"Did you catch anything today?"
"The usual stuff. My companion thought of quitting his day job to open a bar with some friends. I told him it was a stupid idea."
"The bar, again? He’s almost 40 already, isn’t he?"
"Yup. It comes and goes. I don’t mind, really. He has talked himself out of it so many times. I barely need to make an effort for him to give up now."
"True. Hey, let me tell you about mine. Seven-year-old girl, remember? Today, she said her dream was to become president. Can you believe it? I’m trying to convince her it’s a man’s job. She’s a tough one, but I think I might be making progress."
The two dreamtrollers’ chatter was interrupted by the arrival of a third one. It emerged from beneath the clouds looking with the physical complexion of a starving man, looking drained after another long journey. On the end of his fishing rod, no dreams could be seen. The others acknowledged its presence but remained in silence. There was no need to ask any questions. They all knew he had come from another unsuccessful visit to its companion, a middle-aged man named Allan.
Every single person on Earth had a dreamtroller assigned to them at birth. It had been that way since well before the invention of written language.
Even the first Homo sapiens, with their limited intellect and scarce knowledge of the world, were equipped with the ability to desire. On the day the very first man had the very first dream, his dreamtroller was there, hovering over his head, trolling the waters of his thoughts to catch it. The man heard a sobering voice, seemingly coming from inside his own head, calmly convincing him that pursuing his dream would be futile. Then the dreamtroller rose again to the sky, taking with it the first of billions of human dreams which would never be fulfilled.
All humans heard stories about dreamtrollers in their childhood, but they were still considered to be legends. It would be pointless to attempt to prove otherwise. They lacked anything that could be perceived as a body by human senses, and no instrument could detect their presence.
The only way a dreamtroller would manifest itself was through a very subtle form of speech. Whenever a dreamtroller spoke, its companion received the message in his mind, bearing the sound of his own voice.
Their disguise was also an irresistible persuasion strategy. How can you argue against someone if their thoughts are indistinguishable from your own?
As a result, all humans had developed the habit of dreaming about the future, then giving up on most of their dreams. Everyone, except for Allan.
He was a child when he first heard of dreamtrollers. Like vampires and werewolves, they were the kind of creature that would flash into children’s memories at night and make them lose sleep for a couple of hours, but their terrifying nature didn’t stop them from being forgotten. No one actually believed in them after a certain age.
Unlike all his friends, however, Allan never outgrew his fear of dreamtrollers. He was terrified of the idea of something invading his mind to steal his dreams. He also knew that trying to ignore the dreamtroller’s words would also be fruitless. From a very early age, therefore, Allan decided to live a life without dreams.
While others fantasised about all they wanted to achieve in life, making themselves an open target to the dreamtrollers, Allan conditioned himself to suppress even his deepest desires before his mind could manifest them. And every night, when his dreamtroller came to collect its toll, it would always find Allan’s mind empty.
Allan never dreamt of becoming a firefighter, a football player or an astronaut when he grew up. In fact, he didn’t even dream of growing up at all: becoming a teenager, an adult and then an old man was just a natural development to which he attached no particular desire.
Everything that happened in his life was either due to chance or to the dreams of others. He went to church every Sunday on his mother’s suggestion. His father, who was an accountant, mentioned that Allan should follow his footsteps after noticing his talent for numbers. Having no other ideas in mind, Allan accepted the suggestion and spent forty years on a cubicle job at the first company who made him a job offer. Despite never asking for a raise or a promotion, he slowly advanced to a comfortable position in which he served the company’s interests well without interfering in no one else’s ambitions. At home, he would watch whatever was on television, order food from takeaway restaurants that left menus on his front door and go to bed at 10 PM, at the suggestion of a doctor. He never got married, of course, but his solitude didn't bother him. He knew the dream of finding love was the most dangerous of all desires.
Before Allan, it was assumed that dreaming was an essential part of life — and, therefore, no dreamtroller would ever starve. Every one of them would thrive for as long as its companion lived, then blissfully vanish into the clouds with a smile, having lived a fulfilling life. Allan’s dreamtroller was the first to experience frustration and despair: two feelings which were previously only known to humans.
As time passed and others in its generation began to vanish, Allan’s dreamtroller became acquainted with another deeply human emotion: fear. It dreaded the possibility of going through its entire existence without ever getting to know the rich, delicate taste of an unfulfilled dream. It was with bitter resignation that the dreamtroller kept visiting Allan every night, always returning to the skies as empty as when it left.
The dreamtroller had long lost all its hopes when, on a night which could be their last, the hesitating vibration of a human dream began to shake at the end of its fishing rod.
Allan was lying in a hospital bed, alone, his withering figure bearing an odd resemblance to that of his starving dreamtroller. He didn’t think of the family he never had, the women he never loved, the difference he could have made. A life of suppressed dreams had erased every trace of those feelings off his mind. Yet there remained one last nagging wish, which had been hatching in the depths of mind for many years and only now manifested itself in words. Unable to contain the thought any longer, Allan mentally uttered his first desire.
"I just want to die."
Just as Allan finished his sentence, he felt a dark, ancient presence in the room. A smile began to form on his face, but the rest of his body shrieked when a reply echoed in his mind, carrying the terrifying familiarity of his own voice.