A short story written for a Leeds Savages writing group task....
'COCKTAILS AND DREAMS'
The right honourable Michael Faraday, Member of Parliament for Winfordshire South, examined the room service menu enthusiastically. Although hungry he turned straight to the drinks page, desperate for something strong to relax him after a long day of false smiles and forced platitudes at an extremely dull regional trade conference. The names of some of the beverages made him raise his conservative brow - he could just imagine the gossip if he were to try and claim a Slippery Nipple on expenses. Singapore Sling, Sex on the Beach, Dark and Stormy - the exotic names on the page before him seemed somewhat out of place in the bland, soulless service station hotel, and eventually he decided to pass over the cocktails in favour of a dependable Best Bitter.
Order placed he opened the window slightly in an attempt to get some fresh air into the stuffy box of a room, then kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, flicking on the television in pursuit of some entertainment to accompany the pie and a pint that would soon be making their way to his room. Flicking through the channels Michael was disappointed to find the schedule dominated by identikit light entertainment shows showcasing the dubious talents of supposed celebrities ranging from women who had apparently attained fame purely by bedding some spotty faced football player to failed politicians who were now prostituting themselves on the 21st century equivalent of Its a Knockout in a desperate effort to pay the bills. “There but for the grace of God go I” he muttered under his breath as he watched a former Home Secretary tumble head first into a vat of slime as a braying crowd pointed and laughed. With a knock on the door signalling the arrival of his order Michael turned the television off again; he’d rather eat in silence than have his enjoyment of dinner sullied by that audio-visual claptrap. Not that dinner turned out to be particularly enjoyable; the pie crust was soggy and the supposed steak filling undistinguishable from cat food. Even the eagerly anticipated pint was a flat, weak disappointment.
In an effort to improve the evening Michael decided to hire a film; maybe the kind of guns and profanity filled thriller that his wife would usually forbid from being shown within their house. Michael lifted the leaflet listing the current movie choices from its position on the bedside cabinet and scanned down an uninspiring list heavy on rom-coms and light on action. The adult movies selection was somewhat tempting, although he did question whether Naughty Nurses 8 would live up to the high standards set by its apparently award winning seven predecessors. He was about to discard the leaflet and settle for an early night when the back page caught his eye.
“New and Exclusive to Sleepy Inns – Dreams to order. With the unique Dreamtime Headset you can enjoy the dreams of your choice. Want to be an action hero, or share an intimate experience with a top model? Now at last you can live your dreams, all thanks to Sleepy Inns and Dreamtime Incorporated.”
Intrigued, Michael read on.
“To order your Dreamtime Headset just dial 7 from the in-room telephone and it will be delivered to your room preloaded with thirty dreams to suit all tastes. Excellent value at only £29.99 for eight hours use.”
Picking up the phone, Michael figured that given how exceptionally boring the day had been so far there was nothing to lose by checking out this new innovation. As an avid reader of the Times Technology Supplement he was surprised that he’d not heard about it but given the pace at which new gadgets were flooding the market these days maybe he’d just skipped the article en route to the Style magazine, which had always guiltily been his favourite part of the paper. “A Dreamtime Headset please. And if you could please bill me separately that would be splendid, I’ve a feeling that the constituents wouldn’t be too pleased if I were to claim intimate experiences with top models on expenses, har har!”
The Dreamtime machine looked somewhat like an early Sony Walkman, consisting of some flimsy looking headphones on a narrow metal band attached to a plastic box with a small digital display and a couple of round buttons. Also attached to the box was a fabric eye mask similar to those handed out on long flights in an attempt to induce sleep in a cramped, brightly lit cattle class seat. All in all the set up looked rather clunky and dated, certainly not what one would expect from cutting edge technology these days. Along with the device Michael had been provided a thick instruction manual, but being a typical male he decided that reading this would be an unnecessary waste of time; after all, with such basic aesthetic design how difficult could it be to operate?
Michael tentatively pressed one of the buttons and the digital screen lit up with the words ‘Jet Fighter Experience’. He pressed the button again and the display changed to read ‘Great Barrier Reef Diving’. Another press and the screen flashed with ‘Adult Movie Star experience’. With a blush Michael quickly pressed the button again; much as that particular choice sounded tempting, it was possibly more than his heart could take. He decided to settle with the next option, ‘Serengeti Nights’. He’d always fancied going on safari, but Mrs Faraday’s general refusal to venture anywhere hot, dusty and lacking in a local branch of Marks and Spencer had sadly curtailed his thoughts of travel.
Eye mask and headphones on, Michael settled back on the bed and pressed the red ‘start’ button on the Dreamtime box. In an instant he felt a warm African wind caressing his face and could hear the sound of chirping birds and chattering insects dancing through his ears. He was surrounded by lush green plains and swirling clouds of abrasive sand that scratched at his cheeks. “My goodness, this is wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Why on Earth hadn’t I heard about this before? This really is quite spectacular.” He spent what felt like a good hour but could have been as little as a minute in the real world exploring the terrain, taking in the sights, sounds and even smells of a distant continent from the comfort of his Sleepy Inns memory foam mattress. The experience was so convincing that he was hungry for more, and without removing his eye mask he fumbled with the ‘next’ button on the device to see where it would take him.
The heat rushed away, replaced by an incredible sense of lightness. All around Michael could see unimaginably deep darkness shot with flecks of flaming gold, and beneath him an instantly familiar sphere of vivid blue, green, brown and white. “I’m in space;” he gasped. “I’m in space!” He spun around a few times, revelling in the sensation of complete weightlessness, but having never been enthusiastic about pursuits that involved one’s feet leaving contact with solid ground he could not help feel uneasy with this most ultimate isolation. A swift press of the button and he was relieved to feel his buttocks make contact with a comforting albeit butt-bruisingly hard wooden chair. A rancid fusion of sweat, beer and cigarette smoke invaded his nostrils and the deafening silence of the heavens was replaced with a pounding disco beat as barely inches in front of Michael’s face a slender young woman with unnaturally tanned skin gyrated in the skimpiest of knickers. Although this was a far from unpleasant experience Michael felt that this was not the best use of his Dreamtime given that he’d frequented the genuine Stringfellows only a couple of weeks previously, so he pushed the button once more, eager for a less everyday experience.
Whereas previously pressing next had instantly transported him from one fantasy scenario to the next, this time nothing appeared to have happened – the girl was still in front of him performing some feats of exceptional flexibility to a mash up of 80s tunes. Frustrated, he jabbed at the button repeatedly. “Come on;” he exclaimed, agitated, “I paid good money for this thing. I could get a private dance at the Sapphire Lounge for a tenner, so why would I spend three times that on a virtual version?” A few more jabs at the button and the whole world suddenly seemed to slow down until the girl before him was frozen still with one leg behind her head and an unconvincing expression of mock ecstasy on her face. The scene then sped up and the woman continued to grind and thrust as if possessed by demonic forces. Michael tried to prize himself from his chair but was rooted to the spot.
He pressed and held the button, hoping that it might reset the box and free him from the seedy situation. After holding it in for a few seconds everything went blank and it looked as if he had succeeded in escaping from the monotony of a virtual version of what was an artificial encounter at the best of times. Respite was however brief as with a trio of shrill beeps the box sprung to life again and Michael found himself back where his dreamtime experience had started Serengeti style. Although the warmth was familiar from his earlier visit, the whole atmosphere seemed a bit different this time; the chorus of birds and crickets seemed to have calmed, replaced by what sounded like a gentle purring. Michael spun around and found himself face to face with the source of the noise; a disturbingly real and not at all dreamlike lion bearing some extremely realistic teeth flecked with the blood and flesh of the last creature to have had the misfortune to have crossed its path.
Michael tried to remove the eye mask from his face but seemed to have lost all control of his real world self, the machine having transported him to that deepest stage of sleep where dream and reality are inextricably blurred. With his carnivorous feline opponent close enough to flood his lungs with its nauseating halitosis, Michael turned and started to run as fast as he could. He could feel the breath of his pursuer on the back of his neck when suddenly he tripped on some uneven ground. With a loud expletive he tumbled down – and then up. It felt as if he were falling but rather than moving closer towards terra firma he was being torn away, zooming at such a speed that within seconds he had burst through the atmosphere of the earth and was back in outer space. This time however the galaxy was not unnervingly silent, for the seedy stripclub soundtrack appeared to be echoing around the heavens, interspersed with the deep growls of the fearsome lion which didn’t seem to be the slightest bit bothered by its unusual surroundings. The only thing that provided a small amount of comfort was the fact that he now appeared to be wearing a bulky space suit, though quite how much protection that would provide from jaws of steel which were soaring towards him was something that he was not keen to find out.
If only he’d read the instruction manual he would have known the simple combination of buttons that would reset the device, but as Michael’s head was consumed by a whirling blur of lions, strippers and shooting stars, it felt increasingly like was he was trapped in a nightmare from which there was no hope of escape. Never again would he bemoan poor in-room entertainment; a cup of tea, a good book and an early night, that was the way forward.
It was 6am and the sun was just beginning to rise when duty manager Sharon Sands found the body of the right honourable Michael Faraday, former Member of Parliament for Winfordshire South, tangled in a duvet in a bush four storeys below the open window of room 314. Mr Faraday was naked other than for a pair of grey briefs but there was no evidence of foul play other than a few scratches across his face and torso which appeared to have been self inflicted. The coroner later concluded that Mr Faraday had not been awake when he had tragically fallen to his death, and although the distraught Mrs Faraday had no recollection of her husband having ever sleepwalked in their 34 years of marriage she was relieved that there had been no foul play. Once she had come to terms with her unexpectedly premature widowhood, Mrs Faraday realised that out of tragedy a wealth of opportunity was born. Michael had always been steady, dependable and trustworthy but he had never been the most exciting of men. Maybe now was the time to live her dreams; after all, what harm could it possibly do?