4. Sliding Doors
[warning: explicit language]
It wasn’t seeing him that was the shock, it was the feeling that overwhelmed me. We’d been warned about that of course, but its always easier to talk about something in theory than to actually practice it, and after all, I knew him. We weren’t supposed to know the people we saw. They said they had made sure that wouldn’t happen. That it could interfere with real life.
Well someone had fucked up.
Of course, that wasn’t what they said when I notified them of the error. They said he was “a person of interest” and therefore couldn’t be excluded. It wasn’t my fault that he decided to choose the same profession as me! Going to the same college as him was hard enough, now he had to interfere in my work too!
Julian has always been a thorn in my side.
After visiting five different locations in the first week, of course they had to decide to focus on the one with Julian. I almost resigned on the spot. But I wasn’t going to let him win. I was still only managing glimpses, but the feeling was still as strong as ever. I tried to let it go when I went home, but it haunted me, like something in a dream.
I’m managing ten or so seconds now. It’s exhausting. And sometimes I don’t like what I’m seeing. Maybe that’s why I haven’t progressed as much as the other subjects. Yes, there are some times when I pull myself out. I don’t want to see what I’m seeing. And I certainly don’t want to feel what I’m feeling. And of course, just like a dream, it fades too fast for me to remember. So, I don’t even know what it is I’m afraid to see.
I finally remembered what it is I saw. I resigned. They said they were taking it under advisement. They told me to take the rest of the week to think about it.
Back here again. They showed me some of the fine print in my contract. I have to continue the full eight weeks. I’m not happy but they can’t stop me pulling out when I see something I don’t like. That’s just what I will have to do. They keep asking me what it is I see, but I can’t put it into words. That would make it too real. I feel like I’m losing my grip on real life as it is.
Turns out another subject is also in my location. I hadn’t seen her, but apparently, she is there. She’s seen me though, and of course, she’s seen what I see. She’s is managing fifteen minutes or so at a time now, and I am still only at a few seconds. I get pulled into head office. They question me. They are incredulous that I would try to leave the experiment for such a reason. I can’t tell them that the feeling won’t go away now. It’s with me always.
I can’t tell them that sometimes I look forward to it.
I’ve given up. I’m the first in in the morning, and the last out at night. I give myself over wholly to the feeling. I ratchet up the scoreboard, soon ahead of everybody else. I can manage three hours without pulling out now. I could manage more but I know that they have a maximum time. Any longer and they would kick me out of the experiment.
I know it’s the last week. I know there will be more studies, but I won’t be in them. Our competitors – Julian’s firm – published last week. In this industry you publish or perish. I’m not even sure this company will exist next week.
No one really cares anymore, so I stay longer and longer. I sneak back in when everyone has gone home and I set up the equipment just so I can dream longer. Each time I visit, I see Julian, working, eating, sleeping, driving, building. I see him from my own eyes. I see how much he loves me. And I see how much I love him.
And then I wake up.
I pack up. I say goodbye to the sleep staff, to the other participants. We are weary. Traveling in dreams is exhausting. I’ve never felt that way before. Maybe I will never feel that way again.
I struggle opening the front door, but someone outside grabs it and holds it open. I look up, while thanking them and look straight into Julian’s eyes.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I respond.