“I am not a nice person in dreams.
At least, that’s what my friends have been telling me for years. Remember being young and having sleepovers? Well, just as sure as you were to have a bowl of sugary cereal or a pop tart the next morning, you were guaranteed to discuss any dream you had, and in great detail, if you remembered it.
No matter the friend, it was always the same.
I am relentless in their dreams. I am rude, condescending, and manipulative. People see me coming, and they smell trouble. I am always the villain in their story. Why would this be?”
Josie paused her rehearsal in front of the mirror to listen. Yep, that was the sound of water boiling. Such a subtle vibration, but she made tea and spaghetti so often she had cultivated a sixth sense about boiling water. She always seemed to sense when those excitable molecules had finally begun to break apart. She glanced at herself once more before making her way into the kitchen.
Next week, she would stand in front of her colleagues at the Oneirology and Neurology Institute of Fresno and pitch a theory she’d been working on for years. She needed to secure funding for an unorthodox experiment, one she wasn’t sure could work. And she would explain this theory almost entirely truthfully and share all her findings and data. Every ream. She only planned on leaving one detail out. A superfluous, unnecessary one, and with no bearing on the science, she thought to herself for the millionth time. No one needed to know about the affair.
Armed with a steaming mug of hot water, within which a medley of herbs that facilitate deep sleep swam, Josie began her nightly routine. Finish up the day’s dishes, wash her face, brush her teeth. Lock every door, close all the curtains and windows, put away sources of light. Silence her phone. Play Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 and hang her head upside down over the edge of the bed for two minutes.
As the blood rushed behind her eyes and delicate piano notes fluttered across the room, Josie wondered who she would be this evening and who she would meet. Despite conquering her physicality during lucid dreams, she still could not choose the location she visited or the people she saw. And that’s what the funding was for.
For years Josephine mused on why she tormented people in dreams. Was it psychology? Coincidence? Something more? All of the above? She became a sleep scientist and neurologist to find out. And after years of schooling, study, and research, the answer arrived predictably, in a dream.
There was nothing special about this dream. Josie barely remembered anything, save for the revelation she had. She had been in a world very similar to her own, going about a normal day. Everything was the same, save a small detail here and there. The color of her car, for instance, was olive drab green rather than its usual black.
And as she moved toward her SUV, blinking hard against the sunlight with keys in hand, it hit her.
It was at once extremely simple and profoundly complex. Every dream scenario was real, was actually happening. Like taking a train, our minds ferried us to any one of an infinite number of parallel universes and engaged with it. We move through these worlds by occupying a different version of ourselves. The connection is so seamless, the host version of you never even notices. You’ve hosted too, but you had no idea until this moment. That feeling of déjà vu? Bingo.
Informed by the events of the day in your waking reality, you journey to another with links between them. That’s why that handkerchief you lost earlier showed up, or why the laws of physics didn’t apply when you dreamed you were flying the week after skydiving.
There was only one exception to this rule, and Josie was baffled by it. Dreams where she occupied another version of herself always seemed surreal, but there was another sort that felt more real than reality itself. It was a shared dream state with a stranger, except, he wasn’t a stranger once she arrived. The first time it happened, everything made perfect sense. You know when a song comes on the radio, and you realize you know all the words but can’t recall ever learning them?
It was the strangest, strongest connection Josie had ever felt with anyone during her entire existence. He wasn’t some dream version of her husband, either. He was so distinctly separate in mood and mannerisms and physical looks; she just knew he wasn’t some longed-for variant of Scott.
By this time, Josie had righted herself and slipped under the covers. She knew better than to try to influence this evening’s destination, she just sipped her tea and turned back another page of One Thousand and One Nights. Ever the experimenter, she was constantly pausing to scribble down notes and draw connections, trying to see what lead where. As her eyelids began to droop, she set the book on the nightstand, spine up and still open. Time for sleep.
She had never known anything to make more sense while it was happening, and be so utterly confounding afterward. He had no name. But she always realized she knew it — even if she couldn’t articulate it — once the dreams began. Because it felt like waking up.
They were sitting at the kitchen table, idly chatting. The day was warm, or maybe it was just her insides. Was this the fourth or fifth time? They wondered. He told her about his day, how many weeks it had been since he’d last dreamed with her. Had she gotten the funding yet?
No, she said, but hopefully next week. She went over it all again, the unknowns, the variables, that even if she got it, she might not be able to complete the program. Worse still, she might not be the one to carry out the experiment — she was subject to the same kinds of office politics and games as anyone else. And if Scott joined the project somehow, then what?
Fingers interlaced, they were walking at pace through towering trees at a beautifully landscaped park. No one else around, perfect weather, colors bright. They stopped worrying as other realities became fuzzy. This was the most meaningful reality now, the most important one. Everything else was just a dream.
Josie awoke feeling whole, but that dissipated quickly. As her eyes shifted into focus, she saw her husband tiptoeing across the bedroom, getting undressed as quietly as possible.
“Ahh, I was trying not to wake you.”
“That’s alright,” Josie glanced at the clock. “It was getting to be that time anyways. Good shift?”
It was Sunday morning. One day left to go before her Monday presentation. She had given exactly zero thought as to any consequences whatsoever. All she knew was that she had woken up and departed reality.
“The usual. Be glad when this sleep study is over.” Scott sighed as he took a seat to remove his socks. “At least one of us is getting enough rest. You had the most peaceful smile on your face just now. What were you dreaming about?”