The Dream Alchemist (Snapshot Stories 15)

After I confess to my best friend, Becs, that I’ve had the same weird dream for three days now, she lifts her goggles up and looks at me unblinkingly.

“You know that’s significant, right?”

I half-hush and half-hiss at her in a reflexive return to my old childhood habit.

Becs rolls her eyes and then waits a couple of breaths before slipping her goggles back down onto her nose. Although she likes pushing the boundaries, even she can’t bear the sepia-stained world for long.

I can’t bear it at all.

We all need our colour-equilibrium goggles sooner or later. They’re sanity-saving. I live in mine.

Dreams are the only place where colours – true colours, as they used to be – still exist.

For a while after the Desaturation, there were a lot of Dream Harvesters around, trying to patch into and mine the colours our of dreams and somehow return them into the real world. But they failed. Eventually, most people gave up.

I had heard a handful of people refused to give up. Everyone has. Urban legends. Everyone thinks they know someone who knows someone who still does it. But they don’t really. I don’t why we still believe.

Hope. I suppose.

Three nights with the same iridescent dreamscapes, and four days later, it turns out Becs does know someone who still does the dream harvesting. A Dream Etcher or something, she tells me. A rebrand.

After school, with the usual clouds blooming above our heads like grey-stained algea, we walk along the disused path parallel to the old railway tracks. On our other side is ugly, unfamiliar forest in khaki browns. It gives me the shivers. I’m glad when we reach an old shed.

It turns out this guy is a Dream Alchemist. Or so he informs us with a nod of his dirty grey head towards a defiant sign grey with rust.

I don’t want to be here.

I look at Becs hard. She knows how I feel. Unfortunately, she also knows about my super-saturated dream again.

I don’t know what to expect. But it’s painless. I don’t have to go into forced sleep or wear strange faded paraphernalia, or even take my goggles off.

I sit in a chair and place my hand on some kind of smooth pebble, and when I’m told to, I close my eyes and picture my dream in all its colours. Purple, blue, pink gold sky, electricity wires, a pastel moon in between, a bird sitting on a wire. A strange nothing dream where nothing happens except colours. It is riven with the brightest colours I’ve ever seen.

The Dream Alchemist sits at his etching machine with headphones. His eyes screw closed and scrunch his face up in lines.

His eyes stay closed, his hands work furiously and he produces four etchings on metal.

My dream in four shades.

None closely to the reality behind my eyes.

But far, far more colours in reality than most of us have seen since the Desaturation. It’s amazing to see colour in the world in my hands again.

It’s amazing. Unbelievable. Even as unease is wisping around in my gut. This is so unusual. And significant. Why my nothing dream? Why now?

My palms are sweating holding the etchings.

I hear Becs inhale and murmur in wonder.

The Dream Alchemist opens his eyes, looks at the etchings and stands up, cackling.

“You’d better run, girl. They’re gonna want all your dreams now.” He is almost dancing up and down in his excitement.

I look at him, the pit in my stomach growing.

I look at Becs for something. Reassurance maybe.

She is staring at the dreams hungrily. Eagerly.

And something else too.

My knuckles clamp around the etchings instinctively as I look at her with narrowed eyes. I recognise that look on her face.

It’s the same look she gives me when she borrows my things with no intention of returning them. One of my favourite soft toys when I was a child. My warmest scarf. My favourite beanie. My first premium goggles.

Guilt. Mixed in with the foreknowledge that it wasn’t going to stop her taking what she wanted to take.

My panic narrows into focus. I glare at her as I deliberately place the etchings and their precious colours into my coat and tie it up tight. The etchings press into me, jagged and uncomfortable.

Then I whirl past her outstretched hands and race out into the deepening afternoon and into the unfamiliar forest.

Backstory: This was originally a twitter microfic. I used the first photoshopped pic to illustrate it back in May 2022. But I had many other photoshopped variations and they inspired this longer dystopian story.

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