Sleeping with a Key

“Professor,” pleaded I, “what else can I do? Every time I see that dream where I fly in space, I wake up and find I have moved the pod, but I have no clue how to do it consciously. Daydreaming does not produce the same effect. Your theory about strengthening neural paths either does not work, or requires much more time. But I don’t have that time – there are only two weeks remaining before the end of the test.”

Professor avoided my imploring gaze and drummed his fingers on the table. He seemed to fall in trance and nodded his head following the steady rhythm. After a while his fingers performed an intricate coda and he surfaced from his reverie. “I have to admit, Vlad,” he sighed, “I am totally out of my depth here. As I’ve already said, your case is nothing like I’ve seen before. I am as desperate as you, and would buy snake oil if someone told me it would help.”

“Prof, but even if there were no such cases in your practice, what does your intuition say? I understand there can be no guarantees, but I would try any crazy idea now.”

Professor Muhamad looked at me with a strange expression and then smirked, “Crazy idea, you say. Yeah, I have a couple. For starters, read these two books and see if they give you any hints.” He typed a command on his datapad, “They are available in your library now.”

“Thanks, Prof,” I said excitedly and ran to my room.

Professor’s choice of books was quirky, but I shouldn’t complain – I’d asked for crazy ideas and I’d got them. The first book was pure fiction; it was about a man called Guido who could control his dreams. The author attributed that ability to Guido’s opium-smoking habit. Guido used opium as sedative each time he went to bed. The drug blurred the boundary between the reality and the dream and Guido managed to retain control of his actions in the dream. There was a certain parallel between his and my cases, as I found out that I needed some alcohol, at least a nightcap, to have the pod-moving dream. Guido’s story, however, had an unexpected twist. You see, Guido was a sadist and he used his dreams to satisfy his need to torture fellow humans. One night he had an unusually vivid dream about vivisecting his lovely wife. Her screams were music to his ears and he tortured his victim for hours before she expired. Having fully sated his perversion he went to bed and slept soundly. When he woke up he discovered that his wife’s bloodied body was still lying in the bedroom. Guido thought that he was still dreaming and tried to get to sleep and wake up again, but every time he raised from sleep he saw the same blood-stained bedroom and his wife’s corpse. Finally, he realised that it wasn’t a dream and that he tortured and murdered the poor woman for real.

It was a gruesome story, and I marvelled at Professor’s literary tastes. I also found a bitter irony in the fact that Guido’s worst nightmare was my most coveted aspiration – I wished I dreamed about flying in a capsule and then discovered it was not a dream. The book did not provide any specific guidance but at least it made me believe that such thing could happen in a border state between sleep and wakefulness.

When I had read the second book I understood why Prof was smirking – it was a diary of a mad artist choke full of crazy ideas. Initially, I thought that inner life of such person would be a scramble of confused thoughts where reality freely mixed with imagination, but then I found there was a method in his madness. In fact, the artist was acutely aware of the distinction between the dreams and the real life because dreams were the main source of his inspiration. His problem was that in his sleep he would have visions of heartbreaking beauty and imagine art works of pure genius, but when he woke up he didn’t remember any details. All that was left was a feeling of excitement as if he had a split second to look at the glory of the heavens and then was dragged back into mundane world. That situation vexed him so much that he invented a way to wake up before the dream was gone and forgotten. He called it “sleeping with a key”. The idea was to hold a big key between two fingers, sit in a chair and try to fall asleep. As the mind crossed the border between consciousness and sleep, and started roaming freely in the the realm of dreams, it released control over the muscles and the key would slip between fingers and fall onto the floor with a loud thump. That sound would wake the artist in the middle of his dream when his recollections of it were still fresh and vivid.

You might think it was a stupid theory. Maybe you are right, but that artist was considered one of few true geniuses of his age. I didn’t know if his success could be attributed to sleeping-with-a-key routine, but I thought that that idea was just crazy enough to work. So next day I walked into Professor’s office and said, “Tell me, Prof, how can one drop a key in zero gravity?”

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