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Process

Nyki Blatchley is a British author, poet, and copywriter living in Hertfordshire, just outside London. A graduate in English and Classics, his fantasy novel At An Uncertain Hour was published by StoneGarden in 2009. He's had about forty short stories and novellas published--besides a previous story in Daily Science Fiction (Folding Doors), he's had recent publications in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine and the Third Flatiron anthology It's Come to Our Attention.

He's an administrator for the online group Fantasy-writers.org. He's passionate about history, including the local history of Hertfordshire, and has written a number of songs and storytelling pieces based on local folklore. He's also been known to perform his poetry to musical backing, especially at the (now sadly defunct) London venue Bunjies Coffee House, once the haunt of the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Paul Simon.
By the time I reach the front of the queue, even the more vibrant hues of gray are being leeched out of the surroundings. I hold the container tightly to myself for an instant, my instincts rebelling against giving it up, but I know there's really no choice.
The middle-aged woman in front of me is turning away, tears trickling down her face. Even so, the vagueness in her eyes and the almost transparent gray of her skin suggest she doesn't have enough left to understand why she's crying. Just that everything's lost.
Will I be like that by the time I leave the queue?
"Yes, next," says the man in the window. His color is a solid slate-gray that shows no sign of fading into nothing. Some are like that. My friend--I can't remember his name, but I know he's my friend, or was at least--suggested they're the ones who didn't have enough color to start with to notice the loss.
"I have..." I swallow. "It's my last. I was saving it, but...."
"Hand it over, then." The man's voice is as impassive as the surrounding gray, and I hand over the container, my hands trembling.
"I dreamed it two years ago," I explain, even though I know it means nothing to this man. "Just before the... the disaster."
No one has come up with a satisfactory name for the disaster. In the early days, it was debated fiercely, and both names and theories were tossed about liberally. I don't remember any of them now.
It started when, overnight, everyone in the city lost the ability to dream. It wasn't immediately obvious, of course. At first, we all just assumed our sleep patterns meant we weren't remembering our dreams, and it was a month or two before the more perceptive researchers began to see a pattern. By that time, the whole city was noticeably more colorless than we were used to.
"Hm." The slate-gray man is examining the contents of the container. "There isn't much of it. What's the content?"
"I was dancing," I explain. I can still hold the memory of the dream, though it's leaking out like water from a holed bucket. Once it's been processed, it'll be gone for good. "I couldn't tell if it was inside or outside. I think it kept changing. You know what dreams can be like."
He stares at me impassively. No, maybe he doesn't.
"Well, then a giant white rabbit came out of a hole in the ground and turned into a queen. She looked exactly like a girl I was in love with at school, but she was all dressed in flowy white with a huge golden crown on her head. She told me to dance with her, or she'd cut my head off, so I did."
I don't mention how, in the dream, that made me feel very sexually aroused. I've never quite understood that.
"Anyway, after we'd danced for a while, she said, 'I want to climb this pole.' I looked around, and there was a pole stuck in the ground, so thick you could hardly get both arms around it. I couldn't see the top--it disappeared right up into the sky.
"I said, 'Isn't that dangerous?' but she laughed and climbed the pole. I watched her for a while, then she disappeared. I was trying to decide whether I should climb after her when I woke up."
He's silent for a moment, as if expecting me to continue. Then he asks, "Is that all?"
"Well... yes." I'm too tired and worn to feel upset at his attitude. "It's always been special to me, though. It's my last."
He makes a noncommittal sound and tips the container into the machine that stands beside him. I can't see anything inside the perspex casing, but I can feel my last dream dying.
It was about a year after the disaster that someone came up with the idea of processing dreams. We were desperate, by then. It was as if the dreams we had at night weren't the only kind of dreams that had died. The city and everything in it were growing transparent, the people were losing their ability to hope and imagine, and no one came near us anymore.
We always treasured our dreams. For as long as records go back, special dreams had always been stored in the crystal containers. Like everyone, I used to keep shelves of them at home that I took out and relived whenever the world seemed grayer than usual.
The idea was that, properly processed, it could delay the decline. It didn't matter that it was a temporary solution, that there wasn't an unlimited supply of dreams. It would buy us time till someone had come up with a proper answer.
But no one did, of course. At first, all citizens were required to hand over one dream a month, then one a week. Many people have none left, though, and everyone now is too gray and faded to look for a solution. The dreams are running out, and when the last one has been processed, the city and everyone in it will fade away.
Perhaps it's for the best, rather than surviving in unending grayness.
We both wait in silence as the machine does its work. After a while, the man tells me, "Your dream is being processed now. It will bring some color to the city for a few minutes."
What he says makes me feel sad, but I've no idea what he's talking about.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 1st, 2020


The inspiration for Process came from a very unusual source--one of those meaningless spam email subject lines which read "Your dream is being processed." That made me wonder for what purpose dreams might be processed, and I came up with the scenario of this story.

It's about the whole society, of course (perhaps ours, in a way?) but focusing it down to a single individual at a single moment felt more poignant than trying to show everything. Given that, it seemed obvious to write it in first person, which helped me to immerse myself in the person, the situation, and the loss.

- Nyki Blatchley
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