The World As It Could Be

By on Dec 23, 2017 in Cuttings, Fiction

Cloudy sky with "obey" in clouds

They lay on the hood of Joe’s car, Joe and Tom, and stared at the cloudy sky.  Shapes rolled past overhead, spirals and angles of white, words written across the dawning blue.  They read what the sky had to say, content for a time just to lie still.

After a while, Tom spoke up.  The dreams were troubling him again.  Joe was the only one who would even listen.  If Tom didn’t say something, he would burst; if he said something to the wrong person, they’d label him crazy.

“I had more dreams, Joe.”

“Why am I not surprised?  Weird ones, like usual?”

“Not that weird.  Just different.  Almost the same as real life, but with some things changed.”

“That’s what you usually say.  But you have some strange ideas about what’s weird.”

“That’s just it.  It don’t seem weird at all, in the dreams.  Like what’s there is normal, and what’s here is strange.”

“Well, that’s how dreams are.  You have to wake up to know the difference.”

“I dunno.  I wonder sometimes.”

“Wonder what?  Life’s a dream?  I’ve heard that before.”

“No, no, like this life is the dream, and what we see when we’re asleep is the real world.”

Joe laughed.  Not a mean laugh, not a sad humoring laugh, but a real chuckle of good humor.  He was used to his strange friend and didn’t take Tom’s crazy thoughts as anything more than rambling talk.  Still, he sometimes wondered if he was helping by listening or just encouraging more craziness.

He replied, “Lots of people said that before, too.  There’s songs about it.  But that’s it, just words and songs.  You’re real.  I’m real.  Right here is real.  That’s all you need to know.  Anything else will just get you lost in your head.”

Tom wouldn’t be quieted this time.  He went on, “But… think about it.  What if what seems real is all fake… and what I dream is real… or at least, it used to be?  What if we were all put into a dream?  Or else things all got changed around while we were sleeping, and what used to be true isn’t anymore, except when we sleep and remember it again?”

Now Joe got serious.  He rolled onto his side to look at his friend.  “Tom, you’re gonna hurt yourself.  Just look at the clouds and calm down.  Are you afraid of sleeping?  Are the dreams bothering you that much?”

“No!  They don’t bother me at all.  It’s waking up that bothers me.  Listen to me, Joe.  Just think about it.  Doesn’t anything seem strange to you, sometimes, when you’re awake?  Like, it ought to be different?”

“Well, sure.  Lots of things.  I get mad about my job… or about laws that don’t seem right…”

“I’m not talking about being mad.  I mean like, something is really basically wrong.”

“Oh, that’s just being depressed.  You need a doctor, maybe.”

“I’m not depressed!  I’m concerned.  I mean, for example, take sleep itself.  What if people didn’t have to go inside when it got light out?  What if we slept at night and stayed up all day?”

“Some people do, if their jobs need them…”

“I don’t mean some people.  I mean, everyone.  Or almost everyone.  What if the sunlight wasn’t dangerous?  What if we were even scared of the dark, instead?”

“Come on, Tom.  That can’t be real.  The sun’s been deadly since forever.”

“But it isn’t, in my dreams.  I walk around in the light, and it don’t hurt.  It’s not even frightening.  And what about the clouds?  What if they were just puffs and streaks and balls, not symbols and words?  What if we didn’t have to obey the messages written up there?”

“Now look here, Tom.  Don’t go questioning the clouds.  That really will get you in trouble.”

But what if it didn’t?  I mean, don’t you ever wonder anything, Joe?  Don’t you dream?  I’ve seen it: people ignoring the sky and doing whatever they pleased.  I mean, you work at the hospital nursery, right?  What if people weren’t made by giant slugs?  What if we could make our own babies, like, inside our bodies?  What if we started out as little humans… that could grow up into bigger humans?”

Joe sat up, shaking his head.  “I’m not listening to this anymore.  You may not want to sleep, but I need to get home to bed.  It’s almost dawn.”

Tom growled in frustration.  “You weren’t listening in the first place.  And I do want to sleep.  I want to see more.  You’re the one who’s afraid.  You just do your job, tend the slugs, obey the clouds, and don’t ask questions.  Well, someday I’ll find people who believe me.  We’ll find out what’s real and what isn’t.”

“Whatever.  Get in the car.  I’m tired of this crap.”

“Screw you.  I’ll fly home by myself.”



Nathan Large was born on a military base and wandered through eighteen homes in forty-one years. His writing is equally restless. Lately, he has been a travelling salesman, pitching four unpublished novels, two self-published science-fiction volumes from the Empyrean Dreams universe, a score of short fantasy and horror stories inspired by his nightmares, and recently, an unexpected litter of poetry. He travels between past and future, assembling new mythologies from scattered scraps, making unorthodox use of degrees in linguistics and cognitive psychology. As a live storyteller, he shares some of his tales aloud, recites others' works, or shares duties with role-players. His tread has left traces in Oak Leaves, Idunna, The First Line, and On the Premises.