A Seamy Reality
Dreamed 1999/10/21 by Chris Wayan
I'm standing on a freeway shoulder looking down on San Francisco Bay. Below is San Mateo, where I grew up, just north of Silicon Valley. Instead of Coyote Point, there's a snow-covered peak! A steep cone, a mile high--small as these volcanoes go. The treeless alpine zone is not large, but the snow extends well down into the trees, as if it's winter... in fact, down to sea level! A few patches lie near me on the shoulder! Yet to the south, it abruptly stops. Spring on the hills, green and mustard yellow, with flaming streaks of poppies.
I walk toward the dividing line. It's quite sharp. Winter here, spring there.
A traffic jam. Meet other researchers on foot. They confirm it's either a time-slip of about three months, or, more likely, a reality-seam, since right at the line, the traffic changes: those on the springlike southern side seem to drive on the left side of the freeway! The differences in car crashes alone would change history utterly: thousands of lives a year... Or is it alternate biology? Is that a left-hand world?
A few trapped drivers weave across to the other side and head into the alien season (and possibly alien world), but more try to turn round and head home. I try to thread through the jam, cross the freeway, and head toward the new peak, but the traffic right at the seam is so tangled and confused I can't.
A tall brunette crosses with me--a longhaired lanky white girl, twentyish, in shorts that have to be chilly north of the line. I follow her across. A man sidles up and whispers "Stay quiet here, or you'll wake up, or eject yourselves from this dream into another." So we whisper...
The girl and I hold hands. She beams at me. I wore rubber gloves to cross the freeway, of course (what, didn't you listen to your mom?), but now I peel them off. Feels good, holding hands with the gloves off. We climb up a steep bank, following others on foot.
Go a bit further south into spring, where the western lanes appear to be northbound and the cars are few and cautious.
A mini-van appears. Quiet, electric--a bus? We get on. A chatty older woman drives us along winding little lanes. No long views--all overgrown with dense steamy forest. Climate change? The warmth is pleasant though, after the equally unnatural cold of the world past the seam. Snow at sea-level in California, brrr!
But this side's not heaven either. Feels poor and run-down. A depression? Bright-painted gates and mailboxes and what look like Japanese torii and ritual lanterns, all of wood... but many have toppled, vine-swallowed. All painted exactly the same red, and I wonder if there's a law. I smell a conformist era--or a dictator.
A huge dark-gray factory looms ahead. If this were a game, it'd be called Castle Paranoid. Walls, moats, guard towers. The driver halts in its shadow. We get off. A second woman joins us, and we go in to apply for jobs. Apparently we came to look for work!
Cameras and mikes snooping all over, and laserguns at the perimeter to kill intruders. I really think it's a dystopia. Discuss it a bit in the outer halls. We all dislike the grim atmosphere, but I say "Maybe recent history here justifies the defenses. It may be nicer inside." We pass checkpoints, all remote, no humans... Reach the final door. A speaker warns we'll be killed if try to enter the wrong door. So much for 'nicer inside'! I double-check the number before I knock...
A voice says "Go away. We heard what you said outside about defenses, and we didn't like it. No point in interviewing YOU."
The Oracle has spoken. Rejected without an interview! I don't want to work here now no matter WHAT'S on the far side.
At the exit, I meet my first human guard. He slips me a paper with the address of a rave tonight. Well, well! There's SOME life under the gray surface...
Outside, I feel stranded. Somehow I think I won't be getting any more free bus rides now that the Great Gray Corporation thinks I'm shit. But I do find a pair of skates that fit. Different from the ones in my world though: the toe has wheels, and the heel has a block of wood for a brake. You lean back to stop; forward, you go.
Skate slowly, clumsily, learning this new pattern. Slow to a walk across a lawn toward the Bay... several winding footpaths just end at the water's edge. No more mudflats or marshes, just corporate lawn, then water! Now what? Winter to the north, hostile here in the middle. South to San Jose? Ugh! Feel discouraged and tired.
I don't like the world on this side of the seam. The Corporation's not for me.
Winter or not, I'm going back.
NOTES ON WAKING
A NOTE FROM SPRING 2000
My friend Dawn, who's always been a hungry artist, suddenly landed a great-paying job at a huge dark corporate castle down on the Peninsula, looming above the freeway--in fact, at the very spot in my dream! But she feels out of place--it's the personal fiefdom of a mad-genius CEO with predatory business ethics, who's filled his castle with workaholics and office gargoyles and petty dictators. As prisonlike as in my dream--they tap your phone calls, read your email. She says "I won't last long. I'll pay off my student debt, but then..."
I now think this was a warning dream--warning it wasn't right for her, and it isn't right for me. Despite the money-volcano.
A NOTE FROM 2001
Dawn just quit Oracle. Gave up a fortune. Her family's in shock. "I couldn't take it" she said. "The commute, and the corporate culture. It's another world down there."
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