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Hello, Morpheus! Are your headaches any better?

Morpheus turned to the old woman.

Hello, Luce! Greeted the old man, looking tired. They haven't got any worse; don't worry. It's probably a sign of old age. He tried to add a more humorous tone.

Oh, don't say that, Morpheus! Fifty years old is nothing, and you still look very young! She laughed. I'd go so far as to say you look like you've just stepped out of a dream, as you never seem to wrinkle!

Morpheus smiled, trying to look as healthy as he could. It was important not to lose face, as many in the community were counting on him.

You flatter me, dear friend!

But deep down, he knew that, on the contrary, his headaches were growing in intensity. It had started a few months ago. When he woke up, he could barely catch up with reality. The vivid landscapes and the colorful buildings seemed to mingle with his imagination, where he wondered if he had really aroused from his sleep.

Will you come Sunday for the neighborhood picnic, my dear?

Then, unreal visions invaded his life. At times, the old man saw fragments of his city completely gray. Destroyed neighborhoods. Sidewalks and alleys without people. Not a dream, but a waking nightmare.

Of course! I will cook the apple pie; it's still my specialty!

He could see the surrounding hills darkening to a desolate black tone. As if reality realized that the landscape shouldn't be so optimistic and unreal. As if some kind of eternal nightmare were catching up with him from the far reaches of the world.

Oh, how delighted I am! I've always been crazy about your desserts. If you're going to run this town as well as you cook, then we're in good hands! she laughed again.

He'd talked a little about it to his close friends, but he preferred to keep it to himself. In these times of mayoral elections, it was important for him to come across as a strong man, a stable personality. He had given so much to this town and its people.

Thank you for your confidence, Luce! But I'm going to have to leave you now, I've got to get home before five, I'm swamped at the moment.

Morpheus had always aspired to become mayor. It seemed the natural next step in what he'd done in this town.

Oh, excuse me then! We'll see you tomorrow anyway!

He'd always felt like someone important. Someone whose actions mattered. All this time, he'd been helping his town and its people. They appreciated him for his efforts. Some even called him "the town's protagonist". A rather ironic nickname, given that Morpheus often felt alone, even when surrounded by people, as if all around him were pale images that filled the landscape only to give logic to the world around him.

No worries, Morpheus added, Have a good afternoon!

But the more important he seemed to become in the city, the more his headaches intensified. Yesterday, he was having trouble looking at the town hall, which he saw as a desolate ruin, empty of all color, as if it had collapsed so hard that not even the light wanted to touch it.

The day before, Morpheus was haunted by strange visions, seeing movement all around him, yet unable to discern the source. It was as if matter was stirring, yet not visible to his eyes.

These symptoms had been recurring for months. Morpheus likened them to "daydreams", for these visions did more than just disturb his day.

They populated his nights.

His dream journeys were now nothing more than rambles through his deserted city, destroyed, devoid of color or life. Every night he did the same thing. He was looking for one house in particular. A poor hovel with a meager vegetable garden. He couldn't remember what it was, or why he needed to find it. But the city seemed to reject him, no matter what. So he walked through the desolate hills, empty of all vegetation. He walked under a red sun, which could be discerned through what looked like clouds of ash.

Then he heard a mewing. He turned to his right and saw a small wooden hovel, with faintly colored wooden walls, some ten meters away. A cat stood in front of a wicket gate, which opened onto the house and its small vegetable garden, the only place that still seemed to harbor any semblance of life. As he got closer, he could make out the interior. The library filled with dusty books. The rudimentary kitchen, seemingly devoid of all modern utensils.

But, the further he went, the fuzzier the landscape became. The more he felt himself leaving the plane, the matter around him swarming, malleable, until it resembled the multicolored walls of his room in the city, whose lights and night-time passers-by he could make out through the window opposite him. He was awake, no longer haunted by this strange dream. At least, until next night.

Now, it was as if fragments of his dreams were forcing themselves to exist in reality. Or was it the other way around? The bright colors of the neighborhoods, the almost unrealistic greenery of the hills, the sky always blue, the inhabitants always happy and cheerful. Sometimes, when he woke up, Morpheus felt more as if his city was the dream, and that the wastelands of his nights was his true reality.

Morpheus was drawn from his thoughts by what looked like a completely demolished house in his path. He blinked. Nothing left. The house was just standing, as it was supposed to be.

The old man sighed, but started walking again. He could feel his head spinning, as if he hadn't eaten in days. Why did he feel so… strange? Everything was always fine around here. Not a tear, not an ounce of anger. Not a negative feeling. Of course, everyday worries could always arise, but they were only minor problems. Never a drama.

Always sunshine.

Feeling dizzy, Morpheus leaned against one of the alley's many streetlamps. All around him, people were coming and going, living their own personal lives, oblivious to the old man in a three-piece suit who was leaning against a lamppost, looking unwell. The man recognized some of them. There was Betty, in the distance, with her son Dimitri, who seemed to be returning from the supermarket with his bags full of delightful groceries. There was Joseph, honoring his job as a maintenance worker, taking care of this colorful city, making it somehow more perfect. Yet Morpheus had never felt so alone. Figures both known and unknown seemed to glide through his life, his reality, without stopping to be recognized, as if they weren't driven by a personality, but by some kind of metaphysical programming whose logic escaped him.

He took a breath. Leaving the lamppost that held back his body as well as his sanity, the old man continued on his way home, feeling worse than ever. Yet he had no health worries. In fact, he couldn't remember ever having been ill here. The town doctor now seemed illogical, existing only to fill a void without providing anything logical. How many patients did the doctor see a day? Morpheus couldn't even formulate a hypothesis. If everyone was always perfectly well, why did he exist? But if he didn't exist, wouldn't that be even stranger?

Arrived in front of his garden, Morpheus pushed open the gate to enter his little domain. The door didn't creak. Yet he had never oiled the hinges. Was this normal? Morpheus didn't know. Trembling, he inserted the key into the lock of the door to his house. He couldn't say why he locked it every morning when he left, as there had never been a robbery in the neighborhood.

Or in the city, for that matter.

What a perfect city. Perfect and unreal.

He passed his kitchen without stopping. His mind wasn't on making his famous apple pie this time. Had he even bought the necessary ingredients yesterday? He couldn't remember going shopping. Yet he knew his fridge was full.

Entering his office, he lay down on the sofa. Collapsing would be a better description. Morpheus felt lost. His life seemed to be gradually losing its meaning, his dreams minimizing into what he had always thought was his reality. He doubted everything he saw more than ever. Was he dreaming the little library in front of him? The passers-by he could make out from his window? Was he hallucinating the bright green of the lawn outside? The solid blue of the cloudy sky at this sunny time of year?

His gaze was drawn to his computer screen, which featured a photograph of his neighborhood in the background. He glanced at his window, then at the background again. The same red car parked on the left. The same clean stop sign. The same road, untouched, flawless. The same cloud shapes moving across the sky. Morpheus could almost have sworn the two were carbon copies, yet the two visions were separated by several years, if not more. Now that he thought about it, never had a wall, a lamppost or a road junction had to be repaired. It was as if every fragment of his life had remained fixed since time immemorial.

He blinked. The outside was gray, dull now. The houses were in ruins, the stop sign alone, the road littered with holes and irregularities. Then, after another wink, color returned. Back to light. Back to the new, the clean, the strangely immaculate. As if the dull portion of reality were desperately trying to reclaim its rights over the colorful, perfect unreality that was her life.

Like a dream supplanting reality. The revenge of a cold world on a manufactured utopia. A dark dream, in this case. Or the opposite?

Morpheus struggled to his feet and walked over to his computer. He couldn't remember leaving it on before he went for his usual walk, but he didn't care.

Opening his word processor, he began to type, still trembling, trying to record what he thought was true. What he thought he'd always lived. Trying to keep a vestige of what he wanted to be reality, to hold on to it.

This city is my house. This city is my home.

As I recall, this town has always been the haven it is today. Nothing bad ever happens here. The sky is always blue and shines over the colorful neighborhoods of this place.

Amazing, isn't it? It's even stranger because it never seemed out of the ordinary to me or my fellow citizens. I don't recall ever having seen a death here in my… I couldn't even say in how many years. Misery, I feel as if parts of my life have disappeared forever from my memory.

We have a doctor, but I don't think I've ever been consulting. We have a cemetery, but I've never bothered to go there. We have a hospital, but I can't even say where it is. Everything I don't know just doesn't seem to exist, really. Anything that could be linked to something negative seems to be self-censored here. And yet, every city needs this infrastructure… doesn't it? Every human needs to be cared for, to pay homage to their ancestors… so why didn't I think of this before my headaches started?

Everyone is friendly in this town. Nobody grumbles, nobody is ever sad. Everything is always clean, too. Although there are cleaners, the cleanliness is surreal. It's not just the streets that can be considered gleaming. The houses, the stores, everything is… perfectly clean. Abnormally so, come to think of it.

Speaking of stores, we have a plethora of them. As for the food, it's always divine. I don't know where the fruit or vegetables come from, but they never seem to rot. The apples I buy to bake my pies are always flawless. I've never asked Mr.Roger how he does it, and to tell the truth, I don't think I've paid much attention in the past. Before it all started, of course.

We're in good hands here. The mayor may be retiring, but he's always been close to his fellow citizens, always ready to help, since… since when, in fact? I don't know, I can't remember. I hope I'll be up to the job, if I'm elected.

I, Morpheus, have always helped this city. I've always done everything for it. Leading activities, keeping the community alive. None of this ever stressed me out, to tell you the truth. How could I be stressed? Everything here is perfect. Abnormally perfect…

But now that I'm running for mayor, it's as if all the negativity that is supposed to exist in this town appreared in my dreams. I've never experienced anything like it, not in… no, not in years. Have I lost track of time? Does it even exist?

Every night, in my dreams, I walk through the ruined city. The hills are desolate, the sky is black with soot. This oniric place is filled with ideas that could never have existed here, never should have.

And for some time now, these dreams have been affecting my life. Why do I sometimes see destroyed buildings? Why do I sometimes see movements that don't exist? And why does it all seem so… wrong?

where am I
am I
the true

Morpheus blinked. The monochrome. Then the reassuring colors. Then the dreaded dark shades.

All destroyed. All is immaculate. All is desolate. All is green.

His head hurt. It hurt so much.

Movement, all around. Yet nothing moves. It stops. It goes on. And on. And on.

Memories intermingle and contradict each other. How old is he? Who were his parents? Why was everything always so good here? Why was everything so blue, so utopian?

He remembered having a cat. But who was he? He'd never had one.

He remembered books he'd never read.

Landscapes he'd never seen.

A dark sky he'd never seen.

In the tumult of paradoxical thoughts, the old man almost collapsed to the ground.

What was real? What wasn't?



And Morpheus understood.

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