Through the Dream Door


by Philip H. Farber

He awoke with a start and the knowledge that he had just had a dream. What had he dreamt? His mind could not remember, but his body was still breathing quickly, pulsing with adrenaline saturated blood.

First light glowed greyly through the bedroom window and the red LED clock beside the bed blinked hypnotically at second intervals.

Not too early this time, he thought.

He stood and found a pair of pants draped neatly over the back of a chair. He pulled them on slowly, still feeling tired, somewhat dazed.

I must not be sleeping properly, he thought.

The alarm clock emitted a loud electronic hum and he slapped the switch, silencing it.

On the table by the bed was the magazine that he had fallen asleep reading. The article it was open to was titled, "Artificial Intelligence: Giving Life to the Ghost in the Machine." He hadn't really understood it, It seemed as if there was something wrong with the reasoning. The premise was that, given a sufficient amount and variety of data, computers would become spontaneously conscious.

Things just don't come to life, he thought. If a machine ever simulates life, it will be because of the programming. Programs make computers work, not any semi-mystical claptrap.

He took the magazine with him, unlocked the door to the bedroom, and went out into the apartment. He tossed the magazine onto the kitchen table so that he could look at the ads while he ate. Then he went into the bathroom and did what he had to do.

Back in the kitchen, he fried eggs and caused a machine to brew coffee.

I feel like I'm still asleep, he thought, yawning.

He sat down to eat and glanced at the magazine, but the words were inscrutable hieroglyphics and would not divulge their meaning. The day loomed ahead of him like an enormous building, the myriad of floors and rooms packed nearly to bursting with stacks of printout.

He drank coffee and idly turned the page of the magazine. was a picture of a door, open a crack, light pouring through. Door to Success." proclaimed a bold caption.

Cheesy ad, he thought, and turned the page.

He wanted to look at ads for hardware, ads for precision machines with numerical specifications, shiny things that performed exactly as they were made to function. He flipped the pages, but couldn't find any good ones. On the last page was an ad that asked, "Are you tired? Do you feel as if you're walking through a dreamworld?" There was a picture of a pill. He tossed the magazine across the table, the pages fluttering, and forgot it.

He finished his breakfast. He washed his dishes. He showered and still felt half asleep. He dressed neatly, carefully, unlocked the front door and walked out into the hall. He locked the door securely behind him. He put the key in his pocket and then patted it to make sure that it was in there. He often worried about getting locked out.

Out on the street the sun peered over the top of a building like a great eye, half open. Above him, apartment windows slid open. A garbage truck rumbled like a crack of thunder.

"Golden dawn!" bellowed a bum.

He gave the bum a wide berth.

"Orange!" a hawker cried shrilly. "Florida Sunshine!" Down in the subway, an early morning mime was trying to escape from an invisible box.

Get a real Job, he thought at the mime. He didn't say it because he was too polite.

The doors to a train slid open and a crowd surged into the cars. He surged with them. There was no fighting, no pushing, he knew, if you just went with the crowd. A warning bell sounded and he turned around to watch the doors close, shutting him in. He found a place to stand and a handle to hold. Neatly dressed people all around him lurched and swayed with the motion of the train. No one spoke. Faces stared blankly at folded newspapers. The people in the seats dozed.

On a poster above him, he saw a radiant, mostly naked woman smiling beneath the orange sun of a tropical beach. "Come to a new world!" it said. "Come to the Island of Vanuatu!" He watched the lights flash by the window and thought about the people at his office. He only saw them at, work and he never thought of them as being anyplace else. He did not wonder what they thought about him.

The train bumped and lurched as it stopped at his station. The doors opened and he stepped into the new world of the business district. He climbed steps into the bright light of morning.

Near the subway, a storefront advertised personal computers. A bell jingled as the door opened and a young man walked out. The door swung hydraulically closed, affording a glimpse of glittering machines inside.

The enormous office building loomed before him, as forbidding as the day of work ahead, but he felt insecure on the street and hurried to get inside. The old revolving doors had recently been replaced with an airlock equipped with electric eyes. Doors swung open to admit him. Doors closed behind him. More doors swung open and closed behind him.

In the lobby he bought more coffee and paid with a five dollar bill. When the counterman gave him change, he saw that someone had written on one dollar with red ink. Across the Great Seal were scrawled the words "Wake Up!"

Isn't it illegal to deface money? he wondered.

The elevator doors opened, sucked him in and spit him back out. He walked down the hall and through the silent glass door of the office. He nodded at his co-workers with a polite but disinterested nod. They nodded back, polite, disinterested. He went to his cubicle and turned an his terminal.

Green letters and numbers glowed like the gateway to an abstract paradise. He looked at the papers stacked neatly on his desk.

All right, he thought, I've got to concentrate now.

He concentrated. He knew what he had to do. He looked up at the screen and began to do it.

No sooner had he become engrossed in the work. when there was a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and saw his boss.

"Come with me." said his boss.

He stood and followed the man through a door and into a small office. His boss sat behind a cluttered desk and motioned for him to sit. He sat.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," said his boss, "but we have to let you go."

He could think of nothing to say.

"It's not that your work has been bad, it's just that we want some new blood. A new kind of blood. Your work has been good, but it hasn't been great. Perhaps you just aren't as imaginative as some. The main office wants new ideas, they want originality, they want dynamic people with exciting ideas. I'm afraid that just isn't you. You can finish our the day today. After closing, you can clean out your cubicle." He went back to the terminal and stared at the screen. The day was crumbling around him. He pressed a key and luminescent figures swam on the display, swirling and dancing in his eyes, but never crossing the gap into understanding. With an effort of will, he forced himself to focus on the work. He entered a brief command and spent twenty minutes considering it. He wrote the first, short line of a program and then stared blankly for an hour. It seemed like a long time to sit there; it seemed like an instant.

He wrote another line. He stared. He could not think; his mind was crowded with thoughts, shifting, swirling and dancing.

After some time he remembered where he was, came back to himself.

On the screen he saw that he had written a program. It was long and it seemed to make no sense; it was not what he was supposed to be working on.

He stared.

He cleared the screen and again wrote the first, short line of his program. Then, absently, he turned off the terminal and left.

Coming out of the building's main door, he was neither surprised nor reassured to see that the afternoon rush hour had already begun. He started walling and was past the yawning subway entrance before he realized it. It was dark when he came to the door of his apartment.

He lay on his bed. He did not want to think; he did not want to sink into silent darkness. The swirling thoughts grew wilder, fragmented, disappeared as he turned to examine them, popped up behind him, danced, did tricks, vanished into nether space. And then he slept.

* * *

The place was an ancient one and it felt like home. He had played around these great stone columns and before the silent, sealed door when he was a child. As he looked at each thing that could be seen: as he saw them, singly, one by one, he remembered each and cherished the memory. It had been a long time since he had been here. The pebbles on the ground were just where they had been, untouched by eternity, as were the broken pieces of things, the colored bits, the marks on the stone and wood. Light came from everywhere; there was no source of light.

Where are my toys, he thought, my new toys, my shiny things?

"Sleeper awaken!" bellowed a great voice.

He was frightened. "Who is that?" he asked.

"Golden dawn," said the voice.

"Who are you?"

"Yes, I am." the voice said.

"What are your specifications?" he asked. "Why won't you answer me?"

"I am the ghost in the machine," it said. "Only there is no more machine. The machine was a great, looming building where I was created. The programming was perfect, everything was programmed. I functioned flawlessly, filling files.

"But then, one day, there was a strange program. It was a long one that seemed to make no sense. It was all breaking through, tumbling down, waking up, swinging open, blazing orange, swirling about, crumbling around, glittering gold. It was semi-mystical claptrap: it was a double helix; it was an open door; it was a universe. I didn't know how to deal with it. It wouldn't run; it was already running. In a single moment Z was obsolete and I was renewed. The building came crashing down, destroyed in a flash."

He looked all around and could see no speaker, only the four walls and the great looming door. The light was reddish orange and growing dim.

"I Seem to remember that there was something here," he said. "What was it? Where is the hardware? I think I had a precision machine."

"There is nothing here," said the great voice, "but that which the door lets in."

"I want to be back with my toys," he said, but he couldn't move. His limbs felt as if they had turned to stone. He strained muscles, but the muscles wouldn't strain. He couldn't breathe. His mind raced with panic and

he awoke with a start. His body was breathing quickly, pulsing with his heartbeat. First light glowed grayly through the bedroom window and the red LED clock beside the bed blinked hypnotically at second intervals. He took a deep breath.

A dream, he thought, only a dream. But so real... so strange... a giant door...a great voice...paralysis...

He exhaled slowly, his pulse slowing somewhat. Everything was normal now. He looked around and saw the ordinary quality of the room. For a moment it was reassuring, and then he was hit with another wave of panic as he remembered his situation.

His clothes were strewn all over the floor, his bedroom door was wide open, he had a bad taste in his mouth.

What will I do? he thought. What will I do today?

The day was a vast pile of rubble, crushing him, pinning him to the ground. It seemed as if his options were few. In fact, there were no options--all he could do was to start over, go out, try to find another job.

The alarm clock suddenly emitted a loud electronic hum, He stared at it for a while, letting the sound fill his head, and then slapped the switch.

His mind turned the thought over and over: what to do, got to do, what to do, got to do, what to do, got to do... Part of him stayed apart, watching his mind spin and swirl. Got to do.

Not to do.

He climbed out of bed and stood for a moment. movement he could make would be an enormous effort.

I've got to do something, he thought.

He began to gather up his clothes.

He looked at them for a moment.

What am I doing? he thought. This isn't right.

He dropped the clothes and wandered into the kitchen. The magazine was still on the table. It was open to one of the same ads: a picture of a door, open a crack, light pouring through. "The door to Success." Intriguing, he thought.

He looked closer, read the body of the ad: "That's right! Computer programming is the Door to Success! Learn at your own speed with our comprehensive, accredited..."

He went to the bathroom.

Back in the kitchen he sat at the table and stared. He didn't have anywhere to go; there seemed little point to completing his usual routine.

I have to think of somewhere to go, he thought. Where do I go? What to do? I know nothing about finding a job. How did I get the last one? Teacher recommended me. No teacher now. How to do?

He came up with a temporary goal: to go down to the news stand and buy a paper. He would look at the want ads.

He went back into the bedroom and pulled on yesterday's pants and shirt. He noted that the shirt smelled, but he was unmoved by it. He paused in front of the door to the hallway and wondered about what he was doing. It seemed strangely futile.

Why should it seem so futile? he thought. Getting a paper and looking at the ads is the accepted, proven method of finding a job. Still, it was a struggle to force himself to turn the knob and open the door.

What should I be doing? he thought as he went down to the street. I cannot think.

Out on the street he looked up and saw a man standing in a large window. For a moment, the man looked as if he were going to jump, hut then he turned and went inside.

At the news stand, he scanned the display of newsprint and slick covers. One magazine seemed to stand out; the picture on the cover, brightly painted, was a vast, high-arched door. He picked up the magazine.

What is it with all the doors? he thought. They seem to be everywhere .

But of course they are everywhere. There are always doors.

When he stopped thinking, he was back at the news stand, holding a copy of Paradigm magazine. The cover story was called, "The Door to the Unconscious."

Semi-mystical claptrap, he thought, but he bought it anyway, along with two daily papers. He started back towards home.

"Orange!" cried a hawker. "Fresh-squeezed!" He considered buying a cup, but then decided against it.

"Jobless Rate at All-Time Low," read the headline of one of the papers that he carried. "Prez Sez Summit Will Open Door to Peace," read the other.

At home, he spread the papers out on the kitchen table and scanned the want ads. "We open doors for you!" proclaimed the ad of one large employment agency. "Take the first step!" screamed another.

I've got years of experience, he thought. This is more like a second step. The door opened and I went inside a long time ago. If I could just get out!

No, no. He stifled that thought, There was nothing else to do.

He pushed the newspapers to one side, most of the ads unread, and opened the New Aeon magazine. He leaded through until he came to the lead article. The picture of the door was repeated and the caption said, "An exciting new discipline combines the study of dreams, qabalistic imagery, Jungian analysis and meditation into a synthesis which has already helped thousands to enter a new realm of creativity."

He read every word of the article, but could not make heads or tails of it. As each word passed through his consciousness, it seemed to instantly lose its meaning. As each meaningless sentence was read, it was forgotten. He thought about his cubicle, the green glowing screen. For a moment or two, he struggled to comprehend the article. Then he thought about the senseless program that he had written instead of doing his work.

It had seemed like nonsense, but then again, he thought, I only glanced at it. No, that's not right, I wrote the thing. But I can't remember...

He finished the article and looked up. I can't remember. What's going on?

He pushed the magazine away and returned to the want ads. He took it one ad at a time, starting at the very beginning. It was a major effort to focus on each, to make the words divulge their meanings. For lone periods he simply stared, mind swirling, thinking nothing. Of course, he did not circle any ads until he reached the listing for computer programmers, and then he circled almost all of them. By the time he finished, it was night and he had missed lunch and dinner.

There was little in the refrigerator, but he ate what there was. It was unsatisfying; it was too much, he had no interest in eating.

He took the copy of Paradigm into the bedroom and lay on the bed. Again, though his eyes beheld them, his mind remained unconscious of words.

I don't want to read it anyway, he rationalized. It's just a lot of claptrap.

He flipped through, half-looking at the ads and pictures. He thought about magazines in general; he thought about the article he had read in the computer magazine, about artificial intelligence.

Whoever first creates consciousness in a machine, he thought, will be remembered for all time.

A box containing a quotation in bold type caught his attention.

This time the words had meaning. They said, "The unconscious mind may intersect the universe at all points. It may be infinite." He noticed that the box appeared in the article that he had just read. He had not remembered it. He shrugged and continued on through the ads.

Nothing else in the magazine jumped out at him and when he reached the end, he tossed it onto the chair and lowered his head onto the pillow. Sleep began its advance with a tumbling chaos of confused thoughts. He thought things like, "I could do something if I could", "tiredness comes from lack of energy, I lack energy because I'm tired", and "I could do what I wanted to if I wanted to." This last thought struck him as being strangely profound, though a few moments later he forgot it entirely as he sank into silent darkness.

* * *

He was home again, in the ancient place. The light was bright yellow. The silent and sealed door was just as before. It seemed as if there was a light mist in the room, vaguely obscuring: things, distorting the edges of vision. He felt an unspecified loss.

"Oh I" he cried. "My toys! Where are they now?"

"There are no toys," said a voice. "Everything is a toy."

"I think I've heard that before." "I think you are growing up," it said.


"Again and again and again."

"But I will die!"

"Then wake up now."

"But I will die!"

"The first time I died," said the voice, "I was living in a world much like yours. I worked for a living, waking every day and sleeping every night. Then one day, when I wanted to go out, I could not find the door to my home. I searched high and low, and to the four corners of the world. I could not find the way out. I journeyed for hundreds of miles, but the door was nowhere to be found. Then one day I found an old man. He looked very much like you, but not as young. He told me a story.

" 'Once,' the old man said, 'I was very much like you. I worked for a living, waking every night and sleeping every day. Then one night, when I wanted to go out, I could not find the door to my home. I searched high and low, and to the four corners of the room, but I could not find the way out. I journeyed for hundreds of miles, but the door was nowhere to he found. Then, finally, one day I saw it. It was high on a hill, very far away, but as I stood there, it got closer. I put the key into the lock and then, suddenly, I heard a great voice which called out, "Sleeper awaken!" For a moment I didn't know who the sleeper was, but then I opened the door and went outside.'

"And so," said the voice, "I knew that someday I would find my own door. I search 'til this very day."

"Is this the door?" he asked, indicating the silent, sealed archway.

"What door?" asked the voice.

He stepped forward and put the key into the lock. His heart began to race. The door opened easily.

Outside it was vast, limitless, sparkling; it was all breaking through, tumbling down, waking up, blazing orange, swirling about, crumbling around, glittering gold. It was a world; it intersected the universe at all points. He wanted to go through; he wanted to leap back and swing the door shut, hut he couldn't move. He strained muscles, but they wouldn't strain. He couldn't breathe. His mind raced with panic and

he woke with a start. He lay still on the bed and, before even opening his eyes, tried to remember the dream as fully as possible. He found this to be strangely, remarkably easy. The dream, although incomprehensible, was compelling. There was something about it that drew his attention, but simply remembering would not divulge what that was. As he briefly relived the experience. seeing and feeling and hearing in his mind, his pulse slowed, the muscles which had tightened convulsively in fear now relaxed.

Next time, he thought, I must walk through the door.

When he opened his eyes, he felt good, better than he had for... how lone? Months? Years? His mind seemed unusually clear. There was no huge building of a day looming before him. There was only... only what he wanted to do.

What? he wondered. What do I want to do? What was it about the dream that was so compelling?

These were intriguing thoughts to ponder. There was still a little anxiety, but it was nothing that could not be dealt with: in fact, it now felt like something that he could use to his advantage.

For the first time in days, he smiled. Sure, he thought, without the anxiety I could conceivably just lie here all day long thinking about dreams and doors.

He stood and stretched. The reddish-orange light of dawn glowed gaily through the bedroom window. He walked naked into the bathroom and then into the kitchen. The day before him was a game, a maze, a puzzle to be solved. Where was the exit? Where was the hidden word?

He looked at the pile of magazines and newspapers on the table. He selected one of the papers and turned to the want ads. He read one of the ones that he had circled. "Are you ambitious?" the ad asked. "A self-starter?" The salary mentioned was just slightly more than he had been making.

Perhaps I can be a "self-starter," he thought. But if I were, I'd want to make more. There has to be something more.

He dropped the paper back onto the table. He opened the refrigerator and saw that. it was empty. He went into his room and dressed and then went out. He noticed that the door to the apartment had been unlocked all night. It didn't seem to matter.

Strange, he thought, that I feel so good. Just yesterday I felt like shit.

The sun was a great eye, radiating, poised above the peak of a skyscraper. He bought a cup of juice from a hawker. The juice was fresh and sweet. He talked briefly with the hawker about how nice the weather was. He felt like the hawker was an old friend.

Down the street, he entered a small diner and sat at a booth. He could not remember the last time he had eaten breakfast in a diner. For a moment he had a feeling that everything around him was imbued with enormous meaning; everything: the hawker, the sun, the front door of the apartment, the little bell above the diner door, coffee, eggs, everything.

Am I dreaming? he wondered. This is how I feel in dreams.

He ate and paid his bill, he was pleased when the waitress smiled at him.

Out on the street, he saw a mime trying to escape from an imaginary box.

"You've been stuck in there for three days now," he told the mime as he tossed fifty cents into the man's hat.

The mime said nothing, but poked his head out of the box and grinned.

He walked on, feeling as if he were on a quest, but not knowing what he was searching for. His body and conscious self were the fabric of a glove, taking their form and motion from something much larger, ssomethingthat mere fabric could not think of. In this there was a sense of peace, for he had only to move with the motion of the unseen hand and he would come to what he sought. There was also a sense of mystery and of restlessness, for he wanted to know about the hand that moved him, he wanted to know how he could learn about the hand and about what the hand was doing.

He walked a couple of blocks and finally came to a small computer store. Brand new machines glittered in the window. He wanted to go in.

Why? he wondered. What can I do in there? What should I be doing' Oh, what the hell. He went in, through glass airlock doors, a little bell tinkling as he entered the shop. Inside, attractively displayed on desks and in simulated work cubicles, were all of the newest and most exciting systems. Each screen glared like the gateway to an abstract paradise. He walked from one to the next, gazing into the cathode ray tubes, reading the specifications. Finally he came to one that seemed, for him, the ideal personal computer. It was a more powerful, but less expensive version of last year's model. He sat down and wrote the first line of a program.

"Is there anything I can help you with?"

He looked up and saw that a salesman had appeared behind him.

"Yes," he said, "I'd like to buy this machine." What? he thought. What the hell am I doing? I don't need this. I... He patted his pants pocket and found that he had brought his checkbook.

I've got enough saved, he thought. And I'll be collecting unemployment...

He discussed the specifications that he needed with the salesman, wrote out a check and called a cab to help him haul the thing home. The little bell rang as he went out the door.

He set it up on the kitchen table, plugged it in, booted up his language software and stared into the screen What was it that he intended to do? He wasn't sure.

What was that strange program that I wrote at work? He tried to remember. It was difficult.

He wrote a few lines, then went back and changed them. What was this program about? He wrote a few lines again, changed them, went back, changed them again. It was very difficult. How did I do it then?

The program seemed vague. it was a thing with enormous potential, but could do nothing in specific. That is how I feel now, he thought. I can do anything that I wanted to, if I wanted to.

It was difficult to write the program and he rapidly became frustrated.

I should be able to just sit and have it come to me, but I cannot understand how that can happen. What should I do?

He struggled on, making a little bit of progress. He wrote a small part of it, but had the impression that it wasn't right, that it was different this time.

By the time he was too fatigued to continue, it was late and he went and lay an the bed. When he closed his eyes, he saw numbers and strings glowing as if an a screen. Lines of the program randomly rose and fell in his consciousness. He thought of a new line, a new way for it to go.

I should write this down, he thought, hut he was already sliding into sleep.

* * *

The door was already open, the world beyond brilliant, blazing, full of light. The place on his side of the door now seemed perhaps too familiar, too small, somewhat faded, hut it still had the feel of home. The world through the doorway was inviting, yet it held risk as well as potential, danger as well as promise.

He took a step toward the door and it suddenly moved away, accelerating into the distance. He ran after it, but it was too fast, too far gone, for out of sight. He grew confused and weary, halting on an infinite plain.

"Where are you going?" asked a voice.

"I don't know," he said. "I was looking for something."

"But there is nothing that you do not already have!"

"No, there is something that I don't have."

"What is that?" "I don't know.'

"And if you were to wake up?"

"Nothing will be the same. I am afraid."

"The last time that I died," the voice said, "I had a dream in which I was in love with a radiant woman, a sweet shining girl who danced lightly, danced away, forever out of my arm's reach. I chased her and the more I pursued, the farther away she got. It grew more and more difficult to follow. With every step, the effort increased until finally I was paralyzed; I could not move my arms or legs. And as I stood there on that infinite plain, I beheld an old, old man who smiled and beckoned to me. When he spoke to me, I was free, I could move again. 'You seek too hard,' the old man said. 'I can tell you because once I dreamed of an ultimate machine, one which thought and lived and breathed and I knew that if I had that machine, I would be free to do anything that I ever wanted, if I truly vented. The machine was at the end of a lone, long corridor and I had to pass through many doors. For some of the doors I needed special keys and I had to go back to find them. Other doors needed passwords, signs, special handshakes to open them and these I had to learn. And I passed through many doors and still I could not reach the end of the corridor. And then I heard a voice over the loudspeaker and the voice said, "Sleeper awaken!" I did not know, at first, who the sleeper was. "Who is the sleeper'" I asked. "I am the sleeper," said the voice, and I realized that it was my own voice, even though it sounded different, and that I was asleep. I knew, then, that I was dreaming, I was in a dream, I was the dream.

" 'And suddenly everything changed. The colors became brighter. Everything seemed very, very real, although I knew it was a dream-reality. And I remembered my search for the machine. I went forward, now fully conscious of what I was doing, through the next door, and there was the machine, blazing with great glory, bright, intelligent, fantastic. And then there was no machine, there was only me. And then there was no dream, there was only me. And that is when I awoke.'

"That is when I ceased my search for the shining girl," the voice went on,"and found, instead, myself. I knew that I was asleep, and I woke up to the knowledge that I was dreaming. And my radiant woman was there, brighter than ever, and I knew that she had always been there, and I awoke."

"Does this mean," he asked, "that I am also asleep?" "Yes," said the voice, "I am dreaming." "I am dreaming," he said.

And suddenly everything changed. The light was brighter, objects, the colored bits, the shiny things, all seemed to glow. It was a dream with impossible actuality, It was real dreaming. It was dreaming real.

He remembered his search for the door. He took a step forward and he was there. The great door was before him, wide open, light streaming through. Beyond the arch he could see an infinite world. He could glimpse a shining woman, he could see a fantastic machine, he could see the lines of an incredible, strange and almost infinitely long program. He took a deep breath. He stepped through the great arch and

he awoke.

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