For T- It’s the dream that matters.
“It’s not real. It’s not real,” Alice repeated to herself as she tried to relax. The dream machine whirred gently around her. Although the noise was supposedly designed to lull her off to sleep, she couldn’t help but feel confined and agitated in the small pod. Knowing what would happen when she finally slept, even if it would just be in her mind, didn’t help her relax.
‘Why did I ever come here?’ she wondered, the thought creeping in despite her continued mantra. Being here was no accident; it was a choice she had talked herself in and out of so many times she couldn’t even fool herself into thinking that she had made a mistake in coming here.
A young blonde flashed her a stunning smile from behind the reception desk. This was truly as close as any living creature could come to Barbie. Alice was taken aback. “I was expecting Mr. Smith,” she stammered, not sure what to make of this girl.
“Yes, or rather Mr. Walker is expecting you” the Barbie-girl replied with a laugh like tinkling silver bells, doing nothing to make her fit in with the dull waiting room.
“Mr Walker? But I’ve been speaking with Mr. Smith,” Alice interjected, growing concerned. It had taken enough courage to open herself up to Mr. Smith in their e-mails arranging this appointment. She shuddered to think that the entire staff now knew her deeply personal desires.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find Mr. Walker quite up to the task of taking care of you today. Have a seat, I’ll let him know you’re here.” Barbie snatched up a manilla folder and disappeared through the door behind the desk leaving Alice gape-mouthed in her wake.
Alice sat warily. “Can’t be helped now,” she told herself. “I’m here and I may as well make the most of it.”
It felt like she had been sitting there for ages, though the hands of the old-fashioned clock on the wall hadn’t perceptibly moved. Alice was just beginning to wonder if the clock even worked when Barbie returned and with a bright smile directed her down the hall to office 203 where she was told she would find Mr Walker.
If the waiting room had been dull, the corridor was downright bleak. Alice tiptoed down the grey square tunnel past a series of greyer doors, distinguished only by the lighter grey numbers on the plates to their sides. Although the corridor was impeccably clean, the color scheme and sparse fluorescent lighting lent it a dingy air that did nothing to dispel Alice’s doubts about the whole adventure. Before long, she reached room 203, raised her hand, and knocked before she could convince herself to turn around.
“Come in,” she heard a voice from within. Quivering only slightly, she turned the knob and opened the door.
The office was filled with a warm glow from the window that instantly put her at ease, despite the stern looking man seated behind the imposing desk. Some part of the back of her mind figured this was fitting, given what she was here to experience, though she continued to hover awkwardly near the door until he motioned that she should be seated across from him.
“Alice Miller?” he asked, fixing her with his unwavering gaze.
“That’s me,” Alice squeaked back, failing miserably in her effort to sound confident.
Mr Walker gave her a smile that he meant to be reassuring, though it looked more like a grimace and therefore had little effect. “Welcome. I have your pod prepared and preloaded with the experience you had discussed with Mr. Smith.”
“Where is he? I was expecting to meet him. . .” Alice trailed off, not wanting to dwell on the thought of Mr. Smith discussing her fantasies with anyone else.
“Mr. Smith has the day off. Nothing to worry about; he left everything perfectly in order. All I need to do is clear you through the introductory procedures and press ‘go,’” he replied to try to placate her, “and I assure you that everyone on our staff will use the utmost discretion. You would be shocked at the kinds of people who come here and what they choose to experience. After working here a while, it all tends to blend together for those of us responsible for helping them to live their dreams, in a way at least. I assure you, there is nothing to worry about,” Mr Walker said nonchalantly.
“The rest of your staff. . . but. . . how many more of you are there?”
“There’s only ever been one of me” Mr Walker replied humorously, “though I assume you’re referring to my employees. Don’t worry, Kat is the only other one here today. There are a few others on occasion when things get busy, but you’ve picked a quiet day. Ideal for first-timers I think.
“Now, before we get started there are a few technicalities to observe. I need your full and written consent. You’ve already talked about your expectations for the session with my colleague, but I need to go over a few of the more technical details and obtain formal consent. As you know, this facility is designed to help you artificially live out fantasies you’re not willing or ready to explore in the outside world. To do this we use a method not unlike hypnotism to implant memories of an open your mind to the virtual experience. This will be based on our previous discussions of your desires, but as your own mental reactions and responses will determine the course of events, the exact details will not be known until the procedure is underway. Once the experience begins, your own decisions will determine the course of events. However, if anything goes wrong, each pod is equipped with an escape button that will bring the dream to an immediate end.”
Alice tried her best not to fidget or let her mind and eyes wander about the office. She would have given anything to jump ahead and spare herself this anxious waiting, but she knew that he was legally obligated to tell her these things. It still seemed redundant; she had read the policies on their website so many times she could have recited them by heart. Out of a combination of respect for procedure and a deep desire to not displease the man who shortly would essentially have full reign of her mind, she did her best to appear to pay attention as he continued.
“You will not be in danger of any permanent physical harm, though once the procedure starts you will have no way to stop it and will need to trust us to keep you safe. You will be nervous; I know that this is part of what you crave. But you will need to trust me. Therefore, I need to have your signature here before we begin. Take your time and be sure you fully understand what you are signing on for.”
The consent form was lengthy, but written in plain language. As her mother had always warned her, she read the entire contract before she signed it. It took her several minutes, but Mr Walker didn’t seem to mind at all, passing the time by fixing them both a pot of tea and settling down with a newspaper on the other side of the desk as she scrawled her name over and over before handing the papers back.
All of a sudden things were moving much too fast. He stood up and swept her down the narrow corridor to a small darkened room containing what would have looked like an old-fashioned tanning bed if it hadn’t been so buried in wires running every which way. Intimidated, she hesitated at the door. A moment later she felt a firm pressure on the small of her back as Mr Walker guided her into the room and helped her lie down on the bed. As he moved to close the lid, he gave her one final warning.
“If anything happens and you need to get out, press the button under your left hand. Do not try to get out on your own; the equipment is expensive, not to mention heavy, and I’d hate to see it or you damaged. Do you understand?”
Alice turned toward him with a panicked look and nodded slightly. Mr Walker gave her another of his not-quie-so-assuring smiles. “Hardly anyone has ever needed to use the button. Just relax and you’ll drift right off. Whatever you do, do not try to get out on your own. Push the button and someone will come to assist you.” After a stern look, a nod, and the ominous “thunk” of the lid closing, she was alone in the dream machine as it whirred to life around her.
‘Surely something should have started by now?’ the thought slipped into Alice’s mind despite her mantra. Suddenly the whirring stopped, and Alice laid in silence. A few moments later, her agitation grew to panic. Was this normal? She pressed the panic button as she had been instructed. Nothing happened. She pressed it again and again, as though impatiently waiting for an elevator. Still there was no response. Growing desperate, she felt around in the darkness and shoved against the lid of the pod. It resisted at first, but, with her second, harder shove it unexpectedly flew open with a loud clang and she was temporarily blinded by the same lighting that had seemed so dim before.
She sat up in a daze. “Hello?” she called out tentatively, then louder, “Hello?”
She swung her legs over the edge of the pod, stood up, and scampered over to the door. Peering into the hallway, she could not see any signs of either Mr Walker or Barbie. . .what was her name?
“Mr Walker?” she all but shouted as she stepped into the hall. It looked much as before- the same row of grey doors- but a sliver of blue light at the far end caught her eye. She walked slowly down the corridor away from reception, transfixed by what she saw. When she had been there before, the corridor had appeared to end in a plain wall, though now a beam of light escaped around the left edge. As she got closer she could clearly make out the outline of a concealed door. With one last look behind her, she pushed gently to widen the opening.
The room beyond was a marked contrast to the corridor. Bright lights gleamed in the ceiling, illuminating a bank of multi-buttoned panels. The entire rear wall was filled with screens showing several rooms with pods similar to the one from which she had just come, while another wall appeared to be showing what looked like a series of disconnected scenes from movies.
“Are those the dreams?” Alice wondered aloud.
“Alice!” she heard someone cry out in shock. A middle-aged man emerged from a utility closet off to her right, toting a box of odd-looking tools and trailed by a cloud of smoke. “What are you doing?” he demanded sharply as he loudly shut the door on the still-smoking electronics and rounded on her.
“Who are you?” Alice asked, not thinking to wonder how he knew her name. “Mr Walker said that no one else was here, other than himself and Bar- er. . . the receptionist.”
“I just stopped in for a bit. Some unfinished business. I should know better than to swing by on my days off, it’s just asking to walk into a catastrophe. Sure enough, I wasn’t here five minutes before the fuse blew in pod seven. We equip the pods with panic buttons for a reason, not that some people bother to notice.” Alice stared at him and blinked, utterly perplexed by his outburst. Noting her confusion, he set down the toolbox and faced her squarely, continuing in a slightly softer voice, “I’m Mr Smith. I thought you were supposed to be a smart girl? And what are you doing here? I thought you were scheduled to have your dream today. Did you move your appointment?”
“I .. I wasn’t sure if it was working. I tried the button but no one answered,” she replied, beginning to wonder if she had done something terribly wrong. His face darkened at her words. He stormed off to the nearest control panel, and a few taps later an image of the broken pod from which she had emerged flickered to life on the screen.
“Of course it’s not working,” he grunted as he fussed with a few more buttons. “What on earth did you do in there? Didn’t my colleague warn you to stay put and wait for assistance?”
“Well, yes, but-” Alice stopped as he twirled around and stormed off to another panel on the other side of the room.
“Do you have any idea how long this will take to repair?” he continued to rant. “I should have known it was you who caused all this. Weren’t you warned to stay in the pod?”
“But I didn’t do anything!” Alice protested. “It stopped making noise, the panic button didn’t work, so I came out on my own. I think it broke”
“Of course it broke, being forced open like that.” Mr Smith spat back at her.
“I’m sorry. I just thought that-”
“Clearly you didn’t think.” he snapped back before she could get any further. “No wonder you wanted to experience a spanking, you have much need of one.”
Alice’s her retort caught in her throat. Of course she had discussed this with him over email in excruciating detail before coming here, but writing about her fantasy was one thing, hearing the words out loud was another thing entirely.
“This pod will be down for at least a week. Why couldn’t you just follow simple instructions?” He heaved a sigh and glared at her.
Even more embarrassed, Alice stared down at her shoes. “I said I’m sorry. Maybe I should just go.”
“Not so fast. You’ve paid to live out a certain fantasy and I see no reason not to uphold our end of the bargain, pod or no pod. Perhaps you’ll even learn something about the importance of doing what one should.” The menace in his eyes should have sent her sprinting for the exit, but her feet would not move.
“No, it’s alright. I’ll just see myself out,” she stammered, though her feet remained uncooperative. She could do nothing but stare at him with wide eyes as he advanced toward her, grabbed her firmly by the arm, and lead her to a nearby bench seat.
“Not after disobeying a direct instruction you won’t.”
Soon she was staring at the grey floor tiles as she laid over his lap. Although Mr Smith was at least a foot shorter than her, he had no trouble maneuvering her into position. She tried to stand back up, but he wrapped an arm around her waist and held her securely with more strength than she expected from a man of his stature. She felt him lift the back of her skirt and doubled her efforts to squirm away. Although she had begun to feel comfortable sharing her deep, dark secrets with this man over the last few weeks, she had never expected to become this intimate with him and certainly not when he was so irate. She could hardly reconcile this angry man with the one who had so gently prompted her to reveal her innermost thoughts over the last few weeks.
The sharp pain from the first slap brought a temporary stop to her struggle as she processed the sensation. As much thought as she had given to this experience, she hadn’t been truly prepared for the pain. Then again, she hadn’t expected it to be real pain. This thought provided no comfort whatsoever, and only heightened her embarrassment at the next slap. She tried to hold still, determined not to make a fool of herself.
“You really had no idea what you were getting yourself into, did you?” Mr Smith asked sharply, though more calmly than he had a few moments previously. “For all your dreams of spanking, you didn’t realize what a real punishment would entail did you? It’s not a thing to be discussed logically, clinically, coldly,” he lectured as he increased his pace and she began to squirm slightly despite her efforts to keep still. “A real spanking is not some cute little exercise. It is an emotional process. There is guilt, a feeling that something is terribly wrong, that you’ve made a conscious decision that has caused a great deal of trouble for yourself or others. This guilt can be purged, but the process is painful. The punishment must be intense if it is to be effective.” His hand continued to fall on her bottom, harder and harder until she couldn’t stop herself from emitting yelps of protest.
Just as she was about to lose herself in the new sensations, his voice called her back, “You must have known this. You came for a spanking and it sure didn’t take you very long to find a way to earn yourself a very serious one.” Whether from the pain or from the knowledge that there may be some truth to his words, Alice broke into sobs. He continued the spanking in silence for several minutes. When he had finished, she lay limply over his lap.
He helped her sit up and hugged her close. “I’m so sorry” Alice gasped over and over. Eventually the soft pressure of his embrace calmed her and her sobs turned to sniffles as she rested her head against his shoulder.
He stroked her back and murmured softly. “It’s alright. What’s done is done. The pod can be fixed, but please promise you’ll think more carefully before acting rashly in the future. I’m sure this has been more of a learning experience than you had expected, and more than I had planned for you, though I hope it’s not one that you regret.”
She sniffed again and he continued, “With a well-deserved punishment, there is pain, but only as much pain as necessary to purge the guilt. Once the purge is complete, there is forgiveness, a beautiful thing that can’t be so much described as experienced.” Still contained in his embrace, she hugged him back. Exhausted, she drifted to sleep.
Alice opened her eyes to darkness and a soft whirring of machinery. The sound was comforting, and she was about to drift back to sleep when the noise stopped abruptly and chink of light appeared to her right. She blinked in the brightness as the lid of the pod was lifted and she saw Mr Walker standing over her.
“Welcome back, Alice,” he said. “I trust the experience was satisfactory?”
“What happened?” Alice asked groggily. As the details flooded back, she looked around questioningly. “How did you fix the pod so quickly?”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Mr. Walker stated. “The pod is in perfect condition. We always check such things before each session.”
“But I thought. . .” Alice sat up suddenly, and leapt to her feet as quickly as she could to relieve the pain in her bottom. She paced the room for a few moments, struggling to make sense of her experience. “The lid- I forced it open and. . .” Alice moved to the door and out into the hallway, followed by an equally confused Mr. Walker. She walked down the corridor, pausing briefly at the door to the room next to the one from which she had emerged. It had been left slightly ajar, and she glimpsed a similar pod within, though the lid hung slightly askew. Alarmed, she ran to the end of the corridor and pushed against the wall. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it gave way faster than she had anticipated and she all but tumbled into the control room.
“Alice!” she heard a familiar voice cry out in surprise as Mr Smith turned from the panel to face her. “What are you doing here?”
Alice gaped at him in shock. “Mr Smith- I.. . .”
Mr Walker appeared in the doorway behind her. “Mr Smith! I didn’t realize you were in today.”
“I decided to drop by for a bit. Some unfinished business. I should know better than to swing by on my days off, it’s just asking to walk into a catastrophe. Sure enough, I wasn’t here five minutes before the fuse blew in pod seven. I have everything under control, though it will take weeks to repair,” he said as he wiped his brow. “What brings the two of you in here?” he asked, appearing rather bemused at the sudden influx of guests to the control room.
Enraged, Alice flew at him, “You tricked me- you – you fraud! If I wanted some sick pervert to take advantage of me I could have just picked one off the internet!”
“Wouldn’t be the words I would chose, but, in a way, isn’t that exactly what you did though?” Mr Smith asked with a glint in his eye.
Enraged, Alice flew at him, but Mr Walker caught her arm before she could move more than a few steps. “Come with me,” he instructed unnecessarily, all but dragging her back to his office.
Once away from Mr Smith, Alice’s rage abated, and she allowed herself to be steered into Mr. Walker’s office, seated in a chair, and offered a cup of tea.
“Care to explain what that was about?” Mr Walker asked over his own cup.
Alice hesitated, unsure of how to explain, unsure of what she wanted to explain, and unsure of exactly what was real anymore.
“I’m not quite sure. I thought I was coming here to live a dream. I just didn’t expect it to be so . . realistic. Was it really real? Was this some elaborate ruse? Do you do this to all of your clients? Or was this just the dream Mr. Smith prepared for me? Do you-”
“First of all,” Mr Walker cut her off as her questions began to gain steam, “I feel I should tell you that I have no idea what you experienced. As I said earlier, Mr. Smith had everything all set, I didn’t even bother to look at what he had planned for you as I loaded the program. So unless you care to elaborate, I’m afraid I can’t be of much use.”
Alice blushed. How much had she revealed already? She had questions, but what were they? How much could she ask without going into everything all over again?
“Tell me,” Mr Walker said after a few moments of silence “if it were real, would you have resented it?”
Alice gaped at him, unprepared for the question and even more unprepared for the answer that leaped up into the back of her mind.
Mr. Walker smiled kindly. “No need to answer now, but think on this as you leave. It’s your memory, you can decide. Perhaps you’ll decide to fulfill these desires in another way. Truth in memory gets a lot of attention, but it really is overrated.”
“What are you trying to tell me, that reality doesn’t matter so I should just keep feeding you money?” Alice asked with a mixture of hostility and genuine confusion.
“Maybe, or maybe it’s that if you’re willing to let one complete stranger from the internet know you well enough to have this experience then maybe you could seek this kind of fulfillment elsewhere. It’s your path. you decide.”