Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Mo Eid
She told him she was struggling to sleep, so the doctor recommended that she go to DREAMLAND. She started laughing in the doctor’s chair. He was writing up a prescription while she made a Fight Club reference. She’d moved on from Jude Law to Brad Pitt movies in the past week, shuffling from her bed to the sofa with the TV when she was sure sleep wouldn’t come. A month ago, the doctor had told her to move the TV from her bedroom, suggesting it could be overstimulating her brain and interrupting her melatonin production. The doctor, stern-faced, handed her the prescription. She couldn’t understand how someone could be so insufferable. She vowed to move the TV to her bedroom the minute she got home and have a picture ready for him the next time he asked.
Joan wouldn’t have gone to DREAMLAND if she hadn’t needed EpiPens for her son. Deathly allergic to peanuts. As she pulled out her purse to pay for them at the pharmacy, the prescription fell out, crumpled and stained from the orange peels she ate during lunch. The pharmacist behind the counter held out her hand and asked if she wanted to pick that up, too, now that she was here. The man behind her in the queue sighed audibly. She tried to tell the pharmacist that it wasn’t necessary, but the pharmacist ignored her. She waited behind the counter as the pharmacist frowned at the prescription, reading it closely. She then called over a colleague, who approached Joan with an apology and a smile.
“Forgive me, madam. She’s new. She’s not too sure about certain prescriptions. If you wait by those chairs, it should be ready in a couple of minutes.”
What kind of prescription was it? Joan hesitated, eventually taking a seat in the small waiting area, certain that she couldn’t leave now. After fifteen minutes, she changed her mind. Half an hour later, the first pharmacist came out dragging a large grey box on a trolley. She called Joan’s name, and it startled her. She got up from the chair and stuffed the TV guide she’d been reading into her handbag. When faced with the pharmacist, she blinked.
“What is this?”
“Your prescription. You can’t take the trolley, I’m afraid. Good luck!”
The pharmacist moved back behind the counter to serve another customer. Joan wondered if she meant good luck with the prescription itself or trying to get it to her car. She picked up the box, and the weight strained her arms. It looked like a part missing from the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future, and she would have liked Christopher Lloyd’s help in carrying it.
She managed to heave the box into her car and drove home with a stitch in her side. She vowed to get fit and drove straight to Tesco to buy a fitness DVD. She left the car with it, leaving the grey box behind. It stayed in her car for three more days until she needed the space for a new box of DVDs from the HMV nearby. Then it stayed untouched under her bed for another week, gathering a sheet of dust.
The night she decided to use it, a headache punched at her temples. She pulled it from under the bed, windows masked by night, Meet Joe Black on full volume—a reason for the foliage of wet tissues between the sheets. Blowing off the dust, she saw a small note inscribed. Thick letters: RULES FOR DREAMLAND. She wanted to laugh, but her lack of energy rendered the sound a half-breath. She read the rules as follows:
- Do not use DREAMLAND if you are under the age of twenty-five or if you have a lack of life experience that makes you think like someone under twenty-five.
- Do not use DREAMLAND if you are on any mind-altering medication, ranging from antidepressants to recreational drugs.
- DREAMLAND is not for recreational use.
- DREAMLAND is available by prescription only.
- DREAMLAND does not change your reality, only your perception of it.
Joan read the instructions again and mumbled to herself, “What on earth…”
Beyond the box, there were a tiny pair of headphones and some skin-friendly tape, according to the packaging. To cover your eyes. She put the tape over her eyes and thought of Brendan Fraser in The Mummy. Without warning, the machine powered up with a whir like an old TV, and Joan jumped out of her skin. She’d knocked the button on the side, by mistake. It shook from side to side in her bed like a rocking horse. Joan put the headphones in and covered her eyes properly this time. Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani went silent. Noise-cancelling, she assumed. She did as the instructions said, lying face up with no blankets in case of overheating. She put the tape on her eyes. Her heart drummed. Nothing happened. She waited, but nothing happened. Nothing. She wasn’t transformed, nor did she rise out of her body, as she thought she might. Nothing happened.
She ripped the tape off her eyelids, only to discover the sun streaming through her windows. The TV screen was black. Outside, she could hear the morning’s birds. She couldn’t remember a thing about the night, not even how she had slept. Had she slept? She stood up, not feeling tired or nauseous, and her headache was gone. She never yawned. She went about her day as normal, heading to work in the morning and picking up her son from school. She couldn’t believe how fantastic she felt. She felt so fantastic that she went back to DREAMLAND the following night.
Again, the same results occurred. And the night after that, and the one after that. The TV moved back into the living room, and Joan never watched movies past her bedtime. Indeed, she had a bedtime. She worked more hours, earned more money. Received compliments on her newfound air of youth and relaxation. Went out on dates, started going on runs. She thought her life had become perfect.
Until, one day, she spotted the machine on the floor. She had forgotten to tuck it under her bed the night before. She never looked at it much, not since the first time she tried it. However, when she looked at it now, she was shocked to find it was on. Whirring and warm to the touch. She swallowed, her heart drumming. The lights were flashing. In the reflection of its silver surface, she could see her eyes, taped over.
She didn’t turn it off when she moved it back under the bed.