Prompt: A janitor of dreams works his shift across the dreamscape each morning after sleepers have awakened.
There had been a party there, just four hours ago. The sun was up, back in the world, and it was time for Vecker’s shift. He shuffled out onto the deck of the boat and analyzed the scene. Really, it wasn’t too terrible for a party of that size. Out in the world there was a recession. That had dampened everyone’s excitement some, and it bled into Vecker’s work space like it bled into everything else.
The floor was covered in broken glass of all colors, including some that didn’t actually exist. They would’ve looked lovely in the dawn’s light, but it could only be the middle of the night in his work space. That was one of the few rules; there was never any sun. Customers didn’t want to be reminded of the day. They wanted to feel like they were the ones hiding under the table during a business luncheon, free to carouse and shout simply because the adults could not see them.
Mixed in with the broken glass was the other detritus common to the dream cruise: adorable mice wearing tiny hats, babbling stuffed animals, pizza still steaming even after sitting on the floor for five hours, and abandoned jewelry that glittered whenever a skittering mouse knocked them around. There were diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, but the cruisers could just dream up more then next night, along with fancier clothes and flashier lipstick, and flashier faces, and flashier physiques.
It would have been an intimidating mess for an ill-equipped custodian, but Vecker had been at this game almost as long as it had existed. In fact, he’d aged more inside the dream cruise than any other human, including its inventors. He didn’t know how the technology worked, just its effects. All you had to do was put a little glowing purple band around your ears before you slept. Once your eyes were shut, the network whisked you away to one of its many decks or cabins sailing the sea of dreams.
Vecker had his special mop. It was a programmed mop, an idea mop, so it cleaned regardless of the nature of the mess. He swept back and forth, the tendrils of the mop eating up anything in their path and never growing heavy. It turned the glass to rainbow water and sucked it up. It siphoned the fleeing mice, with them rarely squeaking in protest. Vecker stopped a moment to snag a slice of pizza off the ground.
He bit into it without a hint of shame. This was the dream cruise. There were no germs. There was no grit. Those things were reserved for the pressurized nightmares, in the darkness far below the seas they sailed. The cheese stretched more than any real cheese could, but when it snapped it recoiled into his mouth entirely and slid down his throat. Vecker sighed and leaned against his mop. He felt his jowly cheek squish into it. He could’ve had a much younger face if he wanted, but there was nobody around to see him.
The stars moved, as if underwater. Nothing in the sky was precise, as it had to conform to every dreamer’s idea of it. Whatever constellations he saw wouldn’t be there ten minutes later. Vecker picked the mop back up and continued swabbing the deck. The cruisers could’ve cleaned up after themselves, but dream cruise was a privately run company and they wanted their guests to be as happy as possible. Sparing even a thought for their litter lessened their experience, made them less likely to renew their subscription to the dream-sharing service.
That was why they hired him. He slept during the day, and once the party goers were awake he slipped in and took care of all the refuse. That meant the inventors didn’t have to make a new boat every night. They paid him well, not that he ever used it. His apartment was just the waiting room until he could get back to the peaceful deck and its colorful trash.
Clink! Vecker turned around. A can rolled down the deck and collided with a wine glass. That wasn’t the mice. It wasn’t any of the other little dream pets that people came up with for a laugh. They were never solid enough to move anything.
“Who’s there?” he asked. “We’re closed. You probably missed your alarm.” They did not answer. Vecker walked around the corner and caught a glimpse of a shoe disappearing around a corner. He saw the shoe as it changed from high heel to sneaker. They wanted to run from him, but this was his work space. If he wanted to he could act like a petty god and angle the whole ship until they slid off the side and drowned in the nightmares. Luckily, he wasn’t that sort of person. Plus, it would’ve meant a major lawsuit.
Vecker pulled a key out of his pocket: silver and fancier than anything he owned in the real world. He strolled to the nearest door and locked it. That locked every door aboard the cruise ship. Whoever they were, they couldn’t go below decks anymore.
“You might as well come out. Don’t make me bring out the snooze drones.” He waited. “I’ll be at the bow,” he said to take the pressure off them. He skirted around the pool and deck chairs, finding his way to the railing. Eventually, he heard sneakers kicking their way through trash. He looked out at the sea and its waters, placid now that there were no cruisers to rock the boat. A teenage girl appeared at his side, wearing a hooded sweatshirt over a sparkling green gown covered in sequins. She sighed.
“Well, you caught me,” she offered. “So what now?”
“Just go home kid,” Vecker said. He din’t bother to spruce up his face or his ample gut. “I don’t think you were supposed to be here in the first place. This is an eighteen plus ship.”
“Maybe I’m a fat old guy out of Pasadena,” she said. “How would you know? People can look like anything in here. Maybe I’m a serial killer and I’m about to cut out your brain.” it was obvious to him she was trying to get a reaction, but he hadn’t spoken to a person in real life in close to a month. Words were just more trash, and much harder to clean up.
“Nobody can look like a teenager,” he corrected. “It’s against our terms of service.”
“Oh and everybody reads those…”
“I do. Go on kid.”
“Why are you here?”
“I work here.”
“You don’t look… you know… dreamy. No offense.”
“Everything about my life is dreamy. I don’t need the looks too. What are you doing here anyway? What’s your angle?”
“I was thinking about maybe… killing myself.” She looked over to see his response, but he didn’t even twitch an eyebrow hair. “What, nothing for that? A beautiful young girl is going to drown herself in nightmares and wake up brain dead… and you don’t even blink?”
“You’re not special kid,” Vecker said. “People try that all the time. They think it’s a way to go in your sleep. Peaceful. I’ve stopped plenty. I’ve stopped all in fact. Try it and see how fast I make a life preserver appear around your waist.”
“Well… okay,” she said, genuinely disheartened. “I actually thought I was the first to think it up.” A tear ran down her cheeks, full of rainbows like every other drop of liquid clinging to the garbage. “I have to do something new. I have to mean something. Maybe I can save you.”
“I don’t need saving. I don’t even leave here anymore. Somebody I hired is taking care of me out there.”
“It’s decided then.” She grabbed his wrist and flicked herself on the ear, which was the company’s signal for waking a user. Both of them flew from the deck and became wiggling stars in the sky. Vecker was going to wake up. As he streaked through the darkness he realized the girl’s soft grip on his wrist was the best thing he’d felt in ages, even better than all that pizza. He shed a tear of his own. Someone thought he wasn’t garbage either. They wouldn’t let him throw himself away and rot at the bottom of a corporate figment.
Vecker would wake up. None were garbage.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Palaver89 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!