Spiderwebs stretched across a hazy sky colored in perpetual twilight. Beneath them, the city fought to ignore the fine webs spun above their heads. Amidst the crowds of terrified people walked dreamless souls, those who'd lost themselves to the eyeless spiders crawling across the skies. The ones that could still dream at night were often plagued with nightmares.
At night, torches along the streets came to life to guide the dreamers to the Center. The stoic, unassuming building had no windows on its lower floors, and only one door on each side to allow people in. Researchers watched the torches alight from the upper floors and waited to begin. They sighed as the number of people decreased with every passing day.
On this day, only two dozen people arrived. Security guards, dressed in muted violets and white, waited by the doors. They led the dreamers through narrow hallways and into large rooms with rows of beds. In each room, four black-clad people waited by the walls, with small wire cages in hand. The guards stood outside while the people took their places in the beds.
Clocks ticked away as if to fight the unchanging sky, and one by one the dreamers closed their eyes. As they fell asleep, small butterflies emerged from their heads and filled the room. Their wings seemed to glow in the dim light of the rooms as they darted about, searching for a way outside. The collectors crept between the rows of beds, guiding the butterflies into the cages. Their footsteps made no sound as they followed the butterflies across the room.
A young collector let out a hushed curse, startling the others. An older man, the trainer, walked over to them and asked what was wrong. The young man shook his head, whispered an apology, and held out a hand. In their palm was the crushed remnant of a dream, its wings fluttering faintly as the trainer sighed.
The trainer said nothing. The young collector surrendered their cage and walked over to a wall, holding the lost dream close to his chest. Once the other collectors finished gathering the butterflies, then locked the cages and left. A faint hum filled the room and the doors slid closed. Tense silence filled the room as the young one waited for instructions.
With a wave, the trainer led the young collector to the back wall. The trainer ran a hand along the wall and it split open, revealing a room illuminated with a light that rivaled the nigh-forgotten sun. Beyond the door was a field of grass lined with low rose bushes. It wasn't a very striking garden, with only a few patches of flowers scattered across the grass. A narrow walkway surrounded the garden, etched with many types of flowers.
As the pair stepped onto the walkway,the door sealed shut behind them. Next to the door was a small shelf with gardening tools. The young collector took a trowel with his free hand, then studied the walkway. When the trainer asked what flower he wanted, the young man pointed to an image of morning glories. The trainer nodded and reached into the stone. A faint glow emerged from the etching and the pale flowers became real in his hands.
The two took the flowers and trowel, then stepped over the roses. They walked carefully around the flowers until the young collector found a spot he liked. He knelt down and began to dig. Once the hole was deep enough, the young man placed the dream into the soil. All light had faded from the delicate creature's wings.
The trainer set the flowers in the hole, on top of the dream, and the two finished burying the tragic mistake. The young collector turned to his trainer with a question in his eyes, one he didn't have the words to ask. Even without words, the trainer understood.
"It would have died anyway," he told the young man. "These dreams were going to be poisoned."