- A forest
- A cabin
- A lake
- A warehouse
- A school
- A baseball diamond
Each subject has been faced in the direction of a different scene to determine whether imagery seen during a state of unconsciousness can influence the dream experience. Subjects were shown the images three times for 0010s increments with 0020s rests. The scenes will be moved at random points throughout the study to gauge how the change of scenery affects the dreamer’s state.
[Project Oberon, Day 2, 2100h] The first trial has been completed. Photos of rats were shown to each subject three times for 0010s increments with 0020s rests. Reaction time varied by subject from 0025s to 01m36s. All subjects showed increased stress reactions. Subjects 315, 536, 325, 335 returned to stable heart rate by 02m55s. 526 returned to stable heart rate by 04m27s. 345 returned to stable heart rate by 06m35, which falls above the parameters of the study. Discussion as to whether subject 345 should be pulled from the study. Decision: as heart rate remained within normal range for someone of her age and overall health and dropped without medical intervention, subject is deemed safe to continue.
The second trial will begin at 0800h.
I scan the beach and debate between the boat and the cabin. The boat would allow me to explore the island and find out where exactly I am, but I can’t bring myself to go near that lake. Even the thought of it sends chills down my back.
I turn away from it and head towards the cabin.
As I approach, my steps slow of their own volition. Dark windows stare back at me and the door is slightly ajar. Although I know this cabin is in my own head, I’m leery about barging in. After that run-in with the rat-bear, I’m not eager to discover what else might be lying in wait.
The porch is draped with dried-out vines that cover the view of the lake. I’m not sure what’s worse—the creepy stillness of the water, or the dead screen blinding me from it. This whole place is off, like it was designed based on a magazine picture, but seen from all the wrong angles.
I reach the door and push it open, staying outside until the doorknob hits the back wall. Moonlight spills across the floor, revealing a sparse interior furnished only with a rickety kitchen table. Cabinets and countertops line the far wall. Some of the cupboards hang open, with small unidentifiable lumps within. Two windows let in a little more light, highlighting a single door to my left and confirming that the rest of the room is empty.
I don’t want to go in, but the thought that I might find something to arm myself with offers solid motivation. That rat-bear might be the only threat I face here, but I don’t want to take that chance.
Steeling myself, I step into the cabin. The air feels thick and close, though when I take a deep breath, I notice no change in the quality. If anything, I catch a whiff of bleach and sterile wipes. I wonder if I’ll reach a point in the next two weeks where I forget this is a dream, but so far all it feels like is a broken version of reality.
Nothing jumps out to grab me as I make my way through the room, but I keep my back to the wall anyway. If movies have taught me anything, it’s that the enemy can come out of nowhere if you give them the opportunity.
The window on the far wall is partially blocked by the same vines that cover the porch, but I can glimpse the lake beyond, and I swear there’s something skimming along the surface. I shift my position to better make it out, but by the time I have a full view, whatever it was is gone.
I continue my exploration of the cabin. The table is bare except for a thick layer of dust, and when I reach the cupboards, I discover the unidentifiable lumps are just old dishes. The rest of the cupboards are bare, and all I find in the drawers in terms of a weapon is a single wooden chopstick.
I leave it to continue its slow decomposition and am about to continue the search when a thud echoes from beyond the door at the other end of the room.
I curse myself for not checking first and leaving myself vulnerable, but now I’m stuck. To return to the front door would mean passing by that room.
Silence falls as I wait for the noise to repeat. At first, there’s nothing, but when I strain my ears, I pick up what might be a wheezing breath.
This is my dream, I tell myself. I have control here.
I cross the room, wince as a floorboard creaks under my heel, and pause outside the door. The breathing gets louder, a definite whistle on the inhale. Whoever it is, they’re afraid. I just hope there are as many weapons accessible in there as there are in here.
I debate whether it wouldn’t have been smart to grab that chopstick.
With no other reason to delay, I turn the handle and push the door inward.
Just as I take a step, a figure cries out and jumps in my face. I scream and jump backwards, creating space between us. My hands fly up as I prepare to use the same trick on my attacker as I did on the rat-bear, but they don’t come at me again.
My heart is racing, my chest aching with the speed of my uneven breaths, and I keep my hands raised as I take in the guy in front of me.
He’s an inch or so taller than I am, about the same age, and stands on the scrawny side. Bleach-blond hair lies over molten-red eyes. His clothing choice seems even more bizarre than my own: an ankle-length duster over a pink T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of steel-toed boots.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“Who are you?” he shoots back, a pillar of creativity.
Seeing no reason to keep secrets from someone inside my own head, I answer. “Regan.”
There’s a flash of panic and confusion in his eyes, and I realise he might not know his own name. Is that weird when he’s supposed to be a figment of my subconscious?
“Josh,” he finally says, with a hint of relief in his voice.
“What are you doing here, Josh?” I ask. Is he supposed to represent some part of my unconscious? Someone I’d long ago forgotten, or even a symbol of my self doubt?
“I—I’m here for a study. I don’t really understand what’s going on. I’m supposed to be dreaming, but this all seems so… real.”
I burst into a laugh. “I guess I must be more thrown by all this than I thought if I need an outward projection to tell me this is messed up.”
Josh frowns. “What do you mean?”
“This is my dream. You’re in my dream. I’m the one in the study.”
He blanches. “That’s not possible. I’m me. I can’t be in your head.” I worry for a moment that he’s about to faint, he looks so thrown by my statement. “I remember my mother dropped me off at—at… I don’t remember where. And there were tests, and then I woke up outside. In the trees. I was attacked and ran in here, but I never woke up. Now you’re here, and you’re telling me I only exist in your head?”
The alternative is too farfetched to even consider.
Yet the confusion in this guy’s eyes… the fear. I don’t feel that afraid, do I?
“How is it possible we’re both in the same place when we’re supposed to be in some medically induced daze?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But unless you’re the one in my head, somehow it happened.”
Did the researchers know this was possible? Is this all part of their study?
“What did you think of the rat thing?” I ask. If I’m supposed to trust my brain in this place, I need to know what’s real and what’s not. I bring the memory of that rat-bear to mind, the way I’d flung it through the trees.
But I don’t feel as horrified by it as Josh clearly does. His face has gone white, and he backs up against the wall. “You saw it too? It’s what made me run in here. It was closing in on me so fast. I swore it was going to swallow me whole. Is it still out there? If it is, I’m not leaving.”
His answer leaves me reeling. “It’s not possible.”
But what other answer is there? Somehow, my brain and Josh’s have crossed. My mind is no longer my own.
The room suddenly feels too small, too closed in. Even if I can’t feel the wind on my skin, I need to get out of here. I run out the door and down the porch steps towards the beach.
I don’t listen to him. I can’t. I need space to think.
I reach the water and bend over, bracing my hands against my knees. Every cell in my body is urging me to fight, to run. I don’t like it here. I want to wake up. I grab a chunk of skin on the back of my upper arm and squeeze. There’s a sense that there should be pain, a vague psychological reaction, but I feel nothing and I’m still here.
Out of frustration, I release a yell over the lake.
“I don’t think you should do that,” Josh says, close behind me.
I don’t care. I shout again.
The creature jumps out of the lake before I can make out what it is. Water splashes against my face and the green mass zooms past me towards Josh. He grabs my arm and jerks me forward, blocking his path so the creature hits me full in the face, heavy and squelching. The weight shocks me into action. Raising my hands, I imagine the creature rising above the sand. I hear Josh’s gasp as my imagination channels the image into reality and the creature soars away, writhing and fighting against the force of my mind.
With an effort, I fling it out over the water, far enough that I still can’t make out whatever horrors might have greeted me on closer inspection, then let go. It hits the water and goes under, leaving only the barest splash before the surface goes still again.
I take a moment to let my heartbeat settle, but fury settles under my skin, a warm and uncomfortable layer. Slowly, I turn around to face Josh. “What the hell was that?”
His red eyes widen. “It was coming at me. You yelled and it came at me. I—I didn’t think I just…”
I glower at him, disgusted, then storm off towards the road. There’s nothing for me in the cabin, and I’m not about to stick around here and wait for that lake creature to come back.
“Wait! Don’t leave me alone here. Let me come with you.”
Josh is jogging after me, and he’s already wheezing. I stop and glare at him. How can I trust him when he just threw me to that monster? What would he do if we’re attacked again? As I’m already learning, not even my own mind is safe, and I don’t know how far these researchers will push it. I’ll need to stay alert and ready to defend myself. But how can I live with leaving him alone to face that monster?
I’m starting to get the feeling that these next two weeks are not going to be the forgettable experience I was expecting…
Does Regan allow Josh to travel with her?
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