I would have posted this sooner, but I got wrapped up in the coverage of the Colorado shootings. It's an absolutely horrific situation for all involved.
The following flash fiction is part of a short story I'm writing. The whole story is called "The Dream Factory." I edited this segment a little to be more self-contained as a flash fiction piece, but I'm not sure how well it worked out. Either way, I welcome critique. This is proving a difficult story to write, so any feedback would be useful.
Here is my except. I only hope it works in making people want to know more.
Crossing the Threshold
Lassandra sat in the padded white chair, and she immediately sank into its embrace. The seat was built for comfort, though she would only be aware of that comfort for a couple of minutes. A delicate silver mesh headset was perched on top of the triangular headrest. It looked fragile enough that one might think a single touch could break it, but Lassandra knew better than that. Those little headsets were the gateway to another world.
One of the white-uniformed attendants approached her. His neatly groomed brown hair and brown eyes were familiar. She'd seen this attendant many times before, though she didn’t know his name. Since she always came back to the same dreamer, she saw the same people during her weekly appointments. Of course, as policy demanded, the dreamer was secluded in a separate room.
The attendant started by strapping Lassandra’s wrists to the armrests. This was standard safety procedure. Sometimes the images could be really intense, and The Dream Factory couldn’t risk anyone harming themselves. “Take a stroll through another’s dreams and forget about your problems.” That was the motto on the promotional literature. If the goal of the connection was to achieve a brief reprieve from your own problems, it wouldn’t make sense to come back from the dreaming with assorted injuries.
As soon as the headset was placed on her head, so light she could scarcely feel its weight, the attendant stepped back to the control panel. After a quick flip of a switch and a couple dials turned, the attendant moved to cross the room where another dreamee was sitting down.
The effects began immediately. A blissful haze started to permeate her brain as the little synaptic connectors began to pierce her skull with their electric fingers. She watched until the attendant began to fade from view. Blinking a couple of times, she noted that each time she peeled her heavy eyelids back again, the lights of the room seemed to be dimmer than before.
Then there was darkness.
Yet it was more than that. In the moment, Lassandra couldn’t even fully comprehend what this was, but she’d reflected on it after prior visits. The best word she could use to describe it was “nothingness.” This phase was also known as The Threshold: the point just after the brain of the dreamee stops processing sensory input and the time where the input from the dreamer crosses through the neural connection. During this phase, conscious thoughts, the only thing that remained for a dreamee to hold on to, seemed to move at the speed of molasses
The promotional literature for The Dream Factory certainly aimed to reassure dreamees about this part of the process, though some found it too unsettling to tolerate. Some said it felt like they were being obliterated from existence.
As for Lassandra, it meant a reprieve from the pressure of exams and familial expectations. A time when money meant nothing, and she couldn’t feel the permanent muscle knots that seemed to constantly have a choke-hold on her spine. The withdrawals from the now-illegal Bliss-X tabs had no bearing on her.
Pinpoints of light began to appear in Lassandra’s vision. It looked almost like a field of stars. Her thoughts began to flow again, though they were no longer entirely her own. She watched passively as the pinpoints of light began to grow, eating away at the darkness. Each light represented a vivid color, and as they continued to spread, the different colors began to bleed together. They were painting a picture, one that represented the dreams of Dreamer #18765.
The blurry lines of the painting soon hardened into a more concrete image, though something about the color scheme made it feel slightly surreal. Lassandra immediately recognized the face hovering over her. It was always the same man. His smile revealed startlingly white teeth, and his dark eyes glimmered with some thought to which she would never gain access.
Lassandra saw that she was lying on a bed, living now through the perspective of her dreamer.
The man opened his mouth to say something, but the words blurred together. It had to be the perception filter, put in place to keep the dreamee from experiencing anything that could be considered too upsetting. In all her visits to this dreamer, this man rarely said more than a couple of words before the filter kicked in to censor him. He reached down and grabbed at her shirt, trying to rip it away from her body.
Some dreamers had less volatile dreamscapes, though none were entirely stable. After all, The Dream Factory never purchased anyone unless their dreams were marketable enough.
It wasn't enough to have regular dreams, or "hallucinations" as they used to be called. Only those with the most trauma in their past typically made the cut.