[Project Oberon: Day 3, 07h50m] Subjects have shown activity in Broca’s area, suggesting some semblance of speech or communication is being carried out in the dormant state. Whether or not this simultaneous reaction indicates a significant finding as a response to stimuli remains to be seen.
[Project Oberon: Day 3, 0810h] The second trial has been completed. Photos of a sea monster were shown to subjects 315 and 526; subjects 536 and 325 were exposed to a photo of a banshee; subjects 335 and 345 were removed from the trial to provide a baseline measure. Results varied by subject, though again subject 526 showed a delayed return to normal range of vital signs.
Though it is still too early to form any conclusions, discussion currently leans towards a positive outcome of results for the study at hand.
The next trial begins at 1900h.
I don’t bother waiting for Josh as I storm down the lane, no matter how much I hear him wheezing behind me. He asked me to slow down once, but hasn’t again since it became clear that I wouldn’t. If he wants to follow me, that’s his prerogative, but after the stunt with the lake monster, I’m not about to accommodate him.
I have no idea where I’m going — I just know I need to get away from that cabin and the disturbing lake. The forest looms to my left, the shadows stretching out towards me, and as I follow the curving path, the beach falls farther and farther away until it vanishes from sight.
The moon follows us overhead, never seeming to move, a fixed point in the sky. It’s odd, the way it just sits there. Like it’s watching me. I shiver and wish it was gone, and then just like that, it is. Instead of the moon, a bright sunset has taken over the sky, spilling reds and golds across the fields and lush trees.
The light doesn’t make the forest any more welcoming.
“This is weird,” Josh pants behind me. “Don’t you think it’s weird?”
“It’s a dream. Of course it’s weird. This whole thing is weird. Or did you not get that from both of us being in the same place? However that happened.”
That is the question that has plagued me since I accepted it was true. It’s enough to make me wonder what the scientists are doing out there in their lab. Are they crossing wires? Messing things around so we won’t know who we are when we wake up?
Either they have no idea, which means they might not know the repercussions, or this is on them, which hardly seems ethical. Not for the first time, I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
With this thought, I finally let go of some of my anger towards Josh. Sure, he might have tried to sacrifice me to the lake monster to save his own skin, but the fact is we’re in this together. Both of us trapped in our own psyches. It’s an experience not many people get to claim.
So I slow down and allow him to catch up. His duster blows in a non-existent breeze, and I turn in the direction of the wind in time to spot movement coming towards us.
“Get down!” I hiss, and shove Josh into the bushes along the side of the road.
He grunts and starts to protest my manhandling, but I clamp a hand over his mouth and point at the two figures coming up over a slight dip in the path. He ducks farther down, his eyes widening over the edge of my fingers.
For a full minute, we remain silent and still, watching these people approach. At least, I think they’re people. As they get closer, I find myself unsure. The figure on the left is male — tall, broad-shouldered, dark skin, wearing a pair of faded jeans and a grey T-shirt, with a denim vest overtop — but his eyes are that of a wolf, and his nose is crinkled as he scents the air. Something that looks like a machine gun is slung over his shoulder.
The woman beside him is moving with a lithe, cat-like stride. Her long black hair reaches her waist, and her dark skin catches the bizarre sunset in a way that makes it look like she’s glowing from within. Her eyes are a piercing green, and she wears a sword strapped at her hip over a pair of beige corduroy pants and a long green T-shirt.
I raise my hands in front of me and test the powers that have twice presented themselves in my time of need, using my mind to move the trees around us to create a screen.
“Josh, I’d arm up if I were you.”
His mouth falls open. “Are you serious? I can’t do that.” He gestures vaguely at the trees that have folded around us.
I try not to roll my eyes. “You’re in a dream. Come up with something.”
He blinks a few times, wrapping his head around what I’m saying. Then he squeezes his eyes shut, his entire face contorted with concentration. He reaches towards the ground, and when he pulls his arm back, he’s wielding a wooden hammer the size of his head. I raise an eyebrow, impressed, and he shrugs.
At least now I feel more confident finding out who these new people are, though I have my guesses.
Keeping my hands raised, I step onto the path. Immediately, both people on the road draw their weapons. They exchange a glance and adjust their stances, as though not sure how to react.
“Who are you?” the man asks. Seeing them up close, I place both of them in their mid-twenties, though it’s hard to tell with their eyes the way they are.
“My name is Regan,” I say, opting to skip over the second round of confusion. “This is Josh. We’re part of a dream study, and I’m going to take a wild stab that you two are, as well.”
The two exchange another glance, and the woman nods. “I’m Mary-Ann, and this is my brother, Mark. We’re twins, so we figured we found each other because of that. But if you’re here…”
I understand their expressions. Everything seems to be making less sense as it goes.
“I’m not sure where you’re headed,” I say, “but I’d steer clear of this road. It goes to the lake, and thar be monsters.”
“Then I guess we’re between a rock and a hard place,” says Mark. “We just fought off a Banshee in an old warehouse. I don’t think she’s coming back, but there could be more.”
Josh groans. “So I guess that leaves…”
The four of us turn to face the field stretching away from the forest, and we make out the wide arena of a baseball diamond. On the other side of it, two more figures approach.
“I would guess they make five and six,” I say, but just in case, we keep our weapons ready.
Two women come into view as they cross the field. One of them is shorter, with bright blue hair, and dressed in leather pants and a black T-shirt covered in skulls. A series of knives line the belt at her hip. The other woman is tall and willowy, with long silver hair and a kind of paleness that hints at illness or a complete loathing of the outdoors. She’s the only one dressed in what appears to be normal clothes: a white sundress that almost fades into her skin. She looks as though all the colour has been leached out of her.
“Are you the rest of them?” Blue Hair asks.
I’m relieved that we don’t need to go through the whole conversation again as I confirm that we are. Blue Hair introduces herself as Clare, and Colourless as Andrea.
“Any reason we find you standing in the middle of a baseball diamond?” Clare asks. “Planning a bit of in-dream sports?”
“Thinking about it,” Mary-Ann says. “Thought we’d invite the banshee and the lake monster to join in. You have any partners you’d like to sign up?”
Andrea turns paler – if that’s even possible – and Clare frowns. “I can’t even pretend to know what you’re talking about.”
“What about the rats?” I ask.
I worry Andrea’s about to be sick, and this time even Clare reacts, her throat bobbing with a hard swallow. “Yeah, those we’re familiar with. Suckers came out of nowhere. A whole whack of them darting in like flies.”
Andrea shakes her head. “It was the size of my hand and ran right up my leg.” Her voice is soft, barely above a whisper. “I felt it in my hair.”
She runs her hand over her head and tears fill her eyes.
It strikes me as odd that we’ve all seen the same thing, but interpreted it in such different ways. Add in the lake monster that two of us saw and two didn’t, and the banshee that had revealed itself to only two others.
“They’re playing with us,” I say. “Whatever the scientists out there are doing, they’re dropping these images into our heads and seeing what our brains make of them. That’s why the rats were all different.”
“But what about now?” Mark asks. “We’re all here, seeing the same thing.”
“Are we?” I wonder. “Or are we all seeing the same scene in slightly different ways?” I wish there was a way to test it, but for now the baseball diamond is empty. Probably for the best. I don’t want another run-in with the lake monster. Speaking of which… I look to Clare and Andrea. “So there were no monsters the way you came?”
Andrea shook her head. “I was in the old school when Clare found me. I didn’t want to leave, but she wanted to see what else we might find.” She dropped her chin. “And I didn’t want to wait there alone.”
“If we know that way is clear, we should head in that direction,” Josh says.
“And do what?” Clare asks. “Go back to the school and pick our noses, waiting for something to happen?”
“I doubt we’ll have the chance to get bored,” says Mary-Ann. “Not if these scientists want to get a reaction out of us.”
“And if that’s the case, I think we should stick together,” I say. “I doubt banshees and rats are the worst things we’ll see around here, so it might not be a bad idea to have each other’s backs.”
Mary-Ann’s eyes widen, and her gaze tracks something over my head. A shadow passes in front of the setting sun, dousing the baseball diamond in darkness.
“Funny you should mention it,” she says.
I don’t want to turn around and see what’s coming for us now. If I’d known that signing up for this study would mean walking into a two-week nightmare, I doubt I would have signed up.
If I ignore it, maybe it will go away. I repeat the thought to myself even as Mark and Mary-Ann take a few steps backwards. Clare turns to look and jumps away, but appears otherwise unfazed, while Andrea’s lips wobble and I brace for her to faint. Josh glances over his shoulder, then grabs my arm. I feel nothing where he touches me, and the experience is so bizarre that I’m tempted to shove him away.
Unable to remain in denial, I finally turn around to get a look at what everyone else has seen.
Looming in the sky is a black shape. At first, I can’t make it out. It’s a blob. A smear in the clouds. But the longer I stare at it, the more it takes form: a wide, gaping mouth opening wide, red eyes glaring down at me, staring right into my soul. Long arms stretch out from either side of it and reach towards us.
Josh tugs on my arm – a gesture I see instead of feel – his eyes are wild, and his feet are already moving towards the road. There’s a panic in his eyes that spreads to Andrea, and my own heartbeat responds with the need to flee.
The shadow hands try to grab me, and although I know this is only a dream, and that it would be wiser to face it and fight, all I can think is that Josh has the right of it when he gives me a final tug on the arm and shouts, “RUN!”
Does Regan run or fight the shadow monster?
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