The Sweetest Dream


Sun reflects off glass. A steel skeleton reaches to the sky. A crane lifts a generator. The cable snaps, and the generator falls.

Men in hard hats scramble. One man trips and falls. The generator crushes him. Half of his body is underneath the machine.

"Are you OK, Joe?"

The man underneath the generator spits blood.


The man lies in the bed. Tubes and wires trail from his body. A machine beeps in time to the man's pulse. A nurse records information. The doctor shakes his head and leaves the room.

"Doc, how bad is he?"

"Pretty bad. Why do you care?"

"I'm Dr. Prescott. I am a psychiatrist."

"This patient doesn't need a shrink yet. He isn't even conscious. Half of his body has been crushed, and we've put him in a coma. He will probably never walk again. The rest of his life will be pain."

Dr. Prescott nods his head.

"Your patient is the perfect subject for an experimental treatment."

"My patient would have to be conscious to give consent."

Dr. Prescott smiles.

"Did your patient give consent to his present treatment?"

"Well, no. But. . ."

"Relax, Dr. . ."


"Yes, Dr. Strauss. This experiment is for the sake of your patient's mental health. He has experienced severe trauma, and we wish to address that trauma with the Experience Machine."

"Experience Machine?"

"It is a new technology. It allows us to interface with a subject's unconscious mind and create experiences for him."

"Like a dream?"

"Yes, like a dream but a very vivid and real dream. In fact, it would be the sweetest dream this man has ever had."

Dr. Strauss rubs his chin.

"This man will be living a nightmare for the rest of his life. One of the nurses said they should euthanize him and harvest his good organs. What a bitch."

"I will need your consent. Dr. Strauss."

"Sure. He'll probably die, but if you can help him die happy, I can live with that."

Dr. Prescott takes Strauss's hand and pumps it vigorously in a handshake.

"This will help advance our work tremendously. Thank you, so much."


Dr. Prescott wheels the device into the room. It is a simple black box on a cart with a single wire running from it. An open laptop sits on top of the box.

"What is this?" the nurse asks.

"This is the Experience Machine. This wire is the lead that will interface with his brain."

Dr. Prescott peels the backing from the patch and places it on the temple of the man's head.

"We used to have to open the cranium for this sort of thing, but we've made it noninvasive now. My colleague Dr. Anson pulled off that trick."

Dr. Prescott attaches the lead to the patch.

"Make sure this stays attached at all times. If it becomes detached, there will be a disruption in the experience which may be mentally disturbing to the patient."

"Won't the patient be mentally disturbed when we take him off that machine?"

"Are you ever disturbed when you wake up from a dream?"

"I can never remember my dreams."

"Our patient probably won't remember this dream either, but he should wake up very happy. We will find out."

"Is this what happened with other patients?"

"I haven't had any other patients. It's just been chimps and sweet dreams of bananas and swinging through the trees."

Dr. Prescott taps some keys on the laptop.

"This program is interactive, so our patient will dream of something better than bananas."

The cursor moves to the file called BLISS and clicks it.

"Welcome to heaven, Mr. McNeil."


All is darkness. A spark of light shines and becomes brighter. He moves towards that light. His head breaks through the surface of the water.

"Where am I?"

The water is clear and blue. A beach of white sand awaits him. He swims towards the beach.

"How did I get here?"

An adirondack chair is on the beach. An umbrella covers the chair. A margarita sits on a table beside the chair. Joe sits in the chair and sips from the drink.

"That is one hell of a margarita!"

Joe sits back and relaxes.

"I don't know who is paying for this because my credit cards are maxed."

"Your credit cards are not necessary here."

Joe looks over at the woman in the chair beside him. She wears sunglasses and a sun hat and a smile.

"Welcome to our beach. I am Jennifer."

"Jennifer? You look like the girl I had a crush on in first grade but all grown up now."

Jennifer sips her margarita.

"I am sorry I let you get away, Joe."

Jennifer puts her hand on Joe's hand.

"I am all yours now, Joe."

Joe looks at Jennifer's hand and at the large diamond ring on her finger. He looks at the gold wedding band on his own finger.

"I love you, Joe."

Joe is silent for a minute. Then, he smiles.

"I feel really good inside. I. . .I. . ."

He looks down at the ring on his finger.

"I love you, Jennifer."

The sun sets as Joe and Jennifer hold hands.


The nurses work the patient.

"What is this thing attached to his head?"

"Some kind of dream machine."

"Like a virtual reality video game? My son plays that crap. Totally addicted to the damn thing. Won't sleep or bathe for an entire weekend. He even cut school to stay home and play those games."

"Did you beat his ass?"

"No, his father took the thing. smashed it with a hockey stick, and tossed it in the garbage. Says there's no substitute for reality."

"How did your son take it?"

"I think he's smoking dope now. I haven't caught him doing it yet, but his father will put that hockey stick across his ass when he does."


Joe surfs across a perfect wave. A boy and a girl play on the beach building a sandcastle. Jennifer reads a book as a gentle breeze blows. Joe paddles in.

"Who are these kids?"

"These are your children, Joe. We have Joe, Jr. and Wendy."


Junior and Wendy come and hug their dad. Tears stream down Joe's face.

"Why are you crying, Joe?"

"I'm so happy. My heart wants to burst. What did I ever do to deserve a family like this?"


Joe screams.



The nurse picks up the wire and attaches it back to the patch on Joe's head. She takes tape and plasters it over the wire to keep it in place.

"What a nightmare. . ."


Joe opens his eyes. The sun shines on an open field. Wheat leans gently from the breeze. Jennifer is ahead of him. She looks over her shoulder and smiles at him.

"It's harvest time, Dad."

Junior is beside his dad with a scythe. He is a young man. Joe has one in his hand. He swings the scythe, and the wheat falls. Wendy and Jennifer rake up the wheat into bundles.

"I'm going to make the sweetest bread from this," Wendy says.

They work as the sun sets. Their hands do not blister. They do not tire.


Joe lies in the bed. His eyes are closed as the heart monitor beeps.

"What do you think, Dr. Strauss?" the nurse asks.

"I think Mr. McNeil is going to live. Whether he will want to live is another story."

"Should I tell Dr. Prescott?"

"Go ahead and tell him to come get his machine. The long sleep is over."


Joe's hair is white. Jennifer's hair is grey. There are no wrinkles on her face. A fire crackles in the fireplace. Grandchildren play on the floor.

"How long has it been, Jen?"

"Who counts the years, Joe? Maybe a hundred. Maybe two hundred."

"It could be a thousand as long as I can spend every day with you, my love."

Darkness descends.

Joe opens his eyes.

"Welcome back, Joe."

Joe looks around the room.

"Where am I? Where is my wife?"

Dr. Strauss looks at Joe.

"I'm Dr. Strauss. You've been in a terrible accident. You've been in a coma for the last thirty days."

"Is this a dream or something? Where is my wife?"


Joe struggles with the walker. His right leg is firm, but his left leg drags. Dr. Strauss watches from the window.

"That poor bastard."

"He looks like he might walk again. Give it a year."

"That's not what I'm talking about. He keeps going on and on about his wife. Man isn't even married, but he wants to see his wife again."

"Why can't we find her? Is she dead?"

"She doesn't exist. She was a dream inside Joe's head."

"What about Dr. Prescott?"

"Nobody can find that bastard. He stopped showing up at his office. Doesn't answer his calls or email."

"Has anyone tried his home?"

"I'm going there after work. That son of a bitch needs to talk to my patient. Man goes to sleep every night wanting to go back to a place that doesn't exist."


The car pulls up the driveway. Dr. Strauss gets out of the car and goes to the door. His finger pushes the doorbell. There is no sound. Strauss puts his face to the window beside the door. Mail litters the floor.

"Dr. Prescott? Are you in there?"

Strauss walks around the house. He goes to the backdoor. Strauss opens the door and walks inside.

"What the hell. . ."

Strauss covers his nose and tries not to vomit.

"Dr. Prescott!"

Strauss follows the smell into a bedroom. A bloated corpse lies on the bed. Strauss vomits.

Beside the bed is a black box. The laptop is open, but the screen is black. Strauss takes out his cellphone.

"Yes. This is Dr. Strauss. We have a dead man at 1106 Pinehurst. You need to send some people over. Cause of death?"

Strauss pauses for a minute.

"I suppose it would be an overdose. The guy never woke back up. We'll figure it out when the coroner gets here."

Strauss puts away the phone.

"Did you die happy, Prescott? Is it happiness if it isn't real?"

The room is silent.