Janie awoke with a start, jerking out of her nightmare back into reality. She looked about her room, reassuring herself in its familiarity.
The feel of the cotton sheets that she had washed till they were as soft as silk, the scratchy blanket her grandmother had given her for her eighth birthday, and the scent of smoke and lumber rising up from the basement.
But as she settled back into her senses things began to seem a little off. Her sheets seemed a touch too rough, the blanket felt like a slightly different material, and the smell of the room was a little too sharp, almost mechanical.
She figured she was just a little rattled from the nightmare; it had been quite a doozy. She remembered being immersed in ice-cold water with a forest of wires coming in and out of her. There had been a cold mechanical eye hovering above her, suspended by a mechanical arm that hung from the ceiling, the blank red glare from its stare bored into her eyes. It had looked at her like a butcher looks at a cow before the slaughter; there was no malice in its gaze, but still it terrified her beyond reason.
She decided that a hot glass of milk would fix her up, and send her right back to sleep. She ventured downstairs almost breaking her neck in the process. It seemed the stairs were just a bit shorter than her feet remembered; a misplaced step sent her tumbling down them head first. Luckily there was a landing to break her fall halfway down. Breathing heavily from the fall, and still shaken up by her nightmare she tip toed into the kitchen to get a glass of milk. But far from calming her down, the midnight beverage made things much worse.
The milk tasted funny, not like it had gone bad, but just off. The mug felt too coarsen her hands, and the beeps of the microwave had been a few pitches off. She hurriedly finished her drink, wanting desperately to return to bed. Surely when she awoke she would be back in the world she knew. She went to return the milk to its shelf in the fridge. But as she reached to grasp the handle, she saw in the reflection of the polished refrigerator door, the cold mechanical eye from her nightmare.
She screamed in fright, dropped the milk, and whipped around ready to confront the demonic machine, but nothing was there. She cursed herself for being so stupid, and got a rag to clean up the milk that had spilled from the container. As soon as it was mopped up she hurried back upstairs, wanting desperately to lose herself in her sheets.
She leaped back into her bed and hunkered down eager for this strange experience to be over. But as she laid there she felt something watching her, that mechanical eye from her dreams was haunting her waking thoughts. She decided to turn the lights on, she knew she was being silly but it would make her feel better. She flipped the switch on her bedside lamp, and looked about as light flooded the room.
Nothing was there, just as she ought to have known. There was no mechanical eye hiding in the corners. But something was odd, the light, a curly fluorescent bulb that normally threw off a brilliant white beam, was a few shades too yellow. It was almost unnatural, and it cast everything in a sickly light. Janie knew something was wrong, but she had no idea what it was or how to fix it. She turned to lay back down hoping she could bury her problems in her dreams, but as she turned her eyes caught the picture on her bedside table.
It was from a Christmas several years ago. She was standing next to her brother, with their parents behind them, and her dog sitting at their feet. They were all wearing goofy Christmas sweaters, and shredded wrapping paper was strewn about the floor. They each had a grin wide as the Mississippi plastered across their face, but above each grin sat a pair of cold, dead, mechanical eyes.
Janie screamed, flailed, and crashed to her bedroom floor. She picked up the picture and hurled it into the back of her closet. The frame cracked in protest and the glass tinkled to the ground, as if it were crying. Janie knew for certain now that something was wrong, something had been wrong since she had awoken, something was here.
It took Janie several minutes to calm down, and she dared not look into her closet where the picture lurked. As she collected her thoughts she started to realize more and more things were wrong. The grain of the wood floors ran the wrong way. Her walls were baby blue not robin’s egg. The boats on the molding had one sail instead of two. Hundreds of tiny details were wrong with her room. She had no idea how all of these things could have changed while she had slept.
It began to dawn on her, the only explanation for all the changes. She had never woken up. She was still asleep trapped in the most vivid dream she had ever had. So if she was asleep then the solution was simple. She just had to wake up. Janie tried pinching herself, hoping that small act would bring her back to blessed familiarity, but no such luck. She tried pinching harder, more vicious, but it seemed no amount of pinching would end the nightmare. She tried kicking the bed-frame, but she received nothing from it but several throbbing toes. She thought maybe a shower would do it.
She went to her shower and turned the faucet on. She turned the knob to its coldest setting, hoping the shock of the water would awaken her. She pulled down the end of the faucet and water began to shoot out of the showerhead. She undressed quickly, feeling goose bumps ripple across her body as cold droplets of water escaped the curtain and splashed her. She stepped into the shower dreading the cold shock, but praying it would wake her up. It didn’t.
She stepped out and turned the knob all the way in the other direction, hoping hot water could accomplish what cold water could not. As she waited for the water to heat up the bathroom began to fill with steam. After several minutes when she was sure the water was plenty hot, and its touch would rescue her from this nightmare. She stepped into the shower. The water burned, she wanted to scream out in pain, but she stayed as long as she could hoping enough pain would wake her up.
Eventually when she could take no more she stepped out into her steam filled bathroom, her body was covered in angry red streaks from the scalding hot water. As she looked about the room scanning for her clothes she noticed the steam was sinking to the floor, as though it were unnaturally heavy. Janie began to worry, what if she could never wake up? She dried off and threw her clothes back on. As she went to leave she looked into the mirror, and behind her, hanging from its lifeless mechanical arm, was that cold mechanical eye.
Janie screamed and sprinted out of the bathroom, and down the stairs. She needed to wake up, now. That thing was growing bolder, and it was coming for her. She didn’t know what else to try, what could possibly wake her up? As she thought she began to hear mechanical whirring and clicks from the hallways. She retreated to the center of the kitchen getting as far from the noises as she could. The noises grew louder and drew closer. She began to sob, praying to God that this whole thing would just end. She just wanted life to be normal again. An idea began to form in Janie’s mind.
There was one thing that always woke you up from your dreams. Whenever you were about to fall to your death, you woke up. Whenever the psychotic murderer was about to catch you, you woke up. Janie just needed to die, and she would wake up, but she couldn’t let that thing be what killed her. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew if it caught her she would never wake up.
The noises drew closer and Janie began to cry again, but her desperate plan filled her with determination. She crept to the corner where she kept the knives. It was gruesome, but she knew what had to be done. She opened the cabinet and pulled out a small paring knife. It didn’t need to be large to get the job done, just sharp. The noises drew closer and increased in volume, filling Janie with dread. She began to draw the knife down, opening large slits in the belly of her forearms.
She watched as blood poured out across her arms and spilled onto the counter. She laughed as she watched, too mentally exhausted to care. She worried only about waking up. She looked up from her arms, feeling woozy, and in the doorway of the kitchen hung the cold mechanical eye. Janie screamed, she wasn’t awake yet; she wasn’t dying fast enough.
Fear coursed through her, filling her mangled limbs with strength. She grabbed a large butchers knife from its holder and slammed it into her own chest. She laughed manically as she watched her lifeblood pour out of her chest. It was a sickly unnatural shade a red. She looked up and saw the cold mechanical eye advancing towards her. She sobbed, and shrieked as the monster drew closer. She pulled the knife out and drove it home again; blood came thundering from her chest. As it rushed out of her and pooled on the floor Janie collapsed, she lay on the ground, her vision fading, and she smiled in victory knowing she had beat that demonic machine. She was waking up.
Janie lay in a Plexiglas container, surrounded by ice water. A forest of wires and tubes led in and out of her body. Her body jerked spasmodically, she appeared to be fighting some invisible foe. The system watched as she struggled with her virtual reality. She was quickly becoming a very interesting subject. No one had ever noticed it was an illusion so quickly, and so many times in a row. This was her fastest time yet; only thirty minutes and she had successfully terminated the sequence.
With 42 successful sequences in a row she was defying all of her projections. Her mind had even managed to retain some images of the system itself. The system almost considered complimenting her, but that was not necessary.
The subject was merely doing its job. It deserved no reward for doing what was expected of it. Besides compliments were so feebly human. In a few more trials the subject would be approved for cloning. Her genes could prove quite valuable for future science. The cold mechanical eye lowered itself to Janie’s container and began running diagnostics on the previous sequence.
Hopefully she would improve again. Some subjects suffered too much psychological damage to continue testing. Such subjects were bad for science. Some may call Janie’s treatment torture, and say that it was not proper science, but she was still alive, and that was far better than many of the situations her predecessors had faced. The mechanical eye completed its diagnostic procedures, and reset the sequence.
Janie awoke with a start, jerking out of her nightmare back into reality.