The Congress of the Rat People had just legalised Nightmares. People thronged the Rattus Square, dressed in their halloween best. As soon as the judgement came through, the crowd erupted. A wave of black flags went up like flames, leaping to lick the sky with forked tongues. Black was the new rainbow. Finally, the right to choose nightmares over dreams, was a reality. Social media sites were abuzz with chatter. Profile pictures were black squares.
Terror had just been unleashed.
The nuclear wars had wiped out the Sunshine People, leaving behind only a few, who had hidden in burrows and holes, like rats. Finally, they were able to build underground cities; survival instincts trigger the genius in human beings. Spectacular cities sprung up beneath the earth's surface. The Rat People stayed there for more than a century. Sadly though, deprived of sunshine they were struck by strange diseases.
When the contamination gradually cleared, the Rat People had emerged from the bowels of the earth and flourished. Though now they were shrunken in size and had lost the ability to sleep.
No sleep meant no dreams. Thus, were born the Dream Catchers. A highly skilled lot. They had developed machines to catch dreams of their perished ancestors.
I was one of them. Truthfully though, I was the apprentice to one of the best.
The man I call the best is Mr Penn Muridae. He's a handsome man in his mid-thirties. He is tall, around five feet with a charming smile. He towers over me by almost half a foot, although for a girl I'm pretty tall. Mr Muridae, is a genius. He goes to the wilderness alone to collect dreams. He never takes anyone, his trust level is pretty low. I'm sure there's a story behind that. He has some peculiar looking machines that he never lets anyone touch. He comes back with transparent cylinders containing fog. White fog for dreams, grey for bad dreams and black for nightmares.
He's been gone for a month now. I've been holding fort. Business has been brisk, we've had bulk orders for dreams from various dream spas. I just got an email from a Nightmare club for a large order. We don't sell nightmares openly, it's all done very discreetly. Today after the historical judgement, we won't need to worry anymore, though we'd have to get a licence first.
The door bursts open as Penn walks in dragging his machines behind him. He gives me a little nod and goes straight to his high security secret chamber. I watch as a tiny little blonde walks in behind him. He has never taken me inside, he says because I'm too smart. Only his playthings go with him. I feel the green talons of jealousy curl around my little heart. I push the feelings aside, I have too much work to complete plus he's so much older. Well that is how I keep my head on straight, because my heart starts racing every time he looks at me. On occasion I have seen a certain way he looks at me, but I'm not really sure what it is. Maybe my infatuation gets the better of me.
The secret chamber is where Penn digitalises the fog and saves it on memory chips. My job is then to duplicate the chips, write a code for blocking duplication and one view self-destruct feature. Then I file them in the categories marked by him. The dreams have only two categories: dreams and sad dreams. The nightmares, however, are put under X, XX, XXX and 'Black'.
Penn comes out from the chamber.
"Axle," he calls out, summoning me to his cabin. Yes, my name is Axle. My older brother is Gear and younger sister is Piston. What do you expect when your father is a motor mechanic.
I pick up my notepad and walk over to his cabin. He's busy on his computer. He looks up when I enter.
"You've had a busy month I assume," he begins, a smile curling his lips, my breath catches. "I want you to take a week long break. Take as many dreams as you want or even a nightmare," he winks.
I suddenly feel terribly tired. I really need this break. He always gives me a break when he is digitalising. He locks himself in and works non stop for days.
He hands me the key to the safety box in which we store the memory chips.
"Axle, did you take the nightmare heart stimulator test?" He inquires, his eyes locked on his computer screen.
"Yes I did, and I qualified for Black!" I say proudly.
"Great!" He sounds impressed. "Just be careful with that stuff, kid."
Kid! I am 22 years old for god's sake. I cringe inwardly at the term. He senses my reaction as I hover in his office, shifting weight from one foot to another. Somehow I have this urge to tell him how much I missed him. He looks up and I see that strange look in his eyes, it's just a fleeting thing but I get the feeling he likes me too. Just as suddenly, it is gone and I doubt whether it was really there or I had let my imagination get the better of me.
"Go have a fun holiday, meet people of your own age, you work too hard my love."
The endearment always makes me blush, but this time I flush with anger at his callous brush off. I spin around and stomp my way out of the cabin slamming the glass door behind me, not caring what he thinks about my tantrum . Exhaustion making me careless and rude.
Fuming and cursing under my breath I pick up a couple of dreams. Then as an afterthought I pick up an X rated nightmare. 'Black' is for another day.
He isn't in his cabin when I go back to return the key. So I place it on his table with a hurriedly scribbled thank you note, tucked under it. I am already regretting my reaction.
My one room apartment is on a quiet street. I haven't been home for over a week. I strip, take a shower and get into my soft pink pajamas. I slip the nightmare chip into my dream helmet and place it over my head, then strap it under my chin securely.
Dreams let you relax, but they say nightmares freeze the brain, putting a person into a semi-coma, the closest thing to sleep. When the person ‘wakes’ up he feels rejuvenated. Sometimes though, too much stimulation stops the heart, resulting in death. Maybe one day we will learn the art of sleep, but for now, this is it. I press the power button on my helmet and hurl myself into the unknown.