Fiction Contemporary

A squat grey building of only twenty-four stories dwarfed by blocks of skyscrapers was not what I expected. However, etched in the stone arch above the front entrance were the words, Institute of Dream Research.

I have been hired as an expert in a new specialized field of study. I am an Oneironaut, a person who, while asleep, can be the master of my dreams, almost like a director of a play. This ability is called lucid dreaming. While asleep, some people may have occasions when they know “this is just a dream.” However, most people while lost in their subconscious, have no control over images, events, or their emotions.

The excited institute administrators replied within a week of my sending in a resume. I outlined my plan to train people to manage their nightmares, their bizarre imaginings, and boost their creativity. My experimental subjects will be college students whose young minds have the best chance of recalling what they dream.

When I opened the heavy wooden doors, at least my reception wasn’t a letdown. A mousy, little assistant practically bowed as she hurried toward me.

“Miss Pennington?”


“Follow me, please. Mr. Harrow is expecting you.”

As the assistant ushered me down the hall to his office, she turned and said, “You don’t know how the potential for your research has fired up the staff. I think it’s the most interesting project we’ve had for quite some time.”

Why would a lowly assistant be privy to activities of highly educated researchers?

“Thank you,” I said, inclining my head toward her ever so slightly.

Mr. Harrow stood as I entered the room and hurried around his desk to grasp my hand.

“Miss Pennington how honored we are to have you. Please sit down.” He gestured toward a chair. “I’ve been reading your thesis over the past week and I must say I’m impressed. If this experiment is successful, I think of how post-traumatic stress victims might benefit. Perhaps even the government will be interested.”

“Thank you, Mr. Harrow. I passionately believe the possibilities are, well to say the least, staggering.”

“I’ll have Miss Lee, my assistant, show you around the building today. Your office and classroom are on the second floor. By Monday, we’ll have all the subjects screened and ready for you.”

At the mention of her name, Miss Lee reappeared behind me. She stood, clasping, and unclasping her hands.

As she introduced me to my colleagues, she might have been announcing a member of the royal family. Proper deference was given me by professors with desk plaques which announced their names and were followed by an alphabet soup of degrees.

My office had a large window, but unfortunately, it faced one of the skyscrapers shoehorned next to the institute. However, the equipment was awesome, a computer with a high capacity hard drive and an ultra-wide LG curved triple monitor, a laser jet printer, a modern desk, and an ergonomic chair. I contained my elation in front of Miss Lee with a detached, “Very nice.” If only those college students who had disdained me in years past could see where I was now.

 The classroom, already set with twenty-five chairs, desks and individual laptops, had a decent projector with an AMX Classroom Keypad. I could hardly wait to get started.

Miss Lee cleared her throat. “Uh, Miss Pennington, I hope you won’t think I’m being presumptuous, but I was wondering if I might sit in on some of your classes. Mr. Harrow says it would be all right since it wouldn’t interfere with my day job.”

I started to answer, but she rushed on. “I know some of the experiments will be at night when the students will be sleeping and dreaming and that’s what I’m most interested in.”

 Refusal would have felt good, but I reconsidered. Having a worshipful minion would enhance my reputation.

“All right, Miss Lee, if Mr. Harrow doesn’t object. Perhaps you could help by taking notes from my sessions.”

“Oh, yes, Miss Pennington, I’d be glad to and you can call me, Norma.”

I drew myself up to my full height of five-foot-ten and peered down at her through my bifocals.

“I think, Miss Lee, that its best if we keep matters on a professional level.”

“Of course, Miss Pennington.”


The weekend dragged by. Cleaning and laundry are essential, but boring. A month of fat paychecks and someone else would be handling these mundane tasks. And when my objectives came to fruition, I would have a new car and a new condo full of shelves to show off my prestigious awards. I gratefully accepted the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology from the vacuum cleaner, who stood in as a presenter.

Monday, I bounded out of bed with the enthusiasm of a toddler. The mirror told me the black power suit, crisp white blouse, and closed toe pumps declared my authority. The severe taming of my wiry hair into a bun had taken far too much time, but the result was worth it.

When I marched into the classroom that first morning, I was a combination of Marie Curie, Emelia Earhart, and a female Samurai. The students talking, quit. Those slouching, sat up.

I banged my oversized purse down on my desk and turned on my computer. Without speaking for several minutes, I swept my eyes around the room.

“Class,” I said, loudly. “I’m Miss Pennington.” Several students jumped in their seats. “We will spend approximately six years of our lives dreaming. How would you like to command

what your dreams are about?”

Some looked skeptical, but all appeared interested. I let them chew on the idea for a few moments and consulted the seating chart on my computer.

 “Mr. Fuller?” I asked a young man with a straggly beard. “What do you think the function of dreams are?”

“I think it’s a chance to experience your repressed sexual fantasies.”

I heard some titters. I had expected no less from this crowd and was prepared.

“Yes, very good, Mr. Fuller. We’ll be exploring that avenue in this class as well as o-purposes.”

Mr. Fuller, also known as Charlie, according to the records, turned to the class, thumbs up, and said, “All right.”

First, I taught them how to remember their dreams upon awakening, lying still and letting their minds roll over the details. A journal, furnished by the institute, was to be at their bedsides. Later, in class we would share what we wrote. When they became adept at doing this preliminary work, they would progress to lucid dreaming.

To my surprise, my best students were “Good Time Charlie,” and a girl named Lucy Foss, who absently twirled her long hair around her fingers. Of course, Charlie’s dreams prominently featured hot entanglements and Lucy’s centered around her fear of flunking out of college and not keeping a boyfriend.

But my biggest amazement was not a student. Miss Lee picked up the principles more easily than I had when I started. She marshalled her dreams like a drill sergeant. Nightmares vanished. She removed junk from her mind. She could fall asleep in a few minutes and only envisioned pleasant events in full cinematic color. She teased out creative ideas, which she implemented during waking hours. She made a video about how beneficial the institute was, in fact, she interviewed me. Grants poured in. Mr. Harrow got a new assistant and Miss Norma Lee moved into her own office, got a makeover, and students came down to her office to chat with her. My original view of her began changing.

By applying myself to a daily routine of reprocessing memories, past, present, and future, my acuity also became sharper and stronger. I published articles about my work in Scientific American and Psychology Now. I wanted to pass over into uncharted territory and Miss Lee could travel there with me.

I knocked on her office door. “Are you busy, Miss Lee?”

“Oh, Miss Pennington, come in.”

I sat down without being invited. “Miss Lee, have you heard of communication between two dreamers, where a stimulus is sent from one dreamer, and they become incorporated in the other person’s dream?”

“I have,” she said, “In some journal I read. Do you think it’s possible?”

I stood, reached across her desk, and grasped her hand. “Miss Lee, Norma, I’m sure we could.”

She put her other hand over her mouth, but I could tell by her bright eyes she was smiling.


Our successful experiment made us mega-stars in the class. The students dived willingly into homework and talked about their insights constantly. I co-published an article with Norma about our findings in Consciousness Magazine. The shelves in my new condo awaited awards. I’d been invited to give a speech at a conference in Australia the first of next year.

           I went to Mr. Harrow’s office to propose we start using our techniques on actual patients who suffered during REM sleep with vivid and frightening dreams. I was also going to ask for a substantial raise.

“Oh, Miss Pennington, I’m glad you stopped by, I’ve been meaning to speak to you. A disturbing matter has come to my attention.”

“Really,” I said, as I sat in his office chair.

“Please close the door.”

           I pulled in a deep breath, stood, shut it, wilted into the same chair, and waited.

        “The Point Tomlin University’s president called me yesterday. Disgruntled parents are phoning him. The participants in your class are exhibiting a strange phenomenon. They fall asleep during lectures, in the halls, on campus. They are failing and they don’t seem to care.”

           “Oh, Sir, I was not aware. They are all such excellent students.”

           “Well, maybe excellent for you, but not for anyone else. You will implement measures to make this stop. Otherwise, I cannot justify continuing this field of investigation.”

           Being fired now seemed more likely than a raise.

           “I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

           Instead of taking the elevator, I walked up the stairs clinging to the handrail. I closed the door to my office and put my head on my desk. Immediately, dream scenery filled the background wallpaper of my mind, and the prefrontal cortex where logic resides was subdued to a sheep-like inattentiveness. I allowed my brain to be flooded with mellow sounds, pictures of kittens, and an angel who insisted on giving me a massage.

           “I’ll think of something tomorrow,” I said, aloud.

           When I came to, I hated to admit that though I could control my dreams, more frequently now, they appeared unbidden. These episodes were happening to my students, younger, more impressionable minds, and I was responsible. I certainly was not going to mention my own incidents to my boss.

           Another concern pricked my conscience. During the first weeks of class, I noticed if I brought up a concept, the class wholeheartedly embraced whatever I suggested. Usually, college students like debating. But now, as they became more advanced in their techniques, they acted as if they knew it all. Perhaps, I could implant the idea of studying hard in their classes and solve the problem that could boot me out of my cushy job.

           Day after day, I tried and failed. They were now invading each other’s dreams. Several intense romances had resulted. There were rumors of inappropriate sexual behavior. I’d lost my edge over my class. Charlie quit the class, dropped out of school, and was riding a motorcycle across country following his dreams. Lucy was contemplating becoming a hair stylist to movie stars in Hollywood. Parents formed a line at the university’s dean’s office with threats of suing the Dream Institute.

           Norma and I both lost our jobs. Soon, we will have to return to reality, look for other employment, but one good thing has come of all this. Norma and I have become friends, and I have not had that many. Underneath my take charge façade, I am a lot like her, smart, but unsure of myself. We laugh over the humiliations we had in school, but discussing our dreams is taboo. Starting today, we are going on a road trip across country. We have not planned where we’re going. No more over controlling our dreams or our lives.

August 27, 2021 23:31

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