To hell with pleasant dreams. Long live nightmares!
Marcus looked at the motto writ large on the giant smart panel of Dream On’s boardroom. The corporation’s board was gathered to solicit his opinion. They were going to want his approval. They were going to seek his blessing. He knew he would give all three, even knowing it would kill some of his customers. How many depended on whether the FDA, FCC, CPSC and CDC could get their act together and determine who had power to regulate Dream On.
The controversy was good. Everyone in America and half the world now knew about Dream On. What had started out years ago as a device to set up the conditions for deep REM sleep was now an activator for certain types of dreams: wistful, wild, wet or otherwise. Marcus did not understand the finer points of neural-nanonics that had made this possible. Yet, he sussed that if people could repurpose six to eight hours of what they otherwise considered lost time, like he did, there was a fortune to be made.
Researchers had squawked about the brain’s need to decompress. That dreams innately functioned to process reality. They warned that messing with a natural process would end up creating unwanted consequences.
But, that’s what humans always did. Mess with nature. Control is our uncontrollable impulse. Dream On’s device in its current iteration offered that control. Though a person could not program the specific events and players in a dream, he or she could set the parameters for a broad genre: romance, adventure, contemporary, historical—and, most recently, horror.
This was Marcus’s greatest insight. Nightmares had become king, manifesting themselves as chase dreams. These riotous and improbable chases through alleys, warehouses, swamps, oceans, skies, and starships stimulated adrenal and nervous systems to burn upwards of a thousand calories a night.
Dreamers were getting their workouts pursued by their worst fears. The Dream On device didn’t select the fear—was not capable of determining that. Only the dreamer could conjure that up. Marcus understood what the great creators of movie terror understood. He knew to let his audience terrify themselves by keeping them in a state of dread—knowing something terrible was after them, but not what specific creature was in pursuit. Leave it up to the individual: a giant spider, a brain-starved zombie, an ex-spouse.
Chase dreams had become the newest workout regimen—a killer one. Literally, two heart attack deaths in the last month linked to the use of Dream On. That’s why the Feds had pressured his board members to meet.
Marcus knew it’d be difficult to prove the extent that Dream On could be held liable, but Marcus didn’t want to be perceived as uncooperative. Better to play nice. Stall. Make small changes that made everybody feel safer. ‘Security theater’ was the operative term. Smoke and mirrors while Dream On became as indispensable as cellular implants and soylent green.
Marcus cleared his throat to start the meeting. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, sputtered and went black. Marcus tensed. The room was too quiet. No one yelled or even seemed to breathe. The wall rattled. Marcus flung himself to the floor just as the door burst open and flames licked the surface of the board table. There was a terrible hissing sizzle of burnt flesh and the entire room shook.
On all fours Marcus scrambled to find safety under the table. His heart pounded and his breath came short as he felt thunderous footsteps and the clatter of chairs being flung away from the table.
Whatever had broken into the boardroom was after him. Marcus hunkered between two chairs just as a black, scaly claw the size of a wrecking ball splintered the boardroom table. His heart in his throat, Marcus launched himself towards the ruined doorway.
The monstrous viper-thing roared and spewed a lariat of flame at his heels. Marcus managed to tuck his legs in and roll into the hall. His temples pounding, he found his feet and sprinted down the hall lit by the hellish fire behind. Legs and arms pumping, he rushed towards the exit.
And then the wall to his left blew out. Debris buried him. His heart rose into his mouth. Marcus could not scream. He was choking, convulsing in dread, incapable of any action, except the knowledge that his heart would soon burst from fear.
The serpent creature, the unnamable thing, approached one slow doom-step at a time. Marcus clawed at the debris pinning him. His heart furious, his terror supreme.
“Please. No. Stop!” he strangled out.
In the final blackness that enfolded him, Marcus felt the hissing mockery in the creature’s reply, “Dream On.”