I entered a dimly-lit room with gray stone walls arching towards the ceiling.
Tony stood by the sofa near the fireplace located at the center of the back wall. I crossed the room, passing by the desk on the right where a computer monitor sat. Behind the computer chair was a wall of shelf housing books.
Tony took an object, the size of a match from the table to his left, and attached it over the fireplace. The entire wall crackled and buzzed with electric-like current.
“We are testing a Dream Maker Prototype here at the Grand Canyon,” he said. “It’s that thing you activated at the shuttle bus.”
“This prototype opens realms into people’s consciousness to the subconscious and unconscious parts of the brain based on their dreams and desires.” He poked his fingers into the wall. It shook in a wavelike fashion.
“We test it on people who board the shuttle bus. A verbal consent is enough as part of the experimental design. You consented to jumping into a different realm when you signified your desire to escape your family with three yeses.”
“Is that even legal? And why do you need three?”
He shrugged. “We’ve tried one, but it seems not enough. So we did two, but there’s a dichotomy in the decision, but at three, it seems to work better. We postulated, perhaps one yes was to open the conscious mind, two for the subconscious, and three for the unconscious level. It seems there is power in three. We found a pattern.”
“Just like in writing,” I whispered.
“What did you say?”
“Power of three. A principle in writing.”
Tony raised his brow. “Seems the prototype is working. You’re remembering things now. That was fast.”
“The Dream Maker prototype powers up the mind to make the dream into a reality. We think man’s dream is buried deep in the unconscious and needs a jolt to be released, since it had to traverse the subconscious level before it would arrive into the consciousness of the individual. But this is still a theory and we are gathering evidences. So far, it seems to be working.”
“You had a jolt at the shuttle bus and you started remembering your dreams from your younger years.”
He sighed and said, “Or maybe not.”
He pressed the black piece and the wall cleared and showed people behind the other side.
“Come closer.” Tony gestured. “See that young man and the woman beside him? They activated the Dream Maker Prototype in the blue shuttle bus a year ago.”
The young man stared straight at me. I stepped back.
“It’s a one-way mirror. He can’t see you.” Tony turned and sat in front of the computer monitor.
“So are they trapped in the blue shuttle bus and its route?” I said.
The words a year ago weakened my knees. And the two were still here. Was this going to be my fate?
Tony’s eyes were on the screen. He didn’t seem to hear me. “Tony, the man and the woman... where do they live?”
“Huh?” He casted me a glance and turned his attention back to the screen, a groove deepening on his forehead. “The man lodges at El Tovar Hotel and the woman at Bright Angel Lodge,” he mumbled.
“So they’re stuck in the Dream Maker Prototype, here at the Grand Canyon?”
“She’s stuck in the wonders of the Grand Canyon. She’s been exploring the abyss and writing for various magazines. And the young man is lovestruck.” A shadow of a smile passed his face. “I guess he’s stuck, too. How do they say it these days? He’s into her?”
“Wait, are you saying, they chose to stay here?”
“So I can go back to my family?”
“Of course you can go back. What do you think this is? GroundHog Day-A Christmas Carol-It’s a Wonderful Life kind of mash up?”
I sighed a relief. “I thought—“
“You think like a fantasy writer, with crude technology. Pfft. Do you really work for a biotech industry or Walt Disney? And I thought you were a genius.”
His condescending tone irked me. “Dream Maker Prototype.” I scoffed. “Sounds like a film from Dreamworks Animation. I’m developing a better prototype for the company, if you must know,” I said.
His eyes left the screen and stared at me. Was that interest I sensed? This man was the CEO of Sparker Biotech. He’d have a great clout with the board. Although I had been hearing differing opinions about that.
A flurry of activity from the other side of the one-way mirror caught my attention. Kate and Annie were tugging at a sweatshirt in front of the cashier.
“Kate,” I whispered.
“You want to go back? There’s the exit.” Tony pointed at the corner door to the left of the fireplace. “That would lead you to the side of the gift shop.”
Tony must be bluffing. After all his efforts at bringing me here, why let me go that fast?
He must have sensed my disbelief because he rolled up his eyes and headed to the exit. Yanking the door open, he showed me the store with a rack of souvenir shirts outside the door.
I rushed out and he closed the door behind me. Just like that.
I peered through the rack. Kate and Annie were still on the cashier line.
“Mom, it’s so cold and my shirt is too thin. Please!”
“No. I told you to wear something thicker but you wouldn’t listen. Suffer the consequence of your actions, so you’d learn,” Kate said.
“Argh. I wished Dad was here. He’d buy this for me.”
“Well, too bad he’s nowhere in sight.” Kate waved around her.
I ducked and made sure I remained out of sight. I crept backward and turned. Sarah came straight at me, with earphones on and looking down on her iPhone. My heart missed a beat.
But she brushed past me, and mumbled, “Sorry.”
She didn’t even notice.
For once, I thanked the gadget that blinded her to the present moment. On normal days, I would have grabbed that device and flung it in the nearest garbage can. But this was not a normal day.
I hid behind the hanged clothes. As much as I loved my family, I couldn’t let go of this chance to talk to the CEO of Sparker Biotech Industries, who was on the other side of the wall. True, he was the spooky Tony, disguising as a shuttle bus driver, but this kind of opportunity did not happen everyday. I could make a lasting impression and perhaps earn his good side.
I pushed the lever and entered back into the room.
“Change of heart?” Tony was seated behind the monitor sharpening a pencil. Then he stiffened and tried to pull out the pencil. “What the freakin’ duck. Stuck?” He slapped the sharpener straight down on the table with the pencil sticking up.
My eyes were glued on the objects in my dreams.
“Why do you look like you’ve seen a phantom?”
“I—those…” I pointed at the pencil planted in the sharpener. “Three times, that appeared in my dream.”
Tony stared at me with unreadable expression. “Three times, you said? And now crawling into your reality? Someone’s trying to get your attention, man. And if you still miss the sign, who knows, the next time this pencil shows up it might just poke you in the eye.”
“What does it mean?”
“You ask me? Ask yourself. Or better still. Ask the invisible hand that carved the dream in your heart.”
Pencil stuck in the sharpener. Dream. Did it have to do with my writing? Impossible.
“Any epiphany? A dream that crawls to your reality is waiting to come to life.”
“Baloney,” I said.
“That doesn’t change your destiny. Your three yeses, uttered the committed step—the point of no return. You would have discovered that, had you joined your family.”
There he was again, scaring me with his strange words. I looked back at the exit.
“Surely you remember from your biochemistry?”
How did he know I took biochemistry in the past? “Committed steps may be irreversible but it is modifiable,” I said.
“Ah you’re now bargaining. Ever heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief?”
Vaguely familiar, but what was Tony talking about?
“Good grief! How did you pass psychology?”
“How did you know I took up psychology?” He knew too much.
“Along with your MBA and sociology, and creative writing and journalism? And now you’re reading a lot about Googolplex Frequency Cybernetics Engineering and Quantum Bioeconomics, both experimental courses at the Neuroscience Institute of Technology. Man, you got an insatiable thirst for knowledge.”
“How do you know?”
“I have my sources.” He pointed at the monitor.
“You’ve been checking on me?”
“Yeah, just wondering why the Random Subject Generator chose you. I had my doubts.”
“Then why did you bring me here?”
“I see the glint of determination in your eyes, Jeff. I like that. My company has no room for mediocrity. I spit out the lukewarm people. It’s either you’re hot or cold. If neither, you’re out.” He stood up and shoved his hands in his jeans. “Now tell me, what prototype are you developing?”
My ears perked. Now was a chance to pitch to the CEO of Sparker Biotech and I didn’t have my arsenals. “I…don’t have my laptop.”
“Tools are for fools whose dreams are not written in their hearts. Surely, you must have something for me?”
I could kill myself this very moment. “Umm, the prototype was developed by our biomedical engineer and I—”
“Ah, I was mistaken. And I thought you had the idea. It’s someone else’s. No wonder you can’t speak for yourself.” He turned and opened the door.
“Wait! This prototype is like your Dream Maker. It opens the minds of men and reveal their subconscious.”
“Then it’s not an original. We are already working on it.”
I combed my hair with my fingers, “But it can also tap on the past and has the potential to unmake it.”
“What, a time machine of sorts?”
“Yes.” I flicked and pointed my fingers at him. “The prototype is not yet perfect but we’re close. I envision it as the ultimate Dream Escape prototype.”
“Pfft. Time travel messes a lot of things, a convenient escape for those who don’t want to face the consequence of today’s decisions.”
My heart sagged.
“Neither do we need a time machine to change the future,” he said. “We create our future based on how we live our present. If people operated more on the unconscious and subconscious today, they’d have less things to undo or regret about from their past. You don’t need a palm-reader to predict how a lazy person would end up tomorrow.”
I paced and scanned my brain. “I know there were more features to it, I just can’t remember right now.”
“How can you market something that’s not written in your heart? Probably why your book did not sell, Jeff? You were more concerned with marketing rather than telling your story?”
“Why are you poking on my book? It’s not on topic.”
“Oh, but it is. You pitch a Dream Escape Prototype? Looks like, it was made by men for men who lived their lives filled with regrets. What did you hope to undo? What’s the end-goal, Jeff?”
“This prototype can make a lot of money for the company.”
“So it’s all about the money.” Tony’s eyes saw beyond my words. ”No wonder the book didn’t make money.”
“Enough about the book.” The wound was raw, even after five years. The Amazon review of, ‘the most uninspiring book in the inspirational genre’ still lingered to this day. If there was a New York Times Worse-Selling Author, that would have been me. “Let’s talk about my prototype—”
“—which is a parable of your book…created with impure motives, for the wrong reasons.”
He stood in front of me, so near, I stepped back. “Have you been plagiarizing all your life, Jeff? Hiding behind someone else’s shadow and ideas? Telling someone else’s story?”
I made another step backwards and fell on the sofa.
“Didn’t work with your book. Won’t work for your prototype.” He poked my chest and walked away. ”Like I told you, it does not take a palm reader to predict these things. You only need to observe the patterns. I only hire men with astute sense for these patterns, keen observation, an eye—”
“for details, that’s who I am!” I bolted up.
“—of an eagle.” He turned and locked eyes with me. “Eye for details will not suffice. You are lost in the trees. What I want is someone who can look at both the trees and the forest. Eye of an eagle. I’m sorry, Jeff.”
“But wait! There’s more—”
”Now, you’re sounding like a copywriter. Ever heard of that? They said, it’s the easiest way to earn six-digit figure as a writer.”
“Stop. Please! Give me a chance. I can show you that I’m the one you’re looking for.”
“Are you? Have you tried looking for yourself first? Him who is lost is not found. Perhaps there is a reason why I brought you here. So far I’m getting confused patterns, mixed signals.”
Once again he slung his arm over my shoulders and steered me to where I did not want to go.
Outside the door, to the rim of the Grand Canyon.
“No, don’t. Please.” My voice shook and I gripped the iron rails so hard, my knuckles whitened.
“Hey, man, I’m not gonna hurl you into the abyss.” With those words, Tony, the shuttle bus driver was back.
I shook as I stared at the depths below.
Then Tony the CEO reappeared with probing eyes. “What is it you’re looking for, Jeff?”
“You mean the police?”
“No! See, that’s why I’m so confused. You’re talking in double meanings. I meant security for my family. I just want to provide them with a good future.”
“A cat running after its tail.” Tony sighed. “Go look at the abyss. Then at the Grand Canyon. See if you can find what you’re looking for. Nature might inspire you with fresh ideas. Perhaps like that Colorado River lazing below, you’d discover deep crevices long buried or perhaps…create new interesting ones.”
“I’m somewhat acrophobic.” My head reeled but his words caused more of the dizziness than the depth of the Grand Canyon. “The river created the crevices?”
“The river is the carver of these cracks. Water, no matter how gentle, can push aside massive mountains and rocks. It only takes persistence.”
I leaned on the railing. My ears buzzed and the surroundings swayed.
“And talk about persistence, your pallor has been persistent. Grab my arm. Seems you’re really acrophobic. Don’t want you getting sick and—”
I stared at Tony’s loafers covered with what remained of my breakfast.
“—throw up.” He wiggled his shoes. “These are my favorites, just so you know.”
The soiled shoes were worn-out and looked ready to retire. “I’ll buy you a new pair. I’m so sorry.”
“Still thinking that money can undo everything, Jeff? My mother gave me these pair before she passed away.”
I held my chest. He’s going to give me a heart attack anytime soon. “I”m—”
“—apologizing all your life, for the sorry mess you’ve made of it.”
Ouch. He sounded like Kate.
“The reason my company makes a tremendous impact in society with our innovation is because I don’t let go of of the old easily. I honor family traditions. Did you know that before Sparker Biotech became this giant tech industry, we started with selling loafers? Like these ones I’m wearing.” His voice trembled. ”The last one my mother made with her own hands. Her own hands, Jeff,” he whispered. “That’s why no matter how sorry looking these shoes are, no matter how wet it is with your barf, I am going to clean these, hire my best man to restore it, not anew but to a condition enough to remind me that this is where my family came from and I am not denying myself nor my children and their children’s children of our lowly history. Because our greatness shines from our humble beginnings. That is the core value of my company, Jeff. I don’t know if you share these values at all. Do you even have family traditions, or care to make one and preserve it?”
His words punched me in the gut. I looked at his welling eyes with my blurry ones. I had never heard a man speak with as much passion, tenderness and love for a company as Tony did that moment.
A sense of unworthiness washed me. Maybe that was the reason why the company offered me the package. Perhaps Tony was right after all. I had been living someone else’s life, writing someone else’s story.
My legs weakened and I knelt on the ground. Slowly the tears fell. I mourned for my lost dreams, my sorry career, my hollow aspirations, my fool’s gold. I had been deceiving myself all my life, thinking my motives were good and noble, hiding behind false facades.
I gathered the sand and stone in my fist and clenched the roughness in my palms.
Tony sat beside me in silence as I grieved.
After what seemed to have been hours, though it was just minutes as the sun was still high above the mountain ridges, Tony stood and helped me up.