For my creative writing class, I had to write a short story this week. Now, I’ve always been the type of person to write plays or full length stories, so this assignment was not easy. The word count for this story was capped at 1,400 words, but unfortunately, I surpassed that by quite a bit.
I am actually very proud of this story, even though there are many flaws which I need to address in the future. Any thoughts, criticism, opinions, or otherwise are more than welcome for this story.
(Author’s note: this is fairly lengthy for a short story, so be aware of the read before starting. Also, everything is indented because of the format I used for the academic work, so apologies if it seems off at times) Enjoy!
Imagine a mind so broken that even the slightest resemblance of reality scares easily enough to lock a person in there forever. I have spent my entire life designing a machine that betrays the very notion of possible science. When I was younger, my father, a doctor, used to preach about the importance of understanding the differences between functions of the brain and heart. He would lecture for hours while my sister and I would sit there and pretend to show interest. Who knew that I would one day understand, and the prime of my life would show great scientific advances in the study of dreams, the heart and mind, and how to differentiate between all of them? When I first took the idea in front of the Examiner’s Board, they scolded me for such insane ideas.
“Dr. Naping, we understand what it is you intend to accomplish, we simply do not agree with your methods.” the Director said with mild disdain in his tone.
“Do you understand the implications of this machine though?” I blurted out hastily.
Small murmurs of discontent were mumbled throughout the congregation of doctors before the Director spoke up again.
“We understand the implications, but we do not like them.”
I searched through my brain in an attempt to find the right words. How could they not understand? Throughout history, nobody has ever been able to do the things I can do. Anything, everything, all things are possible with my machine. Why can’t they understand that?
“I don’t understand. I have proved this machine works. I have proved that it does not harm the patient. What more do you want from me?”
The Director narrows his eyes, scrunches up his nose, and a small crease forms in his brow that gives the distinction of somebody about to discipline a small child. He stares intently into my eyes for a few moments before turning and mumbling a few words to the doctors around him. Small glances of hatred find their way to my eyes from some of the doctors as they nod and shake their heads in rhythm. I feel like I’m watching a cartoon filled with animated heads laughing at my idea. Vulnerability fills my mind as the doctors continue in hushed whispers for several more minutes. Finally, the Director stands up.
“Your machine, this,” the Director says as he lifts his clipboard and reads from it, “Oneirological Imaging Visualizer, is an ethical nightmare. We have all reviewed your findings from the machine and previous volunteers. Even though everything seems to function properly, we question the invasion of privacy, as well as the lack of patient consent. It says here that your patients must be under eighteen, so parental consent is viable, but it still brings up an ethical concern.”
I had already explained to him that the patient must be under eighteen because the frontal lobe of the brain will still be developing before that age. If an adult were to fully use this machine, the consequences would be so severe that the brain may never fully recover. But a child can potentially survive the side effects of such tampering. My eyes remain locked with the Director’s as he speaks.
“The intended patient, Preston Marcel Medona, has been an established patient in our hospital for more than six years. Now, I have never personally worked with the patient, but several of the doctors on the board have informed me of the boy’s condition, and what could happen should your machine not work. Let me be clear: if we agree to allow your experiment to take place, full responsibility of this machine, the effects, the consequences, and the legal ramifications will not only fall upon yourself, but this board, and everybody on it as well.”
The Director slows his speech down on the last few words, putting immense punctuality on each word, before finally taking a seat. He forms an arch with his fingers, sets them against his lips, and leans back in his chair. The next few seconds feel like an eternity. Each second passes with the same momentum of a full day. The Director looks at each board member for a few moments. Out of the eleven men and women sitting there, seven of them nod their head, while four of them abstain with looks of pure hatred.
The Director sighs, stands up, raises his arms out to the side like a falling angel, and says, “So be it. Do your experiment.”
I did it. I had won.
I tear through my notes like mad searching for the final pieces of the puzzle. I find the last piece of information I had written about the machine on a small piece of legal pad paper underneath the folder. I read it again just to be sure I have made the appropriate arrangements.
This machine will only work if the patient’s brain has stopped working at its normal speed and capacity. The mind will always function, but the brain will not. There is a proverbial saying about choosing between the heart and the mind. The mind is where our true choices lie. And where does the mind generate these choices? From the heart. That is why those in comas, those special cases where the brain is no longer active, will this machine work. My life’s goal to help those that mysteriously slip away from us will finally come to fruition.
Vigorously, I read through the paragraph a few more times, wiping a small tear from my eye. I had written that on the final day of testing and tweaking. The time has finally come when I get to prove what my life’s work is capable of doing, and to prove to the world that I am a forerunner in science and development. This young man needs help, and I’m going to be the one to help him. A small knock at my door yanks me back into reality, and I stand up, walk over to the door, and open it to find a small woman standing there.
Julie Medona, Preston’s mother, walks into the room. She is a small woman with long graying hair, large bags under her eyes, and a small limp. She walks into the room, shakes my hand, and immediately goes and sits next to her son. I have been in this room for several hours, just watching Preston breathe in and out. The movements of his chest were like a symphony of whispers slowly playing a dreadful tune that filled my head with sorrow. I wish I could say his breathing was almost mellifluous, but unfortunately it was like a bad taste in my mouth. The time had come.
“Mrs. Medona, welcome. I understand that you’re afraid, I really do, but I just want you to know that this is safe. Last time we spoke you asked me about the intrusion of delving into your child’s mind and uncovering those thoughts that are private to him. After a little bit of research, I have come to the conclusion that he will not reveal anything he does not want to reveal. Once I enter Preston’s mind, if my theory is correct, it will be very similar to holding a conversation in person. Even though his brain is no longer functioning, his mind is still connected to his heart, and that is where his true choices lie.”
She looks up at me with tears in her eyes, and I notice she squeezes Preston’s hand a little firmer. I cannot possibly know how she feels. Her husband had been dead for many years and her son slipped through her fingers without any explanation. A loss of this caliber has never happened in my life, so the thought of such a detrimental atrocity has never crossed my mind.
Mrs. Medona can see the look on my face, and small sense of sympathy creeps across her eyes. She nods her head in affirmation and looks back at her son.
“I will take these neural connectors,” I say as I hold them up in front of her, “and connect them to Preston’s temples. I ask that you make no contact with his body while this is taking place. This small screen next to me will hopefully show the interactions between myself and your son, much like a television show. Do not be afraid, and most of all, do not disconnect the neural pads or interfere with my body in any way.”
Again, she nods while never looking away from her son. The way she looks at him reminds me of newborn baby being placed in the arms of the mother for the first time. Pure passion fills her eyes, and every fiber of her being is put into extreme danger. I connect the pads, close my eyes, and drift off into a deep sleep.
A foul stench of rotting eggs fills my nostrils, and I make an effort to cover my nose and breathe only through my mouth. Before my eyes is a small bedroom containing a single bed, a minute dresser, and a large wooden table covered in various markings and symbols. At one end of the table sits a young man in a multi-colored set of pajamas. He looks up at me and smiles.
“Frederick? It actually worked? Your machine actually worked?”
Taken aback at the sound of my name, I recoil towards an invisible wall, tiny amounts of fear filling my mind.
“Who are you?” I manage to choke out in between staggered breaths.
“Dr. Naping, it’s me.”
Staring at the young man in confusion, I continue trying to back up, but I find myself running into thin air, unable to move.
“It’s me, Preston,” the young man blurts out confidently, “and if you’ll allow me to be cliché, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Pre…Preston? How do you know my name?”
The young man blinks a few times, and a coy smile appears on the boy’s lips. He begins chewing on a few fingernails, the noises reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. Every few moments, he spits a small nail out of his mouth, and then he looks back up at me.
“Well, that’s kind of a long story. Let’s see if I can summarize it for you.”
Preston takes his finger out of his mouth, looks up at the invisible ceiling like he is searching for something in the sky, and finally speaks again. “My mother is currently sitting next to me, holding my hand and crying. You’re currently asleep at the foot of my bed. And unless I’m mistaken, you’ve been waiting for this moment since your early years of high school. Sound right?”
I don’t understand. This young man is in a coma, and yet he was somehow able to relay information about the real world in this dream world. Was I missing something in my research?
“Doc, it’s fine. If anybody was going to figure this out, I thought it would be you. Come on, now. Just because I’m in a coma, it doesn’t mean I don’t hear and feel everything happening…” He breaks off and scrunches his face like a person lost in confusion. “Up there? Out there? Not here? Wherever your actual body is.”
I think for a moment before answering. “Oh. You can really tell what’s happening in the real world?”
Preston smirks. “Of course. And this place, it’s all in my mind, right?”
I never thought of it like that. Now that he conveys this message, it makes complete sense. There are old wives’ tales of patients in comas being able to hear music and spoken word aloud, and this only proves that it’s possible. Never in my lifetime did I ever dream anything like this was possible.
“So, Doc, you’ve come to ask me a question, right? I’ll go ahead and answer it. No, I don’t know why I’m here. No, I don’t know how to get out. No, I don’t know where this. My bedroom, maybe? I don’t know. I’ve been here for so long that I don’t know anything anymore.”
Feeling a definitive sense of comfort all of a sudden, I strike up the courage to approach the table. I sit down across from Preston, and he picks his nose with his index finger before pulling it out and flicking away the contents. Looking up at me, I can see now that he looks disheveled, exhausted, and depressed. What is making him like this?
“Preston, I am going to ask you something that you probably didn’t expect. I’ve a few theories on how to fix your predicament, but I’m not sure it’s possible.”
“Hit me, doc.”
“You don’t know where you are, nor why you’re here. But somewhere in the deeper recesses of your mind, you’ve created this place. This is a bedroom, obviously, but I’ve been in your house, and it looks nothing like your actual room.”
“What’s your point?” Preston asks with a small look of curiosity.
“My point is you created this place.”
Preston narrows his eyes. An eternity of silence fills the room, where in reality, it was only a few seconds before he spoke again.
“Perfect. So in this place that you’ve created, do you sleep?”
Again, another eternity of silence.
“In your sleep, do you dream?”
“Yes. What are you getting at, doc?”
I close my eyes, imagining what his mother once told me. During our first interview, Julie told me that Preston had a recurring nightmare as a child. A shadowy man would approach Preston, and in some shape or form, he would harm him. Shooting a gun, swinging a blunt object, crashing a boulder from the sky; all of these tragedies would happen to Preston in the dream.
“I want you to go to sleep. This time, however, you’re going to control what happens. You created this world. You made it. Since I can only assume we are in your mind right now, this also means that you have somehow created me.” I take a really deep breath. “Go to sleep, and create your dream. Allow me to join you. Create me in your dream. I know you’ve been haunted by a figure in your past, but in this dream, do not let the figure hurt you. Trust me. You’ve created this place, now create your dream.”
In an instant, the surroundings morph into a distorted static. I become lightheaded and dizzy as the shifting scenery twists and spirals into different shapes. A dazzling display of vivid colors fill my eyes before finally halting to a single scene on a hillside. A shadowy figure appears in the distance, dancing shades of black coalescing around the figure. Preston stands a few feet away from the figure, clearly in distress.
There is a moment of silence as the figure stares in Preston’s direction. Preston drops to his knees in defeat, audibly sobbing.
“I didn’t mean to let you go alone. I should have gone with you. Father, I’m so sorry about everything. I understand now. I understand.”
The figure reaches into what seems to be a large coat and withdraws a gun. Raising the gun to Preston’s head, a small face appears with a deviant smile. I recognize Preston’s father from the pictures his mother had shown me. Cocking back the hammer on the gun, the man smiles even wider as I begin running towards Preston.
“Father. I love you.”
The shadowy figure stops moving, caught in a frozen form like a darkened piece of art. The shades of black stop shimmering and undulating as the figure stares at Preston. Lowering the gun, the smile fades from the man’s face. All of the shadows dissipate, and there stands a normal looking middle aged man in a long black coat. He puts away the gun, reaches down, places his hand on Preston’s head, turns, and walks into nothingness.
Sounds of sobbing and beeping ring out in echoes. Opening my eyes, I realize I am back in the hospital. The beeps of Preston’s monitor have flatlined and it is now clear that he has passed. Shocked, I remove the pads from my temples and look down at Preston’s mother. She lifts her head, a stream of tears canvassing her face, and she actually smiles. Between the tears, the choking breaths, and the stuffy nose, she starts to talk.
“The day Thomas, Preston’s father, passed away, he was in the car on the way to the grocery store. He was hit on the driver’s side by a truck running a red light. Thomas asked Preston to go with him. Preston, being a normal young boy, wanted to stay home and play video games. Thomas persisted, and Preston declined. Thomas went alone.”
Finally, the realization of what had happened clicked. It’s almost as if the entire universe of knowledge was finally at my fingertips, and everything made perfect sense.
“Preston tried to get away,” I said, giddy like a schoolboy at my discovery, “and he did what every kid would do and tried to slip into a mask, away from anything that hurt him. In this case, his brain couldn’t handle the emotion or the trauma of what happened.”
Torn between grieving for the mother and showing my excitement for my discovery, I stand up to grab a notepad. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement behind the mother’s back. I look up and see a ghostly figure dressed in multi-colored pajamas. Preston places his hand on his mother’s shoulder before looking up at me, and I see him mouth the words, “thank you”, before disappearing into thin air.
I grab my notebook and leave. Julie deserves as much time as she needs with her son. The scientific implications of what I have just discovered will forever change the face of dreaming. I had a dream last night. It was a wonderful dream. I laughed and cried more than I ever have before. It was a wonderful dream.