A secret writing lab of a madman.

NIGHT TERRORS

 

It was the ninth night in a row that Rick had woken up in a sweat like this. His bed creaked as he sat up and stared at the floor in disbelief. It had seemed so real, the dream he had. Or was it a dream? He could recall that he was sitting in his room but not in his bed. But a darkness lurked behind him just out of sight. It taunted him speaking vile and horrid things in a way that implied that it didn’t need to talk, it just…forwarded it’s dark thoughts to him. Telepathy? Hah! His degrees in science that hung on his office walls ensured that he thought nothing of it besides the fleeting twilight fantasy that strikes when the brain is in the world between wake and sleep. A world of semi-conscious where thoughts are trying to form but they are not connected to anything rational. Even as he was trying to remember the details they faded from his mind, leaving him with a sense of unease.

That had to be what it was. Once he felt firmly grounded in reality again he stood up and stretched feeling his back realign and his hips with soft audible cracks. He had a lot of work to do today and these sleepless nights weren’t of any help. He glanced at the tired, dim, digital alarm clock that had sat on his nightstand since he was 12 and noted that it was only 3:43 AM. Far too early to be awake but something told him that sleep was going to be impossible again. He glanced around his room and noted that he was the only one there. His breathing the only sound as the rest of the world slumbered outside of his house.

He went downstairs and turned on a few lights. The house was still and quiet. He didn’t suspect that it would be otherwise, but the dream still haunted him. He tried to shake off the feeling that the dream left him with as he walked first to the bathroom to relieve his bladder and then to the kitchen to seek something to eat and some coffee. There was no doubt that his morning had started early again.

As he ate in the dining room by himself he found his thoughts drifting to Michelle and he wondered how she was doing now. It wasn’t a hard breakup, they both had come to terms that it was over long before they put it into words. His mother of course was very adamant that they could reconcile their differences, but as time went on they realized that it simply wasn’t working for them and they parted ways amicably. However she had a certain affect on a house that made it feel more lively than he did living alone. These deep and retrospective thoughts kept returning to him as he sat alone these mornings. Maybe it was time to start dating again. As if his time allowed him such follies.

He glanced at his watch and went back upstairs to get dressed. The clock on his nightstand read nearly 5 AM. He had to start working at least by 7 AM. One advantage to working as a paper reviewer for various media outlets is that he only had to go to his corporate office once a week, the rest of the time he was perfectly able to work from home and he was going to take full advantage of it today, since he didn’t feel like dealing with the rest of the world on his current reduced level of restful sleep.

When he returned to his office at a little before 6 AM he was fully dressed and a had another cup of coffee in hand. While it was a bit earlier than he usually started working he was already expecting to have work waiting for him. It was once remarked to him that the scientific community never slept and the fact that their papers came in for review and assembling into journals made it clear that they never really did. Of course some of their finds were exciting to read about, not that he could ever remark on them to the world at large. Very specific non-disclosure agreements with very strict and painful punishments made him well aware of the costs of revealing information before they were ready. While he worked from home had to remotely and securely access his computer at the office. Everything was monitored and recorded. If they even suspected that there was another connection attempting to pilfer his data he would be disconnected and a very angry technician would be calling him. It would probably be Rob, poor guy really needs to watch his blood pressure. When he’s disgruntled he turns the most vibrant shade of red and the veins stand out in his neck. It would be impressive if it weren’t so annoying.

Rick connected to his workplace computer and began sorting his emails. Once again that eerie dreamscape seemed to haunt him. That odd feeling of having completely rejected reality and not quite sure what’s real anymore came back to him. He pinched himself, it hurt. Supposedly that meant he was awake. Maybe he drank too much coffee, maybe he didn’t drink enough. There was a couple interesting emails directed at him but the most annoying one was from his boss telling him that his deadline extension ran out yesterday and that he was now late. Rick lazily sipped from his coffee mug. The paper has been done and will be sent once his boss relents and gives him the days off he’s been asking about for the last three weeks. His contract can’t be voided for the paper not being done in time, only if it was turned in prematurely or full of grammatical errors. That’s what he did more or less, proofread. He didn’t even fact check or count the data points. The big brains that lived in the basement labs did all of that.

Rick frowned. He just now realized that he never seen any of them in person just through email. Where they even real? Probably just really dedicated…or so soulless that they didn’t even know what the sun was anymore. They sent some of the latest…earliest? Emails he has received. It was likely they just really enjoyed plotting data. To each their own, he found it stuffy and boring and much rather read and proofread the articles that were sent in by the geniuses of tomorrow.

After a couple hours of pouring over documents and details he decided to check the mail. He had heard it hit the little flap in the door but he never bothered to get up and get it. A couple hours delay never made the bills get paid any faster. There was a notice stating that he had received a package and it was being held at the post office. He figured it was probably work related and they couldn’t just throw it haphazardly on his porch like everyone else always did. He gathered up the rest of the mail and took it back to his office with him, stopping only to refill his now empty coffee mug.

He threw the mail on the desk and sat down and start poking through it. There was the usual menagerie of bills and advertising inserts and there was a blank envelope with just his name written on it in gold embossed lettering. How strange, he didn’t think there was any scientific galas or events coming up. He usually didn’t get invited to those anyway. He used his penknife to careful open the letter and read it. It was an invitation written with a very ornate font and signed by impeccable handwriting.

“Dear Mr. Brakks. You are invited to take part in a revolutionary sleep study. This study will be using modern technology to overcome one of humanity’s greatest weakness and use that newfound power for the betterment of mankind. Feel rested, feel happier and more importantly, you’ll never have to sleep again.” He paused. His bachelor’s in science hanging on the wall made him skeptical of that statement. He knew how the human body functioned and that a lack of sleep was probably lethal. Why would a company be seeking to end the necessary sleep functions?

His interest was definitely piqued, but the letter simply went on to say that any further inquiries would have to be made it person and it listed an office. It said that a non-disclosure agreement will have to be signed and that any information regarding the project will need to be kept a carefully guarded secret to prevent a corruption of the data. He picked up the phone and called his boss. While he doubted his boss would find it as interesting as he did the opportunity to take part in this project and collect data for an article of his own was rather appealing. If nothing else he would be able to gather data to thwart a possible scam. He would need some assistance from his boss to make sure he wasn’t walking into a trap and would be found floating down a river.

Rick looked at the paper in his hand and jotted down the company’s name. It was a rather funny gesture he thought and a clever choice of a company that is dedicated to the analysis of sleep. “Morpheus Inc.” and the contact person was an assistant director named Shirley Franks. Made him briefly think of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Now there was a book he hasn’t read in  very long time. Not since high school or so when the English teacher made them each read it.

Do a quick internet search of the company didn’t return any useful amounts of information. The only thing was a very vague entry on a blog that mentioned that the blog’s owner was invited to a sleep study and that they were very excited about the prospect of sleeping like a normal person and that they’d respond with how the treatments went. That was three years ago and there wasn’t any mention of the events that had transpired since then. Just a couple random posts about things and then nothing for the last year or so.

He thought about reaching out and contacting the person but since they didn’t seem like they were active anymore it would probably have been a waste of time. He yawned. It was starting to really take its toll on him though. The lack of sleep was like a constant thirst that he couldn’t ever satiate. His eyes felt dry and sore, his face muscles even felt strained. It wasn’t even halfway through his working day and he was still pondering this instead of working. He turned his attention back to the paper he was working on but it still lingered in the back of his mind that he should really consider their proposal.

Something else tinged in the back of his mind something that was lurking just beyond conscious awareness, like an animal instinct that he should be cautious about this company and their offer but he pushed it from his mind. It was the sleeplessness that he was stressing about and how it was impacting his day to day life that troubled him, he convinced himself. He would try it and the worst case scenario he would what, lose a little more sleep over it?

He made a note to contact the company again that afternoon when he had gotten more work done. That way he could ponder it just a bit more. As the day went on and he thought about the benefits the sleep study would bring him he felt his mood lighten a bit more. It was actually starting to look like he had a good productive day by four pm when he disconnected from the workplace and sent the email to Shirley indicating his interest. He figured he’d hear something back the next day and was surprised when a few minutes passed and his email chimed and her response indicated that they’d love to see him on thursday and that he should bring his medical records with him and they would determine his eligibility in person, along with an office location and a phone number.

On Thursday he was sitting in the sparsely decorated sitting room of Morpheus Inc and found that he liked how minimalist the approach was. The chairs were comfortable but not overly so and the staff that floated in and out of the room seemed friendly and helpful, even engaging in small talk about the weather and the recent game scores of the local football teams. When his name was called he found Shirley to be a slight woman in her mid forties with her hair tied back and a warm smile ever present on her face.

“Hello Mr. Brakks.” she said handing him some forms to fill out. “Please use this to indicate your medical history. Keep in mind that we don’t need to know everything we’re mostly looking at history of medications and family medical issues. Since this process shouldn’t require any medication or invasive techniques it’s completely optional to respond to most of the medical questions. You’ll find the ones that are absolutely required will have a little asterisk next to them. We have two programs, the No Sleep program and the Sleep Better program.” she explained and handed him a Morpheus Inc labeled pen.

He filled out the form for the Sleep Better program, he was skeptical of the No Sleep thing. His family didn’t have any serious medical concerns besides the occasionally heart attack and cancer and usually those were limited to the older family members who didn’t make very health conscious lifestyle choices. He was always careful with his health even as a child which makes his plague of insomnia even more terrifying. Although as much as he hated going without sleep, the nightmares that appeared when he did sleep were enough to make him wonder if he was losing his mind.

A nurse took him back into the examination room which looked pretty standard for a doctor’s office. Even though he didn’t even know the name of the doctor that would be seeing him, if there was one. She explained that a preliminary physical was mandated to rule out any underlying causes that could be treated more traditionally. She was quick and polite, checking his vitals, examining his eyes, ears, and throat and finally drew blood and left.

It occurred to him after she left that he never realized how…white…examination rooms were. The ceiling was a slightly different white than the walls, but it all made everything feel surreal. The only thing that broke up the overbearing white pattern was the dark blue insignia of the Morpheus Inc that was on the centermost tile on the floor. He couldn’t tell if it was a trick of the light but it looked slightly raised or embossed. Very fancy. A soft knock on the door broke him out of his fixation.

The doctor that walked into the room was about five feet tall, very thin. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and his eyes sparkled as if lit by the flame of curiosity itself. He sat a clipboard on the table and shook Rick’s hand. It was a firm and confident handshake. This man knew what he was doing when it came to dealing with people. “Hello, Rick.” he said softly. Although he spoke softly his voice carried with authority. “I see from your file that you are interesting in the sleep study. No problem, no problem at all. I just need to ask you some questions about your usual habits and routines. That sort of thing.” he picked up a pen with his left hand and began jotting notes.

“So Rick.” the doctor leaned back. “Tell me about your day, what sort of thing do you usually do when you find yourself unable to sleep…how well does this work?” Rick took a moment to gather his thoughts. “I usually just give up…I mean, after a few hours of trying I find myself feeling like I’m wasting effort on something that will never come to light.” the doctor nodded and scribbled in some notes.

“I think you’re going to be a good candidate for the program.” the doctor said with a warm smile shaking Rick’s hand. “The first thing you need to learn before we proceed is that you are never without hope and you shouldn’t give up on yourself just yet. We’ll get you back to a well-rested sleep schedule in no time.”

When he left the clinic, Rick found himself full of excitement that with any luck in the next few weeks he’d be able to finally get some good solid sleep for more than a day or two at a time. If he went without enough his body just sort of collapsed. He took a deep breath of the fresh air. Today was truly a new day to start off his new outlook on life.

 

Two weeks passed and Rick was called back to begin the sleep study. During this time he had been having his good days and his bad days. Just before he went into the clinic for his first sleep session he had the nightmare again. This time the dark presence that before had just been sort of fragmentary and ominous was in the form of a hulking beast that seemed to be chasing him down endlessly white hallways.

He remembers this dream far better than the rest of the ones he had been having. He was throwing open doors and knocking things over behind him. Not that it made much sense but these hallways seemed familiar to him but they didn’t remind him of hospital hallways or the hallways of the clinic that he will be doing the sleep study at. He would wake up trying to shake off the dream but the only thing that truly haunted him were those endless hallways. He wished he knew where he had seen them before.

That night he packed a few things that he was going to need over the next few days. He was told the sleep study would take place at the clinic at first. Once he was progressing satisfactorily they would release him to his house with a remote device that would perform the same function. Once he was able to establish a solid sleep routine the device would be used less until he wasn’t using it at all. They said this process ‘retrains’ the body how to sleep while also being able to address  a variety of factors that can impact sleep.

He had told his employer that he would be taking a few days off but he did bring along some work to review while he was there Once he was home and his routine adjusted he’d go back to working full force. They knew about his sleep issue and were willing to let him have the time. Which was a good thing as he’d need to be able to get some sleep or he’d not have to worry about a job for much longer.

With a final glance at his house he headed to his car and threw his bag in the back. He headed toward the clinic. He couldn’t help but think of the possibilities that awaited him. He smiled as he thought of the sleep that would be coming for him soon. He was so tired he felt like it was permanently etched onto his soul.

 

At the clinic he was shown to a room that would be his for the duration of the stay. It was sparsely decorated but everything was done in muted colors and would allow him to be able to sleep for as long as he felt like he needed to. The nurse hooked him up to a variety of remote monitoring devices. She explained as she did so that they would be able to monitor him from the hallway without even needing to come in, he had complete privacy and would for the duration of his stay. If he needed anything he just needed to pick up the phone, it would automatically call the nurses’ station. He thanked her and she left the room, leaving him alone to unpack and contemplate his thoughts.

It was only 5:30 but they told him he should sleep whenever he felt tired, as that will become more important as they proceed in the treatment. They would be looking at the possibility of shifting his sleep schedule around and trying different approaches. Supposedly with their revolutionary new technology they’d be able to figure out his ideal sleeping pattern and such around night three. Probably no more than four. They were certainly confident about the results of the preliminary examination.

He stretched out on the bed and experimented with the lighting controls. He was able to make it dim enough to not freak out if he woke himself up in a panic but not too bright that he’d have trouble sleeping. The bed was really comfortable and he didn’t even need to mess with the pillows, maybe part of the personality test they emailed him was to determine if he was a soft vs firm pillow guy. He found himself already drifting in the gray twilight between awake and asleep even as he chuckled at the idea that a multibillion dollar research company was resorting to social media surveys to get information about their clients.

He woke up in the middle of the night. He was still laying on top of the blanket. He took a moment to take in his surroundings and was glad he remembered to leave the light on in the dim setting. The room was fine and he had no ominous feeling that he had been dreaming or that the weird dreamstate was haunting him. He got up and and stretched. He rummaged through his drawers and got a a tee shirt and a pair of shorts and went into the bathroom to use the toilet and change. He return to the bed and comfortable that he was familiar enough with the surroundings he turned the lights off. He pulled back the blanket and slid between the satin sheets. Morpheus Inc certainly didn’t waste any expense for the sake of their clients. Rick was sound asleep by the time the monitoring devices sent in their next data dump.

 

The technician sat at the console as the data flooded across the screen. The doctor stood behind him watching intently. “This one seems far more receptive to the subject than we could have hoped.” he said, his thick accented voice carrying in the small room, full of monitors and data screens. He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “I think once he is stably asleep go ahead and launch the second wave again, let’s see what happens when he is in the proper state to receive the subject.” the technician nodded as his fingers flew across the keyboard setting up the necessary equipment that was located elsewhere.

The doctor adjusted his tie and departed the room. He stopped at the door. “Call me if the test is a success, remember, it will be frustrating not to see if it’ll be totally successful but we need to do a small burst first. We don’t want this to happen beyond our control.” he said finally stepping into the brightly lit hallway. Alone in the crowded room the technician nodded to himself. “Don’t mess this up.” he said to himself.

 

In his dreaming Rick was in the hallway again. This time he felt a strange flutter, like something passing over him at a close range. It was hard to describe, like feeling a wave while in a swimming pool, but only gently as if it was winding down from a great distance. That’s when the dream went to hell. Before he was just mindlessly trying doors and wandering the hallways. But now, the lights began to flicker and his pulse raced. He swore he was going to die. He didn’t know how he knew he was in danger but every small hair stood up on his body, even some in places he didn’t think could.

It was pure and primal fear. The beast was approaching. That’s what he was going to call it anyway. It wasn’t going to make itself any clearer and it just hunted him, so a beast it was certainly beginning to feel like. The lights went out completely in the hallway and when they came back on he knew he was no longer alone.

He knew what was what coming from previous dreams and much like his previous dreams he decided he was going to make the first move. Maybe that was what he was doing wrong all along, but for some reason he knew that if he died in this dream he would die for real and that made his desperation all the more evident. He ran.

Down the hallways, through any open doors. No matter how hard or how fast he ran he could feel the movement of the beast behind him. It was there, just always beyond sight but it’s horribly presence carried along with the coming darkness, which was a startling contrast with the incredible white walls and bright lights.

 

Back in his lab the technician noted that his vitals were reaching the right point and he hovered over the ‘return’ key on his keyboard. Almost but not quite there. Just a little bit more. Once the percentage on the charged gauge read 100 he tapped the key and new information spilled across his screen. The subject was being transmitted to the host. It wasn’t a full transmission but it was  pulse, like a test to see if his body would accept the subject or reject it further. So far the preliminary subject was taking quite well but the real thing was often the result of death in the patients. The director was growing impatient with their failures and was putting a lot of hope onto this host. The screen flickered and changed to a diagram that showed a radio wave being sent out and the host’s vitals reacting at the same time.

 

Rick found himself facing a stone wall. This was very different. Very old. Certainly not like the hallways and doors he has been catapulting himself through. Moisture dripped down the wall and along the cracks between the bricks moss had begun to form. It was almost as if it has been here the whole the time, just waiting for him to run into it. He wasn’t liking where this was going. He looked left and right and saw no clear way out. The wall seemed to stretch on into infinity, while behind the massive beast began to gain ground.

He took off along the wall down the left hand side. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some way of getting out of this. In the back of his mind he knew he was only sleeping but he couldn’t quite bring himself to wake up. It was like struggling to break the surface while swimming underwater. Now that he thought about it his lungs were starting to burn from the exertion. Pain in a dream was certainly something new and made the fear of the beast that was bearing down on him ever more real. This wasn’t a normal dream, he knew in his heart that whatever happened to him in this one would kill him in real life. The beast finally made its way into the hallway behind him, it’s massive hulking form constantly shifting and changing. Being close to the wall did something to it however, it seemed to solidify. It took great loping strides after him.

Rick ran harder than ever before. His lungs felt like they were going to burst and his knees were growing weak but desperation was a source of fuel and he wasn’t going to die without trying to get away from the monster. He tripped over a root that lead into the wall and went sprawling head over feet onto his back. He knew this was it, he was dead. The heavy labored breathing of the beast bore down on him, he could see the wicked hooked claws reaching for him. He screamed.

Rick scrambled to catch himself as he fell out of bed, but failed completely and in a tangled mess went onto the floor with his sheets. He was drenched in sweat and was breathing hard. This was the first time he’d ever gotten that close to the beast in his dream. It was almost like he was going to die, not just in the metaphorical dream world sense but in the everyday flesh and blood sense.

He was in the process of untangling himself from the sheets when the nurse overrode the digital lock on the door and let herself in. “Everything okay?” she asked concerned from the doorway raising the lights slightly. She saw Rick on the floor. “Oh dear!” she rushed in to help him untangle himself.

“I’m fine,” Rick said struggling to stand on legs that felt like jelly. “You don’t seem fine.” she said using a small palm computer to review his monitors. “Just a nightmare from the looks of it.” she said frowning. “Your vitals went all crazy though, it was a really dark one, wasn’t it?” she tapped a few items on the screen. “I’ll print these out for the doctor.” Rick was standing still trying to catch his breath.

“Sit.” she ordered pointing to the wingback chair. Numbly Rick did so. She disappeared into the hallway again. This time she returned with some orange juice and a glass of water. “Here this might help. You look like you just ran a marathon.” she sat them on the stand next to the chair. He nodded and sighed. “I feel like it.” he took a sip of the water. “Hey,” he began realizing he totally forgot the night nurse’s name. “Do you think it’s possible to die in a dream…and in real life?” he asked.

She looked at the floor. “I…I don’t know. I’ve often wondered it myself but medically we just don’t know?” She smiled gently but it seemed hollow. “Get some rest and we’ll talk to the doctor when he gets in the morning and see what happened.” she dimmed the lights again and left the room.

Rick sat there breathing and when he no longer felt like he was going to die he stood up and looked at the clock on the wall. It was only 2:25 AM. He glanced out the window of the clinic and into the dark night beyond the lit courtyard. It was going to be a long sleepless night once again. He dug around in his bags and found the novel he picked up in the little bookstore next door. If nothing else he might as well get some reading in.

As he settled back into the bed the feeling of dread settled into him. He found himself watching the shadows in the room and dark corners that he could see out the window. He didn’t feel as haunted as he usually did. Maybe the knowledge that the nurse wasn’t too far away was comforting. Maybe the beast of his dreams got tired too. He sighed and felt the electrode under his shirt. Maybe this wasn’t going to work after all.

 

The technician printed out the data and went over it twice before calling the doctor. “His vitals went really close to the borderline state but held strong.” he said flipping a couple pages. “According to the algorithm he is a 100% match for the subject.” he said sliding his clipboard away and tapping a few keys on the keyboard to watch the data recording run side-by-side with the vitals.

There was a silence on the other end of the line. The technician hated when the director went silent. It usually meant that his work was about to get doubled up on. “Good. Tonight we will do the next wave of the experiment. Then, if this proves successful we will go ahead with the final part of the project. Drink some coffee and get the next wave set up.” the line went dead with a click. The technician sighed and rubbed his eyes. “This wasn’t supposed to be this much work on one person…the things I do for the future of mankind.” he stood up and headed to the brightly lit, pure white hallway. “At least I’m not the only one working tonight.” he said as the door automatically swung shut.

 

“Nightmares happen, Rick.” the doctor told him the next morning going over the vitals. “Your body is going through some changes as a result of the equipment. You can expect them to be incredibly vivid. This isn’t anything out of the normal for the first night.” he said tapping a few keys on a tablet screen to fill out his report. “Now, why don’t you take it easy today? Maybe just watch some television and try to get some rest. Tonight will be another attempt at a full restful night of sleep.” he said shaking Rick’s hand and leaving the room.

Rick stared at the ceiling tile. He hasn’t slept since the nightmare woke him and he didn’t think he was going to, even though the sun was shining bright and cheerfully in his window. After a few minutes of laying there he got up and started digging through his bag for his laptop and a couple of articles that had been sent to him for review. If sleep was going to elude him then he was probably going to just have to do some work.

After having lunch in the cafeteria which the food was actually surprisingly good Rick had a bit of a shock. All of the floors he walked down and the other rooms he passed that he could see were open he realized were all empty. It was almost like he was the only patient in the facility. He found the nurse. “Where is everyone else?” he asked concerned with how quiet the facility was. She just flipped her $200 designer haircut. “They are all at home because the  treatments are working perfectly for them. You’ll be home soon too!” she reassured him with a smile.

There was something about her smile that made Rick pause, something he couldn’t quite place his finger on but he subconsciously stored it away for later, it was probably nothing but lately he hasn’t been too sure when the nightmares stop and sometimes that is better than nothing at all. He made sure to lock his door when he got back to his room. There was something keeping him on edge. Between the nurse and the facility something wasn’t adding up and he was just starting to feel rested enough to be concerned. A couple of days ago he probably wouldn’t even have noticed.

He was drinking coffee and finishing up his editorial work on an article when there was a knock on the door. He opened it and seen a young nervous lad whose name badge identified him as Scott and it read ‘technician’. “I just need to make some adjustments to your equipment.” he said waiting for Rick to step aside so that he could step through the doorway.

While he worked Rick found himself watching the young man. He seemed honest enough but lately everything has had him on edge. He couldn’t quite place it but nothing felt real anymore. Maybe it was just sleeplessness causing paranoia. After the technician left Rick stared at the equipment knowing that in just a few short hours he’d be hooked to them again, attempting to sleep. He has to admit, while the nightmares are more vivid, what little sleep he has been getting has been working much better than before. Maybe it was just an adjustment period like they’ve been telling him. Maybe he just needed to learn to relax and not be so uptight about everything.

He found himself wishing he didn’t have to go through this alone. Michelle would have probably been able to help him figure it out without all of this, but she was happy and he needed to let her go. He sank into the chair and sighed. He stared at his coffee growing cold and the work that he had yet to finish. It wasn’t going to edit itself.

After another quiet dinner in the cafeteria surrounded only by people in white lab coats even though he didn’t see any other patients he headed back to his room to wait for the nurse to hook him up to the machine again. This time she placed an electrode on his temple. “This one will monitor your brainwaves, we’re only looking to see if you’re getting proper REM activity.” she said kindly and then left, reminding him once again that she’d just be down the hall if he needed anything.

Rick didn’t sleep at first. Once he was finally able to drift off he wished he hadn’t. He was in some creepy looking graveyard with an old church behind him. The sky was wrong. It was night but brilliant streaks of green light shot this way and that, almost but not quite in a grid-like pattern. Ominous fog billowed around him. He carefully felt his way forward and still managed to trip over an exposed root and hit his knee on a tombstone. He couldn’t make out the name on the tombstone but he could have sworn it said his name. In fact, all of the visible tombstones did. He shook his head and headed to the church where a single light was on in the downstairs window.

He pushed the door open and it creaked on the hinges. The room was old and smelled musty as if he was the first visitor in a very long time. Each step rose a small cloud of dust that danced in the dim light, which came from a small series of bare bulbs. A fire was light in a fireplace with two wingback chairs. One had someone sitting in it, but Rick couldn’t see him clearly enough from the back. A withered looking hand rose and gestured for him to sit in the unoccupied chair. “Have a seat, Rick. It’s time we discussed a few things.” the dry raspy voice spoke.

As Rick walked towards the chairs he noticed the large hulking shadow for the first time in the corner, it was writhing as if in pain, a shiny silver chair tied it to a post. “He cannot hurt you here, his task has been completed. Mine has only just begun.” the raspy voice continued, the hand gestured once more to the seat. Rick sat and took in the host with a vague sense of horror.

It was himself. Old, far too old to still be alive. His features distorted and taunt, a near skeletal frame with skin stretched across it. “Oh Rick, how I have wanted to tell you this, how I cannot fathom the terrors you must have been feeling from their experiment…how tired you must be.” the old Rick stared into the fireplace. “It has been three years, only three years and yet they continue their damnable experiment on us.” he sighed. “I should probably explain in far better detail.” he gestured at the fire. “Place a log on the flames if you would, I cannot seem to move as well these days.”

Rick did so and then settled back into the wingback chair and was completely confused. This man couldn’t possible be him, maybe just looked like him? This nightmare was more bizarre than the rest. “I don’t have much time. I have overheard their whisperings and I know that tonight will be their final attempt and it will fail. You will die, but we will rest at last.” the fire crackled. “You see, three years ago you died in a car accident. Or should have at any rate. They kept your brain alive and coerced Michelle into consenting to have you used for video game experiments using Virtual Reality, but they did not predicate you would be able to remember from day to day the events of their experiments. So they moved it to your ‘dreams’. However you can still remember them and still don’t sleep. Tonight they will once again attempt to reset your brain, but it will fail because I planted a virus in the system.” he adjusted his shirt collar and the name tag that read “Scott” was briefly shown. “This is inhumane, our tests reveal that you can still feel pain, that you can still have dreams and aspirations and yet they continue to press on as if you don’t have the right to know anymore.” he sighed. “I have finally found a way to take control of a sliver of your personality and use it to tell you all of this, however please don’t think me a monster but once the machine self-destructs you will cease to be. You will finally know peace. I will probably be dead by now, once they figure it out. They are ruthless.” he frowned and pulled a piece of paper out of his sleeve.

“This is a copy of their manifesto. First they will create a video game a fun world full of endless possibilities. Then once everyone is hooked on their favorite illusion they will slowly begin to kill them physically, soon the entire world will be blank and everyone living happily in a machine world. They want to bring back the old gods with their sacrifices, one such example is the small one they’ve bargained with here.” he shrugged in the direction of the hulking shadow.

“But they will not succeed. You were the only subject that was able to survive the brainwave altering process. You will not live through the night. Now relax, it’s almost time. Soon Rick you will be given the sleep you have been denied for so long.” Rick sat back and tried to process this. Everything seemed so surreal. But it explained why the dreams and reality felt the same, because for him, they were. Why Michelle was just gone with the feeling that they parted amicably, why the nurses’ smiles never reached their eyes, and why the whole place was empty. It was all an illusion, he was literally a brain in a jar somewhere. It was almost enough to piss him off.

Outside the world began to change. It was almost as if someone had turned a hair dryer on a wax candle. Everything softened and then began to loose shape, as it collapsed it became a black pool of ichor that spread. As it spread it erased everything; the town, the nurses with the fake smiles, the empty buildings, the cars that drove the same pattern every day, Rick’s work of editing the same article every day, on and on it spread. It finally reached the small church with its ominous graveyard. Rick was watching from the doorway as the black cloud spread towards him. He closed his eyes and stretched out his arms.

He finally slept.

(C) Tobias Gray 2017, All Rights Reserved.