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Having dabbled in theoretical physics, law, and economics, Kenton K. Yee now researches, invests, and writes from Northern California. He has placed poetry and short fiction in venues ranging from The Los Angeles Review to Strange Horizons and Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. He is working on murder mysteries with artificial intelligence elements.
The curtains were shimmering behind a moth's silhouette jostling over the doctor's head.
"If you can't, turn yourself in first thing tomorrow," he said. "They'll come get you if you're not accounted for by eight. Personally, I'd do it myself."
All I remember after that is feeling helpless. It wouldn't have been more discombobulating if he had poked out my eyes. Next thing, I'm stumbling around in the parking lot. "Personally, I'd do it myself." I pinch my thigh hard and stare into the sun. I see blind spots, but I'm still there. I cancel my meetings for the afternoon. I do fifty jumping jacks in the parking lot. Knee bends. Push-ups. Bunny hops. Systemic comatic atrophy my ass! How can I know about Bedford's Law if I'm not an accountant for real? What layperson would dream up something like Bedford's Law? Bedford's Law: "1" occurs as the leading digit about thirty percent of the time while other digits occur in the leading position less frequently. Not the stuff of a normal dream, is it? So, if the doctor's right, I must be an accountant in the waking world too.
I fill my prescription, a 10,000-watt halogen bulb. I stop off at Dick's Sporting Goods for bullets and head home. I have a glass of Merlot. I start to email my daughter at MIT and my son at UCLA. I chicken out. What could I tell them anyway? Even if they should continue to exist after I awaken, they'd be just a memory to me. No sense being sentimental about dream characters. I pee. I grab a bottle of pills and load my bolt-action rifle. I hope I won't need the rifle.
Why didn't I recognize the signs earlier? My life before this diagnosis was too good to be real and I always knew it.
"Most people procrastinate," I think the doctor said. "But things can get messy if they have to come for you. Nobody likes this business, but we have no choice, you know." All the while the moth jostled over his head, black against the shimmering white curtains. He went on to say that if I don't wake up, the atrophy will kill me for real and, if I die, my dream world--all of THEM--would probably cease to exist. I have to wake up and live so they can continue to exist within my subconscious.
Then there is Jenny. My too good to be real wife, my too good to be real life. Soon, she, THIS, might be nothing but an irretrievable memory to me. Still, I don't want to put Jenny through the stress of my early morning arrest.
I lean the rifle against the side of the desk. I sit. Sleeping pills to wake up by? Meh. I put the pill bottle away. I pick up my favorite pen. I write:
You are my soulmate and I will never forget you. I want you to remarry and live on. Doctor Goodroy will explain everything. Sharon Park fish shop forever!
I fold. I tuck the letter under the pill bottle. I inhale. I'm screwing the 10,000-watt halogen bulb into the brass desk lamp. Maybe I'll awaken to a better reality. Maybe I'm rich in reality! Maybe I'm the happiest billionaire in the universe in reality! This could be a gift from God, a growth opportunity!
I switch the lamp on.
My eyes have clamped shut. I jump up and pull down my hands.
The chair rattles away. I hear it topple to the parquetry.
Tears are cascading down my cheeks like hot fudge. I force myself to continue facing the fiery flames from the direction of the bulb. There are hot, searing pocks where my face used to be. I pinch my thigh. Ouch!
But I'm still not waking up.
The switch. I feel frantically. There. I turn off the light. Jenny's Tesla is purring into the driveway. Shit! Her timing can't be worse. If she catches me, things will get very very messy.
The garage door is whirring.
I drop to my knees. I crawl. There it is. I bolt the room lock. The purring stops. Jenny will come looking for me as soon as she changes into slippers. She'll call 911. They won't believe me. They'll say I'm incoherent. They'll strap me down. I'll die. They'll cease to exist.
Damn! I knew it would come to this. I crawl back to my chair, lift it up, sit. I feel a trickle of sweat roll down over my seared eyes and down my left cheek. Here it is. It's locked and loaded. Jenny's in the foyer now. I don't have much time. I'm drenched in sweat. I'm stressing out. Maybe the stress will jolt me awake. Maybe I'll sit up gasping!
Inhale. Still not waking.
It's Jenny.
She's rattling my knob. "What did the quack say this time? Did the lab tests finally debunk him?"
It's now or never. Please God, please let me wake up in a three-story luxury penthouse high above Central Park!
"Edward! What's going on in there? Say something!"
I stand it on the floor between my knees.
"Listen to me! There's no such thing as systemic comatic atrophy. There's no Awakening Law. There are no Awakening cops."
I'm going to miss her voice.
"That Doctor Goodroy's a quack! Nobody's coming to awaken you tomorrow morning."
I balance its nozzle between my teeth. I hook my thumb around the trigger. I inhale. I push.
It's quiet as a moth.
I see: nothing.
I smell: nothing.
I taste: nothing.
Then: I hear footsteps. A door. More footsteps. More voices.
"Do you hear my voice? Say something!"
I try to say: Did I just wake up? How long was I in a coma? But I can't talk. My lips aren't moving. I can't move.
But I'm seeing again! What I see: a large round glowing saucer, cool as a desert moon, about six feet away. It's surrounded by brown-speckled white square tiles.
I'm awake! I must have awakened!
The saucer disappears. It's dark.
Fingers swivel my face.
Fingers pry open my left eye. A male face behind a tiny bright hole is peering at me. "Welcome back, professor," he says.
"How long have I been out?" My voice is gravelly. I'm talking!
"It's November 18, 2042, 3 AM. You're in the Stanford Medical Center. Do you know your name?"
I don't.
"I dreamt I was an accountant named Edward," I say. "Is this true?"
"It'll come back to you soon enough." He pats me in the shoulder.
"Am I married? Do I have kids?"
"You've been through quite an experience. We're all dying to hear what having a dream is like. In the meantime, we have to get you updated. Several of your modules deprecated."
I want to dream of Jenny, but I can't sleep. I guess I'm dreamt out. Being an accountant wasn't so bad; at least I had Jenny. I think I want to go back. But maybe my real-world wife is like Jenny. Maybe we have two kids named Dylan and Emily too.
But I don't think so.
There's no denying it: They're gone. I'll never see them again.
A signal from my cloud processor: What's it like to dream?
That's when I remember: I'm an instance of a character class.
My parameter settings: When writing my PhD thesis in theoretical physics, I blogged about A.I. stock picks and "Nuttingbutnet" was my blogging handle. That's when I learned about financial accounting and Benford's law.
My thesis: The universe is a computer simulation.
Implication: All of us are instantiations of some class object. Whatever we think or we believe or we know, we're just behaving according to the object code.
My response to the cloud processor: Dreaming feels more real than my life.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 8th, 2017

The novelist Nick Mamatas inspired this story about seven years ago in his beginners writing workshop when he suggested that starting a story with the protagonist waking up from a dream was a nonstarter. A contrarian at heart, I've been, ah, thinking up ways to prove him wrong ever since.

- Kenton K. Yee

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