The Dream Machine an Excerpt from Primetime, a Novel by David Memmott
In the maze of underground corridors, nothing was denied him. Doors and gates opened with the wave of his hand. Cameras recorded his passing, never once impeding his trespass.
When hungry, he needed only think of food and food appeared. When thirsty, he needed only think of drink and drink appeared.
He never saw another person.
Day and night meant nothing. Artificial light punctuated timeless solitude. He searched for a way out, to the surface, to natural light, but all ways led deeper still.
One waking he stumbled onto a honeycomb of vaults with craftily stuccoed walls textured into blocks of stone like a medieval castle. Heatless torches marked the entrance to various cells with thick wooden doors barred and padlocked. He waved his hand repeatedly, but the doors would not open.
A three-foot tall black stone statue stood on a white pedestal outside one of these doors. The shape was pleasing. He caressed the figure, stroking the burnished ebony jackal head. A hidden compartment popped open within the figure and rolled out a small drawer much like a tongue. It held a ring of silver keys.
Jangling down the hollow corridor, keys in hand, he tried every lock, one by one, until greeted with a telltale click. The heavy door groaned on iron hinges. He stepped cautiously inside. A motion light blinded him.
When his eyes adjusted, he was standing on a plush red carpet in the lobby of a theater. Floodgates opened in his mind. Childhood memories swirled into his head in a sudden rush of vertigo. The Egyptian Theater. A remarkably scaled-down reproduction. How could he have forgotten the place where he dreamily idled away Saturday afternoons as a kid?
A dark-skinned little man in black suit, red sash, wearing velvet fez with red tassel nodded deferentially. “What’s your pleasure today, sir? We have several restorations ready for viewing.”
The concession stand lit up like a miniature circus. The smell and sound of popcorn filled the lobby. A young concessionaire with painted eyes and cropped black hair, in an Egyptian shift, wiped down the display case with a cloth until it looked crystalline. Seeing him, she dumped popcorn from the hot steel pot into a cardboard bucket, topped it off with melted butter and handed it to him without a word. She set out a box of bright-colored Jujus on the glass and filled a large Coke in red cup with not-too-much ice and a barber-pole-striped straw. Just as he remembered it.
The little man vanished and an usher stepped forward, dressed like an Egyptian princess. She led him to the middle row of a screening room. He noted with pleasure the hardened bubblegum stuck on the bottom of the red vinyl fold-down wooden seat. He stuck it there himself when he was twelve years old. He sat transfixed, munching popcorn, as the curtain opened. It seemed strange to remember being a kid, but unable to remember being an adult.
The movie was called “Dark Star” after the name of a spaceship. He watched, suspended in a state of bliss.
In timeless distraction he watched one film after another, returned over and over again to select something new from what appeared to be an endless collection. He studied interviews, production notes, theatrical trailers, and found in his love of movies a small wedge that kept the doors to an inner world from slamming shut.
The ring of keys opened-up a secret life, whole worlds waiting to be rediscovered: media archives, a library of limited editions, a comfortable lounge with reading lamp, a gallery of paintings by modern masters in racks that pulled out on tracks, signed and limited prints in document trays, shelves upon shelves of movies, t.v. series, documentaries, sports events, newscasts, stereophonic music, 35mm, LPs, CDs, 8-tracks, video, DVD, laser disk, veriHD-TV, holo-jection and an incomparable collection of downright saucy erotica. It was like the whole underground castle had been waiting for him to appear. Parts of the archive were damaged, hundreds of rare editions molting, classic films disintegrating, disks partly demagnetized or erased, but restorations proceeded at a frenetic pace, carried out by some automated process already in place before he discovered the castle.
One of the cells unlocked by a silver key on the ring was a computer room. When he entered the room, the computer blinked on as though his appearance awakened it. He tapped a few keys on the projected keyboard and was welcomed as The Dreamcatcher.
The computer room opened onto a passageway behind a waterfall. Beyond was an underground garden in what looked like an empty warehouse. The garden walls were adorned with luminescent murals. A skylight three levels up filtered light through prismatic mist. A green pool glimmered below.
The green water was cool and sweet. He barely noticed the metallic taste. He grew to prefer this to the flat bottled-water the Dream machine provided. He drank from the pool every waking.
In the garden he prepped the one remaining unpainted concrete wall for a new mural, cleaning away moss and slime, filling cracks and covering stains with underpaint. The Dream machine provided whatever he needed. The wall he painted blended miraculously with those already painted until the whole garden room was a glowing inner world.
Had he always been The Dreamcatcher? he wondered. Had he been someone else before? The images on the wall suggested The Dreamcatcher might be some subsurface personality. He had no means of testing memories. He could not tell real from imagined, only that the white wall beckoned to be filled with light and color.
The castle was a comfortable prison. Under cloak of darkness, he planned an escape. He dug a narrow passageway concealed in one of his murals. He crawled to a dim railroad tunnel about a hundred meters from the painted garden. He learned the tunnels and witnessed a world as alien as the moons of Jupiter.
One day as he watched Kim Novak and James Stewart in a digital restoration of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” the feeling of vertigo suddenly seized him. The film faded. A hazy white screen appeared. Obscure forms of unfocused color moved over it. It was like an animated version of the soft abstracts of Mark Rothko. The images relaxed him. Then they disappeared and he faced a blank screen.
When he returned the next waking, again the diffused colors washed over the white screen, emerging into moving indistinct figures.
He came back again and again to colors condensing into forms dancing on the screen, each time more focused than the last until these “movies of the mind” became vivid and lifelike.
This was how he learned about The Imposter
The Dream machine helped him understand why the doors and gates opened, why his every need was met, why he could not leave. The Dream machine coaxed him back day by day until his fingers flew over embedded controls, dragging, dropping, touching, selecting, separating out elements, superimposing others, sorting through menus with the blink of an eye, bringing up holographic projections and hypertext documents with voice commands, accessing data on investments, secret projects, hidden bank accounts.
In the screening room, as his mind movie resolved, he found he could move his mind like a camera through their Inner Sanctum. He heard her voice calling, “Come to bed, my darling.” His mind moved toward the bedroom. The subtle scent of her perfume touched the fine hairs in his nostrils. He heard ice clinking into glasses. She was propped up with pillows, silk sheet pulled up under her arms, holding out a drink to him. His heart pounded. He was watching her through the Imposter’s I. He tossed back the champagne, set the glass down and pulled the covers back to expose her nakedness. He watched through the Imposter’s I as he made love to her. He watched through the Imposter’s I as his hands splashed water onto his face. He wiped the fogged mirror above the sink in the bathroom and saw his own reflection.
The recognition made them swoon. They spoke the words in unison. “I’m the Imposter.” They closed their eyes. When they opened them, the world wouldn’t stop spinning.
David Memmott has published five books of poetry, a novel and a story collection. Recent work has been published by Strange Horizons, High Desert Journal, Windfall and in the anthologies, Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon, Salt: An Oregon Coastal Poetry Anthology, Writers on the Job: Tales of the Non-Writing Life and The Alchemy of Stars: An Anthology of Rhysling Award Winners. He’s a Fishtrap Fellow and has received three Fellowships for Publishing from Literary Arts, Inc. His newest book is the poetry collection, Giving It Away. His book of poems, The Larger Earth: Descending Notes of a Grounded Astronaut was selected as one of the 150 best books of poetry published in 150 years of Oregon history. His long narrative poem, “Where the Yellow Brick Road Turns West,” was a finalist for the 2010 Spur Award for Best Western Poem of 2009, and is available on-line through Poets and Writers e-chapbook series edited by Walter Cummins and Thomas E. Kennedy on Web del Sol. He is the editor and publisher of Wordcraft of Oregon www.wordcraftoforegon.com.