Tom Banner awoke early, terribly frightened. He’d just had a terrible dream, where he was being escorted by two men in white into a padded cell at an insane asylum. Though he tried to get away, they grabbed him when he did, forcing him to continue to the cell.
“Another dream?” his wife asked.
“Yes,” he said, “same one: the asylum.”
“You really should see somebody about that,” his wife suggested, “you’ve been getting those dreams more and more.”
“I know,” he said, “but I think these dreams will just go away on their own, eventually. Most dreams do.”
“If you’re sure,” his wife said, “but if you change your mind, I had a college friend who’s a good therapist.”
That morning, Mr. Banner got up, had his breakfast, and headed off to his job at the bank. Though he’d had these nightmares about being an inmate in an insane asylum for weeks, he tried not to let them worry him. They were just nightmares, after all.
But despite his efforts, he began to be worried more and more the longer the nightmares went on for. That day, on the way to work, he paused as an image of himself being forced into a white padded cell passed through his mind.
“I should not let those silly dreams get to me,” he said, continuing on his way to work.
He soon arrived at the bank and sat down at his desk. After organizing his desk and checking his calendar, he had a meeting with a prospective investor, Dr. John Panzer, the chief physician at the city hospital. The two of them had met several times to discuss Dr. Panzer’s investment plans, though Panzer was a very cautious, conservative man, and a bit nervous when it came to money. The bank has been trying to convince him to invest, but he has remained reluctant.
“Try this one,” Banner handed a folder to Dr. Panzer, “it should be a safe investment, and will give you a decent return.”
“I don’t know,” Panzer said, “but I’ll take a look.”
Dr. Panzer picked up the folder and began to read through the papers inside. While he read them, Mr. Banner smiled, believing that should alleviate his worries. While he was thinking, his mind suddenly flashed back to the asylum. He was in the cell, surrounded by white padded walls. He reached for the door, and struggled to open it.
“You’re breathing awfully deeply,” Dr. Panzer said, concerned, “are you sure this is a good investment?”
“It’s good,” Banner explained, “Don’t worry about me. It’s just issues at home.”
“Looking at your eyes,” Dr. Panzer said, “you look like you’re a bit tired. Are you having trouble sleeping?”
“Well,” Banner said.
He considered telling Dr. Panzer about his nightmares, but was concerned that doing so would ruin the opportunity to sell him on the investment.
“I know what sleep deprivation can do to somebody,” Dr. Panzer said, handing the folder back, “I think I’d better talk with somebody a bit more attentive.”
Dr. Panzer got up and left the room. As he did, Mr. Banner looked at him, realizing that it was his nightmares that caused this meeting to turn out the way it did. He finally admitted to himself that the nightmares were a problem and that he should seek professional help. He remembered his wife’s college friend, and decided to contact him.
He sent his wife a text message, asking for the therapist’s information and she replied with the name and phone number of a Dr. Meyer, along with a short message praising him for deciding to get help. He called the therapist.
“This is Dr. Meyer,” the therapist said, “How may I help you?”
“Doctor,” Banner said, “I’ve been having these regular nightmares for weeks, and now, I’m beginning to have visions of them when I’m wide awake too.”
“Nightmares, you say,” Dr. Meyer said, “and now waking dreams. There’s a lot of reasons this could happen. Tell me, what are these nightmares about?”
“Well,” Banner said, “I’m…”
“Actually,” Dr. Meyer said, “It may be better if we don’t discuss cases like this over the phone. I have an opening today at 1. Are you available then?”
“I am,” Mr. Banner said, “I can take a late lunch. Where’s your office?”
“19 North Maple St.,” Dr. Meyer said, “Suite 62.”
“I know that area,” Mr. Banner said, “It’s walking distance from my office.”
“Your name?” Dr. Meyer asked.
“Tom Banner,” Mr. Banner said.
“Alright,” Dr. Meyer said, “I’ll schedule the appointment. See you at one.”
Mr. Banner did not have any other meetings that morning, but before he knew it, it was close to one. As he walked to the exit of the bank to head for the therapist’s office, he flashed back to the asylum. The two men in white had just opened the cell, and were getting ready to escort him outside. He struggled to pull himself back to reality. Once he was finally out on the street outside the bank, he knew that he had to fix these nightmares before he was sent to an asylum for real.
As he walked to the office, he had a couple brief flashes to the asylum, where he was still being escorted through the halls. Though he felt like he should be scared and confused, it almost felt like a part of him wanted to go with them. But he realized it was just a hallucination, a piece of his nightmares that he needed to get cured. He started to run the rest of the way to Dr. Meyer’s office.
He rushed into the waiting room, where he spoke with the receptionist.
“I have a one o’clock with Dr. Meyer,” he said.
“Tom Banner?” the receptionist asked.
“Yes,” Banner said.
“Then go right on in,” the receptionist said, “Dr. Meyer is waiting for you.”
He hurried into Dr. Meyer’s room, and sat down in front of his desk.
“Thank you for seeing me, doctor,” he said.
“No problem,” Dr. Meyer said, “now, let’s start from the beginning. Why did you escape last night?”
As Dr. Meyer asked this, Tom Banner flashed back to the asylum. He was lying on a couch in the asylum’s therapist’s office, with Dr. Meyer looking down on him, trying to diagnose his problem.
“I was scared,” he said, “but I’m okay now.”
“I know,” Dr. Meyer said, “realizing you have a problem like this can be difficult for many people. Now, shall we discuss your delusions about you being an investment banker?”
“Yes…” Banner said, and he began to explain everything.
He proceeded to tell Dr. Meyer about all his dreams and fantasies: his wife, the bank, Dr. Panzer, and everything else.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
I wrote this story about dreams and reality. In the end, reality to us is what we believe it is. If a person is suffering delusions, or convinced something they imagine is real, it is still reality to them. I wrote this short story to explore this idea, presenting the delusion as reality up until the very end. It’s also a nice twist, and I love a good twist ending.
In this case, the twist is not just that it was all just a dream (that would be too cliche), but that the dream and reality are actually reversed.
When I wrote this, I also seem to remember a Twilight Zone episode with a similar premise, with dreams being confused with reality, but that episode blurred the lines throughout. I tried to make it clear which was the true reality, up until the end. Though I will definitely cite that episode as a source of inspiration.