This is a ficitonal work inspired by imagery from your dreams. We update the story regularly, adding chapters as the 'Your Dreams' archive grows, revealing new themes coming from our group subconscious during the Covid-19 pandemic.
CW: BDD, self-harm, suicide
Birds are flying over the rainbow
So why oh why can't I
I. Up From the Water
VIV-93 woke from a dream of the underground. He'd been exploring a subterranean river that ran so deep, by the time he realized there was no end it was of no use to turn back.
He checked his phone. Work starting in 57min.
Over breakfast he checked a few sites he'd bookmarked earlier in the year offering tours of disused tube stations. Not for now, of course, maybe not even until next year. But definitely still an appealing idea.
MAR-67 came in while he was eating, annoying. He heard the whirring of the propellors and tensed in his seat. The drone nudged the door open - ("Oh, hi!") "Good morning." - and hovered over to the counter, paying lip service to the idea of making breakfast. He couldn't remember what she usually had, and from the drone's positioning she could just as easily be putting bread into the toaster as putting cereal into the bowl.
("You gotta work?")
"Yep. Off shortly."
("Did you speak to them about a rise?")
He hadn't. "I did, they said they'd think about it."
("Oh, well, good for you!") The drone went over to the fridge. She must be getting milk then, milk for cereal. ("They're working you too hard.")
"That's just it, isn't it?"
Although, she could just as easily be getting butter for toast. He supposed he could just ask, but then, some people didn't think much of that, ruins the illusion.
"Better hit the road."
("I'll be taking a couple of tea and coffee thermoses and a few other little bits out to the folks at the sit-in, I can give you a lift as far as -")
"Oh, that's okay, I like the cycle, keeps my head straight."
She did like to offer every now and again, it was the most baffling thing. The drones weren't nearly sophisticated enough to drive a car, she must realize? What would she have done if he'd said yes?
("Ok. Well. You have a good day.")
Out in the world, pushing through the pedals. Supposedly this was the driest May since records began? Nice for all that.
Orange Juice playing in the earphones, I Guess I'm Just a Little Too Sensitive. The alternative was the buzz of the propellers, drones moving singly or in groups across the roads, up and down the pavements, even through the cycle paths.
He stared as a susurration of forty blared down the road, the sunlight eaten up by their black chassis. A rush hour bus.
Pulling up outside the practice, he pushed his bike into the back alley. Though it'd been an easy ride he could feel he'd raised a big damp patch on the back of his shirt and tutted. Whatever. He took off his cycle helmet and was puzzled by a red cut he noticed connecting the web between his thumb and forefinger to his wrist.
When had that happened?
The morning huddle was the usual galvanizing process. The director hovered in front of the morning shift and coated them all off for the declining sales, the client reviews trending downwards, so on and so on.
("I appreciate it's a trying time, a strange time, okay, but I expect you all to be upholding our usual high standard where you all are, I've heard whispers of some members of staff coming into work in inappropriate attire, bathing costumes and the like... anyway, I've spoken to the member of staff involved and action will be taken if any further lapses are discovered, okay. Everything proceeds from how you present yourself, your whole attitude, it truly is vitally important that we are projecting an attitude of professionalism, courteousness and normality, perhaps normality most of all.")
There VIV sat, black nail polish, four day growth on his chin, sweat drying on his back. He'd had his own phase of coming in in full drag, coming in in scene gear, coming in nude but for the phrase GOOD HOME COOKIN' rendered in lip gloss on his freshly shaved chest. It had passed. He wore the shirt and tie now, for all that the shirt was unbuttoned to the navel and the knot was down by his ribs. The chance to wear out whatever he wanted without fear of censure had been intoxicating for the first month, but it had ultimately led to the most profound attack of dysmorphia he'd ever experienced. He'd obsessed over what he thought was his retreating hairline to the point where he'd finally, tearily, buzzed it down to the scalp. He'd pinched, prodded and wrested the soft flesh of his stomach and thighs, convinced he was running to fat, though truthfully he was losing weight, and finally applied the edge of a hot kettle lightly to his abdomen, making a score of angry marks in the white skin.
"But apart from all that, I'm fine."
Seven pm rolled around. Peter Gabriel, San Jacinto.
The sky was just as blue and cloudless on the cycle back home, but it was cooler. Sunlight dripped from window panes.
The beauty of buildings without people, he found himself thinking. Was he a bad person for thinking that way? Was it selfish? Was he just becoming an old fucking misery?
There was a guilty part of him that knew he'd wanted something like this to happen all his life, that was the truth of it. Long before Vivek had become VIV-93. He'd never wanted anyone to die, obviously not, and obviously not in the stomach-turning manner that those who had died had gone to their end. But something with this effect.
To be the last one left.
There was a big conflab of the drones down by the embankment, with a few blue light models at the centre of it all.
VIV was tired, and it honestly wasn't in his nature to rubberneck.
Nevertheless, on whatever impulse, he hopped off the bike and walked it down to the water's edge. Someone had jumped in the river. VIV pushed his way through the onlookers.
("That's horrible. Just horrible.")
("My days... this is some madness.")
He could see the blue lights pulling the dead chassis out of the water. He could just tell. He'd wonder ever after how he could have possibly known at a glance. Hers had been the standard four-propeller model in black, common as mud.
One of the blue lights tried to block him.
("Back behind the line, please, the specialists are at work.")
"I know her. I do, I know her, it's my landlady."
They let him through. He knelt by the waterlogged drone. MARJORIE ELAYNE BASSET, BORN 28-05-1967 in white letters of the front of the chassis.
He'd been a cunt to her that morning.
One of the blue lights buzzed close to his shoulder.
("Why'd she do it, son?")
2. Down Through the Ceiling
CW: harassment, sexual assault
VIV was dreaming of the pub - that's how bad it had gotten.
He hated the pub, the pub is for kids. Sit on your arse, lift glass, lower glass, up to the bar, stand,
stand, take the glass back, sit on your arse. Can't hear a fucking word that's said. He'd never
pulled in the pub, it wasn't an environment that showed off his qualities, whatever his qualities
He dreamt of the pub. Crowding. Stale smells. Foreign bodies.
Here now was [Hguh]. [gHhu] was telling him something secret, looking back over his shoulder to
see if anyone was watching. It was hard to hear him. Do I need a hearing aid? he found himself
thinking, then No, what, I don't have hearing loss, I'm only 27.
Except, he realized, he wasn't. He was pushing fifty, his hair was lank and thin, his leather jacket
stank. [Huhg] was tall and gorgeous in that horsey way the ruling classes have cornered the
market in, rugby top straining across a barrel chest. He spoke to VIV the way you speak to a little
kid, nodding after every sentence and waiting until VIV nodded too so that all is understood, and
clapping him constantly on the shoulder, as if knocking the meaning of the words into him.
Money changed hands, a wad of sweaty notes from [ghuH]'s hand to his, and off [hguH] went,
elbowing through the throng, back to his table, there to be greeted by [mmEa] and [tKa].
VIV reviewed the data: [guHh] is fucking [Eamm]. [atK] is also fucking [ammE], which doesn't sit
well with [Hhgu], so it has been arranged for VIV to fuck with [Kta] just a little bit.
He watched her weaving through the crowd, up to the bar to get the round, showtime.
He went up behind her and tapped her shoulder. She made out like she hadn't noticed. He leant
and said something in her ear, he could see her react to the stink of his breath. It affected him,
knowing he was disgusting to her. Even with the money in his pocket, he took it personally, was
moved to try and change her mind, he gave her a bit of the chat.
"Could you just leave me alone, please, thank you."
He felt angry, turned her around by the shoulder. She slapped at his hand and started shouting,
trying to attract attention. A few looked but nobody made to interfere. It was easy to take the
silence as tacit approval, he felt righteous.
Why am I doing this? This isn't me.
He blared crudely down at her, she pushed him backwards.
I do burlesque, women love me.
He groped for her, figuring he'd at least take what he could carry.
Fuck. I turned into Dad after all.
She pushed him again, harder, and he performed a stage dive into a loaded table, sending pint
glasses flying and breaking. Blood ran from his palms. Looking up with his best wounded
expression, he saw the barman had come out and was ticking her off, massive result. She was
being told to leave. The party who'd been sat at the table were only fucking commiserating with
him, helping him up into a seated position.
He felt himself rising higher and higher, above the chaos. He found he could look down and see
the arguing figures digging at each other amidst the wreckage, getting smaller and smaller. He
floated up, towards the cracking plaster.
He was lifted up into his body, his real body this time, or at least the one he knew.
VIV awoke. He was sweating.
He could hear something downstairs, as if someone was knocking around down there. Was it one
of his housemates? They had their prickish moments, but they were usually more considerate. He
picked up his charging phone and pressed home, it was 3:42am.
He heard something shatter. Could someone have broken in?
He pulled a pair of bottoms on and went downstairs. It had come from the kitchen.
VIV pushed open the door. There was a drone hovering just off the floor by the cupboard under the
sink. It had just about managed to get the cupboard door open but lacked the fine motor control by
a long chalk to be able to pick up the dustpan and brush. A pint glass lay in pieces on the
The drone turned sluggishly around, the unit knocking a sieve off the draining board as it raised
itself to head height, VIV figured wherever this person was right now they were in a state of very
VIV peered at the ID on the drone's chassis.
("Fucking. Yeah, mate. Sound.")
The landlady's son. They'd spoken on the phone at the police station, and VIV had known to
expect him in the next couple of days. Jesus, thought VIV, he must have gotten straight on the
road after all, driven all the way from Manchester. How had he even had time to get this much of a
MAR-67's dusty collection of spirit bottles were out on the counter, a significant percentage of thecontents now doubtless floating around in the drone's onboard storage. He found he could even
hear it sloshing about as FRA-95 jerked from side to side. What a waste. Whose bright idea was it
that the things had to be able to take food and drink into themselves?
"Again, mate, I'm really... I'm so sorry for your loss..."
("It's a fucking. Is what it is, mate. I don't even know. My fucking head's banging.") FRA-95 hovered at an elliptical angle - in his parallel, in his version of the house he grew up in, he was clearly leaning heavily against the kitchen worktop.
"It's dreadful. She was a wonderful woman. Here, let me help." VIV went and retrieved the dustpan and began to sweep up the shards of glass.
("She'd been out of it for a dog's age.") The drone lurched over to where he was sweeping.
"Just make sure you watch your step, Francis, alright?"
"That's just it, mate, there's little bits everywhere, have you cut yourself?"
("WHY DID I TAKE MY FUCKING SHOES OFF.")
("THOSE WERE HER RULES, SHOES OFF AT THE DOOR. WELL, NO MORE.")
"Is it bad, do you need a doctor?"
("MENTAL FUCKING BITCH, HEAD CASE.")
"I've got my first aid certification, I could walk you through what to do where you are."
("It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine.") FRA-95 went to hover over one of the chairs at the little breakfast nook.
("You broke the rules as well.")
"How d'you mean." VIV knew just what he meant.
("Called me Francis. Not allowed. No proper names, shhhh. Bad boy, Vivek.")
VIV made out like he hadn't heard and finished clearing away the pieces.
"I don't wanna be heartless, but I do need to be at work in the morning."
("Fair comment. Sorry I woke you. I'm going up myself in a minute. I just want to sit here and think
for a bit.")
"Sure I can't take you up to your room?"
("Woo hoo, hello. Didn't know you cared, haha. Sorry, that's not funny, is it. No. I'll be ok, you go on
up. Don't worry about me. Nobody else does.")
Silently, VIV left him to fall asleep in the chair, going up to lie awake in his bed for four hours before
VIV-93 was dreaming a pregnancy, palms flat on either side of the bump, glad of the company. It will be a girl, he realized, in the manner of dreams. He was lying on his back on the sofa in a room with glass walls. The sun was pouring in and there was nothing on his list of things to do but take that light into his body.
There was a jump cut in the movie and suddenly the glass room and the bump were gone, and there was a child instead. This was a little boy, four or five, who looked at him across the table with suspicion and distrust.
Oh that's right, he remembered, we swapped.
It had been the only way to keep both the children safe. VIV's daughter had gone with that other, that other's son had gone with him. What did his daughter look like now?
VIV realized he could see the men in fine suits now, moving through the cafe, time to run again. He took the protesting child's hand and led him quickly out, out into the world, running down ever darker backstreets. They turned a corner and almost ran straight into...
"'Kin 'ell. I was just getting into that." He said aloud.
Into the shower.
He glanced into the kitchen on his way out and saw what he fully expected to see, FRA-95 still prone in the chair, the voice modulator snoring away. No breakfast then, fine.
--At work, he needed to dispense spectacles for a mother and her five year old.
"Hi there!" He took a seat behind the desk and put on his best 'for kids' voice. "Now, first thing's first, what shall I call you?"
The little drone rocked in place over the seat and said nothing. The mum spoke up for them.
("Well, the way our thoughts have been trending, we think it's better to go by official designations outside the house.") A gregarious sort of voice. ("I know the latest guidelines say it's designations everywhere, even within families, but I dunno, that just seems a bit draconian, don't you think?")
"I agree completely. If I'm totally honest, I don't know if I totally grasp the thinking behind... any of it."
("Yeah! Yeah. But, you know.")
"Yes. So, JAE-15, is this your first pair of glasses?"
JAE-15 rocked in place that little bit more vigorously, which VIV took to be a shake of the head.
"No, so, you're an old hand, then! Are we thinking of getting new lenses put in an existing pair that we know and are nice and familiar with, or are we gonna have a bit of a change?"
VIV wondered what JAE was short for, if it was short for anything. And 'Jae' is a name in itself, isn't it? He wondered if the kid was white. What does that matter? Just curious. But it doesn't matter. The mum sounds white. What does white sound like?? I don't know, you just sort of know it when you hear it. What's her designate? CRE-89, no clues there. Do I sound white??
("Let's have a look at what's new, shall we?") Said the mum.
VIV led the two drones into the kid's specs room.
"Feel free to try on anything you like the look of where you are, JAE-15."
The little drone shyly approached the rack. The little hooks extended out from the chassis and selected a pair of green frames. The drone tried to approximate the placing of the spectacles on the child's nose by trying to apply it to the broad, chrome unit. The glasses scraped around noisily on the surface for a few seconds before, inevitably, dropping to the floor. VIV winced down at them, he'd pick them up after they'd gone.
"How are they fitting?"
The child said nothing.
("Are they comfy?") CRE-89 prompted. ("Or no?")
The smaller drone drifted over to the larger and said something that barely registered as speech to VIV.
"So the main considerations..." VIV knelt at the drone's level, keeping his distance. "...as I obviously can't fit them out for you in person just at the moment, is that they're not too tight on the sides of your head, but at the same time, aren't so loose that they're sliding down your nose when you move your head. Does that make sense?"
("So you need to make sure they fit perfectly, okay?") CRE-89 hammered home the point.
VIV kept quiet. Three years old was the cut-off point, practically babe-in-arms. Any older and they were on their own. He allowed himself to picture the kid looking up at the drone for guidance or comfort where they were, just for a moment, then had stopped himself.
"So yeah." He said, all business. "Any pinching, any slipping?"
--There was no sign of FRA-95 when he arrived back home. Good. He cooked some chicken breast and some carrots and took them straight up to his room. This evening's viewing was six hours of footage of Eagle Beach in Aruba. He sat and ate the simple food, deriving some obscure satisfaction from the notion that he was doing nothing more than feeding fuel to an engine. He'd been off his food since MAR-67 passed, struggling to stave off persistent nausea.
He put his plate to one side and lay back on his bed, allowing the sound of the waves and the noise of the crowd from the footage to wash over him. He had been reading lately about lucid dreaming. On his phone were a week's worth of audio files of confused pre-dawn ramblings, an impressionistic journal that he'd not quite worked up the courage to review. Supposedly it was helpful to pick out recurring threads? Tomorrow was a day off, he'd get his notebook out in the morning.
For now, he wound his work tie around his eyes, blocking out the light.
The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach. The beach.
In fact, it looked like an old village hall, or a school assembly room, or the function room of the community centre back home, Jesus, the number of shit birthday party discos he'd been dropped off at there.
A part of him wondered if he'd ever dream of being outdoors again. Had he ever before? There was that article written by a man who'd spent 15 years in prison, and while he was inside could only ever dream of being within the prison walls, like any number of other things or familiar people from the life before could feature, but they'd always be transplanted into the canteen, the laundry room, Visitation. Even five years after getting out, this man could still only dream within those walls.
VIV ran forward, suddenly realizing: it's rehearsal time.
He was a child now among other little boys, all running in a circle, all bearing a guttering candle. When his candle would blow out because he had laughed over the wick, or turned too quickly in the loop, one of the other boys would reach out and gently turn him around, and would reignite the flame from their own. It was clumsy, silly work, but it was nice to be so close, it was nice to have this mission in common, the warmth and the obscure sense of fellowship with another young body in motion, Vivek had forgotten what that felt like.
Suddenly he slipped on the wooden boards and hit the deck. He went sprawling face first and for the first time he became aware of something hard and metallic gripped in his jaw. The other boys simply carried on as if nothing had happened, even as he cried, even as he spat teeth and blood amidst the tramping feet.
He let the object drop, and peered at it through tears. A metal case cast in the shape of a love heart. He opened it: a makeup case, eyeshadow, blusher, a couple of little applicators.
The candle was rolling back and forth on the floor. It hadn't quite gone out.
He woke up in a panic. The tie around his eyes confused his waking senses and he scrabbled to remove it. It was soaking. He was sobbing, really crying. How long had he been sobbing in his sleep? Gulping down the real air he fumbled for his phone. 3:42am. The light was still on and the video of the beachgoers was still playing away.
Mum: Are u ok?
VIV-93 stared at the phone screen until the alert faded.
He sat on a bench by the waterside, looking out at where they had fished out MAR-67. Marjorie. Might as well just say Marjorie. He slipped two fingers beneath the hem of his shirt and let the tips run over the burns he had made on his abdomen. Day off today. He'd woken up early that morning, showered and shaved his face, buzzed his hair down to the scalp again. He sported a pink sequined top bearing a lip-biting mouth motif, yellow chequed trousers and cherry red Doctor Marten's, finished off with a can can dancer's feathered headband. Every day now he felt hyper- conspicuous, like everyone was staring at him, and he was trying to steer into the swerve.
The drones were buzzing all around him, strolling up and down the bank in groups. One was busking, modulated electronic voice competing with the incessant propellor noise.
Francis B (Marjorie Son): hiya mate . are you about this eve , need to have a chat about what we,re doing with regard to the house , let me know as soon as you can . wathced that documentary you recommended about shell shock last night , bit hard going but definately worthwhile . anyway message me back , this is francis , cheers
VIV-93's stomach dropped. -
("So yeah, basically, I've been having quite a few chats with my big brother, CHR-85, who I think you've met, he's obviously living overseas at the moment, and also with my little sister BRI-97, who's not really been in the, like, orbit of the family for the last couple of years, but anyway.")
VIV-93 had headed unhappily back to the house straight away and now stood in the kitchen, feathers swaying gently in the wind as FRA-95 addressed both him and ZEN-00 with the brisk air of someone leading a team awayday.
("Obviously it's been a very stressful time for all of us, Marjorie's kids, lots of logistical things to consider. Mum obviously bought this place for what seems like a crazily small amount of money back in the day, just the good luck of where and when you're born, I suppose. Anyway. Anyway, the costs are obviously only going up and up. Utilities. And obviously I know she was glad of the company of the various lodgers that have come through since she started to take them in about ten years ago, on one level. On another level, you know, to be real, it was always slightly a case of needs must when the devil drives and I know that it sometimes rankled a bit to be in the position of needing to open her doors...")
He hovered blankly, the sunlight from the kitchen window streaming in behind him.
("I'm getting off track. Best to just get it out there, I think.")
("Yes, please.") ZEN-00 said levelly. VIV had not really had a chance to get to know the only other lodger currently in residence, a young Polish woman who'd moved in four months ago. He regretted that a little bit.
("We'll be selling off the house. It'll be a shame to say goodbye to the old place, but it's only bricks and mortar at the end of the day and we're landed with not insignificant costs arising from Mum's passing. So, that's it. Obviously we're aware that leaves you guys in a bit of an awkward position, but we're just looking to put you in the picture as soon as possible really.")
There it was. It was as VIV-93 suspected. If anything, as the hammer fell it was merely a relief to have it confirmed.
"Ok then." He swallowed. "Thank you for telling us."
ZEN-00 tutted audibly to herself at this. Fair.
"Do you have any idea when you'll be putting the place on the market?"
("Well, as it happens, CHR-85 has been talking to someone over the past couple of days, an old family friend. We're gonna take care of it that way. This lady, she's very keen, we're just hashing out the finer details now. I asked Chris, sorry, CHR-85 to pass along the chain the possibility of maybe retaining you guys as lodgers, but she's not actually needing to have anybody live in for a minute or two. Alright for some, ay. And she'd rather have the place unoccupied for the couple of months it's going to take to make the renovations she wants to make...")
"When will she be taking up the tenancy?" The queasy, whirlpool feeling was growing in his gut again.
("We're looking at a key exchange about two weeks from now.")
ZEN-00 wordlessly hovered out of the room and upstairs. A moment went by and the bathroom lock could be heard being pushed to.
("I appreciate that that's a bit sooner than the 30 days notice you guys had agreed with Mum. But I have seen the agreements and obviously they're just a couple of paragraphs on A4. Probably would have been a good idea for all parties involved, not just you guys, to have laid out something a bit more comprehensive, but here we are.")
"What renovations though?" VIV could feel panic rising. "What could she possibly have done now, during the crisis? There's literally no building work she could have done right now, it'll be months before anything like that can be go on, can't we stay until then?"
("I know it's frustrating, the thing is, I'm not directly in touch with this person, CHR-85 is handling all that, I can definitely have a word with him about that but I know she was pretty adamant initially about wanting you guys out. The last thing I want is, obviously, to promise you a stay of execution I can't deliver.")
VIV stared. Silence reigned for a moment, then the modulated sound of someone retching floated down from the bathroom.
("Why don't we have a meal? A meal to send the place off in style! I'll make my lentil chilli.")
"I have plans, sorry."
("I didn't say when.")
"Gotta find somewhere to live, haven't I?" He couldn't resist saying.
("Ok. Well, I'll take that on the chin. Like every fucking thing else.") The drone sidled out, leaving VIV alone.
In his dream he was an old man.
Two young women were in front of him, were tending to him, were hanging on his every word. They wanted the house, he knew. While he had the house, he had their love. It was intoxicating and it was suffocating. It was too much. He had to cut one of them off at the knee.
He told them he was declining by the day and that at the end of things he wanted only one of them to be taking care of him.
Where are my own people? He wondered. Why am I relying on these strangers, these hangers- on?
They must all be dead, he realised.
I meant to call Mum back.
Too late now.
One of these girls was his long-term carer, the other was a pretty young thing who'd grown up in the house over the road. Raising a hand in what he fancied to be a Solomon-like manner, he bestowed the honour on the younger girl.
The older woman, eggy now, asking how could you this, proclaiming this many years of experience in her field that. It was pleasing to him that she was angry. He fed like a vampire off any reaction he could provoke, good or bad. It meant he mattered, even now. The younger came and knelt at his knee and placed her hand on his hand.
Even in the dream state, something deep within him bridled at the skin on skin contact.
This is all wrong. It spreads like this. You can catch it by hearing the speech of the infected. You can catch it by the very sight of the infected. Flesh on flesh isn't safe, not anymore, maybe not ever again.
The neighbour girl was asking him if he was alright, telling him he should pick the other. "I will stick with you. I think you are a bit more romantic." He told her.
That sounded a bit fucking weird.
The record skipped and suddenly the house was filled with young animals, yapping and whining. A staffy pup was relieving itself on the linoleum. A night-black kitten was climbing the curtains. The floor beneath his aching, slippered feet was alive with selfish, wriggling bodies. The sharp scent of fur and urine was overwhelming and the women were nowhere to be seen.
"Who's going to take care of all these?" He heard himself rasping.
"God help me, who's going to take care of me?"
The plaster of the ceiling was suddenly beginning to crack and fall and shatter down onto his head and the heads of the creatures. They must be upstairs as well, must be thousands of them to make the house buckle under the weight like this. He could feel blood running down his temple, tried to scoop up and protect as many of the babies as he could. Fear bloomed in his chest.
My house is falling in.
The ceiling caved. -
VIV-93 came back to consciousness. He didn't shout and he wasn't sweating. He was becoming remarkably sanguine about these unbidden visions of his own destruction.
He stared up at the ceiling as he waited for his heart rate to slow to normal. Just a few spots of mould up there, but still intact.
To be continued...