’s probably another one of those scams.
Of course, you ended up calling the number anyway. You needed the money, after all. A month later you were hired as one of the company’s actors.
After the briefing for your next job you make your way back to your room. Surprisingly, accommodation was provided next to the main company building. Your next job would be much more complicated than the first. You would be required to play the role of the dreamer’s non-existent daughter in order to provide them with an escape from their daily life for a few nights.
Dreamcast employees were only able to play the roles of people that the dreamer had never seen in real life, be they the mysterious, unknown figure you played during your first job or a person that only existed in the dreamer’s mind.
On the way to your room you bump into a fellow actor.
He doesn’t even look up; pushing past you instead. He seems unsteady on his feet.
When you’re curled up on your bed that night you remember the light-headedness from this morning. You never found the chance to bring it up.
I’ll ask about it next time if I need to.
Hopefully tonight will go well.
It’s been eight months since you started this job.
You sit at your desk and pick at your supper, trying to recall the last time you were able to taste real food. You look down at bandages on your arm with blurred vision. According to the medical staff the gash you received during a recent fall had gotten infected. You barely felt it.
The actor you bumped into months ago has stopped leaving his room altogether, although you’ve seen a member of staff checking in on him several times a day. You realise that you’ve never heard his voice, nor the voices of any of the other senior employees. The higher up they are in the company, the more they seem to disappear until they are assigned a caretaker to ensure that they never have to go out.
Why didn’t I notice sooner?
You should have realised it when your senses first started to diminish ever so slightly with every job. Your manager simply shrugged it off.
‘It’s probably just stress. This job tends to take a lot out of our employees, but you should be fine if you get enough rest.’
You should have realised it when every dive into your clients’ dream worlds began to feel increasingly real.
You should have realised it when, despite some of your recent roles being uncomfortable almost to the point of being grotesque, you felt more grounded in someone else’s mind than you did in your own.
You should have realised it when you tried to voice your concerns and found that all you could do was whisper.
You sigh and make your way to bed. Tonight’s role is an especially difficult one usually reserved for those with more experience.
It’s too late to go back now.
You are lying on a tiled floor. It’s too dark to see much, but you can feel the searing pain in your abdomen and the blood soaking your dress. You wonder why some clients feel the need to request a complete stranger to kill in their dreams. You suppose that it’s cathartic.
When you wake up you can barely feel the bed beneath you, and everything is deathly quiet. You can just make out the blurred silhouette of a figure sitting on the edge of your bed. You try to say something, but nothing comes out. It’s only then that you notice the shape of what appears to be a drip hanging next to you. Feeling disorientated, you decide not to move your head any more than necessary.
The figure makes their way towards you and reaches a hand towards your face. You feel yourself drifting off to sleep once more. You panic as you recall all the other employees you’d seen vanish from the hallways.
Please, let me wake up…
How long has it been since you entered this place? You can barely remember the last time you existed beyond your roles; a wanderer led from dream to dream. Sometimes the roles are simple, whilst other times you end up emotionally drained or dead. You’ve been dying more deaths recently.
You know that even if you wake up you will never truly be able to go back. Your senses and your voice are already held too tightly within this surreal world. Sometimes you bump into others like you and spend hours talking about your lives in the real world. After some time these conversations shift to discussing life in various dreams instead.
You tell each other about your other selves; the ones that embody the wishes of those who would rather live with their eyes closed. Perhaps one day you will all fade away into the depths of this intangible world, never to be seen again.
Maybe that’s the only way…
Aaliyah Cassim is a twenty-one-year-old university student.