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He stops, panting heavily. He is bent double. His profuse sweat splatters the carpet and is absorbed by the thick weave, leaving no trace.
“Are you in my dream too?” said a voice.
The door behind him is open. Sunlight streams through the window and bathes the room. A small girl in a white smock sits barefoot on the bed. Her legs swing casually to and fro. She is immune to the tumult in his mind. In puzzlement, he looks up at her, still breathing heavily.
“What?” he asks. A small gout of blood, from where he bit his lip perhaps, dribbles from the corner of his mouth and mingles with sweat at his chin. He wipes it with his cuff but remains in his crouch.
“I said, are you in my dream?” She reconfirms in childish treble. “Why don't you come in?” She points at a wicker chair perched by the window beyond the bed. The man hesitates a moment and catches his breath. He is unsure what to expect. And then he picks himself up off of the floor and is seated on the chair within this young girl's room.
He leans forward and asks, “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” she mirrors in reply and this stops him dead. He does not know! This idle exchange introduces a reflection which grows and transforms into terrifying speculation. He does not know who he is! He pulls off his jacket and checks the labels. They are intact but nameless. He remains anonymous. An unwelcome bloom of panic flourishes in his chest. It is cold, it clutches at him. How could this occur? Mentally counting his steps backwards he traces himself back to the lift, around the lobby, out to the walkway above the beach and to...nothing. To where? He does not know. Is he an amnesiac, some specimen of memory deficiency? Must he be forced to live in the present moment forever?
He looks to the girl for answers. While he is agape she smiles warmly at him, which offsets his anxiety. The grip of his terror relaxes and retreats.
“Where are we?” he begs of her. She is calm and cheerful. Her lack of fear enables him to remain unafraid, though his feet tremble as he sits.
“In a dream.”
He does not argue. He finds it a satisfactory answer. It provokes a memory, deep within the back of his mind. Suddenly he remembers.
“I was dreaming,” he says, more to himself as if in discovery, “but then I got lost.”
The girl nods, she understands. Maybe she finds herself in the same situation.
“And I am still in a dream,” he continues. It refreshes him to hold a conversation with another. He is reassured. “But whose dream? Is it your dream?”
The girl shrugs.
“Well,” he theorises, “if we are the only people here then it must be one of us that this dream belongs to. I saw a few people outside, but they never spoke and I do not think they're real.”
“But you think you are?”
He is ready to argue the point but instead he seizes the question and contemplates it. Is he real? Does it matter? This blank environment in which he finds himself provides the perfect platform upon which to consider such an abstract suggestion. Is he real? He feels real. The chair presses into his back and feels real. The air taken in and out of his lungs feels real. He heard the shrieks of the gulls and they seemed real. Here and now feels real. Is that not enough? The casual caress of authenticity? How could he know any better than this? He pulls back from the burgeoning crisis. Of course he is real. To suggest otherwise is untenable. If need be he will assume. That is as much as he can hope.